Walter Rhett

Budgetmaster “P” Spinning the Tables

In Ideas, National Government on April 15, 2011 at 3:49 am
Striking Workers, Fischer Body Plant; Flint, MI, 1937

 Paul Ryan’s budget has solicited a lot of adjectives. From ”sweet sounding,” (a Democratic Congress member referring to its lure) to “bold, “honest,” (American Thinker), “brave” (a CNNOpinion writer), “wise,” “refreshing.” (

Others made different word choices:  “shameful,” “false,” and “misleading” (AFGE President John Gage), “bogus.” (Hartford Advocate).

But there are embedded beliefs beneath the spin. These beliefs are more important than the facts, which as Winston Churchill noted, we stumble over, but keep going.

One commenter writes to express his view and shares a widely held belief:

it is way past time for people to accept responsibility for their own actions or inactions – PERIOD! If you can’t afford to support children, don’t have them. If you fail to plan for old age, why should anyone else have the responsibility to support you? Most of us humans have a heart and don’t mind helping people when something goes wrong in their lives (especially for the old and those who are disabled), but for the leeches of society, to expect someone else to always pay their way is NOT THEIR RIGHT!!

And for one political party to place all the blame on the other is not right either. We the people are to blame because we fell asleep and let corruption overtake our elected leaders, voting like it was a popularity contest and not for what was in the best interest of our Great Country. We the people, or most of us, have now woken up and realize that things have to change. Let’s stop the name calling and get to work. But for the leeches of society – be aware, things are going to change and your free ride is just about over!”

Others commenters echo the theme:

  • Republican plan: fix the program save the country. Democratic plan: Save the program, destroy the country. What to do, what to do….
  • As opposed to the Dems’ plan, which will increase spending and taxes until everyone is needy, unemployed and starving?

Mississippi Cotton Hoe Workers, 1937

What some see as a “free ride,” others see as the cruel knife of power which places profit over human welfare.

A commenter from Slate says:

They should call the Ryan Plan – the Hottub time machine plan, or the Pathway to Poverty. Instead of moving us in the direction of creating a sustainable long-term plan that covers everyone. It takes us back to those wonderful days of yesteryear, when the elderly died on the streets – unseen, unheard.

Saying that the seniors will now have to play in the world where we all find ourselves misses the point. The current system is broken and costs too much for what we are getting because of health insurance industry, doctors, the AMA and the big pharma. His plan does nothing to bend the cost curve – unfetter capitalism seems to be his only answer.

Another comment notes: I don’t see how it’s “brave” to put forward a deficit reduction plan that asks absolutely nothing from the most well-off. Are we for shared sacrifice, or are we not?

Notice that very little of the discussion is about the numbers. It’s about the philosophy and the budget’s back story, the tale of two Americas, a shared sense of fairness, and the discussion is more blame than solution. It’s also a lot of jockeying for position and mega-attempts to influence the public.

To see how it all works, let’s jump directions and turn east (west?), where Japan is still battling for the control and shutdown of its nuclear powered reactors.

I can say it’s a beautiful day, and ignore the Japanese reactors leaking radiation into the oceans. I can say the amounts are too small to be concerned; I can say we should shut all nuclear plants. I can say we should immediately begin drilling for oil; I can talk about how deadly strontium is; I can begin buying and selling iodine (an anecdote for low level radiation doses).

In other words, I can ignore it, put my head in the sand, deny anything’s wrong. I can review data and shorten or lengthen the time period under review. I can cherry pick details, selectively focusing on fears. I can link one event to  another, as causes for effect. I can profit from a mistake.

I can blame the government and the company for not having an emergency plan. I can predict deaths in generations to come. I can argue it’s too expensive and its effects are exaggerated. I can demand the site be sealed with a billion tons of concrete now.

In other words, I can blame somebody and cause nightmares about the future. I can apply fiscal discipline and distort the problem. I can urge drastic action now.

Does any of this “fix” the problem, or examine the consequences of the fix?

Mother and Children, Georgia Sharecroppers, 1936.

Stepping away from the budget, one more time, I want to look at behavior.

Conservatives have several important ideals that guide their political steps.

One is that ideals are more important than actions. Who thinks that those conservatives who pledged to cut the federal budget took even one minute to see what it would take or what’s affected? Who remembers that they were silent when Bush ran up the debt and ran down the economy. But they are not duplicitous. They are simply practicing what they believe: ideals are more important than action.

The historical example is the fierce loyalty Southern conservatives hung on slavery. Sermon and speech were full of eloquent ideas about the pillars of history, foundations of civilization, and tenets of religion that ordered a world to so cruelly regulate those who lives were bought and sold. The ideals supporting this cruelty were ennobled. (In a rich irony, the safety net–food, lodging, and healthcare–was touted as the moral and honored burdens of noblesse oblige.) Real people didn’t count for much. (No, I’m not saying the Ryan budget returns slavery. I’m talking about the logic of illogical arguments. How high rhetoric can have low purposes. How words can mislead. How we act on words without worrying about the effects.)

The “look away” theory (in which words guide behavior, or separate the two) runs from Thomas Jefferson to John Boehner. Jefferson was willing to put principle and faith aside for the pleasure of raw passion, but it was outside of politics. Boehner is a tough guy admired for his aggression. His bad boy acts take their pleasure inside politics. (Addendum: Has anyone searched Haley Barbour’s distant black cousins–who also probably didn’t have birth certificates attesting to their parentage or citizenship? Come on, Mississippi genealogists, you know they are out there!)

Finally, there is a huge crowd out there who don’t care what anybody thinks. They are set in their ways. These are the birthers who refuse to budge. But does anyone think that is all they think? Is that their sole, shared belief? The only thing on which they agree?

Don’t you think they believe what John Boehner does:

John Boehner (Rolling Stone magazine interview, February, 2011):
Can’t pay your student loan? Face it your parents were lazy and you couldn’t afford college. The world needs ditch diggers and you were born into a family of them. Can’t pay your mortgage? Your house was too expensive and you couldn’t afford it. Your taxes going up too much? That’s what you get for electing a democrat president. Never had a job after you got a degree? You learned nothing in school and you’re lazy. I didn’t get to be a congressman by watching jersey shore or playing xbox.

You think there’s no jobs for you? There used to be. There was when I was your age. You don’t have free time because you have to work all days of the week for 16 hours a day and you don’t get paid hourly? Thank the unions. They made decent jobs so out of price range of the average American company that they can’t hire anymore people and the works’ gotta get done. These unions… I tell you they won’t be happy till no one in America has a job.

And health care? Don’t get me started on health care- doctors study their entire lives and they barely make enough to live and yet Obama, who had his entire life handed to him on a silver plate wants to cut their pay. You know that’s gonna do? Increase costs–the average persons going to have to work even harder just to see a doctor.

It’s not going to happen in the US. The kids hereare too fat, too lazy, too addicted to TV, fast food, cheap credit, and facebook. I have news for you–there are plenty of jobs out there–the unemployed don’t want them. [my emphasis, /wr] Today’s college student feels entitled to make at least $24 right after college. When they find out they can collect unemployment they would rather do that. You know The CATO institute did a study–and but these kids today–that’s all they’ve been doing their entirelives. I’m not worried for this country–there are a few of them who actually want to work, take Mark Zucker [sic]. You don’t build a site like facebook out of thin air–it takes talent and hard work. I went to a community college and all I saw were people sitting in front of computers typing away, their eyes were fixed. Probably just facebooking away.”

If you do agree with John Boehner’s vision, his doctrine of the Manifest Destiny of the Poor, nothing anybody will say will change your support for Paul Ryan’s budget. House Whip Eric Cantor does. He said on Chris Matthews’ show, “we have a safety net in this country for people who frankly don’t really need one.”

Sisters at Meal Time; Wagoner County, OK, 1939.

I agree that Americans have lost their aspirational quality, and their praise for the common good, for compassion and community and rooting for each other’s success. It is tied to a backlash also exhibited in the years soon after the civil war. It is a lost of legacy, a lost of place and purpose. For those who feel the unbearable loss, their comfort is now fear. Stripped of their most familiar assurances, they want neither contrition or forbearance. Charleston set itself on fire, determined to burn itself to ruins the day the Union was handed civil authority. “Ruins, ruins,” the people chanted. Only destruction would make concrete their cause.

Incidentally, no state pays unemployment to recent, unemployed graduates. Obama as President has cut taxes for 95% of working families. And I know it’s anecdotal, but my favorite local coffee shop is staffed with recent graduates working for under $10 an hour, without benefits.  My daughter worked her way through college in the food commons, raising to area manager and learned how to run specials and fix yogurt machines. And unions insured the wages for families to eat and pay for meals and drinks at Andy’s Cafe, Boehner’s family Ohio restaurant.

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