Big Hat, No Cattle






The ranchers in South Dakota have lost their cattle.

A freak October blizzard roamed across the state earlier this week, depositing up to five feet of snow across the Black Hills, catching tens of thousands of cows stranded in pastures where they died of exposure.

This is a tragedy, make no mistake about it. These ranchers borrow huge amounts from the bank in anticipation of bringing those cattle to market and recouping their investment. Now, those cattle are gone, their corpses piled up three and four high in ditches. I’m not sure what role insurance plays in this transaction, but, given the article’s aura of gloom and doom, we can assume that people are gonna get hurt.

I read this story in the New York Times on Tuesday, 10/16. A few fractions of an inch above this story was another story, about the end of the Government Shutdown.

Now, I know, I know. No one wants to hear about the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate anymore, about how one political party, possessed of one portion of one house of Congress and loser of the popular vote in Senate and presidential races in recent years, sought to emancipate the American people from health care reform and a federal debt that has been declining as a share of gross domestic product since 2009.

So let’s talk about cows. Things looked bad for the farmers for a while, according to the Times.

Ranchers looking for guidance on how to document their losses with the federal Farm Service Agency, whose workers have been furloughed, are, as some here say, “plumb out of luck.” And the stalling of a farm bill in Congress has left many families skeptical about whether disaster relief will ever come. South Dakotans are fiercely self-reliant, but they now feel invisible as they ask federal officials to lend a hand.

You’ll remember that the farm bill was stalled in July because House Republicans were stripping it of the food-stamp funding authorizations that have accompanied the farm bill for decades. Farmers and Huge Agri-Businesses: Lucky. Unemployed Moms: Not So Much.

Anyway, the government shutdown was ended and default was averted at the cost of a mere $24 billion in lost revenues. House Republicans, who campaign yearly on the virtues of cutting the $455 million Public Broadcasting System budget must have figured $24 billion was enough money to spend accomplishing absolutely nothing at all. Once government hummed back to life, things started looking up for the ranchers.

The [debt ceiling] legislation could include a livestock disaster program that provides assistance for producers in dire straits. Kristi Noem, a Republican who is South Dakota’s sole House member, was recently appointed to a committee tasked with hashing out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure.

Like you, I’m very happy for the ranchers. Government in action, and all that. Only, here’s the thing. Several months ago, Senate Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed to government aid to New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They delayed and delayed the vote until they could sneak back to their home states over Christmas. Even when that vote was finally permitted in January, 36 out of 45 GOP senators courageously voted against the disaster relief. Among those senators voting against Sandy relief was John Thune, esteemed Republican Senator from South Dakota.

They had good reason to do so, of course. Everyone in New Jersey is an untrustworthy thief, hopelessly addicted to government handouts. Everyone in South Dakota believes in freedom.

Now you may be sensing a disconnect here, so I’ll let Gary Cammack, a South Dakota state representative and rancher who lost about a fourth of his herd, explain it to you. Here is his explanation of the “fiercely self-reliant” South Dakotan philosophy, as offered to the Times:

If this event had happened to one rancher, if he had lost everything that he owned, you would not hear one word from us,” Mr. Cammack said. “We would pull together and make him whole. But how do you do that when you’re all in the same boat?

Let me translate the above into language the typical New Jerseyan might understand. It would go something like this:

If this stuff had happened to someone else, we could safely ignore it and go back to seeking the freedom our Founding Fathers envisioned. However, it happened to me, so the welfare state needs to mobilize, pronto.

*                    *                    *

I work in advertising. I never have, and never will, work for the government. Last year, my base federal tax rate was 25%, or ten percentage points higher than the rate paid by Mitt Romney, who pays a 15% rate because his income is subject to the Carried Interest Tax Break granted to “makers” as opposed to “takers.” (Yes, we all know that Mitt’s actual tax rate is far lower than that, based on a perfect storm of tax write-offs which Mitt, quite sensibly, refused to ever disclose during his quixotic candidacy for president last year.) Next year, I’ll pay 28%. That rate will be 28 percentage points higher than that paid by General Electric, which has actually received enormous tax rebates from the US government since time immemorial.

Mitt Romney and GE are very vocal advocates of lowering tax rates and “getting government spending under control.” So are a lot of GOP senators and House representatives. They tend to be most vocal on this subject when a Democrat is in the White House. Hence the most recent government shutdown, and the next one coming in February of 2014. (Again, no one wants to talk about the enormous increases in US federal debt under the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies, and the decreases in debt under Clinton and, recently, Obama. That would be boring.)

Let’s talk about this instead. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who are on the government payroll and always have been, who will happily expound, hour after hour, about the evils of government spending. Their job, their claim upon taxpayers’ largesse, is self-evidently valid, whether they’re a US senator or some guy working for the post office or an Iowa farmer dumping soybeans on the US government at 200% over the free-market rate or a defense contractor selling $1 trillion helicopters that only fly when the sun is shining. They’re all performing an essential function.

It’s the other guy who is always gaming the system.

A lot of people, myself included, are often frustrated by the Democrats’ inability to coherently express their philosophy of government. The Republicans’ philosophy of government, on the other hand, is very persuasive and exciting.

Every man for himself! Free hard-working Americans from the yoke of government tyranny! Live Free or Die!

Here, in a few words, is the Democratic theory of government.

What’s fair for one is fair for all.

Here’s the theory of government adhered to by our our friends in South Dakota.

What’s fair for me is fair for me. And fuck y’all.

Related: Election Morning After: GOP Soul Searching Begins

Related: The Revolution This Time

Related: Attack Of The Very Serious People




Leave a Reply