Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It's a Bleak World After All

I’m on several Republican and Democratic mailing lists that send out periodic “official” surveys to be filled out and sent back.  They are, of course, fund raising appeals.  I’m certain no one ever reads them, or even bothers to tabulate responses.  It’s the shredder for them.  Nevertheless, I fill them out, mostly for my own entertainment.  Republicans send out more than the Democrats.  Both cover the usual array of issues important to their audiences, but Republicans tend to go in for doom and gloom scenarios while Democrats tend to favor a more optimistic tone.  Both frame survey questions so that they assume unstated but implied realities to which an acceptable response can be found in one of the answer boxes following each question.  Throughout the last six years Republican questions and implied answers have been skewed toward tea party type assumptions about issues and government, although the most recent one was a little more nuanced.  Gone were assertions that the federal government is funding abortions,  or that Democrats want to take away everyone’s guns.  It even paid scant attention to securing the southern border.  

The most recent GOP survey came a few days ago.  Here are a few thoughts about it.

The GOP survey authors believe that low taxes,  less government, individual responsibility, free enterprise, and a strong military are the bedrocks of the Republican agenda.  

I’m more inclined to want adequate taxes fairly imposed to meet our needs.  Low taxes by themselves lead to Kansas, and who wants to be in Kansas these days?  The same with less government.  Less may be better in some cases, worse in others.  Mostly I want it to be efficient, accountable, and as transparent as possible.  Individual responsibility is often code for cutting welfare and benefits to minority groups, while ignoring built in advantages for others.  At the same time, the American ideal of individual responsibility is worthy of honor.  How can we best create conditions where it can be encouraged?  As for free enterprise, it’s an illusion.  What we have is a private enterprise system within the context of representative democracies of different kinds at each level of government.  It has never been free of government regulation.  The proper question should be about what kinds of regulation are appropriate for what purposes.  As for our military, it’s the largest most sophisticated in the world, but apparently that’s not enough.  That it’s also bloated, inefficient, and enthralled to a handful of defense contractors, well that’s good for the stock market, and it’s great for lucrative after government service employment, so let’s not get too picky about things like that.

They want to know what you think of the disastrous policies of Obama.

It’s a popular phrase, disastrous policies.  I’ve heard it bandied about in coffee conversation.  No one seems to know what the policies are or how they are disastrous, except to allege that anything going wrong in the world must be their fault.  Indeed, America and the world are falling apart.  Just look around.  Doing that pretty much reveals a world tottering along as it has for centuries, or at least since 1958-59 when Tom Leher wrote and the Kingston Trio made popular a little ditty called the “Merry Minuet” featuring the refrain, “They’re rioting in Africa, there's strife in Iran, what nature doesn't do to us, will be done by our fellow man.”  On the domestic front, it appears from available evidence that we are doing quite well, but that seems to be lost somewhere in the shuffle, a shuffle that has managed to hide quite a few cards up the sleeve.

Do you agree that the country moving in wrong direction?

Right direction, wrong direction.  Both Republicans and Democrats ask that one.  I have yet to know what it means.  In what direction, or on what track, is right or wrong?  How do you know?  Describe the direction we are moving in now, and I’ll have a better handle on it.  Trump was clear about that in the debate.  He said we are being duped by the rest of the world and have become a third world nation.  It seems a tad excessive to me.  What we are is a very powerful nation among other powerful nations, but Pax Americana is no longer something we can impose on the rest of the globe, as if it ever was.  We don’t have to be the best or the greatest in the world.  We have to be the best and greatest as we are capable of being as Americans.  Others may be better and greater at what they are best and greatest at being.  So what?

Can the federal government be trusted to act in the best interest of citizens?

The clear implication is that it cannot.  Certainly not with the current administration in power.  Could it be with the GOP in power?  On one hand are tea partiers who distrust the institution of government regardless of who is in power.  On the other hand the GOP establishment believes they could be trusted if they regain control of the administration.  One has to ask how well they did in their last three shots at it: Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.  Lets forget about who's in charge.  What would a more trustworthy institution look like?  That’s a good tea party question.  Could our institution be made to work in a more trustworthy way?  How?  What about a way to have Question Time in the House, maybe once a month, where the president would be in the dock?

Is political correctness is out of control?

That’s another popular coffee conversation topic.  Locally it seems to mean that men, and some women, think minorities and lefties are way too uppity these days, and take offense way too easily.  Sometimes they’re right, but not often.  Now and then we run into people who seem to take delight in taking offense whenever possible.  Now and then we run into (school) administrations that submit to them.  But not often.  They’re outliers.  What this is about is the language of class and hierarchy.  Big changes in both are afoot, and it’s uncomfortable for those who have always been able to set the rules of language that control class and hierarchy to discover they aren’t in charge anymore. 

Raising the minimum wage would be harmful to the economy.

I once helped lobby against minimum wage increases, although I did it half heartedly because every time I looked at the data it showed otherwise.  Raising it too high would harm the economy, but the nation has not yet reached that point.  In the meantime, each raise has tended to help the economy, especially at the low end.  What complicates the issue is automation that eliminates manual labor, but that’s for another time.

Must we continue to be saddled with failed liberal entitlement programs?

Well certainly not.  Let’s get rid of the failures.  Which ones are they?

Scrap and replace Obamacare

Is this one of the failed programs?  It’s flawed to be sure, but hardly a failure.  So far the GOP has failed to come up with a decent alternative, and has showed no interest in making additions and corrections to the existing ACA that would improve it.  Sadly, both parties seem unwilling to take on the medical insurance industry.

Can you trust Homeland Security to adequately screen incoming aliens (refugees)?

Another coffee group topic. This time the assumption is that we are letting them in with little screening of any kind.  None of those I’ve listened to have any idea how thorough it really is, which it is.  There are holes, but not for refugees.  The holes exist in the process for screening routine tourists, students and business people.  Can we ramp up regulatory oversight in those areas?  If so, how does that affect the goal of less government, less regulation, and less restriction of individual freedom?

What should be done about Democratic fixation on climate change?

The climate deniers are having a harder and harder time making their case.  I’ll bet this question will be dropped from the next survey.  It will be replaced by one that asks about what should be done to alleviate climate change damage without limiting free enterprise.  A little fixation on climate change is what we need more of. 

The Second Amendment

Here’s another area of GOP modification.  Gone are the assertions that Democrats want to take away all the guns.  The 2nd Amendment appeal is still there, but I think there is growing recognition that the extreme wing of the gun rights gang has lost much of its punching power, and that there are acceptable gun control measures that “law abiding gun owners” can live with.  We shall see.

Should we accept Mideast refugees?

The survey authors seem unsure.  They don't want to appear welcoming, but they don’t want to shut the doors either.  Oh come on, let’s let them in.  What the heck, blacks and hispanics are going to outnumber us white guys pretty soon anyway.  Maybe if we pit them against a bunch of Arabs we can still stay in control of everything.   It usually worked on the grade school playground.

Aaack!  We need to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

OK.  Whatever you do, don’t admit that the current administration has done a great job of getting that one “on the right track.”

In closing, I feel a little sorry for the survey authors. They know perfectly well that America cannot impose its will on the rest of the world, but if they want to raise money they must appeal to those who think we can and should.  It also helps to keep the money rolling in to paint the present as dire and the future as terrifying.  It’s a bleak world they offer, but it does pay well.  I guess that’s good. 


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