Pop Quiz for Angry Conservatives

The same people who organized the local Tea Party last month are planning a march from Fountain Square to Cincinnati City Hall on Tax Day, April 15, so I think it's reasonable to broach the topic again. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the latest edit

Apr 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm

When I began writing this weekly column more than a year ago, I pledged to myself I’d never write about the same topic two weeks in a row. Unless the apocalypse is nigh, there’s really nothing so important that it can’t wait a while for the sake of variety.

The pledge has been kept, but it’s been difficult recently. After an online version of my March 18 column (“GOP Again Relies on Bitterness”) about the Cincinnati Tea Party protest was linked on The Cincinnati Enquirer’s politics blog, it unleashed a torrent of comments.

Most of the remarks were from angry participants and their sympathizers who missed my main points in an effort to sugarcoat the atmosphere of hate and hypocrisy that surrounded the rally. Oh, and they called me a socialist who must be receiving government aid. (I’m not, and I don’t.)

The Tea Party’s ostensible purpose on March 15 was to protest the $787.2 billion bailout package proposed by President Obama and approved mostly along partisan lines. Of the entire package, $211.9 billion — almost one-third of the total — was earmarked for tax cuts, while $575.3 billion was for new spending.

Judging from the signs at the rally, though, the actual target of their wrath was all over the place, ranging from the massive bank bailouts to homeowners defaulting on their mortgages to Obama himself. People are pissed off.

Now that the same people who organized the local Tea Party are planning a march from Fountain Square to Cincinnati City Hall on Tax Day, April 15, I think it’s reasonable to broach the topic again.

As none of the dozens of commenters last time answered the questions raised by the column, I’m going to put them in a much simpler format. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the latest edition of “Angry White Conservative Pop Quiz,” the game show where most contestants would rather demagogue than participate.

Fact: Most economists say large-scale government investment is needed to prevent the downturn from spiraling into a full-blown depression. As The New York Times wrote about a January meeting of the American Economic Association, “Nearly every economist who spoke here agreed that a dollar invested in, say, a new transit system or in bridge repair is spent and re-spent more efficiently than a dollar that comes to a household in a tax cut.”

Question: President Bush’s economic policies relied on tax cuts as their centerpiece, and yet the economic collapse occurred anyhow. How would more tax cuts reverse the situation?

Fact: Despite The Enquirer’s recent article alleging that Springfield Township resident Mike Wilson devised the idea for the Tea Party while sitting at his kitchen table, such events were recommended by Newt Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership group and by the American Family Association, two conservative, partisan organizations. The two groups say they have 1,593 events organized nationwide for April 15.

Question: Did Wilson and local organizers invite any Democratic politicians to speak at the Tea Party besides “Democrat in Name Only” Dusty Rhodes?

Fact: U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) voted for the $700 billion bailout for banks in October. Her husband works for Smith Barney as a financial advisor, and about $50 billion went to Citigroup, which owns Smith Barney.

Question: Given her record, why was Schmidt invited to speak at the Tea Party?

Fact: Ex-Rep. Steve Chabot of Westwood voted in favor of every budget submitted by Bush during the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.

Question: Given that those budgets caused large deficits and were structurally unbalanced, why was Chabot invited to speak at the Tea Party?

Fact: Mike Wilson, the local Tea Party’s organizer, lives in Springfield Township. Based on comments made by rally attendees, many live outside Cincinnati city limits in places like Mason and Blue Ash.

Question: Why don’t Tax Day protesters march to the seats of their own governments, like Springfield Township Hall or Mason City Hall, instead of to Cincinnati City Hall? Wouldn’t that be more appropriate?

Fact: Wilson works for PCMS IT Advisor Group in Springdale. The firm last year received a $70,000 development grant from the state of Ohio for an expansion project.

Question: Given his opposition to government spending, what is Wilson’s stance on PCMS receiving a taxpayer subsidy?

Fact: Obama’s plan imposes a 39.6 percent tax rate on the wealthy, up slightly from Bush’s 35 percent rate. Still, the rate is far lower than many past GOP presidents; President Reagan imposed a 50 percent tax rate during his first term, President Nixon had a 70 percent rate and President Eisenhower had a 91 percent rate.

Question: Obama’s been called a “socialist” for his plan, so does that make Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower socialists, too? Why or why not?

Fact: During his first term, Reagan was shocked by how much the deficit grew due to an earlier tax cut. As a result, he agreed to a tax hike that restored one-third of the previous reduction. In fact, he raised various types of taxes four times during his presidency.

Question: Are tax increases ever appropriate or justified?

Fact: Bush inherited a budget surplus but ended his presidency with large deficits. By late 2008, the national debt had increased to $11.3 trillion, an increase of more than 100 percent from the beginning of 2000, when the debt was $5.6 trillion.

Question: Why were no Tea Party protests held during Bush’s presidency?

Fact: Bush allowed a federal budget policy known as “pay as you go” to expire in 2002. This policy required all new spending be offset by cuts elsewhere, paid for by tax increases or some combination of both. When Bush allowed the policy to lapse, the U.S. began borrowing huge amounts of money from China and other foreign nations.

Question: Was this a prudent fiscal action? Why did the GOP-controlled Congress allow it to happen?

Hopefully, some Tea Party-going, tax cut-loving conservatives will stop frothing at the mouth long enough to answer those questions for the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the FBI first warned of an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud in 2004, as noted frequently by William K. Black, a University of Missouri economics professor who was a regulator during the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s. Tea Party-goers like to blame homeowners, but private lenders initiated 80 percent of these bogus loans, which they called “ninja loans” for “no income, no job, no assets.” Lenders made the deals anyhow because they profited handsomely.

Make no mistake, Obama and the Democrats aren’t blameless, but let’s at least blame them for the right things.

The mortgage meltdown can be traced to the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which allowed banks to offer investment services with little regulation. Larry Summers, who’s now an Obama economic advisor, was Treasury Secretary then and pushed for the change. His boss, President Clinton, signed it into law. Both should be ashamed, and Summers should never work in government again.

Tim Geithner, Obama’s Treasury Secretary, was remiss in his previous job as Federal Reserve Bank president to see the crisis brewing. And he’s too beholden to his old financial sector pals to effectively oversee the bailout. If autoworkers can break their contracts to give up benefits, so can banking executives.

But it’s clear the lion’s share of the blame for the mess we’re in lies with the Bush Administration and the culture of greed and recklessness it fostered by refusing to enforce even the most basic of regulations on the business community. That “anything goes” atmosphere is responsible, more than anything else, for wrecking the economy.

The Bible has more than 300 verses that mention caring for the poor and social justice. And nowhere does it state that capitalism is an inherently good or divinely inspired form of government.

Frankly, many of the people now protesting are the ones who supported Dubya’s economic policies the loudest during his dismal eight years in office. As some book or another once said, “You reap what you sow.”

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