The debate? Tonight I just cannot bring myself to watch the Presidential debate. It will be painful enough to get tomorrow’s rehash….
Nothing that happens tonight at Hofstra will result in changing my mind about Obama. In any case I have already voted today, and, while in Nevada over the weekend, I will put in some more phoning or canvassing or whatever needs doing.
Everybody was touting Mr. Romney’s magnificent performance at the first debate.. I found him hyperactive, rattling off talking points very fast, as if fearful of being interrupted, or of hearing his little inner voice telling him what nonsense he was saying. He probably knows it, but rationalizes the whole process as those senseless, meaningless things that you have to say if you want to become President.
To me he sounds like an “idiot savant”, those people (remember Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman”?) that know a lot about one thing and cannot stop talking about it, and understand nothing about what the real people in this world do, feel, and worry about. That immense experiential vacuum has to be hidden in a flurry of words, reduced to semiotic markers, repeated over and over.
Take that expression that Mr. Romney has been so frantically repeating lately: “trickle down government.” What does it mean? Nothing at all: government is supposed to trickle down because it is our emanation, the famous “of, for, by the people”. Everything the government does is in our stead, government is our stand-in, and all it does belongs to us.
No, “trickle down government” is a blanket of fog to debunk and counteract the very real Republican doctrine of “trickle down economics”, that posits that the rich deserve to get everything, because if they have a lot, some of it will inevitably trickle down to the rest of mortals. By repeating the one trickle down phrase, we are supposed to forget about the other. It never happened, it was wrong anyway, and look, they, meaning the Democrats are doing the reverse, “trickle down government.” But it is not the reverse, it is a non-sequitur, a nonsense noise, a cloudfuscation.
I was wondering the other day why Romney brought up the Spanish economy, where, according to him 42% of citizens depend on the government for handouts. Spain is supposed to be a basket case on a par with Greece, and the reason is that nobody does any work but receives bounty from the government. And he then contrasted that with the 47% figure that he had used in Boca Raton as recorded on the infamous and ubiquitous video. See, we are even worse that Spain.
It so happens that Spain is in a deep crisis, but it is not a debt crisis, nor an entitlement crisis. It is a banking crisis. The Spanish government’s level of indebtedness, after two grueling years of recession, high unemployment (and support to the unemployed) as well as precipitously collapsing tax revenues, is only 90% of GNP, on the level with France and not far from Germany. Spain is still able to finance its debt at below 6%, which is bad enough, but not catastrophic.
Why go into debt at all? Because the government has to pay for the large investments that nobody else wants to do but that are essential for the functioning of the economy, of the citizens’ daily life, like roads, railways, schools, police, firefighters, army and bookkeepers. The purpose of the debt is to make progress possible; it cannot be eliminated, it has to be managed. The bonds issued by governments, the so called “sovereign debt”, have maturities, and when that date arrives, they are paid off and new debt issued. Just like refinancing your home. I have always found all this talk of “burdening our children and grand-children” highly demagogic. Future generations will do as we do, manage the debt by rolling it over.
And let us not forget another thing: Spain may have, as the Spanish novelist and activist Perez Reverte has pointed out, more politicians per capita that any country in Europe. The point that he was trying to make is that politicians, even if honest, cost money. The seventeen regional governments, roughly equivalent to what we call states in the USA, all had their infrastructure projects and the capacity to access the international banks, the so-called “markets”, which were only too glad to finance any project, as harebrained as it might be. The indebtedness of the regional governments was very high, accumulated during the last ten years when most of them were run, in contrast to the central government, by Spain’s conservatives, the PP party.
On the strength of the crisis the PP last December won a landslide election and is now in charge of the central Treasury. And immediately, in spite of the crisis, it has begun to dismantle a perfectly viable and functioning European style “State of Wellbeing”, cutting and chopping and privatizing education, the Health Service, civil servant’s salaries, and bailing out the banks to the tune of many billlions of Euros. Why let such an opportunity to cut loose the neediest people at the time of greatest need go to waste?
That is the agenda of the oligarchs, democratically clothed in the accoutrements of necessity. And, I suspect, that is also Romney’s agenda: to help his peers, the only class he really understands and admires.