McCotter and the Politics of Fear

I have to respect people who put their names into a hat that they have no chance of being pulled out of.  Congressman Thad McCotter, Republican of Michigan, has announced his candidacy for the President of theUnited States.  Wahoo!  Republicans want more choices, so the market reacts.

McCotter has a very compelling homepage.  The first thing you will notice is a very revolutionary-like exhortation: “Seize Freedom!”  If there is one thing that Republicans know how to do better than Democrats, it is using loaded words in a dramatic fashion.  Other examples of this include the mentioning of “socialism” in any context imaginable as well as statements such as “passing the buck to our children and grandchildren” (but only when referring to Democratic spending).  Republicans are experts at appealing to emotions, while Democrats tend to appeal much more on an intellectual level – which isn’t exactly a good strategy considering they themselves believe a good portion of American citizens have forehead-sloping deficiencies.

My question is: Who does he imagine he would be doing the “seizing” for?  Judging by the budget proposals coming out of the Republican camp, I can only conclude that his statement is meant for the rich and corporations.  Maybe he really believes that continuing to reduce individual and corporate taxes and keeping corporate subsidies while gutting safety net and education programs will help middle-America, but I still don’t see how that reasoning holds much water. 

There is a case to be made for cutting business taxes to spur job creation (though actual corporate taxes can’t go much lower than 0%), but how does more tax breaks for the wealthy help the economy?  If I make $300,000 per year and I get an extra $10,000 back in taxes, how much of that money will be put back into the economy?  If it were me, I would want as much of it in one of my retirement accounts as possible.  On the flip side, if I make $30,000 per year and I get an extra $1,000 back in taxes as well as help with my health care costs, how much of that goes into the economy?  Well, again, if it were me, I would most likely need to spend all of it.  The lesson here is that the economy is hardly effected by putting more money in the pockets of rich individuals, but it is highly stimulated by keeping taxes low and maintaining safety nets for the poor.

Okay, back to McCotter.  Along with taking back our liberty, his website tells me that my “American Dream is Endangered.”  Again, I wonder who he is referring to, but it is certainly not me.  I don’t even really know what the American Dream is.  I’ve heard definitions along the lines of “1/2 acre with a white picket fence,” and “going from rags to riches.”  Basically, the general idea behind the American Dream is supposed to be about an individual pulling himself up by his “bootstraps.”  Do boots really have straps anymore?  The language is so antiquated that I can’t help but wonder if the concept is, too. 

Personally, I don’t believe in the concept of an “American Dream;” however, I have no problem with having aspirations and desires.  I happen to want a loving family and group of friends that I am not too busy making money to spend time with; a reasonable shelter over our heads in a close-knit neighborhood; some options for getting around to the places I need to go without getting in a car; being made visually aware, and quite often, that there are people in the world who don’t have it as good as I do; and a job in which I feel I am making a difference (not just to my pocketbook), but that I don’t love so much that I can’t enjoy the more important things in life.  As far as I can discern, what I want completely flies in the face of everything I have ever learned about the coveted “American Dream.”  Does that make me un-American?

McCotter’s five core principles are also very illuminating.  “Our liberty is from God not the government.”  Of course it is!  Even if you don’t believe in God, the main point here is that human rights and liberty are concepts that extend beyond government power, perhaps even human invention.  There is a second part to this principle, though, that McCotter conveniently leaves out.  Without government that affirms and maintains those rights and liberties, people are either not free or simply vagabonds.  This is not a good conservative talking point.

“Our sovereignty is in our souls not the soil.”  It is not completely clear what he means by this.  Is he referring to immigration?  Or fighting terrorism?  It almost sounds as if he is saying thatAmericacould be taken over by a foreign power, but we would still, in our heart of hearts, be Americans.  Or maybe he is saying that we are not a nation based on something that connects us, such as the soil we hold in common, but instead a nation of individual souls, driven by the invisible hand of God/the market (can be used interchangeably).  Either way, I have to ask one question: Huh?

“Our security is from strength not surrender.”  Okay, so at what point does leaving a country become warranted and practical, and at what point does it become surrender?  I personally think that we should have instituted a “shock and awe” war campaign and a war/ration economy for the wars inAfghanistanandIraq.  Not that I agreed with going to Iraq in the first place, but if we are going to enter wars, we should do it as quickly and comprehensively as possible, and only with complete buy-in from the American people.  If Congress is not willing to force rations on their constituents to fight a war, then maybe the war isn’t worth fighting.  Anyway, my larger point is that we eventually did show strength (and smart diplomacy), and now that generals are proposing the withdrawal of some troops, why should we consider that surrender?  By the way, I personally consider a half-assed war campaign as much more shameful than surrender.

“Our prosperity is from the private sector not the public sector.”  Good point, McCotter.  So, it makes sense that we should simply lay off half of the government workforce and hope that the private sector picks them up within a few months.  Look, I agree with the guy, but only to a point.  I have significant doubts and have even seen a good deal of hard evidence that the private sector is no more efficient and innovative than the public sector.  The biggest increases in costs in both health care and defense spending in the past 10 years has been where the government contracted out to private firms (do some reading on Medicare Advantage and Haliburton’s cost-plus defense contracts).  However, small and medium-sized businesses are the engines of local and regional economies.  The public sector should do what is necessary to see to the success of these enterprises. 

But don’t forget that our way of life and current standard of living would not have been possible (at least to the extent that we have it now) without significant public investment and innovation.  You are reading this post right now largely because the federal government invested in communications advancements.  Most of you out there in suburbia would, in fact, not be in suburbia – because there wouldn’t be a suburbia to be in – without massive public investments.  Many of you on the verge of retirement would not have a good chunk of income and decent health care to look forward to without public investment and innovation.  I am not saying that all public spending is good, but be careful not to bite the hand that feeds you (so to speak).

“Our truths are self-evident not relative.”  They were relative when those words were first written.  They were truths reserved for white American men in their intention to govern themselves away fromBritain’s influence.  Only later did they apply to people of color and women.  Do gay people have the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  How about illegal immigrants?  And those convicted of heinous crimes?  Do they have a right to life?  Maybe there just wasn’t enough space for the drafters to declare all the contingencies of the truths; or maybe they were, and remain, somewhat relative.

I probably gave McCotter more press than he’s worth as a candidate, but I think he (and other candidates) represent a viewpoint that is largely full of half-truths and keywords that are meant to provoke very visceral reactions from a fearful population.  Not that Democrats, by and large are much better.  The liberal marketing of ideas such as Climate Change and abortion support is largely based on drumming up fear.  This is politics; it comes with the territory.  But just because it does doesn’t mean that it should.  So, just for fun, what would the 5 core values of a moderate political platform look like in your opinion?