Dealing With Those Who Are Ruining America

The cri de coeur of the Tea Party crowd has always been that they want their country back, although they’d refuse to use that French term – but it was a cry from the heart nonetheless, sometimes expressed with a sob, to elicit sympathy, so everyone would share their deep sadness about what America had become, and sometimes a matter of seething anger. They WOULD take their country back, and taxes would be low again, and nothing would be regulated, and the states would decide everything and the federal government would wither away and finally be gone, except for the military and the folks who run Social Security and Medicare. Those who wanted their country back were predominately older, so they saw Social Security and Medicare as something that was theirs by right – they had paid in so those ought to receive a pay out, regularly, like clockwork. They had the right to the benefits of both programs. They were entitled to those benefits, although they would never call them entitlements.

Entitlements were absurd – those were welfare and unemployment checks each week and disability benefits and all they rest. Folks may have paid for those things with all those deductions from their paychecks year after year after year, and such programs might have been created by legislation passed fair and square by the elected representatives of the people, but those programs were not like Social Security and Medicare. Those provided benefits to the wrong sort of people, the people who were out of work, or who had never worked due to unfortunate circumstances, or because of their moral failings. Those were not hard-working Real Americans. Ronald Reagan talked of welfare queens, others talked of young black bucks living large on the public’s dime, driving Cadillacs, and that resurfaced as part of the argument about the country they wanted back. The argument against Obamacare was, at its core, about the wrong sort of people getting health insurance, the ones who need help buying it. People should pay their own way. That’s how it worked with Social Security and Medicare after all. They were drawing a distinction. Others saw a distinction without a difference. They didn’t.

That’s why Paul Ryan came up with a fantastic plan – we have to force poor people, and those black folks, to shape up, with a customized government-approved plan for each person, to be a better person, and fine them heavily if they don’t meet the specific milestones in the plan. All they need is a kind of “life coach” to help them become adequate human beings. Ryan’s plan, which seemed to be to fund Ayn Rand mentors to teach all of them the right attitude about work, so we’d have to spend no money on any of them ever again, went nowhere, but then it was more of a thought-piece than a real plan. Hiring all those life-coaches would cost a fortune. Hiring and training and keeping tabs on all those coaches, and monitoring the program, to make sure it was running smoothly and not wasting money on expensive useless conferences and fancy office furniture, and carefully tracking its success, would create a vast bureaucracy. No one wants another vast bureaucracy, a new federal Department of Right Attitude. The idea is to shrink government, not expand it.

The whole idea wasn’t thought out, but Ryan was just trying to be bold and get to the basic problem. Poor people are ruining America, sucking up money and resources and draining hard-working American taxpayers dry. Something must be done about them. We can’t shoot them all – too messy and hard to explain to the rest if the world – and turning them all into Ayn Rand libertarians really is impractical. It might not even work. For some reason they might resent being told what they’re supposed to think and how they’re supposed to act at all times. Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. Tell someone they have to be just like you, or pay a fine, and even if being just like you is obviously good for them, they’ll dig in their heels. What can you do with people like that?

The answer is political. These people vote for candidates who promise to maintain and enhance the wrong sort of entitlement program, or create new ones like Obamacare, so that raises a fundamental question. Should the poor be allowed to vote?

Asking that question seems absurd. They have the right to vote. No politician would suggest they shouldn’t have that right, because our history has been one of expanding the right to vote, to those who didn’t hold property, to blacks, the former slaves, and then even to women. We agreed all citizens should have the right to vote. There’s no going back, but if Ryan’s plan won’t work, some might toy with the idea – maybe not here in America yet, but it is an idea.

Peter Beinart has noted that the idea has been floated overseas:

If Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters succeed in booting C. Y. Leung from power, the city’s unelected chief executive should consider coming to the United States…

In an interview Monday with The New York Times and other foreign newspapers, Leung explained that Beijing cannot permit the direct election of Hong Kong’s leaders because doing so would empower “the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.” Leung instead defended the current plan to have a committee of roughly 1,200 eminent citizens vet potential contenders because doing so, in the Times’ words, “would insulate candidates from popular pressure to create a welfare state, and would allow the city government to follow more business-friendly policies.”

Leung was ridiculed for that – that’s not how democracies work – but Beinart notes that Leung was just too blunt. Our Republicans have been sort of saying the same thing, and it really is part of our history:

Start with Mitt Romney. In 2012, at a fundraiser with ultra-wealthy donors, the Republican nominee famously denigrated the “47 percent” of Americans who “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing” – to a welfare state. Because these self-appointed “victims” were voting in order to get things from government, Romney argued, their motives were inferior to the potential Romney voters who “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

In distinguishing between Americans whose economic independence permits them to make reasoned political choices and those who because of their poverty cannot, Romney was channeling a hoary American tradition. In 1776, John Adams argued that men (let alone women) “who are wholly destitute of Property” were “too dependent upon other Men to have a Will of their own.” In 1800, only three states allowed property-less white men to vote. For most of the 20th century, southern states imposed “poll taxes” that effectively barred not only African Americans from voting but some poor whites as well.

Conservatives are traditional folks, in love with the tried and true old ways of doing things, so this did snowball:

Romney didn’t suggest that the 47 percent be denied the right to vote, of course. But other Republicans have flirted with the idea. In 2010, Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips observed that “The Founding Fathers put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote… and one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community.”

In 2011, Iowa Representative Steve King made a similar observation, noting approvingly, “There was a time in American history when you had to be a male property owner in order to vote. The reason for that was, because [the Founding Fathers] wanted the people who voted – that set the public policy that decided on the taxes and the spending – to have some skin in the game. Now we have data out there that shows that 47 percent of American households don’t pay taxes… But many of them are voting. And when they vote, they vote for more government benefits.” In 2012, Florida House candidate Ted Yoho remarked, “I’ve had some radical ideas about voting and it’s probably not a good time to tell them, but you used to have to be a property owner to vote.” Yoho went on to win the election.

This is in the air, but there is a need to be a bit more subtle:

Most prominent Republicans would never propose that poor people be denied the franchise. But they support policies that do just that. When GOP legislatures make it harder to vote – either by restricting early voting, limiting the hours that polls remain open, requiring voter identification or disenfranchising ex-felons – the press usually focuses on the disproportionate impact on racial minorities and Democrats. But the most profound impact may be on the poor.

Ah, the Republicans were never really after the black and brown and yellow folks. They were out to do something about the real problem, all those poor people ruining America, and the evidence is clear:

Voter-identification laws, in particular, act as new form of poll tax. After Texas passed its voter-ID law, a study found that Texans who earned less than $20,000 per year were more than 10 times more likely to lack the necessary identification than Texans who earned more than $150,000. On the surface, this discrepancy might seem possible to remedy, since courts have generally demanded that the states that require voter identification provide some form of ID for free. But there’s a catch. Acquiring that free ID requires showing another form of identification – and those cost money. In the states with voter-ID laws, notes a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, “Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

To make matters worse, roughly half a million people without access to a car live more than 10 miles from the nearest office that regularly issues IDs. And the states that require IDs, which just happen to be mostly in the south, also just happen to have some of the worst public transportation in the country.

Not surprisingly, a 2007 study by researchers at Washington University and Cal Tech found that “registered voters with low levels of educational attainment or lower levels of income are less likely to vote the more restrictive the voter identification regime.” Barring former felons from voting has an even more dramatic impact on the poor, since almost half of state prison inmates earned less than $10,000 in the year before their incarceration.

There you have it. There’s no way to change their hearts and minds, the Platonic ideal that Paul Ryan dreamed of. Do what’s practical and cheap. The wrong sort of entitlement programs, benefiting the wrong sort of people, will go away, either way. This is the easier way.

The National Review’s Rich Lowry says it’s not like that at all:

When the Supreme Court over the weekend rejected a petition to stop a Texas voter ID law from going into effect for the midterms, the left commenced its wailing and gnashing of teeth.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the law “purposely discriminatory,” and everyone piled in behind her with denunciations of the Lone Star State’s blatant racism.

For the left, voter ID is tantamount to a poll tax. It is meant to suppress minority voters and is a last-gasp, unconstitutional scheme by the Republican Party to save itself by decisively shaping the electorate to its advantage.

If all of this is true, the nation is awash in neo-segregationist election rules.

It’s not like that at all:

Where you come down on this issue really depends on whether you think it’s reasonable to require the minimal effort to establish your identity of producing an ID at the ballot box or not.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie pushes back:

Fair enough. That’s a reasonable sentiment. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, Republicans and other voter ID supporters don’t want to make it harder for more vulnerable voters to cast a ballot – although that’s the practical outcome of an ID requirement – they just want to secure the process and protect the integrity of the vote.

But this doesn’t explain the Republican-led push to end or limit same-day registration (condemned by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a “trick“) and early and weekend voting, procedures used most by minorities, black Americans in particular. Nor does it explain an incredible effort just uncovered by Al Jazeera America that could shift the direction of the midterm elections.

That would be this report in which Bouie finds this:

Specifically, officials have a master list of 6.9 million suspected “potential double voters.” And in Virginia, Georgia, and Washington the lists are “heavily over-weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel, and Kim,” all common to Democratic-leaning minority groups.

The process for checking those names, a computer program called Crosscheck – touted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a vocal supporter for voter identification – is incredibly inaccurate. “The actual lists,” notes Al Jazeera America, “show that not only are middle names mismatched, and suffix discrepancies ignored, even conflicting birthdates are disregarded. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores any Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected.”

Given the tight races in Georgia and other battleground states, even a small number of false positives could turn the tide of an election, giving a strong advantage to Republican candidates for statewide and congressional offices.

This is nonsense:

Yes, voting officials have to prune the rolls of deceased or inactive voters. The question is whether they’re taking the narrowest route and trying to avoid mistakes. They aren’t; compared with other voter lists Crosscheck is incredibly broad with a strong bias toward removing people from the rolls. And the means for verifying voter identity – sending postcards to addresses on file – puts the burden of proof on individual voters and is almost designed to take people off the rolls; with false positives and duplicate names, there’s no guarantee that anyone gets their verification card, to say nothing of voters who have moved or don’t have a permanent address.

Whether Republican officials are trying to nudge the electorate in the GOP’s favor is almost beside the point – since, intentions aside, that’s what’s happened. And when you take this out of its isolation chamber and put it in context – a world where Republicans want voter identification and reduced early voting and stiffer registration laws – it looks like a pattern of deliberate suppression, where some officials prune voter rolls with lists of minorities while others make it harder to vote altogether.

Well, they caught and neutered the poor, using the assumption the poor are mostly minorities, didn’t they? Given their growing demographic problems, that’s killing two birds with one stone. Bouie, who foolishly decided to be born black, sees the racial component, and the effort to eliminate the Democratic vote:

Conservatives across the country are working to weaken voting laws and put new barriers to the ballot box. And in every case, Democratic constituencies are those most affected – which is why it’s hard to take pro-ID arguments – like Rich Lowry’s – in good faith.

Liberal and Democratic claims of voter suppression aren’t just about voter identification, they’re about the package of policies and techniques that burden voters and shrink the electorate in the process. Indeed, it’s worse than this. Voter ID advocates insist that their reasonable moves are intended to protect the integrity of the process and the sanctity of the vote, but the reality is that their policies have created confusion and chaos for hundreds of thousands of voters. Put another way, there’s not a serious Republican effort to expand the electorate and bring new people into the process. But there is a major one to do the opposite. And it hasn’t popped up in response to threats to the sanctity of the vote – even conservatives are beginning to acknowledge there isn’t much voter fraud – it’s emerged in a world where electorates are increasingly filled with people who don’t support Republicans.

It’s brazen, it’s indefensible, and it needs to end.

Sure, but who’s going to end it? This Supreme Court won’t. Let the states sort it out, or let Congress pass a new version of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which they declared hopelessly out-of-date last summer. It’s not their problem. And some people will now vote for Republicans for a change, because they’re so clever. They not only know what they want, unlike cautious and careful Obama, they know exactly how to get what they want. You have to admire that.

This solves the problem Paul Ryan couldn’t solve. Tell someone they have to be just like you, and even if being just like you is obviously good for them, they’ll dig in their heels. What can you do with people like that? You can marginalize them, or you can be even bolder, as Jonathan Chait explains:

The Obama era has seen a resurgence of conservative constitutional fetishism – the belief that the Constitution not only requires the Republican domestic agenda, but is figuratively or even literally divine. Fox News columnist and television personality Dr. Keith Ablow has taken this premise and applied it toward American foreign policy. The result is a remarkable column calling for what he calls “American Jihad.”

The column from this psychiatrist, a regular on Fox News is here – and rather amazing – as Chait explains:

Ablow’s argument, at least conceptually, is extremely simple. The United States, like Al Qaeda, has a sacred document: “Our Constitution is a sacred document that better defines and preserves the liberty and autonomy of human beings than the charter of any other nation on earth.”

Therefore, every person on Earth should enjoy its blessings: “An American jihad would embrace the correct belief that if every nation on earth were governed by freely elected leaders and by our Constitution, the world would be a far better place.”

Note that Ablow is not merely endorsing a civilizational war between the West and radical Islam, as extreme hawks are wont to do. He is endorsing a campaign of conquest aimed at literally every other country on Earth. Ablow is not satisfied with bringing democracy to those who don’t enjoy it. He proposes to bring the American Constitution to every country, even democratic ones.

Ablow does say this:

We would urge our leaders, after their service in the U.S. Senate and Congress, to seek dual citizenship in other nations, like France and Italy and Sweden and Argentina and Brazil and Germany, and work to influence those nations to adopt laws very much like our own. We might even fund our leaders’ campaigns for office in these other nations.


The trouble here is that the citizens of some of these democracies have constitutions and parliamentary systems of their own that they regard with some fondness. Are they going to like the idea of Americans moving there, seeking citizenship, and working to change their Constitutions to make them like ours? Would the people of (to take one of his examples) France really vote for an American candidate who was funded by the American government for the purpose of imposing the American Constitution upon France?

They too might dig in their heels, and Chait suspects Ablow knows it:

Ablow may not have total confidence in this plan, either, which would explain his proposal to “double the budgets of the CIA and our Special Forces” and “seek to fund an international mercenary force for good.” That kind of sounds a little bit like terrorism. But it’s okay because, Ablow writes, “we have a God-given right to intervene – because we have been to the mountaintop of freedom, and we have seen the Promised Land spanning the globe.” It’s not terrorism if God is telling you to do it.

Well, if America is exceptional, this is our duty. Ablow does mention Manifest Destiny several times – the doctrine that we used to justify killing all the Native Americans, the Indians, the Redskins, the savages, and extending the United States all the way out here to Hollywood and Venice Beach. Abraham Lincoln thought that doctrine was horseshit, but what did he know? It worked. Maybe next Ablow will suggest shooting all the poor, who are also ruining America. It’s the same sort of thing. And it’s bold. But just who is ruining America here?

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What Happens Next

It’s simple human nature to wonder what happens next, given what’s happening now, which is why there is science fiction, speculative fiction for an anxious public – but the flying saucers from the tacky black-and-white low-budget fifties movies never showed up. There was no day the earth stood still and a tall elegant fellow from outer space, with a vaguely British accent, forced the human race to choose between giving up war or, the alternative, having our planet wiped out, because we were dangerous to everyone else out there in the universe. Nope – we were on our own – and for all the nuclear testing back then there was no fifty-foot woman and not one Godzilla showed up either. These were cautionary tales – scare stories. Sometimes it was giant spiders or giant ants. If we kept going the way we were going such things could happen. You never know, but 1984 came, and went, and we weren’t in that George Orwell novel, except in minor ways. Aldous Huxley posited that Brave New World, a nightmare too, but we still find ourselves in the same muddled old world that was here yesterday and will be here tomorrow. Ray Bradbury projected a world where no one reads anything anymore, where scary police squads go around burning books, but people still read. The paper in books might burn at Fahrenheit 451, but your Kindle just melts, and the books themselves are actually on a cloud-server somewhere. People still read them. Orwell and Huxley and Bradbury were brilliant writers, and they got us thinking about what we were doing, as we should, but no one knows what happens next. Don’t expect flying saucers, and waiting for Godzilla is as bitterly futile as waiting for Godot. Oh, and those flying cars? There won’t be one of those in your garage. Don’t expect the good stuff either.

Don’t expect the good stuff in politics either. The latest Washington Post poll confirms that even if there’s a still a week left before the midterm election, and even if there are more than a few close races that could fall to the Democrats, this is going to be a good election for the Republicans. The math is clear. Republicans are going to take over the Senate, giving them unified control of Congress. This is what Republicans have been working on for years and have never quite pulled off given the occasional odd and clueless Tea Party candidate they had to run, when a sensible and competent mainstream Republican senator, like Richard Lugar, was tossed out on his ear by their own purist insurgents. Now they’ve solved that problem, or contained it. This is their year.

What happens next? The man who will lead this new Republican Senate, unless he is somehow upset in his election, is telling his folks that there will be no flying car:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) downplayed the prospects of repealing Obamacare if Republicans win control of the Senate next week… Appearing Tuesday on Fox News, he was asked by host Neil Cavuto if he’d push for “defunding and getting rid of the Affordable Care Act” as majority leader.

“Well, it’s the top of my list, but remember who’s in the White House for two more years. Obviously, he’s not going to sign a full repeal,” McConnell said. “It would take 60 votes in the Senate. Nobody thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans. And it would take a president – presidential signature. No one thinks we’re going to get that.”

But McConnell said he intends to force Democrats to take tough votes on scrapping unpopular pieces of Obamacare, such as the medical device tax and the individual mandate.

Even that might not work. There is no brave new world here, and Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo is impressed that Republicans abandoned Obamacare repeal and got away with it:

With the law benefiting many voters in their states, Republican candidates in key Senate races are tacitly supporting core Obamacare provisions, most notably the Medicaid expansion.

But shhh, don’t call it Obamacare. “Obamacare” remains a dirty word in Republican politics, and so these candidates are rhetorically toeing the party line for repeal. Scratch beneath the surface and they’re making a logically strained implication that they can eliminate Obamacare without taking away its benefits.

One revealing example is North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis. During the primary, the state house speaker boasted in a TV ad that he “stopped Obama’s Medicaid expansion cold.” But last week he flipped his position and argued that North Carolina is “trending in a direction where we should consider potential expansion.” He told Time Warner Cable News, “I would encourage the state legislature and the governor to consider it.”

He’s now in favor of Medicaid expansion, a good thing, but not Obamacare, a bad thing, which Kapur finds puzzling:

Medicaid expansion isn’t a small piece of Obamacare, it accounts for about half of the law’s newly insured non-elderly adults: 8.7 million more Americans have enrolled under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Care Program since the expansion last year, compared to 7.3 million on the Obamacare exchanges, according to administration figure.

This is Obamacare, and that’s the problem:

Iowa’s Joni Ernst, who holds a narrow lead in the race, illustrates the dilemma for Republican Senate candidates caught between a conservative base that despises Obamacare and their constituents who are benefiting from the Medicaid expansion – an estimated 100,000 Iowans. Ernst has repeatedly called for repealing Obamacare, but she has also said Congress must “protect those that are on Medicaid now.”

She wants it both ways, but that’s not possible:

If Obamacare is repealed, Medicaid would lose its authority to spend federal dollars to insure those additional Iowans, and they’d be thrown off their coverage. Ernst’s campaign hasn’t responded to three queries by TPM since late August on how she would maintain existing Medicaid coverage if Obamacare is repealed.

It’s the same for Mitch:

The dilemma has vexed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, where the state-based Obamacare portal, Kynect, has signed up some 520,000 residents under Medicaid expansion and the subsidized market exchanges. What’s the Republican leader to do? Throw them off? That’s too risky, especially when he’s facing an unexpectedly strong reelection challenge from a Democrat who promises to protect that coverage.

McConnell has sought to distinguish Kynect from Obamacare, arguing that Kentucky should be allowed to keep Kynect if Obamacare is repealed, and saying Kynect is merely a “website” that he’s “fine” with continuing. His position on the health care law was pilloried as “bizarre” by the Louisville Courier-Journal and an “outlandish deception” by the Lexington Herald-Leader – the state’s two largest papers.

Asked what Obamacare repeal would mean for the newly covered Kentuckians, a McConnell Senate aide gave TPM a statement from the senator calling for “repeal and replace” of Obamacare “with commonsense patient-centered reforms that preserve greater choice for my constituents while also lowering costs.” It’s unclear where that would leave the Kentuckians who are insured because of Obamacare subsidies and Medicaid expansion.

Kapur goes on, Senate race by Senate race, to show every Republican saying end Obamacare and expand Medicaid, obviously using the authority under Obamacare, which they will repeal, to spend federal dollars to insure those additional folks. The Kapur item is long, and repetitive, and surreal. These folks will be in charge. What happens next? No one knows, and the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman sees a dystopian nightmare:

There are multiple reasons for this, but they all have their roots in the fundamental dilemma that has plagued the GOP throughout Barack Obama’s presidency: the contradictory demands of appealing to a broad electorate and appeasing an eternally angry and suspicious base.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball explains how we are seeing that already:

In Kansas recently Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who’s in a tough race for reelection, made a statement that left me puzzled. “A vote for me is a vote to change the Senate back to a Republican majority, and we’ll get things done,” he said. “And it means a stop to the Obama agenda.”

Wait a minute, I thought. Which is it – ending the status quo of Washington gridlock? Or ratcheting up the gridlock by obstructing President Obama? You can’t “get things done” in Washington without the president’s signature, and no matter what happens in this year’s elections, he’s not going anywhere for another two years.

Yet these two seemingly contradictory messages are at the heart of Republican Senate campaigns across the country. I’ve heard them from candidate after candidate, and the paradox behind them gets to the question political watchers are increasingly pondering: If, as seems likely, Republicans take the Senate, what then? Will the GOP see its takeover as a mandate for ever more extreme partisanship? Or will the party suddenly turn conciliatory, ushering in a new age of progress?

She can image which it will be:

One possibility is that nothing will really change. After all, we have divided government now, and we will still have divided government if Republicans go from 45 senators to 51. Obama will still be in the White House, and the House of Representatives will still belong to the GOP. With the Senate requiring a 60-vote supermajority for most legislation, Republicans have effectively had a veto in the upper house since Scott Brown was elected in 2010. Democratic priorities like gun control or a minimum-wage hike wouldn’t be any deader in a Republican-controlled Congress than they already are. The status quo is often a good bet in Washington, and it may well be that it simply continues.

That’s a good bet:

Given McConnell’s track record of keeping Republicans staunchly unified against virtually anything Obama proposes, many observers, particularly liberal pundits, believe McConnell would quickly devote the Senate to passing a raft of partisan legislation that Obama would never allow to become law: repealing Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, approving the entitlement-slashing House budget plan authored by Representative Paul Ryan, restricting the Environmental Protection Agency, and so on. The result would be a more partisan, toxic, and stalemated Washington than ever before.

There’s evidence to support this view. In an interview with Politico in August, McConnell said he planned to “challenge” Obama by passing spending bills that included “a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.” That is, Republicans would attach their policy priorities – McConnell specifically mentioned reining in the EPA – to the legislation that funds the government, forcing Obama either to approve their pet projects or shut down the government.

They’ve done that before and they can do it again, although there’s another way to look at this:

Those who see McConnell only as an obstructionist are overlooking another significant part of his profile: his record as a dealmaker. As the general election nears, McConnell has sought to emphasize this as well. “There have been three major bipartisan agreements during the Obama years between Republicans and Democrats,” he said in last week’s Kentucky Senate debate with his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. “The vice president and I have negotiated every one of them.” McConnell was referring to the December 2010 deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, the last-minute 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling, and last year’s fiscal-cliff deal. This is the side of McConnell that drives conservatives crazy, putting him in the unique position of being ardently reviled by left and right alike. But as Alec MacGillis’ excellent new eBook on McConnell makes clear, the Kentucky senator’s top priority has always been not ideology but his own political advancement and survival. He made those deals because, much as his base hated to see him working with Democrats, the alternative would have been even worse for the GOP – and him – politically.

Maybe that’s so, and then there’s this:

When and if they take control of the Senate, Republicans will have a big incentive not to simply create more gridlock: It would make them look terrible, worsening their image as the “party of no” and making it harder for their presidential nominee to win in 2016.

Waldman isn’t so sure about that:

There will be tremendous built-up pressure from conservatives that Sen. Mitch McConnell (assuming he wins his own race and becomes majority leader) will have to satisfy. That means votes on things such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, building border fences, slashing environmental regulations and cutting corporate taxes, most or all of which will be unpopular and inevitably filibustered by Senate Democrats.

At that point, McConnell would have a way to create confrontations not with Harry Reid but with President Obama. In November 2013, Reid and Democrats changed Senate rules to eliminate filibusters on most presidential appointments. Though it was called “the nuclear option,” the true nuclear option would apply to legislation, which under current rules the minority is still free to filibuster (as the Republicans do). Would McConnell go fully nuclear and get rid of that, too, so the GOP Congress could send bills to the president’s desk?

That would be dumb:

There wouldn’t be much point, since Obama would just veto the bills. And McConnell surely knows that his time as majority leader would come with a two-year expiration date, since in 2016 there will be only 10 Democrat-held seats up for election, while Republicans will be defending 24 seats, many in Democratic states, and they will be doing it in a presidential election year, when the electorate that comes to the polls is far more friendly to Democrats. McConnell won’t be too eager to hand a Senate with no filibusters back to Reid in 2016.

Ed Kilgore is also not hopeful:

Ball draws on her “listen to both sides” journalism training and actually ends the piece actively entertaining the idea that a post-midterm-victory GOP is going to behave itself to give its presidential candidate an easier path, and might find common ground with Barack Obama, the poor sap who cannot say no to a “bipartisan” deal (except when he does).

Well, miracles are always possible. And there is the occasional 1996-97 welfare-reform-balanced-budget-agreement precedent for a divided government coming together to do things that happen to be in the (perceived, at least) self-interest of people who hate each other.

But putting aside Obama’s attitude, the idea of congressional Republicans “moderating” themselves to help their presidential candidate has a pretty recent counter-example: the very last cycle, when poor old Mitt had to meet ideological litmus test after litmus test while trying to convince swing voters he really wanted to throw his crazy cousins in Congress into the nearest mental health facility. And you know what? Even if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell want to play it that way, does anyone think they can snap their finger and convince their conferences to spend the next two years burnishing Barack Obama’s legacy?

That’s the future. Don’t expect good stuff, flying cars, or bad stuff, Godzilla or that mean fifty-foot woman. Expect two years of nothing much at all, which seems to be what Americans will vote for, which Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog finds outrageous:

Thanks to Republicans, Congress accomplished nothing in the past two years. Americans hate Congress for that, and congressional Republicans have staggeringly low approval ratings as a result. A year ago, Republicans shut down the government, and Americans really hated that.

And guess what? None of that mattered to Republicans. They’re poised to have a great election.

The shutdown was in October 2013, and Americans forgot all about it by Thanksgiving, if not sooner. Everyone who thought it was going to affect this year’s midterms was an idiot. Democrats never hammer away at Republicans the way Republicans hammer away at Democrats, and the mainstream press routinely blames both sides, so Republicans were never going to be held accountable for the shutdown. And most voters blame the president and his party for everything that’s wrong with government, especially when the president is a Democrat and the right-wing media sets the tone of most debates, so voters aren’t blaming Republicans for the do-nothing nature of the Congress, either.

He sees a horror movie coming:

Why should Republicans be worried if nothing is accomplished in the next two years? Hell, why should they even try to avoid another shutdown? They’ve proved that they suffer no long-term consequences for this sort of behavior. In the next two years, all they have to do is continue to let everything drift. Voters will stay angry, and Republicans will blame Obama – with a little blame on the side for Hillary in foreign policy matters. Where’s the peril? There is none – Republicans are the Teflon party, at least as long as Democrats have the presidency.

Maybe we do live in some sort of awful Brave New World now, even if it’s not Huxley’s. In 2011, Harvard’s Theda Skocpol, the professor of sociology and political science, released The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism – written with Vanessa Williamson – that suggested that new world. Salon’s Elias Isquith interviewed her about how things stand now and heard things like this:

It’ll be interesting to see what happens after Republicans take the Senate, as I expect that they will do, by two or three or four votes. There are some fairly extreme candidates who have been successful in the Republican primaries this time around who are going to get elected to the Senate and to the House (on top of some very extreme ones who made it even in the last cycle). So I think we’re going to see an intensified war inside the Republican Party between the business-oriented wing and those who are beholden either to popular Tea Party forces or to ideological funders.

This will be a nightmare for the Republicans:

We know that John Boehner, and presumably Mitch McConnell, are going to be trying to engineer some compromises, particularly on budget issues, and they’ve already shown some ability to bring enough people along to avoid shutdowns and fiscal cliffs. But what are they going to do with, for example, the fact that their party has promised repeal of Obamacare?

That is a completely disingenuous promise. It is certainly something that these leaders know can’t happen. But there’s going to be a lot of pressure, not just to hold the symbolic vote that Obama would then veto if it made it to his desk – and I’m not sure it would – but to start going after major subsidies in the law that benefit millions of voters and benefit businesses that are very uneasy about that Tea Party strand of Republicanism.

I don’t know what’s going to happen there – and of course that’s not even to get to the immigration issue. There are divisions within Tea Party forces on that one, but Republicans have fought an election on a maximalist, deport-them-all platform that just is not going to fly in 2016. It’s already been clear in the last two years that John Boehner cannot control his own caucus. And in the Senate, nobody can really control anyone. So I’m not quite sure how that’s going to play out.

No one is sure, but the conflict has been there all along:

The sense that our country’s being taken away from us, that a lot of government spending is benefiting undocumented immigrants – illegals, in their view – and that we must defend the country against this influx, that’s very passionate for grass-roots Tea Partyers.

But when we talk about elite forces that have labeled themselves Tea Party supporters and are trying to kind of whip up the fears below and use those fears along with their money and their ideological pressures on the Republican officeholders, they’re divided about immigration reform. You can look at the Jim DeMint crowd, and the Heritage Action Foundation, and see they staked out a maximalist, nativist position that is really the intellectual justification for the popular passions I described before.

But the Koch brothers network, instantiated most clearly at this point in Americans for Prosperity, they don’t care what kind of people they exploit. And they’re actually in favor of a version of immigration reform that might even include a kind of infinitely winding very-delayed route to some legalization. Their guy is Paul Ryan (Paul Ryan always follows the Koch brothers’ line on everything) and he’s made favorable noises.

There you have it. It really is simple human nature to wonder what happens next, given what’s happening now, and this has been happening for years now. In the fifties there were all those atmospheric nuclear tests, testing the bombs that would keep us safe and free and keep America being America, which spewed radiation all over the place, which might have produced a Godzilla. It seems we finally got our Godzilla. Watch it destroy civilization.

Posted in Midterm Elections, Republican Takeover of the Senate | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bold Cowardice

Ebola is a terrible disease, and a godsend to the cable news networks. They finally get more than the usual political junkies and disaster whores to watch what they’ve got for more than half a minute. Now they’ve got people shouting at each other about how we should shut down air travel from the African nations in trouble with Ebola, or maybe all of Africa. We’re all going to die if we don’t. Then, on the other side, it’s some medical expert saying that misses the point and is a waste of time – we know how people get the disease, and it’s hard to get, and that will make a mess of things for no good reason. Only those who have worked with Ebola patients are at risk, if they were momentarily careless – it’s not everyone flying in from Africa – and they are not at all contagious until they start showing symptoms. If after twenty-one days, the incubation period of the virus, they show no symptoms, then there never was a problem – and there’s no problem while they wait. You can’t catch anything from these few people during that time – and if they become symptomatic, it’s still hard to catch anything from them. That fellow who died in Dallas, the only one so far over here, lived in a little apartment with a lot of folks, and none of them, including his fiancée, caught anything. They waited in isolation for their twenty-one days, and they walked away just fine. They didn’t die, even if no one will get near them now. That’s absurd. There are no Ebola cooties.

That’s why President Obama invited the nurse who treated that now-dead guy and did get Ebola – because that hospital in Dallas was hopelessly incompetent or certainly unprepared – to the White House after she recovered. He gave her a big hug. He was sending a message. Look, folks, no cooties! He was suggesting we should all calm down. One person here has died. You won’t get Ebola from being sneezed on by someone whose brother knew someone who worked at the coffee shop across the street from a hospital down the street from the hospital where someone showed up with a fever and was sure they had Ebola. It’s not airborne and it doesn’t cling to and live on surfaces, like doorknobs. You have to come in contact with the body fluids of someone finally showing symptoms – blood, vomit, saliva – that sort of thing.

No, you’re not going to get Ebola. That’s why Mayor de Blasio didn’t shut down the subway system in New York after that doctor, just returned from Africa, took the subway to Brooklyn the day before he started showing symptoms. There was and is no danger, and that subway system is useful. It wasn’t like that in northeastern Ohio, where Ebola patient Amber Vinson had visited her mother just days before being diagnosed. There officials did what seemed best at the time, out of an “abundance of caution” of course:

Two Cleveland-area school districts shut down entirely on Thursday, citing one teacher who had unspecified contact with an infected patient and another who was on a different flight “but perhaps the same aircraft” as Vinson – a step that public health officials deemed unnecessary. Ohio health officials also issued new guidelines on Thursday that go well beyond what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended: The state says that even those who’ve exchanged a simple handshake with an infected individual should be quarantined for 21 days if they’re not wearing protective gear, even though the disease is not airborne and cannot be transmitted through casual contact. Ohio officials also recommend that those who have been “within a three-foot radius” of an infected individual for a prolonged time should monitor themselves…

That will calm the public, or cause more panic. Should we panic? That’s where the cable news shows can boost their ratings to the sky. We have a controversy! Bring on someone to argue there’s nothing wrong with a travel ban. It only makes sense, because what do these doctors know? Sure, they’ve been treating Ebola outbreaks for decades, but what do they really know? On Fox News there’s talk about how Ebola could be airborne. Viruses mutate, and this one could. There’s no evidence it has, or will, but you never know. CNN ran a long segment on how the incubation period could be far longer than anyone really knows, with the appropriate dissenting experts, who were all misreading the carefully compiled data over all the years – but it was a compelling segment, not repeated – the link is gone now. But why not present both sides? Science and the facts say one thing. Stay tuned for our next guest, who says science and facts are wrong, and we’re all gonna die. People stay tuned. Revenues rise.

And then there’s the show no one watches on the cable news channel no one watches:

During an exchange Monday on the country’s response to Ebola, MSNBC personality and “Morning Joe” regular Donny Deutsch may have unwittingly provided fodder to Fox News.

Citing a recent piece by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Deutsçh expressed annoyance at the hysteria over the outbreak.

“I don’t know if you guys feel this. Robert Reich wrote a piece that touched on this that we’re kind of a nation of cowards now. Every time I run into somebody who’s on north shore of Long Island – ‘I’m afraid of Ebola’ – it’s just, shut up. You know, are you not getting it, yes, this is something that’s serious. Just stop it. Stop it.”

The show’s host Joe Scarborough said that the widespread fear is a byproduct of a lack of trust in leaders.

“I also think they’re cowards,” Deutsch said.

Yeah, yeah – our current leaders are cowards and fools – the Fox News line – but Robert Reich was making a different point:

We have to get a grip. Ebola is not a crisis in the United States. One person has died and two people are infected with his body fluids. The real crisis is the hysteria over Ebola that’s being fed by media outlets seeking sensationalism and politicians posturing for the midterm elections.

The skinny black guy who hates America isn’t running for anything. Others are running for House and Senate seats and governorships, and they’re the problem:

Some politicians from both parties are demanding an end to commercial flights between the United States and several West African countries. But there are no direct flights to the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where Ebola is taking its biggest toll.

So do they want to ban all commercial flights that might contain someone from any of these countries, who might have transferred planes? That would cover just about all commercial flights coming from outside the United States.

The most important thing we can do to prevent Ebola from ever becoming a crisis in the United States is to help Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where 10,000 new cases could crop up weekly unless the spread of the virus is slowed soon.

Isolating these poor nations would only make their situation worse. Does anyone seriously believe we could quarantine hundreds of thousands of infected people a continent away who are infecting others?

We should go fix things there, so things don’t get out of hand here, and we didn’t used to be this cowardly:

What’s wrong with us? We never used to blink at taking a leadership role in the world. And we understood leadership often required something other than drones and bombs.

We accepted global leadership not just for humanitarian reasons but also because it was in our own best interest. We knew we couldn’t isolate ourselves from trouble. There was no place to hide.

After World War II, we rebuilt Europe and Japan. Belatedly, we achieved peace in Kosovo. We almost eradicated polio. We took on tuberculosis, worldwide.

Now even Cuba is doing more on the ground in West Africa than we are. It’s dispatching hundreds of doctors and nurses to the front lines. The first group of 165 arrived in Sierra Leone in the past few days.

Where are we?

We’re here:

More people are killed by stray bullets every day in America than have been killed by Ebola here. More are dying because of poverty and hunger.

More American kids are getting asthma because their homes are located next to major highways. One out of three of our children are obese, at risk of early-onset diabetes.

We’re not even getting a flu shot to all Americans who need one.

Instead, we bicker. For the last eight months, Republicans have been blocking confirmation of a Surgeon General.

Why? Because the President’s nominee voiced support for expanded background checks for gun purchases, and the National Rifle Association objected.

Obama isn’t the coward here. We could be bold and fix the problem over there – which Obama is trying to do even if that panics Republicans who love our troops and don’t want them to die – instead of being bold by shutting down air travel and tossing a few people who are no danger to public health into state-run quarantine, with guards and all. That’s bold, but it’s stupid, and it for two governors, it didn’t go well at all:

Shifting stances and a lack of clear standards from the governors of New York and New Jersey over their Ebola quarantine policy left critics and even some allies questioning on Monday whether the two men had fully worked through the details before they announced it.

In New York, local health officials said on Monday that they had not yet received any details of the three-day-old Ebola quarantine policy they are charged with enforcing.

In New Jersey, requests for such specifics were met with six sentences from a Friday news release.

Governors Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that they were imposing their strict new mandatory quarantine because standards from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been inadequate.

But on Monday, faced with criticism from the nurse who had been detained in Newark as the test case of the new quarantine, Mr. Christie said the CDC – not New Jersey – had been responsible for hospitalizing her and giving her the Ebola test in the first place.

That was nonsense:

Mr. Christie first issued an executive order on Ebola on Wednesday, and in a news conference that day said he was content with the screening and policies in place. Less than 48 hours later, he and Mr. Cuomo, at a hastily arranged news conference, dismissed federal standards as shifting and inadequate.

In what Mr. Christie called “tough, common-sense policy,” the governors on Friday outlined a mandatory twenty-one-day quarantine for travelers who had direct contact with Ebola patients.

But on Monday, after fierce criticism from a nurse detained in Newark, Mr. Christie announced she was being released after three days of quarantine. He said Maine, where she lives, would determine her treatment.

But the CDC made him do it, whatever it was, and Dylan Scott fills in the details:

If anything is clear from the reporting of the nurse who was quarantined in a New Jersey hospital over Ebola fears, it’s that the actual quarantine itself was handled miserably.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who returned to the U.S. via Newark airport Friday after treating Ebola patients for Doctors without Borders in Sierra Leone, described her treatment as “a frenzy of disorganization.” She was so flustered that a forehead reading showed her with a fever – which was then used as reason to quarantine her. Later, they took her temperature again and no fever registered. She was kept in quarantine anyway.

Further reported details of Hickox’s predicament made clear that, although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were anxious to show resolve and order the quarantine, their local health officials weren’t ready to carry out the order in any way that resembled humane treatment.

According to CNN, Hickox was placed in a tent inside the isolation ward at University Hospital in Newark almost simultaneously to the quarantine policy being put in effect. She was not allowed to take her luggage with her into quarantine and was forced to wear paper scrubs. She had no shower or flushable toilet – she also lacked any form of entertainment, no television and no reading materials. She had to speak with her lawyers through a narrow window in the tent.

She said she mostly spent her time staring at walls – until she started to take her story national in a first-person narrative for the Dallas Morning News and in her Sunday interview with CNN.

Then things blew up:

Almost as soon as these details started to leak, the hospital appeared to scramble to set right what was quickly becoming a public relations disaster. That in turn is emblematic of the entire episode, in which what was seen as a political sure thing faced a harsh backlash and eventual capitulation.

“The patient has computer access, use of her cell phone, reading material (magazines, newspaper) and requested and has received take-out food and drink,” the university said in an update as reports of the quarantine’s conditions spread, per CNN.

Christie and Cuomo announced the quarantine policy late on Friday and it was effectively undone by Monday morning. First, they apparently failed to notify any of the local authorities involved. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that neither he nor his health department was consulted about the quarantine. Nor did the state authorities confer with the White House.

They were being bold, and stupid:

The efficacy of the quarantine was questioned by New York City Health Commissioner Mary Basset, according to the New York Daily News. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, made the rounds on the Sunday morning shows and criticized the policies.

“I don’t want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made. But we have to be careful that there aren’t unintended consequences,” he said on Meet the Press. “We need to treat them, returning people, with respect, and make sure that they’re really heroes. So the idea that we’re being a little bit draconian, there are other ways to protect.”

At first, Christie in particular was defiant. He said Sunday morning that he had “no second thoughts” about instituting the quarantine. But that confidence lasted just 24 hours more.

By Sunday evening, Cuomo was revising his quarantine policy, per the New York Times, ordering that patients could spend their time at home. By Monday morning, with everybody from the White House to almost any medical authority who had spoken publicly on the issue urging a more restrained response, Christie said that Hickox could spend the remainder of her 21 days at home.

Christie’s office did what it could to save face after that announcement, but the speed of the reversal crystallized what had really been clear from the beginning: This whole thing had been botched.

But that had been bold. That should count for something, and it did count for something:

Although there have been only four confirmed diagnoses of Ebola on US soil, 4 in 10 Americans worry that they or a family member might contract the virus, and wide majorities still support travel restrictions on those returning from west Africa, polls find. Moreover, public confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle Ebola is dropping, according to a recent Gallup poll.

An unscientific poll on on Monday afternoon showed that 55 percent of respondents said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is doing the best job of responding to the Ebola crisis. President Obama was second at 20 percent.

People like bold, not smart, even if this was a cowardly thing to do out of fear, and misinformed – but the woman had come from Africa! She had worked with Ebola patients! If the public is scared silly, and cowardly about what is not a major problem, a politician will go with that. He will be boldly cowardly. There are votes there, and Chris Christie had been the tough guy:

While in Florida campaigning for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Christie stood by New Jersey’s quarantine policy.

“I know she didn’t want to be there. No one ever wants to be in the hospital, I suspect, and so I understand that,” he told reporters. “But the fact is I have a much greater, bigger responsibility to the people and the public, and so I think when she has time to reflect she will understand that as well.”

Digby (Heather Parton) doesn’t understand:

No, she is not a silly bimbo who didn’t understand her situation and “upon reflection” will understand that Daddy Knew Best. She is a medical professional, an epidemiology specialist, who knows very well that Chris Christie is completely ignorant about protecting the public from this disease and had no business spending several days talking about her as if she was a spoiled child who needed to go to bed without her supper. He betrayed his ignorance by repeatedly saying she was “ill” and hoping that she “recovered” even though she has tested negative and has no symptoms at all. (It was assumed that he meant she had Ebola but looking more closely at his comments it’s possible that he was saying she was having a mental breakdown. That’s what gaslighting pigs like Christie commonly do…)

Judging from what I read around the internet this week-end, the right-wingers think Christie’s jackboots are awesome. He can lock up nurses in FEMA camps all day long on a whim and that’s fine with them.

Yeah, but there’s a problem with that:

Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who has been in touch with Hickox about her legal options, said he thought the quarantine order was illegal and unconstitutional. He noted that since you can’t catch Ebola from someone unless they are both infected and showing symptoms, Hickox poses no danger to the public. “The courts are very suspicious when you deny a whole class of people their liberty,” he said. “She’s being detained because she’s a member of a large class of people who happened to have been in the region.”

That may not matter. There was the doctor who rode the subway and is now in isolation with full-blown Ebola, Craig Spenser, and Jason Koebler, who visited the same bowling alley in Brooklyn as Spencer on that Wednesday night:

I know how Ebola is spread. I’ve spent lots of time writing about it and researching it and on calls with the Centers for Disease Control and watching press conferences and interviewing doctors. I know I don’t have Ebola. And still, all I could think about was whether or not I had touched or even seen this guy – only part of it being morbid curiosity. Maybe that’s the power of this thing. I’m a (relatively) rational and highly informed person (on this issue), and still I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit worried.

He’s frightened, and knows he shouldn’t be, but still is, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out how useful that is right now at election time:

The country is as anxious and uncertain as it’s been in a very long time. Much of that anxiety had been laid at the feet of a deeply uncertain economic situation (the broad indicators improving without much to show for it closer to the ground) and the turbulence abroad (the Islamic State, Russia, the Middle East, etc.) coupled with a broader sense that the institutions that we once relied on (government, church, the justice system) are no longer reliable.

That sense of drift – caught between the old way of doing things and a not-yet-realized new way of doing things – is palpable in polling (huge majorities who say the country is headed in the wrong direction, a desire to get rid of everyone in Congress in one fell swoop) and in conversations I’ve had both with political professionals and average people. Ebola – with its sky-high mortality rate and lack of a vaccine – dovetails perfectly with those existing fears and anxieties.

Paul Waldman, listening to Senator Pat Roberts call for hearings on how to shut the borders and keep us safe, is just tired of it all:

Here’s what I’d like to hear a candidate say when asked about this: “I don’t have an Ebola policy, because I’m running to be a legislator. It’s the job of legislators to do things like set budgets, but when there’s an actual outbreak of an infectious disease somewhere in the world, we should step back and let the people who actually know what they’re doing handle things. In this case, that’s the Centers for Disease Control. This is why we have a CDC in the first place, because if we were relying on politicians to keep us safe from infectious diseases, we’d really be screwed.”

You can call that an abdication of responsibility, but it isn’t. Even if Congress has an important role to play in setting policy priorities for agencies like the CDC, once there’s a potential crisis occurring, the idea that a bunch of yahoos like Pat Roberts should be determining the details of our response is absurd.

The same could be said for these two governors, but they both know that bold cowardice is what the people want, because it makes the frightened cowardly public feel better about being so stupid. The public knows that we’re not all going to die, but the public also feels that might be so, and also knows that this feeling is irrational, if not absurd. That sort of thing can make you hate yourself. That’s why they need politicians like Christie and Cuomo, to resolve that internal conflict. There are, however, other possible resolutions. Get over it. Worry about some actual problems.

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Explaining the American Dream

Growing up in the new raw post-war suburbs of Pittsburgh was pretty much an all-white experience, even if the hero of all heroes in Pittsburgh will always be Roberto Clemente, a black man from Puerto Rico whose English was limited. It didn’t matter. He was cool as hell, and a hell of a baseball player. Maybe he was the Miles Davis of baseball – he didn’t have to say much, he just had to play. Everyone loved the guy, and to be fair, the city itself was multicultural. Every culture in Central Europe was represented, even the Lithuanians, and there were lots of Italians too, but that was about it. The black folks lived in the Hill District. August Wilson wrote about those lives. The rest of us watched the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights. In the early sixties, those high school years, the South was being ripped apart by all that civil rights stuff. Something big was happening, something important. It wasn’t happening in Pittsburgh. It was time to leave.

That’s what college is for. That’s where you go to learn about the wider world, so in September, 1965, it was off to learn about the world, to get a liberal arts education, at one of the best small liberal arts universities in Ohio, Denison University, an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms. That place was pretty white too, even if they did their best at diversity. Their best wasn’t good enough. At the time there were few blacks and even fewer Asians and no Hispanics, which is understandable. Why would they want to spend four years in that slow Grant Wood world? The school had to import the outside world, visiting scholars and guest lecturers, and then there was that weekend that The Supremes gave a concert on campus. The frat boys were amazed. Diana Ross was hot! That changed everything they thought about “those people” – but probably not in healthy way. There was also that odd Harry “Sweets” Edison, the legendary jazz trumpet guy, and he was wonderful, and he sneered at all the white kids who were blown away by his brilliance. He was laughing at us. He may have flipped us off, but that was many years ago and memory fails. He probably did. That was probably appropriate.

Things weren’t much different in graduate school, at Duke University, in the South. It was the South. Everyone knew the rules. The civil rights movement had only changed the law, not the social rules, and then it was teaching English at a prep school in Rochester, New York – a private school, for the city’s elite, or those that could afford it, in a city that was much like Pittsburgh, pretty much white – a double whammy. Rochester is also as upstate as upstate can be, about as far from New York City as a you can be without ending up in Eire or Cleveland. A taste of the outside world was a full day’s drive away, if you weren’t snowed in. Canada was on the other side of the lake.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1981 fixed all that. It wasn’t just all the folks speaking Spanish. That’s a cartoon view of Los Angeles. There’s a Japanese community, and culture, and you hear Mandarin and Cantonese too, and Thai and Tagalog and Vietnamese. Long Beach has Tongan gangs and Glendale has Armenian gangs – it’s not just the Bloods and Crips from Compton, now evolved into who knows what. Little Ethiopia is just down the street here, on the other side of all the Ukrainians. The outside world was here, or this was, finally, the big wide world. Los Angeles would provide that liberal arts education that the little college in the middle of Ohio never could. There were no books. You had to live it. You had no choice.

Systems work in aerospace only reinforces that. The best midrange and mainframe systems we were using were written by young Russian guys out of UCLA and such places. Half of what was coming out of Silicon Valley up north was the work of odd fellows from India, and the guy on your left might be Vietnamese, or Iranian – in the seventies all the professional people had left there, when the ayatollahs took over. The water-cooler conversations were interesting. We all saw the world differently and tried to figure that out. What’s important in one culture isn’t important in another. Some folks don’t think Jesus is the answer to everything. Who knew? It was a daily gradate seminar in cultural values and international relations.

We had a fine time, and then there was that waif of a Frenchwoman. We got along fine. The cultural gap wasn’t wide, but she asked about what puzzled her. Why leave teaching? Teachers are the most respected persons in any community, and in any culture, and they earn good money. Why leave? Isn’t it like that in America?

No, it isn’t. Why? The answer to that was that it just isn’t, because the real answer is long and tedious. The tedious answer was explored by Richard Hofstadter in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and the essays collected in The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964) which explored our curious distrust of people who know more than we know, a culturally established distrust of experts and expertise. If you’re so smart how come you’re not rich? Maybe there was a time when being well-educated and insightful, and full of ideas, or at least able to discuss the ideas of others intelligently, or least know there were ideas floating around out there somewhere and they mattered, made you cool – or maybe that was France. But now, here, more than ever before, that makes you a fool. You’re inauthentic. You’ve lost touch with the real America. Obama, with his degrees and having taught constitutional law and all the rest, must be out of touch with the real America.

A lot of this is all mixed up with our attitudes about where we learn things, which for most of us is in school, from teachers, most of whom are women. Hofstadter is clear on that too. Historically, teaching in America, uniquely, has been a women’s profession. The few men who taught kids were suspect. They were effeminate losers. After all, those who can’t do, teach. That’s why teachers are paid next to nothing. They’re not doing. Hofstadter traces this thinking back through all the years, back to Colonial times. Real men don’t teach.

That was the long answer. The short answer is that Americans aren’t French. Sure, you should know lots of stuff, but whatever success you have, whatever you might achieve, will be because of your character, or because of Jesus, or because you were bold. High-school dropouts become millionaires, after all. The waif pointed out that most don’t. Well, yes, that’s true, but couldn’t that be because of their moral failings? She wasn’t buying it, but she needed to know that’s how Americans think. She was not impressed, but she was French.

Actually, Americans may not believe that, as everyone, with the exception of a good number of evangelicals, and perhaps every parent in South Carolina, wants their kid to get a good education. Everyone assumes that everyone having a good education is good for the nation. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof puts it this way – “A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility.”

Get a good education and you’ll get a good job. You’ll move up in the world. Character and boldness and Jesus are fine, but learn to read and write and do math, and think clearly, and be able to explain yourself coherently – first things first. Americans believe that too. At least they used to. Kristof looks at the annual survey of education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and sees this:

We expect each generation to do better, but, currently, more young American men have less education (29 percent) than their parents than have more education (20 percent).

Among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, only 5 percent make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23 percent.

The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country – a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.

That’s pretty depressing, and there’s this:

As recently as 2000, the United States still ranked second in the share of the population with a college degree. Now we have dropped to fifth. Among 25-to-34-year-olds – a glimpse of how we will rank in the future – we rank 12th, while once-impoverished South Korea tops the list.

A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality.

This is not the land of opportunity. The American Dream is reserved for only a few, and Kristof adds this personal story:

My dad was a World War II refugee who fled Ukraine and Romania and eventually made his way to France. He spoke perfect French, and Paris would have been a natural place to settle. But he felt that France was stratified and would offer little opportunity to a penniless Eastern European refugee – or even to his children a generation later – so he set out for the United States. He didn’t speak English, but, on arrival in 1951, he bought a copy of the Sunday edition of The New York Times and began to teach himself – and then he worked his way through Reed College and the University of Chicago, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor.

He rode the American dream to success; so did his only child. But while he was right in 1951 to bet on opportunity in America rather than Europe, these days he would perhaps be wrong. Researchers find economic and educational mobility are now greater in Europe than in America.

Go to the land of opportunity, France. We’ve reversed roles. We just don’t do that egalitarian education thing any longer:

European countries excelled at first-rate education for the elites, but the United States led the way in mass education. By the mid-1800s, most American states provided a free elementary education to the great majority of white children. In contrast, as late as 1870, only 2 percent of British 14-year-olds were in school.

Until the 1970s, we were pre-eminent in mass education, and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University argue powerfully that this was the secret to America’s economic rise. Then we blew it, and the latest OECD report underscores how the rest of the world is eclipsing us.

In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.

And we blame the teachers:

In some quarters, there’s a perception that American teachers are lazy. But the OECD report indicates that American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad. Yet American teachers earn 68 percent as much as the average American college-educated worker, while the OECD average is 88 percent.

Ah, that’s what the waif was talking about. Somewhere, not here, it’s possible to make a decent living as a teacher. She had a lot to learn about America. She’d drive out to Las Vegas now and then for a weekend there, to learn what she could. That’s as good a place as any, and Tom Sullivan adds this:

It’s not just the educational system that’s broken, or the financing. It’s the social contract that undergirds the whole culture. People wave around pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution as though it is holy writ, yet break faith with it after the first three words of the preamble. We the People? Sounds like socialism. In spite of the fact that support for public education predates ratification of the constitution and is written into statehood enabling acts including the 50th (Hawaii, 1959), and is reflected in state constitutions from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Yet, conservatives such as Rick Santorum preach that “the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.” …

Because it’s “Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost,” you takers! Conservatives for conservatives! Undermining the public schools by cutting budgets and diverting public funds to private-school vouchers and charters isn’t an accident. It’s a strategy. Eliminate the American Dream and maybe “they” won’t want to come here and ruin it for Real Americans.

That’s a little over the top, but not by much:

Jody Hice, the Republican nominee to succeed GOP Rep. Paul Broun in Georgia’s 10th congressional district, said on his radio program in 2011 that American public schools remind him of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

“Obviously, if we have government – which is what the public school is – if we have government indoctrinating what students are learning, then we have a problem,” Hice said. “This took place in Germany, friends. I’m not trying to say we are necessarily headed in that direction, but it is undeniable that one of the first things Hitler did was to grab, so to speak, the minds of the youth.”

Hice, a Tea Party favorite whose local celebrity as a conservative radio host helped propel him to victory in the GOP primary, went on to say that the situation in contemporary America is “just as dangerous.”

Public schools are a menace? That makes public school teachers the brown shirts, and Richard Eskow covers the college situation:

Education for every American who wants to get ahead? Forget about it. Nowadays you have to be rich to get a college education; that is, unless you want to begin your career with a mountain of debt. Once you get out of college, you’ll quickly discover that the gap between spending and income is greatest for people under 25 years of age.

Education, as Forbes columnist Steve Odland put it in 2012, is “the great equalizer, the facilitator of the American dream.” But at that point college costs had risen 500 percent since 1985, while the overall consumer price index rose by 115 percent. As of 2013, tuition at a private university was projected to cost nearly $130,000 on average over four years, and that’s not counting food, lodging, books, or other expenses.

Public colleges and universities have long been viewed as the get-ahead option for all Americans, including the poorest among us. Not anymore. The University of California was once considered a national model for free, high-quality public education, but today tuition at UC Berkeley is $12,972 per year. (It was tuition-free until Ronald Reagan became governor.) Room and board is $14,414. The total cost of on-campus attendance at Berkeley, including books and other items, is estimated to be $32,168.

The California story has been repeated across the country, as state cutbacks in the wake of the financial crisis caused the cost of public higher education to soar by 15 percent in a two-year period. With a median national household income of $51,000, even public colleges are quickly becoming unaffordable.

Sure, there are still some scholarships and grants available. But even as college costs rise, the availability of those programs is falling, leaving middle-class and lower-income students further in debt as out-of-pocket costs rise.

Do you want your kid to get ahead? Move the family to France, or even better, Germany. Slate’s Rebecca Schuman explains:

Last week, Lower Saxony made itself the final state in Germany to do away with any public university tuition whatsoever. You read that right. As of now, all state-run universities in the Federal Republic – legendary institutions that put the Bildung in Bildungsroman, like the Universität Heidelberg, the Universität München, or the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – cost exactly nichts. (By the way, they weren’t exactly breaking the bank before, with semester fees of about EUR 500, or $630, which is often less than an American student spends on books – but even that amount was considered “unjust” by Hamburg senator Dorothee Stapelfeldt.)

Well, you might be thinking, isn’t that just wunderbar for the damn Germans, with their excellent supermarket commercials and their spectacular beach nudity and their pragmatically dressed Chancellor. Now with their free college they’re just showing off. Well, here’s the kicker: Germany didn’t just abolish tuition for Germans. The tuition ban goes for international students, too. You heard me right, parents of Amerika: You want a real higher-education bargain? Get your kids to learn German and then pack them off to the Vaterland.

Jody Hice down in Georgia was right. The German government wants to educate all its children, for free, and they want to educate our children too! They must be stopped.

He need not worry. Here’s some of the data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education, nationwide, in the current 2013 fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit.

Every state except for North Dakota and Wyoming is spending less per student on higher education than they did prior to the recession.

In many states the cuts over the last five years have been remarkably deep. Eleven states have cut funding by more than one-third per student, and two states – Arizona and New Hampshire – have cut their higher education spending per student in half.

And at the college level:

Public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition to compensate for declining state funding. Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has grown by $1,850, or 27 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation. There has been great variation across the states. In two states – Arizona and California – published tuition at four-year schools is up more than 70 percent, while other states’ universities and many two-year colleges have held tuition increases closer to the rate of inflation. Major increases in federal student aid and tax credits, on average, have fallen well short of covering these increases. …

Tuition increases have made up only part of the revenue loss resulting from state funding cuts. Public colleges and universities also have cut faculty positions, eliminated course offerings, closed campuses, shut down computer labs, and reduced library services, among other cuts. For example, Arizona’s university system cut more than 2,100 positions; merged, consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs and departments; and closed eight extension campuses (local campuses that facilitate distance learning).

And there are consequences:

The reduced college access and reduced graduation rates that research suggests are likely to result from budget cuts affect more than just the students, because college attainment has grown increasingly important to long-term economic outcomes for states and the nation.

Getting a college degree is increasingly a pre-requisite for professional success and for entry into the middle class or beyond. A young college graduate earns $12,000 a year more annually than someone who did not attend college, after adjusting for inflation, according to research from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

The benefits of academic attainment extend beyond those who receive a degree; research suggests that the whole community benefits when more residents have college degrees. Areas with highly educated residents tend to attract strong employers who pay their employees competitive wages. Those employees, in turn, buy goods and services from others in the community, broadly benefitting the area’s economy. Economist Enrico Moretti of the University of California at Berkeley finds that as a result, the wages of workers at all levels of education are higher in metropolitan areas with high concentrations of college-educated residents. This finding implies that – even though not all good jobs require a college degree – having a highly educated workforce can boost an area’s economic success.

And the economic importance of higher education will continue to grow into the future. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2018, 62 percent of all jobs will require at least some college education. That is up from 59 percent in 2007, 56 percent in 1992, and 28 percent in 1973.

The Georgetown center further projects that the nation’s education system will not be able to keep up with the rising demand for educated workers. By 2018 the county’s system of higher education will produce 3 million fewer college graduates than the labor market will demand.

And there’s the debt thing:

The increase in student debt in recent years also has important implications for the broader economy. While debt is a crucial tool for financing higher education, excessive debt can impose considerable costs on both students and society as a whole. Research finds that higher student debt levels are associated with lower rates of homeownership among young adults; can create stresses that reduce the probability of graduation, particularly for students from lower-income families; and reduce the likelihood that graduates with majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will go on to graduate school.

Graduate school is where majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics go to learn the details, as if the details matter. Oh well. The real graduate school, however, was at that water cooler in the building next to the one where they made those secret spy satellites, out here in Los Angeles. Interesting people from interesting places explained what they thought really mattered in a culture, what held things together, and the guy from Pittsburgh tried to explain the American Dream. That was harder than it should have been.

Posted in Education, The American Dream | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voting for Nothing

The party in power is always in trouble in the sixth year of their president’s term. They’ll lose seats in the midterm elections, and this year the Democrats will lose the Senate, and since the House is solidly Republican, and will be for the next two decades. No one thought it was very important, but Republicans put a lot of effort into gaining full control of state governments – the governorship and both houses of the state legislatures – and that was important. After the 2010 census, it was time to readjust congressional districts, and somehow all the Democratic voters ended up in one or two oddly shaped giant districts and there were lots of new tiny districts where everyone was Republican, so even if a state was fifty-fifty in party registration, the many folks they sent to Washington were all Republicans, save for those two lonely Democrats. That’s not cheating. Few states have decided to let an independent commission decide how to draw the new lines each ten years, to come up with a one-man-one-vote scheme. State legislatures do that, and the Republicans, rather than waste their time trying to make us believe that John McCain would be a fine president, and that Sarah Palin would be even better should McCain get hit by a bus, and make us believe that Mitt Romney wasn’t just another wooden and clueless rich guy and Paul Ryan was sexy as hell and smart as a whip, took over the states, and thus the House. They decided to play the long game, from the bottom up, and now they’ll grab the Senate. It’s almost as if their national efforts were a ruse. It’s hard to believe their hearts were really in it. They knew how political power really shifts.

They blindsided the Democrats, who will have to wait ten years for the next census to counter any of this, if they can. The Republicans may have locked down the House for a generation or more, as Democrats seem happy they can elect the president they want every four years, who can’t get Congress to do anything he wants. That means that the Republicans win, even if they can’t get what they want either. At least they can stop cold anything they don’t want. They let the stimulus and Obamacare slip though in Obama’s first two years, when the Democrats held the House, but after the 2010 midterms, when they edged out the Democrats and retook the House, there would be no more of that. Now nothing gets done.

The Senate is a slightly different matter. With its slim majority of Democrats, this Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill long ago, one that the president was willing to sign, and the current House wouldn’t even look at it. It died there. There will be no immigration reform, and when the Republicans retake the Senate, not much of anything will get done. The Republicans will have rendered this president, and the presidency, fully irrelevant. They’ll be in charge. They’ll be in power, even if Obama whips out his veto pen and stops everything they try. This can’t be very satisfying, bit it’s a form of power-sharing, where blocking what you don’t want is the real power, or the only power available. The Democrats should have paid more attention to state politics. That’s where the action is.

Senators aren’t elected by district of course. Those lines don’t matter. Senators represent the whole state, so Democratic candidates aren’t at a structural disadvantage there, but when your guy is the governor and you control the state legislature, you can do what states are allowed to do, administer elections, deciding the voting hours, and available days to vote early, and the polling places, and how to make sure those who vote are eligible. This used to be a fairly straightforward business, and the Democrats didn’t give it much thought, until state after state, controlled by Republicans, passed state laws restricting the hours the polls were open, and ending early voting – particularly on Sundays, when black folks tend to vote, and when those who can’t afford to take a half-day off from work on a Tuesday tend to vote. That eliminates a lot of votes from those who tend to vote for Democrats.

New voter-ID rules that make it expensive and sometimes impossible to get the proper document also eliminate the votes of the poor and the elderly and students, and that suppresses minority voting too. Middle-class white folks, who already have all sorts of photo-ID cards, and who can easily slip away from work on a Tuesday, will be fine, and they tend to vote Republican. They also won’t have to stand in line for ten hours to vote, because there are only two voting machines in certain precincts and one of them is broken. Those who administer elections distribute their limited resources as they see fit. The states administer elections. They always have. The Democrats forgot that.

This isn’t cheating either. The states should administer elections. The details are granular, local, and the feds don’t have the resources to handle it all – and the Republicans saw an opportunity to win elections and they took it. They caught the Democrats flatfooted, not that Democratic voters turn out for midterm elections. They have Obama in the White House. That’s cool. He’s cool.

Republicans live in a different world, as Paul Krugman notes:

The political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right – and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite – live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.

This is a fantasy. Still, is there anything to fears that economic populism will lead to economic disaster?

The man with the Nobel Prize in Economics doesn’t think so:

Lower-income voters are much more supportive than the wealthy toward policies that benefit people like them, and they generally support higher taxes at the top. But if you worry that low-income voters will run wild, that they’ll greedily grab everything and tax job creators into oblivion, history says that you’re wrong. All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s – welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals – and no, that’s not what ails Europe.

Still, while the kind of politics and policies that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy, it does tend to crimp the incomes and wealth of the 1 percent, at least a bit; the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

That’s easy:

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions – government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

There is a lot of that going around – talk of that forty-seven percent persists – but it’s best to take over state governments:

Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom ninety percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights – at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

The plutocrats are wining that fight in state after state now, and Krugman mentions Kansas. Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli explains how Kansas has been Governor Sam Brownback’s test case for plutocracy:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Post that December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country, telling anyone who’d listen, that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”

That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Ed Kilgore adds this:

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” that stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita headquarters) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive – Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in, and you have to figure a lot of the people trying to save them have the occasional impulse to throw them anvils.

Brownback overreached. He should have just done what other Republican governors have done, redraw a few district lines and revise all the state’s rules about voting. The Koch Brothers in the offices in Wichita might have been disappointed, but they’d eventually get what they wanted. Now Brownback and Roberts are in trouble, and if Roberts isn’t reelected to the Senate, the Republicans may not retake it. One must be subtle about these things.

Chris Christie knows that now:

“My comments are never almost universally interpreted the way I mean them,” Christie said Thursday while stumping for a GOP congressional candidate at a diner in Bordentown Township, N.J., as quoted by the New York Daily News. “But that’s OK. I’ll be very clear. I’ll say it again.”

“The President wants to focus (on minimum wage) because he’s a class warrior,” he added. “What he wants to focus on is the minimum wage. I don’t believe that that’s what our focus should be. Our focus should be on creating better paying jobs for everyone in our country.”

Christie had said Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington that he was “tired of hearing about the minimum wage.”

He knows he should not have said that, so he offered this:

“I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized,” he told the audience. “Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

That didn’t help:

Those comments drew a rebuke from U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez earlier Thursday at a Bloomberg event in Washington.

“Chris Christie’s got his head in the sand if he’s getting tired about the minimum wage,” Perez said.

“I mean, we suck. We really do,” the labor chief added, noting that the United States federal wage floor ranks third lowest out of the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

For Chris Christie, there has to be a way to say we should be proud of that. America doesn’t pay losers for being losers, but voters, even if they suddenly find they can never vote again, do worry about things like the minimum wage. Many of them are trying to live on it, and others, who have moved up, worry about losing their jobs. Others can’t even find jobs. Even with all the structural changes at the state level, they still will vote, or at least some of them will, and that offers Democrats some hope, but Jonathan Alter thinks they’re blowing that opportunity:

The Democrats’ inability to stress what voters keep telling them is their biggest concern is perplexing. I understand why the White House has trouble getting credit for improving the economy when wages are stagnant and life is still so hard for so many in the shrinking middle class. And I get why Democratic candidates don’t want to lash themselves to the economic policies of an unpopular president.

What I can’t fathom is why Democrats don’t pick low-hanging fruit – the jobs issues that poll after poll shows are much more critical to voters than ISIS, Ebola, and the Keystone pipeline, not to mention vaginal probes and whether some candidate voted for Obama. Yes, many Democratic candidates are pushing for a much-needed increase in the minimum wage. But that is of most interest either to hardcore Democrats or to non-voters clinging to the bottom of the economy.

The voters Democrats are in trouble with are white non-college educated blue-collar workers who are often unemployed, and whose friends have crappy jobs in the service sector or mid-level positions in office parks. These mostly male voters – the ones poised to turn the Senate Republican by rejecting anyone with a “D” after their name – don’t care much about the minimum wage, but many of them sure would like a new job.

There really is an opening here:

There’s a particular jobs issue that they respond to and it has a big, boring name: infrastructure. As long as they don’t call it that, Democrats have a chance to win a greater share of these white male voters. At worst, Republicans will hear the argument that their leaders couldn’t care less about rebuilding the country. That might convince even more of them that neither party represents their interests. If these white voters stay home (as millions did in 2012) and blacks vote in high enough numbers (especially in North Carolina and Georgia), the Democrats might yet squeak through.

But that requires framing the jobs issue properly. Fortunately for Democrats, they have a weapon in the American Jobs Act (AJA), an Obama bill that failed to win 60 votes in the Senate three years ago. With enormous support in the polls, the AJA consisted of rebuilding roads, bridges, and schools and investing in first responders , all projects that Republicans have supported in the past but now shun for no other reason than that the president backs them. A political party founded in 1856 in part on the old Whig issue of “internal improvements” (i.e. government-built bridges and canals) – a position second only to opposing slavery in the territories as its reason for being – in 2011 and 2012 rejected even the most common-sense investment in the future.

Alter is appalled that the Democrats threw all this away:

Instead of fighting over this with the GOP, which favors only tax cuts for business to create jobs, Obama has mostly dropped his jobs agenda. He mentions the issue in speeches – in fact, he has talked about infrastructure more often than other president – but hasn’t made it a centerpiece of the Democratic campaign…

Democratic candidates – running for cover in a tough year – have preferred to campaign on women’s health, radical right “personhood” amendments, and the environment. All are important for mobilizing base voters to show up for midterm elections that they often skip, but after tens of thousands of ads, these lines of attack are largely tapped out. The women and liberals who might respond to such messages have already done so, voting early or planning to go to the polls on Election Day to vote Democratic.

It may be time to do the FDR thing again:

That means going for the tried-and-true economic argument (used since at least 1932) designed to “bring home” working-class voters in the homestretch. The decline of unions – the usual excuse of rich Democratic consultants and pollsters for why jobs bills don’t count for much – isn’t relevant. Nor is the deficit, which has lost its saliency since it was cut in half to $500 billion. People want better jobs – period. And with so many Republicans on record opposing their creation, Democrats have an opening.

Alter says the message would be simple:

I want to rebuild America – my opponent doesn’t.

I voted to rebuild our country, and he (or his party) voted against it–against money to re-pave roads, repair bridges, fix schools, help first responders we might need for an epidemic.

I want to invest in the future and the Republicans are stuck in the past.

They opposed that job act. They’re on record. Chris Christie is not alone in opposing raising the minimum wage – they all oppose that, even if they’re not as buffoonish about it as the brutal bore from New Jersey. Sam Brownback ran his absurd experiment. Stick it to them. Give the voters something to vote for.

That’s a fine idea, and Salon’s Elias Isquith says don’t even bother trying:

Hyper-wealthy donors, who are already the only people most politicians speak with and listen to, and who will only become more powerful as the post-Citizens-United era continues, quite understandably don’t care so much about the economy. As far as they’re concerned the ongoing recovery from 2008, which as of 2012 saw 95 percent of its gains flow to the tippy-top, is doing just fine. In the present circumstances, any aspiring politician interested in focusing on economic justice will find her fundraisers sparsely attended, and her audience rather bored.

There’s a reason for that:

To understand why the economy remains so terrible for most Americans, all you really need to know is that wealth in America is highly concentrated, while politics in America is expensive as Hell. As long as that dynamic persists, any proposals to jumpstart the economy – like the president’s 2011 American Jobs Act bill, which Alter, unlike nearly everyone else in the country, still remembers and promotes – will die for the same reasons; the story will be the same. For most American journalists, the prospect of writing the same story all the time is not exactly tempting, especially when newer and more exotic stories, like Ebola or ISIS, are unfolding as well. And the fact that the people who actually fund American journalism are disproportionately wealthy, and consequently less interested in economic stories, certainly doesn’t help.

All this can only mean our politics have little to do with most people’s real lives, and they know it:

Inequality leads to a frivolous and disconnected politics is also the most insidious and the one that should worry believers in U.S. democracy most: The way our politics of nothing alienates Americans, leading them to either accept a system that ignores their primary interests or, worse still, disengage from it entirely.

That is one of the side-effects of the structural changes that moved us from an economy with an actual middle class to a pure plutocracy, but maybe that was the plan all along. If redrawing all the district lines doesn’t work, and if some people still manage to vote in spite of all attempts to make it next to impossible for “those sorts of people” to vote, have them realize that none of what anyone is talking about has anything to do with their lives. They’ll stop voting. Voting for nothing is a waste of time.

Posted in American Plutocracy, Income Inequality, Midterm Elections, Voter Apathy, Voter Suppression | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Misunderstanding Calculated Delay

Every day the tourists fill the Santa Monica Pier – every day is a summer day out here after all – and the pier is cool. It has an old merry-go-round that has popped up in more than a few movies, and a coaster and rides of all sorts, and views out to Malibu, and one of the few solar-powered Ferris wheels in the world – because we’re all bleeding-heart liberal tree-huggers out here. Yeah, everyone drives a Prius, except for the rich folks who all drive that swoopy Tesla sedan. We’re cool, and responsible citizens, and there are surfers too – but across the street from the pier, one block south and one block inland, on Main, there’s a large and low white building with tiny windows. That’s the Rand Corporation – the think tank that was created in 1946 by “Hap” Arnold, the famous Air Force general, and the Douglas Aircraft Company, to figure out how to fight and win wars with amazing new weapons – missiles and nuclear bombs and satellites and such. In 1948, Douglas Aircraft, that was founded in Santa Monica and built the airplanes that won the Second World War, pulled out – there was an obvious conflict of interest. Those who supply the hardware shouldn’t be doing operations research on war planning, which soon involved geopolitical game theory stuff, and then analysis of effective and non-effective decision-making processes of all sorts. Rand became the place to think big thoughts. The guys down by the pier sort of gave us the doctrine of nuclear deterrence by mutually assured destruction (MAD) – Robert McNamara used Rand’s work with game theory to argue that was a fine thing, even if it was pretty much what was in place anyway. Rand was good at figuring out what was working, and more importantly, precisely why.

McNamara also created the Vietnam Study Task Force on June 17, 1967, to create an “encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War” from 1947 onward – he wanted to leave a written record for historians, to head off policy errors in the future. If you want to learn from your mistakes you do have to know what happened, when, and why. That’s sensible. McNamara neglected to tell Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk about this massive study, but they were busy at the time. This effort became known as the Pentagon Papers – and those papers eventually ended up at the Rand Corporation down by the pier.

That’s where they should have been in the first place, with the experts in the analysis of effective and non-effective decision-making processes, and the Rand folks continued and deepened the original analysis of how we got into that Vietnam mess. It wasn’t pretty, and it had to remain secret. If the public ever found out about how decisions on Vietnam had been reached, or avoided, they’d be outraged. We had had secretly enlarged the war early on with bombing Cambodia and Laos, with coastal raids on North Vietnam, and with Marine Corps attacks all over the place, and none of this had been reported in the media. Congress hadn’t known. President after president had been flailing about and none of it had worked, and they knew it, but no one else knew it. They’d better not find out. The Pentagon Papers remained under lock and key in a dark room across the street from the Santa Monica Pier.

That should have worked fine. Everyone at Rand has a top secret or better clearance, except that didn’t account for the guy who thought the American public should know what was really going on. On a fine warm evening in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg left his Rand Corporation office and walked across the street to the Santa Monica Pier, where he met New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan and handed him the Pentagon Papers, the whole big pile of them, which he had grabbed and photocopied. The rest is history. The New York Times started publishing those Pentagon Papers, and then was stopped by an injunction the Nixon administration had won, so the Washington Post published them and forced the matter up to the Supreme Court, and won, getting the injunction lifted. Daniel Ellsberg was charged with conspiracy and espionage and theft of government property, and those charges were dismissed when everyone found out that the Nixon “plumbers” had broken into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, hoping to find something to make Ellsberg look like a pervert or a madman. The government wasn’t playing fair, so Ellsberg was free to go, and the public was outraged at what was in all those pages from the pier. Our leaders don’t know what they’re doing, and they know that they don’t know what they’re doing, and all of them, one after another, have being lying to us. Everything is going fine? No one would ever believe that again.

That’s ancient history now, something that happened forty-three years ago, the year that the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted, but the Rand Corporation still does what it does, analysis of effective and non-effective decision-making processes, and the issue now is Obama. Does Obama know what he’s doing, or is he just flailing around like all the rest? Brian Michael Jenkins is senior advisor to the president of the Rand Corporation, and in the Los Angeles Times he offers the current thinking on that. Think Hannibal and elephants:

President Obama has been repeatedly accused of delay. Critics say he dragged his feet on sending more troops to Afghanistan, on addressing the dangers in Libya, on providing support to Syria’s rebels and, most recently, on initiating military action against Islamic State.

But is that necessarily such a bad thing? Calculated delay has a long history as an effective military strategy, dating back at least to the Second Punic War in the 3rd century BC.

Jenkins is serious:

At the time, Hannibal’s Carthaginian army, including his war elephants, had successfully made its way from North Africa through Spain and across the Alps to invade Italy from the north. There, Hannibal’s troops inflicted two stunning defeats on Rome’s mighty legions, throwing the country into panic.

During ordinary times, the Roman Republic was governed by a senate and two elected consuls who served together for one-year terms. But in times of national crisis, the senate had the option of appointing a dictator to streamline command. In the face of Hannibal’s advance, the senate appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus, who at that point had served two terms as consul.

Everyone expected Fabius Maximus, an admired leader and experienced general, to quickly march on Hannibal’s forces, but he did not. Instead, he avoided major battles while harassing Hannibal’s army around the edges, preventing the invaders from getting supplies, gradually wearing them down and degrading their capabilities. It was a strategy of containment.

It worked just fine, but folks just hated the whole thing:

Avoiding battle was un-Roman, an affront to the greatness of Rome. People called Fabius Maximus the Cunctator – the delayer. It was intended to be an insult.

Fabius Maximus was replaced by a Roman consul who was determined to engage Hannibal directly. Under the command of the new consul, eight Roman legions marched off to destroy Hannibal’s forces. They met at Cannae, in what turned out to be Rome’s greatest military disaster. Between 50,000 and 70,000 Roman soldiers were slain and 10,000 more were taken prisoner.

Oops, but we’ve been there. In 2003, anyone who thought that rather than going to war in Iraq we ought to wait until the UN weapons inspectors finished up, was un-American, or even French. Delay was stupid, and dangerous. Think of Neville Chamberlain. We sent our eight Roman legions to Iraq. Almost five thousand of our troops came home in body-bags and things are even worse there than before we were bold and awesomely American. We needed a Fabius Maximus. We had George Bush.

The Romans got it:

The disaster at Cannae suddenly made Fabius Maximus look brilliant, and Romans again looked to “the delayer” to save the republic. Cunctator became a title signifying prudence, wisdom and respect.

The disaster in Iraq suddenly made Barack Obama president. He was our Fabius Maximus, but he wasn’t an oddball:

Other military commanders have since followed what became known as a Fabian strategy, among them George Washington, who, in the early years of the American war for independence, avoided head-on battles with the British.

The containment strategy of the Cold War was a Fabian approach in the sense that it made the avoidance of nuclear confrontation its primary objective. But it was also based on the message that, if attacked, the United States would retaliate with massive force. And it was understood by all that all-out nuclear war meant the end of the world.

Okay, that last bit is a plug for the game theory work the Rand Corporation did back in the sixties, but it’s still true in a general way:

Fabian strategies make sense in certain kinds of circumstances: against a stronger adversary, say, or when direct confrontation risks a catastrophic defeat or a larger conflagration. They also make sense in instances when time favors the side that opts to delay. In today’s warfare, there is little risk of a single disastrous battle, but there is still risk of military fiasco and political ruin. Fabian strategies might make sense if there’s a risk of becoming bogged down in a costly and seemingly futile military adventure – or in cases where action carries a high risk of casualties that could turn people against the effort.

That may be the situation in the Middle East now, but it still feels bad:

Even when holding back is the right choice, Fabian strategies are almost never popular at the time they’re employed. People prefer quick victories to extended low-level campaigns. Time may erode morale and sap support for the effort. And a Fabian approach can anger hawks at home and dismay allies abroad. Warfare today is in part about the manipulation of perceptions, and Fabian strategies can look alarmingly like appeasement.

Moreover, there are times when a delay in forcefully confronting enemies can lead to disastrous outcomes. Should the world not have intervened earlier, say, to stop Hitler?

Sure, but when – when he got home from the war in 1918 and started seething about how Germany had been humiliated? That is no more than idle speculation. We didn’t send in a Navy SEAL team to take care of him then. We’ll never know, and it may be a long time before we know of our Fabius Maximus is a jerk or not, but he is the Cunctator, the delayer:

Historians will debate whether Obama’s skeptical approach to entering conflicts reflects prudence or weakness. The evidence so far is ambiguous. The president has said the U.S. war on Islamic State will be “a long-term campaign” with no “quick fixes involved.” He set no deadline for its completion.

The administration has not publicly framed its approach as part of a Fabian strategy – no American administration would ever use the term. Sometimes action – or inaction – speaks louder than words.

Like or not, we have our Delayer, which may be a good thing, even if we hate it, but Josh Green makes the counter argument, that Obama is too cool for crisis management:

By the time President Obama gave in and appointed an Ebola czar on Oct. 17, the White House response to this latest national crisis had already run a familiar course: the initial assurance that everything was under control; the subsequent realization that it wasn’t; the delay as administration officials appeared conflicted about what to do; and the growing frustration with a president who seemed a step or two behind each new development. Meanwhile, public anxiety mounted as cable news hysteria filled the vacuum and shaped the perception of the unfolding crisis.

Obama calmly insisted there was nothing to worry about when the news first broke of Thomas Eric Duncan’s infection. “It’s important for Americans to know the facts,” he said on Oct. 6. “Because of the measures we’ve put in place, as well as our world-class health system and the nature of the Ebola virus itself, which is difficult to transmit, the chance of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is extremely low.” It soon became clear the health system wasn’t prepared; the virus spread, infecting two nurses who had treated Duncan. One of them had called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to report having a fever, yet was still allowed to board a commercial airliner on Oct. 13. The CDC’s guidelines were declared “absolutely irresponsible and dead wrong” by Sean Kaufman, director for safety training at Emory University Hospital, where two American missionaries from West Africa were treated for Ebola in August. But Obama clung to his position for two more weeks, even after it began to look ridiculous.

Only with public confidence slipping and dozens of congressmen calling for a ban on travel from West Africa did Obama submit to the kind of grand theatrical gesture he abhors: He canceled a campaign trip to hold an emergency cabinet meeting and appointed Ron Klain, a veteran political operative, to coordinate the government’s Ebola response. Then the pageantry of White House crisis response reached its familiar end point, with anonymous aides telling the New York Times that Obama was “seething” at the botched response and the criticism that he’d mishandled the crisis.

The issue is different, but the principle is the same. Obama delays things, and this time he shouldn’t have, but that’s who he is:

The difficulty in formulating a response echoes the fitful efforts to address the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the advance of Islamic State, the rollout of, and even the shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo.

Administration veterans describe Obama’s crisis-management process as akin to a high-level graduate seminar. “He responds in a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilize the necessary resources,” says David Axelrod, a former White House senior adviser.

By all accounts, Obama treats a crisis as an intellectual inquiry and develops his response through an intensely rational process. As former CIA Director Leon Panetta said recently in a TV interview, “He approaches things like a law professor in presenting the logic of his position.”

Axelrod meant that as a compliment, Panetta didn’t, and Green is with Panetta:

Six years in, it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor – regardless of the public’s emotional needs. The virtues of this approach are often obscured in a crisis, because Obama disdains the performative aspects of his job. “There’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists,” Axelrod says. “Sometimes he can be negligent in the symbolism.” Lately, this failing has been especially pronounced. Few things strike terror in people quite like the specter of Ebola. An Oct. 14 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say they fear a widespread outbreak in the U.S. Cooler heads have noted that more Americans have been married to a Kardashian than have died from Ebola. But that fun fact misses the point: People fear what they can’t control, and when the government can’t control it either, the fear ratchets up to panic.

Axelrod is forced to admit it all comes down to what comes out of Southern California, as Green suggests:

Americans’ views of deadly viruses such as Ebola are shaped by Hollywood movies such as Outbreak and Contagion, and when the prospect of a global pandemic arises, we expect a Hollywood president to take charge. Obama’s Spock-like demeanor and hollow assurances about what experts are telling him feel incongruous.

Obama just doesn’t get it:

It’s hard not to suspect that Obama’s lack of executive experience before becoming president is one reason why he often struggles to strike the right tone. In this way, he’s the opposite of the man who preceded him. “I still remember where I was when Bush took the bullhorn at Ground Zero,” Axelrod says. He was recalling one of the great moments of presidential theater, when George W. Bush climbed atop the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks. “I can hear you,” Bush shouted to the cheering rescue workers. “The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” In a stroke, Bush galvanized the nation.

Obama recoils from this kind of bravado – and bravado didn’t always serve Bush so well. (A certain flight suit comes to mind.) It also deserted him at critical moments like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But replacing the impulse and emotion that governed Bush with a fealty to experts has led Obama to develop blind spots of his own.

That may be so, but that seems to suggest confusion about what the problem is. If the task is to fix the actual problem – ISIS or Ebola or whatever – Obama is on the case. If the problem is to fix how people feel about the problem at hand, even if you have no idea how to fix it, Obama is a disaster. Bush was far better at that, for all the good it did – the problem was still there and getting worse. Green conflates the two problems:

It’s often said in Washington that the best politics is good policy. That hasn’t been Obama’s experience. Dragged down by Ebola and other headaches, his approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, the lowest yet in his presidency. Democrats are on the verge of losing the Senate partly as a result. This reflects the cost of botching the initial response to so many crises.

Yeah, but then the problems are solved, with quiet calm and careful corrections, and with delay, with not being too hasty. Shallow and simpleminded jingoistic bravado keeps the approval ratings up, and keeps your party in power, but it doesn’t actually solve problems. The Romans hated Quintus Fabius Maximus, then they loved him, and then they probably hated him again – but Hannibal’s elephants died in the Alps and Hannibal slunk away. The problem was solved.

The folks down by the pier in Santa Monica have studied such things, effective and non-effective decision-making processes – they even had the Pentagon Papers for years after all – and we’re all still here. The world didn’t blow up. There’s something to be said for that.

Posted in Obama Too Cool, Obama's Leadership Style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Calling It Quits

The midterms are coming and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republicans will retake the Senate, making Obama’s last two years in office miserable for him, and for the nation. All nominees to everything will be blocked. If one of the current justices of the Supreme Court kicks the bucket – and a few of them are as old as the hills – expect a Nugent or No One roar from the Republicans. They want a true conservative on the court, one who will ignore the niceties of the law and end abortion being legal and make suppressing the votes of the wrong sort of people fully legal again. Ted Nugent would be their man, but they would, magnanimously, be willing to compromise on an actual lawyer, like Ann Coulter. Okay, maybe not her, but Obama would have to nominate someone really conservative, or the seat would remain vacant. Ted would be the bargaining chip, offering them a way to say they’re willing to meet Obama halfway, but he’s a radical left-wing jerk.

This is going to be unpleasant. Expect a lot of legislation to pass this new Senate, agreed to by the already Republican house, that Obama will veto – the full repeal of Obamacare, the mandatory arming of all school children with assault rifles, the revocation of the citizenship of all gays, a requirement that within two years all automobiles and trucks and busses in America run only on coal, and of course legislation formally making our Department of State a minor branch of Israel’s foreign office. The list of such things is endless and they won’t pass anything else. They still have two years to make Obama look bad. Make him use that veto pen, and be sad and disappointed when he uses it, a do-nothing president who refuses to move the country forward. Of course that only works if they pass legislation that’s quite absurd. Obama might agree with legislation that would make things better for everyone, so they have to be careful.

It’s a plan. Expect two years of gridlock, two years of nothing getting done. They have two more years to ruin the country, so they can have one of their folk win the presidency in 2916, on the promise to make everything work again, even if they have no idea how to do that. They’re out of practice. Maybe they never knew how to do that. Think of George W. Bush. But everything should be deregulated. That’s a start.

That’s not much of a plan, but Republicans are upset that Obama somehow became president, and they know that everyone else is too. Obama just can’t be the president, even if he won the job rather easily in 2008 and in 2012 won again, rather easily. They want to fix that. They want to erase the guy, to make it as if he never happened to America. They’re upset. They don’t have any idea of how to govern, they may be incapable of governing, but they’re upset.

There are some problems with that. They’ve stopped talking about Obamacare – it’s working just fine and it’s really a way to help people buy insurance from private parties, so it’s hardly a government takeover of healthcare. They’re not talking about Benghazi – it’s all been said and that’s over. There’s not much to say about Ebola either. Half the population of Dallas didn’t die. One guy who flew in from Africa did. That’s it. The public panicked, and now that they’re slowly but surely becoming embarrassed that they did, anyone who screams that we’re all going to die will look like a fool.

Obama didn’t kill us all, and as for ISIS, or ISIL or whatever, dealing with them increasing seems to be a matter of getting the actual stakeholders in the region to do something about them. ISIS may be a problem for us one day, but right now, ISIS is their problem. If the actual stakeholders over there fix that, we’re good. We’ll do what we can to help them get their act together, but we’re not going to spend another eight years in Iraq, and this time in Syria too. Those who scream that it’s time, right now, to put boots on the ground, lots of boots, also look like fools. Obama did not just hand over the Middle East to a bunch of thugs, who will blow up Cleveland next week. This will be a long slog, where careful diplomacy is necessary. Someone has to talk some sense into Turkey, and all the others. Obama is working on that. John Kerry will be busy.

This puts the Republicans in an awkward position. There really is nothing to be upset about. Obama is not a Muslim terror-loving socialist out to destroy America just for the fun of it, or because he’s an angry black man who wants to make America pay for that slavery thing o long ago, or a guy who is still upset about British colonialism in Kenya a hundred years ago. He’s careful and sensible, if not a bit boring. In fact, Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative, says Obama Is a Republican – he’s the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky – that is the subhead to this item.

Bruce Bartlett should know about such things. He’s the historian and economist who got into politics in 1976 working for Ron Paul, the eccentric libertarian, and then for Jack Kemp, writing Kemp’s tax policy. He then served as a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and was a Treasury official under George H. W. Bush, the first Bush. You remember him, the one who was relatively stable and informed. Bruce Bartlett thought the second Bush was a jerk. The son screwed everything up. Bruce Bartlett has written book after book about the wonders of supply-side economics, and the younger Bush gave away the store, spending all sorts of money that distorted the righteous operation of free markets and then ruined the country. Bartlett wrote a book about that too, and in 2005, the National Center for Policy Analysis fired Bartlett for ragging on young George so much.

Bartlett, however, argued that he himself was the true Republican, not this Bush kid, who was in way over his head. Bartlett made waves, or he made trouble, and now there’s this:

In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative – essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP. He has been conservative to exactly the same degree that Richard Nixon basically governed as a moderate liberal, something no conservative would deny today.

Bartlett then points out that Noam Chomsky, of all people, recently called Richard Nixon “the last liberal president” – creating the EPA and going to China and all that – so Bartlett feels he can make the counterargument for Obama, and that starts with the Middle East:

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol…

And there’s this:

By 2011, Republicans were so enamored with Clinton’s support for their policies that Dick Cheney even suggested publicly that she run against Obama in 2012. The irony is that as secretary of state, Clinton was generally well to Obama’s left… This may simply reflect her assumption of state’s historical role as the dovish voice in every administration. Or it could mean that Obama is far more hawkish than conservatives have given him credit for.

Although Obama followed through on George W. Bush’s commitment to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, in 2014 he announced a new campaign against ISIS, an Islamic militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

Only a true Republican would simply announce we’re at war again, by the way, and then there’s the economy:

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion…

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill – $291 billion – despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

So give the guy a break:

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch – just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited a projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study – but the improvement is real.

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

And there are these things to consider too:

Drugs: Although it has become blindingly obvious that throwing people in jail for marijuana use is insane policy and a number of states have moved to decriminalize its use, Obama continued the harsh anti-drug policy of previous administrations, and his Department of Justice continues to treat marijuana as a dangerous drug…

National-security leaks: At least since Nixon, a hallmark of Republican administrations has been an obsession with leaks of unauthorized information, and pushing the envelope on government snooping. By all accounts, Obama’s penchant for secrecy and withholding information from the press is on a par with the worst Republican offenders. Journalist Dan Froomkin charges that Obama has essentially institutionalized George W. Bush’s policies. Nixon operative Roger Stone thinks Obama has actually gone beyond what his old boss tried to do.

Race: I think almost everyone, including me, thought the election of our first black president would lead to new efforts to improve the dismal economic condition of African-Americans. In fact, Obama has seldom touched on the issue of race, and when he has he has emphasized the conservative themes of responsibility and self-help. Even when Republicans have suppressed minority voting, in a grotesque campaign to fight nonexistent voter fraud, Obama has said and done nothing.

Gay marriage: Simply stating public support for gay marriage would seem to have been a no-brainer for Obama, but it took him two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so.

And then there’s the matter of what Republicans think makes America great, corporate profits:

Despite Republican harping about Obama being anti-business, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels during his administration. Even those progressives who defend Obama against critics on the left concede that he has bent over backward to protect corporate profits. As Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs put it: “In practice, Obama helped Wall Street avert financial catastrophe and furthered measures to support businesses and cater to mainstream public opinion, he has always done so through specific policies that protect and further opportunities for businesses to make profits.”

That’s just a taste of Bartlett’s long and carefully documented argument, but it comes down to this:

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades – perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

Okay, fine – Obama is a conservative. In fact, Obama is an old-school Republican. So what else is new? Bartlett carefully documents how others on his side of things have made the same argument – he just wanted to emphasize how right they were – but he’s not the only old hand around. There’s this guy:

Douglas MacKinnon served in the White House as a writer for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and afterwards in a joint command at the Pentagon, where he had a top secret government clearance.

He has a different take on things:

Conservative columnist and former Reagan administration aide Douglas MacKinnon is out with a new book calling for Southern states to secede…again.

While speaking yesterday with Janet Mefferd about his book – The Secessionist States of America: The Blueprint for Creating a Traditional Values Country…Now – MacKinnon called for a movement of states, starting with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, to establish a new country that will adhere to the Religious Right’s political agenda.

Texas, MacKinnon explained, was not included in his secessionist blueprint because “there have been a number of incursions into Texas and other places from some of the folks in Mexico.”

There are too many brown folks in Texas. This is about good Christian white folks, and he’s serious about quitting the country:

He added that the South had “seceded legally” and “peacefully” during the Civil War, but greedy Northerners like President Lincoln “waged an illegal war that was in fact not declared against the South after the South basically did what we’re talking about in this book now in terms of peacefully, legally and constitutionally leaving the union.”

That’s not how some remember it, and there’s this:

After lamenting that “for whatever reason the leaders that we’re picking are deciding not to stand firmly for traditional values,” MacKinnon repeated his view that a new country should be formed, and even proposed an “interim name” for the ultraconservative breakaway nation: “Reagan.”

Cool, but this doesn’t sound like Reagan:

MacKinnon strongly defended the South for its role in what he called “The War Between The States,” saying that Religious Right activists should endorse the secessionist movement as a way to “protect our faith.”

No one remembers Reagan telling America that Christianity was under attack. He hated welfare queens and big government. He hated communism, which meant everyone sharing, which was theft from the good guys who did something useful with their lives, just as taxes are no more than theft. He didn’t talk about Jesus a lot, if ever. MacKinnon may have worked near Bartlett in the same two administrations, but they had vastly different experiences.

A frequent contributor here in the comments section is Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta – which is where you end up if you and your wife were part of the team that founded CNN in 1980 and worked there for many years – and seeing this he sent a comment along in an email:

Oh, shit! We’ll have to move – but where to? We can’t AFFORD to live in any of the GOOD states! After all, everybody with a brain wants to live in those places, driving living costs way too high!

In fact, I wonder if it has even occurred to this Douglas MacKinnon guy that one person who chose to live in one of them terrible northern states was his country’s namesake, Ronald Reagan! And he chose California, of all places!

Rick grew up out here in the Pacific Palisades, in grade school with Randy Newman, and his parents knew the Reagans, who lived in the neighborhood, so he is puzzled about where he ended up in retirement:

Southerners have always tended to be sloppy when choosing their dead heroes – idolizing guys who probably wouldn’t have agreed with them, had they lived long enough. I’m not sure but I think the Great Seal of the Confederacy had a depiction of George Washington on it – who, although from Virginia, got rid of his slaves in his later years, and was decidedly NOT for states’ rights; he was such an ardent nationalist, he lent his name to the cause of convening the Constitutional Convention that created the federal government, the one that replaced our FIRST failed attempt at confederacy.

And so, while they’re at it, will this new “United States of Reagan” restore slavery? They might as well, since they’re going to need some way to cut expenses to make up for the loss of all that federal revenue that keeps so many of the states afloat.

But I think it would hard for MacKinnon to make the case that secession is legal. Federal courts have, down through the years, ruled that, unlike the Articles of Confederation, the United States Constitution was not a compact between states that included an exit clause built into it, since its ratification was achieved by the votes of independent constitutional conventions, rather than state legislatures. We are a country founded by “We, the People” – which is one reason the preamble begins with those words, instead of “We, the States”.

So okay, the Founders were sneaky; the states got snookered – but it was all legal and above board!

Yeah, secession won’t work. The base of the Republican Party may be very upset, but that’s not going to work. They might try something like this:

Officials in the City of South Miami have passed a resolution in favor of splitting the state in half so South Florida would become the 51st state.

Vice Mayor Walter Harris proposed the resolution and it passed with a 3-2 vote at the city commission meeting on Oct. 7.

Harris told the commission that Tallahassee isn’t providing South Florida with proper representation or addressing its concerns when it comes to sea-level rising.

“We have to be able to deal directly with this environmental concern and we can’t really get it done in Tallahassee,” Harris said. “I don’t care what people think – it’s not a matter of electing the right people.”

Sometimes you have to start fresh, and this is a different form of secession. You don’t take your preexisting state and just leave. You create a whole new state, which is still part of the union, the United States of America. This isn’t really secession at all – this is secession from Florida, not the United States – but it doesn’t matter. Eve Andrews looks at the climate data – in two hundred years all of this new state of South Florida will be underwater, as sea levels keep rising, and that’s already underway. It doesn’t matter what they do. Let them have their new state. South Florida would be gone soon enough – but these folks are upset. They want to do something. They want to call it quits.

There’s a lot of that going around. Bruce Bartlett points out that people can get the reason for throwing up their hands and just quitting all wrong – they’re upset with someone who is one of them, doing the sorts of things they like. Eve Andrews points out that just quitting may get you nothing at all.

Maybe it’s best to stick it out. No one likes a quitter.

Posted in Obama the Conservative, Secession | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments