Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marco Rubio, meet reality. Reality, meet Marco Rubio.

After a State of the Union speech in which President Obama passionately presented a litany of common sense policies in a Clintonesque, meat-and-potatoes style that was a clear departure from his past professorial performances, the Republicans chose Marco Rubio to deliver the traditional response. The GOP was apparently under the impression that Mitt Romney's ideas will actually sell if delivered by a young and charismatic - if dehydrated - Hispanic voice... and the words "middle class" were inserted repeatedly to make up for their absence at the Republican Convention.

The result was a speech that, much like Romney as a candidate, offered little in the way of actual ideas, and instead focused on creating straw man arguments and blatantly false premises to assail liberalism and the President. It was a speech that was completely disconnected from the State of the Union address it was ostensibly meant to rebut, disconnected from concepts like math, science and economics... disconnected from facts. It was little more than a manifesto restating that, despite the civil war that has begun within the GOP, their official platform is still a province of wingnuttery.

Let's go over a sampling of Rubio's absurdities...

This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business

This is Mitt Romney tone-deafness at its best: the lionization of the business owner, the idea that the only ticket into the middle class is start your own business. Most people, however, only have the desire and wherewithal to hold down a good job and make a living. Not everyone can start a business; not everyone should start a business. And those who simply work for a living have been getting squeezed, both by the natural forces of globalization in the free economy Rubio seems to think exists in the world (it never has), and by a system that has for the last decade or more been sticking it to those who just earn a paycheck. Saying the words "middle class" doesn't equate to understanding the realities of entry into the middle class, or making it in the middle class.

But President Obama? He believes (the free market is) the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.

This is a manufactured straw man here. At no point has President Obama even nodded in the direction Rubio speaks of here. It's contrived to the point where you can scarcely believe Rubio could deliver it with a straight face.

And it's interesting to hear Rubio talking about Obama taxing more, spending more, and borrowing more. This is another area where the rhetoric has literally been wired into the Republican autonomic nervous system, to be repeated ad nauseam regardless of whether it's remotely true.

The fact of the matter is that the growth of government spending has been lower under President Obama than it has been under any President in the last 30 years - which includes Reagan and both Bushes.

Any time we have a deficit, we borrow to cover the gap. But Obama inherited a $1.4 trillion deficit from the Republicans four years ago, and has nearly halved it. (We'll talk more about this later.)

And in every year of Obama's presidency, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have been under 16% - lower than any year under Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 or Bush 43.

This narrative of tax-and-spend Democrats and fiscally responsible Republicans has no historical basis in fact - at least in the lifetimes of anyone born since WWII. It is nothing short of mind-boggling that anyone who purports to care about deficit and debt would choose to support Republicans, given the two parties' respective records. Bill Clinton left a budget in surplus - which George W. Bush and a Republican Congress immediately gave away, literally writing checks to people in an effort to buy votes. Bush left Obama a deficit well in excess of a trillion dollars, and Obama has nearly cut it in half.

Yet Republican rhetoric, as exemplified by Rubio here, drones on, blissfully oblivious to facts.

And the idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried.

This one is nothing short of hysterical.

Bill Clinton raised the top tax bracket to 39.6%, and Republicans uniformly opposed it. The move earned not a single Republican vote in Congress. They screamed that it would slow down the economy and cost jobs.

What actually happened?

We spent the rest of the decade in the largest peacetime economic expansion in history. Unemployment hit historic lows. Middle class living standards skyrocketed. We eliminated the budget deficit entirely. The move to raise taxes did not create the economic boom, but the tax increase also did absolutely nothing to slow it down. Every single Republican got it wrong, voting purely on ideology, not economics.

Yet on the flip side, when both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush lowered the top tax rate, deficits skyrocketed, debt exploded, and the tax cuts did not pay for themselves as the fringe orthodoxy of "trickle-down economics" would have you believe it would. THAT has failed every time it has been tried. The entire reason that the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute exist is to conjure up fringe theories to support their ideology where time-tested macroeconomics says such ideas are poorly-conceived.

It's hard to believe Rubio doesn't know the basic history of the 1990's. And I'd like to give him enough credit to think that he didn't just look in the camera and blatantly lie to the American people. At best, you can say that he is so blinded by ideology; he, like most of his party, has been in a hermetically sealed bubble for so long that he has lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.

This is a straw man. No one is accusing Republicans of wanting dirty water and dirty air. What we accuse Republicans of is not CARING about the environment if it in any way inconveniences their corporate benefactors.

Rubio squarely aligns himself with the rank ignorance of the climate change denier set here. And "ignorance" really is the only appropriate word here. If you're still a climate change denier, you are ignorant - because you have chosen not to learn about the issue, because you have been grossly misinformed by politicians at the beck and call of the oil industry, or because you're stupid.

Upton Sinclair wrote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends upon his not understanding it."

The reason Republicans are the pro-oil party is because Texas has been the cornerstone of their electoral coalition ever since the Civil Rights Act realigned the country, politically. With the other two electoral behemoths, New York and California, squarely blue, Republicans cannot ever win a national election without Texas - and oil is the state's biggest industry. This GOP/Big Oil symbiosis is why over 90% of the oil industry's political money goes to Republicans, and why the Republicans repay them by moving heaven and earth to keep their followers in scientific ignorance (in addition to chipping in billions of dollars in corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer subsidies to an industry currently making record profits).

This is why we're the last country in the developed world still debating whether climate change is real. Almost every Republican's job depends upon not understanding that 98% of scientists agree on climate change. The jury is not out on this. Anyone who suggests otherwise is simply wrong. We're past it being a matter of opinion. It's no less silly than it would be to suggest the world is flat - and I don't mean in the Tom Friedman sense. Global temperatures rose a full degree in 2012 - an INSANE one-year rise. Storms are already getting bigger and more damaging. Droughts are getting worse. Ecosystems that we depend upon for our very survival are in decline.

Lest we forget Rubio's "I'm not a scientist, man!"/"It's one of the great mysteries" response on the age of the Earth. Marco Rubio wants America to follow a party that not only accepts - but promotes and in fact relies upon - scientific ignorance.

When we suggest we strengthen our safety net programs by giving states more flexibility to manage them – he accuses us of wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves.

So, like, when President Obama let states manage welfare-to-work requirements themselves, and Rubio and other Republicans excoriated him for dismantling those requirements?

In fact, this was the subject of the most dishonest ad of the 2012 election cycle, panned by fact checkers.

Rubio, representing his party, is now having some real honesty issues here.

And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts – cuts that were his idea in the first place

The sequester was put in place by BOTH parties on the premise that it was such a bad idea that neither party would ever go through with letting it occur.

And the only reason that agreement was made was due to the Republicans holding the entire nation at gunpoint during the contrived debt ceiling fight in 2011, in order to extract ideological concessions.

Republicans like Rubio were busy telling their constituents that the debt ceiling was a mechanism for borrowing more money, when in fact it is merely procedural, authorizing the government to pay the bills it has already incurred. It was done 17 times during the Bush years, never once making the front page. Republicans contrived a crisis by threatening to default on our debt and touch off a global economic meltdown if they didn't get concessions on spending. Mitch McConnell himself said it was a "hostage worth ransoming". Indeed, many Republicans, in their ideological and tribal fervor, were in favor of defaulting if they thought it could be blamed on Obama. When John Boehner and the President agreed to the 10-for-1 "Grand Bargain" - $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue increases - Paul Ryan was among the Republican leaders who rejected it, not merely because it gave the Republicans only 90% of what they wanted, but because an agreement would allow the President to sell his bipartisanship in averting the (made up) crisis and would help him get re-elected.

Republicans were very willing to default rather than hand Obama a political win. Which is why Rubio playing the victim card - "mean Democrats questioning Republican motives" - is nothing short of offensive. Republicans DID put party and ideology over country in 2011, and that's why we're dealing with the sequester now.

The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs.

This is the identical refrain we heard from the GOP when Clinton raised the top tax rate. History showed it to be wrong then. Our tax rates are already low by historical standards in the United States, and by the standards of other advanced democracies. Modest increases in this range have proven - PROVEN - to have no adverse effect on the economy, but do help the budget situation.

Anyone who advocates tackling the long-term debt issue without putting historically-low tax rates
on the table cannot claim to be serious about the issue. If you fall into that category, you don't actually care about the debt. You're just falsely using the debt as an ideological bludgeon.

And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security.

From the party that opposed the creation of Medicare, has attacked it at every opportunity, and sought to privatize Social Security.

Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class. Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012.

This was courtesy of the Budget Control Act of 2011 - the concessions your party extracted by using the debt ceiling to hold the nation hostage.

A brief macroeconomics lesson for the uninitiated....

During tough economic times, government SHOULD run a deficit. Balancing the budget during a recession is destructive because government spending supports demand and keeps the "job creators" in business. You extend unemployment insurance because that money gets spent on food and clothing and housing. You expand Medicaid because it keeps people from going bankrupt. You keep money circulating in the economy, then pay it back when economic conditions improve.

If you impose austerity during a time of high unemployment, you weaken demand and put the economy into reverse.

This is not a theory. This, too, is time-tested economics. The UK went the austerity route and, predictably, their economy went right back into recession. Ditto in Spain.

In 2011, the United States took a trillion dollars out of the economy, and what happened a year on? Predictably, the economy contracted. This is like a doctor knowing that an antibiotic will help strep throat, and trying to explain to a Scientologist that it will work. Republican efforts to put ideology over reality is tantamount to economic Scientology.

Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called “clean energy” companies like Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration.

"So-called" clean energy? Nice to appeal to the climate deniers again.

And didn't the country render a verdict on "Drill, baby, drill!" in 2008?

Do you know what else God blessed America with? A university system that turns out scientists who can read data that proves conclusively that carbon belongs in the ground, not the air!

God gave us brains, so we don't have to pretend to be criminally stupid for political purposes.

God gave us the Earth (although he did so much longer ago than Rubio believes)... and he gave us the scientific means to be good stewards of it.

Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs. And there’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That’s why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy.

No, raising taxes won't directly create private sector jobs. But as we learned during the Reagan and Bush years, lowering taxes on the top bracket, on people who will not spend much of it and will thus not circulate it in the economy, will not create private sector jobs, either. But those cuts do create deficit and debt - something Republicans would like you to believe they care about (at least when a Democrat is in the White House).

Rubio then creates yet another straw man: since tax increases won't completely solve the problem on their own, then why bother?

And as for Obama's obsession with raising taxes (to levels that are still historically low), it would not take an "obsession" unless Republicans were not absolutist about never, ever raising them, even if sound economic policy (and eighth grade mathematics) says you should. Remember, Rubio's party TURNED DOWN the 10-for-1 deal in 2011.

The President loves to blame the debt on President Bush. But President Obama created more debt in four years than his predecessor did in eight.

This is a lie. Rubio is just saying something he knows to be untrue here.

When George W. Bush took office, the Federal debt was roughly $5.7 trillion. When he left office, it was $10.7 trillion - an increase of $5 trillion.

During Obama's four years, the debt has risen by about $4 trillion.

So just on its face, Rubio lied. However, it gets even worse when you dig into the numbers. Bush took over at the tail end of an economic boom, with a budget in surplus. So in his first year, when his policies had nothing to do with the state of budget, the debt essentially stayed the same.

Obama, on the other hand, took over in the midst of an economic crisis, and instead of inheriting a budget in surplus, inherited a $1.4 trillion deficit - which he has nearly cut in half (as he promised to do).

Of the $4 trillion of debt that has been added since the day Obama took over, half of it came in his first year, when he had little control over events. The stimulus added to the debt, but also abruptly stopped the hemorrhaging in the job market and ended the recession.

Obama's net effect on the debt, in the context of what he inherited from the Republicans, has been positive.

Rubio's statement here is not just a lie on its face, but he piles on with massive lies of omission

And we agree with the President that we should lower our corporate tax rate, which is one of the highest in the world, so that companies will start bringing their money and their jobs back here from overseas.

Rubio strategically leaves a couple of things out here.

While our base corporate rate is higher than many other developed countries, we have a byzantine series of loopholes that have virtually been written by special interests. A company that can afford lobbyists to buy this kind of corporate welfare, and an army of accountants and lawyers, can manage to pay little to no corporate tax, while smaller businesses without those means pay the full rate.

Rubio and the Republicans want to lower the rate... but have repeatedly gone to mattresses to avoid giving up the loopholes for their campaign contributors.

We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice.

The term "school choice" has always been a tool for selling a fictional idea to those who don't know better. Public schools are not-for-profit institutions, so the notion that free-market capitalistic competition will somehow improve schools is a fantasy.

Again, remember the Civil Rights Act and how it realigned the country. That's when the GOP became all about GOD. The "choice" the Bible Belt wants is one where taxpayer money will be used to indoctrinate their children in a non-secular manner: no sex education, no evolution, creationism taught in science class. They want the "choice" to have their children be as ignorant about science as Marco Rubio is.

The problem with vouchers has always been that if you allow any significant percentage of students to leave the system - and take their percentage of school funding with them - the public school system completely collapses. What were once the world's best public schools are what built the middle class in this country - and an educated and skilled middle class with buying power is what separates a rich country from a poor one.

Not to mention those inconvenient first ten words of the Bill of Rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion."

If you want your child to be educated at a religious school and not learn about science, that is your right. It's not your right to do it with tax dollars.

When I finished school, I owed over 100,000 dollars in student loans, a debt I paid off just a few months ago.

Would you have it paid off yet if there weren't Medicare and Social Security to support your parents? Because supporting them yourself would be expensive...

The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment.

Again, math and economics, Marco.

Our tax receipts are already low - roughly 15% of GDP. Lower than they have been under any Republican president in a half century. And tax rates are at historic lows, too.

The rise in government spending is driven mostly by Medicare - and THAT is driven by the overall skyrocketing of health care costs. Yet health care reform is something that the Republicans bitterly opposed during the Clinton and now Obama presidencies, and Republicans did exactly nothing to address during the Bush years.

As for a balanced budget amendment... this is one of the most patently moronic ideas in the public discourse. If the government cannot run a deficit during an economic downturn, recessions become depressions. During bad economic times, the government must step in to support demand. This is standard, time-tested economic practice, done this way everywhere in the world. Your ideology may fixate on balanced budgets at all times, but it doesn't make it anything other than proven bad economic policy. Anyone who has taken more than a freshman econ class in college knows this.

Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the President going to offer his plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it.

From a party that adopted Paul Ryan's plan to voucherize Medicare, this is pretty rich, for Rubio to accuse the president of playing politics with Medicare.

When is he going to offer his plan to save it? Ummm... anyone remember Obamacare? Or the 2012 campaign?

Just because you don't LIKE his plan doesn't mean he hasn't offered one.

And the truth is every problem can’t be solved by government.

Ah yes, the old Reagan straw man. No one has suggested this, ever.

Many are caused by the moral breakdown in our society

Some might characterize imposing austerity on the poor and middle class while giving the fortunate the best deal they have ever had as a "moral breakdown". Just sayin'.

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