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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jason Bjorklund Demonstrates Irrelevance of Glenn Beck Karaoke

Last week's AAUW candidates forum brought us the first major public performance of Madison's best example of a Tea Party candidate, Jason Bjorklund, "Independent" candidate for District 8 State House.

Check that: Bjorklund has been giving public "performances" of sorts for more than a year, leading Madison 9-12 Project meetings. Those performances have consisted mostly of aping the high-flown mishmash of political philosophy and paranoia that Bjorklund and fellow 9-12 Project members osmose from Glenn Beck and other conservative celebrity entertainers. They distinguish and comfort themselves with shibboleths like "full-reserve banking" and "We're a republic, not a democracy!" But they say little that is relevant to practical South Dakota politics.

Jason Bjorklund's performance at last week's forum was no different.

In his prepared introduction, Bjorklund contends "regulation and taxation" caused the recession that put his trucking company out of business. Let's be generous and not cite numerous other possible causes, like bad theology, concentration of wealth, Bush tax cuts, consumer debt, and deregulation. Accept Bjorklund's thesis. Which specific South Dakota regulations and taxes caused the recession? What South Dakota regulations and taxes would Bjorklund repeal if elected?

Bjorklund says illegal immigrants are violating the rule of law, and rule of law is fundamental to a republic. True and good. But how does this Glenn Beck pastiche guide policy in Pierre? What legislation in any of the past several sessions has dealt with illegal immigration?

Bjorklund claims the term "regressive tax" is a little subjective. Actually, no, it's a pretty objective definition:

Tax systems can be progressive, regressive, or proportional. A tax system is regressive if taxes, as a percentage of income, are higher for low income households than for high income households. A tax system is progressive if the opposite is true--that is, taxes as a percentage of income are lower for low income households than for high income households. In a proportional tax system, taxes as a percent of income are about the same for low and high income households [Jeff Van Wychen, "Progressive Taxation: Not So Bad for Business After All," Minnesota 2020, 2008.01.21].

If Bjorklund is such a proud member of the working class, why does he not stand up for a fairer tax system for the working class? Because Glenn Beck preaches just enough pablum to win that audience share, but not enough to make them realize the policies his philosophy facilitates shifts income and burdens to favor rich folks like Glenn Beck.

Bjorklund claims we could reduce the state budget by taking less federal money. He contends that taking federal money actually increases our tax burden, since we have to come up with matching funds. I have seen no fiscal analysis that proves this. That's certainly not how the disaster funds we're begging for works. A federal disaster declaration makes it possible for us to get reimbursed for up to 75% of eligible disaster clean-up costs. We could choose not to apply for any federal disaster assistance... but then we'd be stuck paying 100% of the disaster clean-up costs. Rejecting federal funds does not save South Dakota money.

Bjorklund gets kudos from me for being honest about the extent of his teabaggery. In response to Gerry Lange's question about whether any of us would turn away the $4.5 million in federal stimulus dollars recently allocated to the Lewis and Clark water system, Bjorklund raises his hand to indicate he would. I give Bjorklund kudos for his consistency: he is the only South Dakota Republican/conservative candidate I've heard state honestly what all that anti-government rhetric would mean in terms of bringing new infrastructure projects in South Dakota to a grinding halt. I doubt you will hear any of Madison's political leaders offering similar kudos.

Bjorklund still can't just up and say that we were fools to hand TransCanada millions of dollars in tax rebates. He stumbles in the right direction, grasping for the property-rights talking point to criticize the use of eminent domain for the pipeline. But then he stumbles back to questioning why the taxes were so high in the first place that we had to give money back to TransCanada. Bjorklund is thus suggesting that that TransCanada should pay even less for the privilege of plowing two lines across our state and subjecting us to the environmental hazard of oil leaks and pipeline explosions. Accountability and responsibility are big buzzwords for the Glenn Beck crowd, but not if we try to apply those words to the responsibility big corporations have to the real South Dakota communities that assume their risks and make possible their wealth. Bjorklund just can't loosen his desperate grasp of the Glenn Beck talking points and talk about the practical fiscal and legal realities of the Keystone pipeline.

Bjorklund most effectively demonstrated the complete irrelevance of the Glenn Beck agenda to real South Dakota politics in the last question of last week's forum. Asked to discuss the South Dakota education system, Bjorklund launches into a declaration of the failure of the public education system. He claims to be a "victim" of Madison's public education system, bored and pushed into youthful trouble by insufficiently challenging curriculum (note how the great advocates of personal responsibility still manage to blame their own troubles on someone else). He says we need to infuse some free-market principles into education, let money follow the child, let parents make real choices. He points with no hint of irony to Washington, DC, as the model we should follow, with all of its competitive, low-cost private and charter schools.

Bjorklund's education response demonstrates the utter irrelevance of Glenn Beck talking points to practical local government. Bjorklund's boilerplate response about the erosion of the public school system ignores the fact that a lot of parents and teachers in Woonsocket, Howard, Ramona, Rutland, Madison, Chester, and Flandreau are awfully proud of the education they provide their students on pretty tight budgets. Bjorklund's response ignores the practical impossibility of establishing competitive, affordable charter schools anywhere in South Dakota except our largest communities. It ignores the fact that for a lot of South Dakota families, there just isn't a second school to choose from, not without incurring a lot more driving, a lot more expense, and a lot more time separated from family and community.

I could happily launch into a tirade about the general philosophical problem with running education like the free market: there are some valuable social goods, like education, that everyone deserves, regardless of ability to pay. The only way to ensure that kids from poor families have the opportunity to climb the economic ladder is to give them all the best education the public can support. Education must be "all together" not "every man for himself..."

...but over-general philosophical tirades are the preferred bailiwick of the Glenn Beck club. I could beat them there. But I prefer to challenge Bjorklund and the 9-12ers to try debating real, practical issues, specific to South Dakota, specific to Madison (like the luxury gym our school district wants to build: there's a slam-dunk issue for crusaders against government waste). Glenn Beck fans like Bjorklund can't do that, because Glenn Beck never tells them what to think about such state or local issues. The daily community governance problems we face in South Dakota never make Glenn Beck's radar because they don't draw audience share or advertisers.

Jason Bjorklund has lots of ideas about government. Unfortunately, those ideas have much more to do with the market-tested screeds of celebrity entertainers than with the practical business of levying taxes, paving roads, paying cops, and maintaining schools here in South Dakota. Jason Bjorklund and his 9-12ers make nice speeches, but they aren't ready to govern.

1 comment:

  1. South Dakota relies on state owned businesses, and maybe that is the path to move forward on. We had a cement plant(now a fund), a state retirement pension, a loan fund, and we even self-insure our state employess.

    We would be better off with a state owned pipeline. We will connect our to transcanada and maintain it ourselves. We could even build our own state oil refinery.


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