Conservative used to mean paying the billsPublished 9:11am Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Column: Notes from Home
I’m thinking about the young men and women we sent to kill and die in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while we refused to raise taxes. While they were risking their lives, we borrowed every dollar used to fund those wars.
I still remember the president (not the current one) encouraging us all to go and buy more things for ourselves, something that Congress must have heard, too.
However, now that the bills for government spending are coming due, the refrain from politicians carries a different message: Leave oil company and other corporate subsidies and loopholes for the rich alone! Take it from programs for the poor!
I’m also thinking about the snarling and snapping that politicians in Washington call negotiating. Our country is deep in debt and is refusing to face the responsibility of dealing with that debt — both the spending and the tax cutting that have made it such a burden. The far left have frequently been willing to undermine the economy with spending and higher taxes. But the unwillingness of politicians from the right to pay the bills for even the most legitimate programs is something new.
Being conservative used to mean holding down spending by doing what needed to be done, but also paying for those things that needed to be done. Now it seems to mean treating the federal government as a thief and an enemy. By dictionary standards, these Tea Party “conservatives” aren’t conservative at all; they’re radicals, bomb-throwing fanatics who’ve taken over the conservative message.
Many leaders from across the political spectrum have been saying the same thing for years now, but few on the extreme right seem to be listening: Defending greed when it comes to funding the government is no way to demonstrate real conservative leadership. Playing games with language — death tax, ownership society, personal responsibility, job creators — is dishonest.
When leaders on the right step outside the boxes provided by their “core” constituencies and think about what’s best for everybody, that doesn’t mean they’ve become socialists. It just means that they understand what it means to make decisions for the benefit of the whole country, not just for a few people. We came so close to real compromise on government debt over the past few weeks, only to see it evaporate because some people weren’t ready to accept any deal that involved both cutting spending and providing new revenue.
Why is “no new revenue” such a bad idea? Let’s do a “what if” exercise with that principle: What if other entities besides the government followed their no new revenue mantra?
I can’t imagine that any manufacturer would stay in business if it was blocked from raising prices regardless of expenses, and actually had to lower them. How many workers could they cut or how many times could they move factories to the country with the lowest wages before they lost control of quality?
Or consider a non-profit like the Shriners, who recently had to start charging families for lifesaving medical care at their network of hospitals because their fundraising efforts weren’t keeping up with their promise to never turn a child or family away because of finances. What if the Shriners weren’t allowed to raise additional revenue but had to continue cutting more on the expenses side? Would the United States be better off if the Shriners had to close the doors of their hospitals or go back on their promise to provide medical care to any child who needed it?
Does the government need to spend less on programs for citizens? Yes. Do we all need to stop using plastic money for every shiny object we see on TV commercials? Yes. Do we need to start setting a budget for medical care that doesn’t create a dangerous financial burden for citizens? Yes. In order to do that, will we have to start acknowledging the differences between needs and wants when it comes to everybody’s medical care? Yes.
But can we meet the real needs of the people of this country and keep our debt under control without both cutting spending and raising revenue? No. Not without creating an America that most of us would not recognize.
That’s what I’ll continue to think about during this next election cycle.
Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.