Astute people with low boredom threshholds may recall that earlier today, I said the President made a speech that didn't suck. He talked about the glory of the American people, and how New Orleans is possessed of an indomitable spirit (accept no imitations!), and how poverty and racial injustice have left an ugly scar on the wound of an already-ugly tragedy and by gum the government was going to do something about it. Did I believe him? Hell, no, not even for a second. But I thought it was a pretty good speech.
Well, it took him all of twelve hours to piss away the goodwill he earned with it. It didn't take long for his fellow Republicans -- and plenty of Democrats, for that matter -- to ask the impolitic question "Hey, how are we going to pay for all this?" And with a bolt of mortal panic wracking him like a lightning strike, he instantly and unhesitatingly assumed the position and said, in as clear a voice as he could with all that plutocratic dick in his mouth, WELL WE CERTAINLY AREN'T GOING TO RAISE TAXES!
So, the questions continued, how are we going to pay for all this? As is often the case with this administration, no clear plan was forthcoming: only the idiot's assurance that somehow, some way, everything was going to work out okay in the end. "You bet it will cost money," said Mr. Straight Shooter preliminary to lying his sack off, "but I'm confident we can handle it." We're going to pay for it all with confidence, you see! All we have to do is find a bank that will accept confidence as legal tender. But if by some chance the sunny goodwill of the president can't be converted into building materials, he has a further plan: "We're going to be wise about the money we spend."
In other words, we're going to do what Republicans always say we should do to pay for debts they have themselves incurred: we're going to cut government spending, or, as they prefer to phrase it, government 'waste'. Now, let's think about what this means, and what the administration might consider cutting in order to meet the Katrina bills that are about to come due.
Will they cut social programs? Oh, absolutely they will. Social spending of every stripe has always been a favorite target of the GOP, who cling fiercely to the dogma that poverty is, as a rule, the fault of the impoverished, and easy enough to escape without help if one happens to have a grindstone or a pair of bootstraps lying around. Despite the stunning claim last night that he intends to address the poverty and desperation that exacerbated the harm done by the hurricane, there is no question that federal aid to the working class will be among the first, if not the first, target of this 'wise spending'. Will they cut educational spending? There's no question about it. 25 years of New Republican dominance have given us plenty of high-minded talk about children who won't be left behind and a succession of "Education Presidents", but the schools get worse and worse, their funding gets smaller and smaller, and student debt (particularly that which is privately held) gets higher and higher, as party navigators talk about abandoning the public school system altogether and shifting the entire burden to private enterprise. Will they attempt at every turn to slash the incomes of government employees? Without a doubt. The GOP is now and has always been virulently anti-union, and with their promotion of "free trade" and decades of Labor Department hostility (with the collaboration of New Democrats, who waste no time in shanking their longtime union allies) leading to a near-extinction of private sector labor as a political and economic force, they're turning their guns on AFSCME, now the largest union in the country. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which folded dozens of departments and thousands of workers into a new and entirely non-unionized blanket organization, was a coup for them, and you'd best believe that they'll be pursuing further opportunities of the same shape. Will they deregulate? Will they repeal, ignore or weaken environmental protections? Will they increasingly shift the burden of law enforcement, infrastructure maintenance and emergency management to states that are ill-prepared to handle them? Yes on all counts; they have done so and will continue to do so. Even programs they trumpet as sacrosanct, from intelligence to homeland security, have been and will increasingly be underfunded. The most holy task of government -- military defense -- is likewise apt to suffer; military spending will remain high (after all, we must continue to develop new weapons systems so as to enrich the important people in the private sector), but an already-established military doens't make money, it costs money. Patriotic pieties aside, the shabby state of our troops' gear in Iraq and the dismal treatment veterans receive upon returning home is all the evidence you need that even the military is fair game for a shakedown when the waiter arrives with the check.
So what's untouchable? A few things. Not as many as there used to be; gargantuan deficits and emboldened ideologues have led us to the brink of wielding the knife on programs previously felt invincible like Social Security and Medicare. Even the House and Senate, who finally noticed that they're already incredibly rich, are willing to make a show of taking pay cuts to create the illusion of shared sacrifice. That leaves only a tiny number of things that will be absolutely protected, and the enumeration of those things tell you all you need to know about the Republican party. Corporate welfare programs will not be touched. 'Job creation' and 'economic incentive' programs, themselves merely elevated business giveaway programs involving tax credits, debt relief and sweetheart deals on land and property, will likewise remain intact. And most importantly, most importantly of all: we will not raise taxes. We will not. And more precisely, we will not repeal, nor fail to extend, the tax cuts which have already gone into effect, which as has been monotonously demonstrated have benefited the rich most fully.
Think about that for just a moment, because I don't allow for much argument here: nothing I've said is particularly controversial. The president has said as much himself. If you were to ask him, guaranteed of an inevasive answer, if he would rather pare spending in the areas I have listed rather than raise taxes, I think his answer would be a nearly unqualified affirmative. So think about that: we have the largest debt in the history of currency. We have converted an unprecedented budget surplus into an equally unprecedented budget shortfall. We are in the position of having to pay for a very expensive war, and whether or not you believe the war was justified, it is likely to drag on for many more years. We have argued and frightened ourselves into the position of spending billions on an anti-terror program of increasingly questionable efficiency. And we must now pay the costs of the gravest natural disaster in modern American history. In order to do that, we may abandon the poor to feed themselves on the tattered remains of a safety net we are gradually scissoring to bits; we may sacrifice decent educations for our children, leaving them to either lose their jobs to immigrants with more generous governments or face a lifetime of debt that will swallow every penny their costly education makes them; we may relegate labor, the sick and the elderly to a social situation more reminiscent of the 18th century than the 21st; we may allow corporations to function unchecked at a time when it becomes ever more clear what their depredations are doing to our world; and we may give the shortest of shrift to the front-liners trying to protect what's left of our freedoms. But what we absolutely, positively, unquestionably will not do is ask the wealthiest people in the wealthiest country in the wealthiest century in history to pay more taxes. That we will never do.
The GOP has done a great deal to eliminate their reputation as 'the party of the rich'. They have painted themselves as 'the party of fiscal shrewdness', while totting up the most grotesque budget deficits imaginable; they have painted themselves as 'the party of values', while abandoning all designs on social engineering once the elections are over and they can focus their attention on fattening their fellow elephants; they have painted themselves as 'the party of strength' while involving us in one half-formed, ill-planned, unneeded and unwinnable war after another. And to a great extent, it's worked; their wealth and ruthlessness have bought them an extremely well-honed propaganda machine that has convinced an awful lot of people (for, after all, their real demographic, the ultra-rich for whose benefit all their serious legislating is done, is and always will be a tiny minority) that they're really and truly the party of the people's interests, the people's morals, the people's will. But while much has changed since Paul Fussell wrote his vastly important book Class in 1981, one thing he says is still unconquerably true:
The top classes, ave we've seen, have very few ideas. One of the few is that capital must never be "invaded".
And there it is: there is everything you need to know about the G.O.P. There is every reason, stripped down to its essentials, that I cannot give my support to this party. There is the naked heart of the shadow man, beating raw and green under all his folksy propaganda. No matter how many disasters strike; no matter how many wars we start; no matter what catastrophes of debt, disaster and want befall the United States, capital must never be invaded. Taxes must not be raised. There is always the explanation: the ludicrous Randian myth that if 'punitive taxation' is introduced the productive will stop producing, or the shaky neoclassical trope that higher taxes inevitably lead to decreased economic activity. But behind the explanation is always this: damn our poor, damn our men, damn our future. Damn them all, but save me my taxes: what's mine is mine. That is George Bush's answer to the hurricane; that is his answer to everything. If you don't think it's a very good answer, you've got three years until you can do something about it. Too bad.