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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Shows Why Ideologues Can’t Govern

Ideologues make lousy politicians, even worse office holders. The ideological straight jacket does just what you would expect–it constricts movement. Everything is nice and neat and tight but not conducive to serious efforts to move forward. Politicians such as Scott Walker, who put themselves in ideological straight jackets, either live to regret it or are thrown out on their ear, or both.

Intellectuals sometimes make good ideologues, cultural commentators make very thought provoking arguments, philosophers have the luxury of being way out on the edge at times, but those who go into office find that they are rejected very quickly by the public when all they have is their ideology.

Scott Walker is the latest example of an ideologue–combined with a self righteous, bullying approach, not backed up by intellectual rigor.

My guess is that the events of the last month will not only harm him politically in the short run but will result in a serious problem for those who follow in his footsteps.

First and foremost, his approach to governing won’t work. Cutting taxes for ideological reasons, rather than pragmatic ones, prohibiting local governments from paying for education with their own decisions on local taxes, cutting services to the bone, breaking collective bargaining with unions, making them a scapegoat, just won’t wash.

Look at the governors who are putting forth a balanced, reasonable approach to focusing on the dual realities of too much spending and too little revenue. They are not engaging in a hard and fast ideological battle. They are pragmatic. They do not focus only on slash and burn cuts but, rather, are flexible enough to include tax and fee increases.

What was Walker thinking, cutting taxes by $117.2 million as his first act when his state faced a deficit of $137 million? I guess I get the million dollars he included to encourage businesses to move to Wisconsin but I sure as heck don’t understand a $49 million tax cut for health savings accounts. The rich will take advantage of that boondoggle and it won’t create jobs.

That was ideology, not pragmatism.

Look at Gov. Jerry Brown in California, or Mark Dayton in Minnesota, or John Kitzhaber of Oregon, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Pat Quinn in Illinois, or Andrew Cuomo in New York. These are governors, many of whom have a lot tougher problem than Wisconsin, who are struggling and succeeding, not resorting to hard ideology, not refusing to look at the revenue side of the equation.

If members of Congress take lessons from the states, they should learn a whopper from Wisconsin. Don’t follow in Walker’s footsteps, look to the governors listed above.

In fact, they can even look to Ronald Reagan who as governor way back in 1967 raised taxes by $1 billion in California as well as cut the budget. As president, he raised taxes in every year but one, when it was necessary. He learned very quickly about “never saying never.” He didn’t put himself in the ideological straight jacket that many now fantasize about. I am not a Reagan fan, but I do recognize he was pragmatic.

Walker is in way over his head. Sadly, he has been a train wreck for his state. Let’s not let his style and approach be a train wreck for the nation.

By: Peter Fenn, U.S. News and World Report, March 11, 2011

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Deficits, Economy, Governors, Ideologues, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, States, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deficit Hawks and The Games They Play

For 30 years, conservative ideologues have played moderate deficit hawks for suckers.

You’d think this might endow those middle-of-the-road deficit-busters with a touch of humility. Fat chance. They stick with their self-righteous moralism, pretending to be bipartisan and beyond ideology. In fact, they make the problem they want to solve worse by continuing to empower the tax-cuts-in-every-season conservatives.

It’s thus satisfying to see President Obama ignore the willfully naive who are wailing over deficits. He knows that new revenue will have to play a big role in deficit reduction. He also knows that House Republicans are pretending we can cut our way out of this mess and would demagogue any general tax increases.

So he has proposed some serious spending cuts and some modest revenue increases to keep things stable as he embarks on a long struggle to move our dysfunctional budget politics to a better place. This annoys his deficit-obsessed critics, by which I mean just about everyone who says he should simply embrace the proposals of the Bowles-Simpson commission. Obama should smile, let them rage and go about his business.

Let’s look at history. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he won big tax cuts coupled with big increases in military spending. The tax cuts and a severe recession tanked government revenue.

Unlike today’s conservatives, Reagan at least acknowledged mathematical reality and signed some tax increases. But these were insufficient, and it fell first to George H.W. Bush – the last truly fiscally responsible Republican – and then to Bill Clinton to restore budgetary sanity.

But the conservatives who dug the hole did nothing to get us out of it. On the contrary, they denounced the first President Bush for raising taxes, and every Republican voted against Clinton’s economic plan. For their bravery in supporting tax increases in 1993, Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994.

By the end of the Clinton years, we had a handsome surplus. In came the second President Bush who, with Republicans in Congress, declared the surplus too big. It was one problem they worked very hard to solve. Two tax cuts and two wars later, we were plunged into deficits – again. And the economic downturn that started on Bush 43’s watch made everything worse, cutting revenue and requiring more deficit spending to get the economy moving.

Where were the moderate deficit hawks in all this? They have a very bad habit. When conservatives blow up our fiscal position with their tax cuts, the deficit hawks are silent – or, at best, mumble a few words of mild reproach to have something on the record – and let the budget wreckage happen. Quite a few in their ranks (yes, including some Democrats) actually supported the Bush tax cuts.

But when it’s the progressives’ turn in power, the deficit hawks become ferocious. They denounce liberals if they do not move immediately to address the shortfall left by conservatives. Thus, conservatives get to govern as they wish. Liberals are labeled as irresponsible unless they abandon their own agenda and devote their every moment in power to cutting the deficit.

It’s a game for chumps. The conservatives play it brilliantly. By winning their tax cuts and slashing government revenue, they constrain what liberals can do whenever they get back into power.

How do we know our difficulties stem primarily from a shortage of revenue? Consider what would happen if we allowed all the tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2012, including the ones enacted under Bush, to go away. That would produce nearly as much deficit reduction over the next decade – roughly $4 trillion – as all the maneuvers of the Bowles-Simpson commission put together. If you want to be serious about closing the deficit, ending the Bush tax cuts is a good place to start.

The commission’s work showed just how effective conservatives have been. By saying they will never, ever, ever raise taxes, conservatives intimidate moderates into making concession after concession.

In the end, the Senate conservatives on the commission – but not the House conservatives – supported some mild tax increases. But Bowles-Simpson proposed about twice as much in spending cuts as in revenue increases. You would think that moderates could at least hold out for a 50-50 split. But no, they’ll do anything to win over a few conservatives.

As a result, any conservative who supports even the smallest tax increase is hailed as courageous. Any liberal who proposes moderate spending cuts is condemned as a gutless coward unless he or she also supports slashing Social Security and Medicare. What’s “moderate” or “balanced” about this?

I hope Obama has the spine to keep calling the bluff of the deficit hawks until they get serious about changing the politics of deficit reduction. We can’t afford another 30 years of fiscal evasion.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr-Op-Ed Columnist, The Washington Post, originally posted February 17, 2011

February 27, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Different Congress, Same Crap: Get Ready for a GOP Rerun

Bob Herbert-Op Ed Columnist, NYT

You just can’t close the door on this crowd. The party that brought us the worst economy since the Great Depression, that led us into Iraq and the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, that would like to take a hammer to Social Security and a chisel to Medicare, is back in control of the House of Representatives with the expressed mission of undermining all things Obama.
Once we had Dick Cheney telling us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and belligerently asserting that deficits don’t matter. We had Phil Gramm, Enron’s favorite senator and John McCain’s economic guru, blithely assuring us in 2008 that we were suffering from a “mental recession.” (Mr. Gramm was some piece of work. A champion of deregulation, he was disdainful of ordinary people. “We’re the only nation in the world,” he once said, “where all of our poor people are fat.”)
Maybe the voters missed the entertainment value of the hard-hearted, compulsively destructive G.O.P. headliners. Maybe they viewed them the way audiences saw the larger-than-life villains in old-time melodramas. It must be something like that because it’s awfully hard to miss the actual policies of a gang that almost wrecked the country.

In any event, the G.O.P. has taken its place once again as the House majority and is vowing to do what it does best, which is make somebody miserable — in this case, President Obama. Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is now chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said recently on the Rush Limbaugh program that Mr. Obama was “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” He backed off a little on Sunday, saying that what he really thinks is that Mr. Obama is presiding over “one of the most corrupt administrations.”

This is the attitude of a man who has the power of subpoena and plans to conduct hundreds of hearings into the administration’s activities.

The mantra for Mr. Issa and the rest of the newly empowered Republicans in the House, including the new Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is to cut spending and shrink government. But what’s really coming are patented G.O.P. efforts to spread misery beyond Mr. Obama and the Democrats to ordinary Americans struggling in what are still very difficult times.

It was ever thus. The fundamental mission of the G.O.P. is to shovel ever more money to those who are already rich. That’s why you got all that disgracefully phony rhetoric from Republicans about attacking budget deficits and embracing austerity while at the same time they were fighting like mad people to pile up the better part of a trillion dollars in new debt by extending the Bush tax cuts.

This is a party that has mastered the art of taking from the poor and the middle class and giving to the rich. We should at least be clear about this and stop being repeatedly hoodwinked — like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football — by G.O.P. claims of fiscal responsibility.

There’s a reason the G.O.P. reveres Ronald Reagan and it’s not because of his fiscal probity. As Garry Wills wrote in “Reagan’s America”:

“Reagan nearly tripled the deficit in his eight years, and never made a realistic proposal for cutting it. As the biographer Lou Cannon noted, it was unfair for critics to say that Reagan was trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, since ‘he never seriously attempted to balance the budget at all.’ ”

We’ll see and hear a lot of populist foolishness from the Republicans as 2011 and 2012 unfold, but their underlying motivation is always the same. They are about making the rich richer. Thus it was not at all surprising to read on Politico that the new head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton of Michigan, had hired a former big-time lobbyist for the hospital and pharmaceuticals industries to oversee health care issues.

I remember President Bush going on television in September 2008, looking almost dazed as he said to the American people, “Our entire economy is in danger.”

Have we forgotten already who put us in such grave peril? Republicans benefit from the fact that memories are short and statutes of limitations shorter. It was the Republican leader in the House, Tom DeLay, who insisted against all reason and all the evidence of history that “nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes.”

But that’s all water under the bridge. The Republicans are back in control of the House, ready to run interference for the rich as recklessly and belligerently as ever.

By: BOB HERBERT-Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times-Published January 3, 2011

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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