The United States may be juggling two separate wars and fighting 10% unemployment at home, but for some reason we’re hearing that the budget deficit is the most imminent national threat. Your children could be serving in Afghanistan, your brother might need a financial hand, and your roof might be leaking rainwater onto your head, but conservatives want you to know that your credit card balance should be your first concern.
Of course, the budget deficit is no funnier than a leaky roof during an Indian monsoon — it’s a real problem. But what is amusing are the growing cries over the last few months from the right that now, nOW, NOW is the absolute, critical, time-bomb ticking time to tackle it.
Now, if conservatives were truly serious about the deficit, they’d suggest doing something meaningful to reduce it. But since either cutting the largest discretionary budget item — excessive military spending — or letting debt-swelling tax cuts expire would usher in a fiery, bloody apocalypse, shaking fists at the deficit remains their preferred way to fight it.
“… Today’s “Tea Party” — and the Republicans who want to be invited to their tea parties — want to cut taxes when it’s least affordable and cut spending when it’s most needed.”
You’ve got to smile at the timing of this sudden interest in the national debt. In modern history, most of the increases in debt have occurred under Republican presidents. Every time, the party of “fiscal conservatism” ignored the ballooning public debt in favor of ever-lower taxes or ever-higher military spending. Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush left it to the “tax-and-spend” Democrats to balance the budget, which they did under Clinton, only to see another Bush raid the Treasury again in the new century, putting the debt back on an upward course and leaving the steaming pile of debt to the next (Democratic) president to tackle.
Just as in business, there are times to spend more and times to spend less. Few economists think it’s normally good for the government to spend more than it brings in, but they’re nearly united in their belief that the right time to do so is during high unemployment. The private sector isn’t humming right now, despite low taxes and nearly interest-free money. Stimulus spending — yes, by the government — is what’s needed to get the engine to turn over, to lower unemployment, to get people spending and creating jobs, which attracts more investment, and so on.
It’s when times are good that government can and should cut spending. That’s when the private sector needs no help. That’s when it’s affordable to lower taxes. But when the engine is cold, you want to add a richer mix of gas to it to get it moving; only then do you ease up. Sure, you can save gas by never leaving the garage, but then, you’re stuck in the garage.
Today’s “Tea Party” — and the Republicans who want to be invited to their tea parties — want to cut taxes when it’s least affordable and cut spending when it’s most needed.
The timing may be crazy but it’s not accidental. If the Republican brand has one thing going for it it’s the assumption that they want you to keep your money while Democrats want to take it away. While in power they may misuse the military, under-regulate banks and oil companies, and run up the national debt, but their anti-tax-and-spend superhero cape allows them to win elections anyway.
They won’t keep that aura if the Democrats claw their way out of 10% unemployment. They won’t be able to keep painting the government as a bloated and ineffective cancer on the country if stimulus spending gets the economy moving again, if it brings to a close the economic crisis that began when Republican theories of economics ruled in Washington.
If government policy manages to lead the country out of that era of financial recklessness and free-market failure, then the G.O.P.’s halo of fiscal conservatism may finally evaporate like a Bush-era mortgage-backed derivative.
It may be hard to believe that any party would work so tirelessly against the national interest, but remember that much of the G.O.P.’s identity relies on demonizing public spending and government action. Their mid-term election strategy is to hype hysteria about the deficit while blocking the door to lower unemployment.
They may be risking the jobs and prosperity of ordinary Americans, but understand, their own jobs are at stake.
Winning. Cheating. Scandal. Performance enhancing drugs.
These juicy phrases flooded back into the news recently with the Tour of California cycling race and Floyd Landis’s admissions and accusations of drug use.
Which got me thinking. Doping in athletic competitions are no secret, but we’ve never heard of such scandals in political races — yet.
Think about it — many of the same drugs used by athletes could give politicians a real edge over their competition. Quicker reaction times could boost their debating skills, higher endurance could help them on the campaign trail, extra muscle mass could make them look more athletic, and hence more telegenic.
That plus the fact that, in politics, the prize is real power, and I wonder if performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) aren’t already widespread inside the beltway and out on the stump.
“… And then, after getting caught with a fridge-full of red blood cells, they’ll apologize to the nation on Oprah, and publish books like, The Straight Dope: An American Story of Ambition, Regret, and Redemption.”
Politicians used to get by on good old-fashioned graft and determination. But now there’s many more options open to the politician seeking an unfair edge.
Anabolic steroids, amphetamines, human growth hormone …
The first use of PEDs in politics may have occurred right here in California. Remember the 2003 race for governor? By election day, Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger had more muscle mass than the next three candidates combined. He won by 1.3 million votes.
Arnold had even admitted to steroid use in the 70’s, but the media failed to investigate whether he had been juicing for the gubernatorial race.
This probably sent a message to other politicians considering doping up for an election – “you can get away with it – the media will look the other way.”
And what about today? Consider President Obama. As a freshman Senator he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the person whom everyone thought had the nomination locked up. To take down the Hillary heavyweight, he would need almost superhuman skills. What came next was a series of speeches so well crafted, so expertly delivered, that he was compared to Cicero.
(If you look hard enough, you’ll see evidence everywhere.)
Consider Sarah Palin. She was an unknown governor from Alaska with no nation-wide ambitions, but overnight, she morphed into a wildly popular Republican superstar, rumored to take down caribou with her bare hands.
I’ve managed to collect a bit of beltway doping slang here, to help increase people’s awareness around politicians who may be juicing.
Stumping: Injecting PEDs on the campaign trail
Split-ticket doping: Taking drugs with someone from a different party
Supplemental appropriation: An extra dose of a drug to make it through a budget hearing
“Ralphies”: Pills named for Ralph Nader, which lower inhibitions about sticking with a doomed campaign
“Byrdies”: Street name for drugs that boost political longevity, named for 92-year old Senator Robert Byrd
Filibooster: An amphetamine taken to increase alertness or aggressiveness
So how do otherwise honest politicians get caught up in this seedy world of PEDs? It probably starts innocently enough. Some staffer offers them a cup of coffee, a harmless bit of caffeine to help them make it through a day of interviews.
Pretty soon, though, coffee’s not enough anymore, and candidates graduate to the harder stuff. Amphetamines . . . HGH . . . or storing two pints of their own blood in a fridge and re-injecting it the night before an election.
I know, you’re thinking, if politicians are doping, how come no one’s been caught yet? Well, I’m sure they’re smart enough not to be seen buying human growth hormone at a town hall meeting. Most likely it’s their campaign manager or maybe a Canadian physician who scores the dope for them.
If a drug scandal finally breaks, it’ll follow a predictable course. First, the politicians will deny it. They’ll write entire books to try to clear their names, books with titles like, Fair and Square: Running Clean in the Race of a Lifetime. And then, after getting caught with a fridge-full of red blood cells, they’ll apologize to the nation on Oprah, and publish books like, The Straight Dope: An American Story of Ambition, Regret, and Redemption.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far. We can’t let scandal taint the otherwise virtuous world of politics. Too many kids look up to these politicians, putting their lawn signs up on their bedroom walls, memorizing their voting records, dreaming of someday becoming the next John Edwards, the next Mike Huckabee, the next H. Ross Perot.
So what should we do? Should politicians get pulled out of committee hearings to undergo doping awareness and resistance training? Should they have to scrub the oil off of Gulf-coast beaches as pre-emptive punishment for doping? Should we make them pee in a cup before each major speech?
I don’t have all the answers. But the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and yes!
So far, the only people who know about politicians and performance enhancing drugs are readers of this blog. Until the rest of the country sits up and pays attention, listen out for the slang I taught you, and remember this helpful acronym: Doping is Over-Ignored in Politics Everyday (D.O.P.E.).
Of course, this is all tongue-in-cheek. But if I’ve learned anything from the first years of 21st-century American politics, with the incredible instances of governmental ineptitude and financial and sexual scandal, it’s to never underestimate politicians’ ability to be their own worst enemies.
So if a scandal ever does break around politicians using performance enhancing drugs, you heard it here first.