February 9th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Only he could do it

"On Vulcan, we have an old saying, Jim. 'Only Nixon could go to China.'"
-- Spock, Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country
That's the original saying, "Only Nixon could go to China." For those of you who aren't old enough to remember what it means, it means that only a Republican and long-time anti-Communist like President Richard Nixon could have gone to China, met with Deng Xiaopeng, and opened diplomatic relations (for the purpose of further isolating our then-mutual enemy, the Soviet Union). Any Democrat who had done that, or any Republican with weaker anti-Communist credentials, would have been accused of being a Communist spy or a Communist dupe. And even he took some flack from it, but only from the John Birch Society and other marginalized voices.

Just as only Nixon could have gone to China, only Clinton could have passed welfare reform. Republicans like Reagan and Bush had tried it, and got the same reaction that any Democrat to the right of Clinton (there are, after all, only a few of them) would have gotten. No right-wing politician could have so much as touched the AFDC program without being accused of hating poor people and wanting to end AFDC, period. And even so, Clinton took flack for championing and then signing welfare reform, but mostly only from (unfortunately) marginalized voices like the left wing of his own party.

So I wonder if a few years from now we'll be saying, "Only George W. Bush could have cut corporate welfare." I say that because the administration's budget contained one of my own pet proposals, something that I sometimes felt like only the late Senator Paul Wellstone and I understood. Most farm subsidies are written with the supposed intent of protecting the family farm. There are plenty of good reasons to protect the family farm; small to medium farms have lower environmental impact, grow a wider variety of crops, provide more jobs, and if they were thriving they'd protect rural income and provide tax money for rural schools. The number one force threatening family farms is the rise of corporate farming, especially behemoth corporations like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), who use their economic clout to squeeze out, buy up, and make wage slaves (or worse) out of farmers. And what most people don't seem to realize is that both the tax code and the subidies programs contain specific provisions aimed at making sure that the big agri-business companies receive the lion's share of the subsidies and pay next to nothing in taxes. In other words, not only are the big corporations destroying family farms, but we the taxpayers are specifically hiring them to do so.

We've known how to fix this since before it even got this bad. Jimmy Carter knew this system well; hell, he'd made his money exploiting it. And Bill Clinton came into office intending to shut down corporate welfare, period. Both of them proposed the same solutions. Step one, cap the per-recipient benefit. Step two, require that all subsidy beneficiaries be owned by people who are, as this week's proposal puts it, "substantially involved in farming." Both Clinton and Carter got attacked as being big city liberals (from the "big cities" of Plains and Hope, for crying out loud) who hated rural people for being Christians (when both of them were Baptists), and out to ruin the family farm. Both times, ADM and the other big agribusiness corporations spent a fortune on ads in which actors playing the part of farmers warned people that the President was trying to cut the subsidies that keep small farms alive, so write your congressman and oppose these cuts! And both times, people fell for it hook line and sinker, and both times the final law ended up funnelling an even larger share of the subsidies to the same handful of corporations.

Now George Bush is pushing the exact same proposal. Is it because he hates farmers? No. Is it because he hates corporations? As if. Is it because he hates corporate welfare? Come on, we're talking about a former baseball team owner here. No, he's going after corporate welfare in general this year, and this one in particular, because he's been warned that if he doesn't come up with some big cuts in spending, the dollar's going to crash even worse and take the US economy down with it. Will he get his way? Hard to tell. Tonight on NBC Nightly News, they had some (I suspect fake) farmer associated with the National Farm Bureau, I think it was, worrying that "these kinds of cuts always trickle down and hurt the little guy." You know, the same tactics that worked the last two times. But I think they're going to have a harder time tarring George Bush as a guy who hates family farms. I hope so, anyway.

There's no reason to be too hopeful. As Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, in Bush's last budget he proposed cutting or eliminating 64 programs, and they ended up cutting three. So of the 150 cuts that Bush is asking for, if history is any judge, we're not likely to see more than maybe six to ten of them pass. And of couse, as long as he insists on protecting his "temporary stimulus" tax cuts for the wealthy and we keep spending $100 billion a year on foreign wars, it won't make a difference to the deficit; the whole 150 cuts come to something like $3 billion, compared to a $400+ billion dollar deficit. Still, on at least this one issue, he's trying to do a right thing.