On The Election

I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.
I hear parents say that to their kids when what they really mean is “I’m mad as hell but I’m trying to set a good example.” I hear supervisors say that when what they really mean is “I’d like to fire your worthless ass but I don’t have time for all the paperwork HR will make me do.”
When it comes to Tuesday’s election, I’m not mad, and I’m certainly not surprised. I’m disappointed.
I’m disappointed that in two years, a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress (which for a while had a supermajority in the Senate) haven’t passed real health care reform, comprehensive immigration reform, and haven’t ended two foreign wars. I voted for change and I’ve seen far too much business as usual.
That said, I understand that change never comes at the pace we want, that dealing with 535 overinflated egos takes time, and that doing something about the worst recession in most of our lifetimes had to be the first priority.
Which makes me very disappointed with all the people – many of them young – whose energy and enthusiasm and idealism helped elect Barack Obama who didn’t bother to vote this time. I’ve read that the “youth” turnout may have been as little as half of what it was in 2008. The brilliant Mark Morford says it better than I can – go read his column from yesterday.
Come on, people – you don’t vote only when your candidates are likely to win. Progress is gradual, it comes in fits and starts, and it’s only sustained by consistent effort.
I’m disappointed with all the people who understandably said the economy was their number one issue who then voted for candidates who made cutting spending their top priority. Folks, this is Economics 101 and that’s a page right out of Herbert Hoover’s playbook. Recessions happen because people reduce their spending (there’s always a reason why they reduce their spending – like they lost their job – but a reduction in spending is the immediate cause). Governments increase spending during recessions to make up for lost individual spending and stimulate the economy.
No, Wall Street and GM didn’t deserve bailouts. Yes, the various stimulus programs added to the deficit, which needs to be addressed at some point. But if we hadn’t done that, the Great Recession would have turned into the Greater Depression. It’s the same reason why the Bush tax cuts (which were a bad idea in 2001 – those funds should have been used to pay down the national debt) have to be extended. Raising taxes has the same effect as cutting spending – it reduces overall economic activity, which prolongs the recession and diminishes the recovery.
Fix the recession now – fix the deficit when the unemployment rate reaches an acceptable level.
And if I hear one more person parroting Rush Limbaugh with “cutting taxes always increases revenue” I’m going to scream and throw things. If that was true, we could keep cutting the tax rate lower and lower, revenue would go up and up until we had a tax rate of zero generating infinite revenue. Yes, it worked in the 1980s. If the highest marginal tax rate is 70%, then the additional economic activity and the reduced incentive to hide income is likely to generate more tax revenue than is lost from the lower rates. But at some point, the incremental stimulus of a tax cut becomes less than the revenue lost due to the lower tax rate. Finding the “sweet spot” of tax rates vs. revenue requires more economic data than I have, but the 2001 tax cuts showed that our current top rate of 35% is well below it.
I’m disappointed that so many people are voting their gut-level reaction instead of thinking through the issues. This isn’t a lack of education and it isn’t a lack of intelligence. It’s a lack of commitment to think through issues (they’re always more complicated than a sound bite), to put aside anger at some people getting things you don’t (no, GM didn’t deserve a bailout for decades of lousy cars when nobody’s bailing you out, but we’ll all be worse off if they go bankrupt) and to understand that imperfect solutions are better than ignoring problems.
I’m disappointed with the election. It means digging out of the recession will be harder and longer. It means setbacks in the drive for universal health care. It means action on climate change and alternative energy probably won’t happen. It means progress on a host of social issues like marriage equality will be slowed or reversed.
I’m disappointed. But unlike 2004, I’m not going to wallow in my disappointment. I’m going to keep practicing my faith. I’m going to keep working for a world that’s more fair and just and compassionate. To quote the line originated by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker and made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I don’t have to see the end to know the work is worthwhile.
The election is over – the Great Work of Life and Love goes on.
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