by Jon Pine
In Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll classic “Alice in Wonderland,” Johnny Depp, as the orange-haired, googly-eyed Mad Hatter, asks, “How is a raven like a writing desk?” The answer to the question is of no consequence – rather, it’s the Hatter’s obsession with the question itself that makes him mad.
I can’t help but compare supporters of the Tea Party movement to Mad Hatters, obsessed with bombastic questions, unconcerned with the answers, displaying a comical detachment from reality.
Some of their favorite nonsensical queries: “How is a centrist President like a Socialist dictator?” Or “How are the lowest taxes in 50 years like being ‘taxed to death’?” And, of course, the lulu of them all, “How are decades of deregulation, tax breaks for the mega-rich and tax loopholes for corporations like ‘big government’ running out of control?”
I’ve long ago stopped wasting my breath trying to talk the Mad Hatters down from their hallucinations. You can’t. Never mind that when the government was in their hands it underwent the largest expansion in recent history. Now that it’s in the hands of the Democrats and our first African American president, it is seen as a bloated, treacherous, treasonous Jabberwocky, and there’s only one solution – “Off with its head!”
Like all delusional paranoids, they have no idea what they’re saying. Abolish the IRS? Really? Turn corporations loose in a deregulated “free market”? Deep-six the Environmental Protection Agency? The Department of Education? Reverse portions of the Civil Rights Amendment?
Let’s slow down a bit and try to imagine what America would look like as One Nation Under the Tea Party, shall we?
Abolish the IRS. Well, for starters they don’t really mean abolishing the IRS – just the progressive tax. We’d still need a federal agency to collect taxes. Most Tea Party adherents say they prefer a so-called flat tax. But do they really understand what that would mean? It would mean that taxes for the majority of those in the middle class would go up. No more deductions for children, for charitable donations, healthcare expenses, college tuition, mortgage interest.
Over the past three decades or so, the tax burden has already, slowly but steadily, shifted away from the rich and toward the middle class. A flat tax would finish the shift, creating huge tax reductions for the rich and mega-rich. The theory, of course, is that rich people will then create jobs for the rest of us. But history has proven that to be a false premise. Job growth was actually higher during the Clinton years when taxes for the middle class went down and the taxes on the rich went up; during the Bush years, when the tax burden was reversed, job growth actually slowed.
Deregulate, baby, deregulate. Hmmm… If only there were some recent examples of deregulation gone awry. If only mass deregulation of, say, the financial and banking industries turned out to be not such a good idea. Or if, maybe, a huge industry like the oil, gas or coal industry flaunted environmental or safety regulations to a disastrous end. If only…
I lay awake at night fretting about the coming of the slick, which satellite photos now confirm has entered the “loop current” and may very well show up on the beautiful beaches here in Vero Beach, Florida. It could conceivably continue northward in the Gulf Stream and befoul beaches and fragile estuaries all along the Atlantic coast. And the more we learn about this catastrophe, the more we learn it should have been prevented.
Even the minimal regulations in place weren’t adhered to properly, and the small government blowhards want to deregulate further? Are you freakin’ kidding me? With nearly 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico already, we don’t need one single more. Not there, nor anywhere else offshore. Yet, the Palins, the Pauls, the Becks and the other Mad Hatters are screaming again to “drill, baby, drill!”
Their justification? We need to “get off foreign oil,” and by that, what they really mean is get off of oil from the Middle East. I’ve got news for you – we can do that without drilling a single new well.
Consider that more than half the oil we consume comes from domestic sources. Of the rest, 80 percent is from foreign sources here in the Western Hemisphere – countries with whom we have no serious beefs. With just a little effort, we could eliminate the remaining 20 percent of imports (10 percent of total consumption) that come from the Eastern Hemisphere.
Start by temporarily increasing imports from our friends in the West. Then raise CAFE standards for new vehicles over the next 5-10 years, while also raising the price of gasoline with a federal tax, the way that it was done in the 1970s under President Carter. Now, as then, consumption will decrease more than 10 percent; the gas tax can be used to fund development of alternative energy sources – just like it was used in the ‘70s.
Deep-six the EPA. This is perhaps the most foolish idea of them all. The Environmental Protection Agency was initiated by Richard Nixon – no tree-hugger, he. Why? Because unregulated – there’s that word again – chemical companies had been spraying DDT, dioxins, and all sorts of nasty pollutants directly into the environment, making millions of people sick. For a conservative guy like Nixon to take such an action, it had to be really, really bad.
During the eight years of the Bush II Administration, hundreds of EPA actions and regulations had been weakened or abolished altogether. But don’t take my word for it; just read Robert F. Kennedy’s excellent account, “Crimes Against Nature.” You’ll find a synopsis of the book here: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1120-01.htm
And now the Tea Party folks want to do away with the EPA altogether? They truly are Mad Hatters!
Close the Department of Education. Another puzzling idea, which was championed by Ronald Reagan almost immediately after Jimmy Carter established it in 1979. “Established” is really not an accurate description of what Carter did, however – previously, education was part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Carter merely separated the education office so that it was its own cabinet-level department.
Most people erroneously assume the Department of Education oversees curriculum development, regulates education quality standards, or makes other intrusions into the education system, but this isn’t so. Rather, it oversees federal funding for education, and makes sure that schools honor citizens’ privacy and civil rights. Important stuff, right? Not to Tea Party Mad Hatters, apparently. Rand Paul wants to give businesses the right to refuse service to minorities; apparently he feels that schools should also have that same right. Say hello to segregated schools! Thank you, Tea Party!
Ironically, the one instance in which the Department of Education did set standards for education was George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” – an abject failure by most people’s accounts.
Are you beginning to get a vision of what a Tea Party Laissez-Faire Utopia might look like? All kinds of new “freedoms” – including the freedom of corporations to do and say pretty much whatever they like. The freedom to pay more taxes so rich people and corporations can pay less! Woohoo! More taxes, less benefits – sounds good, right? Bring it on!
Freedom from government interference – if you’re black or Hispanic, you can consider yourself free to leave my store now, thank you very much, and the government can’t do a thing about it. You’ll also be free to study with other minorities, but not alongside my white kids – sorry! The government can’t help you there, either.
Or maybe you’ll want to put your kids to work – there will be no federal child labor laws to stop you. And none of those pesky OSHA standards to guarantee safe working conditions for the little buggers – or for you, for that matter. Just don’t expect fair wages – the “free market” means the government can no longer regulate utilities, so the company will make it up by cutting wages, and the government can’t stop them. No such thing as a minimum wage anymore! Isn’t that grand? And don’t try to unionize – that won’t be legal anymore, either.
This is just a glimpse of what you can expect. You can say goodbye to 10 percent unemployment – and hello to 20 or even 25 percent unemployment. We’ve just shit-canned millions of federal employees, remember? They’re all out there scratching and clawing for your job now – only there won’t be any guarantee of access to healthcare. The Mad Hatters have overturned healthcare reform, and they’re coming after Medicare and Social Security next.
We live in a huge, complex country, growing larger and more complex every day. We need more government, not less; more regulations, not fewer. The Wall Street debacle and the oil that is still oozing in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate that our problems are growing larger and more complex, too – and that corporations and the free market, left to their own devices, will not protect us. But they will do all they can to protect their own profits.
The goal here should not be smaller government, but rather more efficient government. Instead of “Off with his head!” we should be calling for “Tame the Jabberwocky!” Government is not the enemy. Why would we listen to anything the Mad Hatters say?
A raven is like a writing desk – indeed!
© 2010 Jon Pine