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We seem to have survived one “fiscal cliff” scare, only to have other cliffs ahead of us. It’s the way government is done when one party is driven by ideologues and the other thinks mostly of compromise.
On March 1, dramatic cuts will take place in both social programs and military spending if Congress does not act.
Congress will certainly act; probably at the last minute, and to the disappointment of many. Again, such are the times that we live in.
Nevertheless, liberals and progressives must hold dear to the principles and the progress that has made this country a better place to live in over time.
From child labor laws, to unemployment insurance, to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – not to mention laws that preserve clean air, clean water, workplace safety, and other public protections – it’s been progressives, not conservatives, that have gotten these measures passed.
All through American history, the conservative has fought to prevent any changes he thinks might affect his personal bank account, or change the “way of life” he learned at his grandaddy’s knee (even though grandaddy might have been a segregationist and a misogynist).
We don’t have “poor houses” in America anymore, and, again, that’s due to the policies of liberals and social movements adopted by the Democratic Party, not the “conservative movement” and that other party.
These “fiscal cliff” battles are just another portion of this eternal battle: the forces of justice, decency and compassion against those who seem to mostly want three things: power, military might, and the privileges of wealth.
For example, conservatives always seem willing to cut social programs but almost never think that military spending can be too high.
A recent letter to this paper suggested that my repeated calls for military spending cuts ignore the need to reform the “sacred cows” of “entitlement” programs.
That’s a fair criticism, but it’s necessary to understand that the word “entitlement” doesn’t represent what we really happens with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, anymore than the word “defense” justifies the outrageous and excessive Pentagon budgets of the last 10 to 12 years.
We have a large “baby boom” generation that has now begun to retire. Like their parents before them, they deserve all the benefits of the programs for which they paid taxes their entire working lives. That’s not an “entitlement;” that’s something they’ve already purchased and have a right to expect when the time comes.
Military spending, on the other hand, should naturally go up and down depending on the needs, and the threats (hopefully real; not perceived or invented) at a given time. You can quote percentages of the overall budget all you wish, but that’s not the main concern.
Most people recognize that American military spending has risen to the point where it needs to come down. Even Robert Gates, the defense secretary who served both Bush and Obama, spent his last months in office expressing that view.
Now, when the secretary of defense says military spending should be reduced, that ought to tell you something.
But Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are solemn promises we have made to our people and we should keep those promises. They are also the hallmarks of a society that says, yes, we will have compassion for the aged, the weak, and the poor, no matter the cost.
Those programs should be “reformed” for only one purpose: funding them, with new taxes if necessary, to meet the demands of the future, both for the boomers and their children.
We can do this if we have the will, and we can do it if we bring military spending down to reasonable levels.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.