Sometimes, in the affairs of mankind, it will come to pass that flickers of human decency and just plain common sense will shine through in the most unexpected places. For example, a few weeks back, the state of Nebraska, a solidly red state, voted to repeal its capital punishment laws. The Republican governor actually vetoed the new legislation, but a heavily dominated Republican legislature overrode his veto. Thus, this relic of biblical times, (an eye for an eye type mentality) where the state is allowed to legally commit murder in the name of vengeance, now exists in one less place. Also about that time, Ireland, a heavily Catholic country, voted, in a public election, to overwhelmingly approve gay marriage throughout the land, much to the chagrin of its Catholic clergy. While states in this country, mostly in the South and West, still battle furiously to deny such unions. As I said, just small flickers of light in an otherwise dismal landscape.
Here in Nevada, where I reside these days, another minor miracle has also recently occurred. When the Republican dominated state legislature convened in January, our Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, was actually and actively promoting tax increases, mostly on businesses, in an attempt to remedy the state’s deplorable public education system. Nevada’s public school system, year-after-year, indeed, decade-after-decade, has consistently been ranked between 45th-50th place in quality of performance. In short, Nevada public schools are among the worst in the nation. To fix this, Sandoval is seeking more tax money to pour into public education in hopes that its rankings will dramatically improve. Of course, he wouldn’t dare call for personal income tax increases, which would invoke howls of protests from his fellow Republicans in the legislature, as well as from the public at large. So he sought increased business taxes, which, as everyone knows, is eventually paid for by ordinary citizens, since all businesses pass on their costs in the price of the goods or services they provide. As it was, there was strong protest among many GOP state legislators at the thought of raising any taxes at all. But Sandoval eked out a narrow victory with enough Republicans joining the handful of Democrats left in the legislature to enact the new statutes.
Predictably, the far right fossils entrenched in the state of Nevada, screamed about the heresy of Republicans raising taxes. Aren’t Democrats the only ones supposed to do that? The dreary rag in Las Vegas that laughingly calls itself a newspaper, couldn’t get over this Republican betrayal. Continuing editorials, as well letters-to-the-editor from known right-wing looney-tuners continually denounced the tax increase and referred to Sandoval and his cohorts as RHINOs, (Republican in name only), who had, indeed, drank the kool-aid. They had absolutely violated the free-lunch-counter mantra of government, established during the Ronald Reagan era in the 1980s.
I have written before about the free lunch counter mentality among Americans, but it’s worth repeating because this mentality is still alive and well in today’s society. It first started during the great Depression of the 1930s. Just about everyone was broke and especially hard hit were bars serving alcohol. After all, who could afford to spend what little money they had on drinks in a bar. So these bars, desperate for business, established what came to be known as the free lunch counter. For the price of a nickel or dime beer, one was allowed to migrate over to the free lunch counter and avail themselves of free food. One can only imagine about the quality of this food, available for purchasing a really cheap beer, or similar spirits. When the Depression ended, the free lunch counters also disappeared, but the thought processes behind this concept remained alive and well.
When Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, he kicked the free lunch counter concept into high gear. Reagan was supposedly a fiscal conservative bent on cost-cutting throughout his administration. In actuality, however, Reagan spent like a drunken sailor, and the U.S. budget deficit mushroomed beyond belief. The accumulated budget deficit from the George Washington thru Jimmy Carter administrations totaled just under one trillion dollars when Reagan first took office. In the following 12 years under Reagan and Bush the Elder, the deficit ballooned to to $4 trillion, a 300% increase. Reagan was given his conservative chops because he supposedly trimmed social programs, mostly around the edges. But when it came to Defense, Reagan spent like there was no tomorrow on military hardware and troop increases, in order to do battle with the old USSR during the cold war. ( I guess the theory was that military spending would be funded by the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard.) At the same time, Reagan pushed through a slew of tax cuts, mainly for the rich, which further exploded the budget deficit. The free lunch concept was thereby firmly established. You want vastly expanded military hardware and forces, but you don’t want to pay for it all. No problem. Just gorge yourselves at the free lunch counter of deficit spending.
The budget deficit did moderate during the 8 years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But it once again picked up steam during the Bush the Younger and Obama presidencies, and now stands at over $18 trillion. Remember, that 35 years ago it was only $1 trillion. Along the way, the GOP agenda, carved in stone, is that taxes can only go one way, and that’s down, especially for the rich. It must be because the food is so enticing at the free lunch counter. Obama did manage to squeeze through a very minor tax increase on the super-rich a few years back, but Republicans in Congress are still belly-aching about that. In any event, when a Republican governor in a mostly rural state does manage to achieve a tax increase with the help of members of his own party, one should consider this a minor miracle. In the meantime, I think I’ll have myself a sandwich down at the free lunch counter.