Rush Limbaugh is either a fool or a liar
© 2011, The Badger’s Den
On Wednesdays, when I am not working usually, I make a mental sacrifice. I listen to as much Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as I can stand. In all honesty, I end up turning off Glenn Beck after no more than fifteen minutes because I am yelling at the radio. The net result is that I really have no interest in Beck more than as a mouthpiece of certain interests. But Rush, I do make a more valiant effort to listen. Today, I seethed as I listened, more than usual actually, because he made the following statement: “The Democratic Party is like the plantation owners of old. They seek to enslave….” He went on to say that “the Republican Party is the party of smaller government and liberty.”
I thought about this and remembered an essay I began months ago called “Imagine Revisited.” It was not (and is not) as uplifting as John Lennon’s song, but it asks the reader to think on the world in which we live. What follows is the revision and completion of that essay, though I think I will stick to the new title above, as it might get people’s attention and inspire someone else to “riff” on my themes. After the original essay is completed, I will return to the question of whether Rush is a fool or a liar.
While the Republican Party calls itself the “party of smaller government,” and the essential corollary that they espouse is “small government equals greater freedom.” This is not necessarily true however. I want you, my reader, to follow me down a dark path, the path of “smaller government” and tell me…are we freer in the world of this imagining.
Imagine you are born into a middle class family in Middle America. You are not rich but you are not poor. Wally and the Beaver are your neighbors; that is your middle class neighborhood. You grow up not needing for much and maybe you want a bit, but you are secure. Now, you enter high school and are informed that, if you want to make a good living, you must attend college. So you start looking around at schools and discover that the costs are fierce even for an in-state public university. Mom and Dad cannot pay for your college, and the costs have become such that you cannot “work your way through college” as perhaps your father did, assuming he was not on the G.I. Bill. So you do what every other middle class kid does: you take out student loans, maybe accept Pell Grants, and get a few scholarships as well as take a menial work-study job in the dining hall of your university.
Now, flash forward four years (assuming you finished in four, which less than half of students now do). You are 21 years old, bachelor’s degree in hand, looking at a job market. Even in a good economy, you have only your work-study experience and maybe some summer jobs, but you also have $25,000 or more in student loan debts. Put another way, your debts at the beginning of your adult life are likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of your annual income. You have to meet this obligation or else your “credit score” will suffer, but you have not even found a decent job yet. You are now in the “debt cycle.” But you get a job and start paying your student loans. Are you free to work a job you enjoy? NO! You must work at whatever you can find because your debts exceed your assets (translation: you cannot sell something to pay your debts). When you have to work in this manner, is this not a form of slavery?
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Someone is reading this and saying, “Then get a better education so you can get a higher-paying job.” So instead of finishing in four years with $25,000 in debts, you go on to graduate school, you become a pharmacist or a lawyer. You are smart; you know pharmacists earn approximately $100,000 annually. Ah, the good life, right? Oops, did someone forget to tell you that pharmacy school tuition is approximately $25,000 per year? Four years of pharmacy school times $25,000 per year, and now you are in debt to the tune of $125,000, give or take a few thousand. Oh, never mind, you went to law school, and its only three years. Ah, except law schools are between $22,000 and $30,000 per year, with no assured income levels. So again, you are in the debt cycle.
Let’s talk about student loans for a moment. $25,000 of debt at 8% interest if you are lucky is a low-ball number. Assuming you can meet your obligations the day you graduate, you are still in debt for a decade, minimum. With that interest rate, you are paying back more than twice your debt over the life of the loan. What are you buying with your money? You are paying for the bank to loan more money to the next generation in addition to paying back the money they lent you, thereby trapping them in another generation of debt and fueling nothing more than paper moving across desks. That money produces nothing, it makes no product and it cures no disease. At best, it can be said that it increases the knowledge base, but that assumes every student who takes a loan adds to the world’s collective knowledge. So student loans are easily seen as monetary enslavement by those with money of those without.
We now move to the next stage of our imagined life. Out of college, in a job, and wanting more out of life…the American Dream we were all taught. But remember, we are paying our student loans and have very little disposable income after debts and obligations. So we take a credit card. Now we can accrue some serious monetized debt. Even a good credit rating gives you a 10% interest rate. Imagine you are the struggling graduate, what is your credit rating as a 30 year old with $100,000 of outstanding debt and very few assets. More like 15% interest, would you say? So now, you are in debt to multiple banks for more money and have to work to pay these debts. Are you free?
This brings us back to Rush Limbaugh now. He claims “smaller government equals more freedom.” But does it? What keeps the interest rate on student loans capped at 10%? What prevents credit card companies from charging greater than 22% interest? What prevents banks from changing rules, moving billing dates without notice, or any number of other potential abuses? The answer, which to this Libertarian is a painful reality, is government oversight. Imagine now the Rush Limbaugh version of the world, where regulation is reduced, or in some cases eliminated. Free markets allow banks to charge whatever interest rates the “market” will bear. Student loans are issued with whatever interest rates the banks wish to charge. Sure, you do not have to take out a loan for schooling, but you do not have to go to school either, right? Oh wait, you want to make money and have a good life.
Republicans like Limbaugh want to lay all of the blame on the Democrats. But who was the president that proposed and pushed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passed in October 2008? It would seem that a Republican president proposed, and many Republicans supported, using taxpayer dollars to literally prop up multi-billion dollar banks, some of which were quite solvent by their own admission. In effect, the Republican president with support from both parties gave citizens’ money to businesses in order to assure their success. Those businesses then took the people’s own money and lent it back to them at interest. Imagine again, your neighbor borrows your car because his is broken down, and then tries to charge you money to use your own car again because he still needs it. This is what TARP did, and Limbaugh proposes that the party which supports this is a party of greater freedom.
Perhaps I hear Republicans screaming at me that Bush was not a “conservative” and that “conservatives” opposed TARP. Did they? Examine the spending of Congress, using the people’s money through the entire Bush era. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [full disclosure, he is my Congressman] voted for nearly everything Bush proposed, and he ran in 2010 as a “Tea Party Conservative.” So, is he lying or are “conservatives” merely “conservative” when a Democrat is in the White House? How many “conservatives” spent, to borrow a phrase, like drunken sailors on shore leave during the Bush years and suddenly, when a Democrat is in the White House “rediscover” their “conservative principles?”
But now, back to the central point: the enslavement of the American people is not the result merely of “Big Government” as people such as Limbaugh state. The people of the nation are enslaved by the debt they carry, slavery to corporations and banks which take money but provide no product. Health insurance, life insurance, home owners insurance, car insurance, credit cards, student loans and mortgages are all “paper industries,” wherein the “consumer” pays money for paper, which has no absolute value (both in the mathematical and the economic meanings). What prevents these “paper industries” from taking more to give less? Government.
As anyone reading this who knows me will understand, I am first and foremost a Libertarian, an opponent of government intervention into the private sector, the private lives of citizens. But I am also a realist and a cynical one at that. But that does not mean I am blind to the necessity of government. The collective effort of society, as represented in our government absent “interests,” is essential to build roads, provide services. As the Preamble states (with emphasis my own): WE THE PEOPLE, in order to form a more perfect UNION, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the COMMON DEFENSE, promote the GENERAL welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to OURSELVES and OUR posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America. It seems that, when read with my emphases, the Constitutional Convention was not about merely individualism, but also about the need for the people to come together, to do what was necessary for the WHOLE. Think back too to the ending of the Declaration of Independence, to Jefferson’s closing. “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, WE MUTUALLY PLEDGE TO EACH OTHER OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES AND OUR SACRED HONOR.” (emphasis my own). These men of the Enlightenment, founding a nation on liberty, did so with a strong sense of collective effort, shared risk and mutual support.
I bet Rush Limbaugh would never consider that the Founders shared common cause with people who support “collectivism” even if they believed in every person being able to rise or fall by his or her own efforts.