Like millions of Americans, I paid some attention last night to the State of the Union address and the two Republican responses, one from Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (who, much to my chagrin, did not mention the Fantastic Four at all), the other from Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Abler commentators than I have parsed and re-parsed the President’s speech. I see no reason to add my thoughts to the legion, except to say that I thought it was a good speech, though not one of Obama’s very-good/near-great speeches, like his Tuscon speech of two weeks ago.
No, what concerns me is the Republican responses.
Bachmann’s speech was bizarre, to say the least, and the word “trainwreck” has been casually thrown about, though I’m not sure if “trainwreck” refers to the content of Bachmann’s speech (which, I thought, was fairly standard Republican fare these days) or the context of Bachmann’s speech, with her overly made-up look and her inability to look at the camera. I’m not sure why her speech was necessary, honestly.
Paul Ryan’s response was unsurprising. It was a call for smaller government and lower taxes. The country is on a collision course with bankruptcy due to the President’s policies, like health care reform. A “day of reckoning,” like Ireland and Greece face, is coming for the United States. In short, the solution to America’s problems is to “reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity.”
That sounds good. No, really, it does.
The great struggle in American history has been about what role the federal government should play, what is the relationship between the government and its people. It’s a struggle that goes back to the Continental Congress, and it’s a struggle that has shaped American history through the generations. Obama represents one side of the divide, Ryan represents another. Contrasting visions for the United States, its government, and its people.
The problem I have with the the proposals coming from the right these days, like Rand Paul’s plan (released yesterday) to cut half a trillion dollars from the federal budget before September, is that these plans are reckless and dangerous, not just to the American economy and way of life, but to the world economy as well. It’s obvious to me what would happen if a half billion dollars was suddenly taken from the American economy. It’s obvious to others. Why isn’t it obvious to the right?
It’s the thing I don’t understand about the “smaller government” crowd. To accomplish what they say they really want, unemployment would shoot up immediately (as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are suddenly fired) and daily life would become more dangerous (Paul, for instance, wants to shutter several consumer protection organizations, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institutes of Health).
Paul isn’t the only Republican floating ideas for drastic budget cuts. During the autumn campaign, Republicans promised to cut just 100 billion from the federal budget this fiscal year, and though Republican leadership has been backing away from that pledge, Tea Party organizations are pressing Speaker of the House John Boehner to keep his word. The debt ceiling vote is also coming up in the next month, and there’s talk of using this vote to force a government shutdown; if Congress votes not to raise the government’s cap on debt, the federal government will run out of money and be unable to spend, forcing the government to shutdown. Republicans have been flirting with the idea of a government shutdown for months, and Paul’s plan, because it isn’t a temporary austerity measure, would be the equivalent of a shutdown on steroids.
The economy is already on edge; why pursue policies that are only going to shove it off the cliff? And given the size and importance of the American economy to the global economy, if the United States goes off a cliff, the world can’t help but follow. I can’t see how or why the Republican Party, which has hitched its wagon to the smaller government crowd, would ever be elected again, if they got their way.
(At the very least, the Republican Party would write off the Old Dominion for at least a generation; even though Northern Virginia is largely — though not solidly — Democratic, the rest of the state is not, and the sudden unemployment by vast swathes of NoVa would put an enormous strain on the commonwealth’s coffers. The state would take a financial hit, all because of the Republicans’ fiscal policies at a federal level. Maryland would see the same thing happen, but it’s already firmly in the Democratic column, so it’s not really there for the Republicans to lose.)
Severe austerity measures, no matter how well intentioned, will have repercussions far beyond the federal government’s taxation and spending policies. Shuttering entire federal departments will affect more than just the individuals who worked in those buildings in Washington. It will affect their families, their neighbors. Shuttering some of the watchdog agencies will affect people in small towns across the country. Shuttering the Department of Education will affect college students far beyond the DC metro area who need grants and loans. Conservative and libertarian Republican policies, to the extent that they’ve been articulated, strike me as cruel and inhuman.
Republicans can’t pass a Voight-Kampff test. Philip K. Dick would call Republicans “inauthentic human beings”; they lack empathy (or, in Dick’s terminology, caritas), or even the ability to think of the consequences of their actions on anyone but themselves. I don’t understand how Republicans can claim to have the best interests of the country at heart, when enacting their policies would cause so much damage and so much pain to the social fabric. The anarcho-libertarian utopia that so many on the right are yearning for would, in truth, be anything but.