Columns / Discourse / September 21, 2011

Voice of Reason: Summer silliness

In 2008, Congress passed a now-forgotten bill known as the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. 85 percent of congressional Republicans and nearly all Democrats voted for $200 billion in tax cuts and new spending, including such men as Tea Party darling Paul Ryan, who recently wrote about the better known stimulus bill of 2009 that Obama’s, “… stimulus spending spree that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt, yet failed to deliver on its promises to create jobs.” Perhaps signing stimulus bills in odd numbered years is different than signing them in even numbered ones. I can’t see any other difference.

Senator Ryan’s selective memory is symptomatic of a larger trend. American democracy is in as profound a crisis it has been in for a long time. This summer showed clearly that a large number of Americans are willing to run this country into the ground in order to keep it in line with their delusional notions of how the world functions, inconveniences such as economics, history or common sense be dammed, all in the name of making Obama a one-term president. I am referring, of course, to the Tea Party, and all of the Republicans in Congress who have been forced to accept its ludicrous dogmas.

George Lukas, the Hungarian Marxist, once claimed that even if every empirical example proved Marx wrong, Marxist theory would still be correct. It is sublimely ironic that it is to old-line Marxism we have to turn to understand this sort of doctrinal purity that drives the Tea Party. The best example is the Obama stimulus package. Even though consensus among economists is that it saved millions of jobs and prevented the recession from becoming a whole lot worse, it is now commonly accepted as a failure, with many Tea Partiers even claiming that it failed to produce a single job (although many Republicans were arguing the exact opposite a few short years ago). How exactly $700 billion dollars put into the economy without a single job being created? Is unpaid ghost labor being used in the stimulus-funded road work? Further, consider the taxpayer bailouts of the auto industry. Big Auto is looking healthier than it has in years and the government has since sold all of its shares, picking up a profit in the process. Most people would call this a win-win scenario. The Tea Party would call this creeping socialism destroying America.

The pinnacle of this carnival of nonsense was this summer’s near-default on America’s public debt. American debt-to-GDP ratios are still well below that of much of the industrialized world, totally only about half as much as Japan, for example. But it was decided that debt had to be cut, and if the economy had to be destroyed in a default, well, so be it. So in a time when the economy is teetering over a cliff and virtually no economist is calling for massive spending cuts, common consensus is now that massive spending cuts are just what are needed. When warnings on the debt ceiling come from the President, Treasury Secretary, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the US Chamber of Commerce that use phrases like “Financial Armageddon” as the consequence of refusing to raise the debt limit, the response was typified in Michelle Bachmann’s call for Obama to stop lying to the American people. The facts apparently did not suit Mrs. Bachmann, so she decided to produce some more to her liking.

Franklin Roosevelt’s advice in the midst of economic calamity is the same we should be following today. The only thing we have to fear remains fear itself. There is no reason that Congress and the American people could not wake up tomorrow and decide to act like the mature adults they truly are and put aside their differences for the common good. This summer has convinced me, however, that nothing of the sort will happen anytime soon.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

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