Political FUDdites

>> Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Dad and I have this long-running non-argument. I say that as conservatives go, George Will isn't that bad. He says, no, George Will is worse. I say, c'mon, you have to admit Glenn Beck is an awfuler human being. My Dad says, no, George Will is, he's smart enough to know better. And it's a non-argument because it's not like I'm trying to defend George Will or anything. I mean, in some ways it's kind of like having a debate over who was a bigger tool, Francisco Franco or Benito Mussolini; at the end of the day they're both funny-looking fascist twerps from a couple of second-string totalitarian states.

I almost hate to bring this up, but it seems Will really wants to prove my Dad right and as much as I enjoy talking to my Dad, he's going to say "I told you so" next time he calls and I'm going to say, "Fine, fine, fine, whatever" and he'll poke me about it and I don't think I really deserve it because I never said George Will wasn't a lying douchebag, I've merely contended, and weakly, that he wasn't the douchiest.

But today I'm going through the news, and here I see a thing over at Newsweek, "VAT’s All the Fuss About? How an unlikely tax became right-wing pundits' latest fascination." I always find these secondhand items interesting because I frankly just don't read that many conservative writers or visit that many conservative sites, and conservatives are always talking about things liberals like myself are agitating for that I've never even heard of. (Nobody on the left tells me anything; I'm starting to get kind of pissed about it--was there a listserv I was supposed to sign up for or something?) And if I didn't read these meta pieces about what conservatives are talking about liberals talking about I probably wouldn't know what anybody was saying about anything unless it was cross-posted at IO9. (Say, Milla Jovovich is kinda hot in that pic, what is that, a pub photo from one of the Resident Evil movies? Sorry--what was I saying?) Anyway, apparently we liberals are talking about imposing a value-added tax (VAT).

Or at least that's what George Will says, only it turns out if you go to the source he's citing for that, he's sort of lying. Not totally--there are apparently some liberals who, possibly unclear on the difference between progressive and regressive are saying the Obama Administration should push for a VAT, and--according to the article Will cites to imply the Obama Administration is keen on the idea--the Obama Administration is ignoring them. So I guess Will is wrong.

Almost as wrong as this guy from the Heritage Foundation who says "Liberals" want a VAT.1 Actually... well, I'm not sure if I should try to speak for all liberals or not, but I think what we mostly want is to tax the rich.

I mean, let's be logical about this: rich people have derived benefit not just from their hard work or who their daddy is, but also from the institutions and protections of a free society, so it makes sense they should pay more for those benefits, doesn't it? Some conservatives like to talk about how they shouldn't be paying for somebody else's healthcare--it doesn't really occur to them that maybe a poor person shouldn't be paying for policecare they won't be benefiting from because they've never earned anything worth stealing or firecare when they don't have anything to lose from a good burning or militarycare when an invasion by the awful Canadians might even mark an improvement in their lives, just saying. But, hell, fairness aside, one might look at taxes as a civic duty, however unpleasant, and even if you're paying for services you don't benefit from, you're doing so out of a sense of public spirit and recognition that rising tides float all boats, that sort of thing.

VATs and sales taxes are regressive--a few percent added to a purchase of a necessary good or service (or even a luxury if one's attainable) takes more out of a poorer person's pockets than a wealthier person's. So, as a rule, we libs don't really like those things that much or see them as particularly fair. That's not to say we're all totally opposed--nations with a VAT also tend to be nations that offset the regressive nature of the tax by offering more public services to all and to the poor in particular. So I suppose I could be convinced to support a VAT if it were being used to support single-payer healthcare and other public goods, but that's overcoming my objections with practices, not principles; that is, you're not convincing me that a VAT is good in that sort of situation, only that it's acceptable in the larger context.

But the real question here is why are we even talking about this? Or talking about it this way, at least--I mean, a totally blue-sky, theoretical, hypothetical, riffing out our asses conversation about progressive and regressive taxation, VATs, income tax rates and the budget is great and all, but the folks Newsweek links to, e.g. George Will, are talking about this like it's really on the table and not something "a roomful of tax experts" are being mostly ignored about, or that the chair of the Senate Budget Committee says should be debated. It's pretty obvious, frankly, that as a serious consideration the VAT is a nonstarter, DOA, deader than a Norwegian Blue that once pined for the fjords.2

I was thinking as I got dressed this morning about how it would be nice, necessary, actually, to have credible opposition. As socialist-types go, I'd probably fit nicely into the Social Democrats if I lived in another country, which is to say I'm way to the left of Democrats while still a good bit to the right of a number of hardcore socialists who would be irate at my reactionary tendencies and call me a sellout and so on; which isn't quite on topic except to say that I'm happy to hear a good conservative argument if I hear one and even willing to steal a good right-wing idea if it makes sense and promotes social justice and so forth, see? I'm realist enough to recognize that there's always a risk, when you correct existing socioeconomic injustices, that you'll create new ones or just make the old ones worse, and if somebody on the other side of the aisle can point out a mistake so I avoid it or offer a credible alternative solution, I'm not about to reject it just because the idea (or its origin) are basically reactionary.

But the American right doesn't seem to be interested in credible opposition, which is why this whole VAT "argument" is so fascinating and irritating: unable or unwilling to engage on actual issues or acclimate themselves to real reforms, a helluva lot of people over on the other side of the aisle want to argue with strawmen about nonissues. In this instance, they're rallying against a tax that isn't being seriously considered and would be opposed (for different reasons, obviously) by quite a lot of liberals; this is the same thing the American right has done about the current financial reform bill (which doesn't enshrine bailouts, but rather sets up a way for failing institutions to go bankrupt gracefully), healthcare reform (no, there aren't any death panels), nuclear disarmament (the United States maintains enough of an arsenal to destroy civilization multiple times and reserves the right to use force--including those nuclear weapons--against bad actors such as those countries who don't join the Nonproliferation Treaty), and the citizenship of elected officials (mad props to Arizona for being halfway towards passing a law that would require President Obama to prove to the Arizona Secretary Of State what he's already proven to the Arizona Secretary Of State), and there's probably something else I'm overlooking.

So what they're offering is FUD by the ton. As is usually the case with purveyors of almighty FUD, it's a sign of their inability to compete fairly or rationally. The problem here, however, is that the consequence of embracing FUD in the political arena isn't that somebody gets tricked into buying a shitty computer, but rather that Rome continues to burn while talking heads spar over the historic ideology of water or long-term effects of dirt and the secret agendas of firemen. The FUDdites could abandon FUDdist principles and make suggestions that the centrist politicians in the Democratic party might accept and that even a stalwart Real Liberal™ such as yours truly would concede isn't a bad way to go about things even if it wasn't my idea of an ideal, but instead are acting as obstructionists so that little, less or nothing gets done. Which is appalling. Meanwhile, they're sowing mistrust in civic institutions, which is also appalling and counterproductive, and will bite them in the ass if the Republicans amongst them ever take power again and wonder why the anti-government sentiment they encouraged and enlisted lingers after the fact like the sulphurous reek of rotting eggs.

And, really, they're diminishing their own brand. As I said, I'm receptive to alternative proposals--maybe there's a good idea over there on the right somewhere, or maybe my better idea could be honed and improved by some well-considered resistance. Likewise, my bad ideas might be amplified if I'm stuck in an echo chamber by default. A lot of libs feel the same way and would like to know who they should look to for that much-needed friction and antagonism;3 nerdy people like George Will seemed like the obvious go-to guys for that kind of intellectual sparring, but if he's going to be as douchey as some twit from the Heritage Foundation--well, he's going to be fucking useless, then, isn't he? Thanks for nothing, dude.

I've gone, then, from taking a bit of gleeful schadenfreude over the implosion and drooling insanity of the American right to concern that some of them might be violent to a new and surprising concern that they might be useless. Swell. What's a thinking man to do? What's the point in even having an opposition if it clearly doesn't even remotely care about being serious?







1I can't pass this by but can't think of how to put it into the piece above, which is kind of funny and apt, actually: the best part of Heritage man's piece is the way he writes eight paragraphs about how awful a VAT would be and then, in his last paragraph, suddenly starts talking about abortion and replacing Justice Stevens. Whiplash. It's like the final paragraph was cut'n'pasted from a totally different op-ed piece.

Way to write coherently, dude.

2Ahem:

The VAT's not pinin'! It's passed on! The VAT debate is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If George Will hadn't brought it up again it'd be pushing up the daisies! Its committee minutes are now 'istory! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-TAX!

3One might even say, in fact, that I am suggesting rational conservatives offer antitheses to liberal theses in the hopes of achieving an optimal synthesis... oh dear, that sounds familiar somehow--but where would it be coming from?




1 comments:

Janiece Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 2:41:00 PM EDT  

I, too, am long for the days of the loyal opposition, where the right actually had IDEAS and PROPOSED THEM.

Sigh.

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