Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Love-Hate Relationship with the new Tea Party Movement

I shared Tim Rutten's op-ed The GOP/'tea' party radicalism, which I thought summed up my feelings about the radical Tea Party movement calling Obama extremist and some serious problems with denial of global warming and the like, to which my friend replies:
Oh, we evil Tea Party People!

Please, do tell what is wrong with these beliefs:

Illegal Aliens Are Here illegally.
Pro-Domestic Employment Is Indispensable.
Stronger Military Is Essential.
Special Interests Must Be Eliminated.
Gun Ownership Is Sacred.
Government Must Be Downsized.
National Budget Must Be Balanced.
Deficit Spending Must End.
Bail-out And Stimulus Plans Are Illegal.
Reduced Personal Income Taxes Are A Must.
Reduced Business Income Taxes Is Mandatory.
Political Offices Should Be Available To Average Citizens.
Intrusive Government Must Be Stopped.
English As Core Language Is Required.
Traditional Family Values Are Encouraged.

And don't ever start with the claim that the Tea Party a racist organization!

The hate speech of the left is at a fevered pitch! Elections are right around the corner! We're in for a couple nice years of gridlock, after a couple years of "Change You Can Believe In."
We agree on many points, but bumper stickers only catch a part of the story.

On aliens, yes, they're here illegally, but if we could magically make the people all go "home," it would make a horrible mess.  I wrote about it four years ago.  Have you ever driven over the speed limit?  That was illegal, too.  Just how bad is illegal immigration?  I'm pretty sure it's somewhere between speeding and murder, but as a society, we have yet to agree on the severity of the crime or what to do about it. Further, how do you reconcile smaller government with resolving the immigration problem through enforcement?

On the pro-domestic employment front, we agree.  In fact, I fold that in with the reduced personal income taxes and reduced business income taxes.  Let's repeal those taxes for all but the wealthy (because wide income disparity within a culture breeds all kinds of chaos [1][2]) and mostly replace them with a value-added tax.  A national sales tax, if you will.  We'd still wind up paying 28% of our income as taxes, but consumption would be disincentivized and employment encouraged.  That would help to balance the trade deficit, employ more people, and possibly make the tax code more fair.  It would be important to have an exemption for groceries so as not to make the tax especially regressive.  For comparison, European VAT is about 19%, but it's folded into the sticker price at the store.

I don't understand why we need a stronger military.  That sounds like military-industrial complex propaganda, and I consider the war in Iraq a result of the propaganda.  Our military already has enough nukes to blow up the world several times over, and has demonstrated great capacity over the last decade. However, using our finest to carry out such missions of contractor enrichment is an abuse of our troops.  I wrote about that three years ago.  We have a choice: guns or butter.  I prefer butter.

Special interests must be eliminated.  Mostly.  Where do you draw the line?  Shall the federal government build no highways in Alaska or Hawaii because they don't connect to other states?  Where will you put the military bases?  Where will you put NASA facilities?  Or will you cancel NASA because it's a special interest?  Sadly, my fundamental effort (National Institutes of Health, for example) becomes your "special interest" (research into some obscure disease).  It's really hard to eliminate it if we can't define it.  But can we get rid of lobbyists while we're at it? :)

I support gun ownership, too.  Again, where to draw the line?  I think we're agreed that individuals should not own nuclear warheads and ICBMs... I think we're agreed that Ted Kaczynski shouldn't have a gun.  Who else?  We've struck a compromise to protect society from the extremes.

I would like to downsize the government, but I don't know how it's practical in a cost-effective sense without having serious negative implications on our society.  We want roads, sewer, water, clean air to breathe, and so on.  As a society, we have agreed that children are entitled to an education.  We want to be protected from the Red Menace.  On the other hand, there are quite a few things the government could do to be less intrusive in our personal affairs: quit with the income tax thing (as before, for all but the exceptionally well-to-do), get out of the religious discussion about who can marry, legalize marijuana (not that I want it, but I know folks who would benefit from it medicinally), no more warrant wiretapping without warrants, and so forth.  But I would not go as far as a pure Libertarian.  We still need the FCC, FAA, EPA, and somebody to watch out for the Gulf of Mexico.  TSA is a good candidate for elimination!

Balancing the budget fortunately spells zero deficit spending unless some emergency thing comes up.  I was tickled when the budget was actually balanced for the first time in my lifetime for the last few years of the Clinton administration.  Alas, Republicans actually cut taxes and keep on spending.  The Bush tax cuts unraveled that situation almost immediately.  I am irritated with the Republican Party for claiming the high road on fiscal policy and demonstrating substantially the opposite.  There is no track record to differentiate Tea Partiers from Republicans, but given the current rhetoric, I fear we'd be in much worse shape with the bare minimum spending during a recession.

Bailout and stimulus plans are illegal?  If Congress can pass a law consistent with the Constitution, it's legal.  Remember TARP was under Bush, and I'm happy to report that it's largely been repaid.  Unless the country should plunge into financial ruin on the heels of a massive bubble collapse such as we just saw, the government needs to provide some stimulus to keep the economy moving forward.  With unemployment persistently high, the government is justified in borrowing money to spur things (infrastructure, real estate deals, or whatever) along until the private sector can pick up the tab again.  These last two years are a time I would have hated to see the alternative.

Political offices should be available to average people.  Absolutely.  Now how do we make it happen?  Clean elections?  Limit private contributions to campaigns?  Citizens United certainly pushes the system in the wrong direction.  Another problem with elections is that they are popularity contests.  One must be eloquent and armed with the right turns of phrase for any moment during the campaign, and during office, possess great character to avoid corruption.  The election process is also flawed.  I would like to see us switch to approval voting to balance the field for multiple parties and long-shot candidates.

How do you require English?  Some states have passed official language laws, simplifying the number of languages in which various documents may be prepared, but others have not.  In this melting-pot country, we have immigrants from all over.  They generally need to learn English, but there are large communities in which a citizen can function perfectly well without uttering a word of English.  Take any Chinatown for example.  In my experience, most immigrants don't resist learning English; it just takes time, more if they're in a tight community of folks speaking their own language.

Whose traditional family values?  In my family, we have love and respect.  There is substantial bigotry in my extended family, and it always strikes me as against the teachings of Christ, though the same people would tell you they are devout Christians.  My father wrote, "Choices, a Cautionary Tale" to explain how society ruined him.  I don't wish that course on anyone.  Boy Scouts of America, a focal point of my life from age 12 to 18 and a few years beyond, has alienated me and many others with their exclusion of a class of people because of who they are.  Another family value I espouse is that of long-term relationships.  I'm happy to see that the divorce rate has declined over the last decade.  My family values time together at the dinner table.  We also value a particular schedule, weekend time together, and our worship time.  Keep the government out of religious affairs is the gist of a piece I wrote three years back.

There are good reasons people disagree on things, and I have a great respect for many people with whom I disagree on these issues and others.  I especially appreciate civil discourse on the matters because, though it probably won't resolve our differences, it will help engender mutual respect and undo some of the polarization that has a grip on this country today.