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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Filler: The one political position that actually makes sense

"We're headed to the polls to vote in a presidential election, and neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is the fiscal conservative-social progressive leader most people want," writes Lane Filler. Credit: M. Ryder / Tribune Media Services

In the debate over Obamacare, one of the most commonly repeated exchanges has been:

Conservative politician/pundit: "It's unaffordable, and it's going to bankrupt our nation."

Scornful liberal, scornfully: "That's exactly what you conservatives said about Social Security and Medicare, and look how beloved they are now."

Somehow, though, conservatives never knocked this out of the park with the obvious response: "Wait . . . you realize Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting our nation, don't you? Are you recording an episode of 'Candid Camera' or is this a serious conversation?"

In arguments over the government granting people the right to services and commodities like food, clothing, shelter, money and health care, conservatives are always right about the lack of affordability.

It all costs more than we predict (or wish), because these programs change behaviors and outcomes. They affect decisions on how many kids to have, how long (or whether) to work, how much health care to procure, or whether to buy an expensive policy to pay for nursing home care, and so on.

So Social Security worked, kind of, for 75 years, but had to be reconfigured twice and now needs a third overhaul. Based on what we know of life expectancy, benefit levels, contribution amounts and birthrates, it is a ticking bomb that is going to make our national budget look like Wile E. Coyote after a particularly poor Acme purchase.

And then Medicare and Medicaid will toss the nation's fiscal prospects off a cliff, and Obamacare will drop an anvil on them, destroying what valuable resources -- pennies, thumbtacks, free car wash coupons -- are left.

So, hooray for conservatives, history tells us. Except . . .

In debates over rights, history always proves progressives correct. Liberals argued black people had the right to be free, to vote, to go to integrated schools, to use public facilities and enjoy every liberty white people do.

Similar arguments have taken place over the rights of women, Jews, Italians, Irish, the disabled and others.

Conservatives have opposed the expansion of rights to these groups, publicly citing the Bible or "decency" or "innate differences" or tradition, often saying in private, "I hate those people. So, so much."

But in retrospect we always see that rights extended to any person should be for all, and the old debates come to seem hateful and ridiculous. We see those who fought against rights expansions, in 1850 or 1950, as morally bankrupt.

So, history tells us, progressives are going to keep being right about rights -- and anti-gay and anti-Hispanic crusaders aren't going to fare well in the reputation category come 2050.

And history tells us that fiscally conservative-socially liberal is the political stance that makes the most sense.

Why is Bill Clinton, the central character in the ickiest (blue dress, oy) investigation in our political history, still so popular? He stood for progressive social stances, and he didn't spend money like a drunken sailor -- or a sober liberal.

Why is New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's popularity rating, at around 70 percent, comparable to that of free dessert? He's pursued fiscally conservative, socially liberal policies.

We're headed to the polls to vote in a presidential election, and neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is the fiscal conservative-social progressive leader most people want. Thanks to extremists in the major parties, we haven't been offered a viable candidate with those views since 1996.

In many places, those who cast ballots get "I voted" stickers. Perhaps this year, instead, we can get pictures of a beleaguered, bombed-out Wile E. Coyote to stick on our heads.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.


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