Saturday, February 28, 2009

Buddy, Daddies, and Dirty Harry

This past week we finally had to put Buddy, our 14-year-old dog, to sleep. He was crippled and incontinent, and it was time. The process didn't take very long, but holding him while he died was one of the harder jobs I've had to do. There was never a question of who would take him. And when the vet asked, "do you want to be present?" there was never a question that I would say no. I'm the Daddy, so it was my job.

This week, AMC network has run all 5 Dirty Harry movies over and over again. I happened to be flipping channels early in the week when the original show was on, and heard "why do they call him Dirty Harry?" The answer: "He gets every dirty job that comes around." When you get married and have kids, it's easy to see some of the benefits to being a Christian husband and father. You're the "head of the household." You're "spiritual leader of the home." You have "God-given authority." Although you may be too polite to actually use the word, you're well aware that Ephesians 5 orders "submission" to your leadership. To quote Mel Brooks from History of the World, Part I, "it's good to be the king."

But there's fine print in that contract. So long as I'm dropping pop-culture references like Dennis Miller on speed, it's best summed up in the quote from Spider-Man's Uncle Ben: "with great power comes great responsibility." Being the Daddy means being the bad guy who says the final "no." It's being the one who has to say (and mean) "this spanking hurts me more than it hurts you." It's little stuff like being stuck with the crust of every half-eaten sandwich, or passing up the last donut so every kid gets the same number. And it means cradling your crippled dog while his life slips away. Someday, it'll mean putting Mary Elizabeth's hand in the hand of some boy who's almost (but not quite) good enough for her and saying, "her mother and I do."

Someone else wrote about being the king besides Mel Brooks. C.S. Lewis, in The Horse and His Boy, puts it this way, as old King Lune explains to his twin sons what it means for the eldest to wear the crown:

"Hurray! Hurray!" said Corin. "I shan't have to be King. I shan't have to be King. I'll always be a prince. It's princes have all the fun."
"And that's truer than thy brother knows, Cor," said King Lune. "For this is what it means to be King: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (as there must be every now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land."

Having taught nearly 1500 students, I've seen lots of kids without Daddies, plus many with not very good ones. And it must be said, God can equip single moms to do a very good job with His help. But that's a backup plan. God's original, best plan for the family still works best, in spite of all the input to the contrary from our culture. I pray I'm a good Daddy. And I pray that my boys learn the proper lessons of how to be a Daddy from my example.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thoughts on the Stimulus Package

Well, the biggest single spending bill in US history seems to have passed. Counting debt service, we're looking at $1.2 trillion. I read somewhere that you could have spent a million bucks per day since Jesus was born and still not have reached that number by now. The big question remains--will it actually stimulate the economy?

Some of it probably will. The Keynesian model of deficit spending as economic pump-priming does have some merit. Sadly, most of the spending is pegged to happen out in the future, by which time the recession we're in may be over naturally anyway. Indeed, consumer spending was up just a hair in January (not that it can't drop again). As a guy who more favors the supply-side model of economics, I was hoping for stimulative effects from the tax cuts in the bill, but the final draft comes out to only about $13 a week in tax relief for the average family (dropping to $8 in January).

Some have said in the past that the Bush Administration used the genuine crisis of 9/11 to push through the Patriot Act, enacting a grab-bag of neocon wishes using fear as an engine to get it through. I see this bill as the reverse--getting almost every liberal dream since LBJ passed so fast that there's no time to even read the whole bill while taking advantage of the fear factor of the current economy. The big differences were that the Patriot Act was passed with truly bipartisan support (300+ votes in the house, 98-1 in the senate) and included sunset provisions that had to be revisited in 5 years. This one was passed without a single genuine Republican vote (Collins, Snowe, and Specter in the senate are statistical outliers), and the effects will be with us forever. One thing you can be sure of--once government spending goes up, it never comes back down. This spending will form the new "baseline" for budget scoring from here on out. We're looking at enormous deficits as far as the eye can see.

Now, I've heard the argument that conservatives have no room to talk about deficits, as Reagan was the first president to run up a huge one, and George W. Bush similarly increased the deficit. Thrown in there for good measure is the fact that in between them, Bill Clinton actually ran a surplus. Let's examine these points.

First, Reagan DID run a huge deficit. We'll leave aside discussions of shared responsibilty for spending with the congress (Tip O'Neill and the Democrat-controlled house didn't much like budget cuts, either) and just posit that all the fault lies at the feet of Reagan's huge spending increase on the military. Fine. How did that come out? No Berlin Wall, no USSR, no Cold War. If you had offered any sane observer the option of winning the Cold War on credit in the mid 1980's we'd have taken it. Any of my older readers remember the 1987 movie The Day After? How about 1983's Wargames? Maybe Red Dawn? Rocky IV? Sting's 1986 single I Hope The Russians Love Their Children, Too? My childhood was consumed with legitimate fears of nuclear annhilation. My kids think that's ancient history. Considering the trade-off, I won't criticize the Reagan deficits.

Then there's Clinton. Again, it's true that the budget ran a surplus for a short time when he was in office. Was it because he was so fiscally responsible? Not really. After 1994 the Gingrich Republicans in the house held his feet to the fire in terms of responsibility, but even that didn't do it. Clinton had the unique opportunity to slash the defense budget after the Cold War ended (The "Peace Dividend"). Little did we know we would have use for a military again pretty soon. He also managed to preside over the birth of the internet and the dot-com boom. It's simple math--revenue up + spending down = balanced budget. Whether or not Clinton personally deserves the credit, those look like good days.

Then comes Bush. The question facing him is what to do with the surplus. By definition, if the federal government is bringing in more than they spend, that means people are paying more than they need to in taxes. He makes the call to return the stimulus to the taxpayers as a tax cut. At the time, I agreed with that philosophically. And I have much enjoyed the extra cash in my pocket. BUT... we didn't foresee the bursting of the dot-com bubble or 9/11 and the resulting increases in spending. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I'd have rather that "extra" revenue gone toward a national "Dave Ramsey Rainy Day Fund." And face it: "compassionate conservative" Bush was no fiscal hawk. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D... he spent way too much. And yes, the Republicans in congress went along with it. This has damaged their standing to criticize now.

But here's the thing--if Bush was wrong to spend so much, and that's part of the problem, then how is the solution to do much more of the same? Or, conversely, if deficit spending is such a good idea for stimulus, then wasn't Bush doing a GOOD thing? You can't have it both ways.

OK. Back to now. I think the stimulus package is a crap sandwich. But that's the breaks. Obama and the democrats won, they've got the votes, and they get to lead. And I'm not convinced that if McCain had won that we'd be seeing any better. I can imagine a fantasyland where Mitt Romney had somehow won the GOP nomination and become president and the terms of the debate were much different (even though I didn't support Romney back in the primaries). But old Mr. "Bipartisan Maverick" likely would have embraced a similarly bad bill in his never-ending quest to reach across the aisle, and then the GOP would have had to go along or buck their own president.

So what to do? Nothing different. Pay down debt. Spend less that you make. Save. Give. Work as hard and as effectively as you can, which is the best recipe for job security. Whining doesn't help. Pray for our country.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Retroactive Fairness?

There's been a little debate going on in the comments section of many right-of-center political blogs ever since the election about what is the proper way for the "loyal opposition" to treat President Obama. On the one hand, some say (and this is the group that garners my personal sympathies) that we don't want to continue the same level of vitriol that was directed at President Bush for 8 years (and, in fairness, that was also common during the Clinton administration). After 2 full terms of feeling treated unfairly, some of us on the right want to show that we can be more grown-up than that. Yet there are others who take the opposite tack. Some say, "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." Others just want to use the modified Golden Rule--do unto others the same thing they did unto you. And still others say that refusing to play dirty is the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight, a kind of unilateral disarmament. The other side, they say, has reaped the benefits of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" for almost a decade, and those are the new rules of the game.

Anyone who reads this blog should be able to see that I've been trying to take the high road for some time. And I don't want to be one of those who lowers the level of discourse. But I am very frustrated right now, especially with what I perceive to be a serious double-standard in the news media. Maybe it's just me, but I have this nagging feeling that if George W. Bush had nominated even ONE tax-cheat to his cabinet, he'd be getting it with both barrels (especially if that one was either going to be the boss of the IRS or his tax problems involved a limo). Yet Obama has TWO, and if you don't read National Review or watch Fox News, the silence is deafening. And how in the bloody heck did Geithner get more votes for confirmation than John Roberts???? Combine Geithner and Daschle with people like Chris Dodd and Charles Rangel and you begin to think that Leona Helmsley was in the wrong business. Likewise, if Bush had signed an executive order that "closed" Gitmo, but in reality just kicked the can down the road for a year or more, I don't think there would have been nearly the love-fest we got when Obama did the same. And now that the Obama administration has decided to continue the practice of "rendition" of terrorists (that is, sending the nastiest ones to foreign countries that don't have inconveniences like the Bill of Rights or prohibitions on torture), I'm still waiting in vain for someone (anyone?) on the left to call him a torturer like they did Bush. Indeed, I'd be willing to argue that rendition is a good bit more serious than waterboarding. But all of a sudden there is a great amount of chin-stroking in the media (and even human rights groups) about how difficult and complicated it is to keep the country safe.

But I'm also conflicted. I know you can't unring a bell. The media can't go back now and undo all their old reporting on Bush and company. And I really DON'T want to try to even it up by treating the new guy just as unfairly. Since I thought a lot of the hand-wringing about Bush's culpability for Katrina was overwrought, I am not now secretly hoping that Obama gets raked over similar coals for ignoring the ice storm in Kentucky. But I just wish someone would come out and say that these "new" rules are going to be the same for everybody from here on out, and not just be a blatant and eternal double-standard. I'd be fine with saying that we can call it even--"we" impeached Clinton (although he certainly helped), "they" savaged Bush (and again, he didn't do anything to make it too difficult). But the refs can start calling a fair game anytime now.