It had been too long since I'd met my favorite senior citizen siblings for lunch. Maddie was the closest thing I knew to an idiot savant in the social realm: she seemed profoundly insightful about love and tragically misinformed about politics. Bernard, by contrast, was a deep (if sometimes unorthodox) thinker when it came to politics but seemed perpetually baffled by relationships. And yet they were delightfully fond of each other, and I of them.
Maddie shook her head, “And now these socialist networking sites are all over the Internets.”
“These sites like myface,” she said. “I heard Glen Beck call them socialist networking sites.”
“Um,” I began, hardly knowing where to begin. “You mean facebook and my space?”
“Whatever,” Maddie said. “I just think it’s awful. They’re indoctrinating all these young kids who spend so much time on the computer.”
Bernard scoffed. “Maddie, you have to stop watching nut jobs like Bleck.”
“You mean Beck,” Maddie corrected him.
“Yes,” Bernard said unrepentantly. “Bleck.”
“So you think that Obama is a socialist,” I asked.
“Don’t,” Bernard rose his hand at me, looking disgusted, “get her started” he finished in a whisper.
Fortunately, Maddie did not say much. She just touched my arm and leaned in to say, “Oh honey. Everybody knows that.”
“If only Joe McCarthy had known is was so easy to spot a socialist," Bernard shook his head. "The new definition of socialist is someone who wants to increase government spending on something other than aircraft carriers. You know what’s really wrong with this country,” he asked.
“Country music station in every town and not a single folk station to be found anywhere,” I asked.
“What does he mean by that,” Maddie asked, turning to Bernard with a look of confusion.
“Nothing Maddie. He’s just talking nonsense.”
I almost protested but realized that until the waiter came with his food, Bernard was going to be cantankerous. His blood sugar was low.
“What’s wrong with this country, Bernard?”
“Politics have been hijacked by the drug dealers.”
“Nobody can raise taxes. Not Obama and certainly no Republican will do it.”
“As if Republicans want to raise taxes.”
“You’re too young to remember that under Eisenhower, a Republican president, marginal income tax rates were 91%. Republicans didn’t use to be just about lower taxes. We liked balanced budgets and social responsibility too.”
“We?” I was shocked. “You were a Republican?”
“Well, sure. Any thinking person was. But now Republicans don’t even have an ideology. They just have a mantra. And it’s worked to hypnotize the masses. Nobody even questions the inane premise behind it now.”
“Republicans are not ideological?” This threw me even more than his claim to have been a Republican.
“They don’t have an ideology. They have a chant: lower taxes! Lower taxes!” Bernard pounded the table like a soccer hooligan as he chanted.
“Finally,” Maddie said, “you are on board.”
Without missing a beat, Bernard asked, “So Maddie, what level of taxes would be ideal?”
“Well you just said it, Bernie: lower.”
“And there you have it,” Bernard announced with a flourish. “Chanting ‘lower taxes’ regardless of whether your marginal rate is 91% like it was under Eisenhower or 28% like it was under Reagan – without regard for policy needs or deficits – is not an ideology. It is political Tourette’s – a vocal tic that means nothing.”
“I’m lost, Bernard.” And I really was lost. I was trying to make sense of the jump from drug dealers hijacking politics to the lower taxes mantra. “What does this have to do with drug dealers?”
“Well, who benefits if we underfund government to the point that it can’t be sustained? Where else do we see low taxes and weak government?”
“Well, there is Mexico just over the border.”
“Exactly!” Bernard jumped up. He always seemed so relieved when I caught up to him. “Taxes there are about 18% of GDP – about half of ours. And the government is, like Colombia’s, essentially at the mercy of drug dealers. They own the country. And the government is too weak to fight back.”
“So you think that the guys behind the anti-tax movement are the drug dealers?”
“Yes! With a weak government, the drug dealers are like Machiavellian princes. They live in luxury and without constraints.”
I paused. “That’s a crazy idea, Bernard.” He waited me out. “But I have to admit it makes sense.”
Bernard was looking more calm now, halfway through his turkey and avocado sandwich. “And really, what better example of the ideal of unregulated markets than the drug trade,” he asked.
“So you think that the Republican Party has been hijacked by drug dealers?”
“Who better to hypnotize a population past the point of thinking?” Bernard shook his head. “This is not your grandfather’s GOP.”