Specifics, Please

December 6th, 2011

Newt Gingrich comes out with a positive ad:

Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past. I don’t believe that. Because working together I know we can rebuild America. We can revive our economy and create jobs. Shrink government and the regulations that strangle our businesses. Throw out the tax and replace it with one that is simple and fair. We can regain the world’s respect by standing strong again.

Being true to our faith and respecting one another. We can return power to the people and the states we live in so we all will have more freedom, opportunity, and control of our lives.

Yes, working together we can and will Rebuild the America we Love.

Something that I have long noticed about many of the right-wing commenters, on this blog and elsewhere: they usually don’t get into specifics. The few that do have trouble, because it then becomes a rather simple matter of tearing their arguments to shreds. There’s not too much to the right-wing message today that cannot be easily dismantled in the light of detail.

Look at Newt’s message. It provides a halcyon view of American life: immaculate, tree-lined, white-picket-fenced suburban homes flying the American flag, a pretty young woman running a flower shop, a rural Main Street tableau, wheat silos–even the Statue of Liberty and literally purple mountains. In short, ignore any problems we might have and take a trip to Pleasantville, the America we all imagine but which never really existed.

And how will we accomplish this? Vaguely, we will:

  • Shrink government
  • Reduce regulations
  • Produce a simple tax code
  • Stand strong
  • Be true to our faith
  • Respect one another
  • Return power to the states

Sounds nice, certainly to a conservative. Problem is, when you start to realize what specifics must be involved, it all falls to pieces.

Shrink government. OK. Except, when did Republicans ever do that, actually? They were in more or less total control for about half a decade–and government spending exploded. Now they want to shrink government? They were for that before, and didn’t follow through. Why trust them now? But OK, Newt is all about being forgiven and reforming himself, so let’s give him the chance. What will you shrink, Newt? Kill Social Security? Gut Medicare? Slash the military? Only the last of those has any chance of really drawing back government much (the others aren’t about “shrinking” government as much as they are about cutting back the safety net for Americans most in need). But cutting military spending is likely not on Newt’s plate–the opposite, in fact, is likely true.

Reduce Regulations. This conservative rallying cry would be great if they were actually interested in only cutting the ones that truly hold back business success without endangering, impoverishing, and even killing Americans. So, Newt, would you mind giving specifics about exactly which regulations should be cut? Really, what he’s talking about is doing stuff like allowing corporations to pollute the environment and steal money whilst evading any responsibility and not being legally obliged to create a single new job. Somehow conservatives think that by doing this, corporations will not simply collect the profits and run, but will instead pile every single penny saved into creating new high-paying jobs. Which, of course, is ludicrously stupid, and I think they know this. It’s not about jobs or benefitting Americans; it’s about more and more profit-taking to the dear expense of most Americans.

Produce a simple tax code. This has long been a code message meaning “give even more tax cuts to rich people,” playing on Americans’ hatred of filling out tax forms and the illusion that a “simple” tax code would make rich people pay as much as everyone else. It wouldn’t. Aside from instantly raising taxes significantly on most Americans at the lower end of the scale–a goal Republicans have openly endorsed–many flat-tax plans include a value-added tax or federal sales tax which would effectively be a double tax on poorer people, hardly affecting people with a lot more money. Wealthy people would also, inevitably, also still have loopholes and evasions, likely in the form of lower taxes on capital gains (Republicans also support no taxes on capital gains at all) and other rationalized deductions, exemptions, and ways rich people could shuffle their bookkeeping and so pay little or nothing in the end. So, Newt: mind releasing the full specifics of your “simple” tax plan and allowing us to project its actual effects?

Stand strong. Nice. Except, how? Aside from massively increasing military spending–i.e., expanding government and further enriching corporations–this is a meaningless platitude. But you can bet that, if Newt became president, it would eventually translate into more military spending. Again, Newt, mind being specific about how this will work?

Be true to our faith. Although Newt is not specific in this particular ad, he has sadly been specific elsewhere. In short, Newt sees religious piety as equalling goodness, and lack of same to represent immorality. He has effectively stated that he would not allow any atheists to hold a post in his administration (which violates Article VI of the Constitution, by the way) in saying, “How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” Statements which are extraordinarily dangerous, in many different ways. And what this means is, ironically, that government will be more in the face of the people, and in the most sacrosanct of contexts: their religious faith, or their right to the lack of same. Newt is not just making the usual religious pitch that he is informed and empowered by his religion, he is actively stating that he would openly discriminate against people he considered not religious enough–which you can bet also translates into specifically being Christian, which inevitably evolves into being the right kind of Christian. This is all even more ironic since Newt has a long history of rank dishonesty and immoral behavior; he seems to like religion because, so long as you toe the line, your sins are forgiven. Religious people would apparently place more trust in a religious man who always sins but asks God for forgiveness each time than they would an atheist who is never dishonest in the first place. This will somehow “restore America.” To which era he did not specify.

Respect one another. Umm, okay. How will you accomplish this as president, Newt? Because unless it’s more of government interfering in our lives–which it’s a good bet you’ll try to do–then how would a president make this happen? By example? Newt, really? Your example?

And finally, return power to the states. This is another conservative code phrase, most specifically meaning to outlaw abortion, but also standing in for a bevy of other right-wing causes like doing away with effective gun control. As always, it’s not really about giving states power; if states want to legalize drugs or give people the right to die, for example, then big government under a Republican president will always be pushing aside the states’ rights and powers in an instant–as has been the case under all presidencies. What “states rights” or “power to the states” really means is, whenever there is an issue which conservatives can’t win with or don’t like at the federal level, they will push it to the states where it will more easily be changed to whatever conservatives want it to be. But if states try to do something that conservatives don’t like, then states don’t have any rights and don’t deserve power.

This is why Newt and other conservatives love ambiguity: it hides the reality they’re proposing. None of these stand up to the light of day, and certainly none, in the light of day, would come close to producing the America Newt exhibits in his ad–unless it is a gated pocket community, complete with artificial rustic scenery, built for the very small minority Newt’s plans would in fact benefit, with the rest of the country outside going straight to hell.

The end result of Newt’s proposals would mean even more wealth to the wealthy, more unchecked corporate greed and malfeasance, bigger government paid for with higher taxes on poorer Americans, and greater government monitoring and control over the most private and personal details of our lives. In short, exactly what we had under Dubya, only this time doubled down.

  1. kensensei
    December 6th, 2011 at 13:08 | #1

    A thoughtful analysis, Luis.
    I wish more voters would take the time to consider the real meaning behind these words of inspiration.
    The GOP can talk the talk, but can’t come close to walking the walk.

    I wish they would say directly what they truly stand for: removing the labor unions, tax codes and environmental barriers that actually require corporations to act responsibly and keep the wealth circulating.

    The GOP (and most politicians, frankly) are bought and paid for by corporations. The Democrats are at least TRYING to show they care about the poor and middle class. But the GOP has no regard for the middle-class laborers and will fend for the corporations just as soon as they have the middle-class votes they need to get elected.

    If they can get there, you might as well kiss the middle class goodbye…

  2. Troy
    December 6th, 2011 at 17:38 | #2

    ^ “require corporations to act responsibly and keep the wealth circulating”

    Problem, is that our economy is just going off the rails in this area.

    Apple alone has $80B of retained earnings now. All this money is essentially the money they saved sourcing their products in low-wage China.

    Gas over $3/gallon is stripping thousands of dollars from each household (each household pumps around 1000 gallons a year).

    Our per-capita health care costs are $8000, twice that of Germany and the rest of the eurosoc nations.

    Housing rents, same story of more money being sucked out of the middle quintiles each month.

    The free marketeerism of the conservatives has no answers to these imbalances.

    Their attachment to ideological idiocies is actually part of the problem — globalism, fossil fuels, pro big-business “special interest” in health care and real estate.

    And in the background is our $700B/yr military, a $5000 per household per year pissing away of the national weal.

    We’re kinda getting into an endgame situation here, say Soviet Union ca. 1975 or so.

    One thing that struck me recently was that for our bicentennial, the baby boom was aged 15 to 30. For our 250th, the baby boom will be aged 65 to 80.

    Quite a big difference!

    Japan’s baby boom was a lot smaller than the US’s.

    If the Republicans take over next year Luis can expect my return in short order, LOL.

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