Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Plague O' Both Your Houses

Consider this an open letter to the California Legislature (it wouldn't hurt the U.S. Congress to read it either).

I am fed to the teeth with the whole
boiling of you. I am seriously considering never voting for an incumbent again - how's that for term limits? You have all spent the last eight months bickering and squabbling over the state budget, and posturing about how holy you are and how you can't walk away from your principles - while the State of California, for whose governance you are (at least theoretically) partly responsible, slides into the economic pit with the rest of the country. The state can't sell a bond to save its life, it is about to run out of frigging cash to pay the bills, and you STILL can't bring yourselves to pass a budget.

The Republicans claim they can't vote for higher taxes because "it would destroy the economy" - how does it improve the state economy to have the state unable to pay its bills? How many poor elderly people will die, you ranting maniacs, because you are too whatever-it-is to vote for the higher taxes necessary to get the state out of this astounding fiscal hole? How do you plan to lure businesses to locate in a state with a credit rating one notch above junk? Businesses need services from the state too, and right now, they'd be better off in Mississippi.

And don't you Democrats start feeling all righteous, just because I started with the Republicans. I'm finally starting to hear, from both sides, the real reason you're all so inept in this crisis: you're afraid that, if you vote the way you have to, to get the state out of the quicksand, you won't be re-elected. Well, get this, children: we did not elect you so you could be re-elected. We elected you so you could govern the goddam state in our name.
Your job is not to be re-elected. It is to use what passes for your brains and judgment to make the hard decisions about how to run the state. If you can't do that, maybe we should recall all of you. And it doesn't help that you're cutting this program and that program, most of which benefit the poor and the helpless - but cutting your salaries, and your per diem, and your office staff? Nooo, we can't do that!

And what really fries my tomatoes about all of you is this: You. Never. Talk. To. Each. Other. You huddle in your little caucuses and never talk to anybody you don't already agree with; and your party leaders stand at the podium and posture at each other. The Internet has been intensifying this trend, with people only reading the blogs they agree with; but when it spills over into the legislative body of the State of California, it's downright dangerous. When was the last time you went out to lunch with a member of the other caucus, and actually listened to him talk about the issues in his district, considered whether your district had any similar issues, and discussed a solution that might help both of you? When was the last time you talked to anybody but your party whip and your favorite lobbyist? You're all supposed to be doing your best to govern the state. I would think this meant talking to the other people doing the same job; but I see no evidence that
Democrats ever talk to Republicans, or vice versa.


  1. Karen, I was thinking about this problem also, as you put it:
    "The Internet has been intensifying this trend, with people only reading the blogs they agree with..."

    Most people do indeed tend to just seek reinforcement of their beliefs it seems, and I think perhaps it takes a real conscious choice to actually seek out a different view.

    Obama is going after a profoundly ambitious goal when he seeks to create dialouge and blend different views. His reaching out to Republicans I like to think of as similar to Reagan's visit to the Berlin Wall. "...tear down this wall!" Reagan said.

    And after he left, the wall remained. But....

    I actually expect, very slowly, until someday it becomes a seachange, that Obama will accomplish this. It will look like a complete failure for a long time first though I'm thinking.

  2. Hal, I hope you're right. If you're wrong, we're in even worse trouble than we think.

  3. I haven't exactly undergone a sea-change in my thinking about the budget crisis, but I'm beginning to see what the Republicans are getting at.

    Over the last 30 years, our economy was floating on Monopoly money. People were spending plastic, investing in empty pumped-up valueless stocks, puffing up on their home values. Speculation and snake-oil deception on a grand scale. In the meantime, government kept spending and expanding cheerfully, counting on an ever-growing pot of tax money. "We're such a rich country, we can afford anything."

    Meanwhile, we were bleeding jobs, good jobs, and borrowing money from abroad (Arabia, China, etc.). Americans were mortgaged and overdrawn. Our balance of payments was an embarrassment.

    Then, well, the banks kept jacking up fake paper until the system crashed. Not only did the emperor have no clothes, but we discovered he had boils and sores all over his body; he needed some emergency first aid.

    Unfortunately, I don't think pumping up the national debt's the answer.

    The Republicans are trying to put us in touch with ourselves. The bottom line is: We can't afford all those things we promised ourselves we could pay for. The money wasn't there then, and it isn't there now. Pretending that it will be "someday" is nonsense.

    This hurts. We don't like to admit to ourselves that burning all that cash on wars and tax breaks for the rich and everything else was a really bad idea. We don't like to admit to ourselves that we can't afford to pay everyone a stipend, as the State of Alaska does. We probably can't afford free health care, free housing, free food. We can't afford to mend our roads and bridges. We can't afford to stock our libraries and pay our police and firemen.

    We can't afford it. We spent that money. It's gone.

    If you think these budget woes are scary, wait another 2 years, another 5 years. America is hocked up to its ears, in fact we're already "underwater" (as many home-"owners" now find themselves with more debt than equity).

    You could increase taxes--at both the state and federal level--20 percent across the board, and it still wouldn't make a dent.

    Welcome to hard times.

  4. Curtis, that is all true, but it isn't necessarily the end of the story. There are possible game changers, and Obama may even employ some of them.