Today I had one of many very similar conversations I often have with conservatives: what I believe and why. I tried to stay on the surface, because those debates get so heated and unpleasant after a matter of minutes. I don’t like to argue heatedly with people I just met, although I’ve done it many times before.
It all started when I called Sarah Palin a babbling idiot. I often forget that some people actually support her, so had to then continue the discussion. It all went downhill from there. This is the part of political debate that doesn’t take much time or effort: talking about politicians. First of all, no one likes politicians as a group, so that’s a simple discussion. Anyone can dislike any politician for any reason without revealing anything about their political beliefs. Predictably, I do not like Bush, Cheney, McCain, or Palin. I like Biden and both Clintons. I do not like Al Gore. I’m still not sure about Obama.
As my brother pointed out, that’s really not a discussion at all. I could give reasons for all of those without saying anything about what I believe. Anyway, that’s all a bit beside the point. The discussion raised a few very typical points and a few that I rarely think about. I’ll get started with the actual explaining part now.
As I’ve said before, people expect a lot from the government. Don’t remember that? Me neither. At any rate, they have a good reason to expect that because the government is just about the only thing that can do what they want. The government decides how safe your food is, how safe your house is, how safe the roads are, what words you can hear on the radio, what you can do with your money, and hundreds of other little things you don’t even think about. The reality is that government is very much a part of everyone’s life, no matter how apolitical they claim to be.
The political implication of that is taxes. The government takes money to run, and not just a little. People don’t like paying taxes, despite what they expect from the government. I can understand that. I’ve heard several times that as a student who does not live in “the real world,” I cannot properly appreciate giving hard-earned money to bums who refuse to work. I could make a few petty responses to this, like by asking how church donations are used (do they all go to the pastors? as a pastor, isn’t he technically a bum refusing to work?) or looking up how much tax revenue is actually spent on social welfare programs (I don’t care, sorry). Instead, I’m going to address the ideas.
1. I am a student. I am largely supported by my parents. I will be the first to admit that I don’t live in the real world.
2. I have earned money before, and I would still have no problem paying taxes on it. This is probably because I don’t have many expenses. I strongly believe people should not have so many expenses that they can’t pay their taxes. I know that is based in #1 (some people can’t make that much money, for instance), but if you can’t afford to pay taxes or other expenses, there’s a good chance you are being supported by the government. In that case, I get to have an opinion.
3. Not all welfare goes to bums who refuse to work. Despite the widespread conservative believe that people have complete control over their circumstances (they do not), there are really people out there who cannot support themselves. Ideally, they would be supported by their families and not the government. There are a lot of reasons why that wouldn’t work in practice, and that’s why the government has to take care of it. I know there are some people out there who are lazy and collect welfare. It’s frustrating when people abuse the system that way, but I do not believe it’s enough to discredit the entire thing.
Speaking of ideals, I have often said that my beliefs align with a traditional Republican standpoint. For instance, I believe in little government and I am in favor of dismantling several federal programs. I have very rational reasons for believing those things. On the other hand, I do not believe that people’s religious beliefs should determine the law and I strongly oppose relying on the myth of the free market to solve everyone’s problems. Those among other things leave a fairly bad taste in my mouth, and because they are so prevalent, I find that I don’t generally like Republicans.
For instance, when I was discussing politics this afternoon, two different people made jokes about black people not holding jobs for longer than a year (e.g. Obama) and I heard a lovely (made up) story about an economics teacher who failed an entire class who wanted to experiment with socialism. You’ll have to forgive my intolerance for racism and bullshit.
There was also much complaining about how Obama will raise taxes (he has not made any plans to do so yet). That reminded me of one of my big issues with Republican government: deregulation. Under the auspices of reducing the government, Republicans like to severely cut funding for several federal programs. (Think that’s a contradiction? As much as I like little government, many things must be run on as large of a scale as possible. The FDA is a good example. FEMA is not.) So what’s the punchline for deregulation? A government that does NOTHING. I repeat: THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT DO ANYTHING.
Think about this for a second. Pick a federal program and think about what power it has. Think about the funding it gets. Think about how well it works. For instance, the FDA gets very little funding, has very few powers (e.g. most recalls are voluntary for companies), and as a consequence, shit happens a lot. E. coli breaks out, salmonella emerges, and there is very little safety for food. Drugs and supplements come out that can avoid FDA regulation simply by putting disclaimers on the box. That’s a brilliant loophole there.
Think of other things. Education? NCLB cuts funding for poor performance. Defense? All of our national guard troops are overseas, so that when disasters strike at home, they aren’t there to help. Awesome. FEMA? Bullshit program that hasn’t worked once. The SEC? Look at this recession, caused largely by the deregulation of the lending industry. What about government oversight? It’s a joke. If Congress wants to do anything to the executive branch, they just say “no, thanks” and ignore it. And it works.
Why does deregulation happen? Because it’s cheaper for corporations. Let’s face it, if the FDA were paying attention at all, McDonald’s burgers would have to be made from decent meat and then those $0.89 burgers might go up in price. God forbid. In other words, corporations just buy politicians and deregulate the hell out of anything as a way of cutting costs. It’s cheaper for them to bribe than behave ethically. And I can’t blame them. If I could afford it, I’d buy politicians myself.
Of course, the Republicans are still good at spending money. So I get to decide, how do I want my money spent? On things that might actually improve things at home (even though they help the lazy bums too) or on god knows what else? To sum up, I’d like to see less government spending. But if it has to happen, I’d rather it done by the Democrats.
So how about some solutions? First of all, I believe in public campaign financing. If it were easier for candidates to run campaigns, they wouldn’t have to take so many bribes and they might vote what their constituents believe rather then their true constituents, the corporations. Secondly, I’d like to see some fiscal responsibility. We have driven ourselves so deeply into debt that there is practically no way out. Without balancing the budget, we won’t even make leeway. I’d love to see either party embrace this, but I don’t see it happening. Lastly, I’d like to see some honesty. I know that’s asking a lot, but I can’t help but think that honesty could exist in politics. Maybe that’s my inner optimist, dead and shriveled though it is, wheezing out a few last gasps of hope. Maybe.
(I’d also like to add that we discussed Libertarianism. I, like most reasonable people, have nothing wrong with the Libertarian viewpoint. I think everyone should have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with others. I disagree on what that means, but whatever. The unfortunate truth is that although I’d love to see more Libertarians in office, but I have to deal with reality, and that means picking between the Dems and the GOP. Sorry.)