I had lunch yesterday with one of the smartest guys I know, Steve Bell. Steve is a long-time Hill budget and tax expert.
I am, as you know all too well, arithmetically challenged.
This was largely a one-way conversation. Steve talked and I nodded, pretending to understand what he was saying.
The part of the conversation I did get was this: The two parties no longer consider each other to be political opponents -- each aiming for the same goal but choosing differing paths to get there.
Each of the two parties now considers the other to be not just a political enemy, but an enemy of everything the other believes in.
We have traded political ideology for political religiosity.
We no longer have to defend our position with statistics and logic. We now defend our position as being correct because we believe it to be correct.
My favorite example of this is global warming.
I am not a scientist. I have no idea whether (a) the Earth is warming and (b) if it is whether it is caused by (c) greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, (d) sunspots, or (e) an asteroid orbiting somewhere in the Kuiper belt.
Of all the political pundits and comment writers on websites who have taken a side on global warming, only a miniscule fraction have any idea what they're talking about -- on either side.
When I was on Bill Maher last year, we got into a discussion about global warming. The largely youngish crowd was poised to boo and hiss as I talked about the lack of scientific evidence or whatever.
What I said was: We're having the wrong discussion. What we should be discussing isn't whether global warming is real or man-made or whatever; what we should be discussing is: Is it better to put more garbage into the atmosphere or less garbage into the atmosphere?
This type of discussion takes global warming out of the realm of sacred doctrine and makes each of us look at the real world as it is.
Same goes for the economy.
We are stuck in a medieval crusade between those who believe we should spend more to generate jobs and those who believe we should cut more to reduce the deficit.
This, too, is the wrong discussion because most of us never took more than the minimum three-hour course: Econ 113, and we only know how to spell Keynes because we think it's cool to know how to spell Keynes and the only other person we ever knew named "Maynard" was Maynard G. Krebs from the Dobie Gilles show.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Economics.
The fight-to-the-death should not a choice between spending and austerity -- that hasn't worked in Greece or Spain and it won't work here.
The discussion should be this: Can we find a way to spend the money we are already spending in more productive ways? And how what can we do to raise the largest possible number of Americans who are at or below the poverty line into the middle class?
My personal opinion is that spreading more money around without any focus is a bad idea.
The Federal budget for fiscal year 2013 is in the area of $3.8 trillion dollars.
A trillion dollars is most accurately defined as: THIS MUCH, which is to say it has no meaning. Three times that much has no more meaning.
You have to believe that within that $3.8 trillion there might be some items that may have been a good idea once, but now don't make any sense.
Keeping about 80,000 U.S. troops in Europe comes to mind, but there are thousands of programs that have outlived their usefulness and should be scrapped.
The problem with the current sequester program is that it was specifically designed to make high-profile cuts to the budget so that the Congress would make long-term savings.
The Congress did not, so the sequester took effect cutting something on the order of $85.4 billion. That, by the way, works out to about 2.2 percent of federal spending.
The President has decried the sequester even though he proposed it and signed it into law. Congress has decried the sequester even though it is in place because the House and Senate didn't do their jobs.
We have to stop blindly defending our position and start looking for solutions -- some of which may lie in the other guy's beliefs.