Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Perpetuation of Fantasy Columnists

Robert J. Samuelson's fetid pile of worthless verbiage this morning, "The Rise Of Fantasy Politics," probably wouldn't even make decent compost. Let's roll:
By all rights, we should be having a fierce debate over the role of government. What should it do, for whom and why? What can we afford? Who should pay? These questions would suggest a campaign that seriously engages the future. Instead, we have a bidding war between candidates to see who can promise the most appealing package of new spending programs and tax cuts.
The funny thing is, implicit in the differences in McCain's and Obama's policy positions is a pretty fierce debate over the role of government. Obama wants to greatly expand the availability of affordable health insurance through governmental means; McCain wouldn't. Obama's cap-and-trade plan not only goes further than McCain's in its targets, but its permits would be fully auctionable, which would raise a lot of revenue. McCain's permits probably wouldn't be auctionable, and he doesn't seem like he understands that cap-and-trade means mandatory caps, so it's doubtful that he's all that invested in his own proposal. Obama wants to implement a very mild addition to Social Security revenue, appropriate to a program that's hardly in any trouble. McCain wants to privatize it.

The debate's there, Bob. You're just not covering it.
As we watch the conventions, we should recognize that we've entered an era of fantasy politics. Like fantasy football and baseball, fantasy politics is an exercise in make-believe that is intended to keep its players occupied and to make the winners feel good.
I quote from James Fallows' 1996 piece, "Why Americans Hate the Media":
In the 1992 presidential campaign candidates spent more time answering questions from "ordinary people"—citizens in town-hall forums, callers on radio and TV talk shows—than they had in previous years. The citizens asked overwhelmingly about the what of politics: What are you going to do about the health-care system? What can you do to reduce the cost of welfare? The reporters asked almost exclusively about the how: How are you going to try to take away Perot's constituency? How do you answer charges that you have flip-flopped?
And in the 16 years since, nothing's changed. Except that pundits are more likely to slam candidates for trivializing the race - after the newspapers they write for have failed to cover the substantive proposals they've put forward.

This blog's only been up for a few short weeks, but it's already a recurring theme here. It's the perpetuation of fantasy columnists, with their apparent lifetime tenure, and their protection from all the slings and arrows that affect normal people. Speaking of which, Samuelson says:
Eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare should gradually rise to 70; people now live longer and should work longer.
Bob, I'll put this as politely as I can: go fuck yourself with a piece of rusty rebar.

As I was saying in comments the other day, people like Samuelson, who make more than 97% of Americans do while sitting at a desk, have no problem proposing benefit cuts, raising the eligibility age, and other 'hard choices' that would be hardest on those who are usually the ones who get stuck with the shit end of the stick.

People like him don't know people like my wife's parents, who both barely made it to 62 before they had to retire because their bodies just couldn't take any more.

When people like Samuelson start talking about 'hard choices' for Social Security, they're very lucky I'm not in the room with them. Not that I'd hit anyone (I'm well past that point in life), but when the wave of my anger hit them, they'd feel like they'd been punched in the gut.

But I'm jumping ahead. Samuelson's impetus for raising the retirement age:
Last week, I viewed "I.O.U.S.A.," an 87-minute documentary exploring the grim budget outlook. In many ways, unbalanced budgets define the political deadlock. The persistence of deficits over so many years (42 of the past 47) can have only one basic cause: Politicians of both parties prefer spending to taxing.
Or it might be that, even when a President attacks the problem of unbalanced budgets head-on, balances four budgets in a row, and leaves office with the prospect of long-term budget surpluses ahead, his Vice-President can't get elected because the punditocracy turns the election into a referendum on Love Canal, brown suits, sighs, inventing the Internet, and who'd you rather have a beer with.
As everyone knows, the disconnect will worsen, because aging baby boomers will bloat outlays for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs already total nearly two-fifths of the $2.9 trillion federal spending in 2008.

The mismatch between the government's existing spending commitments and the present tax base is so great that we cannot simply tinker a little with government. By 2030, federal taxes could rise 50 percent if all spending programs are kept on automatic pilot, Andrew Yarrow notes in his book "Forgive Us Our Debts."

That would be, I think, an unconscionable burden on workers (the main taxpayers) and a huge threat to the economy. Over the years, I've suggested changes to minimize these dangers. Eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare should gradually rise to 70; people now live longer and should work longer. Medicare premiums for middle-income and richer retirees should increase; the young shouldn't bear most of the expense of growing health-care costs.
Social Security, as I (and half the blogosphere) have been reiterating, is not facing any sort of crisis. The only point of lumping it in with Medicare and Medicaid is to confuse the issue.

But what of Medicare and Medicaid? It seems that all the other advanced nations have universal health care. And oddly enough, they only spend about half as much as we do on health care costs. Maybe Samuelson could take a look at how France and Germany, England and Canada, and countries like that, control health care costs? Maybe there's some lessons to be learned from our peer group here?

Apparently not. That's the sort of pundit Robert J. Samuelson is: a guy who knows less than you do, and is happy to share it with you.
Government programs that have outlived their usefulness or are wasteful should end: farm subsidies and Amtrak, for instance.
I can't argue with him on farm subsidies. But we subsidize cars by building a huge network of highways. At a time when we know energy costs are going to keep on going up, and when we know we can't afford to keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere, then maybe, just maybe, we ought to subsidize public transportation nearly as much as we've been subsidizing cars all these years.

That's just stupid.

The rest of his column kinda drivels on like that. And sure, the deficits are big, but dammit, the Dems fixed this problem once already, and pundits like Samuelson didn't exactly scream to the heavens when the Bushies broke it again. This time, Dems get to fix other things first. Otherwise, they might never get the chance.


Lexine said...

Well said.

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