by Victor Davis Hanson
Giddy About Remaking America
If we assume that Obama & Co. wish to radically remake the United States — along the lines of a European socialist society, or perhaps to the left even of a Belgium or Denmark — then the past 14 months were as predictable as the sun rising.
Liberal Utopia. To transmogrify a center-right country into a liberal utopia, certain things follow: higher taxes on the better off to pay for redistribution and to bring “fairness” to society (e.g. called “redistributive change”, “spread the wealth” “patriotic” “paying your fair share”); increased government coercion to force the reluctant to conform (e.g., new IRS agents, more regulations and government intrusion; mandatory new fees); a growing constituency to administer and receive entitlements (e.g., I never really heard much about ACORN or SEIU until the Obama ascendency); a public relations campaign to demonize the skeptical as enemies of civil society, starting with “selfish” and “greedy” escalating to “racists” and finally reaching the dangerous level of “terrorists” who “threaten officials” (those who used to court Michael Moore, or snooze about books and movies suggesting scenarios of killing George Bush are suddenly worried about uncivil discourse); a new neutralist foreign policy to match defense cuts on the horizon and to adjust our stature abroad with our new more revolutionary profile at home (cf. the treatment of an Israel or Britain to the new efforts at winning over Iran and Syria; or our shrinking navy and air force); and a highly educated, urban technocracy not subject to its own new protocols and dependent on an ever growing bureau (e.g., Geithnerism, or the strange career of Van Jones); and a new euphemism in language (there is no “terrorism” any more; liberals disappeared and were replaced by “progressives,” we have no more enemies from the radical Islamic world, etc.).
Taxes and Spending. As these nearly two trillion dollar annual deficits mount, as the combined local, state, federal, and payroll taxes approach 60-70% on the top brackets and yet do little to meet the shortfalls, we will have to either cut programs or tax the middle class or both — or implode.
We are floating huge amounts of debt at historically cheap interest. One can borrow $ 11 trillion at the price of what would be borrowing $20 trillion in the old days of interest, as rates hover around 2-4% rather than the old 6-10%. But this is a fool’s delusion; any spike in inflation will almost immediately turn this mortgaging into an unsustainable disaster, sort of like those old 1980s adjustable mortgages at 3% that drew buyers in to purchase enormous homes only to climb within a few years to 15% and insolvency, or like those introductory credit card offers that offer 6 months at 3% only to climb to 19% when you are maxed out.(As a rule, all interest rates climb as borrowing increases [ask a petulant Greece]).
If we cut some spending, as in the Clinton years, it will eventually fall mostly on defense — fewer planes, armor, divisions, personnel. etc. If we continue to increase taxes, we will see some sort of federal sales, VAT, or special user taxes on the tens of millions who are now tax exempt. The untaxed will be taxed and told they are not taxed (sort of like poor George Stephanopoulos in his interview with Obama, being bewildered by the president’s postmodern linguistic gymnastics, and thus reduced to looking up “tax” in the dictionary, only to be ridiculed by Obama that Stephanopoulos had to rely on a dictionary in the first place.)
There are simply too many new entitlements and too few left now to pay for them. Note — it is not as if we were extending novel universal healthcare to a 1920s self-reliant and much poorer populace, but rather to the most affluent, most leisured and most taken care of generation in the history of civilization. It is not as if those without health insurance plans either get turned away from the emergency room or are bereft of cell phones and flat-screened TVs.
No, entitlements subsidize the good consumer life of both the poorer and the middle class. Go to the poorest section of a poor county in a bankrupt state (e.g., 2 miles from my residence), and the electronic and warehouse discount stores are crammed with the shopping “poor” — poor maybe in comparison with the contemporary wealthy, but in a way rich compared to most in the world today or to Americans a generation ago. Cheap interest, the welfare state, 1 billion Indians and Chinese working night and day, high-tech, and instant communications and entertainment have made life not as it was. Today’s Selma resident not far from this farm has access to “things” that an earl or duke could only dream of 50 years ago.
The Gradual Slow-down. If Obamism is carried to its logical conclusions, we will start to see Californization or Hellenization. An increasingly furious public work force refuses to take cuts or furloughs, and so continues to demonize the supposedly greedy “them,” who in turn nod and leave or begin to marginalize themselves. (Our radio ads out here now blare with teachers unions demanding higher taxes on the most taxed “wealthy” and “corporations” in the nation.)
In America’s case, the flight will be psychological rather than material (where else could one wish to go?), as professionals and the self-employed begin to slow down, drop out, or detach — not dramatically so to stop the economy, but enough to keep unemployment high and growth disappointing. As income is curtailed (the herdsman is now skinning rather than trimming the sheep), the unions, as in Greece, as in California, will turn on each other, and on us the taxpayers who never quite give enough (I expect something like the 6th century Nika riots next in Greece).
Government is not an abstraction, but a work force; its prime directive is for self survival and perpetuation. Public workers will find the rationalization to lash out, when the money dries up and the checks begin to bounce. Again, here in California, professors are on furloughs each month, prisoners are being released, teachers pink-slipped, and 3,500 leaving the state each week. Our schools are rated 47-49th in the nation, but we employ America’s highest paid teachers, and level the highest state, gas and income taxes in the United States — and yet we have not a shred of introspection over how we managed to have the highest taxes, the highest paid teachers and the worst schools. To suggest that this is logical rather than aberrant earns one all sorts of calumny.
Make It Up As We Go Along
As Obamans realize that the current fiscal course is unsustainable, and as they sense the country is still center-right and their political futures uncertain, we will experience a sort of hysteria.
“Will” is the wrong auxiliary verb tense; we’ve already seen it. Congressmen walk the national mall, intent on proving to America it is now again 1965 in the Deep South and they courageously are replaying the civil rights marches among Neanderthal tea party racists — the sort of psychodramas comparable to Skip Gates donating his handcuffs to the Smithsonian.
The melodrama is ubiquitous. Pundits scream that the system is broken and we need to radically change our institutions — until the 217th vote is obtained and suddenly within a few hours America is wonderful again and Pelosi a genius at the helm of a smooth sailing ship of state. If we need justifications for suspect procedures, our more candid representatives confess rules are made up as we go, undiscovered new articles in the Constitution now appear, and the control of the people is lamentably said to take time.
Then there is supposedly a spate of hate speech against the President and Congress. My god, one would think Alfred Knopf had published a novel about killing the president or the Toronto film festival had honored a docudrama of the same theme! or Michael Moore had lamented that terrorists killed the wrong blue-state 3,000 Americans.
A vote is purchased in the House for about a million dollars in federal largess, in the Senate for a hundred and more times that figure. I can’t remember all the Presidential prevarications, because it no longer matters. Obama has become the face on the screen that everyone sees for his morning three minutes and no one believes — five days on the oval office desk before a passed bill is to be signed, C-span airing of the entire healthcare negotiations, a 51% majority is not morally sufficient for major healthcare legislation in a new age of bipartisanship, no more Bush executive orders trumping elements of congressional legislation. And so on.
So this is Groundhog Day, as cap and trade, and blanket amnesty loom on the horizon and will follow the same script. We will print more money to pay off supposedly “principled” holdout Congress people and Senators, angling for air time and earmarks. Instead of the millions of children killed by the lack of federal healthcare, assume millions more will be roasted or drowned by boiling or rising seas, followed by the millions of children who are in mortal danger because their parents are asked to have proof of legal residence. The hysterical style is now enshrined.
We search for one honest man behind all this, just one. How wonderful if a Reid, Obama, or Pelosi for a moment would just come clean, if even in defiant fashion. Imagine:
“Some people screw up or are unlucky. We’re here to ensure they end up the same as you who don’t screw up or are luckier. We can’t say they are in any way culpable, so we blame either the system or you who are better off. The best way to level the playing field is to tax all we can, take our percentage, and redistribute the rest. Lots get hired to administer to even more. The rules don’t apply to ourselves, who are wealthy but not the targeted culpable. We know privately all this is not sustainable, but assume the better off will find a way to save themselves and thus us, before we bankrupt ourselves — after we are gone. And we don’t care really whether this is always legal, or fair, or workable, because we know it is moral and we are far more moral people than you.”
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson