March 01, 2012Watching the Greek government and people over the past year or so has been amusing and appalling, both at once.
Their government is bankrupt. Their economy can't sustain their social welfare system. But when the government tries to impose austerity measures, the people take to the streets and demonstrate and riot and otherwise show their unwillingness to give up even a dime of their benefits.
Are they insane?
Well, yes, of course, but only in the way that almost all humans are insane, at least part of the time.
Who do the Greeks think will pay for their plush benefits, if they don't scale back and pay for them themselves?
They expect the European Union to pay, of course, which means Germany. Why shouldn't the Germans pay, after all? They were the ones who invaded everybody back in the 1930s and 1940s! Why should the Greeks settle for less than they're entitled to? They have rights!
So now let me ask you: When America goes bankrupt, who is going to pay for our benefits?
That's right. If you want to find a nation with a sense of entitlement every bit as insanely self-destructive as the Greeks, it's us.
We've been heading for bankruptcy for a long time. After the 1994 election, the new Republican Congress combined with a temporarily chastened Bill Clinton to cut taxes and rein in the growth of spending. The economy boomed. Revenues soared. The budget fell into balance. Problem solved!
Only instead of paying down our debt and fixing the problems that still loomed down the road, we did what insane people always do: We assumed the prosperity would last forever and we vastly overspent.
In 2009, Obama and the Democratic Congress followed the other plan – trying to spend our way out of recession. It didn't work. In fact, it made things worse.
So now, as we spin around in the fiscal commode, barely keeping our heads above water, everybody running for the Republican nomination shouts, not "Help!" but "Cut taxes!"
After all, it's worked before, right?
It worked because there was some leeway. Government could borrow to cover its expenses while waiting for the economy to bump upward and increase the revenue from a lower tax rate.
But Obama has spent our leeway. Government is already borrowed to the max. Anything we borrow now will be at a higher interest rate, plunging us deeper into debt, like people who think they can pay their American Express bill with cash advances from their Mastercard.
We've already obligated our children's children's children with our spending today; what we borrow now will bankrupt, not our children, but ourselves. We've been borrowing from our own future, and the bills are due.
What does that mean? It means that whoever is president in 2013 has to do more than follow the old formulas. Obama has already tried stimulus and it doesn't work; if he's reelected, we're flushed.
But Republicans who think they can fix everything just by lowering taxes and repealing Obamacare are wrong. The best they can do is put off the final flush.
Here's what a good president will have to do: Cut taxes and cut spending.
Great! Yes! Cut out all those needless government bureaucracies! Cut out all those programs!
Yeah, yeah, it's that kind of "thinking" that made me leave the Republican Party back in the 1970s.
You can't cut the interest we pay on our debt, except by inflating the currency, which damages everybody.
All you can cut is "discretionary spending."
What do you think that money is spent on?
It's spent on people. They go to work, they draw down their pay, they spend it. It's part of the economy.
If you cut that government spending, those people are out of work. And the government is by far our largest employer.
That means that their salaries are no longer being spent on food and gas. If they can't find jobs (and in this economy, people already can't find jobs), then their sudden unemployment shrinks the economy.
So will the boost from lower taxes be enough to goose the economy to absorb all these newly unemployed people?
It all depends on how many government jobs you cut at a time. Slash spending too fast, and unemployment soars and the economy shrinks. Counterproductive.
That's why we desperately need to have a grownup as president. We need to have someone who understands money, who can guide us through scaling back government – not radically, as the present extremist Republicans advocate, but gradually.
You know, moderately.
Oooh, I said the ugly word! Moderate! I can hear the insane right screaming, "RINO, RINO!"
That's why Republicans are so likely to nominate a non-grownup. Somebody who will merely cut taxes and not cut spending.
Why do you think Bush didn't cut spending? Because we Americans, like the Greeks, only want other people's programs to be cut – not the ones that benefit us.
For instance, there's no excuse for having a mortgage-interest income tax deduction on any house worth more than, say, $500,000 – and I'm being generous with that number.
Anybody buying a million-dollar house shouldn't get a subsidy from the government.
Quick. Which Republican is advocating a cap on the mortgage-interest deduction? None – not with any plan that will ever pass Congress. Why not? Because everyone "knows" that any cut in that deduction will eventually mean its complete elimination.
Maybe that's true; maybe not. But the fact remains that, just like the Greeks, perfectly smart people will scream, "I wanted you to cut the budget, but not by making it so I don't get my federal housing subsidy!"
There's no excuse for not taxing the Social Security income of people making more than $300,000 a year. (In fact, there's really no excuse for people in that bracket to receive Social Security at all, since we all know that it's a Ponzi scheme and not the investment plan that it pretends to be.)
But the second you try to make the slightest cut to any Social Security benefit, the AARP goes to war – just like the insane Greeks – and says, Cut somewhere else, not here!
Whatever benefits I'm receiving are a "right." It's only other people's benefits that are "excess."
Any cut in the federal budget will mean cutting the jobs of a segment of the population, throwing people out of work. Their lobby will savage any congresswight who votes for such a cut.
If somebody's treasured program is about to be slashed, the senators and representatives will be duly warned: Vote to make this cut, and we'll finance your opponent in the next election.
We are the Greeks. We are insane.
The Republicans want to elect a True Conservative.
(Never mind that only one True Conservative has ever been elected president, and even he didn't actually govern as a True Conservative – remember all that whining about "Let Reagan be Reagan"? Reagan governed as a moderate, making compromises, doing only what was possible – that's why he got reelected.)
Suppose a True Conservative wins. Then he tries to cut taxes and slash the budget.
He can probably pass the tax cut. But he'll never get a slashed budget through Congress, because We The People won't stand for it.
And even if he did, the left – which means CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and most of the major newspapers – would smother us with stories of the poor suffering people thrown out of work, while "experts" explain that he's really destroying the economy, and very quickly he'll have as much ability to get his programs through as, say, George W. Bush in the second half of his second term.
What we need is a president who knows how to fire people. But not just any people – the right people. And not too many people, just enough people to restore the "company" to solvency while it still produces its product.
We need a president who is economically smart ... and ruthless. He has to be able to see instantly when he's gone too far, or not far enough. And he has to keep the support of Congress, which means he has to have the support of the voters.
That means the voters have to be smart enough to ignore the panicked cries of the lobbyists. The AARP, for instance, is an anti-American organization – their primary function is to bankrupt America by never allowing any reduction in Social Security benefits, period.
So the voters have to ignore them and support a president and Congress who are making responsible changes.
You see the problem? We can only get a grownup president if we vote for him. And keep supporting him after he's elected. And I see no evidence at all that we are sane enough to do that.
The miracle is that we actually have such a candidate: Mitt Romney.
Miraculously, he has survived the Republican primary process, despite all the charges that he's a secret Moderate, that he's a RINO, that the Republican "establishment" is forcing him on the people, who are really yearning for a True Conservative.
Who is this "Republican establishment"? As far as I can see, it's the group that thinks it has the right to decide who is a Republican In Name Only – the Republican establishment is Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and they hate Romney.
Romney has taken positions I disagree with very strongly, on some issues that are very important to me.
But if America goes bankrupt, then all the other issues are moot.
If we Americans are not to end up as pathetically insane as the Greeks, demanding our "rights" as the economic commode flushes us away, Mitt Romney is the only rational choice.
Mitt Romney knows how to fire people.
Newt Gingrich lost my support the day he attacked Mitt Romney on that basis. It proved that Gingrich is either an idiot or so power-hungry he'd say anything to win. Probably both.
Mitt Romney's most important virtue is that he has stripped companies in order to save them.
Because that is exactly what the next president of the United States has to be able to do:
Strip the government of excess programs and personnel. That means firing people and eliminating services.
Anybody can cut taxes. Even Obama can cut taxes.
But cutting jobs and programs from the government so that we can live within our means – that takes guts and brains. Romney's got 'em. Nobody else even knows what they are.
Santorum? He's Al Gore with a different list of ideological commitments. He's never governed anything. He's never made a tough decision for which he would be solely responsible.
But even if the Republicans do, somehow, bring themselves to nominate the only grownup in the field, we still aren't safe.
Just look at Richard Lugar in Indiana. He's facing a serious reelection threat – because he made responsible choices and compromises in order to govern well. He acted moderately. RINO!
If Mitt Romney is elected along with a Congress full of ideological idiots of the left and the right, he'll never be able to enact a grownup program of moderate cuts.
In every state that's electing a senator and in every congressional district, we have to elect grownups to go to Washington and support, not some vast ideological reform, but a careful, moderate, nuanced adjustment to our taxing and spending, that sets us on the road to solvency with the least suffering possible.
Look at all the clowns that have been set against Romney this year. Which of them is even remotely qualified to save this company, this country, from complete bankruptcy? They're every bit as unqualified as the clown who's in the White House right now.
Romney was not my candidate. I still disagree with him on several important issues. But after getting to know all the alternatives, there's nobody else for a sane person to vote for.
What, am I saying that anybody who votes for anybody but Romney is insane?
Pretty much, yes. Insane in the way the Greeks are insane, as they reject the only policies that can save them from economic self-destruction.
And if the Republicans don't nominate Mitt Romney, and the independents and Republicans don't get behind him to elect him, and then support all his reforms, even the ones that take away some favorite benefit, then this will be marked as the election when Americans proved they weren't mature enough to govern themselves.
History is full of examples of what happens to nations that aren't capable of self-government.
I'm a Democrat. My party has already proven that it won't nominate a grownup for president – it hasn't done so from McGovern on forward.
The Republicans have nominated grownups often enough to keep the USA limping along – but the ideologues in the Republican Party usually turn on their grownup president and eat him alive.
If I change my registration from Democrat to Republican, it will not be because I have any respect for the Republican Party – I have none.
It will be so I can vote in the North Carolina primary for the only responsible candidate in the running this year.
And then some clown like Billy Yow or Rick Perry will speak up and I'll switch back. But in the meantime, against my preferences, I have no choice but to vote for Mitt Romney.
It's the responsible thing to do – for my country, for my children, for the world that depends on America, with all its flaws, to maintain any hope of peace and freedom.