A few weeks ago, I sat down with three friends to enjoy a mediocre meal at a chain restaurant in downtown Kansas City. I’d spent the day alone and was poised to ambush the conversation with several theories I’d been working on. Like a mountain lion stalking a crippled hiker, I lurked above the trail that was our friendly discourse. Finally, I saw my chance and pounced, launching into a tirade about how the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the McCain-Feingold Act was going to lead to a new era of policy dominated by big business.
My tablemates groaned. One of them, who we’ll call Scott, said, “C’mon, Paul. Politics are boring. Let’s talk about something fun. Like…”
His eyes lit up.
And so we talked about football.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. These days, people rarely want to talk about politics, or government, or current events. Those topics are too scary, or too complicated, or too…boring.
Instead, we focus on other subjects – subjects that won’t make us think. Or, on subjects that won’t make us think too hard.
Subjects like this picture of supermodel Bar Rafaeli:
Politics are on my brain (and should be on yours) because of the upcoming mid-term elections, during which Republican candidates will likely vanquish their Democratic foes from Congress. This turn of events would be regrettable if any of those Democrats had functioning spines but, as they do not have functioning spines, a landslide victory for the alarmist Republicans seems only fair.
When the new Congress takes its place in the seats once occupied by the old Congress, nothing will change. Republicans will play to fears of socialism and government takeover, and Democrats will…honestly, I don’t know what Democrats will do, other than to cower in fear and to never speak their collective mind. The summary, though, is this:
Nothing will get done.
There are those who will say that nothing getting done is the point. The American legislative tradition of impasse is what keeps things from getting too far out of whack, they say. A fair point, most of the time.
But this isn’t most of the time.
Things in the good ol’ US of Amerigo Vespucci’s namesake aren’t so rosy. And not just for the obvious reasons: high unemployment, a lingering recession, and the tragic decline of Jim Carrey as a comedic actor.
There are other, more long-term problems afoot. Health care costs are rocketing up the Y axis thanks to an increasingly obese population. We don’t have a plan to pay for Social Security. Our education system isn’t as good as it should be. We’re too dependant on foreign oil.
Our parents and grandparents have gifted us a shit sandwich squeezed between a slice of onerous national debt and a wedge of structural failure.
But no one wants to talk about these things. No one discusses Social Security because old people vote. No one tells people they’re too fat because fat people vote. No one tells oil companies to fuck off because oil companies give massive campaign contributions to crooked or semi-crooked politicians.
Nothing gets done about actual problems because the people in charge are too worried about staying in charge.
I don’t have to worry about staying in charge, so I’m going to throw out a few ideas. These ideas are not based on years of experience at a well-known think tank. Nor are they born of a particular party affiliation.
I think my ideas are simple and logical. I also think that my friend Scott would like them, if I could ever get him to listen to them.
But wait, I don’t have to get him to listen to them, do I? I only have to keep his eyes on this page. Which is why I’ll give him breaks. And which is why the next link leads to boobs.
Scott, my first two proposals are structural.
I know, you got bored when I wrote “Term Limits”. You think it’s some arbitrary concept that your parents should care about.
In fact, you’re so bored that I’m going to show you a picture of a Lamborghini.
Politicians spend their time talking about abortion and gay rights and the Tea Party and Sarah Palin because these things rile the people who might vote for them. Discussing the fact that we probably won’t have enough money for Social Security come 2040 gets no one excited. But the latter problem will affect everyone.
Abortion rights, on the other hand, affect almost no one. But Margie Hunsraker of Durango, Colorado has an opinion about abortion rights. The concept of abortion rights provokes a visceral reaction in Margie Hunsraker. And Margie Hunsraker votes with her viscera. So she’ll vote for the guy who spends two-thirds of his term making her think that if she doesn’t vote for him, people will be giving out abortions at the Memorial Day parade.
All because he got to her viscera.
Politicians are rewarded for scaring their constituents. And then, because they’re worried about staying politicians, they spend one term campaigning for the next one. (If you need proof of this, Scott, witness the US Congress disbanding early to hit the campaign trail instead of, you know, FIXING THE FUCKING COUNTRY.)
So here’s the deal: Senators get one 8-year term. Representatives get one 4-year term.
Please tell people not to say anything about how “it takes two terms just to learn how things work”.
Right after you take a look at this clever Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip:
The rest of us don’t get 12 years to learn our jobs. Scott, you know that my brother is a doctor. Do you think it would have played well for him to say, on the first day of his job, “I’m sorry your husband died, it’s my first week and I don’t know what I’m doing.”?
No, it wouldn’t have.
Campaign Finance Reform
But first, pretty fireworks:
Scott, could you tell the Supreme Court to go fuck itself? They seem to think that the right of a company to donate as much money as it wants, setting up a situation wherein future policy could very well be influenced by that company, instead of by the people who vote, falls under “Free Speech.”
That’s like saying that a man who mows down everyone at an election site with an AR-15 is exercising his right to “Freedom Of Expression.”
It might be that we have to set up certain rules for the selection of our government. Like that people can’t pay voters. Or that you can’t post signs near the voting site. Yeah, I know – we already have those rules. That’s because we need them.
In order to make the government function correctly, we have to provide a sterile environment to choose that government.
So, how about a constitutional amendment that sets up voting laws? For starters: Everyone draws from the same, sterilized pool of money. It’ll be like those bridges made from popsicle sticks that we all built in middle school. Everyone gets an equal starting point.
Because imagine if the rich kid in the group over by the pencil sharpener had been allowed to raid his dad’s chain of home improvement stores for extra-strength glue and tiny bits of re-bar to “augment” his group’s bridge. That wouldn’t have been very fair, would it?
As such, we make rules. Here’s an idea: If you can get X number of people to sign your petition for election, you get Y dollars to spend. Obviously, presidential candidates get more than candidates for the House of Representatives.
Where will we get the money? We’ll get to that in a second. (I sound like a politician, don’t I?)
In the meantime, this is a sweet football play:
First, while we’re on the subject of Electoral mechanics…
Election Day moves to the weekend. Ever thought it was a little strange that Election Day is on a Tuesday, when everyone has to work? Yeah, me too. It’s not like that other countries. Three weeks ago, Turks voted on a country-wide Constitutional referendum on a Sunday.
Know why so many old people vote Because they don’t have a thing to do at 2 pm on a Tuesday.
Oh, and one more thing: No more voting in churches. Separation of church and state, my ass.
Now look at this delicious pizza:
For fun, let’s tackle some more issues. If we could just knock out term limits and campaign finance reform, a candidate who espoused some of these logical beliefs just might be able to get elected.
We’ll start with the easy ones.
I don’t give a shit. And you shouldn’t either. It’s her body, she can do what she wants.
See “Abortion”. I still don’t give a shit. This issue is not important. Leave them alone, and they’ll leave you alone. Someone’s sad, failing heterosexual marriage is not going to be marginalized if two gay men are allowed to exchange vows professing their love and willingness to enter into a sad, soon-to-be-failing homosexual marriage.
Right To Bear Arms
Don’t get out the Constitution on me, Scott. It was a good idea at the time, but it’s a flawed document. If you’ll recall, the Constitution didn’t allow women to vote. And it allowed people to own other human beings.
Nonetheless, I recognize that people might feel the need to protect themselves from their government. So, we compromise. Anyone can have a gun. But there will be background checks. Extensive ones.
See, that wasn’t so bad. We knocked out three big ones already. Here’s a picture of an awesome tiger:
Those three issues were fun to fix, and it was easy to do so, but they weren’t all that important, at least as far as government goes. Because here’s the thing about government: It’s supposed to stay out of the way. As Milton Friedman didn’t quite say, because I’m going to paraphrase him, “Government exists to lay down the rules of the road.” Abortion is not government’s territory, which is why we leave it up to the individual.
On the other hand, we seem to have decided – as a society – that these next three are a part of government’s territory.
In 2010, the US government spent between $600 billion and $1 trillion (depending on whose numbers you use) on defense. This accounts for around 40% of the world’s total spending on arms.
I don’t know about you, Scott, but I’d be fine with 20%.
We’ll cut defense expenditure in half. I’ll get to why we’re going to be able to do that shortly. Before I do, two orders of business. Remember how I didn’t know how we were going to pay for campaigns? Well, that money is coming from our savings on defense – along with a little extra to help pay down our massive national debt. But more on that later.
First, back to the big three. Right after a picture of a butt:
Trust. I’m all about trust. I could have sold you on “butt” – making you think of the beautiful human form – and then given you a cigarette butt. But I didn’t, because…I wanted to search for pictures of girls’ asses.
Retirement at 67? (Or early, at 62, if you want to take a smaller cut of your benefits.) What is this, 1954? Retirement age goes to 70, effective immediately.
There isn’t much doubt that we’re going to run out of funding for Social Security soon. And no one needs to be retiring at 67 (or 62) anyway.
If this doesn’t provide enough cost-cutting, a secondary proposal. We’ll make Social Security an optional program. You can either have Social Security or you can vote, but not both.
Gone…because we’re going to have universal health care. Yippee!
Here’s why the Democrats are 1) ineffective and 2) pussies: The trump card in the health care debate was staring them in the face, but they didn’t use it.
WE ALREADY HAVE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE.
Stay with me, Scott.
Anyone in the US – regardless of his insurance status – can walk into any emergency room in the US and demand care. If this isn’t universal health care, then this isn’t Tom Brady:
The way we do it now – this emergency room version of Supermarket Sweep we have going – is grossly inefficient and helps contribute to my favorite see-saw statistic about the American health care system:
We spend the 2nd most in the world on health care…for the 37th best health care system. Hooray for privatized health care!
The secondary trump card – let’s call it the dump card – is that people do not have free health care through their companies. It costs a company to provide coverage, and that company passes that cost to its workers. It may not be seen by the worker, but it’s still there.
Oh, and if you think people would abuse a system that provides universal health care, you don’t know very many people. People don’t like going to hospitals and doctors’ offices. Stand-up comedians have built entire routines on how not-fun it is to go to a doctor/hospital/dentist.
Let’s have another look at Bar Rafaeli. Because, good god.
How are we going to pay for this coverage? Well, dig this high-level reasoning. Everyone in the United States has health care now. (Remember, any bum on the street can walk into an emergency room.) We’re all paying a certain amount for that health care, whether through taxes or through lost wages (instead of paying you an extra $300 a month, your employer is paying that to an insurance company).
In the future, you’ll pay that money to a non-profit organization known as the US government. It will pay doctors and nurses and – get this – won’t pay any shareholders. The result will be a system not unlike the systems in many European countries. I know, I know, you’re suspicious of Europe because, inexplicably, you’re opposed to a higher quality of life and to learning lessons from others. But breathe easy, Starchild, I won’t make you move anywhere. What I will do is improve your health care.
Remember: 37th best in the world.
If you don’t like the idea of government interference into your world of health care, think about these two questions, Scott:
1. Do you prefer interference by greedy, profiteering corporations who care as much for your well-being as I do for steamed cauliflower (not much)?
2. Have you ever heard anyone complain about Medicare, which works really well and is, of course, socialized medicine?
In addition [pounds gavel], we’re going to figure out how to bring down costs. Chief among them – obesity, which costs us $147 billion per year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. The plan to control obesity will start with targeted insults and public relations campaigns…
“You do know that in order to affect a massive change in your health, your mood, and your life expectancy, your only requirement is to do LESS of something?”
…and, when that doesn’t work, we’ll move on to taxes on foods that cause peoples’ arteries to clog and their insulin pumps to fail.
Wait, wait, I know – someone’s telling you what to do, and you don’t like that. You say, “I live in America, and I’ll eat whatever I damn well please.”
Okay, that’s fine. But in order to do that, you will exempt yourself from public health care spending. You will have a choice. You can opt out of the tax on the “bad” foods but, in doing so, you will also opt out of public assistance. Consequently, when you’re lying on a gurney, gasping for breath at 54, no public money will be spent on you.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t buy your own private health insurance, or that you can’t pay a doctor to take care of you. It just means that the rest of us aren’t going to help out.
See how easy that is? Logic provides a solution every time.
We’re done with the big three, but we have more work to do. Right after this picture of a kitty:
Soon, we won’t need any. We’re going to use half the money we saved by not buying missiles and aircraft carriers, and we’re going to apply it to a project that will result in our country becoming energy-independent. In 10 years, we won’t even need the half we’ll be spending on defense, because we spend a lot of that defense money making sure we have enough oil.
Let me be clear. Let’s say we spend $800 billion per year on defense. Next year, we spend $400 billion on defense. We spend $200 billion on figuring out how not to use oil. (Yay job creation!) The other $200 billion goes into the pot – along with massive savings founds when we raise the retirement age to 70 – to be doled out for campaign cleanup, health care reform, and education.
By the tone of this piece of writing, you might expect me to support a carbon tax. I would, if we needed to belch carbon into the air. It turns out that we don’t. Given enough motivation – and enough money – we’ll figure out how to produce enough electricity to cool our homes and power our Wiis. We’ll get that money from next year’s savings on defense.
Remember, we’re talking about $200 billion here. Every year. I know, I read that study too. People can’t comprehend the difference between millions, billions, and trillions. I’ll spare you any childish “Well, $200 billion would buy you 100 million Macbooks Pro” comparisons and tell you that in my humble, Iowa State University of Science and Technology-trained opinion, $200 billion ought to be enough to kickstart a pretty good alternative-energy initiative.
Our missing dependence on foreign oil will soon allow us to gleefully exit from many of our overseas “obligations,” which, of course, are only obligations because we need oil.
We’ll be able to say, to the Israelis and the Palestinians, “You’re both a couple of fuck-ups. You deserve each other. Figure it out on your own.”
To Iran: “You’re right – if we can have nuclear weapons, you probably can too. If you want to point them at Israel, well, that’s not our problem anymore.”
To Afghanistan: “Sorry, we fucked up your country. We’re leaving now.”
To Iraq: See “Afghanistan”.
And now, we clean up a few loose ends.
It will be legal, but it will be taxed. We’ll use the money raised to build parks and bike paths and basketball courts. People will like their lives more, and won’t even want the life-vacation that marijuana provides.
It’s going to cost more because it’s bad for the environment. Sorry. You’ll have reason to invest in companies that will get us to a cleaner way to power our Grand Cherokees.
Of course, you’ll be more apt to invest because…
Capital Gains Tax
Is going away. Tax people once when they make the money, and then again if they invest it? That doesn’t make any sense.
Goodbye. Yes, it would be nice if we could all maintain a small farm. It would also be nice if I could own my own car company, which would produce one car every five years, exactly when I need one. But that would be ridiculous, which is why we’ll let the free market intervene in the farming industry, and which is why I drive a Volkswagen.
You can keep the first $250,000. After that, taxed at 75%. No one likes a trust-fund baby.
Ooooh, this is a fun one. Mostly because, like abortion, it doesn’t matter all that much – do you know anyone on welfare? Nonetheless, it needs tweaking. As such, a simple policy change:
If you are female, and you are on welfare, you get Norplant until you are off welfare. Now, slow down, civil libertarians. I’m not saying that poor people have to be on Norplant. I’m saying that if they want our money, they can’t have any children. If they want to have children, they can choose to NOT take welfare.
(I’d make the males participate, but I don’t yet know of a similar product for guys. If I did, I’d be using it.)
Scott, if you get rich, you’re going to have to pay more. We wouldn’t have to do this in a theoretical world in which rich people didn’t have access to crafty accountants and sketchy financial advisors. But we don’t live in a theoretical world. We live in a world – or a country – in which the richest 20 percent control 85 percent of the wealth.
That’s not good.
Look at another pretty girl:
Scott, you’ll notice that it had been some time since I let you be distracted by a random picture. That’s because, unlike most of the dickholes who will be fighting for votes in a month, I have faith in you. I think people want to figure out this civilization thing. We want to think logically about ways to solve problems. It’s just that we’re easily distracted, at first.
But we can get better. We can pay attention for long stretches of time – sometimes as much as two, even three hundred words.
I hope we can, anyway. The alternative is too grim to bear. The alternative is a dumbed-down populous that doesn’t realize the rowboat is taking on water until the picnic basket is floating and the date’s ruined and China owns all our debt.
There’s still time. We can still fix this.
But we won’t do it by talking about football.
For more from Paul…