Sunday, July 11, 2010

Republicans in the Ascendant?

Senator Kit Bond, Republican from Missouri, sent a letter to the Economist magazine, published July 3, 2010. I thought it was noteworthy in revealing a lack of critical thinking, and conversely, a penchant for rhetorical fallacies, especially imprecise metaphors and emotionally loaded modifiers. Both sides of the political divide indulge this kind of phatic speech but this is a particularly interesting example because it seems like he is trying to be even-handed and facts-based, but just can’t manage it.

The new Republican agenda
SIR – Your analysis of what is wrong with the Republican Party hit one right note: voters expect solutions, not just rage (“What’s wrong with America’s right”, June 12th). President Barack Obama and his party in Congress came to power by riding the powerful tailwinds of discontent; Americans were rightfully angry that some on Wall Street had caused a financial crisis that left many families with a pink slip instead of a pay cheque.

The Democrats have taken advantage of this anger to force their agenda through Congress, while blocking Republican bipartisan solutions. Democrats have steamrollered through both chambers their policies of expanding government, increasing spending and swelling our debt. It is no surprise that American voters are once again angry, sick with bail-out fatigue, government overreach and runaway spending. Americans feel like Washington is no longer listening to them.

[My Comments: Is any majority vote a “forced agenda”? Did the Democrats “steamroller” their proposals through congress? I recall plenty of debate. But the Republicans lost. The majority rules in this country. That cannot be a novel concept for the senator. So what is his point? That he is a sore loser?

Did democrats “block” Republican solutions? I am not aware of any serious proposals from Republicans on Health Care Reform or Financial Reform. Republicans attempted to obstruct every single legislative proposal and not a single Republican voted for Health Care Reform. Republican proposals were invited but were not forthcoming. But let’s assume there were some proposals that I am not aware of. Were they bipartisan? Declaring that an idea is bipartisan does not make it so. If no Democrats accept a particular Republican proposal, in what sense is it bipartisan?

Do Democrats have “policies” of expanding government, increasing spending, and swelling our debt? These may be short term consequences of Democratic actions, but there is no policy that Democrats hold these as principles. The national debt tripled under George W. Bush. (Wars are expensive. Tax cuts are expensive.) Was it therefore a “Republican policy” to increase spending and swell the debt? I doubt the senator would agree. The senator conflates selected, short term consequences of legislation with general political policy.

Some Americans, perhaps including the Senator himself, may be “angry, sick with bail-out fatigue, government overreach and runaway spending.” However polls do not support that characterization of the majority’s views. I myself, for example, do not feel that way. I think the Democrats pulled the country back from the precipice of disaster with the bail-out, then used its majority power to extend health care to millions of Americans. There is no evidence that the spending was, or is, “runaway.”

It may be true, however that “Americans feel like Washington is no longer listening to them.” But that is always true. Politicians in Washington live in a bubble world, regardless of what party is in power. Hardly any information gets in or out. So this objection is not germane to the Senator’s complaints.]

[The senator continues...]
This new wave of anger offers the Republican Party an opportunity to promote its policies, which reflect the philosophy that America’s future depends far more on empowering individuals than empowering big government. These pro-growth solutions, such as Paul Ryan’s sound plan to deal with the deficit, include tax relief for individuals, families and small businesses, a comprehensive American energy bill and real health-care reform that lowers costs and improves care. Common sense solutions will not only sate voter anger and erase economic uncertainty, but bring sanity back to Washington policies.
Senator Kit Bond
Washington, DC

[My Comments: The first sentence of the senator’s final paragraph is a legitimate proposition and is well-stated. The Republican party should promote its policies. However, the next sentence begins by characterizing Republican policies as “pro-growth.” But growth for whom? History would suggest that Republicans favor growth of wealth and power for those who are wealthy and powerful. Democrats, on the other hand, are concerned more with economic prosperity for the lower and middle classes. “Pro-growth” is thus a vague generalization. In political speak, it is generally code for pro-business.

The senator endorses Paul Ryan’s “sound plan.” What is that? It is, roughly, a House bill (HR4529) that would cut medicare benefits for millions of Americans. Is that a “sound” idea? Yes, in the sense that it would significantly reduce the government’s entitlement burden, the main factor that must be addressed to “bend” the deficit curve. However, what about all the millions of people who have no other form of health care? Let them eat cake?

Ryan proposes that people be given vouchers with which to buy private insurance, which would take them off medicare. We must assume that these vouchers would be worth much less than the parallel value of medicare costs over a person’s lifetime, for otherwise there would be no savings to the government. So essentially, the plan is to undo the Democratic health care reform, not by repeal, but by replacing all those newly covered millions by millions of others kicked out from the full coverage umbrella of medicare. Is that sound policy? Depends on whether you think government is to serve all the people, or just the rich ones.

I also notice in the senator’s last paragraph that he speaks of “tax relief,” instead of “tax cuts.” Apparently Republicans have become aware that their favorite slogan is mindless and subject to ridicule. But who could object to tax relief? Everybody wants relief.Nevertheless , I would rather have “relief” from the two wars started under Republicans that have drained the treasury, rather than “relief” from mass transit, hospitals, green energy, financial regulation, education, and health coverage. “Tax relief” without a discussion of what taxes buy, is not a proposal, but a specious shibboleth.

Are common sense solutions the best as the senator asserts? It depends on whose notion of common sense you mean. I don’t trust Senator Bond’s. It’s up to him to persuade voters that his idea of common sense is in our own best interests. He, and other Republicans, may be able to do that, because most voters are not able to exercise critical thinking any more than the senator is. It’s all about emotion, personality, and innuendo.]