Archive for category US Politics
I have long felt that President Obama is destined to be remembered as one of the great Presidents in US history. He came into office during a crisis, he is governing in a period of intense national and global transformation, and has true challenges to overcome.
In his second inaugural address President Obama made it very clear he’s not just looking to defend accomplishments of the past or stop Republicans from undermining social security or medicare. Instead he made the case for moving forward, and tackling problems such as climate change, advancing causes like gay rights, and working to undo the slow deterioration of the middle class as wealth gets every more concentrated at the top.
Obama’s speech — and his re-election — might ultimately be remembered as the time when the US shifted from the path of deficits, tax reduction and distrust in government towards a new progressivism, rooted not in ideology but American values.
A few important snippets from Obama’s speech:
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”
This is a clear indication that over the next four years the President isn’t just going to cut spending and/or raise taxes, but challenge Congress to rethink the core of our economic policies. The path we’ve been on has lead to the most severe crisis since the Great Depression, and has left the middle class battered and bruised. We must rethink economic conventional wisdom for an era of globalization. Another:
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
People have been bemoaning the lack of attention given by the President to an issue many consider the most important of our time – preserving the planet for coming generations by preparing for already evident climate change. There is no reasonable way to deny human caused climate change. There is a self-contained alternative narrative that tries to posit everything from scientists as being frauds to get government funds or cherry picked data, but even one time skeptics are admitting that the evidence is overwhelming. Moreover, not acting will cause us to fall further behind the development of future technology. Another:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
The President’s words, coming after a reminder of the message of Martin Luther King 50 years ago, makes gay rights just as important a civil rights issue as any. Just as you don’t deny marriage, housing, service or care to people on the basis of color, the days are ending when bigotry against gays was tolerated because people thought there was “something wrong” with them.
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
A recognition that movement forward will often be slow, and in small steps. That even if we set goals, we cannot get there unless we are pragmatic, and recognize that change builds over time. Some activists see pragmatism or compromise as surrender, a violation of principle. The President is telling those activists that’s not how our nation works. We move slowly, and we always have. Partial victories beget more partial victories, and with issues such as gay marriage change grows until it becomes inexorable.
President Obama has the chance to grab the mantel of greatness in his second term. His vision is there, his leadership has been proven effective, and the country is in the midst of transformation. I wish for him the wisdom to make the right call in ambiguous situations, to use the Presidency as a bully pulpit to continue to talk about American values, and to forge a path forward into the 21st century!
The National Rifle Association’s response to the Sandy Hook school shootings may be remembered as the point in which they ceased to be taken seriously and started to lose clout . The responses to President Obama’s proposals and executive orders are over the top. Here’s a sampling:
Tennessee legislators want to make it a felony for federal agents to enforce federal laws involving guns.
Rand Paul wants Congress to ‘nullify’ executive orders. Good luck with that Rand – note that Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any Republican President in the last century, but hey, don’t let facts get in the way of your impotent rage.
Impeachment is on the agenda of a few Congressmen who apparently want to cause the Republican party to self-destruct.
In Texas one representative wants to “ban gun laws.”
In Wyoming there is also a move to make enforcement of these laws a felony.
Then you get the usual caterwauling of people claiming Obama is a Hitler, they’re coming after your guns, the country is going to cease being “free” (eyes rolling).
So, all that said, you must think I’m a radical gun control advocate, right? Hardly. I don’t own a gun nor do I want one, and I think that people who need a gun to feel secure are saying more about their own internal state than they are about their actual safety. People who think they need guns so they can rise up against the government some day are simply delusional (remember Timothy McVeigh)? But in general most people who own guns do so responsibly, hunters take safety seriously, and guns are a part of American culture.
I do think the reaction by the extremists is rooted in delusion. Rather than rationally accepting that gun violence is a problem and that in the rest of the industrialized world gun deaths are very low (and total deaths are much lower to – people aren’t just finding other ways to kill), they fall into a weird narrative about tyranny and Obama’s goons coming to get their guns.
There are rational reasons to be skeptical of gun control. A lot of our murders come in places where the causes are socio-economic. Poverty, gang activity, and a lack of effort by the rest of the society to address those problems creates sub cultures where violence, drug use, and crime is the norm. In places like Maine where gun ownership is among the highest levels in the country we are very safe. Not because of guns, but we have a stable and relatively peaceful culture. There are problems of rural poverty – spousal abuse, substance abuse, petty crime, etc. It’s just that the kind of gun violence associated with inner cities doesn’t reach here.
So what we need is a sensible discussion. The executive orders people going crazy about are bland. You can read the list here. No gun grabbing, no huge federal intervention on Congressional powers. Many have nothing to do with guns, but with school safety. Some focus on building a dialogue or making cooperation between federal agencies easier. A couple deal with mental health issues.
That is why the NRA, now up with an ad that uses President Obama’s daughters to label him a hypocrite (their “logic”: if the President’s family gets Secret Service protection it’s hypocritical not want armed guards in every school) has to be ridiculed and belittled as much as possible. They have jumped the shark. They’re making dubious claims about their membership going way up, and launching threats and attacks against any politician that dares question their extremist orthodoxy. They don’t want dialogue, they don’t want to admit that gun availability might cause more gun related crimes and deaths, they’re taking an ideological stand and trying to pretend it’s about liberty.
Gun owners, don’t fall for this! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people wanting reasonable gun control legislation are would be Nazis ready to grab full power. Even if the President’s legislative proposal were adopted as is (which is not going to happen – if something passes it will be a compromise) the US would still have the loosest gun control laws of the industrialized world. Most gun owners would not be affected one iota.
And maybe gun control legislation isn’t a good idea. Maybe we need to approach the problem from a different direction. I don’t know. But we need dialogue. We need to be reasonable. We need to accept that there are sound arguments on each side, and that most people are neither gun nuts nor gun haters. Dump the hyperbole, reject the delusion that the US government is turning into a tyranny or that Obama is somehow a would be Hitler. Replace emotion and fear with logic and evidence.
Yet if the NRA and other extremists continue their over the top hyperbolic rants and tirades, it’s no use reasoning with them. Mock them as ridiculous and absurd. Weaken their public image. Then find people on both sides who are willing to talk and listen to each other.
President Obama has effectively cast the debt ceiling issue on his terms. Raising the debt ceiling is necessary to prevent a series of catastrophic economic outcomes that could push the US back into recession, make total debt even higher, and put at risk social security payments, veterans benefits and other important services.
Republicans are split on the issue. The hardliners don’t care – they just want to cut spending. But even moderates want to find some way to leverage their control of the House into forcing the Democrats to bend on spending. They thought the debt ceiling would be the way to do it, but increasingly the politics around it is forcing them to back down.
But that will be very bitter medicine for the right wing of the party, especially after having failed to prevent tax hikes on the wealthy during the fiscal cliff negotiations. John Boehner is a smart man. He understands the issue enough to know it would be irresponsible to let the US default — most of the business community would be angry if that were to happen, and they represent a core portion of the Republican constituency. But he also knows that he has to appease the hardliners.
Here’s what I expect: The Republican leadership will decide, perhaps as a sudden surprise, to simply punt on the debt ceiling. They know that not only does he now have the issue framed on his terms, but the State of the Union address gives him the ultimate bully pulpit. He’ll set the narrative, it’ll be hard for the Republicans to react.
At the same time they will call for negotiations to begin immediately on finding spending cuts. They’ll say that they are showing their good faith by raising the debt ceiling, and thus expect President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to show an ability to compromise. If they don’t, they will warn, do not expect a continuing resolution to fund the government to be passed by the March 27th deadline. In other words – threaten a government shut down.
Since 1981 there have been five government “shutdowns,” but the first four were hardly felt, except by federal workers. Two lasted a day or less, the third took place over Columbus Day weekend.
The last time this happened was between December 16, 1995 and January 6, 1996 (and earlier between November 14 and 19, 1995). Bill Clinton was President, and Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Gingrich had also threatened not to raise the debt ceiling, but realized the Republicans could not risk the US defaulting.
The shutdown was seen by many as helping President Clinton recover from low approval ratings and win a second term. Newt Gingrich believes it was instrumental in pushing Clinton to compromise with Republicans to balance the budget. To be sure, the shut down cost money, nearly a billion extra dollars. A shut down itself doesn’t save money, even if its used as leverage to get the other side to agree.
Based on what happened back in 1996, here’s what to expect:
* Social security recipients will keep getting checks, but if newly qualifying recipients may not be able to apply for benefits until the government is back up and running;
* Welfare recipients will still get checks, but again – new applications for things like food stamps would be delayed;
* National parks would shut down;
* Food testing would continue, but farm loans and benefits would cease;
* The armed services would see cut backs in civilian staff, and possible delays in payment for active duty personnel;
* The IRS would not process tax forms, except perhaps ones submitted electronically
* Passport and visa applications will be delayed, with the backlog continuing even after government is up and functioning.
As inconvenient as all that would be, it would be nothing like the devastation of a default. It would be a high stakes drama, but one we could recover from quickly.
Unlike the debt ceiling, President Obama could embrace negotiating to help pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running. It would provide the leverage and drama House Republicans want without the economically suicidal path of preventing the country from paying its bills.
Moreover, having won on the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling, President Obama would have cover for compromising on some issues dear to progressives. Moreover, House Republicans loathe to compromise about anything would have the real ramifications of a shut down staring them in the face. It’ll push them to compromise as well.
So if you need a passport, apply sooner rather than later — because while I don’t think Republican leadership is irresponsible enough to not raise the debt ceiling, they aren’t going to give up on their core issue of cutting the deficit. So don’t be surprised if in just over two months the crisis du jour is a government shutdown.
Notice anything interesting about this map? The US is in a lighter shade of blue then New England, which is off colored and unlabeled. This map is from a Republican guide to finding one’s Senators and representatives. To the GOP New England appears to be persona non grata.
Indeed, with a few exceptions (Senators from Maine and New Hampshire) the region has become very Democratic. New England along with the upper Northwest were the only regions where white males supported Obama in the election.
Not only that, but New England Republicans are distrusted in their own party. They are often pro-choice, moderate and labeled RINOs (Republican in name only) by ideological conservatives. Maine Senators Collins and Snowe voted to acquit President Clinton after his impeachment, breaking with their party. Senator Snowe’s retirement this year was in part a reaction to all the anger and partisanship that has overtaken the Senate. Yes, Maine has a tea party governor, but that’s only because of a three way race in which 39% could win.
This is interesting because New England does not fit the usual left-right demographic patterns. Maine is the most white and least diverse state in the union. New Englanders are pragmatic and rather conservative. But there is one thing that sets the region apart: ideology is distrusted. Here in Maine the tea party governor couldn’t get his fellow Republicans to impose a true conservative agenda when they had control of both houses. Instead they continued the tradition of trying to build consensus, often angering Governor LePage. I supported President Obama, but voted for many Maine Republicans – it’s not good vs. evil here!
It’s a part of the pragmatism – a sense that the difficult problems we face can’t be addressed by looking to fancy theories and ideologies, but by compromising with a goal of solving problems. In that New Englanders are more conservative than many Republicans who have a radical ideological world view – to implement ‘true capitalism’ or some other ideologically motivated “solution” to our problems.
Ideologies are seductive. The present truths in simple terms and make seem like all you have to do to solve our problems is follow the ideological precepts. People who want to be right, who don’t want to deal with complexity and uncertainty, often find ideologies very comforting. They are a kind of secular religion, you can interpret the world through an ideology and avoid cognitive dissonance. As Communism demonstrated, people can cling to ideologies even when it’s absolutely crystal clear that the evidence proves them wrong.
An example of that taken to the extreme can be seen in this over the top interview of Alex Jones by Piers Morgan:
Ideologues can ignore reality because its so complex that you can always find some other reason to explain what went wrong. Communist ideologues blamed the West or others for making the ‘path to socialism’ more difficult. Capitalist ideologues embrace the market, and find reasons to dismiss evidence that shows markets can be inhumane and corrupted when not regulated.
I don’t think Republicans or Democrats outside New England are all ideologues. Rather, media plays a role to socialize people to embrace ideological thinking by creating a narrative that makes it seem natural. Powerful corporate actors like the “Club for Growth” use money to manipulate the process and create an ideological political climate.
The classic example of media narrative is the last election. On the right there was a widespread belief that Romney would easily beat Obama this year, a belief held by even people high up in the Romney campaign. The narrative seemed logical: the polls over sample Democrats, Obama’s supporters aren’t as enthused, Republicans are angry and want Obama gone, the 2010 spirit still exists, the media is overstating Obama’s chances because they like him, etc.
If you looked at the evidence it was pretty clear that those arguments were weak – that the expectation had to be that Obama would win. However, FOX news, talk radio, conservative blogs, and media outlets on the right stated that case over and over like it was a fact, and then added that the mainstream media was untrustworthy, in the pocket of Obama and even trying to demoralize the right. In other words, rather than rationally analyze the narrative, they found excuses on why not to take the counter arguments seriously.
This happens on many issues – climate change, taxes, the economy, guns, terrorism, the debt ceiling. There is an ideology-driven understanding of reality that is spread by talk radio, FOX, and a host of blogs and pundits that is designed not to analyze a perspective but to promote and defend it because it is deemed true – the ideology is unquestioned.
This penchant for ideology-based understandings of reality is destroying the Republican party. I do not believe John Boehner or Mitch McConnell are ideologues, but they are held captive by the fringes of their party. Moreover, there are signs many on the left want to emulate the ideologues on the right by embracing partisan war. That has to stop. It is time for pragmatism, pragmatism is the enemy of ideology.
Ideologues claim they are embracing principle, but that’s an illusion. They are embracing simple rules. Reality is complex and simple principles don’t work. Context matters, it changes the meaning of every act. Ideologues left and right will use terms like freedom, social justice, equality and even peace to give their causes the air of moral authority. But beware any theory-driven understanding of a complex reality, and beware of those who interpret everything through their ideological lens rather than comparing and contrasting different perspectives.
Pragmatism is messy, but it’s the only way forward in difficult times.
Let me be blunt: if the Republicans threaten to not raise the debt ceiling unless the Democrats agree to spending cuts, they are the functional equivalent of terrorists, holding a gun to the head of the economy and demanding the President give in to their demands.
Here’s why: If the US cannot make payments on money it owes, then our credit rating crashes, our bonds become more expensive, the budget would be made much harder to balance and we could dive into another global recession. You don’t make that a bargaining chip. The President’s biggest first term mistake was to allow himself to be suckered into bargaining on the debt ceiling, thinking he could get a deal. He cannot repeat that mistake.
Note: Congress has already voted to spend this money. It’s not like the President wants to increase debt and Congress doesn’t. This is money the Republican House has voted to spend – it’s a debt they’ve approved. For them to not raise the debt ceiling or to blame the President for the higher debt is objectively wrong. That’s why for the good of the country the President cannot negotiate around the debt ceiling. He should work to make it that neither party ever can.
Don’t get me wrong – there should be real talk on deficit and debt reduction. We need to take a hard look at demographic change and the long term sustainability of so-called “entitlements.” The Republicans are not all wrong in this discussion. You just don’t threaten the life of the US economy in order to get your way.
Last time this came up many people thought that perhaps the President could use the 14th amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Coming just before an election year with the Republicans sure to start impeachment hearings by claiming that would be a misuse of that power, that was an option the President could not risk. But his legal team should seriously consider it, the political conditions have changed.
There is also the so-called platinum option. The President does not have the power to print money, only the Federal Reserve can do that. But there is power given to the Secretary of the Treasury:
The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.
You see why laws are so complex – if you don’t word them right you can leave enormous loopholes. The purpose of this law is to make it possible for the Treasury to issue platinum collector coins. But what if the Secretary of the Treasury minted a $1 trillion dollar platinum coin and deposited it with the federal reserve? And what if he threatened to keep doing so until the debt ceiling limit was raised? That would keep us from reaching the debt ceiling and thus avoid default.
That might risk inflation – minting trillion dollar coins adds greatly to the money supply. But the Treasury secretary could make clear that those coins would be withdrawn in response to a raising of the debt ceiling. Better would be to abolish the debt ceiling issue — it’s insane to make it possible for a manufactured crisis to threaten the world economy — and at the same time rewrite the above law so the loophole is closed.
If Congress votes to spend money, they are voting to borrow enough money to spend what they want. There should be no secondary ‘debt ceiling’ vote. The platinum option is probably too absurd to be used, but when the global economy is being held hostage it might be necessary.
The President must make this an issue in the State of the Union address – he must call the Republicans out as recklessly threatening the country by holding the debt ceiling hostage as a way to gain leverage. He must take control of this issue, and put the Republicans on the defensive. This should be the first shot in the 2014 campaign – if the Republicans purposefully crash the economy, the public should make them pay. He shouldn’t call them terrorists (though I think that’s what they’d be doing), but he has to crystallize the issue for the country and show leadership.
At the same time he must offer real negotiations on the budget and show his good faith. But those two issues must not be linked, it may take longer to reach a budget compromise and that’s OK. The President wants his legacy to be putting the US on the path to fiscal responsibility, not sky high deficits. The Republicans know it. Risking the economy on a phony issue is insane.
As the debt ceiling deadline nears, if the GOP tries to play that game the White House should seriously explore and discuss options like the 14th amendment or the platinum coin. Given the dynamics in 2011 I think the President was right to go with the sequestration — it actually set the Democrats up for a big win on the fiscal cliff. But for the sake of the country he can’t allow Congress to hold the US economy hostage in order to try to get their way. It’s un-American.
The Plan B pill is taken by women the morning after having sexual intercourse in order to avoid getting pregnant. Unfortunately for the Republicans and John Boehner, their plan B could not prevent the birth of a fiasco, meaning the Republicans are screwed.
After weeks of talks it was clear that there was no way Speaker John Boehner could get his party to support the kind of deal that he and President Obama were building to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The Republican leadership decided they needed a “plan B” to pressure the Democrats to make more concessions.
At first Plan B was simply to pass a higher tax rate on to millionaires, with rates staying the same for everyone else. Boehner’s argument: ”I’ve now shown I’m willing to accept a tax rate increase. That’s what the President has wanted from me. Now let’s see what he’ll give me in exchange.” If nothing, Boehner reasoned, the GOP would have some cover -rather than being seen as an intransigent party refusing any tax increase on the wealthy, they could say they had moved and the Democrats need to respond in good faith.
Only thing – Boehner had to get Plan B passed. At first he figured it should be easy. His party has the majority in the House, and back in 2011 many Democrats had suggested that raising rates on millionaires would be enough – Boehner could throw their own words back at them. If it could get through the Senate with Democratic help, it would force Obama to veto the bill and make it look like he was blocking progress. Fearful of that happening, Obama would have to give the Republicans more of what they wanted.
It didn’t work.
First, Democrats were pretty united against it. What was said in 2011 is irrelevant; this is a new political reality. Given that, Boehner needed to have Republican unity to get it to at least pass the House. He failed. Too many conservatives had taken a career stand against EVER raising taxes, even on millionaires.
Boehner appealed to reason – the lower tax rates will expire on everyone on January 1. Then the House will be forced to pass a bill lowering taxes on those under $250,000, meaning rates will go up on a lot more people. ”I need this for my negotiations,” Boehner said - for leverage, it’s not actually going to become law!
Nope. The hard right, already angry that some of its members had committee assignments plucked away from them for their disloyalty, dug in. So Boehner added budget cuts to the mix – cuts that meant that any chance that the Democrats could support it withered. He didn’t care, he was desperate. He had to pass something in the House. ANYTHING.
After a tense meeting on the evening of Thursday December 20, the Republicans managed to impale themselves. The far right accepted nothing, the Speaker’s leadership was rejected, and the party was split. Conservatives were gleeful about the separation, believing they had gotten revenge on the Speaker and had stood on principle. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory.
In the headlines the story is clear: Boehner’s efforts to compromise even a bit were shot down by extremists in his own party. Any effort to shift blame to the Democrats or show that the Republicans were negotiating in good faith fell apart. Any deal that gets passed will be a Democratic agreement — the President and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will craft a proposal that can pass the Senate and the House, appealing to at least enough Republicans to get it through.
Moreover, this will likely happen after New Year’s, meaning that the Republicans might lose the President’s offer to raise rates only on those earning $400,000 and higher.
Conservatives say fine – make the Democrats own what is passed. Make them responsible for tax increases, make them responsible for any cuts that are made. Rather than governing, which is what legislative bodies are supposed to do, they want to make stands on “principle.” But principles are always simplified rules of thumb, inapplicable across all contexts. Sticking to simple principles is for the simple minded – reality is far more complex.
Governance is about compromise and problem solving. John Boehner understands that; too many in his party do not.
So now what? The Republicans are in disarray, still fighting over the lessons of 2012, even as a recent CNN poll shows that 53% of Americans consider the GOP too extremist while 57% consider the Democrats mainstream. They may hope that 2014 is 2010 redux — another off year election — but the mood of the country is much different.
Simply, they are seeing their “conservative revolution” die. The country is moving slightly center-left, with pragmatism trumping ideology. The Grover Norquist types are 20th century relics, whose politics are poison today. The tea party was the last gasp of this movement, reacting in horror to the election of man they couldn’t imagine as President. But it was an illusion, they won in 2010 because of the economy and the fact the voters thought it would facilitate compromise. It wasn’t a popular conservative rebellion against Obama.
2012 may be seen as the election that solidified a move to the left that started in 2006, and was interrupted by the 2010 elections. If that’s the case, the Republican party is going to have to go through a kind of reconstruction, rethinking how their principles and beliefs apply in the 21st Century. They’ll need to look at other successful conservative parties in Europe, and most of all recognize that the world today is not the same as it was thirty years ago.
Perhaps its fitting that a party that has been fighting against contraception insurance with no co-pays for all women should have its Plan B fail. The party has reached rock bottom, there is no place to go but up. Will it be a Rubio uniting the conservatives with a more moderate message? Perhaps Chris Christie’s gruff style can be a pragmatism conservatives embrace? Right now the Republicans are down and out, but the future is pregnant with possibilities.
With all due respect to those of you out there named Sandy, the destruction of hurricane Sandy and the trauma of the Sandy Hook shootings cause me to think maybe “Sandy” should become a word to embrace. The “spirit of Sandy” should be a call to action in defiance of the odds, a motivation to make fundamental changes to our world to make it a better place.
“Sandy” may seem like a nominal link between two tragedies, best left unnoticed. I disagree, I propose to turn it into a word of change and transformation. For example, the “spirit of Sandy” is seen in the actions of Sandy Hook teacher Vicki Soto, who died while trying to save her students from the crazed killer. She had told friends the day before she loved her 16 “angels.” On the day of the killing she hid them in the closets and told the gunman her kids were having class in the gym. He shot and killed her. Her angels survived.
These tragedies point to two issues that threaten our children’s future: climate change and violence. I’m not ready to make Sandy Hook primarily about guns. Yes, our level of gun violence is so much higher than any other industrialized state that anyone saying guns aren’t a cause can’t be taken seriously. We also have high levels of accidental gun death, recently I read about a three year old shooting himself.
Yet here in Maine we have lots and lots of guns. We are very safe. If I forget to lock the door, I don’t worry. If I see a guy with a rifle walking along the road, chances are he’s clothed in orange and looking for deer or whatever is in season. It’s about the kind of weapons available, and also about mental health, our culture, and our attitudes. To turn this into a question of gun control is to belittle it. We need to look more fully at what kind of society we have become.
We need to embrace the spirit of Sandy. (Hey, Steven Colbert started a word with Truthiness, maybe I can do this with “the spirit of Sandy”!) Ask difficult questions, change course, try to bring our culture to a better place. Compromise on gun control, improve mental health awareness and support, and display the “spirit of Sandy” with acts of kindness.
Hurricane Sandy needs to open our eyes to the real problem of climate change. There is every reason to do something. While the US has dithered, the Europeans have not only met the Kyoto Accord targets, but proved that it not only didn’t hurt their economy to do so, but it gave them a leap forward on green technology.
Climate change is real. Islands in the South Pacific are sinking, some are signing agreements for population transfers in the coming years. Yet in the US big money wants to try to obfuscate, hide the science, raise questions, and stymie political action.
Sandy must mean courage – we need the “spirit of Sandy” to recognize that the world we give our children requires on making wise and courageous judgments today.
The “spirit of Sandy” must entail the courage to confront issues that were deemed too hard or controversial. Not to choose the path of least resistance, but the path of change and transformation.
We’re on the edge of a new century. Technology is changing rapidly, our world is in motion. The problems that confront us can’t be solved with the old thinking of self interest, us vs. them, and fear of difference. The spirit of Sandy is to embrace new thinking: us with them, and an embrace of difference!
The tragedies that came in the latter half of 2012 don’t have to be seen as meaningless. These can awaken us to a better future. Change is difficult. Transformation requires sacrifice. But with the “spirit of Sandy” we can work towards a better future for our children.
Rachel Maddow of MSNBC said that many on the far right are getting rich on “impotent rage,” firing up their listeners to be angry about Obama’s re-election but unable to do anything about it. Well, you might say, that’s Maddow, she always chastises conservatives. Yet conservatives William Kristol and Joe Scarborough have also decried the way some on the right — talk radio, especially — are getting rich off a style that pushes for an uncompromising and unrealistic stand on absolutist “principles.”
The problem in the GOP is that the reasonable people of the party are having to deal with a large, media savvy group of conservatives who have fostered a cult like thinking.
That is not only un-American, it is also un-Conservative and irrational.
It is un-American because our system is based on the idea that no individual or group has an absolute claim on truth. Democracy is a way to get people to debate, learn from each other, and try to figure out the best compromise. We learn as we go based on what works and what does not. The idea that we should focus simply on ideology or principle would be foreign to the founders. Their principles were broad based and open to diverse ideas.
It is un-Conservative because conservatives value tradition, social stability and a sense of community. Conservatives have adopted a strong free market perspective but have always recognized that markets have limits and that the good of the country trumps any ideological stand point. And, given that tradition involves compromise and deliberation, the extremism of Neil Boortz and Rush Limbaugh is distinctly anti-conservative.
It is irrational because it focuses on pushing a party line with the vehemence of a religious extremist. The “true” conservative values are XY and Z. Those who seek compromise and moderation are “RINOs” (Republicans in name only). This desire for conservative purity has cost them the Senate. Ideology-based thinking leads them to embrace clearly false claims – that there is no human caused climate change, the earth is 9000 years old, women’s vaginas magically shut down the possibility of pregnancy when they are raped and other such non-sense. Truth is not based on science and evidence, but on what would be true if their ideology was infallible.
Here are some questions. Answer yes to any of them, and you just might be a conservative cultist:
1. Do you believe Obama has a secret agenda to push the US towards socialism and away from a market economy?
2. Do you believe that Obama hates America and wants to give our sovereignty to the UN?
3. Do you know who Alinsky is, and do you think somehow Obama is following some kind of plot of his making?
4. Are you convinced that the Democrats simply try to buy votes by giving people stuff?
5. Do you secretly (or even openly) wish women couldn’t vote because they aren’t truly rational?
6. Do you think votes should be weighted by wealth, since the poor have ‘no skin’ in the game?
7. Do you believe that Obama is an incompetent narcissist who has no leadership capacity?
8. Do you believe there is a nefarious “agenda” out there that gays, internationalists, liberals and other types are following, which would stab America in the back and move us away from our core values?
9. Do you think the country is on the road to collapse, and figure the GOP should just let Obama have his way so the Republicans aren’t co-responsible – the “let it burn” argument?
If you said yes to more than one of these, you just might be a member of a cult!
I’ve even read blogs where someone seriously posts that people should keep any pledge they have made (meaning the Norquist pledge) no matter what, because you never break a pledge. However, what if they decide that under current conditions the Norquist pledge would lead them to actions that do harm to the country? Should our elected representatives really be more concerned about keeping a pledge than doing what’s right? Or is Peter Parker aka Spiderman right – sometimes the best promises are those we are willing to break? After all, many German soldiers didn’t turn on Hitler even when they saw what was happening because they took an oath to Hitler. I think its simple minded blindness to keep an oath just because you took it, no matter what.
True conservatives won’t play that game. They recognize that they have something to bring to the table and they can force Obama to compromise (and Obama has shown a willingness to compromise). They don’t demand strict adherence to “principles.” An uncompromising devotion to absolute principles is for the narrow minded. Principles are simplified general ideals, but in the real world those simplification break down. Blind adherence to principle is the mark of someone unwilling to embrace real world complexity – a cultist, in other words.
You see it on blogs and talk radio especially. I’ve been in many debates, sometimes heated, with conservatives. But usually we don’t take it personally, nor do we ridicule each other and say the other person is somehow evil or bad. In fact in most cases we find we agree on core values — Americans are more united than divided. Go to a cultist blog and try going against their party line and they respond with ridicule and personal abuse (and yes there are cultists on the left too). That’s how cultists protect their message, they don’t allow it to be questioned, especially not by people who may have good arguments.
Republicans have tolerated the cultists because they brought energy and a solid voting block to the party. As long as party leaders (whom cultists deride as the hated “Republican establishment”) could control the real policy actions of the party, the cultists were an asset. But in 2010 they crossed that line.
The most recent example – rejection of the UN People with Disabilities treaty even as John McCain gave his support and Bob Dole was on hand to persuade skeptics to vote for it. Senators who recently supported it voted no, fearful that the cultists would put up hard core conservative primary opposition.
Republicans need to purge the cultists from their ranks, or at least render them ineffective. They inspire rage, but a rage that cannot win – you’ll never have a pure Demint style conservative government any more than you’ll ever have a pure Kucinich style liberal government. Or if we do it’ll only be a gradual change reflecting the whole culture. Our system is designed to avoid sudden lurches to such extremes. It’s designed for compromise and loyal opposition.
Warnings are everywhere that we must avoid the fiscal cliff or else face recession. The fiscal cliff is a series of tax hikes and spending cuts resulting from an inability to achieve targets on deficit reduction set in 2011. The spending cuts hit 1000 government programs, touching ones dear to both Republicans (military spending) and Democrats (Medicare).
Most of the cliff involves repeal of the payroll tax cut (which expires in December) and the Bush tax cuts (which expire January 1). The argument is that the mix of tax increases and spending cuts will seriously damage the economy and cause growth rates to plummet into recessionary territory.
All this is set up by the negotiations around the debt ceiling back in 2011. The Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless budget cuts were made to halt the increase in the deficit. President Obama entered into negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner to try to reach a grand bargain to do just that. The talks failed. The “grand bargain” that the Republicans walked away from would have been about 85% spending cuts and 15% tax increases.
Republicans rejected any tax increase, making a deal all but impossible to reach. 236 of the 242 House Republicans, and 40 of the 47 Republican Senators have signed a pledge to Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform” organization promising not to raise taxes ever. Many Republicans figured that if they held out they could take the Presidency and Senate in 2012 and then craft their own measure with no need to compromise or raise taxes.
At the time people thought the Republicans had bested the President. He was ridiculed by progressives as having been naive, willing to bargain with Republicans when their goal was to do whatever they could to defeat him in 2012. He was called spineless for not invoking the 14th amendment to circumvent Congress and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally. Obama’s lowest ratings were in the wake of the breakdown of those talks. In retrospect Obama looks like a strategic genius – the Democrats have set up a situation where they hold the best cards, thanks to the sequestration deal and the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
So will the fiscal cliff cause a recession? Perhaps, but the damage will be limited. A couple charts:
Beyond that, growth after 2013 is robust, even if we go over the cliff:
Going over the cliff could enforce a kind of restraint that would yield long term benefits. At the very least it would unclog the gridlock preventing real solutions to the budgetary and economic crises. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would render the pledge to Norquist meaningless — taxes would go up automatically and any agreement to cut taxes to the middle class would be a tax cut, not a tax increase.
So why all the alarm?
Besides the fact that the slow down in 2013 would be real, there is concern about the cuts themselves. Many important government programs will be cut, angering the left. Defense spending will be cut, angering the right. Good! This will force them into meaningful negotiations.
The Republicans essentially demanded no tax increases or defense cuts, but steep cuts to entitlements, social welfare programs, education and programs Republicans disliked (such as PBS). In the heady days after the 2010 election that might have seemed feasible, especially if they were going to win back the Presidency and Senate. Now it’s a pipe dream.
President Obama was re-elected, the Democrats remarkably gained two Senate seats and even though the Republicans still hold the House, the majority is smaller and overall Democratic candidates for the House received more votes than did the Republicans. The Democrats have every incentive to make a deal now, while the Republicans would prefer to come up with a piecemeal deal to push the issue down the road to when political conditions are more favorable. The farther they can get from the 2012 election the better it will be for them.
If we go off the fiscal cliff, the GOP will be forced to deal quickly. To prevent tax increases on the middle class there may be a will to increase capital gains taxes – something that could raise significant money. Those low tax rates are why Warren Buffet pays a lower rate than his Secretary and why Governor Romney thought it more harmful to release his tax returns than to keep them secret.
Nothing should be off the table. Each side could recover from political hits by the 2014 election, better to act sooner rather than later. Going over the cliff will make both sides eager to reach a deal.
The danger in that is that the Democrats could make the mistake the Republicans did and overplay their hand. In 2014 it is unlikely the Democrats will gain the House, and if this deal goes bad due to Democratic intransigence the Republicans could have another big off year election. The Republicans blew it by not making a deal when they were in a position of strength, the Democrats can’t afford to make the same mistake.
It could be that the cliff is the only thing that will force both sides to actually make structural reforms that can lead to a sustainable budget. It’s not just about the money. The Democrats can “give” on issues like taxes and defense in part in exchange for tougher regulations on Wall Street and less resistance on appointments to agencies like the FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency).
Ultimately we all lose if there isn’t bold action as quickly as possible to get the government to a sustainable budget with a modicum of bipartisan support. Fear of the cliff stands in the way of making bold choices and creates the danger of kicking the can down the road to deal with at a later date. Go off the cliff. Face reality. A sharp down turn will be short and followed by growth. The pain will be limited, and it just might force the politicians to make difficult choices.
The re-election of President Obama was not unexpected. In fact, having followed the polls and Nate Silver’s modeling of the election it played out almost as if scripted, with no surprises. In my predictions I got only two races wrong, and I knew each was a long shot (NC for Obama, Carmona for AZ Senate). Usually elections hold surprises, this one did not.
At least, not for those of us who believed that the pollsters knew their business and someone with Nate Silver’s track record should be taken seriously. On the far right there was shock, indignation and collective anger and dismay. How could this happen? (Note: I use the term “far right” to differentiate them from average, reasonable Republicans and Romney supporters.)
Many bemoaned the fact that the country “is no longer center-right,” and talked openly about the inevitable decline of the United States. A few on the fringes hoped for a quick decline, with talk about “going Galt” and stocking up on ammo and supplies. Glenn Beck urged people to buy farm land, get as far from the East coast as they could so they can be around “like minded” people and keep the kids away from public schools! The country cannot survive an Obama victory, Beck prophesied. After the heady high of 2010 many found the results of the 2012 election simply impossible to accept.
Two things are happening. Some on the far right are stuck in their own parallel universe. They read each other’s blogs, watch FOX news and listen to talk radio, creating a sense that their own view is far more widespread than it is. Groupthink of this sort isn’t rational, it’s more like a feeling, something “in the air.”
Moreover part of groupthink is to see your opponents as less intelligent, moral or rational than yourself. That the left is “falling for Nate Silver’s statistical mumbo jumbo” or “believing obviously skewed state polls” becomes viewed as self-evidently true. They reinforced each other’s certainty that the left was deluded. Some even fantasized that the left would riot and burn cities if Obama wasn’t re-elected!
That brings me to their second error : a caricatured and completely over the top misguided view of the left. To them the left loves big government and has a victim mentality that rationalizes taking from the rich. The right, in this odd perspective, represents hard working Americans who take responsibility for their success and want personal initiative rewarded. The right is steadfast, rational, ethical, and responsible. The left is wobbly, emotional, greedy and jealous of success.
That explains the level of intense emotion and anger on the right. They have constructed a straw man adversary who represents the worst character traits humans have: greedy, lazy, wanting to steal from others, irrational, unethical, and jealous of success. To them the left is a group of slack jawed moochers relying government to rob from the job creators to give them their flat screen TVs, dependent on a sinister government who trades this ‘free stuff’ for votes. If they truly believe all that it’s understandable how righteous rage, indignation and even resignation come from this election.
The reality is that virtually no one on the left believes people should see themselves as victims. Indeed the key to success in life is personal initiative, a willingness to work hard, and an acceptance that each individual is responsible for their own success in life. The only sense of entitlement is that military service entitles veterans to basic support when they come back, and that after a life of work the elderly are entitled to a basic standard of living and health care.
Moreover, the views of the left are rooted in a sense of liberty that can be traced back to thinkers like John Stuart Mill in Great Britain. Mill noted in mid-19th Century Great Britain leaving the market to its own devices had led to horrific results. The economy was growing, but the workers lived in squalor, working class children weren’t educated, health care depended on wealth, and that social status at birth determined life success, not hard work and personal initiative.
Capitalism and markets are good, but we can use the state to assure that all people have true opportunity. In trying to make sure that people aren’t condemned by status at birth to a life of grueling labor and poverty, the goal is to expand liberty. Create real opportunities for everyone to succeed. Make sure that hard work and initiative determine success, not simply status at birth or how much you inherit.
The left in the US embraces the notion of wealth as a reward for success. Why are so many millionaires Democrats? They don’t hate success or think being wealthy is bad. Rather, the goal is to make sure that if you’re poor you still have the opportunity to become wealthy – that the deck isn’t stacked against you. Again, that’s an expanse of liberty, in line with American values.
The debate should be about how to work towards real opportunity without stifling economic growth and development. What role should government programs play, and are they effective? How do we prioritize dealing with the debt and deficit, how do we restructure our economy to fit the changes of the 21st Century?
So with all due respect to those on the far right freaking out: chill. It’s OK. Democrats don’t want to overturn capitalism, create a country of dependent moochers, or punish success. Indeed no Democratic plan would even raise tax rates close to the levels they were under Reagan. Democrats are open to making reforms of what isn’t working, they want government programs to create opportunity for people to help themselves, not build a dependent class.
It’s emotionally satisfying to imagine the other side as more menacing and less rational than they are — the left does that to the right as well. But ultimately Americans come together and solve problems. Americans recognize that disagreement is an essential aspect of our system — we learn by debating differences and exploring compromise.
Ideology can be comforting – many use it as a way to try to find certainty in an uncertain world – but it’s based on delusion. No simplified model of reality can really capture the complexity of the economic and political realities we face; rather, we have to work to solve problems and be practical and patient. As the President noted, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us. As Governor Romney noted in his gracious acceptance speech, it’s time to put the partisan bitterness and division behind us. Time to get to work!