SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 28, 2012

Anderson: Finding a new villain

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — “To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.”

— Thomas Jefferson

This year, we made our election between economy and liberty, or debt and foolishness. Voted for the latter.

I was angry on behalf of my grandchildren, who will be burdened with the debt because of the foolishness, and initially blamed the social conservatives whose positions turn off a majority of women and young voters. But now I think that if these soc-cons didn’t exist, the Democrats would have invented them. Having no record of economic achievement, or hopes realized, President Barack Obama had to change the subject, and I can recall the moment this happened.

I’ve never liked the “blame the media” game but can’t deny it here: The Romney “fix the economy” campaign was proceeding effectively through the primaries until the debate hosted by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, which he opened with a question to Romney about contraception. The candidate, along with viewers, responded with bewilderment to the introduction of a subject that hasn’t been controversial in several decades: “Why,” Mitt asked, “are we talking about contraception?”

No reason, except that much of the rest of the Obama-worshipping media dutifully marched to Stephanopoulos’ lead into the “War on Women” with its irrelevant issue of “women’s reproductive rights.” These weren’t really threatened, yet positioned Republican candidates, even those who are pro-choice, as “anti-women.” Incredible as this might seem, it drove out most discussion of the only real issue, the growth of government into $16 trillion plus of unsustainable national debt.

That growing debt makes all other issues irrelevant: With severe annual deficits, we can’t deal adequately with the infrastructure, national defense, health care, or the environment and education concerns of young voters. Yet a majority of voters chose Democrats over Republicans because they were told that the latter “don’t relate to people like you.” “The rich,” the 1 percent that pay 40 percent of the income taxes that fund what does get funded, were vilified. And yes, “gifts” were given or promised to various constituency groups. Some of these groups will be on the bottom of the heap when the economy collapses under the weight of the debt, but they foolishly think the word “entitlement” will hold them harmless.

I don’t recall any presidential election in which the loser was still being attacked three weeks later, for a remark made in private to his supporters: Romney said that “gifts” from Obama helped the Democrats win re-election.

He was just repeating the common conservative wisdom that “once voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury ... the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits.” People debate who first said that, but no one has provided evidence that it isn’t true.

What would make it false would be an understanding on the part of all voters that the money for the largesse can’t be borrowed indefinitely, and that we and our grandchildren will be paying in the future with loss of vital services or extraordinarily high taxes when the debt and unfunded liabilities reach critical mass. This is the message that Republicans should have doubled down on, and never been distracted from, and won with.

So here we are, on the edge of “the fiscal cliff,” and speaking of taxes:

As Romney fades away into what I hope will be a happy, family-centered future, a new enemy is needed, and the Chosen Villain is: Grover Norquist, holder of the “no new taxes” pledge that many U.S. senators and congressmen have made to their constituents. On Sunday morning TV, political analyst Matthew Dowd called him “an impediment; the only good thing about Grover is he’s named for a character on Sesame Street.”

Such cleverness, as we face “the fiscal cliff” over which we plunge on Dec. 31 if our government hasn’t dealt with the deficit. It’s been a year since Obama ignored Simpson-Bowles, the first “blended” plan to cut spending, reform entitlements and raise revenues: In lieu of presidential/congressional action, the so-called “Bush tax cuts” will expire, the alternative minimum tax and death tax will hit the middle class hard, and there will be dramatic sudden cuts in military and entitlement spending.

Grover is holding signers to their pledge of “no new taxes.” The AARP is opposing reforms of Social Security and Medicare. Unions are demanding protection of benefits, higher tax rates on “the rich.” Some Republicans are demanding that serious cuts and reforms occur before they vote for taxes on anyone. Based on “budget deals” in 1982 and 1990, in which once the taxes were raised, the spending cuts didn’t happen, the Republicans are right to hold out.

We need a complete overhaul/simplification of the federal tax system, removing many loopholes. Any revenue increases should be earmarked for paying down the national debt, not spent on new/expanded programs, “stimulus plans” or bailouts.

As I see it, there are two alternatives: major economic discomfort now, or complete collapse later. Don’t overdo the Christmas shopping; you’ll need every penny you’ve saved.

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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a Salem News columnist.