I often responded by asking where they wanted the money to come from: "Should we raise your taxes to pay for that?" Now you know one reason why I was not elected.
This is a fundamental problem in American politics. Voters have come to look at government as a source of cash. Has everyone forgotten JFK's "Ask not ..." line? Every voter wants every candidate to spend money on this or that. Money for this animal shelter, for that playground, to create jobs here and there, but of course, not in my backyard.
Spending has become the heart of politics. As a result, government spends and spends and spends. It has gotten completely out of control, especially with the latest bailouts of banks and car companies. Many voters are supposedly angry about the bailouts, but what are they going to do about it?
Spending should be the first question every voter asks of every politician, but in a different way. Instead of asking where the candidate will spend money, voters should ask:
"Where will you cut spending?"
You can expect most politicians to dodge this question the first time. They'll give a vague answer about cutting waste or pork. Maybe they'll say they oppose earmarks. Don't let them off the hook that easy. Make them be more specific. Ask questions like this:
"What programs will you cut?"
"How much will you cut from that program?"
"What jobs will you eliminate?"
These are some tough questions candidates don't want to answer. Creating jobs sounds great, so they love talking about that. But the money for the jobs doesn't come out of the politicians' pockets. It comes out of our pockets.
We need to force candidates to tell us where they'll cut spending, and what jobs they'll eliminate. It's easy to promise voters that you'll spend money on some fancy new program, how many jobs it'll create, and how good it'll be for the environment or some other hot-button issue. But we all know the money for that has to come from somewhere. We as voters have to make them tell us.
Every single one of us has to ask these questions. In today's political environment, candidates have been trained, by us, to talk to us about the positives. We have to force them to talk about the hard choices – the negatives. Since we don't do that, they don't think about it. And they don't make the hard choices. They just spend more and more.
If you look around at the current state of government, there are an uncountable number of programs. Does anyone even know how many different programs there are to help the poor? There's gotta be over a hundred. Some of them probably don't work. We should cut those. Imagine if we decided we'd help the poor with just three programs. Now you're a politician – pick the three ways that are most important. If we could just do those three programs well we'd help the poor more than with the 100+ programs we now have that don't work.
How about agriculture? This costs about $300 billion a year. The vast majority of the money goes to wealthy farmers. From just this one issue the average American (man, woman and child) pays $1000 a year in taxes to help rich people.
You can talk about corporate welfare, military spending, education, the drug war, immigration, and so on. But make the candidate tell you where they'll cut. If they give you a vague answer, challenge them on it:
"No, I want you to be specific. Tell us where you'll cut spending."
If it's just one person, it won't matter. But we all know you don't get something for nothing. Don't you want to know where these candidates are going to get the money to pay for all their promises? Make them tell you. Every one of us needs to ask this of every candidate, every chance we get.
Yes, they can duck it once in a while. But if more and more of us ask, sooner or later they'll start getting the message. They'll start to realize that they need to answer those questions. And if they start answering the questions, maybe they'll start doing something about it in Washington and in our state capitals.