In the practice of fiction the genre known as "magical realism" is all about introducing fantastic or magical elements into a narrative as if these elements are perfectly normal. This genre should be used as a framework for understanding the fictions being perpetrated by the Republicans and by President Obama under the guise of "budget cuts." Because as far as I can tell, the idea of a "budget cut" comes fully equipped with magical qualities--from reducing a huge deficit without tackling the big issues to curing unemployment by putting more people out of work to guaranteeing weight loss without exercise or diet control.
OK, so I made up the part about weight loss. But compared to what both sides are claiming their version of the budget will do for us, it's a wonder they didn't package weight loss in with the rest of the hype.
On the right, the Tea Party-led Republicans want to cut $61 billion from the current budget by eliminating hundreds of government programs as well as Head Start, NPR, PBS, funding for disease prevention, infrastructure repair, and jobs currently held by educators, researchers, and police. They also want to end the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases and cut back by 43% the funding for constructing border fences and 53% of the funding to clean up the Great Lakes.
If successful, this Republican magic--bad magic if you ask me--will leave Americans without the qualities of life we have come to expect from a civilized society as well as render us less safe and secure. There will be higher unemployment figures and as a result of fewer people making a decent living, there will be less revenues coming into the coffers from taxes. The deficit will likely go up, not down, as the government will have less money available to pay it down and the interest on it will continue to increase.
But what the hell, right? Got to pay down that deficit!
President Obama's $3.7 trillion budget proposal for 2012 contains budget cuts that are shamefully similar to those of the Republicans --again, we lose hundreds of government programs and jobs. He claims that over the next decade his plan will reduce the federal deficit by $1.1 trillion, enough to prevent another financial crisis. At least he has the good sense to continue our investment in K-12 education, and to try to protect Pell Grants and infrastructure repair by moving them into the "mandatory" spending category, effectively saving them from the "discretionary" axe. As might be expected, the Heritage Foundation, ignoring the rest of the Obama proposal, immediately used those two examples as a brush to tar the president's entire proposal as "fake."
Which is not as harsh as what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said over the weekend about the Republican proposal to reduce his already trimmed $540 billion budget by another $14 billion. He admitted that the party that initially hired him and under whose direction we co-created two unfunded wars, was now "disconnected from the real world." Gates is a good fellow by all accounts, but methinks this is an understatement.
Both the Republican and Democratic budget plans are exercises in "let's pretend." Both plans contain magical elements. And both ignore the Big Bad Four: War, Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.
Let's begin with a primer on war debt. Although both parties call for significant cuts to defense over the next five years, neither party is willing to suggest that a real cut to that budget by way of ending two unwinnable and unfunded wars would not only be justified in the minds of a vast majority of voters, but would prevent us from having to cut programs and jobs at home. Then all we would have to do is pay for them, something that neither the Bush administration nor the Obama presidency has thus far been willing to do. Talk about magical thinking!
Here's what we should do. If we are serious about paying down the deficit we ought enact a bipartisan plan to (1) end the wars that will, by the end of 2012, cost us $3 trillion, and (2) increase taxes on the rich and on corporations to pay for them. After all, we didn't get into the bad economic shape we are in because of the high salaries of government workers, or the $5,500 cap on Pell grants, or because too many people listen to NPR.
We got into this mess because Republicans used their well-oiled fear machine to goad us into long wars that have not been won and that have succeeded in nearly bankrupting us, and into a global financial crisis that so far has only shown a recovery for Wall Street, the ultra rich, and the large corporations who have more money on hand than ever in recorded history.
It is time to hold accountable those sectors of the American commonwealth who have brought us to our knees and who now want us prostrate. It is time for those of us who claim the progressive/liberal stripe to apply pressure to an administration dangerously close to losing the 2012 elections not because of anyone on the right, but because we on the left will continue to abandon both the president and other Democrats who cower behind poll numbers and then cave to corporate interests rather than fight for what is right.
I do not fear the right in the next election. Republicans will be torn apart from within by divisions caused by their unholy alliance with the Tea Party. Nor do I fear a one-term Obama presidency, at this point, if he loses, I'd bet most of us think he has only himself to blame.
But really, this is not about Obama. That we think it is about Obama is proof that the Republican fear machine is still intact and as progressives we are still feckless and disorganized to do much more than criticize a president and fail to offer alternatives. What Obama is doing is offering a plan that will be denied by the Republicans, at which point he can say to them: " So what do you bring to table? What can you offer?" He's banking on that. He's betting the next election on his ability to make this budget pass, with modifications, pretty much like health care reform.
That is both what works in American politics and what is wrong with American politics. And you and I know it.
Let Bloomberg run. Let Trump run. I don't care. You don't care. What you and I do care about, is what we genuinely fear. And that is more of the same tired bureaucratic mindless avoiding of the hard questions and corruption of our ideals, the same old crap that, because of the mindlessness of those we elect, makes the rich richer and blows a raspberry in the collective face of the rest of us, regardless of who is in charge.