Why can’t our politicians handle the truth?

MONROEVILLE, Al. — The drought is severe here and the  weather miserably hot, with temperatures reaching triple digits frequently this summer. That’s what occupies ordinary folk in my small hometown.

My mom’s friends and neighbors talk about the crops that are withering in the fields — corn stalks turning brown, cotton seed too parched to sprout. They talk about Casey Anthony’s culpability in the death of her young daughter. They talk about jobs. Or the lack of them.

They don’t talk about the federal deficit or the debt-ceiling negotiations that consume the nation’s capital. They are too worried about their own household budgets to fret about the federal treasury.

Spending a week here has reminded me of the stark divide between ordinary Americans and the representatives they send to Washington to serve their interests.  Here in the real America — at least the part of it that is in decline — the inside-the-Beltway political gamesmanship, competing news conferences and tactical signals intended for partisan activists don’t matter much at all. Those are the preoccupations of a political class more concerned about its own future than that of its constituents.

In this town of shuttered textile mills and limited options, people talk of foreclosures, of driving two hours each way to a job with decent wages, of helping a daughter or nephew or grandchild who just lost a job and health insurance along with it. They wonder about the neighbor who just got a pink slip. Will he be able to keep paying his mortgage? And what about the house across the street that has been empty for two years?

This is a deeply conservative region, and its denizens tend to send rightwing Republicans to Congress. The area has its tea party activists — partisans who blame the federal government for every economic malady and every public policy failure that trickles down to the locals. But their rhetoric, too, miscasts the practices and preferences of ordinary folk.

Oh, many people around these parts will tell you that they despise the “guv-mint.” But that word is reserved for the policies and agencies — real or imagined — that they oppose: the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulations, the Internal Revenue Service, the presumed secret agency that is readying a plan to confiscate all firearms.

But just as polls show that most Americans, including conservatives, support spending on Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, so do people here. With an aging and needy population, hospitals and physicians depend on Medicare to keep their doors open. Area nursing homes are funded largely by Medicaid.

With jobs hard to come by, the recipients of Social Security disability checks are proliferating. And the drought will likely make government payments to farmers even more popular than they’ve been in the past.

It’s a safe assumption that most locals would oppose raising the federal debt ceiling, but that’s probably because — as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said — they don’t understand that it’s necessary for the federal government to pay off old debts, not new ones. They may have forgotten that a war they supported years ago — the invasion of Iraq — left the country with unpaid bills.

These voters are not innately irresponsible or oddly ignorant. But they’ve been misused by politicians who refuse to look them in the eye and tell them the truth: There is no simple solution to the instability created by global economic forces and no overnight fix for the deficits acquired over a decade. We know you sent us to Washington to solve these problems, but they are more difficult than we knew.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that voters here would applaud those lines with enthusiasm, but I think they’d listen. These are hardworking and long-suffering small-towners, used to making do and getting by. I think they could handle the truth if only their public servants could.

58 comments Add your comment

David in Flowery Branch

July 16th, 2011
10:25 am

“nation’s capital” LOL. “capital”.

All I needed to know about your opinion I learned from your use of homonyms.

David in Flowery Branch

July 16th, 2011
10:36 am

@TGT Thanks for making me a Grover Cleveland fan! Going to have to go out a me a few biographies on him. Have any suggestions?

Mary Elizabeth

July 16th, 2011
11:01 am

The deficit was approximately 5 trillion dollars in 2000 when George W. Bush took office; the deficit doubled to approximately 10 trillion dollars when he left office. Since then, the deficit has increased primarily because of the stimulus money needed to stop a Depression.

From Paul Krugman’s column, “The Bankruptcy Boys,” of 2/22/10:
” Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.”

When will politicians be forthright enough to tell the people these facts, and the fact that those who accomplished their ideological end – as described by Krugman – have hurt the lives of ordinary Americans? The current battle over the debt ceiling increase has its roots in that same ideology.
The people need to be told this. A malady is not cured until it is diagnosed correctly.

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“. . .of helping a daughter or nephew or grandchild who just lost a job and health insurance along with it.” From the column above.

This is why healthcare – which should be the right of every American, just as education is – should not be tied to a citizen’s job.

marko

July 16th, 2011
11:10 am

If you ever talk to a tea bagger, one of the first things you’re going to hear is the expression I believe in limited government. Well whoopdie doo. Everybody believes in limited government. Where people disagree is what those limits should be. Ever notice that the people that get so outraged at the thought of taxation seem to have no problems with locking up those they disagree with. The people that have no problems with spending trillions on wars and billions locking up pot smokers, police control of what we do in our bedrooms, religion taught in science classes only seem to get upset about the liberal media. that’s a funny thought considering how much of the worlds media is owned by Rupert Murdoch and his fellow billionaires. If you really want smaller government have the wealthy pay for it’s support. That’s the day we’ll experience the wonders of the amazing shrinking government. The first tea party was upset about taxation without representation. Well guess what folks you elected the idiots that created this mess. They weren’t appointed to their exalted positions by the queen. Who are the tea baggers? for the largest part, they’re the same people that voted for the clowns that chose to fight foreign wars with borrowed dollars and to keep the true cost off the books. These are the people that have come to Washington to save us. Kinda gives you a warm glow all over doesn’t it?

Chris

July 16th, 2011
12:46 pm

Ms. Tucker,

The fact is that government at all levels taxes and spends far too much! Meaningful reform will not occur until the pols in Washington DC are replaced and that won’t happen until term limits are enacted.

The people you describe understand that real like is unlike childhood where every kid gets a trophy regardless of how their team finishes the season. Life is unfair and taking 100% of the money away from the evil rich won’t change that. The world will not come to an end if entitlement programs and the defense budget are cut.

(FEAR) False Evidence Appearing Real

July 16th, 2011
12:57 pm

Was Cheney telling the truth when he said deficits don’t matter? And where was the constant drumbeat of “the president’s policies have FAILED!!!” when dubya was tanking upwards of 750,000 jobs per MONTH??? Where in the heck were/are all those wealthy job creators that the repubs just love to protect from paying their fair share of taxes? And why have those same job creators been sitting on trillions in profit instead of hiring back the millions that they laid off?

At least Obama’s policies REVERSED the tragic economic blitzkrieg that nearly befell the entire planet. It’s too bad the Dems didn’t aim for the fence when they had the bat. I shudder to think where we’d be right now had the 2008 elections gone the other way. Oy..

Kamchak

July 16th, 2011
1:07 pm

…that won’t happen until term limits are enacted.

We already have term limits, they’re called “elections.”

Lil' Barry Bailout

July 16th, 2011
2:55 pm

Mary Elizabeth: the deficit has increased primarily because of the stimulus money needed to stop a Depression.
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Wrong. The recession ended over two years ago, in June 2009. All of your Idiot Messiah’s deficits since then, around $3 trillion, were spent expanding the size of government and paying off his union supporters.