RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Immoral Politicians Wave Moral Documents

Several times in April, the cruellest month, Tavis Smiley has told governors and pundits that budgets are “moral” documents, a statement that rings true. Whether to buy guns or butter, bombs or medicine, soldiers or education. The way we spend our money is as moral a declaration as any we make, a way of walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

But Smiley’s use of the word, “moral,” is too subtle for today’s Americans. Rather than imply a framework for philosophical discourse, morality today implies standards, mostly meaning no sex outside of marriage. And no gifts for the undeserving. Puritannical. The way America raises the money we spend — that’s another moral statement.

Do we ask America’s most able to kick in a fair share or take it from America’s least? After all, the moralist might say, the rich drive their Jaguars on the same taxpayer-funded roads that you use for your Prius or Ford Focus, even if they don’t send their private-school offspring to the same public schools.

The rich, those same folks that buy naming rights for sports stadiums and bend huge fortunes to curing disease or sponsoring art shows, have benefited more than anyone else from the infrastructure we have paid for.

So, where are their voices in this great national debate? Listen to some of the facts, included by President Obama in a speech to George Washington University:

“By the end of this decade, the interest that we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion ... That’s the interest — just the interest payments ... By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs — Medicare and Medicaid — Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt. That’s it. Every other national priority -– education, transportation, even our national security -– will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

“In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined.  Meanwhile, the top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes? ... They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs.”

As a moral document, Obama’s dream budget has a lot going for it. He recognizes that interest payments don’t contribute to the social good.

He affirms that rich people, who have benefited more than anyone from the infrastructure of the taxpayers, should pay more taxes than poor.

Paul Ryan, the Republican chair of the House Budget Committee that came up with the Road Map plan, says the deficit should be reined in by cutting programs — education, alternative energy, environmental safeguards, national parks — and leaving the Bush tax cuts in place so that the rich guys can create jobs.

Now, let’s hear from Donald Trump, who we’re calling on to represent the rich guys. His plan, given with his characteristic blond hair and sternness to Savannah Guthrie on NBC, is to force OPEC to reduce America’s oil costs. “We can’t pay $108 a barrel oil. It’s sapping our country.” Then, adding a flourish for George Stephanopoulos, “I would look them in the eye and say, ‘Fellas, you’ve had your fun, the fun is over.” Then, he said, maybe, he’d cut spending on military in the Middle East. And he’d speak firmly to China about their currency manipulation. This is politics a la network TV and, sadly, in America it works. There’s no need for morality, or even reason or sense as long as there’s a persona, and in Trump’s case it’s a well-known, unyielding, and demanding one. As opposed to the reasonable and even humorous President, Trump comes off as stiff and uncompromising.

But he also comes off as lit up with righteous indignation. That is, in today’s understanding of the word, he comes off as “moral.”

Here’s more from Trump on China: “I would tell China very nicely, ‘Fellows, you’re my friend, I like you very much’ — and I have made a lot of money with China, by the way, a lot of money. I would say, ‘We are going to put a 25% tax on all your products coming in,’ and that’s going to do a number of things. No. 1, as soon as they believe it’s going to happen, they will behave so nicely, because it would destroy their economy.”

I’m looking for the real moralist. Our troops ALL home and receiving help for whatever disabilities our wars have put on them. Conservation and innovation to get us out of the current energy jam.

Education and regulation. And we need to keep our promises to the elderly and the helpless. A moral budget will reflect those priorities.

Margot McMillen farms and teaches English in Fulton, Mo. You can email her at

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2011

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