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 my 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.

Dear X,

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 a leading indicator of wisdom 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 too much emphasis 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 we spent 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 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 negligence and incompetence when it comes to the management and stewardship 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 complains 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.”
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. I will probably sign off on another tax increase down the road if it is warranted.

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.

Update: Just to highlight why I have zero faith in conservative economic philosophy right now, consider this:

Though economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin spent the 2008 presidential campaign advising Sen. John McCain to defend the massive Bush tax cuts, he now thinks they should be allowed to expire at the end of 2010 due to “the prospect of an Argentina-style fiscal meltdown.”

Said Holtz-Eakin: “If you ask: ‘Who pays the taxes?’, it’s the first step toward not having the answer be: ‘Our kids.’”

In essence, Holtz-Eakin is saying that unless we allow the Bush tax cuts to expire (i.e., “raise taxes” in current GOP parlance), we will find ourselves in financial armageddon (i.e., a disaster like what happened in Argentina) because we don’t (and won’t) have enough tax revenue to cover the immense crater that Bush left us with.

The second part is particularly poignant — it’s either the people of today who are going to pay it, or we can just punt it down the road to our kids. All this from the mouth of McCain’s biggest champion of More Tax Cuts NOW! If you can explain the words coming out a particular side of this guy’s mouth, please do let me know.

  1. Peg Chun says:

    Great article. I really like what you say. This whole notion of "faith" is so broad, yet it is another general term the radical religious right hijacked and contaminated. For instance, I'm operating from a sense of faith, based on past experience/information/reason, that when I go to the market to buy celery that some will probably be there. I have faith in the farmers, weather, and trucking industry, and mostly it works out. I also put my faith in leaders who are smart, reasoned, educated, and have shown that they're able to pragmatically and intelligently assess issues in depth, relatively free from orthodox dogmatic ideology that often results in poor or even harmful policies. I see President Obama as someone with these qualities that I respect and thus I feel some faith that our chances of good results have greatly increased.

  2. spacester says:

    Faith Sucks.

    Faith breeds Dogma, thus Dogma Sucks.

    Reason Rules.

    Reason derives from the power of the Rational Mind to overcome our primitive instincts and see the world as it really is.

    Principles are to National Objectives as Strategy is to Winning.

    Policies are to Principles as Tactics are to Strategy.

    Rational Policies have returned, and many people do not have the language skills to process the change.

    Great article, you are a brave man. Consider taking the next step, to fully embrace the Politics of Imperative Principles.

    The GOP flushed their Conservative Principles years ago in favor of primitive emotional appeals that can fit on a bumper sticker and generate easy sound bites.

    The Dems have converted many of their Principles into Dogma. They have the advantage of having both Liberal and Moderate Voices, but they also need to learn to think about
    everything in terms of the underlying Principles.

    Fairness, Justice, Economic Growth, Freedom, Liberty, Community, Progress, Lawfulness, Patriotism, Security, Privacy are all Concepts which each Political Party and each Politician needs to grasp in terms of Rational Policies as driven by their bedrock Principles. The Liberal, Moderate and Conservative views of the world should co-exist in balance, allowing our Society to formulate balanced policies.

    What I describe may be dismissed as an Utopian Ideal, yet that is the direction we are headed, thanks to this new Administration. Remember that Obama had inherited not only a big mess, but is able to avail himself of a massive pent-up supply of rational viewpoints and strategies and even some Principled Statements of Purpose, born of the angst of living under the worst President in US history.

    A Politician who cannot articulate their Core Principles is worthless in a Rational Society.

    What we see if we keep our Eyes On Obama is a man of Principle, profoundly manifested. But the greatness of the American People can be reflected in his Administration.

    Principles, not Dogma. Reasoning, not Faith.

    • Metavirus says:

      right on. well said

      • Jane says:

        I haven't heard such earnest hyperbole since I was a girl in the 60's and 70's. The Vietnam War raged from 1959-1975 and the young people of this country embraced revolution with sweeping enthusiasm. Today you'll find the most dogmatic of my generations' 'revolutionary' thinkers teaching (quite comfortably) in tenured positions at our nation's most prestigious universities.
        Your generation will demonize George W Bush the same way mine did Richard Nixon.
        There is nothing new under the sun. Nothing.

        • Metavirus says:

          you sure do seem to enjoy jumping from post to post and slathering folks with your unique brand of umbrage and cynicism. if everything here is so off-putting to you, please go find another site to pour your bitterness into. i hear Free Republic is good for that kind of thing.

          • Jane says:

            I'm the bitter one? Puhleeese! Don't worry, I wondered into Library Grape blog by mistake (apparently) every posting here seems to echo with applause and 'well said' and 'right on' to sarcastic far- leftist views on a wide variety of topics. But that's the point of this site, isn't it? Wondering around in a space with like-minded parrots makes other parrots feel welcome. And if you think my 'unique brand of umbrage' is more than Spacester (whom I was replying to) can bear, then kudos to you for swinging the sword for him/her. Consider me a MODERATE political type who's out of here. Dont' bother answering 'cause I won't be reading. Adios.

            • Metavirus says:

              actually, the point of this personal blog of mine is to express my views and hopefully inform folks who are interested in listening. the comments you've peppered around on various posts express a sad state of bitterness that I'm afraid I can't help you with. good luck in your travels.

            • spacester says:

              Hi Jane, thanks for the response.

              So can I conclude that there is no place for earnestness in your world?

              Nothing but umbrage, then? :-)

              Just asking.

        • Schu says:

          I grew up during the same period that you did, but I can not draw the same concussions that you have. I am continuing my education, and I find that most of the instructors are evenly split between liberal and conservative, but usually keep their views out of the class room. As a moderate, I find both extremes prime candidates for the insane asylum. Yes, to a certain extent, history does repeat itself because people refuse to learn from it. As a Christian, I find the name calling and judgmental attitudes of the far right to fall more into the extreme radical Moslem tenants, than as examples that Christ could relate to. If the nation continues to follow this tendency for extreme polarization that we are currently seeing, we are going to be in even more troble. I

        • Birdman AL says:

          Dear Jane,
          Both Nixon and Bush created theie own failures for different reasons, but bith were flawed men. Nixon did some very good thing but his ego supplanted sound judgement in favor of unrestrained power. I think Bush was flawed by his ideology and failure to belive truth when it was presented to him favoring to believe the individuals who were misleading him for their own purposes

    • it is possible to have both faith and reason…don't brush too broadly…you will sound like a Republican…LOL

  3. Missyme says:

    Your friend wrote and I quote: ''Bush and his Republican enablers in Congress presided over the largest expansion in government spending since the great depression. And, more importantly, Bush 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! " Bush never operated from a position of strength, knowledge, critical thinking and responsibility. He gambled everything on his incompetence and disrespect for the American people. He was never qualified to be anything in Government but he cruised his way into becoming POTUS by conning the American People's faith in God and now we are paying for it all.

    • Schu says:

      Bush and his followers are the reason I am no longer an independent voted, but now a returned Democrate.

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