Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Bagley: Some Mormons who took the election results hard are posting dire Book of Mormon warnings that America is now ripe for destruction. Personally I think we are only half-baked for destruction. Let’s all take a deep breath and watch cute kittens on the Internet for a day or two. The sun will continue to rise in the east and plans to build bunkers in the mountains will seem less urgent as we get back to managing our 401ks.
Lambson: OK. But while we watch the cute kittens, here is some unsolicited advice for the Republican Party. The GOP tends to be a Democratic Party Lite. They talk about limited government and fiscal responsibility but, for example, Bush started two unfunded wars and passed an unfunded prescription drug benefit. Republicans need to provide, without apology, a clear ideological vision. Otherwise, they are increasingly likely to lose to real Democrats.
Bagley: I’ll second that! By all means, the Republicans should be as ideological and unyielding as iron. I’ll even write slogans for them: It is better to die on one’s feet fighting to preserve tax breaks for billionaires than it is to serve free school lunches to underprivileged kids on one’s knees! “Makers versus Takers” is a lot pithier, but it’s basically the same message.
Lambson: I was thinking more along the lines of: “Freedom and Responsibility.” They should leave class-warfare rhetoric to the class warriors.
Bagley: The Republicans are on the verge of irrelevance because their version of reality is downright hallucinatory. As much as they really, really want to believe that Obama is a socialist, Marxist, communist, fascist Kenyan with a secret gay agenda to destroy America, to the rest of us it’s all crazy talk. If the Republican party were a person it would be psychotic. One of their major delusions is that the rich are being fleeced into oblivion, when objective reality and the numbers show that more and more of the wealth of this nation is being concentrated upward to the super rich.
Lambson: No, if the GOP were a person he or she would have multiple personality disorder, as would the Democratic Party. Parties aside, you argue on one hand that government is the answer to income inequality and on the other hand that government is controlled by corporations and the wealthy for their own benefit. A difference between us is that you think government can be wrested systematically from the politically connected and thus should be given power to do great things. I fear that government has an inherent tendency for corruption and capture, and thus should be given minimal power. This debate will be forever relevant.
Bagley: A Democratic congressman once quipped that Republicans hate government because they are so bad at it. They took Ronald Reagan’s “government isn’t the solution: government is the problem” sound bite and made it an article of faith. The truth is government does some things better than individuals or corporations. Our Internet infrastructure is 29th in the world because it was left to the “free market,” whereas other nations that treated theirs as a public utility are faster and cheaper. http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/nov/02/americas-lagging-internet/
Lambson: Government does so much that it is bound to get some things wonderfully right and some things horribly wrong; so anecdotes are not very useful for judging the overall track record. It is more enlightening to consider averages, and the average government program is neither as cute nor as harmless as a kitten. Even those that are initially cuddly have a tendency to grow cold and indifferent. This can be endearing in a cat. It is less so in a bureaucrat.
Lambson: The top comment from last week is from SuperEllipsoid, “... correlation is not proof of causation. That said, correlation with an explanatory mechanism should not be ignored.” Precisely.