Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Political Extorion Epidemic

Manipulation in politics is like the weather in New England. They are the natural order of things and complaining about them will get you nowhere. However, the recent political battle in Washington over the Bush tax cuts has put me over the edge, and I’m baying at the moon.

Let me blame Congressman Anthony Weiner (Dem) of New York and his colleagues for inspiring this column. They made the rounds on cable news and talk radio during the fight over the extension of the Bush tax rates, and their willful and blatant attempt to manipulate voters in support of their position was well beyond tolerance. These partisans aggressively attacked the extension of the existing tax rates as a gift to “millionaires and billionaires”, and as a windfall for the “super wealthy and fabulously rich”. They knew full well, and must have believed that the public did not know, that higher tax rates preferred by Weiner and his coalition began with individuals at incomes of $200,000 and married couples of $250,000. These people are hardly “fabulously wealthy”, they are far more numerous than the millionaires, and are predominantly small business owners. Weiner et al proclaimed over various cable news networks that they were protecting the middle class, never once mentioning that the preservation of current tax rates for those above $200,000 in income did not affect middle class tax rates. Nor do they concede that an alternative protection for all Americans against future tax increases is to reduce government spending. These facts about the tax rate extension are purposely not divulged by these proponents of higher taxes, and the class warfare distortions offered by Weiner and colleagues were designed to whip up voter antipathy towards this bill.

Do our politicians believe that the newspeak use of misrepresentative names on major pieces of legislation will fool the public? Is the new health care reform bill really a “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”? I suppose it does protect those with pre-existing conditions from losing their coverage, and it does extend coverage to those who can’t pay for insurance by opening Medicaid coverage which is then free to them. Under this act health insurance becomes far more expensive for the vast majority of Americans who currently purchase their own insurance and to the employers who cover so many of our citizens. The subsidized coverage mandated by this bill adds at least hundreds of billions to the federal deficits to be picked up by future taxpayers, and counts on hundreds of billions to be sacrificed from Medicare, threatening coverage for seniors. This is hardly the definition of “Protection and Affordable”. The “Dream Act” was the title for the recently failed legislation on illegal immigration. How about a simple “Act Relative to Alternative Paths to Citizenship”? As citizens, we need a discussion on how we balance our laws and the needs of our nation with a humane approach to the illegal immigrants. We don’t need an advertising jingle.

Negative labels are used in political discourse as weapons of personal assault to silence opposition by impugning their integrity and undermining their moral authority. To neutralize the influence of the Tea Parties, they were stamped as “racists” in the media despite being untrue. Discussions about immigration reform are fought through accusations of ”immigrant bashing”. There are many of these labels in play. The use of assaultive labeling is designed to win political battles by giving the user the moral high ground from which the opponent is bullied and shamed, and from which a supporting constituency can be built and manipulated. It is a vicious strategy.

Politicians violate our democracy when obscuring their positions on issues and by hiding their background in order to win election. The voter must know a candidate’s beliefs in order to make a reasoned judgment on who will make decisions in government. No single individual in office is so important as to subvert the democratic process.

I fully acknowledge that both sides of the political spectrum distort and manipulate, but we confront serious issues as a nation. We need to discuss the wisdom of raising taxes during a recession, and how progressive we want our tax code. How much do we want our government to grow and how much of our personal and societal treasure should the government absorb? Distorting truth to progress a particular position poisons reasonable discussion and destroys deliberation. We do have some politicians who speak their truths and do not resort to lies: they are called statesmen.