On Shoes

Shoes. They’re a favorite topic of conversation — even a favorite pastime — for many.  They’re not just apparel or accessory; they’re a statement, an expression, a source of bonding.

Funny aside from long ago: Riley was turning 3, and I took her to the Sears Portrait Studio to have some pictures taken because that was when I was still a good mom and did those sorts of things. While we waited in line, another little girl, who appeared even younger, came in holding her mother’s hand.  She and Riley eyed one another up and down, as girls so often do, and then she cooed to Riley, “I like your shoes!” It was such a quintessentially girl thing to do, I couldn’t help but laugh. Even by early toddlerhood, we’ve learned to relate to one another over…shoes! 

Though I’ve never been all that big on shopping (unless we’re talking hardware or office supplies — or Target!), shoe shopping with my sisters or friends has most always been a fun occasion.  And what mom doesn’t smile (and maybe feel a slight bittersweet twinge) the first time her daughter borrows a pair of her shoes because they fit — both size and looks-wise? 

It isn’t just women who love their shoes — men get in on the act, too.  I’ve certainly spent some time in the Cole Haan store in Chicago with my beau while he’s ogled their stylish selection.  (Note to self: Leave some time for Cole Haan while in Chicago next month!) 

And when we wish to encourage empathy, we remind one another to “walk a mile in so-and-so’s shoes.” It sounds a bit trite, but really, there’s both wisdom and compassion packed into just those few words.

It occurred to me yesterday, as I watched my diverse group of friends express an exceedingly polarized array of opinions on social media, that we seem to have forgotten how to do that anymore.  Instead, we all too often seem primed and poised to hurl our Franco Sarto’s at one another rather than stopping to consider what a stroll in that guy or gal’s loafers might be like.  

And when this troubling development is raised, the instinctive response is to point a finger at someone else as the primary cause.  “They started it!” “It’s his fault!” “Welcome to fill-in-the-blank’s America!” I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, including a heaping spoonful compliments of our 24/7 news cycle and social media, which have formed a somewhat sick-and-twisted co-dependent feedback loop in an increasingly frenzied effort to garner the most clicks, likes or views.  Viral, indeed.  

Mostly, though, I blame us. That’s right — you and me.  Because ultimately, we are the ones who decide to click that mouse or flip that channel.  We are the ones who choose to hastily type and post that snarky response designed to verbally slap the smile off other’s faces while eliciting backpats from our like-minded posse.  We are the ones who, like Eddie Murphy’s mother in Delirious (WARNING: Language), whip our pumps boomerang-like through our monitors (and occasionally face-to-face) at one another — only it’s neither funny nor effective — unless your aim is discord.  And if, as you’re reading this, you’re thinking of a certain newly-inaugurated and questionably coiffed Twitter hound, stop and ask yourself this: Are you guilty of doing the very thing you condemn him for doing?  (Note: If your answer to this is, “He’s way worse,” your reflector might not be functioning properly. Poor form isn’t subject to the theory of relativity.) 

That’s just it, though — we don’t stop, think, reflect anymore.  We react.  Faster and faster with each technological “advancement”.  And we sure as hell don’t contemplate 5,280 feet in someone else’s footwear.  (That’s feet, as in distance, not appendages, by the way.)  Shoot, at this point, we’re loathe to acknowledge others’ right to march to their own drummer. If they’re not in sync with us, then they’re enemies, evil, worthy of our scorn, not our friendship, our compassion, or even common courtesy.

So, for instance, today, I have many friends who are marching in D.C. and other cities across the country — including my own.  Their stated reasons vary, but politically align primarily on the leftward side of the spectrum.  And I have other friends clucking at this, sneering, expressing their disgust with these marchers because of their beliefs.  Next Friday, I’ll have many friends marching in D.C. and other cities across the country — including my own.  Their reasons will vary a bit less, as it’s a singularly focused event, but politically align primarily on the rightward side of the spectrum.  And I’ll have some of the very friends who are marching today, clucking, sneering and expressing disgust at these “others.”  

These are women (and some men, but primarily women) who, in recent times, might have happily gotten together for a night of wine Bunco; who’d have shared over the phone their concerns about their significant others, their parents, their children; who’d have kvetched about their jobs; who’d have gladly spent an afternoon traipsing through DSW, Macy’s and Dillard’s trying on shoes; who’d have stood in line or at a party and broken the ice by exclaiming, “Ooh, I love those shoes!”  But now?  No.  She’s either on board with your point of view, or she’s dead to you. We may have laced up our tennies to march with purpose and pride, but we’ve apparently lost our way.

And, no, I don’t believe it’s always been like this.  While my immediate family was on the same page politically as I was growing up, my parents’ best friends (and my godparents) were in different books. My beloved Grandmother was a staunch Republican, while my parents were diehard Democrats, and there was never so much as a thrown fork or slammed door.  One of my best friends in law school was as conservative as the day is long and we fought all the time over politics and such — but in friendly fashion. It was the Euchre matches among our group that got truly heated — but even those didn’t touch what now passes for “discourse”.  And most importantly, my views have evolved over the years from quite liberal to moderately conservative/libertarianish while the same people appear to have liked and loved me just the same.  Recently, though, I’ve felt increasingly as if some of those relationships were on rather thin ice — like the wrong comment or shared article on social media might suffice to sever a years-long bond.  

Ironically, it was the words of our previous President  — someone with whom I’ve rarely agreed — which were then called to mind: 

If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from hisoint of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Okay – so that referenced skin, not shoes, but the point is the same.  We’re so afraid to do that anymore — or worse, it doesn’t even occur to us, like it’s beneath us to extend that sort of consideration to one another.  As someone who’s spent much of my life being “wrongheaded” in the eyes of many people I know, respect and love, I call hogwash.  Your ears aren’t going to fall off and you’re not going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West if you hear or read a viewpoint that doesn’t match your own.  You may not ever agree with it.  You may even find it uncomfortable or even repugnant. But you will live. And maybe, just maybe, gain a smidge of understanding as to where that other person is coming from.  Which isn’t a horrible thing. In fact, when you realize that, viewpoints aside, they lace their shoes up just like you, the world starts to look a little less angry and bleak.  

I took a moment yesterday afternoon to remark on Facebook on the fact that the presence in my timeline of vastly different takes on the transition from Obama to Trump assured me that I have a diverse group of friends. I love them all, and wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d gladly walk a mile in their shoes — or, at least, with them in their shoes.  Or better yet, go shoe shopping.    

shoes

Election Reflection

38 years ago, I was a big Jimmy Carter fan. I was 8, so maybe my adoration of the peanut farmer with the big smile wasn’t based on sound governing or political principles.  Certainly, my worldview and personal philosophies have changed quite a bit since then, so that adoration has long since abated. Still, I was very excited that November for the presidential race, and was disappointed that I had to go to bed before they called it.  When my Mom greeted me with the newspaper the following morning, she smiled and said, “Don’t gloat.”  (She knew a certain boy I liked was a Ford fan and we’d been smack-talking in the days leading up to the election in the way that 8 year olds do.)  

And she was right. It’s a bit unseemly to gloat after an election that goes the way you wanted it to.  It’s certainly unpleasant to see others do it when the shoe is on the other foot. And it feeds fully into the whole “politics as team sports” mentality which is, in my view, one of the sorriest aspects of our politics these days. In the end, all the “wins” in the world don’t guarantee that those elected will execute their sworn duties faithfully and effectively or govern in a way that benefits their constituency and/or America as a whole more than it benefits them and/or their cronies personally.  The GOP had a good night last night. The reptilian/team sport part of my brain is gratified.  The rest of me is skeptical.  

It’s impossible for me to think of politics — and particularly, election night watch parties and returns — without thinking of my parents.  They are the source of my political junkiedom.  I know I’ve written of it before, but my Dad was at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and came home from that only to have to turn around and take my Mom to the hospital to have me.  They had me out helping them plant campaign signs as a toddler.  Later, in my early teen years, the three of us trekked to Washington D.C., where, in addition to visiting the monument-must-see’s, we also visited with Congressmen Robert Young and Ike Skelton.  Ike was my Dad’s law school roommate and generously took me with him when he was called to the floor of the House to cast a vote. He even let me push the button for him (shhhhh…don’t tell.  I wish I could remember what the vote was.)  In fact, I recently re-posted a picture of Ike and me on the Capitol steps after that visit on the one year anniversary of his passing.  

I know my folks were intent on spending last evening plunked in front of the television watching the results roll in.  But…you know what they say about those best laid plans….  Dad had a bit of a scare last night.  His blood pressure suddenly dropped very low and he passed out while he and Mom were having dinner at home. He’d come to by the time the paramedics arrived, and was feeling well enough before they left the house to remind my Mom to tape his television shows, and to take my sister’s call on his cell phone while in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Later, while he was waiting for them to get a room set up, he made sure to request one with a TV so he could watch the election returns.  (These things are so very my Dad I can’t help but smile at them all.)  He’s stable and they’re simply hanging onto him (last night and possibly tonight) to monitor things and make sure he’s okay. I’m sure he will be, but prayers for him are certainly welcome and appreciated if you’re so inclined. 

My politics are quite different from my Dad’s these days, and I imagine the outcomes that pleased me last night are the ones that displeased him, and vice-versa. That’s okay.  He’s my Dad and I love him, quirks and all, more than words can say.  

 

Dad

What MORE DO YOU Want?

Last week, a friend and I got into a bit of a debate on his Facebook page. The genesis of the discussion had very little to do with fiscal policy.  It actually grew out of my defending TEA Party conservatism from the charge that it is extreme and full of hateful racists and fascists. But when I pointed out that advocating for limited government, tax reform and sounder fiscal policies is not extreme, nor is it hateful, nor is it anti-Semitic, Nazi-like or fascist, my friend responded that smaller government has been happening over the past two years, spending and the deficit are both way down, and that there have been no tax increases of any kind in the past five years and taxes are at a historic low, and then asked, “What MORE DO YOU want?”  While I disagree with his premises (and will explain why below), the question itself is a fair one, and one which warrants an answer if there is any hope for meaningful discourse between those who hold opposing political and policy viewpoints.  I promised to respond when I had the opportunity to do so, as I figure to fully and fairly answer that question will require more than just a few words in a Facebook comment. Following is my attempt to do so:

First, as alluded above, I’d quibble with the premises.  1) “Smaller government has been happening over the past two years.”  This may be a definitional issue, but I’m hard-pressed to see how this is so. If we’re speaking purely in terms of spending by the federal government, this link provides a helpful starting point for analyzing that.  (Please note, I’m citing the White House itself, which I’m fairly certain my friend would consider an acceptable source.)  The first Table (1.1) lays out the “Summary of Receipts, Outlays, and Surpluses or Deficits 1789-2019.”  I didn’t ask my friend for a clarification as to what he meant by “the past two years.”  We’re mid-April, 2014, so do we look at mid-April, 2012 to present day?  Well, the table doesn’t really break it down that way — rather, it goes by calendar year.  So, do we just go with 2012 and 2013 and compare them to 2011?  If we do, we’ll see that outlays in 2011 were $3,603,059,000,000. (The numbers in the table are presented in millions of dollars.)  (Aside: Holy HELL that’s a boatload of dollars!) By comparison, outlays in 2012 were $3,537,127,000,000.  Yes. That’s a smaller number than in 2011. In 2013, outlays were $3,454,605,000,000 — an even smaller number. So, at first blush, I’ll concede that, by that measure — i.e., spending only and comparing calendar years 2012 and 2013 — “smaller government has been happening over the past two years.”  In the interest of context, I’m going to include the numbers for the five years preceding and five years following (based on the government’s estimates):

  • 2009 – $3,517,677,000,000
  • 2010 – $3,457,079,000,000
  • 2011 – $3,603,059,000,000
  • 2012 – $3,537,127,000,000
  • 2013 – $3,454,605,000,000
  • 2014 – $3,650,526,000,000
  • 2015 – $3,900,989,000,000
  • 2016 – $4,099,078,000,000
  • 2017 – $4,268,606,000,000
  • 2018 – $4,443,145,000,000
  • 2019 – $4,728,791,000,000

Couple things to note here: 1) Even if we can agree that outlays are down in 2012 and 2013, clearly, the White House is not predicting they will continue trending that way. Not by a long shot.  2) But BUSH!  Yes, indeed.  In the eight years of GWB’s presidency, outlays increased (steadily) from $1,862,846,000,000 in 2001 to $2,982,544,000,000 in 2008. (That’s an increase of 60%, for those who really like to go nitty-gritty. And it’s utterly unacceptable. Sorry, you won’t see me defending many — if any — of George Bush’s fiscal policies. That ain’t my bag, baby. That ginormous jump you see between 2008 and 2009? That’s called TARP and the Stimulus. Both of which yours truly railed about. Oh, hey, some may recall that the TEA Party movement was born long about the same time as TARP and Stimulus were enacted.) 3) I’m far from a math/econ whiz, but I do understand that there’s this thing called inflation, and, in order to make apples to apples comparisons, that may need to be taken into account.  I believe Table 1.3 sets forth the numbers in current and constant dollars for anyone who’d like to delve that deep. As I peruse it, the trends appear to correlate, but I’m sure someone will be happy to point out to me where I’m wrong if I am.  4) There’s another way to look at these numbers and that is to assess outlays as a percentage of our GDP.  Table 1.2 handily does that for us – In 2011, the percentage was 23.4%; in 2012, 22.0%; in 2013, 20.8% — certainly an arguable step in the right direction, though the predictions for 2014-2019 having it creeping back up the other way. 

All of which is to say that if we’re looking purely at spending in the calendar years 2012 and 2013 as compared to 2011 as a measure of “smaller government happening,” okay, then yes. But, as I noted above, that followed a sharp increase, and downward isn’t the direction we’re trending. And, more importantly, I interpret “government” to encompass not only spending, but regulation, action, function and not purely federal, but at all levels.  So, when I advocate for “limited government,” I’m contemplating all of those things. The ACA alone belies the notion of “smaller government happening” in the past two years. Then we have the multitude of other arenas in which government continues to inject itself into everything from land ownership to soft drink size. No. Not a fan. Step off.

But before I head off down that road, let’s take a look at the other premises my friend mentioned: 2) “Spending and the deficit are both way down.”  Well, I’ve already addressed spending in the paragraphs above, but just to review, between 2011 and 2013, outlays decreased from $3,603,059,000,000 to $3,454,605,000,000.  That’s a decrease of $148,454,000,000.  No question, that’s a LOT of dollars. But it’s a decrease of only 4%. I’m not sure that qualifies as “WAY” down. Alright, well, what about the deficit? He didn’t include a time frame for that, so it makes sense to me to compare it over the same timeframes discussed above.  From 2011 to 2013, the deficit decreased from $1,299,593,000,000 to $679,502,000,000.  Now THAT’S something to write home about – a 47% decrease! Good. I like that.  We’re still operating at a considerable deficit.  (That’s $678 billion dollars.)  We’re also carrying a gross debt of $17,152,000,000,000.  (That’s $17 trillion dollars.) Is this really something for which we ought be patting ourselves on the back?  I’m not cool with this.  Are you?  

Okay, third premise: 3) “There have been no tax increases of any kind in the past five years.”  No. This is flatly incorrect.  If we’re purely talking income tax rates, the top rate held steady at 35% from 2003-2012.  (The infamous “Bush Tax Cuts.”)  In 2013, that increased to 39.6%.  Link.  The corporate tax rate has held steady at 35%.  But income tax isn’t the only form of tax. For example, the Individual Mandate “penalty” under the ACA was held by the United States Supreme Court to be a tax. Additionally, there is a new tax on investment income: “A new $123 billion tax on investment income, which took effect in January 2013, places a 3.8% surtax on investment income on households with more than $250,000 in annual income or $200,000 for individuals.” Link. And then (from the same link) there are the following: 

  • The Cadillac Tax
  • The High Bills Tax
  • The Health Savings Account Tax
  • The Indoor Tanning Tax
  • The High Risk Tax
  • The Medicare Tax   

That HSA tax is one which has already directly affected me. (Don’t even get me started on increased premiums and deductibles, and that elusive $2,500 of savings….)   And I’ve neither the time nor patience to dissect the current status of state and local taxes, though I suspect my friend was referring purely to federal taxes.  

Last premise: “Taxes are at a historic low.”  Again, we have a clarification issue here.  Does he mean rates?  Does he mean receipts? And what does “historic” mean?  All time? Lately?  Generally not a fan of linking to Wiki, but about two-thirds of the way down this page, there’s a chart of historical income tax rates from 1913 to 2013.  (Of course, before 1913, there wasn’t an income tax, so, by definition, we can’t be talking about an all-time historic low.)  During that century, the top rate has varied from 7% to the current 39.6% — with stops in between as high as 94% (what the ever-livin hell?!)  The first bracket rate was initially 1%, and is presently 10%, reaching a high point of 23% during WWII. So, unless we’re measuring “historic” as “within the past twenty years, or so,” then that doesn’t appear to be the case. Same goes for corporate tax rates. (As you might expect, receipts have fairly steadily increased over time — they were $2,775,103,000,000 in 2013. Even adjusted to constant dollars.  (See first link provided.)) 

So, in large part, I must respectfully disagree with the premises raised by my friend. That said, what more DO I want? Where to begin?

Well, as I mentioned at the outset – I’d like to see limited government. What I mean by that is not simply “less spending.” Really, I mean less almost everything. I’m a BIG fan of the Constitution and of the role and function of our federal government as set forth therein. To that end, I’d like to see us scale back not only spending, but government involvement and oversight into what we say, with whom we associate, how we practice our faith (or non-faith), how we educate our children, whom we choose to marry, for whom we choose to work, how we choose to compensate our employees, whatever firearms we choose to own and use (or not), with whom we communicate via phone, e-mail, social media or other, what we drink, what we eat, what we smoke, what sort of health insurance we opt to purchase (or not), etc. I’m pretty libertarian on most things these days. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t advocate zero government. But limited. MUCH more limited than what we presently have. 

Tax reform? Oh yes, I’d like some SERIOUS tax reform. I’d like to see us move to a consumption tax along the lines of the Fair Tax (rather than an income tax), or barring that, a flat tax. Simplify, streamline. Do away with tax policy as a political tool to be wielded by our elected representatives. Taxes are supposed to pay for NECESSARY governmental functions. Not to fund an ever-expanding and increasingly unaccountable slush fund, and not to beat this or that segment over the head or give this group some cushy deal. 

Sounder fiscal policies? Well, they go hand-in-hand with limited government and tax reform, but to state what should be obvious: Quit spending money we don’t have! Quit setting up programs that perpetuate dependency rather than fostering independence. Quit subsidizing this industry or that interest group. Quit bailing out failed enterprises. Quit enacting policies that stifle growth. Recognize that growth is possible and preferred to simply redistributing from one group to another. Quit pitting fellow citizens against one another in order to shore up voting blocs. Quit enacting regulations and legislation that are so tangled and complex no one can figure out what the hell they even mean. Start advocating for your country rather than your political party. (Okay, those last few weren’t purely fiscal policy-related, but I was on a roll.) 

Most of all, what I want is to be able to express the above views, discuss them with my fellow citizens — be they right-leaning, left-leaning or non-leaning — and identify with a political movement which espouses them without being branded as a racist, a fascist, an anti-Semite, ignorant, rabid or extreme.  

Image

A Narrow Stretch of Common Ground

I don’t read Sally Kohn’s work much. She and I are diametrical opposites, ideologically speaking, and usually when I do see something she’s written, it’s eyeroll-inducing.  (I’m sure she’d say the same about me if I had a recognizable byline.)  Nonetheless, she posted a piece today which caught my attention not for its objectionability, but for its recognition that conservatives are people, too.

I talked about it on our show tonight, noting that, while I’m not ready to break out the peace pipe and start singing Kumbaya, I found her realization (and her acknowledgment of it) pleasantly surprising.  Getting ideological opponents to see you as human and decent and…likable is no small thing. It opens up the possibility of constructive dialogue. Though it doesn’t guarantee it, it’s a damn sight more likely to lead to it than rhetorical bomb-throwing. There’s a flip side to that, as well. When you see another as an individual, rather than a label — when you recognize they’re more than just their team logo — you’re far more likely to approach them with decency, too. And, in turn, far more likely to be heard. 

“Who cares?” some will think. Well, I care. Because, to put it in the simplest of terms, it comes down to hearts and minds. You can’t implement the ideals you believe are most effective/helpful/beneficial without winning elections. You can’t win elections without garnering votes. You can’t garner votes without persuading voters. You can’t persuade voters by calling them ignorant morons or hateful bigots.  If your ideas derive from common sense and promote universally appealing concepts like liberty — they’ll resonate. But not if you’ve already been tuned out.  

So, I applaud Ms. Kohn for her commentary today. It may just a narrow stretch of common ground we found. But it’s a start. 

Image