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February 11, 2010

Vineyard: A republican deficit plan

— After a year of a legislative policy of “just say no,” at least one republican has come forth with an actual plan to fix the nation's deficit. Republican Party leadership in Congress, however, has made it clear in their responses that his is not a “republican party plan,” but just his own ideas. However, the president states publicly that he has taken notice the plan. We might be a bit puzzled about all that. 

In bringing forth his plan, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says he wants to be sure that the republican party is viewed as “the alternative party, not the opposition party.” That would, of course, be quite a change. 

But let us look for a moment at the major features of Rep. Ryan's proposed republican plan. What are his new ideas? 

For openers, Rep. Ryan proposes to decrease corporate taxes and taxes on the investor class to “spur economic growth.” He would shift Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to private insurance companies, thus privatizing these two government programs.

He would immediately raise the retirement age to 70, and reduce Social Security benefits.

Further, he would privatize Social Security by taking the SS payroll taxes and allowing them to be invested in private market accounts. Where have we heard that idea before?

In other words, Mr. Ryan proposes scrapping - privatizing - much of the great social legislation of the last century, starting with Mr. Roosevelt's Social Security program enacted during the Great Depression. Or, should we say the last great depression? 

Sure enough there are some fiscal authorities who say that Mr. Ryan's plan would actually reduce the deficit over the next 10 or 20 years, as well we might expect such draconian measures would.

Mr. Ryan quite appropriately notes that his proposed solutions highlight differences in philosophy between the two parties - republicans and democrats. He is right on that point. 

In the meantime, Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate in economics, writes that the political and media furor over the deficit amounts to “political scare tactics,” comparable to all that about the weapons of mass destruction and scares preceding taking this country to war in Iraq.

The media are filled with various ominous statements about the deficits, he says, such as threats to economic recovery, threats to influence abroad, and threats to our economic stability. These are reported as facts, he says, and not as opinions. 

But Krugman says that these are all opinions, most of them politically inspired and not held by mainstream economists. 

“Fear mongering on the deficit may end up doing as much harm as the fear mongering on weapons of mass destruction,” the Nobel economist states in the New York Times.

Current deficits are a result of the economic crisis, lowering revenue and increasing expenditures in protecting the country from a depression, he says. 

“The point is that running large deficits in the face of the worst economic slump since the 1930s is the right thing to do,” Krugman states unequivocally. 

He indicates that there will indeed be a time later for raising revenues, reducing expenditures, and balancing budgets. He insists that time is not now. 

Republican politicians crying wolf about the deficit now are really not in a very defensible position to be doing so, if anyone bothers to check the facts. Recent republican administrations have a very bad record on deficits. The deficit tripled during Ronald Reagan's presidency. A whopping $4.9 trillion in debt was run up under the recent George W. Bush administration, with his penchant for cutting taxes and undertaking both domestic and foreign adventures on deficit. 

Krugman correctly identifies the source of deficit hysteria.

“The answer,” he says, “is politics.” 

Our opposition party in this country has consistently used the strategy of fear to gain its purposes, political and otherwise. As the economist noted, the politics of fear were employed to justify the ill-fated Iraq War.

Each time there was a critical national election, the alert level for Homeland Security appeared to be manipulated for an advantage.  The much needed moderate health care reform proposals were demonized, with the help of special interest money.

The current “tea party” movement thrives on fear of one kind or another to provide frenzy to their efforts. 

A recent independent study of the views of persons who identified themselves as “republican” is quite revealing, and rather frightening, on the mind-sent of many in that party today. Most of us would prefer not to believe that a portion of our electorate could be this far off base. 

According to this television news report, 31 percent of republicans polled believe that President Obama is a racist. A majority - 63 percent - believe that the president is a socialist. And, 36 percent of republicans believe that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States. 

These numbers are startling. They tend to support a position taken by this writer in earlier essays, namely that moderate republicans are disappearing from the scene.  

It is unfortunate that party leadership, in Congress or elsewhere, have not undertaken to correct the thinking of their party rank and file. Instead they embrace such views. They appear to be frightened of the more extreme among their constituency. They are cowed by right wing media and by right wing money. 

Fox News and right wing radio support such thinking as that demonstrated above. Time and again their staff and their guests expound upon the birther thing and the socialist label. Beck on Fox and Limbaugh on radio consistently level all these, plus racist accusations. 

The most perplexing thing about these numbers is that they go against just plain facts. The most frightening thing is that right wing media have succeeded in successfully brainwashing such a high percentage of that party to the point of losing factual orientation. 

Some of us are old enough to remember a phenomenon similar to this, managed by Mr. Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany. The accompaniment of the tea party activist movement by a revival of the militaristic gun rights and militia movement is indeed disturbing. 

Edwin E. Vineyard is a retired college president. He lives in Enid.

 

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