In the Arena

Armey Decoded

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Dick: Seems to me, reading you this week, that although you’ve left public office, you’re still infected with political blather, Frank Luntz-style. For example, the word “Ownership.” That tested really well in focus groups, but what does it mean? The 47 million people who don’t have health insurance–the vast majority of them hardworking folks who could use some help–don’t “own” an insurance policy. But you’re even opposed to plans like Romney’s (which came out of the Heritage Foundation) which give the working poor the means to choose among private health plans and “own” one. It’s socialism, you say.

But your definition of socialism…

Socialized medicine can take the form of government taking your money and then spending it on insurance. Socialized medicine can take the form of a requirement from government for you to spend money on health insurance. Either way, it is the government making the decision about your money, no matter whether you call it Medicare, Medicaid, or an individual mandate.

…is a smear, the sort of language used in 20-second attack ads, not a definition. I seem to remember socialism defined as state ownership of the means of production. What you’re all het-up about is state regulation–not ownership–of an untrammeled, semi-monopolistic free market. How far do you go, Dick? I mean, paying taxes is a state intervention, too. A military draft is a state intervention–would you rule that out, too, if we faced another existential threat like World War II?

And then there’s social security…that poor, little, teeny-tiny, no-risk safety net we have for those who didn’t do so well in life.

I ask, if Social Security is such a great deal, then why is it mandatory?

Since you asked: Because, in a democracy, we have this weird concept: the consent of the governed. Social security ain’t the third rail of American politics for nothing. The people really like it, and have for 70 years now. The fact is, the federal government isn’t some alien import from France, it is the common expression of our desires and purposes as a society. Now I know, Margaret Thatcher said “There’s no such thing as society, only individuals and families.” But I don’t agree with that for one minute. True freedom can only exist within the context of a working society; without it, we have a state of nature–like, say, New Orleans in the days after Katrina.

This is not to say that the federal government isn’t barnacled with stupidities after 200+ years of existence. The hardest thing to do in a mature democracy is to scrape the barnacles off the hull. But it seems to me that most of the barnacles in the current system benefit–how to be delicate here?–rich people, not the poor. The $70 billion in corporate welfare, for example. The fact that Republicans keep increasing the tax on work–payroll taxes–and keep reducing the taxes on wealth. No, the barnacles that Republicans complain endlessly about are a rudimentary system of regulations to protect food, drugs, the environment and the safety of the workplace, and a rudimentary system to protect the elderly from sickness and starvation. And when reasonable politicians, Democrats and moderate Republicans, propose even the slightest alteration toward equity, it’s “class warfare.” (Yes, another great focus group term.)
Tell me how treating capital gains the same as other income is “class warfare” while eliminating OSHA inspections isn’t?
And, maybe I missed it, but what was your answer on abandoning pay-go in 2001?