David Hoppe

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:: Paul Ryan's wayback machine

Whose government is it?

By David Hoppe

It's tough living in a country that's in the middle of a nervous breakdown. How else can you explain what's become of our politics?

There's something hallucinatory about a system that treats corporations like individuals, yet actual individuals -- people, that is, like your mom or your sister, or the neighbor across the street, are expected to fend for themselves.

We call that individual responsibility.

This is what's behind the current state and federal identity crises over what government is supposed to do. Republicans, of course, are very sure of themselves. They want to cut spending, or "starve the beast," as a few of their more inflamed members are given to saying in moments of unguarded giddiness.

As for Democrats.they're dismayingly uncertain. They act as if they're stuck in one of those dreams where they're afraid they've made a big mistake - they're just not sure what that mistake might be.

No wonder, then, that many Dems were thrown back on their heels by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan's proposal to fix America's budget woes by piling everyone into a wayback machine and recasting the 21 st century as something that would look pretty much like the Gilded Age of the late 1800's.

Ryan appears to have a soft spot for the robber barons that lorded over the industrial boom that took place in this country after the Civil War. There were virtually no rules or regulations to constrain their swashbuckling ways and they did, indeed, build a dynamic economy. That's where some of those mansions on the Old Northside came from.

Yes, it's amazing what an entrepreneur can accomplish when he can pay workers whatever he wants, in many cases actually owns the houses where the workers live and sells them their groceries, doesn't have to offer any benefits and has little or no rules or regulations, environmental or otherwise, to worry about. There were no unions. Even children were put to work. In many ways being a worker in America in those days was like being a Chinese worker today.

Rep. Ryan seems to think we need a new generation of robber barons. Not only is he against raising taxes for American millionaires and billionaires, he wants to cut the top income tax rate for individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent.

That means the government will have fewer ways to raise the money necessary to pay down its debt.

Rep. Ryan wants people like you and me to get the country out of debt. He wants, for example, to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid. Have you got grandparents, or a mom and dad? If they are 65 or older, their health care is largely paid for by Medicare. Yes, you pay a tax to help make this happen. But imagine if, as Rep. Ryan would have it, mom and dad were being given vouchers to help pay for private insurance. You think insurers would be lining up for that business? You better start saving up, because unless mom and dad are loaded, they're going to need you.

Rep. Ryan probably thinks this kind of familial sacrifice is a good thing. It will bring the generations closer together. Like in the old days, when grandma and grandpa and the kids all slept in the same room.

But while Rep. Ryan wants us to fend for ourselves, he treats corporate America as if it were an orchid, delicate and vulnerable to the slightest changes in temperature. He has nothing to say about reforming the waste and inefficiencies of big banks, big insurance, big energy, big agriculture or the military-industrial complex. The large corporate entities that make up these parts of our economy are, if Rep. Ryan is right, eager to help all of us help ourselves through competition and a cold water bath of self-improvement. If only that darned government of the people, by the people, for the people, would get out of the way.

To put the best face on it, Ryan and his colleagues really believe in an America whose business, as Calvin Coolidge once said, is business. As they see it, the rich are our champions, the straws that stir our country's cocktail. Want more jobs? You need a rich guy - or a group of rich guys, in the form of a corporation, to create them. That's why Republican politicians can say with seeming sincerity that preserving tax cuts for the richest Americans is their version of a jobs program.

The dirty secret at the heart of American government has always been that all people are created equal, it's just that some are more equal than others. Lately, this notion has been pushed to include the country's biggest corporate citizens. When Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that free speech means that corporations should be able to speak out on issues the same as you and me, except, of course, with a lot more money, the stage was set for a country of big business, by big business, for big business.

And that's what our country's identity crisis comes down to: whose government is it going to be?