The billionaire owners of the Conservative movement and their zombie Tea Party Troops, aided and abetted by the corporate media stooges they own, have crafted narratives to buttress their agenda with 'common sense' talking points that are anything but. They sound plausible at first hearing, and most people don't have the time or the desire to think past what seems obvious. It's not surprising either.
They've spent a lot of time with focus groups and marketing experts perfecting their messages. They're designed to be show stoppers - buy into them and the debate stops there. The constant repetition over TV and radio only reinforces their impact. Digby links to a very useful piece by Dave Johnson Eight False Things The Public “Knows” Prior To Election Day". It's a must read if you are doing phone calls or knocking on doors.
Meanwhile, I've thought of a few counters to 3 of the more common 'truths'. Go read Johnson first, come back here if you want some more ideas, and add your own if you've got 'em.
• The Government Must Live Within Its Means
Let's tackle this one head-on. This is trotted out to paint all government spending as a bad thing, especially stimulus spending at a time of deficits. The argument goes "Every homeowner knows - you can't spend money you don't have. You have to live within your means." People can relate to that - debt is eating many Americans alive.
Here's some counter arguments that should break through that show stopper. "Have you ever taken out car loans or student loans? Used a credit card? Taken out a mortgage? Wasn't that living beyond your means? Weren't you spending more money than you had?"
Put it another way. "If you suddenly found out your roof was leaking because the previous owner of your house had let it slide, would you take out a loan to get it fixed before it got worse, or would you just live with a house rotting away around you until you could scrape up the money? If you had no gas in your car, would you borrow a few bucks to fill the tank so you could get to work - or would you just stay home, get docked pay, maybe lose your job until you could somehow come up with the money to buy gas? If you had a business with worn-out and broken equipment, would you try to stay in business anyway - or would you get a loan to replace/upgrade your tools so you could satisfy your customers and maybe expand?"
If the argument is that government should handle money like ordinary people, then let's also remember ordinary people have to spend money they don't have all the time because A) it's the only way to get big ticket items, B) some expenses can't be put off, and C) because they know they can afford it over the long term IF they do it responsibly.
There is nothing inherently wrong with going into debt if it is for a purpose that will lead to gain. The only people who can pay cash for everything are the rich. That's why they make such a fetish out of "living within one's means" because for them it's easy. Cutting taxes - which the rich are always in favor of - and government spending both contribute to the deficit. The difference is tax cuts produce nothing, while the right kinds of government spending are an investment in the future that will pay for themselves.
Shorter version: anyone who insists that government should be forced to live within its means should be forced to pay cash for everything.
• Government Is Too Big
This is another chestnut. Government keeps getting bigger and needs to be cut back? Well, let's look at some numbers. In 1950, there were 152,271,417 Americans. In 1998 there were 270,298,524. Today it's 310,515,372. In 60 years the population of the U.S. has more than doubled. Think about the implications. Those are all people who need roads, schools, food, drinking water, housing, etc. Basic things government does directly or makes possible.
Then there are some other numbers. GDP in 1950 was 2,006,000 (measured in millions of 2005 dollars.) In 2000, the US GDP had risen to 11,226,000 (again in millions of 2005 dollars) Granted the last couple of years have not been great, the economy is roughly five times bigger than it was, over the same time as the US population doubled. And where has governemnt spending gone over that time?
This chart, adjusted for inflation, shows that the Federal budget over roughly the same time period is somewhere around 3-4 times greater than it used to be. And for all those screaming about rises in social spending, don't forget that includes a few wars in that same time frame - and wars are expensive.
Let's throw in another couple of numbers to think about. Here's what has happened to the top marginal tax rates over the years, the rate on money in the highest tax bracket. Take a look at the rates in the 1950s and remember them when people scream the Bush tax cuts must be preserved! The interesting thing is that even as the tax rates on the rich have declined - the rate of growth in their incomes has accelerated - and the rest of the country has stagnated over the last 40 years.
Now all of the above is subject to quibbling and complicating - but the short version is: over the last 50 years there are twice as many Americans as there used to be, the economy is much larger than it used to be, and the needs only government can meet have grown as well. Government HAS to grow just to keep up! Add in the fact that the rich are hanging on to more of their money than ever before as the economy grows, while the rest of us are not seeing any share of that growth, is it any wonder people are unhappy with who ends up footing the bill for what we all need?
Government Should Be Run Like A Business
God help us that anyone believes this one. It's amazing the number of rich conservative idiots from the business world today who think sitting in a CEO's chair makes them qualified to run a government. You'd think seeing what the banks and Wall Street have done to the economy would make them political lepers. You'd think people who've seen their wages and benefits slashed, their jobs outsourced, would be showing up at their rallies with tar and feathers. Let's just handle this by showing some examples of what government run like a business might do.
• Of the 50 administrative divisions in USA Inc. (states) a number of them chronically fail to meet their targets - that is they take in more Federal money than they produce in taxes. (Largely the red states by no coincidence.) They either need to be reorganized under new management, or spun off to rise or fall on their own.
• There are operations that are not allocating resources efficiently. For example, there are thousands of miles of highway that run through markets with little or no customer base. It would make far more sense to close them down and consolidate services where there is sufficient return to justify the expense.
• There are hugely expensive military operations going on around the world in places that will never generate enough of a return on investment to justify the expense. It would be far more cost-effective to either sanitize those areas with applied nuclear technology (atomic bombs) and redevelop them later, or write them off now.
• There are significant liabilities in the form of work force elements that are either too old or too sick to perform productively. They should be terminated as expeditiously as possible to contain costs.
• There is spending on R&D issues that can be trimmed. Does USA Inc. really need to scrutinize every new drug? Investigate climate change? Cure cancer? Do such activities really provide value to shareholders? How do they fit under the USA Inc. mission statement?
• There are a number of assets that are not being utilized effectively in terms of maximizing return. Much valuable real estate is locked up in national parks, wildlife refuges, etc. It's often in or near prime locations, and a more market-oriented approach for operating them could result in significantly higher cash flows, helping the bottom line.
• The company-wide education infrastructure is wildly inefficient. It devotes too many resources to curricula that have nothing to do with making USA Inc. more competitive, ie: music, arts, humanities, etc. Further, it turns out far more units (graduates) than the economy can absorb. It should be downsized until demand picks up.
And so on and so on. The difference between government and business is simple. Business is all about making a profit. Period. Government's scope extends to things like Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - and Justice is in there too somewhere.
Most Conservative positions are framed in stark black and white terms; they have been hammered down to sound bites designed to stop debate in its tracks - right where conservatives want it. The Means argument is intended to keep people from looking at what kind of spending is going on - and what might be better. The Too Big argument keeps people from asking what is the right size to get the job done. The Business argument is meant to exclude a whole range of things government should be dealing with. Get past those road blocks, and political discussion can become viable again, minds can be opened - and maybe changed.
Never give up, never surrender.