I recently received a message from a friend from law school in response to a series of posts I've been exchanging with some Facebook friends on the topic of how our political beliefs have changed and how we view the modern GOP.
I wrote a long reply (which I've copied in and cleaned up below), which expands on some of the themes I touched on in an earlier post The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Today's GOP.
I decided not to post in his original message but I think you'll be able to follow my thinking without reference to it.
... More below the fold ...
Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful message on the subject. I've been pondering it for a bit now and wanted to take the time to sit down and write out a worthy reply.
First of all, I'm glad to see that the last eight years have also led you to a crisis of faith. I consider it to be the true mark of a wise man to be able to question and abandon views and movements that prove to be on the wrong course. so, for this, i salute you.
As a general matter, when reading your message and thinking about it later on, I kept coming back to the idea of faith. This is pretty strange coming from me, considering that I'm a rabid antitheist, although I really shouldn't say that because, of course, "faith" exists outside the confines of religion, but it's still pretty remarkable that the key concept I keep coming back to is faith.
I'd first like to address this point: "If you believe President Obama is deploying the correct strategy to combat the economic crisis, doesn't it follow that you have evolved away from fiscally conservative economic principals that I imagine drew you to the Republican party at some point?"
To be honest with you, i really don't know whether Obama is deploying the correct strategy to combat the economic crisis. At one time, a tenet of my "faith" was that, generally speaking, less regulation, lower taxes, free enterprise, constrained spending (etc., etc.) were the proper prescriptions in order to support the health of our economy. I considered myself right-of-center on economic issues and well left-of-center on social issues (ergo the tag I generally used to describe myself was 'libertarian'). I generally didn't place emphasis too much on social issues because i subscribed to the notion that the right changes would come over time as the calcified elderly in our society died off.
I describe the above as a "tenet of my faith" because ultimately that was what it was: faith. It was not informed by a personal expertise in economics, it was informed by reading various sources who claimed to know what they were talking about and synthesizing it into my own fundamental set of tenets.
And here we come to the "crisis of faith". The last eight years under republican rule, with the almost wholesale implementation of every tenet of the conservative faith, was a catastrophic and unmitigated disaster. It is difficult to find one metric that paints the state of the country in a better position when Bush left office compared to when he came into office.
Bush and his Republican enablers in Congress presided over the largest expansion in government spending since the great depression. And, more importantly, Bush (again, with his republican enablers) became the first President in American history to cut taxes during a time of war. Never before in our country's history has our government decided to drain the country of tax revenue at the one fundamental time when the government unequivocally needs such revenue! There is no greater responsibility, and no greater demand on the federal treasury, than the need to support the active military operations we decide to enter into (whether such wars are justified or not). Yes, I realize that Bush and his criminally incompetent cronies thought that the wars would be a "cake walk", that we would be "greeted as liberators", and would probably be over in just a few short months, which would thereby negate the reckless decision to drain the treasury of revenue because, after all, it wouldn't cost very much because it would all be over soon!
So do I have faith that Obama has all the right answers? I do not. I don't have a lot of faith in any economic theories at the moment right now. What i do know, however, is that many of the economic theories of the conservative movement have proven themselves to be unmitigated disasters. No, I do not have faith in the laffer curve (i.e., cutting taxes produces more revenue). No, i do not have faith that slashing regulation of the financial industry will lead to lasting prosperity and growth.
As for the things I do believe at the moment, which form the basis of my newly crafted "faith", here is a sampling.
I believe that the Phil Gramm-led repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act was one of the largest factors in creating monstrous financial institutions that became too big to fail, which ultimately required trillions of dollars of our hard-earned tax money to be given to them as bailouts.
I believe that Bush was the worst criminal to inhabit the oval office in at least the last century (Monica Lewinsky and Watergate pale in comparison to the politicization of the Justice Department and the indiscriminate torture of detainees in U.S. custody).
I believe that Bush and the Republican leadership of the last eight years are guilty of at least gross mismanagement of our country and our economy.
I believe that most of the problems that Obama is being forced to deal with right now were created by the criminality and mismanagement of the country during the Bush years.
I believe that certain conservative economic precepts (such as restrained spending, balanced budgets, less statism, etc.) still have some merit, yet are generally not appropriate during a severe recession in which consumer spending has cratered and banks are not lending to small businesses.
I believe that it is largely unfair to blame Obama for the spending that he is being forced to undertake in order to bring the federal government back from the edge of the cliff it was pushed onto by Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress. It is as if an arsonist mayor spent eight years burning down a city block and then the city council were to complain that the new mayor is asking the council for money to rebuild.
On to a few closing points with regard the the following excerpts from your email: "The President will need to raise taxes on the highest earners and probably the middle class, too, to pay off his recent stimulus and budget." and "I just feel like we've gotten ourselves into a hole that will require years of heavy taxation and a declining dollar to dig out of."
I agree with you that we will likely need to raise taxes. I encourage you, however, to include the last eight years in your analysis of why this was warranted. In my view, Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress wrecked the country to such an extent they left Obama with a gaping, smoking crater on the day he took office. From just a simple arithmetic perspective, let me again highlight that Bush cut taxes (thereby leaving a gaping hole in government revenue) for the first time in American history during a time of war. By cutting taxes at a time when they should have either stayed stable or risen, Bush made the explicit decision to pass on the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the next President and our children and grandchildren.
Although I believe there is merit in cutting taxes when times are good in order to disincentivize government waste, I also believe (and this isn't just dewy-eyed naivete) that it is our patriotic duty to pay taxes into a progressive tax system, especially when we are in a time of grave peril with two foreign wars and an economy teetering on the brink. One of the precepts of conservative dogma that I never signed on to (which, as an aside, every notable leader of the Republican party currently does sign on to) is that tax increases are never warranted under any circumstances. Because Bush blasted a crater in government revenue with his reckless and poorly targeted tax cuts and his spending like a drunken sailor on things like a horribly designed medicare prescription drug benefit that just poured money into the pockets of the drug companies, I believe that the only responsible thing to do right now is to reverse some of the bush tax cuts and will probably sign off on another tax increase down the road if it is warranted.
Finally, to your comment "it would not surprise me if the effective tax rate on you and I - after federal, state, city, and usage taxes - pushed 50%" -- c'mon now, the combined tax burden in NYC is already close to 50%! :)
Great to hear from you again, and great to see that you had the presence of mind, and the wisdom, to see at least some of the horrors of the last eight years for what they were.