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By David Podvin

The United States is experiencing a profound moral crisis that has nothing to do with Janet Jackson’s breasts and everything to do with this nation’s conversion to the religion of materialism. American morality has eroded to the point where many people now believe that avoiding an increase in their taxes is more important than protecting the well being of their children. It is a demographic shift that has been a boon to the Republican Party – there are more egocentric parents in America than there used to be, and they are attracted to the GOP’s libertine message of spending today and letting someone else pay for it tomorrow.

The conservative policy of imposing massive debt upon the children of this country is about to face a major test in California. On March 2, voters will decide the fate of Proposition 57, a fifteen billion dollar bond initiative designed to shift the burden of solving the state’s budget crisis from adults to toddlers. The outcome is likely to have profound consequences for the nation as a whole: if 57 passes, it will be a victory for the advocates of deficit spending, foremost of whom is the Pablo Picasso of red ink, George W. Bush. But if the initiative fails, it may indicate that Americans are willing to repudiate “Reaganomics”, the hedonistic creed that rejects fiscal discipline and advocates forcing the next generation to subsidize the excesses of the current one.

The author of Proposition 57, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, took office after his corporate sponsors had bankrupted the state treasury with a phony energy crisis. The robber barons skillfully exploited outrage about the resulting budget deficit to manipulate the electorate into recalling Democrat Gray Davis and replacing him with a puppet of big business. Davis intended to pursue the profiteers through the courts in order to recoup the billions of dollars they had stolen, so he had to be supplanted by someone who would instead extract the money from the public. As Machiavellian machinations go, it was not particularly subtle, but it was extremely effective because the average citizen wasn’t paying attention.

Schwarzenegger won the recall campaign after promising voters that he would erase the huge deficit by auditing the books without raising taxes or making spending cuts harmful to Californians who were vulnerable. It may have been the most transparently dishonest proposal ever made during a political campaign – Arnold declared that the deficit was more than $30 billion and pledged he would eliminate it by finding the missing money right there in the state budget. This assertion was laughably absurd, but Schwarzenegger went unchallenged by the Democrats and the media. On Election Day, many gullible citizens took him at his word.

He was, of course, lying through his teeth. When the audit yielded no significant savings, Schwarzenegger was ready with his real plan, which targets programs designed to protect the young, the old, the sick, and the mentally retarded. He has proposed economizing by cutting back on medical care for autistic children and revoking access to chemotherapy for pediatric patients who are destitute. His accomplice in this bait-and-switch operation is Maria Shriver, who promised Democratic voters that as a Kennedy she could be trusted to restrain Arnold’s  “conservative instincts”. Yet as her husband announced that he intended to begin steadying the ship of state by heaving the human deadweight overboard, Shriver was nowhere to be found.

The next item on the Schwarzenegger reform agenda is to destroy the future for the rest of the state’s kids. He intends to ease the pain of the budget deficit for current voters by borrowing a huge amount of money that their children will have to repay. In taking the easy way out, Schwarzenegger would impose a fifteen billion dollar liability upon citizens who cannot yet read.

Such heartless expediency is the very essence of Republicanism. As Ross Perot said about the massive debt run up by Ronald Reagan and Poppy Bush, moral people do not stick their offspring with their bills; that is the behavior of bums.

After having passively watched as Schwarzenegger took the governorship away from their party by deceiving the electorate, the state Democratic leadership is now eager to save Arnold from the consequences of his lies. Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) put it this way: "It’s the responsible thing to do. I think, clearly, if Gray Davis was governor and proposed it we would also endorse it. Just to oppose it because it's proposed by a Republican governor doesn't make a lot of … sense."

The relevant point is that Davis did not want to saddle the state’s children with the bill for the power companies’ theft, which is why he is no longer governor. And it is not responsible to help Schwarzenegger transfer a crushing debt to the next generation – it is gutless. Burton and the Democrats are unwilling to confront Arnold by demanding that he balance the budget honorably because they fear he will smear them as big taxers. Rather than choosing to confront his demagoguery, the Democrats are meekly going along with Proposition 57, claiming it is necessary to avoid additional cuts in essential services.

As with the Democratic Party in Washington, all that really concerns the Sacramento Democrats is their own political survival. But they are also miscalculating on this point. Like Bush, Schwarzenegger seeks to retain popularity – and the power that accompanies it - by offering taxpayers what appears to be a free lunch. If Arnold is allowed to get away with his scheme to defer the pain of the budget mess, he will be able to argue that conservative politics provide pleasure without sacrifice, thereby making a compelling case for electing a Republican majority to the legislature. After the Democrats save him, he will destroy them, just as Bush destroyed Max Cleland and other Democratic collaborators by tarring them as traitors even though they had placed Bush’s interests above those of the people who elected them.

Once the GOP is in total control of state government, the programs that the Democrats seek to protect from further reductions will be eliminated altogether. This is what has happened on the federal level, where the Republicans have bankrupted the Treasury and shredded the social safety net without being held accountable because “responsible” Democrats have chosen bipartisanship over principle.

The Democratic Party should insist that Schwarzenegger keep his pledge to balance the budget by auditing the books. He must be left with no choice but to propose the painful tax increases and devastating budget cuts required to restore fiscal health to state government. Unless the people of California come to perceive Schwarzenegger as a charlatan who gained office by making cynical promises that he must now break, he will emerge from this situation stronger than ever and well positioned to inflict more abuse on the state’s weakest citizens.

Democratic legislators are familiar with this scenario. In the name of responsible government, their predecessors participated in a bipartisan bailout for another Republican governor who had connived his way into office by promising a painless solution to a budget crisis. Had Democrats been principled back then, Ronald Reagan would have crashed and burned during his first term. Instead, “responsible” Democrats let him off the hook and Reagan went on to ruin the state’s educational and mental health systems.

What is currently happening in California is a perpetually recurring immorality play. The names and the faces change, but the characters remain ever constant: there are the Republicans, who always torment helpless members of society for the purpose of further enriching corporations; there are the Democrats, who always delude themselves into believing that enabling evil is a sign of tactical genius and moral strength; and there are the American people, who always have time and money to spend on entertaining themselves, but rarely have time and money to spend on democracy.

It is little wonder that the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” increasingly resembles a banana republic with nuclear weapons. 

If the middle class were paying attention, taxpayers would demand that the power companies who raped California return the money. Since that level of vigilance apparently requires too much effort, responsible citizens should accept the consequences of their apathy and pay the taxes necessary to satisfy the debt. It is a reflection of this country’s ethical decline that polls show most Californians prefer the Schwarzenegger approach requiring sacrifice only from those who are politically powerless to defend themselves.

According to billionaire investor John Templeton, “The current generation is doing a great wrong. The massive government debt that is being created will deprive young people of the ability to pay for their own needs because they will be too busy paying off our IOU’s.”

This is a perversion of the American Dream, in which parents work hard to get ahead so their children can have better lives. Thomas Jefferson claimed that each generation of Americans is obligated to make the country stronger than it had ever been. Bush and Schwarzenegger have turned that concept upside down, encouraging their constituents to live only for today without regard to the damage being done to those who come next.

Inevitably, a nation that insists on using its progeny as foils in a Ponzi scheme will suffer devastating economic consequences. While such hardship may be poetic justice for taxpayers who support mortgaging the future rather than behaving responsibly, most of the suffering will be endured by children who trusted their parents to protect them from harm.

It is time to bring the era of irresponsibility to an end, and the trend setting state of California has a golden opportunity to lead the country in the right direction. By heeding their better instincts and rejecting Proposition 57, voters can make a compelling moral statement that they are finally ready to cast aside the politics of child abuse.

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Last changed: December 13, 2009