In 1981, Ronald Reagan famously quipped, Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. Those sentiments laid the groundwork for the conservatives nearly three-decade long quest to prove government is doomed to fail. Given President Bushs approval rating is hovering near the Mendoza line (0.200), most Americans would say his presidency has been about as successful as Coke II. However, I would argue that Bush is doing a heckuva job in his effort to uphold the legacy of Reagan by proving government is a miserable failure.
Bush has likely brought smiles to the faces of conservatives everywhere with his efforts to demonstrate just how wicked awful government can be. After all, putting a former horse association commissioner in charge of FEMA during the Katrina disaster was pure genius! However, the current economic crisis may be Bushs finest act, as he has finally proven the long-time conservative paradigm of trickle-down economics to be true. The financial wreck wrought by deregulation is now trickling down to state houses and city halls across America, including those here in Madison, Wis.
I should pause and note that yes, I am blaming the sacrosanct conservative belief of deregulation for a big part of the economic meltdown. Im sure that some wise anonymous commenter on The Badger Herald website will say, Since Zach Schuster is an engineer he obviously knows everything about everything, especially economics! which is why Im going to defer to the wild-eyed lefty Alan Greenspan, who just last week admitted his lifelong belief in deregulation and free markets policing themselves was basically one of the worst ideas ever.
Madison is facing a budget shortfall that has forced the mayor to cut capital spending by $14 million and operational spending by $1.3 million, while Wisconsin is facing a slightly worse $652 million shortfall in 2009. These shortfalls are the result of severely lowered revenues resulting from lost sales, income and corporate taxes, and future shortfalls may result from investments in crappy bonds.
Sadly, unlike Sarah Palin running wild with her RNC credit card at Saks Fifth Avenue, states and municipal governments are unable to run deficits. Thus, when faced with shortfalls they must generally raise taxes or cut programs. Since only the most ardent tax-and-spender would raise taxes to the levels necessary to cover these shortfalls, the only remaining course of action is to bust out the old budget hatchet.
Although most Americans are supportive of this vague idea of shrinking the government, when it comes down to actually doing the deed, finding areas where that shrinkage should occur becomes a bit of a problem. Conservatives mantra that government is evil has been helping it win elections for the past 28 years. But the reality is that when people read these Stephen King-esque budget proposals, they realize that they kind of like a lot of the services that state and local governments provide.
In Wisconsin, one recipient of a healthy chop from the budget hatchet was $25 million worth of funding for the University of Wisconsin public university system. While Im sure the College Republicans will be saved some self-loathing now that their publicly-funded, high-quality socialized education has become a little less socialized, I would be willing to venture that a lot of other Wisconsinites actually enjoy having the ability to afford to attend top-notch universities. Of course, as funding gets cut, lecture sizes grow and student newspapers are forced to hire hack columnists like myself, people may begin to buy into conservatives argument that public schools are part of the governments big problem.
Here in Madison, most of the budget cuts are in capital spending, which goes toward building the citys nfrastructure. The biggest portion of the capital budget goes into funding transportation improvements, or as I like to call it, socialized driving. If budget cuts become a regular thing at Madison City Hall, Im sure the residents of our city will be totally stoked about facing the decision to brave pothole-ridden streets or pay for bus fares that are going up and up and up.
If Barack Obama is elected president on Tuesday, it would mark the end of the conservatives three-decade dominance of American political thought. Although Republicans may hate George W. Bush today, it was just four short years ago that they held him up as the heir-apparent to Ronald Reagans conservative legacy. His eight years at the tiller have laid bare conservative philosophy toward government. Now his governing skill may trickle down from Wall Street to Main Street, and in the process perhaps convince even a few of the most socialist, wealth-redistributing Obama-ites that government is the problem.