It has been four  five six days since the mid-term elections, and during that time I have started and abandoned four six seven different posts on that topic. So many different emotions have filled me. I may have needed at least little space to make better sense of them. A fable (kind of) to start off…

Once, there was a group of three Mexicans who set out on a fishing boat to catch sharks.  However, their boat soon experienced adverse winds and mechanical difficulties, and they were lost at sea. The fishermen existing on nothing but raw fish, rain water and the tiny amounts of additional fresh water they could condense and trap. Finally, after nine months and nine days, they were picked up by another fishing vessel, some 5500 miles from where they had started. (True story)
Of course, the Mexican fisherman were malnourished and emaciated. The captain of the ship that rescued them, a Democrat, immediately ordered that a sumptuous feast be brought forth for the starving men. They ate and ate until they had had their fill, gorging themselves on rich roast meats and delectable baked goods and every manner of decadent indulgence.
The First Mate of the rescue boat, himself a Republican, thought ill of the captain’s plan, however. He immediately dashed off a wire to the corporate office, complaining that the feast had ruined the food budget for the vessel’s entire trip. What is more, he strenuously objected to the eating habits of the rescued men. “They ate with reckless abandon,” he reported. “Plate after plate of rich, fatty food. To eat like that only will lead to grave ill health — obesity and heart disease and diabetes and worse. This must be stopped immediately,” he concluded.
The corporate managers summoned the boat back to the harbor, and launched an inquiry into the captain’s actions. They heard evidence from nutritionists and health experts, who confirmed the First Mate’s fears. No one could remain healthy on such a diet as this, they concluded. The captain was reprimanded for his poor judgment, and ordered not to pick up any more lost fisherman for the remainder of his commission. The next day, he apologized to the corporate managers, although many, including the First Mate, felt that he still didn’t really ‘get’ it. They vowed to watch his every move with great vigilance, lest his insidious plan come to pass, and every fisherman on the sea become obese and unhealthy.

And that is where I find myself after the elections. I am not disheartened that the electorate has focused its attention on putting America on a healthy diet. I am disheartened that the electorate seems not to have distinguished between the necessary government actions to turn back a catastrophic recession — a spending “feast” fed to starving fishermen, if you will — and the long-term fiscal realities that we must face.

Somewhere, somehow, successful candidates managed to turn the government’s response to the recent economic crisis upside down. Not only did they portray the government’s response as ineffective, they managed to sell it as the cause of the crisis. That is absurd. Without the Bush/Obama TARP and stimulus interventions, today unemployment would be much higher, and economic growth would be much weaker (perhaps even the economy still contracting), and bankruptcies and mortage defaults would be at even higher levels, and government spending (on safety net programs) would be considerably higher, and government receipts would be much lower (on a smaller economy; all capital losses, no gains), and federal deficits would be much higher, and federal debt would be growing much faster.

But that’s not what seemed to be in people’s minds last Tuesday. Voters seemed to think that runaway spending and an expansionist view of government had created the economic crisis, had created the huge deficits and growing federal debt.  They seemed to be oblivious to the reality that the campaign promises of many of the newly elected — to move immediately toward cutting spending and balancing the budget — likely would push the fragile economy right back into recession, economic contraction, job losses and all the woes that derive from that.

I would love to have an honest debate in this country about the proper size and scope of government, about how we really do address structural over-spending; about how to use tax policy to most effectively promote economic growth. Unfortunately, the mid-term elections were not that debate. They were a debate between the cynical fantasy of the minority party (to cut taxes and cut spending so as to balance the budget, all to end the current recession) and the naive oblivion of the majority party (failing to put forth a necessary agenda to address the country’s long-term structural deficits).

Gahhh.

It seems as close to certain as things get in politics that Republicans are going to wrest a majority in the House of Representatives in the upcoming election. Along the way, a lot has been made of the anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the electorate, and how that, while landing as a deluge on the Democrats, may soak Republican incumbents as well.

We have John Boehner sitting out there as the ranking Republican and Minority Leader in the House. Here is a guy who has served in Congress for 20 years through his current term, has strong ties to lobbyists, voted for hugely burgeoning budget deficits all through the 2000s, opposed the Republican’s failed illegal immigration bill in 2005, and voted for the TARP legislation.

If Republicans indeed win a majority and if business as usual prevails in Congress, he will become Speaker of the House. But my question is, should anyone expect business as usual? Will a deeply entrenched Washington insider with that voting history be acceptable to the newcomers, fueled as they are by an entirely new strain of anti-Washington sentiment? I wonder if the Republican establishment is expecting this new crop of Republican Representatives to come in and obediently fall in line with the usual seniority rules.

Maybe, just maybe, there is real change in the air. For better or for worse, perhaps, but real change.

I try to keep my exposure to media opinions to a minimum, and to find my way to original source material wherever I can. I don’t like my ideas pre-thought for me by someone else. Hence, this afternoon I found myself perusing the Republicans’ A Pledge to America. On the one hand, I get that vagueness is standard campaign strategy for any minority party. “Hope” and “Change” were pretty vague, too, and many people now find themselves bewildered that Obama doesn’t always hope for precisely the change they thought he would.

While vagueness is an understandable political necessity, outright contradiction, whether of principles or of facts, is another thing. That kept going through my mind as I read this thing.

“America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny.”

I don’t know what message I am supposed to be getting from a party that says that the same week it defeated the repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. Contradiction.

“Rising joblessness…” and “Our economy has declined… with the loss of millions of jobs.”

Huh? Joblessness is falling, not rising. Our economy is growing, not declining. Since the recovery began, the economy has added nearly a million private sector jobs. Sure, these things are too little too late for too many millions, but the rhetoric in the document describes 2007-09, not the present.

“By permanently stopping job-killing tax hikes, families will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

This is contradicted firstly by the simple fact that the March 2009 stimulus package included the largest tax cut in history for most Americans. Almost $300 billion of the total $787 billion was tax cuts. It is contadicted secondly by the Republicans’ current unwillingness to extend the middle class tax cuts enacted under President Bush. They do have a stated reason — the Democrats’ opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But the rhetoric in the Pledge is that “families will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.” They did not write, “High income business owners will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money so that their companies can grow and other people that didn’t get tax cuts can get jobs.” That is, their tax cutting policy is directed to high income Americans, but the rhetoric of the Pledge makes it sound as if it is directed to middle America. Contradiction.

“We will rein in the red tape factory in Washington, DC by requiring congressional approval of any new federal regulation that may add to our deficit and make it harder to create jobs.”

Okay, this one isn’t a contradiction. I just found it hilarious that the plan for cutting through regulatory red tape is going to be direct intervention by Congress. We will all be able to rest easier when, Congress, that paragon of sleek performance, is on the job.

“…we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, prebailout levels…”

You know, like the good old days… back in 2008. When the government had to borrow… pause… $1.5 trillion to fund its deficit. We are suppose to elect you so you can knock a paltry $100 billion off of spending and return us to days when federal debt was rising faster than it is now? Good job, guys.

[Debt at December 31, 2008: $10.700 trillion. Debt at December 31, 2007: $9.229 trillion. Increase = $1.471 trillion. Source: US Treasury: http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/mspd/mspd.htm. I warned you: I go to the original source material.]

“We will require that every bill contain a citation of Constitutional authority.”

Besides simply wondering what this “citation” is and who will issue it, the authors of the Pledge need to explain how Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the entire Department of Housing, the non-defense portions of the Department of Energy, the entire Department of Education and, quite frankly, most everything we know our federal government to be today will pass this test. Why do all those long-standing, widely or even universally accepted functions of federal government pass constitutional muster, but somehow the most recent increments do not? Exactly what was the constitutional line that we crossed in January 2009? Or if Republicans in fact do intend to apply constitutional principles fairly, then they should at least give us a little heads up that 90% of the government as we know it will be eliminated. That’d be good to know before the election.