Life is full of ironies. Politics is especially full of ironies. Here are a couple that are particularly relevant as we slog our way through election season.
Over the last month or so, I’ve listened to a couple of radio talk shows featuring environmentalists sounding the alarm on climate change. Within their various cataclysmic predictions of the Arctic ice melting, the seas rising, crops withering in new dust bowls and tropical diseases headed north, is a compelling theme:
The earth is not ours alone. We have inherited it from our ancestors, and we will be passing it along to our descendants. We must not be so selfish as to consume its resources to the point where they will not be available for the generations yet to come. We must not be so greedy with our energy use that we leave our descendants to cope with the oceans inundating their coastlines, polluted drinking water and weather extremes from droughts to floods.
In fact, economic growth is a bad thing. It means more businesses making more things that consume more resources and more energy, being bought by more people. Our aspirations must not be infinite, because the earth is finite. We need fewer people, fewer things and much more modest lifestyles.
I think some of that is a bit over the top – economic growth is what leads to the next great inventions. Who knows what kinds of energy efficiency might be achieved through technological advances?
But in general, they are correct that we should be good stewards of the earth and its resources, if we want to claim (as certain groups so often do) that we care so much about “the children.”
They are correct that being good stewards means that everybody needs to sacrifice. While there are income disparities here, compared to the rest of the world, even the poor in America are among the 1 percent – the most blessed people in history.
It is ironic, then, that some of the most vocal apostles of curbing energy use are some of the most profligate users of it. Al Gore (Where have you gone, Al?) had one of the largest carbon footprints in the country, living in an obscenely large house and jetting around the country scolding the rest of us.
It is ironic, because liberals more than conservatives embrace their message much more enthusiastically. But try to find a liberal who supports everybody making sacrifices for future generations in other areas.
Indeed, one of the major ironies is President Obama declaring that the most massive government entitlement programs in the history of the world will be solvent for generations to come if we just “stop giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.”
It is pure snake oil. Impose the so-called “Buffett rule,” to make sure no millionaire pays a lower rate of taxes than his or her secretary, and lift the 15-percent tax limit on investment income of more than $1 million, and you might have enough money to get the federal government through a day or so. It won’t come close to ensuring that those programs will be there “for the children.” That will take sacrifice from the middle class as well – something you never heard at the Democratic convention this past week.
Then there is the irony of how “independence” is defined these days.
Some years ago, I was assigned to cover an event at a government-funded program in a building called The Independent Living Center. Based on my brief observations, the people there did reasonably good work helping clients who had physical and mental disabilities.
But it made the sign on the building absurd. The whole reason for its existence – the reason their clientele were there – was because they could not live independently.
Please, hold the emails about beating up on disabled people. This is no such thing. I believe those with disabilities are just as valuable and deserving of happiness and fulfillment as the rest of us. I applaud efforts to assist them in reaching that goal.
But it is silly, and patronizing, to pretend that people are independent when they are not.
It is especially ironic today, given all the white-hot screeching about “You didn’t build that,” vs. “You/we built that.”
President Obama has now acknowledged some “awkward” phrasing when he was trying to say that those who started businesses did not also build the infrastructure that provides a transportation system and utilities used by those businesses.
He’s half right – probably none of those business owners actually built the infrastructure. But they, and those they employ, are the ones who paid the vast majority of the cost to build it, since they pay the vast majority of the taxes.
But the president is at great pains to insist that those who start and grow businesses with no help from government other than infrastructure and utilities, must still be viewed as “dependent” on government services.
Meanwhile, those who are truly dependent on government (through no fault of their own) for everything from food, shelter, and clothing to activities of daily living are labeled “independent.”
Welcome to more politics Through the Looking Glass.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org