Monday, June 5, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. ~Ronald Reagan

The campaigns are going hot and heavy here in Alabama, which means the invective, claims of greatness, and monumental promises are flowing like a pyroclastic flow from Mt. St. Helen's. Ordinarily, I tune most of this out, but this year seems to be particularly ridiculous.

First, I've never heard so much “more conservative than thou” yak in my life. Okay, we live in the deep South, and not many folks from down here are going to turn up at Sierra Club meetings. But some of the jargon being thrown around goes beyond ridiculous to the totally inane.

-- One politician's ad says that he voted for a state law that allows abortions as long the woman is giving all necessary information about the consequences and about alternatives. He then says he's a right-to-lifer who opposes abortion. As if that little incongruity isn't enough, the ad goes on to say that he's “a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association.” Therefore, he's against killing fetuses but in favor of having them killed by AK-47's once they get grown a little.

-- I have written about former State Chief Justice Roy “I only support laws God tells me to” Moore. A supporter of his is running for his old job. He has taken snippets of speeches from his opponent and associated them with claims that the opponent favors gay marriage, would allow abortion “right to the moment of birth” (which I think is illegal everywhere), and that the opponent has the temerity to regard Roe v Wade as the law of the land. This guy promises to rule against every U.S. Supreme Court decision of the last fifty years. The opponent has a stalking horse stating that Roy's boy is a “judicial activist”, ironically enough, since that's a term usually reserved for liberals.

--The challengers claim that all the incumbents are in the pockets of lobbyists and special interests. The incumbents never heard of lobbyists and are all "their own men" (or women, as the case may be).

--Incumbents all claim to have reduced my taxes. According to these people, I'm paying nothing at all. Challengers all claim that incumbents voted for tax increases, and I'm being positively crushed by my tax burden. If I elect them, they'll cut my taxes to nothing.

That last deserves some additional discussion. I've said before that I don't mind paying my share of taxes. I like have police and fire protection. I think police, firefighters, and teachers should be paid fairly. I like having the roads fixed. I think good schools are important. You don't get these things without paying for them. I certainly don't like corporate welfare and wasted money, but the challengers in these elections don't say anything about fixing those things.

Alabamians are lucky. Relatively speaking, we have a low tax burden. Unfortunately, it shows in some areas, like pay for those folks I mentioned and perennially financially strapped school systems. Our roads are pretty nice, though. What is ridiculous is the sales tax. Since property taxes and the state income tax are low, the state makes it up in sales tax. By the time you add in local sales taxes, the average rate is around 10%. Every time some governmental sector needs money, they slap another sales tax on things.

Sales taxes are very regressive. Lower income people are effected more, especially when you consider that Alabama is one of the few states (maybe the only one) that taxes groceries. I'm not talking about beer, cigarettes, or aluminum foil. I'm talking about bread, milk, meat, and vegetables. That stinks. And I haven't heard a single arch-conservative tax slasher ever say a word about rectifying that situation.

Another goofy aspect of Alabama government is that local government has to go begging to the legislature to get approval to pass local ordinances. For example, the city of Montgomery for years did not allow the sale of draft beer. You could get all the bottles and cans you want, but ask for beer on tap? Sorry. So the city would dutifully pass an ordinance allowing the sale of draft beer. But, the legislature had to approve it. The beer sellers, who don't make as much selling draft as they do selling bottles and cans, would ensure that the Montgomery legislators, who had to kick off the approval process, had plenty of campaign contributions to help them realize what was the “best” course to take. Which meant that draft beer stayed out of Montgomery.

(I think that finally changed, but I don't live in Montgomery any more, so I couldn't say for sure.)

I've only heard one conservative campaigner say this lack of local authority is a bad thing.

And as for Alabama's constitution with its endless amendments, the very suggestion of rewriting it seems to send conservatives into paroxysms. A couple of years ago, one loony went so far as to suggest that the constitution was inspired by God and rewriting it would be blasphemous. I don't think God would create a document requiring over 800 amendments to keep it straight.

I don't think much is proved by campaigners trying to prove that their politics is somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun. I'd like to challenge all these characters to stop knifing each other in the back and address what they're going about the real problems of the state. In fact, I'd like to see candidates for national office talk about what they're going to do about the nation's concerns. I'd also like to be able to teleport myself to work and back each day.

Well, I thought I wish for at least one thing that had at least a finite probability of happening.

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