Austerity Comes To Iowa

Signage Near Front and Cherry Streets, North Liberty

Signage Near Front and Cherry Streets, North Liberty

Elections matter. They have mattered for a long time. A more pertinent maxim for political life in 2015 Iowa, however, is:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana.

If elections matter, understanding the intellectual context for them, from a conservative perspective is equally important.

In the 20th Century we rose from the Great War and the agricultural experiment that led to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. We created the military industrial complex and its prosperity for many. We bought into an illusion of unending opportunity.

This has always been more story than truth. Because so many like the story, it persists. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) taps into it.

“At a time when millions of American workers have seen declines in their incomes and are working longer hours for lower wages, the wealth of the billionaire class is soaring in a way that few can imagine,” Sanders said on his website. “If you can believe it, between 2013 and 2015, the 14 wealthiest individuals in the country saw their net worth increase by over $157 billion dollars. We live in one of the wealthiest countries on earth, yet children go hungry, veterans sleep out on the streets and senior citizens cannot afford their prescription drugs. This is what a rigged economic system looks like.”

Our lives have been coarsened by the unending work of the wealthy and their politicians. It has been no accident.

“36 men created the economic mental model that has delivered the mess we’re in,” wrote L. Hunter Lovins, president, Natural Capitalism Solutions. “Meeting in 1947 at the Mont Pelerin hotel outside Montreux, Switzerland they built the intellectual architecture of an economy of small government and individual decision-making in an unfettered free market.”

If austerity, and that’s what we’ve come to call it, began after World War II, it found its home in the Reagan administration.

“Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending,” said economist Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chair from 1987 to 2006, in testimony to the U.S. Finance Committee July 14, 1978.

“Starving the beast” is a political strategy employed by American conservatives in order to limit government spending by cutting taxes in order to deprive the government of revenue in a deliberate effort to force the federal government to reduce spending.” (Source: Wikipedia)

“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years,” Republican Grover Norquist said. “To get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

These statements are not abstractions. They find their way to Iowa, where Governor Branstad and the Republicans take an approach of cut the budget, cut taxes, then repeat the cycle. The segregation of funding for K-12, community college and higher education this legislative session, and Branstad’s subsequent veto, are out of a playbook with roots in 20th Century conservative thought.

Government is often inefficient and programs outlive their usefulness. An example is the recent closure of two of Iowa’s four mental health facilities. The idea that those who need in-patient mental health treatment should not be warehoused in a few central locations has merit. What better than to re-integrate people into local communities and settings? The fact that this devolved into a dispute between the governor, certain legislators and an Iowa union does a disservice to people who need the treatment. It’s no way to make sensible or reasonable changes in our governance.

Each of the five Democratic candidates for president said unlimited money in politics is a problem for our Democracy. This is a core problem with elections post-Citizens United. The unstoppable advancement of the ideas of shrinking government, looting the commons and war profiteering are the context in which Citizens United is possible. The culture is so pervasive that even small business owners have bought in, displaying signs like the one in the picture all around Iowa.

Elections matter and the moneyed interests know it. Their ability to indoctrinate an electorate that often votes against its own interests has been stunning. Using mass media they own, literally, or with unlimited monetary resources to buy programming, the depth of their penetration into an American psyche has given us Ronald Reagan, and a legion of Reagan wannabes.

Our hope is more of us recognize elections matter. One has to have faith the American electorate will wake up, the scales will fall from their eyes, and people will focus on what’s right, and not what the wealthy tell us must be.

If we care about our country and the people in it, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. I’m grateful most people I know agree and are willing to work for the change we need. What about you?

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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