Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote, America.

"...because he won't raise my taxes..."

It's time to Vote, America. And you may be hearing a lot of people making the above statement, as in, "I am voting for [fill in the blank] because he/she won't raise my taxes."

This has never occurred to me as I make my choices at the polling place. I don't get all worked up about my taxes or about my having to pay taxes (though I may get worked up about fairness). In my mind, they are the price we pay for living in a civilized society, with a stable government, a cared-for population, and a working, solid infrastructure. Now, we may not always be getting what we pay for, and we can't all have our way. We don't get to send in our tax forms with a check box, stating that we want our share of the federal pot to pay for schools, health care, public transit, and aid to families. Nope, us bleeding hearts get to pay for wars and pricey government contracts to Halliburton, plus tax breaks for wealthier citizens and corporations as well as our little pet projects.

So what do I vote for, and why do I vote as I do?

First and foremost, I am looking for a person who is reasonable and rational, and who seems to have the capacity for thoughtful consideration of not only solutions, but of the problems and their causes. This is not always easy to discern in our heated political climate of overblown rhetoric, grandstanding, and fear-mongering, but I can look for certain things, such as whether or not a candidate "believes in" anthropogenic global warming and/or evolution. If he or she does not, I am going to hold all their opinions suspect. If he or she is not behaving in a fact-based manner about these issues, then he or she is either ignorant of or anti- science or is pandering to a segment of the population that is fundamentalist and denialist. How can I trust that person's ideas on how to tackle public problems, if they lack the cognitive sophistication to understand scientific evidence at its most basic? Are they intelligent enough to tackle complicated economic issues?

In Minnesota, our departing governor (who is coming for the GOP nomination in 2012; indeed, we rarely see him here. If you find him, you can keep him.), refused to "raise taxes" even as the economy tanked. He denied a tool in the public policy box, unable or unwilling to recognize that we needed revenue, using accounting shifts and cuts to human services to "balance" the budget, and we are now facing a 5.8 billion dollar deficit. His refusal to raise taxes resulted in some higher fees as well as higher property taxes and various referenda and assessments levied by counties and cities to raise necessary revenue.

It is ridiculous to remove a tool from your policy toolbox. No family, sitting around the kitchen table, would say, "Well, we won't look for ways to increase our revenue. We can only look for ways to reduce our expenses."

If you are running for governor in this state, and you are saying that you will not only not raise taxes, but will lower them in some instances, and you will balance the budget, then you are, quite frankly, either lying or you are deluded. The idea here is that you keep the revenue the same (or you even cut it somewhat), and all the difference is made up in cuts to government. Then businesses and rich people will create jobs and buy more stuff. It makes some average voters scream and cheer, but the reality is that cutting government is cutting people. Cutting jobs, cutting income, cutting into purchasing power of not only individuals but government itself, which pays many private industries through contracts ranging from construction to professional development to consulting.

Everything is connected, and someone always has to pay. Cut over here, and you will lose over there.

And people who lose their jobs often wind up on public assistance of some sort, be it unemployment or Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Because what often happens is that the people who can least afford to lose their jobs are the people who are cut first, straight from the bottom. With fewer resources to begin with and less of a voice in the public sphere, they disappear into statistics, but they show up in the budget.

It is not reasonable or rational to look at any problem and put away some of your tools without even considering them and their relevance to the job at hand. What I am looking for is evidence of thoughtful consideration and the ability to apply that consideration to a variety of problems, using a variety of tools. I am looking for someone who can recognize facts, process them, and disseminate them to the general public without obfuscation.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, that person does not usually get elected in America.

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