Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hey Mark: Who's Your Daddy?

Yet again, Mark Hyman pronounces that anyone who doesn’t agree with him on an issue must not take that issue seriously. In his commentary about Senator James Inhofe’s proposed legislation that would cap all non trust-fund, non defense spending at the previous year’s level, Hyman says of the 2/3 of the Senators who voted down the amendment that they are “spendthrifts who can’t help themselves.” No, they aren’t simply wrong, misguided, or short sighted; they are in some way pathological, out of control, and unworthy of honest debate.

To begin with, it’s a little odd to be casting aspersions on the mindset of other Senators when you’re defending Jim Inhofe.
Inhofe is the guy who said he was “outraged” not about torture at Abu Ghraib, but outraged at the outrage over torture. He also has called the Red Cross a “bleeding heart” organization, doesn’t believe in global warming, and said that 9/11 was spiritual punishment against the United States for not being pro-Israel enough.

None of this necessarily means that his spending cap amendment is wrong, but with an intellectual track record like that, it would serve us well to approach any idea of Mr. Inhofe’s with some degree of skepticism.

And indeed we should. Although Hyman carefully implies that Inhofe’s amendment would cap spending beyond keeping up with inflation, the fact is that
the text of Inhofe’s amendment makes no mention of adjusting for inflation; it simply says that spending will be capped at the previous fiscal year’s level. If funding doesn’t keep up with inflation, that is a cut in real terms.

And even if Hyman’s insinuation were true, simply keeping up with the inflation rate doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about issues like health care, where the costs go up much more quickly than the general rate of inflation. So yes, Mark, in many cases, raising spending along with inflation does amount to real cuts if those raises don’t keep pace with the actual costs in a particular sector of the economy.

Hyman also leaves out the little detail that it would take a 2/3 majority, not a simple majority, to raise spending. That means that a small minority in the Senate could hold programs hostage, effectively cutting any number of federal programs that a huge number of Americans profit from (including a great number of conservatives—where do you suppose those ranching subsidies come from?).

That, of course, is the whole point. Far right conservatives like Inhofe and Hyman like the idea of placing institutional cuts into the budgeting process because then they can do away federal programs that they see as inherently morally wrong without actually having to make a persuasive case to the American people, or even to more than 34 Senators.

But even if one thought this would be a good idea, why take defense spending off the table? Given the enormous size of the army and the lack of a Cold War, wouldn’t it make sense to put similar limits on the Defense Department which, as we well know, is infamous for its own spendthrift ways? Surely if there was a war on, the Senate would approve emergency funding increases, right?

Probably, but that’s not the point. Conservatives love big government, as long as it’s in those areas they approve of. As
George Lakoff notes, conservatives are enamored with “strict father” morality, and this includes a preoccupation with protection, even to the point of funding the military beyond what the Pentagon has requested. Spending on the military is a good in and of itself, beyond any practical concerns, because the military represents the very embodiment of the type of hierarchical, regimented, and patriarchal value system that pervades conservative thinking.

On the other hand, funding education, child care, health care, etc. are too touchy-feely and caring to fit into this worldview. These programs help people who should be helping themselves, so let’s cap them in a way that amounts to a gradual erosion of such programs (so say conservatives).

Hyman nor Inhofe are both being dishonest about where their priorities are. They're ultimately not terribly concerned about the size of the budget deficit. After all, they’re supporters of a president whose managed to balloon the deficit in a mere five years to unprecedented heights. They just want to spend money on those things that they approve of, not what most Americans want.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.62


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