Okay Dad, Hand Over The Credit Card!

English: Federal Debt Held by the Public by U....
English: Federal Debt Held by the Public by U.S. Presidents and party control of Senate and House, 1901 to 2010; source for debt data is Congressional Budget Office, “Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis”, July 27 2010, http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/116xx/doc11659/07-27_Debt_FiscalCrisis_Brief.pdf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The front door slams and a man with graying hair looks up from his book over rimmed glasses as he sits in an adjacent room. A young woman in her early twenties drops a duffel bag on the wood floor of a well-lit foyer.

Father: You’re home! How’s grad school?

(The girl looks irritated and says nothing)

Father: What’s wrong, baby?

Daughter: (The girl hesitates and then holds her hand out in front of him) Okay. Hand it over!

Father: What are you talking about?

Daughter: The credit card. You and your kick-the-can-down-the-road generation have bankrupted my future. (The girl drops a NY Times on the coffee table and becomes sarcastic) It says in here that the Fiscal Cliff has been averted. Ha! They might as well have announced that the Easter bunny is real. I just finished Michael Lewis’ Boomerang and Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning and I’m depressed.

Father: Haven’t got to those books yet. Since November, I have turned to Merlot and escapism. I’m reading a bestseller about the 16th century. (Pointing to the newspaper, smirking) Cheer up! The Paper reports that the fiscal cliff is a bunny hill and Paul Krugman says spending our way out of the deficit is the only path back to prosperity. I hear Barney Frank may come out of retirement.

Daughter (looking incredulous): Are you kidding me? They only agreed to delay the debt ceiling discussion for 60 more days. Then they are going to ask Congress to raise my credit card limit. Even if the president got all the taxes he wanted, he’d have raised what, $80B of revenues? Where’s the other $15.92 Trillion going to come from? Government made a bunch of promises back in the 1960s in the form of Medicare that they no longer can keep. We’ve known it for a while, but we are hiding it like Enron. If the US government was a public company, the executives would be in jail for accounting fraud and the country would be in receivership. In the real world, you don’t pay as you go! There is bi-partisan dishonesty about the budgets and how dire our situation is. There is a deficit, all right. It’s a deficit of honesty, vision and courage in our public officials and it’s a deficit of public willingness to accept responsibility for managing a problem that has landed in their laps. Winter has arrived and you jerks keep spending the next few generations’ money to avoid a few cold nights.”

Father: It’s not us. It’s that damn Obama. He has created more debt in the last four years than all the Presidents that preceded him. He passed socialized medicine and now he wants to raid Medicare to pay for it. He’s added at least $7B of public debt and he wants to raise the debt ceiling and spend more money. He’s never worked a day in the private sector and can’t balance a lemonade stand.

Daughter: Dad, get real. The guy inherited a nightmare and a constituency that can’t face reality. This is about facing the fact that our healthcare system is broken and literally sinking the country. At some point, no one will lend you money. Congress and the White House have never shown fiscal discipline. We have recorded a budget surplus just five times in the last fifty years. Four of the surplus years came together from 1998-2001, President Bill Clinton’s last three years in office, and President George W. Bush’s first year in office. By the way, our publicly stated debt counts only current cash obligations. The real debt we are facing is more like $75 trillion dollars because we’re not adding in $45T in underfunding for Medicare. Every politician knows this but it is a radioactive secret. Both sides keep up their “Medi-Scare” rhetoric because they want support from retirees who fear they will lose benefits. Face it, Medicare is the biggest single drain on our budget and we have to deal with it.

Father (getting mad): There’s no damn way I’m going to let them raid Medicare to pay for nationalized Obamacare.

Daughter (smiling condescendingly): Dad, Medicare is unmanaged, fee for service, nationalized healthcare. The government controls Medicare costs by rationing reimbursement to doctors and cost shifting to the private sector. It’s the greatest generational rip-off from young to old in the history of the country. Medicare was established when there were 16 workers for every retiree and the average life expectancy was age 68. In 2030, we will have only two workers for every retiree and will have 80 million retirees, four times as many as today. The math does not work. Social Security is not the problem. We have to cut Medicare and make some tough decisions about how we deliver care in the last few months of life.

Father ( getting angry): Oh, now you want to euthanize me and your mother? This is not about Medicare. It’s about a socialist President who wants to redistribute wealth. We need to elect some fiscal conservatives. The Dems won’t make tough decisions. They are give-away artists who pander to Unions, illegal immigrants and anyone who feels they have gotten a raw deal. The GOP needs to win back the White House.

Daughter: Dad, don’t hold your breath. Try running on a platform of fiscal austerity when the new majority is being told that there was a big party from 1998-2008 that they did not attend but that they must now pay for. The demographics in America are changing and a large enough percentage of the GOP’s base has seen their standard of living decline that they have begun to identify with moderate Democrats joining an increasingly heterogeneous group of pro-Democratic voters. The GOP has not been able to convince non-Caucasian voters that they would benefit under their leadership.

Father: Jesus, you’re depressing. Do you have any good news to share?

Daughter: I’m taking Mandarin and I have a summer internship with an Indian microfinance firm that is trying to expand into China and Africa.

Father (trying to appear encouraged): Well, that’s great. Although it sounds like you are going to have a hard time finding a good cheese burger. (Looking bemused) My kid’s going to have to immigrate to another country to find a decent management job.

Daughter (hugging her father and laughing): Not necessarily. We just have to show the resolve to confront healthcare spending and the weight of our entitlement obligations. If we do that, we can be competitive as a country. The way I see it, we have four choices: default on our debt, raise taxes that only delay the day of reckoning and slow down our economy, create a centralized rationing regime in the form of a single payer healthcare system or migrate to a defined contribution premium support model where people receive help buying public or private insurance. I don’t think we want number one or two. So that leaves three or four. We’ve got to get honest – fast and (looking stern at her father), we have to cut up your credit cards.

Father (grabbing his daughter’s bag): How in the hell did you get so smart?

Daughter (smiling and putting her arm around her father): Four years of economics. I have your ear for BS and Mom’s ability to balance a checkbook.

Father (nudging daughter with shoulder): So, you going to tell me who you voted for in the elections?

Daughter (grinning): Ron Paul, I wrote in

Father (making a face) : That was a wasted vote

Daughter (pretending to look offended): Hey, last time I checked, this was still a Democracy.

Dude, Where’s My Party ?

They say women talk too much.  If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.  ~Clare Booth Luce

I just renewed my license at the DMV and was once again asked to register to vote.  I reviewed my two choices – – the party of Pelosi, “we’re all going to get free healthcare” and “look, there’s an investment banker, get him!” or the party of Sarah “ run Nana, there’s a death panel truck” Palin, dyspeptic John Boehner – (actually can you even name five Republicans ?) and Blackwater. I checked the box marked: “Independent”.

Yes, I know that raising politics in a small town is tantamount to taking enriched uranium yellow cake out of your pocket and saying,  “check this out Bob, look what I made in my garage.”

The dictionary defines politics as “ the art and science of administration of government.“ It seems no one disagrees on the serial blunders of W (for some it takes several drinks) whose administration seemed to employ neither art nor science.  Somewhere along the way, compassionate conservatives became passionate conservatives.  (Where did the “com” go?) I still have close friends who stick by the Grand Old Party even though they are disgusted by the party’s state of affairs.  They act like someone whose family member was found to be a convicted serial killer, “ yeah, I know George killed 12 waitresses.  But hey, he’s family.”

Some could take it no longer and moved left into a new protectorate – one that talked of social equity (higher taxes) and tough love (higher taxes).  The migration away from the conservatives led to the election of a new President and some freshman blue dog legislators.  We tossed out a few tired, pieces of aged red and blue cheese who had been sitting on the Congressional counter too long. When the dust settled and the echoes of “yes, we can “ faded, suddenly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in charge.  Some intoxicated by the possibility of a course correction had not read the fine print that indicated these ardent ideologues came with the package.

Many moderates were drawn to the charisma of Obama and the possibility of change.  For others, it was less about moving toward something as it was the need to distance themselves from an ethos that had lost its allure. With the exodus of many Moderate GOPs to Blue Dog Dems, the Conservative Caucus lost critical mass and its chorus was diminished of gentler voices.  The former chorale suddenly screeched with bellicose arias and exaggerated solos of the party’s more hyper-orthodox prima donnas. When I now drive by the Grand Ole Party I see an angry lynch mob.  The GOP is spending less time telling me what it stands for and more time acing like Nostradamus portending our imminent doom.  It is not a party to which a Moderate would want to return.  It’s like seeing your former neighborhood go to hell.  The GOP that I knew – is gone.

My conservative friends regularly remind me that my move toward the left will expose me to a dogma that I never experienced in my moderate greenbelt.  And to a degree, they are correct.  I admit I do not feel at home among the Democratic Caucus.  My GOP pals smile assuming I am having second thoughts. My liberal friends encourage me to give it time. Like a child at his first sleep away camp, perhaps I am just homesick for my mother’s cooking.

I understand the Democrats anger and zealous desire to move with lightening speed to enact legislation that reverses, in their minds, years of great social inequities, visited by a testosterone charged administration that overspent and under-regulated. Dems know that 2010 midterm elections may swing the political pendulum back toward the middle – reducing the chances to pass health and immigration reform, tax increases and the expansion of entitlement programs.  Their clarion cry for equity and moral responsibility falls unevenly on a population that is suffering from a massive case of economic uncertainty.  We see an estimated $9T in public debt and a future where our children’s inheritance is a massive promissory note to foreign investors. It scares us to spend more.

After a year of hanging out with the Southpaws – I feel disingenuous. I do not track with all the high-fiving and grand plans for massive social change.  When we speak of focusing more on those who can’t help themselves and my need to pay higher taxes to finance vital repairs to a ragged social safety net, I am very supportive.  Yet, when the conversation turns to the cost of financing a dramatic transformation of healthcare, education, economic stimulus and immigration, I start to get a little uncomfortable.

My days of Macro and Micro Economics 101 flash back and I can not see how a fragile recovery can shoulder more public debt, higher taxes reaching into the middle class through pass through assessments and a continuation of “put off until tomorrow” monetary policies.  No one is talking tough choices, personal responsibility or austerity.  I start to get nauseous and leave the Donkey’s lair to get some air.  Nobody really notices I am missing.  So what do I stand for?

I subscribe to the ancient Greek saying, “the mark of a great society is when old men plant trees that they know they will never rest underneath.” I believe if you do not have the money to buy what you want, you must pull in your belt and purchase only what you need. I think everyone should have a roof over their head but not everyone should own a home. To quote one pundit, ” if 15% of Americans were homeless, we would not solve the problem by putting the other 85% in Federal Housing.”

I believe “a great society is defined by how it takes care of the least among them.”  The dividends of free market capitalism do not fall evenly on all heads like soft rain. When people fail they do not always reinvent into better versions of their former selves. People don’t “go out of business”, they need a hand up or become wards of a system – a criminal justice or welfare system.  When the economy tanks, it is often the most vulnerable among us that suffer. Its up to us to decide what kind of system we can afford to offer and how we can finance these vital entitlements with a dollar for dollar reduction in non-essential government spending.

If we do not make some tough choices, we could end up with sustained double-digit unemployment, hyperinflation and social unrest. Many politicians simply lack the political will to acknowledge this dangerous climate change.

The best domestic and foreign policy is to create a viable consumer class.  A rising tide of prosperity lifts all boats and drowns out the bellicose extremists that seek to advance agendas ranging from authoritarianism, communism, social Darwinism -any theology that divides people while centralizing power.  Americans are spoiled.  They do not take the time to learn the facts and want rapid resolution.  We don’t live well with pain. We gorge on the empty carbohydrates of TV and radio sound bites.  Charisma and character are often confused.

I am ticked off at Republicans and Democrats for so completely abandoning a doctrine that promised reduced deficits, effective regulation and social investment that expanded the middle class.  We were not supposed to preside over a period where the economic chasm between those at the top and the bottom of society exponentially expanded.

So who do we hold culpable? The Dems want their incumbents (rap sheets and all) reelected.  Meanwhile, the Party of W presided over massive increases in our public debt and now suffer from collective memory loss saying its all Obama’s fault.  A few are even showing grainy photos of what looks like the President firing RPGs with Osama Bin Laden while on holiday in Karachi.   If it were up to me, I would toss the lot of them out on their ear.  Who is buying this garbage?

As someone who still clings to aspirations to leave the world a better place than when I came into it, I am flummoxed. I scan the political horizon line for fresh faces that attempt to honestly frame reality while at the same time having the political courage to attempt to change it.  It’s grim.

Am I a Libertarian? A Populist?  A Demoindependican? My political meandering seems to piss everyone off. I have been accused of being a bleeding heart liberal, an idealistic windsock, a Republican in sheep’s clothing or a political ronin – you name it. Most are usually quick to tell me why an idea won’t work but tend to stumble when asked to offer a viable solution.  It isn’t easy stuff.  Is Obama really a closet socialist hell-bent on massive income redistribution or is he a neophyte liberal politician with incredible charisma whose desire for greater social equilibrium is running into a two party buzz saw that categorically refuses to split the solution down the middle? Is he in control of a headstrong Democratically controlled Congress or is he painfully learning on the job?  Is he Valdemort or Voltaire ?

So here I sit – an Independent.  Do we Independents have a mascot? May be we could choose an eagle – strong, resilient and self-sufficient.  Are eagles taken? Are they, like the Independent, still endangered? Other than Joe Lieberman, I actually don’t know any Independents.  Where do they hang out?  Do we have a convention? Or at least a clubhouse with a small gym?

As I sit with my chin in hand on the proverbial curb, the great red and blue political machines churn, polish, manage and crank out Teflon candidates to challenge one another’s incumbents.  And I can’t find a single member of my new tribe.

Dude, where’s my party?