In last November's election, Latinos gave two out of three votes to Democratic candidates. At the same time, other Americans gave the Democrats a stinging defeat. The House shifted from a secure Democratic majority to a big Republican one. Democrats held the US Senate -- barely. State governments shifted heavily in Republicans favor, in state legislatures and governors' offices.
So, if the question is, "What should Latinos expect from the new Congress?," the answer is, "Not much." By the lights of many of our guests on this week's Destination Casa Blanca, that's exactly the way it should be. Not to punish a voting group that withheld its support, mind you, but because a tapped out federal government just can't afford to do all the things it has been over the past several years.
What began as what was intended to be a discussion built around political analysis of the new powers in the House turned into an interesting philosophical conversation about government, taxation, and expectations.
Currently, the federal government is spending vast sums in excess of what it collects in taxes, fees, trade duties, and mineral royalties. It pays interest on the decades of already borrowed money. It pays to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It pays to promote American exports overseas. It pays to patrol the 1400-mile border with Mexico. It supports local school systems from coast to coast, gives poor families the cash to buy food, and recently stopped General Motors from sliding headlong into bankruptcy.
One of our guests, Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute, wanted a small federal government, but didn't believe the newly empowered Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill were going to give him one. Israel Ortega of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation stressed his organization's support for low taxes, lower government spending, and fewer federal duties. Bowden and Ortega agreed that emphasizing local management and local innovation would improve education more effectively than federal government oversight.
But Neera Tande of the Center for American Progress answered that government exists in part to accomplish things for people who need help. Whether it's getting medical care to someone with no money, or making sure that local schools lift the life chances of children from poor families, governments make life better throughout a society, Tande insisted. People who support effective government stress that they are not in love with government for its own sake. If compassion doesn't motivate citizens to support education, medical care, or other government-supported programs, maybe utility will.
Bad government services percolate throughout the society. Poorly educated workers pay less taxes. They'll contribute less to your social security check. They will own less expensive houses, and support local public schools at a lower level, and risk repeating the cycle of low educational attainment and low adult income and life expectancy.
Our conservative panelists envision a much different country. It's a place where wealth creators keep more of the wealth they make, and share less of it with governments at all levels. But this is not a problem, they reason, because a society with a smaller government is one where taxation does not discourage achievement, and regulation doesn't tamp down production.
It was a good conversation. You can listen to excerpts at the Destination Casa Blanca web site.