I want a new car. I'm looking for something that meets the following criteria: drives like a Formula One car (0-60 in no more than 4 seconds), has eye-catching supercar styling, seats 7 with plenty of room for luggage, gets 90 mpg, and costs less than $30,000. I tried entering this into some online search tools and there were no matches. What gives?
While it might seem silly, this is not too far off from what many Americans want from the political process. The basic problem with American politics is that our elected officials do (or try to do) what we want, and what we want is increasingly stupid. We want a government to do all kinds of stuff (Just the stuff that benefits me. Go ahead and cut everything else.) and we don't want to pay for any of it. We've dealt with this not by taking a closer look at our expectations through the lens of reality and realizing that this is impossible. No, we've taken comfort in magical thinking and voodoo theories that tell us, yes, you can have it all. We can lower taxes and somehow the government will end up making more money! People in suits say this with straight faces, blissfully unaware of how closely their product description matches the "Miracle 100 mpg fuel additive THEY don't want you to know about!" ads in the classifieds.
And so it is that in the year 2012 one Willard Mitt Romney offered an economic plan that claims to do the following over the next decade:
On the opposite side of the ledger, of course, are the "spending cuts" that will make all of this magic work. Mittens offers examples such as – and I have no clue where these numbers come from but let's, uh, assume the proposed savings are somewhat optimistic – privatizing Amtrak ($1.5 billion), "repealing Obamacare" ($95 billion), reducing foreign aid ($0.1 billion), eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and Title X funding ($0.09 billion), and the ever popular "reducing waste and fraud" ($60 billion. Right.) Without even adjusting these figures downward to account for reality this adds up to a little over $150 billion. See? It all balances out…once we account for whatever fairy dust is going to "fix Social Security and Medicaid" without reducing benefits for anyone who currently receives them or will soon.
The math behind his proposal is so self-evidently stupid that I have to return to the list of options that I end up at increasingly often these days. One of the following things must be true about people who believe that this will work:
1. They know it doesn't work and they don't care. They just want their tax cut.
2. They believe that it works because they want to and/or they're not smart enough to understand that it can't.
3. They're pretty sure it makes no sense but they're highly susceptible to persuasion and commonly get suckered into things that sound too good to be true.
As a guess, I'd assume that the GOP donors and insiders are mostly #1, the poor/working/middle class base is #2, and old people are #3. A few weeks ago we talked about how even Romney doesn't seem to believe this, yet for some reason there are people in the electorate who do. It depends on that mix of greed, hubris, and rank ignorance that defines us in the eyes of the rest of the world.
When people believe this kind of voodoo I don't question their sincerity. They are serious. It's a testament to the power of motivated reasoning that so many people could believe, or publicly claim to believe without dissolving into laughter, anything half as stupid as what Romney is offering as his "serious" economic plan. At some point this ceases to be a political platform, though, and it turns into a religious creed; we believe it because we believe it and logic no longer applies.