B: I can tell you think you’re being clever. So out with it.
DI: I have two topics I’d like to talk about with you; unfortunately I’ve been having trouble coming up with an overarching theme, but they are Michele Bachmann and the budget.
B: And I’ll take a wild guess and assume you’re going to title the piece, ‘unbalanced.’
DI: On the nosey. We’ll start with the one that’s the furthest out of whack.
B: Michele Bachmann?
DI: Correct. Michele Bachmann really first came to prominent national attention when she called Barack Obama anti-American. Most notably because he was palling around with Bill Ayers, a member of the Weathermen, a group that bombed several government buildings in the 70s, and was friendly with Obama.
B: Obama served on a charity board with Ayers, and lived in the same neighborhood. I was friends with Harvey Dent- I actually cooked for him, in my home, once. I gave to his campaign when he was running for DA. By that standard, Michele Bachmann would believe that I condone any and everything Harvey’s ever done.
Which is stupid if not unbelievably cynical. Harvey was one of my best friends. When his… issues broke him, it was hard on me. But that never stopped me from beating the hell out of him every single time he put innocent people in danger. I don’t condone his actions; I despise them. I hate what Harvey became- and it’s all the sadder knowing where he came from, and who he could have been.
DI: But is that fair? Obama knew Ayers after he’d been in the Weathermen.
B: Okay. Say that Harvey reformed- which he’s tried, several times. Let’s say this time he makes it, and like Ayers he’s an honest, normal citizen for twenty years. Let’s say he gets his law license back, somehow, and runs for DA. I’d donate to his campaign all over again.
DI: I’m just going to lay my cards on the table, here, and just quote from Wikipedia: following comments by China proposing adoption of a global reserve currency, Bachmann introduced a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to bar the dollar from being replaced by a foreign currency.
B: I have no words. (pause) You’re not going to say anything else until I respond, are you?
B: It’s just… lunacy. The existence of a global reserve currency would have nothing to do with the US. All China is saying is that it doesn’t like being tied to US policy. They don’t like the idea that all the wealth they’ve generated is denominated in dollars, because they could lose their shirts if we were to do something stupid, like, say, reneg on our debts by refusing to lift the debt ceiling. So they’d rather have a currency that wasn’t related to any single country- sort of a gold standard without tying the reserve currency necessarily to any particular commodity.
DI: She also made headlines when she fretted publically about the census.
B: Which was ironic, given her self-proclaimed love for the Constitution- because that’s where the Census comes from. Every ten years the government performs a count and accounting of the citizenry- largely for the allocation of representatives for the house, but also the distribution of funds.
DI: And during the health care debate, she read an article by the notorious Betsy McCaughey on the floor of the House.
B: It’s unclear how much Bachmann’s persona is cynical shtick and how much of it is actual, diagnosable paranoia. But I can’t, looking at the evidence, believes it’s all an act; she went on record saying she wanted to “wean” people off Social Security and Medicare. She was talking about keeping people in the system there, and making sure people who wouldn’t get it had time to prepare- similar in spirit to the Ryan budget, but also throwing Social Security under the same bus- but that’s an incredibly unpopular mindset to have in this country. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s getting any traction at all.
DI: In 2004, Bachmann said, “We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders”
B: Given my long career in dealing with people with mental dysfunctions and identity disorders, I can tell you I have profound compassion for people like Bachmann, surpassed only by my compassion for the poor people of Minnesota she represents.
DI: That was catty. You’re getting catty in your old age.
B: Maybe I’ve been spending too much time around Selina. Kitten has claws.
DI: But conveniently, Bachmann has been at least on the outskirts of the skirmish over the debt ceiling. She tends to make wacky sounding demands- actually, I imagine that’s your wheelhouse, since you’ve been involved in hostage negotiations with the Joker.
B: To be fair, Bachmann isn’t going to kill anyone; she’s just threatening to hurt the country and its interests. Both dire, I admit; but I want to make sure we don’t step too far into hyperbole, here. Bachmann isn’t a murderer, and while I’d question her ability to properly grasp reality, she’s far from the Joker in that regard.
DI: Noted; also, aren’t I supposed to be the grown-up, here?
B: That’s what I keep asking.
DI: But what I was trying to say about Bachmann’s demands; she has, if I’m remembering this right, demanded at one point a balanced budget amendment, and at another, repeal of the ACA.
B: It’s hard to watch. I don’t know how many people were reading you and Clark’s discussions, but I can’t help but feel the ACA- it’s a part of Clark’s legacy. It’s a part I think he was proud of, even though he didn’t get to see its final passage. But so often, he, and I’m in a similar position, we get to help people in a way that’s immediate, and visceral.
But after you’ve saved someone from the burning building, you set them back down on the sidewalk and you fly away. And the circumstances that had them living in that poorly built building that wasn’t up to code, with the badly functioning smoke detectors that they couldn’t afford to replace- those all stay like they were. So it’s hard to feel like you saved them, really- you just postponed the inevitable.
I’m in a more unique position, in that I can afford and have the resources to come back later, and try to help out. There were a lot of times, especially when I was starting out, that I’d say to people: “Batman told me you could use a hand.” And little kids, I mean, the first thing they’d say is, “You know Batman?” And their eyes would light up; and it always felt like the answer was “only slightly.” Because he’s a part of me, but he’s not a part of me I have access to when I’m out with people like that. He’s as much an enigma to me, at those moments, as he is to everyone else.
But the point I was trying to get at, that I think I’ve wandered away from, is that at least in my mind, the ACA is something he advocated for, at the end. The last hurrah in his campaign for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And I remember, when the debate over the bill got really nasty, he called me, depressed. Because he couldn’t understand how people could question the patriotism of the idea that everyone should have medical coverage. He asked me, “What’s more American than all of us, together, helping every American succeed, and prosper? Is there anything more American than that?”
At the time I didn’t say anything. It was rhetorical, but beyond that he had a way about him- even when he said something corny, something I wanted to laugh about- I couldn’t. He made you want to believe silly things. I don’t think the ACA is actually silly- but I believe it’s aimed to make the world better, in a way that sometimes I want to dismiss as hopelessly and romantically idealistic. But I also think it’ll save more lives than Clark or I ever did. And I know that’s what Clark hoped, too.
DI: That’s all well and good, but don’t you hate freedom?
B: I once punched Captain America in a comic book- but I don’t think that counts. I’ll cop to the fact that Bachmann and I don’t see eye to eye on the purpose of government. But I also believe that in a democracy you actually have to govern, that means voting for budgets on time, it means funding agencies even if you may not like the way they work; it means doing the business of the American people like a professional.
As to the budget, itself, I think it’s silly to attempt to balance the budget immediately. Aside from the fact that taking billions if not trillions out of the economy in the midst of the recession is a bad idea, I think it’s unfair and irresponsible to the people who have come to rely on certain government programs to suddenly do without. You’ll note, this is the exact same logic Bachmann wants to use for Social Security and Medicare, and at least as a methodology I can agree with it. Weaning people off of government funding is better than suddenly slamming the door shut and saying no more. You’d be dealing a huge blow to the economy, and just as important, really hurting a lot of people.
I agree, that over the long term we have to make up the difference between revenue and spending; reasonable people can disagree on the balance, there- and I’m hopeful that more reasonable people are elected in 2012 to make it a more adult conversation.
DI: So you don’t like the current state of the negotiations?
B: It’s difficult to know what the current state is, actually. But last I heard, Obama was pushing for $3.5 trillion in spending cuts, against about $1.2 trillion in additional revenue. To people who look at the debt the last couple of years, that might sound great. But to anyone paying attention to the long-term it’s a kick in the crotch.
$3.5 trillion is slightly less than what the Bush tax cuts cost every decade. Raising revenues by $1.2 trillion might sound like a good idea, but $.8 trillion of that comes off letting the Bush cuts for those earning more than $250,000 expire. Why that’s a crappy deal is it’s basically asking for the least investment in the country from the wealthy, and asking for the most pain endurable by everyone else. If you like the idea of the elderly staying above the poverty line, if you like the idea that the US might remain a well-educated country, these are not the kinds of cuts you want to see.
Which isn’t to say that this isn’t necessary. It’s possible that we really are spending so far beyond our means that we have to cut $350 billion out of our budget every year- which is around 10%. But I don’t like that we’re being forced to cut our budget by that much this quickly; the appropriate time to examine your finances is not while your house is on fire.
And I think if we’re going to ‘tighten our belts’ that it shouldn’t come on the backs of the poor and the vulnerable. There are a trillion dollars being basically wasted every decade through these so-called ‘tax expenditures.’ You can argue whether or not this is spending or it’s a tax cut, but that’s semantic; at the end of the day, it’s the government picking winners and losers. Giving some people preferential treatment through the tax code is, most of the time, a bad idea. It distorts markets, which can make it harder for certain businesses to compete.
After that trillion, I would say rescinding all the Bush tax cuts makes sense. If we really, really can’t afford our government, we should start things back at zero- because before those cuts was when we had a balanced budget. And from there we can have the sober discussion of how high we think taxes should be, versus the things we think the government should do.
And maybe the conclusion would eventually be, well, we want to pay fewer taxes even if that means a smaller military and smaller Social Security checks and maybe some rationing in Medicare. I don’t claim to speak for the American people on this. But I think we should start the conversation there- after we’ve put out most of the fires.
And personally, since I imagine you’re soliciting my economic expertise as a kind of poor man’s Warren Buffet, I’d suggest backloading the cuts. Because whenever you cut spending it’s going to take money out of the economy. If you aim it properly, some of it will be replaced by private investment- but that’s a matter of timing it so that it happens after the recovery actually gets stronger- no more of this see-sawing.
DI: Give yourself a little credit. You’re almost exactly like Warren Buffet, only you have a more interesting personal life- by which I mean your fetish gear fashion sense. And also your sex life.
B: Thanks for that.