Why do we bother with elections?

November 23, 2010

Danny Katch wants to know why we had to pay attention to the elections when the two parties were getting together behind closed doors to plan how to screw us over.

THE MIDTERM elections are over, and the general plan for economic policy is now clear. Oddly, these two things are unrelated.

A mere week after voters went to the polls, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the Democratic and Republican co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, announced their proposals for cutting taxes on the rich--and cutting Social Security and Medicare for the rest of us.

So the Republicans would have won even if they had lost. Am I the only one who now feels silly for having even paid attention? That was valuable time I could have spent perfecting my mix of all-time-best songs with the word "monkey" in the title.

It's worth taking a minute to appreciate some of the moral and logical gymnastics just performed by our political class.

Republicans and Democrats made us watch hundreds of bitter campaign ads over the past year--at the same time that they were quietly getting along just fine in the commission's large stately room in the Senate building.

Alan Simpson (right) with Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the deficit reduction commission
Alan Simpson (right) with Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the deficit reduction commission

Democrats warned us that we needed to vote for them to protect Social Security, but they forgot to tell us how to protect it from their fellow Democrat, Erskine Bowles. Republicans launched the paranoid Tea Parties to protest Obama's every act as big government tyranny--but they're not so concerned about his creation of an unelected government body tasked to decide our economic future.

And political commentators barely finished catching their breath from hailing the significance of the elections when they began hailing the significance of a commission whose report would have been the same regardless of the elections.


AT LEAST Jon Stewart might be pleased that Bowles and Simpson didn't display any of the "insanity" the comedian deplored at his Washington rally. There were no rabid delusional speeches tailored for Fox News. If you check out the videos of the deficit reduction commission's sessions, you'll see a model of the old-school decorum that used to rule Washington: old white men working across party lines for the purpose of screwing the majority of the population.

But despite their drowsy septuagenarian good cheer, Bowles and Simpson produced recommendations straight from the Tea Party's "fuck society" doctrine.

We all knew that these guys were going to call for cutting Medicare and Social Security. Their main role as retired politicians was to be a shield for both of their parties to go after America's two most popular social programs.

But it's a little nutty to then call for the rich to pay lower taxes when your assignment was supposedly to find ways to increase government revenue. Presumably, if Bowles and Simpson served on a task force to reduce childhood obesity, their main recommendation would be to abolish all taxes on millionaires, who could then donate used Shake Weights to needy schools.

Perhaps the co-chairs veered so far right because some of their staffers were on loan from hard-right think tanks funded by billionaire Peter Peterson. The commission's executive director Bruce Reed defended this arrangement as a model of government thrift: "We have a very small budget...Part of our job is not to add to the problem ourselves."

What an innovative way to reduce government spending! In fact, why even bother having to pay all those salaries for congressional representatives and their staffers? We can save a boatload by replacing them with folks whose salaries are paid directly by BP, Goldman Sachs and other corporations devoted to the call of public service.

When Obama created the deficit reduction commission, he assigned it to deliver its report after the elections on the premise that democracy isn't a good way to make the "tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems." The conventional wisdom voiced by pundits--usually in a tone reminiscent of Bill Cosby on "Kids Say the Darnedest Things!"--is that Americans don't like the deficit, but they also don't want to cut their favorite programs either.

In fact, there are two very expensive programs that the majority of Americans tell pollsters they are quite willing to cut: the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich and the war in Afghanistan.

Oops. Wrong "tough choices."

That's the real reason for this unelected commission: No matter how many Tea Parties they fund, the American plutocracy still can't convince most of us to pay for its bailout.

Of course, most Tea Partiers are not exactly black belts in the art of political persuasion. Rand Paul's argument for cutting social programs is that "people don't understand why they have to balance their family budget, but Congress doesn't."

Apparently, Paul thinks most families would like to tighten their budgets even further as a result of lower Social Security checks in order to feel more metaphorically connected to the federal government.

Here's a better analogy: Cutting Social Security and Medicare and slashing state budgets while lowering taxes for the rich is like a family that decides to cut off Junior's allowance, take Sis out of college, force Mom to get a second job, and cut off Grandpa's medication to make sure that Dad can keep himself deep in pure Bolivian cocaine and upgrade to business class for his weekly Vegas binges.

Of course, the conventional wisdom is that Rand Paul's ideas are quite popular. After all, his party just dominated the midterm elections.

But actually, only about 20 percent of Americans voted for the Republicans in the last election. While that's better than the 19 percent who voted Democrat, it's dwarfed by the numbers who stayed home because they didn't think their vote would make a difference.

I wonder what gave them that idea?

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