Monday, August 20, 2012

What conservatives say they want, but what they really want

What I wrote the other day about Richie Rich Romney’s running mate going along with Romney on a tax release has more-or-less come to pass. Paul Ryan, the conservative centerfold model, will release two years worth. It seems a compromise. Romney won’t release his, and Ryan, stuck in the middle, had to do something, so he thought two years sounded good. Uh huh. We’ll see how this ultimately plays out, because President Obama is hammering Richie Rich over his taxes and it will not go away after the Republican convention.

Ryan as a choice was something of a surprise —  or was it? We’ve known all along that Richie was kowtowing to the noisy tea party right-wing of his party. By choosing Ryan it means that Richie has bypassed the mainstream and gone straight for the far right side of the stream. Like his non-disclosure on taxes, Ryan as running mate may come back to hurt him with independents who are looking forward to Medicare, and to us Baby Boomers who are already enrolled.

No wonder his budget numbers are strange. He's looking at them sideways.

Talk about changes in Medicare or Social Security makes me nervous, and should make all Americans sit up and take notice. Because no matter what any politician says, or what Americans claim they want, they like the status quo. That’s borne out in the 2011 book, Among the Truthers, by Canadian journalist and editor Jonathan Kay, who took a couple of years to study American conspiracists of all types, including the 9/11 paranoids and the Obama “birthers.” From his position as an outsider who has done his homework, Kay has some interesting things to say about what American conservatives say and what they really want.

From the book:
Once elected every modern politician, no matter how ostensibly conservative, eventually will have to hang up his tricorner hat, sit down at his desk, and confront the same modern-world realities that greeted his predecessor. Ronald Reagan is the greatest hero in the history of American conservatism. But even he couldn’t find a way to eliminate a single major spending program during his presidency. George W. Bush, denounced as a heartless ‘neocon’ during his two terms in office, actually added a major spending program — the Medicare drug benefit.

Such hypocrisy is old news among American political pollsters. As far back as 1964, two scholars — Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril — used Gallup Poll data to cross-index American attitudes toward government programs and respondents’ professed ideological beliefs. What they found was that overlapping majorities of Americans expressed support both for small government in principle, and big government programs in practice — a paradox Cantril identified in an influential book, Political Beliefs of Americans, as nothing less than ‘mildly schizoid.’ The same phenomenon manifests itself today among conservatives who make radical claims about the need to scale back the size of government, but also express satisfaction with classic welfare-state programs such as Medicare and Social Security. In late 2010, a poll conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University revealed that a majority of Americans who say they want more-limited government also believe that Medicare and Social Security are ‘very important.’ Likewise, more than half of self-declared Tea Party supporters said the government should maintain or increase its involvement in poverty eradication.

. . . The ‘mildly schizoid’ quality of American political life means that this culture war is fought not only between two camps of political partisans, but often within Americans’ own dissonance-wracked minds.

. . .The war is not only shrill but endless: Since most American conservatives would never actually accept the smaller government they claim as their goal, their war demands will never be met — even when their legislative armies conquer Washington.

This aspect of the American intellectual landscape has pathologized political debate — turning every discussion about legitimate policy into a screaming match . . . it is also an aspect that most Americans seem to take for granted, not realizing how strange it all seems.
A few weeks ago it was revealed that Libertarian/Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was accepting Social Security money for himself. Even though he claimed the program (in place since the mid-1930s, for godsake) was “probably unconstitutional” he decided it was better to take the money.

Legislators in our government, Ron Paul included, get a fair salary, fantastic healthcare benefits, get to vote themselves raises, go on junkets at taxpayer expense, and are wined and dined by lobbyists with vested interests. Why any of them with objections to a so-called “nanny state” would accept Social Security, or Medicare for that matter, is beyond me. If they are so opposed to these social welfare programs, so caught up in the principle of the thing, then they should not accept the money. By rights they should just go on making money off the taxpayers by doing what they are elected to do, and not by squeezing federal dollars intended as a social safety net for the rest of the American citizens. You know, what Social Security was designed for!

In the event that Richie Rich Romney and Paul “Rollback Medicare” Ryan win the election, Ryan will be holding a more-or-less symbolic position in the government. I doubt he will be a shadow president like Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney, and I don’t believe that once out of his congressional chair he will have more influence than he did as a lawmaker. So in one way it would almost be better to elect him as vice president, or even better, make sure he doesn’t get re-elected to Congress or elected as vice president, and shelve his ideas about screwing up plans that people have rightfully expected after having worked a lifetime.

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