Snake oil versus smoke and mirrors |

Snake oil versus smoke and mirrors

Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As I See It

Turn on your television set these days, and you seem to be tuning in on an endless Ping-Pong game between candidates hurling insults, innuendos and borderline falsehoods against one another, and mouthing preposterous claims about the miracles they are going to achieve if we will only elect them to office.

The chief targets of Republican and Tea Party candidates are the programs of Democratic President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, specifically Wall Street and auto-industry “bailouts” and “stimulus” programs, health care reform, legislation reigning in abusive practices by Wall Street and the banking and credit card industries, unemployment, taxes and a rapidly rising national debt. Let’s look into these issues individually.

Despite all the grandstanding against the bailouts, economists generally concur that those steps were critical to avoid a total collapse of the economy, and properly gave credit to President Bush for initiating them. At the recent Economic Summit in Denver, the consensus was that although we have not seen any reduction in the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate in spite of these bailouts and stimulus efforts, unemployment would probably be nearly 20 percent if nothing had been done and the economy had been left to recover on its own, which was the policy during the Republican Hoover Administration.

On health care and regulation of the finance industry, opponents treat us like children, scaring us with the boogeyman “socialism”. What they are proposing is to take us back to “the good old days” with 50 million Americans without health care and health insurance companies free to raise premiums at will, deny payment of insurance claims, and cancel the insurance of anyone who filed major claims.

These same opponents are criticizing the Obama Administration for reimposing the regulations repealed by a Republican Congress which gave the finance industry free rein to embark on a greed-driven campaign of reckless speculation and derivatives that nearly brought down the entire economy, and for including “consumers’ bill-of-rights” provisions to protect Americans from credit-card company abuses.

The other big issues are employment, taxes, and the burgeoning national debt. Here is where we hear candidates of all three Parties coming out with ridiculous promises that they are going to shrink government, cut government spending, cut taxes, balance the budget, and create jobs – all at the same time. This is Republican and Tea Party snake oil and Democratic smoke and mirrors. They all seem equally addicted to these oxymorons. Won’t cutting millions of government jobs add millions to the number of unemployed?

How can you balance the budget without increasing taxes, and/or major reductions in military spending and Social Security and Medicare (which together exceed $1.6 trillion and account for over 60 percent of the federal budget, exclusive of interest on the national debt)? It would be impossible to squeeze more than $100 billion (about 10 percent) out of the rest of the federal budget without crippling government services most Americans consider essential – education, science and technology, veterans’ benefits and services, health services, and transportation programs.

Democrats are not blameless in all of this, but they are not responsible for Bush’s wars, or for the half of our national debt run up during the Reagan and Bush years of reduced taxes and increased military, Social Security and Medicare expenditures. (In 1980 the national debt was less than $1 trillion.) Democrats have yet to tell us how they are going to meet the cost of expanded health-care coverage, while at the same time balancing the budget, without significant reductions in military, Social Security and Medicare outlays.

A pox on all their houses. Those running for office, both incumbents and challengers, can’t be so dumb that they are incapable of understanding the seriousness of the situation we are in. Instead, they know that if they really leveled with the American people about the seriousness of our economic situation, and the sacrifices we need to make for our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, they wouldn’t stand a prayer of being elected.

Neither party tells us exactly how they are going to create jobs. Economists are telling us that high unemployment is deeply entrenched, and will be with us for another 3-4 years. So Republicans should be careful about what they promise if they regain control of Congress, because if there is no real job growth by 2012, they will be blamed and will lose the next election.

– Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.

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