So You Think You Can be President?

In a country with a functional political system, Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy would be laughed out of the room.

I mean, really. This is the 21st century, right? It’s the information age.

Is it reasonable to take seriously a candidate who doesn’t believe in evolution, is contemptuous of even the possibility of climate change, and calls the chairman of the Federal Reserve a traitor for attempting to help the economy?

It…is…not.

Gov. Perry’s dismissal of global warming is especially ironic. His state, Texas, is in the midst of the hottest weather and longest drought in its history. Fittingly, when Perry led a mass prayer meeting to ask God for relief, God answered by giving him the biggest wildfire in the state’s history.

You might imagine that the “lamestream media” — the aggressive left-leaning press that exists largely in the fevered imaginations of the hard right — would characterize him as a fool and buffoon.

It…does…not.

It considers him a legitimate candidate, a worthy opponent for President Barack Obama. Actually, he’s dumber than Michele Bachmann.

Perry doesn’t get an entirely free pass, of course. Following a recent debate among leading GOP presidential hopefuls, the media got on him (naturally) for his least crazy statement — his calling Social Security “a Ponzi scheme.” You would have thought he’d insulted Nancy Reagan

(DonkeyHotey / Flickr)

(DonkeyHotey / Flickr)

In reality, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, of a kind. It was sold as an insurance program, but it never was. It depends on people putting money into the system faster than other people take it out. That’s classic Ponzi.

But Social Security isn’t the theft kind of Ponzi. It’s one that simply recognizes that younger generations have a societal responsibility to help support older generations. That responsibility is becoming heavy, however.

When Social Security began in the 1930s, there were far more workers than retirees, and the retirees didn’t, as a rule, live all that long. Providing them with a minimal lifetime income was a cinch. That’s no longer the case. We can now see a time when each worker will be supporting a single retiree, who in turn expects to keep driving around in his or her RV. Not going to happen.

My solution would be to raise or even eliminate the cap on payroll tax contributions. That way, a guy who makes $30 million-a-year would pay the same percentage of his income into Social Security as the guy who cleans his office. (I guess I’m just a flat-taxer at heart.) In any case, something has to be done, and we’re not doing it.

Overall, that Republican debate was kind of depressing, inspiring an “Is this all there is?” feeling.

Mitt Romney continued his imitation of the job-seeking teacher who, when asked if he believed the earth was round, said: “I can teach it round and I can teach it flat.”

Bachmann didn’t do much. The rest of them were…the rest of them.

Folks, we’re trying to pick someone who might become the next U.S. president. There’s no sign so far that Republicans actually care which candidate would make the best president. They just want the thrill of a contest. I thought that’s what “So You Think You Can Dance?” was for.

The day after that Republican debate, Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on the economy where he laid out a program that would create jobs, cut taxes, and might do some good.

The Republicans of course were dismissive, even though he promised to travel the country hitting them over the head with their reluctance to provide jobs for workers instead of tax cuts for people who don’t need them.

All of which is fine. But his solution, while welcome, is still too timid. It’s better than nothing but where was this speech and this program last year?

We’ve officially got 14 million Americans unemployed, and the total number of people who are out of work, have given up looking for work, or are scraping by with part-time jobs when they want to work full-time is an estimated 25 million. Yet these guys keep playing games.

None of this would be happening if the news media were still alive.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org