The Liberal Pulse of America

Americans need guidance. There’s too much news, and certainly too much political news, for any of it to make sense – but the cable news channels are populated by preposterous buffoons. It’s not just Fox News. MSNBC once had Keith Olbermann in high dudgeon every weeknight and they still have the hyperactive Chris Matthews, so sure of what he was sure was not so the night before, and he won’t be sure of that tomorrow. Bouncing-off-the-wall enthusiasm isn’t contagious, it’s just irritating. Matthews’ guests, who can’t get a word in edgewise, fidget a bit and wait for him to calm down. He never does. Meanwhile, on Fox, there’s little more than anger and shouting. No one is sorting anything out. For years, anyone who wanted to know what the hell was going on turned to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When thoughtful commentary fails, satire will have to do – but Colbert is gone now and Stewart is leaving soon. We’re on our own.

Still, there are reliable voices – the guests on cable news, not the hosts – and they work in print. They take the long view, and just before Obama was elected to his first term, one of those, John Meacham, wrote that now-famous column warning Obama that America was really a center-right nation and Obama had better be careful. If Obama won, which Meacham thought might not happen, Obama would have to govern from the center. Forget Obamacare and all the rest. America wouldn’t stand for it – and everyone believed Meacham, or at least cited him. That became the conventional wisdom.

Meacham was wrong, but he was describing the America he saw, one where everyone said they were a conservative, even if they weren’t. The word sounded good. No one had called themselves a liberal in decades, but something was up. Just after the election, in a Washington Post op-ed, Hoover Institution fellow and former informal adviser to the McCain campaign, Tod Lindberg, saw what was happening:

Here’s the stark reality: It is now harder for the Republican presidential candidate to get to 50.1 percent than for the Democrat. My Hoover Institution colleague David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the research firm YouGovPolimetrix have been analyzing data from online interviews with 12,000 people in both 2004 and 2008. It shows an overall shift to the Democrats of six percentage points. As they write in the forthcoming edition of Policy Review, “The decline of Republican strength occurs by having strong Republicans become weak Republicans, weak Republicans becoming independents, and independents leaning more Democratic or even becoming Democrats.” This is a portrait of an electorate moving from center-right to center-left.

Meacham had been unable to separate the signal for the noise. The noise was the word “conservative” – which everyone liked. Make no sudden moves. That keeps you out of trouble. Be conservative, but these people meant the word “careful” of course. They weren’t all that riled up about immigration, or abortion and contraception, or gay marriage, or about making sure corporations and the wealthy paid next to nothing in taxes, to keep the economy strong. None of that had much to do with their day-to-day lives. A government of the people, that used its tax revenue to do useful things for the people, made sense to them. They shrugged at those shouting about how government was always the problem, never the solution. Let them shout. They’d been shouting forever. When the hurricane hits, people want FEMA there. Clean air and clean water are nice too. Maybe there were other things that could be done – carefully – and Obama seemed like a thoughtful, careful guy. Meacham blew that one.

A better guide might have been Michael Lind, a rather formidable fellow who in 2004 had written Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics:

According to Lind (a fifth-generation Texan), the politics of West Texas are steeped in racism, environmental exploitation, jingoistic militarism, crony capitalism, an anti-public education bias and a fundamentalist evangelicalism inconsistent with the separation of church and state. About President Bush’s relation to these beliefs, Lind in part merely implies it by association, saying, “Cultural geography is of little use in analyzing the personalities of politicians-but it is indispensable in understanding their politics.” However, Lind argues, with considerable verve, that the constellation of political beliefs embodying Bush-style politics is designed to exploit the nation’s natural and human resources for the benefit of a powerful oligarchy. According to Lind, Bush’s election translates to the “capture of the vast power of the federal apparatus by Southern reactionaries” and is “a threat to the peace and well-being not only of America but of the world.”

That sounds about right, in retrospect. The Tea Party took Bush up on all of that, but by 2008, Lind was saying Relax, Liberals. You’ve Already Won – the four-decades-long conservative counterrevolution is over.

What counterrevolution? That would be this:

For forty years, the radical right tried to destroy the domestic and international order that American liberals created in the central decades of the 20th century. The people who are known today as “conservatives” are better described as “counterrevolutionaries.” The goal of Barry Goldwater and the intellectuals clustered around William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review was not a slightly more conservative version of the New Deal or the U.N. system. They were reactionary radicals who dreamed of a counterrevolution. They didn’t just want to stop the clock. They wanted to turn it back.

And they were serious:

Three great accomplishments defined midcentury American liberalism: liberal internationalism, middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and liberal individualism in civil rights and the culture at large. For four decades, from 1968 to 2008, the counterrevolutionaries of the right waged war against the New Deal, liberal internationalism, and moral and cultural liberalism. They sought to abolish middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, to replace treaties and collective security with scorn for international law and U.S. global hegemony, and to reverse the trends toward individualism, secularism and pluralism in American culture.

And they failed. On every front conservatives have failed, completely, undeniably and irreversibly.

His argument that the Republican Revolution and the long reign of conservatism was really a counterrevolution, against what everyone really wanted, was somewhat convincing. Then, two days after Obama won the election, Lind came up with Obama and the Dawn of the Fourth Republic – suggesting that we have a new era on our hands. Imagine this like the various French republics since Napoleon, and it all makes sense:

As I see it, to date there have been three American republics, each lasting 72 years (give or take a few years). The First Republic of the United States, assembled following the American Revolution, lasted from 1788 to 1860. The Second Republic, assembled following the Civil War and Reconstruction (that is, the Second American Revolution) lasted from 1860 to 1932. And the Third American Republic, assembled during the New Deal and the civil rights eras (the Third American Revolution), lasted from 1932 until 2004.

Yes, you read that correctly – 2004, not 2008. A case can be made that the new era actually began four years ago. True, Bush, a relic of the waning years of the previous era, was reelected. But immediately after his reelection, the American people repudiated his foreign policy and his domestic policy, including Social Security privatization. In 2006 the Democrats swept the Republicans out of Congress, and in 2008 they have recaptured the White House.

Bush was just part of the pattern of the old Third Republic:

The final president of a republic tends to be a failed, despised figure. The First Republic, which began with George Washington, ended with James Buchanan, a hapless president who refused to act as the South seceded after Lincoln’s election. The Second Republic, which began with Abraham Lincoln, ended with the well-meaning but reviled and ineffectual Herbert Hoover. The Third Republic, founded by Franklin Roosevelt, came to a miserable end under the pathetic George W. Bush.

That actually makes sense, even if Lind admits he has little idea what the Fourth Republic will look like. It was early – but still, it was a relief to have someone who stepped back and considered what we’re really talking about here. This election was historic, but in more ways than is commonly acknowledged. That’s why he argued that it’s time to re-launch the old, tarnished L-word – “Come out of the closet, liberals.”

No, he doesn’t mean THAT – just that it’s time to stop using the fashionable euphemism “progressive.” That’s crap:

In the last two decades, Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, have abandoned the term “liberal” for “progressive.” The theory was that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan – had succeeded in equating “liberal” in the public mind with weakness on defense, softness on crime, and “redistribution” of Joe the Plumber’s hard-earned money to the collective bogey evoked by a former Texas rock band’s clever name: Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Dope.

There’s no point in playing that game:

It’s not the name of the center-left that the right objects to, but the policies and values. Suppose the defeated Republican minority decided that it needed to rebrand itself by replacing “conservatism” with “traditionalism.” Would anybody on the left or center be fooled, if traditionalism was defined by exactly the same synthesis of free-market radicalism, anti-Darwinism and support for a neoconservative foreign policy?

The center-left is going to be trashed by the right, whether the right adopts one term or another.

And he cites John F. Kennedy accepting the endorsement of his presidential candidacy by New York’s Liberal Party on Sept. 14, 1960:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties – someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

You could do worse – and for the first time since Gallup began tracking it in 1999, as many Americans say they’re liberal as say they’re conservative:

It’s been a long and slow crawl, but Americans have steadily become more liberal on social issues without much interruption – except for a brief dip when President Obama first took office in 2009. Today, it’s tied at 31 percent. Back in 1999, it was about two-to-one conservative over liberal…

That shift toward social liberalism has been accompanied by an uptick in overall liberalism too. Gallup earlier this year showed a new high in self-described “liberals” in the United States — even as it still trailed significantly behind the “conservative” label. In 2014, 24 percent of people used the L-word to describe themselves – up from a low of 16 percent in the mid-1990s.

Then there was the follow-up poll:

Americans are more likely now than in the early 2000s to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable, including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage and sex between an unmarried man and woman. Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record-high level. …

This latest update on Americans’ views of the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors is from Gallup’s May 6-10 Values and Beliefs survey. The complete results for each of the 19 issues tested in this year’s survey appear at the end of the article. Gallup has tracked these moral issues in this format since the early 2000s.

The upward progression in the percentage of Americans seeing these issues as morally acceptable has varied from year to year, but the overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors. In fact, the moral acceptability ratings for 10 of the issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.

Americans have become less likely to say that two issues are morally acceptable: the death penalty and medical testing on animals. But Americans’ decreased acceptance of these practices actually moves them in a more liberal direction.

The implications:

Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable. The biggest leftward shift over the past 14 years has been in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relations, from only a minority of Americans finding it morally acceptable to a clear majority finding it acceptable.

The moral acceptability of issues related to sexual relations has also increased, including having a baby outside of wedlock – something that in previous eras was a social taboo. Americans are more likely to find divorce morally acceptable, and have also loosened up on their views of polygamy, although this latter behavior is still seen as acceptable by only a small minority.

This liberalization of attitudes toward moral issues is part of a complex set of factors affecting the social and cultural fabric of the U.S. Regardless of the factors causing the shifts, the trend toward a more liberal view on moral behaviors will certainly have implications for such fundamental social institutions as marriage, the environment in which children are raised and the economy. The shifts could also have a significant effect on politics, with candidates whose positioning is based on holding firm views on certain issues having to grapple with a voting population that, as a whole, is significantly less likely to agree with conservative positions than it might have been in the past.

At Salon, Jim Newell sees the implications:

This is a positive development, and yet it seems sort of … late, doesn’t it? The conventional wisdom about national trends toward social liberalism, and how the GOP’s reliance on social conservatives dooms its ability to expand, has been around for a number of years. And yet only in 2015 does the term “socially liberal” meet “socially conservative” in overall support.

There’s still the reluctance by people who generally support “liberal” or left-of-center views to actually use the dreaded L-word. Those Reagan-era taboos, in which the term “liberal” was wielded to connote endless streams of welfare and decaying inner cities and general irresponsibility, haven’t fully been erased.

Face it. The Republicans got the better word:

All Republicans absolutely love to call themselves conservative. It is their favorite word. It has a sort of hard, let’s-get-real ring to it. But you will very rarely hear a prominent mainstream Democrat describe him- or herself forthrightly as a proud “liberal.” The project to resuscitate the word “liberal” from its thrashing in the ’80s was more or less abandoned in the last 10-15 years, with erstwhile “liberals” instead trying to breathe life into the word “progressive.” Democrats may have abandoned the word as a self-description, but Republicans certainly didn’t stop using it as a weapon.

And the Gallup polling shows how that works on economic issues:

By a 39 to 19 percent margin, more Americans recognize themselves as “conservative” than “liberal” on economic issues. This wide disparity has been intact consistently since 1999. Among Democrats, too, only 33 percent will recognize their positions as “liberal,” compared to 45 percent who prefer “moderate.” Republicans, meanwhile, just can’t wait to let everyone know how conservative they are. Sixty-four percent of Republicans label themselves economic “conservatives,” compared to only 27 percent who go with “moderate.” You can understand the ring to it on a personal level. Describing yourself as “economically conservative” makes the pollster think that you’re an upstanding financial manager who dutifully balances your checkbook every month.

That, however, is nonsense:

Liberal doesn’t need to be a naughty word when it comes to economic issues. Americans lopsidedly support quintessential “economically liberal” positions like protecting Social Security and Medicare, raising taxes on the wealthy, and maintaining discretionary spending programs for education, medical research, infrastructure, etc. People may conceive of these as “moderate” positions, and they may have once been. But now they are positions that are under withering assault from “economic conservatives.”

You would never, ever, catch President Obama – at least before he was a lame duck – going out there and describing the aforementioned positions as “liberal” ones, or himself as a “liberal.” He would describe his economics as “common sense,” “middle class,” or some other milquetoast phrase. He would go to great lengths, in fact, when accused of being a “liberal.”

As long as Democratic standard-bearers refuse to describe these economically liberal positions as such, though, Republicans will continue using “liberal” as a caricature – and an effective one.

That may be so, but there’s a reason that Steve Kornacki says don’t count Bernie Sanders out:

There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the “billionaire class.” This is hardly new talk from Sanders, who has been on Capitol Hill for 24 years now, but the climate has shifted since the 2008 economic meltdown and income inequality, wealth concentration and corporate power are unusually prominent in the national debate. And with economic anxiety still high and rampant frustration with Washington’s paralysis, there’s a potentially wide opening for a damn-the-system crusade like Sanders is leading.

And that guy goes beyond calling himself a liberal. He says he’s a democratic socialist, and folks love him. But they’ll probably say they love him because they’re fiscal conservatives. They want our money spent wisely, but on different things than the Republicans and maybe Hillary Clinton have in mind – higher taxes on the wealthy, a fifteen-dollar national minimum wage and one-trillion-dollar federal jobs and infrastructure program, and free universal college education and universal Medicare. That’s simply a different kind of careful spending.

Still, for the first time, as many Americans say they’re liberal as say they’re conservative, and the new second poll shows that on all the social issues the conservatives support, America shrugs. If we ever were a center-right nation, we’re not one now. America does have a liberal pulse. Gallup is fairly reliable.

That can only mean one thing. Enter, stage right, the preposterous buffoon:

In his Talking Points Memo tonight, Bill O’Reilly said that “America is in for a big shock” and that “the country is going in the wrong direction.” …

“So why is it happening?” he asked. … “As Talking Points has often pointed out the rise of the net has taken people away from the real world and put them in a fantasy world.”

O’Reilly said that he thinks only about 50 percent of Americans actually take time to understand important issues.

“Half the country does not,” he stated. “They are simpletons. Unwilling and unable to discipline themselves into formulating a philosophy of life.”

O’Reilly explained that the second factor that’s driving Americans to the left is the entertainment industry and social media.

He said that combined, the two are putting forth “a more libertine lifestyle.”

“Going forward, Talking Points believes America is in for a big shock,” O’Reilly stated. “I don’t know how that shock is going to be delivered, but I do know that we are heading in the wrong direction on just about every important issue.”

It’s too late. We’re already there, and the sky didn’t fall, and perhaps America doesn’t need guidance after all. We were liberals all along.

Posted in America a Liberal Nation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tamarack

The obscure is sometimes interesting. There’s an odd little book of poetry from the sixties, reissued in paperback in 1997, called Cool Reflections: Poetry for the Who, What, When, Where and Especially Why of It All – by Eugene McCarthy. Yes, that Gene McCarthy – the antiwar senator from Minnesota who did so well in the 1968 New Hampshire primary that Lyndon Johnson packed it in.

Yes, it was over. Johnson realized his own party was fed up with him. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and setting up Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start, and the War on Poverty and all the Great Society stuff, just weren’t enough to make up for escalating the Vietnam War to the point where we had more than half a million troops over there – and 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive that showed we were not going to win that thing, ever. Even Walter Cronkite said so, on national television. And now this soft-spoken academic fellow who rose from the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party had the young folks and the core of the Democratic Party rallying to him.

Who was this guy? McCarthy had met with Che Guevara in New York City in 1964 to discuss repairing relations between the United States and Cuba – not that anything came of that. He was a flake – but the writing was on the wall. Johnson was toast. He eventually withdrew.

Bobby Kennedy saw the same writing on the wall, so he jumped in, and he did far better than “Clean Gene” – he was a Washington insider, the brother of the iconic martyred president, a former attorney general who knew how things worked and how to get things done, and he was charismatic as hell. Bobby Kennedy also had passion – he wasn’t an academic – and he wasn’t obscure, and he wasn’t a flake. Democrats realized that they could win the White House with him, so Bobby Kennedy had the 1968 presidential nomination pretty much wrapped up after he won the Democratic Primary out here in California.

McCarthy resented the hell out of him for that. McCarthy had done the hard work. He had changed the game. He had cleared the way – and Bobby Kennedy waltzed right in and took it all over, and made himself the hero. He didn’t even say thank you – and the rest is history. McCarthy eventually gave up, Kennedy was assassinated before he could leave Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and in Chicago, the Democrats ignored McCarthy. They nominated Hubert Humphrey, another Washington insider – someone everyone actually knew, not some part-time poet – and then Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon. It all played out. Johnson was gone. Nixon was president for eight years. Hubert Humphrey ended up with Eugene McCarthy’s senate seat. It all came to nothing.

As for the poetry, Peter Montgomery has considered that:

It’s difficult to imagine a national political figure today quoting Walt Whitman while campaigning, as McCarthy did, or bringing along a poet, as he did with his close friend Robert Lowell, who called McCarthy a one-man Greek chorus. But McCarthy himself would admit that literary allusions did not always help on the campaign trail, as he noted in a reflection on experiencing defeat. “The most memorable morning after for me was in the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had lost the Nebraska primary of 1968, a defeat I had thought almost certain after two campaign stops. One was at a university and the other in the heart of the land of O Pioneers! My references to Willa Cather stirred no response.”

“If any of you are secret poets,” he once joked, “the best way to break into print is to run for the presidency.”

At least they’ll take the poetry seriously, and this item goes on to discuss that poetry, including this:

Columnist George Will recalled McCarthy as a “talented poet” and suggested that in “The Tamarack,” McCarthy “surely summarized his experience” of having taken the risk to challenge Johnson and then having Kennedy jump into the race.

That poem begins with this:

The tamarack tree is the saddest tree of all;
it is the first tree to invade the swamp,
and when it makes the soil dry enough,
the other trees come and kill it.

George Will may be right about the bitter sadness in those words, but McCarthy never fit in, and Montgomery quotes McCarthy saying this:

I may have been prejudiced against lawyer members of Congress, having run against one or two and having been threatened politically by a few others, and also because my own professional background was academic, principally in the liberal arts. Good lawyers, I asserted in campaigns, can be found in the yellow pages of the telephone books. Good historians, or political and social philosophers, are not so easily found or classified.

He was something special, and he did change things, and then the political process ate him up and spit him out, leaving him more obscure than when he started. Even those of us who were in college in those days, when 1968 was our junior year, those of us who cheered him on, hardly remember him now. We remember Bobby Kennedy – the moving speech on the night Martin King was assassinated, his own assassination, and then the riots at the Chicago convention, and then Nixon winning it all. There’s no space in American politics for political and social philosophers. They’re the tamarack trees.

Now we have another one:

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled his presidential campaign Tuesday, calling for a “political revolution” to take on the moneyed interests and warning that the “grotesque level” of economic inequality in the U.S. is “immoral.”

“Today, with your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” he said in his hometown of Burlington.

“Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly: Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires,” he said.

Yes, this is about political and social philosophy, not him:

“This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, it’s not about Hillary Clinton, it’s not about Jeb Bush or anyone else,” the gruff Vermont senator said, promising to avoid “political gossip or relentless personal attacks,” though he called out conservative billionaires including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson in his speech.

“To the billionaire class, I say your greed has got to end,” he declared after calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, a $15 national minimum wage and $1 trillion federal jobs and infrastructure program, free universal college education and universal Medicare, saying his humble upbringing in Brooklyn taught him “what lack of money means to a family.”

Sure, Hillary has the nomination locked up, but to some, that doesn’t matter:

“Some say that voting for Bernie is throwing your vote away. I say that voting for anybody else is flushing our country down the drain,” said Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen as he introduced Sanders at the rally.

David Weigel further documents the mania:

A few hours before the rally where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would formally announce his bid for president, a hundred-odd potential supporters gathered in a circle. They took up much of the park outside city hall, where in 1981 Sanders had taken office as the first socialist mayor of Burlington. Charles Lechner, an Occupy Wall Street organizer who had started the new (and unofficial) People for Bernie, asked the crowd to speak freely. Then he gave it a try.

“Everyone who’s afraid of the word ‘socialism,’ please take a step in,” he said.

He waited a moment. A few legs wobbled, a few heads turned, but nobody took a full step.

“He can do what Hillary Clinton can’t do. He can change the composition of the electorate.”

“This is great!” laughed Lechner. “I think we’re gonna take a page from a famous political consultant. We’re gonna turn every perceived weakness of this movement into a goddamn strength.”

Weigel adds this:

Bernie Sanders has that effect on people. If progressives could design a presidential candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton, he would not be 73 years old, white, male, and from a small blue state. Yet every Sanders win has been an impossible-looking triumph. He calls himself a “democratic socialist,” a term that’s supposed to lose you elections. That description is hardly controversial in Europe, and Sanders frequently cites the EU nations as models for how America should reform itself—another idea that’s supposed to lose you elections.

Bernie Sanders does not lose. He won his two Senate terms with 65 and 71 percent of the vote. He won Chittenden County, home of Burlington, by 50 points. In Burlington, as Sanders finalized his announcement speech, some young supporters wore vintage T-shirts declaring how they had helped him win those races. Some older supporters wore “Bernie for Mayor” buttons. One even wore the slogan “As Goes Burlington, So Goes France,” coined by Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau when Francois Mitterrand followed Sanders into power in 1981.

Hillary should worry:

Bernie Sanders inspires legitimate political fandom, something Democrats looked to be done with after two terms of President Barack Obama. Like former Texas Representative Ron Paul, another septuagenarian with defiantly baggy suits, Sanders has watched a political movement build beneath him. Unlike Paul, who cast libertarian votes from a House district, Sanders has an example – Burlington – to cite whenever someone doubts that his politics can govern.

And there’s this:

After 4:30, the music quieted and a series of speakers started introducing Sanders. One of the first was Bill McKibben, the environmental writer and activist, who called the day’s surprising and persistent heat a “great spill of solar energy over this beautiful city.” He told a story about a hike that let him and his family look down on the great mountains of New Hampshire.

“Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson – maybe someday, Mount Sanders,” said McKibben. “He always means what he says, and he says what he believes.”

How could Sanders play outside of Vermont? “My guess is that most ordinary people, exposed to his message, will like him just fine,” McKibben said. “But billionaires have inordinate sway in the influence game, and they can recognize a real enemy when they see one.”

And he was off and running:

In his speech, Sanders ran through a complete social democratic agenda, from Keynesian jobs programs to single payer health care to new banking regulations. He was not trying to rebrand or repackage any of that; instead, he was betting that an electorate that never showed up had been waiting for someone to say all of this.

“He can do what Hillary Clinton can’t do,” said Tad Devine, Sanders’ chief political strategist. “He can change the composition of the electorate.”

When Sanders wrapped his speech, the PA system blasted Pete Seeger’s version of “This Land is Your Land.” Decades earlier, Sanders had talk-sung a cover of the song, and a recording had become an ironic viral hit. On Tuesday, the singing was handled by an audience of thousands, signing along as the senator shook hands and smiled at the people who’d decided to believe in him.

And he is running as a political and social philosopher:

He wants big Wall Street banks broken up. He’s willing to accept slower economic growth in return for what he’d consider a more equitable distribution of income.

“The issue we’re dealing with is actually the struggle to rebuild American democracy,” Sanders said in an interview at a Capitol Hill bistro. “Economically, over the last 40 years, we’ve seen a middle class in this country disappearing.”

“Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think this is the kind of economy we should have. Do we think it’s moral?”

He likes the big questions. He somehow thinks there’s a place in politics for those questions, all evidence to the contrary. But Steve Kornacki says don’t count Bernie Sanders out:

It’s easy to dismiss Sanders as nothing more than a niche candidate, an avowed “democratic socialist” with a diehard following on the far-left. Raising money will be a challenge and Sanders will rely heavily on modest contributions from grassroots donors. His outsider posture and distance from the Democratic establishment also means he won’t be reeling in many high-profile endorsements. (Just last week, Vermont’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, snubbed Sanders and threw his support to Clinton.) Nor does Sanders have much of a campaign infrastructure in place right now.

But write him off completely at your own peril, because Sanders actually has a few things working in his favor. There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the “billionaire class.” This is hardly new talk from Sanders, who has been on Capitol Hill for 24 years now, but the climate has shifted since the 2008 economic meltdown and income inequality, wealth concentration and corporate power are unusually prominent in the national debate. And with economic anxiety still high and rampant frustration with Washington’s paralysis, there’s a potentially wide opening for a damn-the-system crusade like Sanders is leading.

It’s more than that, though. There’s also his personality and his image – grumpy demeanor, disheveled appearance, disinterest in discussing anything not related to policy, contempt for personal questions. He is the antithesis of a packaged political candidate and his authenticity is a powerful tool. Look at it this way: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is poised to join Sanders in the Democratic race later this week, is planning to stress many of the same economic themes as Sanders. But which one of them sounds like he means it more?

And then there’s Hillary Clinton:

All of the attributes that contribute to her strength – her bottomless bankroll, her legion of high-powered endorsers, her extensive connections to the country’s financial elite, her marriage to a former president – mark her as the embodiment of the political establishment against which Sanders defines himself. Plus, her strength has kept the Democratic Party’s brightest non-Hillary White House prospects – like, say, Elizabeth Warren – on the sidelines, making it easier for Sanders and his message to stand out.

There are practical matters that favor him too:

The venues for the lead-off contests are favorable for Sanders: Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with small, rural populations that aren’t too different from Vermont, where Sanders has now won ten statewide elections. The leftward, activist-oriented bent of Iowa’s Democratic caucus electorate is well established; it’s the state where Clinton finished in third place in 2008 the beginning of the end of her first presidential campaign. And right on Iowa’s heels will come New Hampshire, where Democrats already know Sanders as their next-door neighbor.

Realistically, Sanders could fare surprisingly well in these two states, knock the other non-Hillary candidates out of the race, then gobble up 20-to-30% in primaries and caucuses throughout the spring and arrive at the convention with hundreds of delegates – enough to command attention and shape the platform.

This might work:

Of course, you don’t subject yourself to the exhausting and occasionally humiliating rigors of a national campaign without believing on some level that maybe, somehow, you might actually strike gold. So here it is – the scenario that exists somewhere in the minds of everyone in Sanders World: He scores a breakthrough performance or two in televised debates with Clinton (there are six scheduled right now); then he finishes a surprisingly close second in Iowa, resulting in a wave of press coverage about Clinton’s sudden vulnerability, and follows it up with the unthinkable: an outright victory in New Hampshire; with that stunning, Sanders then reaps a Hart ’84/McCain ’00-like windfall of media coverage and campaign donations while party leaders begin revisiting their assumptions about the vitality of Clinton’s candidacy. And once that happens …

You can decide where in that scenario the thinking shifts from hopeful to delusional, but the one-in-a-gazillion shot where it all works out is the fuel that keeps every longshot campaign chugging along. And while it’s true that we’ve never seen a frontrunner like Hillary Clinton before, we haven’t quite seen an underdog like Bernie Sanders either.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie continues that thought:

Where Hillary is well-known (and to many women, an icon), he is obscure. Where she embodies the establishment, he is on its outskirts, a self-identified “socialist” from the liberal enclave of Burlington, Vermont. Where she gives six-figure speeches, he is among the “poorest” members of the Senate with a net worth of roughly $460,000. She plans to run a $2 billion campaign; he hopes to raise $50 million.

And where Clinton is in the middle of the mainstream, Sanders has been an iconoclast for decades. As a House member, he co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, opposed both wars in Iraq, and voted against the Patriot Act. As a senator for Vermont since 2007, he’s criticized the bank bailouts, voted against Tim Geithner’s nomination for Treasury Secretary, and gave a nearly nine-hour speech against a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Now, as a candidate in the Democratic nomination race, he’s an advocate for the left wing of the party. “I am not running against Hillary Clinton,” he said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Instead, he’s launching a crusade – against inequality, against Wall Street, and against the “billionaire class” that he claims dominates American politics. “Billionaire families are now able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the candidates of their choice,” he says on his campaign website. “These people own most of the economy. Now they want to own our government as well.”

This is more than rhetoric. To Sanders, the economy isn’t just unequal – it’s rigged, with the richest Americans using their resources to tilt the board in their direction. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent,” he said in a recent interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. “Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” To reverse this “massive transfer of wealth” from the middle class to the very top, Sanders wants high tax rates (“If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent”) and substantial redistribution.

This agenda, and Sanders’ diagnosis, has real appeal in the Democratic Party. Seventy-one percent of Democrats want high taxes to fund programs for the poor, and 37 percent blame tax and economic policies for the gap between the rich and everyone else. As for the senator himself? Of the non-Clinton candidates in the Democratic primary, he’s the most popular, holding more support than Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee combined. Then again, this is a bit like being the best featherweight boxer in a ring with Mike Tyson. You are going to lose, and it will be painful.

Indeed, it’s hard to see how Sanders and his left-wing advocacy can pull Clinton to the left when, outside of debates, she can safely ignore his campaign.

Life is hard, or politics is, so there’s only this:

For liberals, the test of the 2016 Democratic race is whether the left needs a strong candidate to pull the establishment to its side. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are promising, but there’s no guarantee they can do the job. But then, that’s not the only gauge for success. So far, Clinton has been silent on the economy, focusing on issues like immigration and criminal justice reform where there’s broad consensus in the Democratic Party. For the likely nominee of the party, this is unacceptable.

If they do anything, Sanders and Warren will challenge Clinton to give her full views on inequality and articulate a vision for the shape of the American economy. It will open up the conversation. And compared with a world where Clinton is tight-lipped on her commitments, that’s a win.

Sure, and by that measure Eugene McCarthy won big. In the end, even the hapless Hubert Humphrey was saying many of the things that Eugene McCarthy had been saying all along – and Humphrey lost. We got Richard Nixon. But someone has to drain the swamp. That’s what those sad tamarack trees are for. And then the other trees kill them. Someone wrote a poem about that, by the way.

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Punishing the Poor for Their Sin

Obamacare is not going to magically disappear – even if the Supreme Court rules that three or four errant words in a minor subsection of the law override the clear intent of the hundreds of thousands of other words in the law, the Republicans will find a way that seventeen million Americans who now have health insurance for the first time in their lives get to keep it, as those folks vote – so the 2016 presidential election won’t be about Obamacare. It stays one way or another. And the 2016 presidential election won’t be about ISIS either. Yes, Obama seems to be muddling through the unfolding interlocking crises in the Middle East, escalating by the day, perhaps making it up as he goes along, trying not to do anything stupid, but no one has an alternative. No one wants us to go back in, guns blazing, with a couple of hundred thousand troops – except for William Kristol at the Weekly Standard and John Bolton over on Fox News and a few of the other remaining shamed neoconservatives looking for redemption.

They won’t get their redemption. We’re stuck. Whose side do we go in on in this all-out war between the Sunnis and the Shiites for absolute control of the region, and on which day, and where? This isn’t about us. It never was. Those folks only attacked us here when we took sides there. And anyway, if we jump back in over there, that odd little man with the bad haircut in North Korea might get ideas, and Putin might get ideas, while we’re distracted somewhere between Syria and Yemen. We’d really have to send two hundred thousand troops in the Ukraine and five hundred thousand troops to the DMZ in Korea on the same day we jump back into Iraq or wherever, just to be safe. And then there is China, expansionist China. We do need to keep a few carriers off their coast, so they don’t get any ideas. The world is a dangerous place – everywhere. Any bold move in the Middle East leaves us vulnerable somewhere else.

That’s a problem. Yes, our strategy in the Middle East will come up in the 2016 presidential debates. It’s a tempting political target, but there’s an easy answer to anyone who thinks that what we’re doing now is awful and weak and a betrayal of everything that America stands for. Got a better idea? All the better ideas offered so far are pretty much what Obama is already doing, because what George Bush did is still radioactive. It will always be radioactive. We won’t do that again.

The issue of the Middle East will collapse. The only issue now is the best way to muddle through, while preserving at least a little bit of self-respect, even if that’s hardly possible at this point. Voters get it. We goofed. All we can do is make the best of a bad situation. Offer some suggestions about that and move on.

That means that the 2016 presidential election will be about social and economic issues, one where the self-righteous shame those who should be ashamed of themselves, and the good people vote for the good people. The good Americans – who like to call themselves the Real Americans – do like to tell the rest of us what’s wrong with us. It’s not just Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders excoriating the One Percent, the folks who are screwing over the rest of us. It’s the evangelicals, the social conservatives.

We’ve been put on notice. Abortion is murder, no matter what the circumstances, rape or incest or whatever, and maybe contraception is murder too. God said so. Good people have nothing to do with either, and they have nothing to do with gays. Those are not good people. They should not be allowed to marry each other. They don’t deserve it – and Hollywood is ruining everything too. It’s all those naked people. Good girls are modest, and now there are all these pre-teen girls dressing like tramps, like little whores. And their mother let them! And don’t get them started on sex education, or on what that leads to – premarital sex. Good girls are pure and keep themselves pure. Bad girls don’t. This is a matter of family values. We should listen and mend our ways, and vote accordingly. God expects no less. This ran into a little hiccup with the child-molestation scandal in the politically-connected hyper-evangelical Duggar family – but everyone makes mistakes. The 2016 presidential election may be about sin – by default. Obamacare stays and the Middle East can’t be fixed. This is what’s left.

One of those sins, of course, is poverty. There are Americans who have no sense of personal responsibility, who expect their government to do things for them with the tax money it collects from everyone – money the good people had paid to the government. That money was for other things. These people should get off their lazy fat asses and make something of their sad little lives. They should take responsibility for those basically immoral lives. People should just get jobs. Anyone with an ounce of self-respect can get rich, and those folks in the street are not good people – and those black folks in Ferguson and Baltimore aren’t good people either. Get a job. Maybe the police wouldn’t have to beat the crap out of you or shoot you dead if you weren’t hanging around with nothing to do, with a bad attitude. And no one should get food stamps or anything else. That only makes these moochers-with-attitude even worse people. Life is hard for them? That’s their own fault.

That is to define being poor as a sin. “It is a sin to be poor.” Charles Fillmore said that back in 1936 in a book called Prosperity – and it stuck, and he was a theologian of sorts:

In 1889, Charles left his business to focus entirely on a prayer group that would later be called ‘Silent Unity’. It was named this because of a legal conflict with Mary Baker Eddy over the use of the title Christian Science. That same year he began publication of a new periodical, ‘Modern Thought’, notable among other things as the first publication to accept for publication the writings of the then 27-year-old New Thought pioneer William Walker Atkinson. In 1891, Fillmore’s ‘Unity’ magazine was first published. Dr. H. Emilie Cady published ‘Lessons in Truth’ in the new magazine. This material later was compiled and published in a book by the same name, which served as a seminal work of the Unity Church. Although Charles had no intention of making Unity into a denomination, his students wanted a more organized group. He and his wife were among the first ordained Unity ministers in 1906. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore operated the Unity organization from a campus near downtown Kansas City.

To be fair, Fillmore may have been saying no more than one should make the most of one’s gilts – but that’s not what people heard. The poor should be ashamed of themselves, and look at them – they are. They hate it. In our world of consumer capitalism, to be poor is to be inadequate, as a human being. The goodies you own, and perhaps the goodies you are still paying off in monthly installments, and will actually never pay off before you die, are a sign of goodness, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, as it were.

There has been an evolution from wealth as an offense to faith to wealth as an obstacle to faith to wealth as an outcome of faith:

One line of Protestant thinking views the pursuit of wealth as not only acceptable but as a religious calling or duty. This perspective is generally ascribed to Calvinist and Puritan theologies, which view hard work and frugal lifestyles as spiritual acts in themselves. John Wesley was a strong proponent of wealth creation. However, to avoid wealth becoming an obstacle to faith, Wesley exhorted his audiences to “earn all they can, save all they can and give away all they can.” Included among those who view wealth as an outcome of faith are modern-day preachers and authors who propound prosperity theology, teaching that God promises wealth and abundance to those who will believe in him and follow his laws.

Prosperity theology (also known as the “health and wealth gospel”) is a Christian religious belief whose proponents claim the Bible teaches that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians. Most teachers of prosperity theology maintain that a combination of faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries, will always cause an increase in material wealth for those who practice these actions. …

Prosperity theology first came to prominence in the United States during the Healing Revivals in the 1950s. Some commentators have linked the genesis of prosperity theology with the influence of the New Thought movement. [That would be Fillmore.] It later figured prominently in the Word of Faith movement and 1980s televangelism. In the 1990s and 2000s, it became accepted by many influential leaders in the charismatic movement and has been promoted by Christian missionaries throughout the world. It has been harshly criticized by leaders of mainstream evangelicalism as a non-scriptural doctrine or as an outright heresy.

There is no scripture to support this stuff – scripture all runs that other way – but the idea is seductive. John Kenneth Galbraith said this – “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” There’s a bit of that going on here – but there’s moral philosophy and then there’s moral philosophy made operational, as Simon Maloy points out, now in Kansas:

Way back in 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and supply-side alchemist Art Laffer were positively giddy about the economic miracle they had in store for Kansas. With Laffer’s assistance, Brownback had crafted a tax package that was the living embodiment of conservative economic fantasy – slashed income tax rates across the board, especially deep cuts for top earners, and elimination of taxes on small businesses. It was a “pro-growth” vision that was supposed to send Kansas’ economy into overdrive, make it the envy of all surrounding states, and provide irrefutable proof that tax cuts truly were an economic panacea.

The tax cuts would be “like shooting adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy,” Brownback said at an April 2012 economic conference. “Cutting taxes can have a near immediate and permanent impact,” Laffer wrote in September 2012, “which is why we have advised Oklahoma, Kansas, and other states to cut their income tax rates if they want the most effective immediate and lasting boost to their states’ economies.”

Two years later, in 2014, the promised economic benefits hadn’t arrived – in fact, Kansas was lagging badly in job growth, bleeding money and slashing spending to try to make up for the losses. But Brownback wasn’t deterred. After having promised and failed-to-deliver adrenaline to Kansas’ economic heart, he started preaching patience. “It takes some time,” Brownback told CBN [the Christian Broadcast Network, of course] in October 2014. “Tax policy takes some time for it to work.” Laffer also changed up his story – he’d guaranteed an “immediate and lasting” economic boost, but in January 2015 he urged Kansans to wait. “You have to view this over 10 years,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It will work in Kansas.”

Perhaps one day it will, but for now, the poor are be punished for their sin:

The Brownback/Laffer tax scheme hasn’t goosed the Kansas economy and it doesn’t look like it will any time soon. It has succeeded marvelously, though, in redistributing wealth to the top of the income ladder, while, at the same time, screwing over the people at the bottom. While the rich soaked up the lion’s share of the tax windfall, the poorest Kansas families actually saw their tax burden tick up a little bit.

And when it comes to screwing the poor, Kansas Republicans are proving to be among the more creative and heartlessly depraved groups of legislators in the country. Last month, the Legislature passed a resolution barring welfare recipients from spending their benefits at swimming pools, movie theaters, casinos, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs. It’s a dehumanizing and paternalistic policy that assumes the poor are undeserving of simple diversions like going to see a movie, or are scamming the government to finance their gambling and/or stripper habits.

Brownback and his Republican legislature have also come up with something else, described by Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post here:

A dollar bill is a special kind of thing. You can keep it as long as you like. You can pay for things with it. No one will ever charge you a fee. No one will ask any questions about your credit history. And other people won’t try to tell you that they know how to spend that dollar better than you do.

For these reasons, cash is one of the most valuable resources a poor person in the United States can possess. Yet legislators in Kansas, not trusting the poor to use their money wisely, have voted to limit how much cash that welfare beneficiaries can receive, effectively reducing their overall benefits, as well.

The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.

Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.

Heather Parton comments:

Imagine making it so that banks can collect extra fees from mothers with small children who are trying to feed them on less than four hundred dollars a month. How cruel do you have to be to think that making them only carry 20 dollars cash will somehow teach them a lesson?

Well, God won’t punish them for the sin of being poor, so the social conservative will. Voters in Kansas cheer them on, and then Parton moves on to Wisconsin:

In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, for instance, they are making long lists of prohibited foods for those who use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs.) The list of other prohibited purchases includes “herbs, spices, or seasonings,” all nuts, red and yellow potatoes, smoothies, spaghetti sauce, “soups, salsas, ketchup,” sauerkraut, pickles, dried beans sold in bulk, and white or albacore tuna.

They were particularly adamant that nobody on the program be allowed to eat shellfish, lobster in particular, which seems odd considering that it’s Wisconsin and the lobster catch there is decidedly small. (In fact, it’s non-existent.) I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that this lobster hysteria stemmed from a Fox News documentary which seems to have been the catalyst for these crackdowns on foodie welfare cheats. Media Matters reported on it back in 2013…

The poor sometimes eat normal food. It’s just not right. Fox had staffers deliver copies of the documentary to members of congress prior to a vote on cutting food stamps. One must nip sin in the bud, but Parton expects this:

The truth, which Fox News and these Republicans are uninteresting in hearing, is that the program has less than a 1 percent fraud rate and nearly half the recipients are among the working poor. Many of the rest are children, elderly and disabled people.

But it’s all about punishing sin:

We’ve known for some time that conservatives consider things like cellphones and air conditioning to be luxury items which poor people don’t deserve. Now they’ve decided that food is a luxury item as well, at least any food they deem them unworthy of eating. In fact, it’s pretty clear that the right simply believes low income people don’t know what it is to suffer and so need to be given some tough love. They don’t understand the meaning of responsibility the way that people who have money for food do. So taking away their money for food and restricting what they are allowed to eat will teach them that.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s Stalinist plot to encourage children eat their vegetables must be stopped at all costs. And it’s not because they think taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for kids to eat luxury tomatoes and fancy green beans. It’s because big government has no business telling people what they should and should not eat. Why, they think that’s downright un-American. Imagine that.

She’s not a happy camper, but neither is Joan Walsh:

All this is happening against the backdrop of GOP policy failure. We’ve had a 30-plus year experiment in Republican approaches to the problems of poverty and declining economic opportunity – and it’s turned out abysmally. Ronald Reagan convinced a lot of people that “we fought a war on poverty, and poverty won,” so Democrats came together with Republicans and slashed the largest welfare program for families with children, first in the states, then federally. Bill Clinton signed the federal bill into law, thinking he could get the issue of the lazy poor behind him, and then concentrate on the supports low-wage workers might need to climb.

Of course, Clinton never completed that part of his agenda; he got distracted by the GOP witch hunt known as impeachment. Republicans still didn’t want to make friends even after Clinton gave them punitive welfare reform; go figure.

Then George W. Bush became president, and we got a lesson in the way tax cuts create jobs – as in, they don’t. In eight years of the Clinton administration, which raised top tax rates, 23 million jobs were created, compared with 3 million in the eight low-tax Bush years.

She suggests this:

It might be time to try a whole new approach to fighting poverty – raising the minimum wage; strengthening workers’ ability to bargain; investing in infrastructure to shore up our roads, bridges and rail system but also to create jobs; expanding access to college. Instead, red state GOP legislators are pushing ever crueler ways to treat the poor like garbage.

Sam Brownback’s Kansas is becoming an ever more awful dystopia. It’s an absolute laboratory for tax-cutting, welfare-slashing schemes, and it’s circling the drain economically. Scott Walker is an amateur compared to Brownback, but he’s working hard to make sure Wisconsin ties Kansas for the most dysfunctional economy.

But of course this is about punishing the poor:

This is how you tell the Kochs, and scared white people, that the slackers and moochers are being punished. It accomplishes nothing, but it’s good politically. That’s still the core premise of Republican politics, and it will remain so through the 2016 election, at least.

Well, there’s no point in talking about Obamacare and the Middle East. But someone must be punished. It might as well be those who have committed the ultimate unforgivable sin in this culture. They ended up poor. Now they’ll pay for that sin. Voters do seem to like that sort of thing.

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Bad Guys and Good Guys and the Inevitable

They don’t make locomotives in London anymore – at least not in the London in Ontario, about halfway between Detroit and Toronto – but General Motors was doing just that in the last two years of the last century. Those were the two years when the job was rebuilding the systems shop there.

These things happen. The folks who built those locomotives were a bit quirky. General Motors could do what they liked – they built cars and trucks – but the locomotive guys decided to dump Ross Perot’s EDS (Electronic Data Systems) for their computer work and brought in Computer Sciences Corporation. They thought we could run things better, or at least no worse – but their manufacturing resource planning system was a COBOL-based monster running on an IBM mainframe in suburban Toronto, that EDS owned and operated. That was difficult enough, but there was no making that antique hum along happily, no matter who scheduled things. The mid-range Oracle-based ancillary systems, running on a local HP-3000, were as old as the hills too. It was a mess – but we brought in every clever CSC person we could find from Tucson to Maine to sort it all out. We’d send each of them home when we found a likely Canadian who could do this special thing or that.

It took two years to sort it all out. Then it was time to leave. The commute was a bitch – two weeks at a stretch in London, a weekend at home here in Hollywood, to pay the bills and water the plants, and then back to London on Sunday evening – the late flight to Pittsburgh and then the puddle-jumper up to London.

That sort of thing can wear you out, but those were the days of NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement that George H. W. Bush had negotiated with Mexico and Canada, but was signed by Bill Clinton in 1993, because people were wary of it. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had lost his job over it – that’s what the 1988 Canadian election was about. Jean Chrétien promised to renegotiate or abrogate NAFTA – but after he won he only negotiated two supplemental agreements with Clinton. Still, there was research that showed that since NAFTA’s ratification more than 10,000 Canadian companies had been taken over by foreigners and that 98% of all foreign direct investments in Canada were for foreign takeovers. NAFTA may or may not have been a good deal for them. Trade increased. Down here, the AFL-CIO blames NAFTA for sending 700,000 American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. But trade increased.

As for the locomotive plant, twenty or thirty Canadians lost their jobs in the systems transition, but within two years, twenty or thirty other Canadians had those jobs. That was a wash, but for two years all of us, the Americans, had NAFTA visas stapled in our passports. The customs guys at London’s little airport would just shrug every other Sunday night. The Americans were running things – and those visas were easy to get. The Canadian executives at the locomotive plant would just check the little box – there was no available Canadian available to do this specific job at this time. They lied. They just wanted someone to sort out their systems mess, at the right price – as cheaply as possible. We even brought in an expert from India at one point. CSC had lots of resources.

In the end it didn’t matter. General Motors got out of the locomotive business. EDS, out of Plano, Texas, was purchased by Hewlett-Packard in 2008 and folded into their enterprise systems. It’s gone too. That same year, CSC, founded in Los Angeles, moved out of Los Angeles, to Falls Church, to be near the Pentagon and all the federal agencies. That’s where the money is. It’s not in locomotives. As for London, Ontario, its economy is pretty much dead now. Everyone moved on. NAFTA did them no net good.

There’s not much to say about London now. Justin Bieber and Guy Lombardo were born there. That’s it. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played “the sweetest music this side of heaven” – a long time ago. NAFTA was a long time ago too. Many were burnt, badly, but overall trade increased. Capitalism, working well, eats some people alive.

Everyone knows that, and that’s why the old NAFTA issues have come up again:

President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations. A coalition of 48 Senate Republicans and 14 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority [TPA] late Friday, sending the legislation to a difficult fight in the House, where it faces more entrenched opposition from Democrats. The Senate coalition fought off several attempts by opponents to undermine the legislation, defeating amendments that were politically popular but potentially poisonous to Obama’s bid to secure the trade deal.

It’s all in the details:

TPA’s fast-track provisions would allow Congress, under strict timelines, to consider trade deals with a simple up-or-down vote without any amendments or requirements of a Senate super-majority to end debate. That would help Obama complete the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the other 11 nations, a bloc that represents about 40 percent of the global economy.

If TPA clears Congress, Obama’s negotiators will push to conclude the Pacific trade pact and then send it to Congress for final approval, possibly later this year or early next year. The legislative package also includes new funding for labor training for workers that are certified for having lost their jobs because of foreign competition.

They added something to ease individual pain, but Obama is facing off against his own party now:

Obama’s aggressive push for the trade agenda has upended his relationship with his long-standing allies in the labor movement, as well as anti-corporate liberal activists who strongly supported his 2008 and 2012 elections. It sparked sharp exchanges, played out in the national media, with a liberal icon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), leading to one of Obama’s normally closest allies, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to question whether he was being sexist for singling her out for criticism.

Unions and progressive activists have mobilized their forces against TPA for more than a year now, believing that defeating the fast-track authority would probably also kill negotiations on the Pacific trade deal.

On Friday, union leaders narrowly lost their bid for passage of an amendment designed to create strict regulation of global currency markets, offered by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose states have been ravaged by losses of manufacturing jobs to foreign competition.

“This amendment is simply a modest enforcement measure that would direct the administration to conduct negotiations in a manner that will push them closer to getting trade done right. We urge you to support it and oppose any language to weaken it,” William Samuel, a top lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, wrote to senators in a “legislative alert” Friday.

Obama is fighting back, and on the other side:

Treasury Department officials warned that the Portman proposal would prompt a presidential veto, because the other nations would potentially abandon the TPP talks. In the hours leading up to Portman’s vote, Obama worked the phones with wavering senators to defeat the measure, relying heavily on his usual foes – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his top lieutenants – to round up 51 votes to narrowly defeat the measure.

In the end, 41 Republicans and 10 Democrats defeated the amendment, which was considered the last major hurdle to securing Senate passage of the legislation.

And this is strange:

In perhaps the most unusual alliance in the debate, Obama’s trade agenda will soon rest largely in the hands of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee. Now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is leading the push to secure as many votes as possible from the Republican side of the aisle for Obama’s fast-track authorities on trade deals. He has been working with [House Speaker John] Boehner’s leadership team convening meetings with Republicans to educate the dozens of junior lawmakers who have never considered a trade deal like the potential Pacific Rim pact.

Just 55 members of the House were in office during the 1993 debate for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and nearly 140 lawmakers – a third of the entire House – have never voted on any trade deal before.

It’s time to bone up on NAFTA. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, however, thinks that may be nonsense:

The concerns about the effect another trade deal will have on the American worker are real. The opposition roaring out of the House Democrats is understandable. After 21 years, the bitter aftertaste of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remains. Shuttered factories and the lost jobs that ensued led many Americans, Democrats and Republicans, to turn inwards to protect their livelihoods. That’s why Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said in a statement last month that past trade deals “put the American Dream out of reach for countless working families.” Even the president acknowledges that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to their promise.”

But as I read and do my own reporting on TPP, I keep coming back to a reported conversation between Obama and the late Apple maestro Steve Jobs. According to the New York Times, at a 2011 dinner in Silicon Valley, the president asked Jobs why iPhones couldn’t be made in the United States.

Mr. Jobs’ reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

He cites United States Trade Representative Michael Froman noting the three options here:

The first option is the status quo. That’s the state of play we have now where “those jobs aren’t coming back,” as Jobs said. It’s also a state of play where large companies may see greater benefits to moving operations abroad and smaller ones face a hill too steep to export. And let’s not even talk about the existing trade deals between some of our biggest trading partners that put U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage.

The second option is implementing TPP. Froman and the administration have argued consistently that unprecedented labor requirements (minimum wage, the right to collective bargaining) and environmental standards (protections for endangered wildlife and oceans) would “level the playing field” for American workers to compete with their counterparts in what would be the largest free-trade zone in the world. “With open markets there, you give U.S. companies an incentive to keep manufacturing here and ship goods overseas,” Froman said.

The third option, Froman said, was for the U.S. to sit back and let China set the rules in the region with its own trade deals with nations in the region. China would love nothing more than for TPP to fail. According to a story from MarketWatch, China’s State Council is “panicky” over the trade deal. The report points out that the Council believes, “Implementation of the TPP will ‘further impair China’s price advantage in the exports of industrial products and affect Chinese companies’ expansion’ abroad…”

“They are working to carve up the market,” Froman told me. “Would you rather a world where the Chinese set the rules of the road or we set the rules of the road?” The latter option is unacceptable. With its polluted air and controlled economy that has a seemingly endless supply of controlled workers Beijing couldn’t care less about labor, the environment or any of the other values forming the foundation of TPP. In addition, the geopolitical benefit of the deal is a stronger U.S. presence in the region as a counterweight to China.

It’s time to get serious:

No trade deal is perfect. The U.S. won’t get everything it wants in the negotiations, but it’s getting pretty darned close. And the people’s representatives in Congress have and have always had the ability to see and shape the forthcoming agreement. Once completed, its terms will be seen by all and debated at the Capitol. That’s as it should be. But this nation cannot pretend the world and the global economy haven’t changed since 1994. And Democrats cannot pretend that a progressive president who has championed the cause of the middle class and who they have supported for the last six years would negotiate “a bad deal” that further put American workers at risk.

So some people will get eaten alive, but not everyone. Obama will save who he can. He may be aligned now with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Paul Ryan on this trade agreement, against Elizabeth Warren and most of the Democrats, but is he the bad guy here? No matter what Jonathan Capehart says, many deeply disappointed Democrats, wonder about that, and Andrew Sprung tries to straighten things out:

America has at various key points in its history committed itself to investments in shared prosperity and to widening the circle of opportunity to groups previously excluded. These include Lincoln’s investment in railroads and infrastructure, FDR’s in social welfare and education, and Eisenhower’s in the interstate highway system. In the Reagan years – or in some speeches, in the Bush years – the country took a wrong turn and the gains of economic growth started going disproportionately to the top. Many feel “the American dream is slipping away.” Fortunately, democracy gives America the capacity for self-correction, and his election and re-election bespeak a renewed commitment to shared prosperity and investments that will foster sustainable growth. It’s a seductive narrative, highly idealized, but with enough acknowledgment of weakness and injustice to make it credible.

Lord knows I’ve been a longtime admirer of Obama’s rhetoric – of the nuanced understanding of cause and effect he takes pains to articulate, of his Lincolnesque view of American history as a continuous, never-completed drive to fulfill the promises expressed in its founding documents, of his embrace of incremental, nonlinear progress. It’s been often noted that he doesn’t do sound bites, or leave us with memorable single phrases. I’ve argued before that Obama works both above and below the level of the single phrase: below, with musical, repetitive phrasing, and above, with conceptual clarity and coherence.

His opponent here is just not like that:

I heard Elizabeth Warren speak at the American Prospect birthday fundraiser on May 13, and her rhetorical strengths are different from Obama’s. Telling broadly the same economic story as Obama has been telling these past eight years, of investments in shared prosperity derailed by the Reagan Revolution, her narrative line was simpler – and cleaner.

Where Obama acknowledges multiple causes of our current economic malaise, from global competition and technology to racism as well as Republican tax, regulatory and labor policy, Warren hews to a three-part indictment of Reaganomics: deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and consequent defunding of investments in shared prosperity.

Here’s Warren:

When Ronald Reagan was elected president, a new economic theory swept the country, turning it in a different direction. Supply-side or trickle-down economic theory came into fashion. Republicans claimed it would help the economy grow. When all the varnish is removed, trickle-down means just helping those at the top and telling everyone that when the rich get richer somehow you’ll be better off too.

Trickle-down policies are really pretty simple. First, fire the cops. Not the cops on Main Street, the cops on Wall Street. They called it deregulation and they railed against big government, but make no mistake: this was about turning loose the big banks and the giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do. Turn them loose to rig the markets. Turn them loose to outsource more jobs. Turning them loose to sell more mortgages that exploded and credit cards that cheated people. Turning them loose to load up on more risk.

And then, when it all came crashing down, in the most telling twist of all, the deregulators, who hated big government, shoveled billions of dollars to the biggest banks, but pretty much everyone else was left behind.

Three things the country did right in a lost economic golden age. Three pillars of shared prosperity Republicans tore down in the Reagan era.

Sprung:

It’s a simple and simplified tale, but essentially true, if it conveniently leaves out causes that Obama addresses. For example, as Jamelle Bouie recently tweeted (and probably wrote somewhere) that America has arguably never had an effective multiracial liberal coalition: support for liberal policies collapsed when the beneficiaries were perceived to be mainly minorities.

Sprung notes that Obama said something like that in December 2013 in these words:

And if, in fact, the majority of Americans agree that our number one priority is to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for all Americans, the question is, why has Washington consistently failed to act? And I think a big reason is the myths that have developed around the issue of inequality.

First, there is the myth that this is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor. This isn’t a broad-based problem; this is a black problem or Hispanic problem or a Native American problem.

Now, it’s true that the painful legacy of discrimination means that African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity – higher unemployment, higher poverty rates. It’s also true that women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.

So we’re going to need strong application of anti-discrimination laws. We’re going to need immigration reform that grows the economy and takes people out of the shadows. We’re going to need targeted initiatives to close those gaps.

Obama also said this:

But starting in the late ’70s, this social compact began to unravel. Technology made it easier for companies to do more with less, eliminating certain job occupations.

A more competitive world led companies to ship jobs anyway. And as good manufacturing jobs automated or headed offshore, workers lost their leverage; jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits.

As values of community broke down and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage. As the trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashes for the wealthiest while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.

And for a certain period of time we could ignore this weakening economic foundation, in part because more families were relying on two earners, as women entered the workforce. We took on more debt financed by juiced-up housing market. But when the music stopped and the crisis hit, millions of families were stripped of whatever cushion they had left.

And the result is an economy that’s become profoundly unequal and families that are more insecure. Just to give you a few statistics: Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than 8 percent. Since 1979 our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of the growth has flowed to a fortunate few. The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income; it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more.

And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.

So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed. In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy; across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some – some of you may have seen just last week the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. How could it be, he wrote, that it’s not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

But this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.

Sprung:

That’s a stat-filled story that paints a pretty clear picture. But note the qualifiers: the trend began in the 1970s, pre Reagan; it’s to some extent global; some real economic pressures led businesses to outsource. Technology played a role.

And then there’s Warren:

The second part of trickle-down was to cut taxes for those at the top. Cut them when times are good, cut them when times are bad. Cut them for millionaires, cut them for billionaires. But when all those tax cuts meant there was money for schools, less money for road repairs, less money for medical research, they said it was “responsible” to cut back on those investments, and that it was responsible to try to get by with forty year-old subway cars and fifty year-old power grids. That is was responsible to saddle our kids with debt to try to get an education. So what’s been the result of that? The trickle-down experiment that began with the Reagan years has failed America’s middle class.

Sure, GDP grew. But remember how from 1935 to 1980, 90% of all people, middle class, working folks, poor people, got about 70% of all income growth that was created in our economy? Since 1980, how much did the 90% get of income growth in this economy – from 1980 to 2012, the 90% got zero. None. Nothing. All of the income growth went to the top 10%. In fact it’s worse than that. The average family not in the top 10% makes less money today than they did a generation ago. All of the new money in this economy during the trickle-down years has gone to the top. All of it.

Republican trickle-down economics has built an America that works. It works for the wealthy, and the powerful, and it leaves everyone else behind. This isn’t conjecture. This isn’t politics. This is cold hard fact.

Sprung:

Never mind technology and global competition and world trends. America sold its middle-class birthright for a mess of supply-side pottage… She sees the forests; he knows the trees – and perhaps sees more overlapping, interlocking forests.

Nancy LeTourneau sees it this way:

Warren breaks down a scenario where it is easier to identify the villains and the victims. While Obama points to Republican policies as a contributor, he includes factors that don’t easily suggest who the “bad guys” are (i.e., global competition and technology).

Behind those differences are differing views of how the world works and how you go about analyzing problems. One view is focused on a linear cause/effect analysis. The other focuses on a feedback loop with systems of interconnectivity.

When it comes to something like trade agreements, this helps us understand why Senator Warren would oppose anything that appears to benefit those she has identified as the cause of the problem… corporations. They are the villains or the “bad guys” who are responsible for income inequality.

On the other hand, because President Obama has a more complex view that includes realities that cannot easily be judged as good or bad (i.e., technology and global competition), he incorporates a view of trade that seeks to interrupt feedback systems that have been detrimental…

So the real question for me is more about whose analysis leads to more effective solutions.

That’s the key question here. Do what must be done, but the most effective solution is going to hurt someone, or many. And everyone will end up being a bad guy, one way or another. That’s a locomotive that can’t be stopped.

Posted in Trans-Pacific Partnership | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Need to Listen Any Longer

The good Americans – who like to call themselves the Real Americans – have told the rest of us what’s wrong with us. Mitt Romney didn’t do that directly – he spoke to a private gathering of good Americans and explained to them what’s wrong with the rest of us – and that was secretly recorded and then broadcast to the world. But it wasn’t a lecture. He spoke, rather clinically, of the Forty-Seven Percent. Those were the Americans who had no sense of personal responsibility, who expected their government to do things for them with the tax money it collected from everyone – money the good people had paid to the government. That money was for other things. These people should get off their lazy fat asses and make something of their sad little grubbing lives. They should take responsibility for those basically immoral lives – but his point was strategic. He had decided to write off these people.

That was his only point. These morally inadequate people were going to vote for Obama anyway. His plan was to win the votes of everyone else, the good people, and he really wasn’t trying to be insulting. He was explaining how he’d make the most of his donors’ money, how he would use it efficiently. They were sitting right there in front of him. This was for them. He was just explaining his general plan to win the presidency to those who would finance it – but nothing is private anymore. When the video of his comments went public, even with the shaky images and bad sound, people were insulted. They had thought they were good people, struggling hard to just get by, and thus actually chock full of personal responsibility. Who the hell was this guy? He was a rich and powerful jerk from a rich and powerful family. What did he know about personal responsibility?

That sunk Mitt Romney, along with his general cluelessness and his awkwardness and woodenness. The complete absence of anything even vaguely resembling charisma didn’t help either – but it’s not as if his Forty-Seven Percent comments were anything new. Reagan had spoken of those Welfare Queens. Paul Ryan and every other Republican who worships Ayn Rand talks of the Makers and the Takers – another way to designate who is a good and who is bad in this world. Everyone from Herman Cain to CNN’s Erin Burnett made fun of the Occupy Wall Street crowd back in the day – those people should just get jobs, anyone with an ounce of self-respect can get rich, and those folks in the street are just jealous. These are not good people – and now those black folks in Ferguson and Baltimore aren’t good people either. Get a job. Maybe the police wouldn’t have to beat the crap out of you or shoot you dead if you weren’t hanging around with nothing to do, with a bad attitude. And no one should get food stamps or anything else. That only makes these moochers-with-attitude even worse people. Life is hard for them? That’s their own damned fault. Ask Bill O’Reilly.

There has always been a whole lot of lecturing going on, and much of it is from the social conservatives. Abortion is murder, no matter what the circumstances, rape or incest or whatever, and maybe contraception is murder too. God said so. Good people have nothing to do with either, and they have nothing to do with gays. Those are not good people. They should not be allowed to marry each other. They don’t deserve it – and Hollywood is ruining everything too. It’s all those naked people. Good girls are modest, and now there are all these pre-teen girls dressing like tramps, or little whores, or skanks, or whatever. And don’t get them started on sex education, or on what that leads to – premarital sex. Good girls are pure and keep themselves pure. Bad girls don’t. This is a matter of family values. Should we listen and mend our ways?

That just got harder:

In the wake of a tabloid report alleging that he molested several underage girls while he was a teenager, reality-television star Josh Duggar said Thursday that he “acted inexcusably” and was “deeply sorry” for what he called “my wrongdoing.”

The 27-year-old Duggar, a high-profile member of the evangelical Christian family that stars on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” also resigned his post with the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying organization.

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret,” Duggar said in a statement posted on Facebook on Thursday. “I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation.”

“We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

Hours before Duggar’s statement, In Touch Weekly had published a partially redacted police report from the Springdale Police Department in Arkansas that, the tabloid said, contained details of the allegations against Duggar. The report redacted the name of the suspect and the alleged victims, all juveniles, but listed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as relatives. The incidents occurred in 2002 and 2003.

Well, nothing is private anymore:

Josh Duggar is the oldest child in the family that stars in the popular show, “19 Kids and Counting,” which began as “17 Kids and Counting” in 2008. Duggar, his wife, Anna, and their three children live in Washington, where Duggar worked as executive director of FRC Action, the nonprofit lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

The FRC, a conservative Christian organization led by Tony Perkins, is known for its advocacy against same-sex marriage, “with the mission to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society.”

Perkins said in a statement Thursday that Duggar resigned from his post “as a result of previously unknown information becoming public concerning events that occurred during his teenage years.”

“Josh believes that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work,” Perkins added.

Understatement is amusing, but this is a mess:

Duggar was running a used-car lot before he became the new face of the Family Research Council. Duggar’s dad, Jim Bob Duggar, served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2002. As executive director of FRC Action, Josh Duggar would attend the major functions and share photos of himself with Republican candidates.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said in a statement, also posted on the Duggar family’s Facebook page on Thursday, that the period 12 years ago was “one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”

Josh Duggar’s wife, Anna – who is pregnant with their fourth child – added that her husband told her of his “past teenage mistakes” two years before he proposed to her and that he had received counseling that “changed his life.”

This is awkward, and it is political:

The Duggars have endorsed Mike Huckabee for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and on Friday morning, the former Arkansas governor said that he and his wife, Janet, wanted “to affirm our support for the Duggar family.”

“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,'” Huckabee wrote on Facebook. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things.”

It may be time to circle the Republican wagons:

The FRC, from which Josh Duggar resigned on Thursday, is known in Washington for hosting a Values Voters Summit, which regularly gathers Republican politicians trying to run for president. The organization’s budget in 2013 was about $13 million, according to its financial statements.

“Family Research Council is one of the major players among the pro-family social conservatives and has a major D.C. presence,” said Tobin Grant, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University, who compared the FRC to the Heritage Foundation or the American Family Association. “It still represents an old guard of people who are pushing the culture wars and traditional family values.”

On the other hand, in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center controversially listed FRC as an anti-gay hate group. Republican politicians trying to run for president have ignored that – liberals whine about all sorts of things – but this will be hard to ignore.

Bob Cesca points that out:

Huckabee’s soft-pedaling here, as well as his attempt to pivot the scandal into the laps of everyone else but the perpetrators, makes it seem as if Josh Duggar innocently blurted an obscenity on the radio, or was caught shoplifting a bag of chips from a 7-Eleven. He confessed to repeatedly molesting young girls. Then he and his family engaged in a lengthy cover-up, while foisting Josh into the spotlight of their television show and allowing him to proselytize in support of the twisted Duggar concept of “family values,” which included shaming the LGBT community. There’s no way to soft-pedal something like this, but Huckabee managed to do it, and it inextricably tethers the presidential candidate to these unforgivable people.

And it kind of makes sense, too.

Usually when an anti-LGBT Christian conservative is caught in a sex scandal, the real crime is the hypocrisy. In the case of Josh Duggar and his family, it’s about the crime and the hypocrisy and the scam, all functioning in tandem, that make this particular scandal so horrendously ugly.

And here we go again:

Huckabee has repeatedly shoehorned himself into various news cycles by condemning everyone from single mothers to Beyoncé. Regarding the latter, where was the soft-pedaling about Beyoncé’s (comparatively inconsequential) song lyrics, for which he publicly scolded both Beyoncé and, amazingly, the president and Mrs. Obama?

Interesting how Huckabee reprimanded the Obamas for allowing their daughter to listen to Beyoncé, and yet he can’t quite bring himself to similarly wag his finger at Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar for manufacturing an environment that led to their son becoming a sexual predator, while concurrently burying the crime and scamming television viewers into unknowingly following the allegedly wholesome, Christian life of that predator. Put another way: Beyoncé and the Obamas are immoral because of song lyrics, but Jim Bob, Michelle and Josh Duggar are, according to Huckabee, “honest” and “good people.” (Insert your own race-based observations here.)

This can only get worse:

Jim Bob Duggar withheld the molestation from the police for an entire year while he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, and when Jim Bob finally reported the molestation to the police, he approached a family friend in the Arkansas State Police who was later nabbed for child pornography. And then the Duggars knowingly and self-righteously presented themselves as reality show saints, floating like winged cherubim above the homosexual riffraff, hurling down condemnations and outright lies at the sodomites whenever an opportunity presented itself. The Duggar television brand, while based on real life, is clearly and carefully sculpted to bury the nasty truth.

For seven years, television viewers, whether hate-watching or not, made the “19 Kids and Counting” show a massive hit; glued to their TVs for never-ending Duggar marathons, rooting for America’s largest and most clean-cut Christian family. Jim Bob, a self-professed Christian, obviously calculated that the gold-mine was worth con-job.

Likewise, Mike Huckabee is scamming his political supporters, hubristically comporting himself as a serious candidate when it ought to be fully transparent to anyone paying attention that he’s running simply to burnish his career and to augment his personal wealth.

Huckabee’s candidacy isn’t about helping his supporters who, by the way, are donating their hard-earned cash and limited spare time to his campaign; Huckabee’s candidacy is all about increasing his media cache, it’s about boosting his speaking fees and strengthening his hand in preparation for his next Fox News Channel contract. Former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum saliently refers to Fox News and AM talk radio as the “conservative entertainment complex” and Huckabee is one of the main stage players.

This can’t be emphasized enough: Huckabee is taking money from ordinary Americans who think he’s in the race to win and to change things, when in reality he has no hope of winning and he knows it.

That is a bit harsh, but then there’s Joan Walsh:

This comes on the heels of court transcripts revealing that bullying patriarch Bill O’Reilly, another purveyor of right-wing family values, used to return to his family and “go ballistic,” in his words, once dragging ex-wife down the stairs by the neck in front of his daughter. The daughter called his outbursts “scary and demeaning,” but also told a counselor she didn’t have much of a relationship with him because he was “never around.”

Of course, that didn’t stop O’Reilly from lecturing African Americans on how to raise their families, blaming black community troubles on “no supervision, kids with no fathers.” Now we know that instead of taking care of their own children, O’Reilly and the Duggars were out telling other people how to take care of theirs.

Or in the case of the Duggars and LGBT folks, telling them they couldn’t have any. With 19 biological kids of their own, the Duggars should have been way too tired for that level of homophobic activism, but they made time for it. And yes, a staple of their screechy preaching has been that LGBT people… wait for it… molest children!

That really was their thing:

Stellar mom Michelle Duggar made a robocall pushing the repeal of a local anti-discrimination ordinance, arguing that it would allow “child predators” to threaten “the safety and innocence of a child.” Maybe she had a guilty conscience.

Josh himself claimed anti-discrimination laws “protect one group of people over another” and make it hard to “protect the well-being of women and children in our cities.”

On the campaign trail in 2012, Duggar told reporters “Our family is like the epitome of conservative values. People connect to us in that way.”

Much of the 2016 GOP presidential field has connected to Josh, at least, who seems to have a vanity photo with a most of the 19 (or so) and counting GOP presidential contenders. The entire Republican field is united on the inferiority of gay families, but hails parents like the Duggars, who let their son prey on his sisters for a year without going to authorities.

Meanwhile, Fox News remains silent about the behavior of O’Reilly, because his angry white patriarch shtick is the core of its brand. The NFL is now more sensitive to the concerns of women’s rights advocates than Fox is.

It was a tough week for sanctimonious creeps, but it wasn’t so great for the rest of us, either.

We’ve been lectured for far too long, and the Atlantic’s Megan Garber explains the particulars here:

All reality TV – and reality TV about families, in particular – revels in the systemic collision of intimacy and publicity, the none-of-your-business and the everybody’s-business. All famous families are alike; all famous families are unhappy in their own way.

But the Duggars, whose recent additions to their family have made them, now, the stars of “19 Kids and Counting,” also represent a unique strain of reality TV stars. They are, on the one hand, like the Thompsons and the Kardashians and the hair-gelled kids from Jersey Shore: They consider what it means to be a family. These shows, which celebrate and denigrate their stars in pretty much equal measure, would be painfully unwatchable if it weren’t for that. And “19 Kids” presents a particularly charming answer to the question of family-hood. It offers up a (very large) group of people who enjoy each other, who tease each other, who laugh with each other—who seem to like as well as love each other.

The difference between the Duggars and their fellow reality-TV families, though, has been that the Kardashians and the Thompsons and their fellow families don’t claim moral superiority over their viewers. They claim, instead, a moral distance from those viewers. The Kardashians, in some ways the polar opposites of the Duggars, revel in their uniqueness, in their marginality, in the collection of idiosyncrasies that got them their own reality show(s) in the first place. The Kardashians have no interest in making people want to be like them. They have an interest, instead, in making people want to be not at all like them. They have an interest in inspiring fascination rather than emulation. Their weirdness is their capital, and their currency.

Not so the Duggars, who use their fame – their TV show(s), their book(s), their various political appearances – as platforms for evangelism. And evangelism not just for a religion, but for something more basic: a lifestyle. A lifestyle that is so inflected with moral messaging that we might as well call it A Way of Life. The Duggar children are home-schooled. Michelle Duggar, who recently recorded a robocall arguing against protections for LGBT and transgender residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas, doesn’t allow her daughters to wear shorts or skirts with hems that fall above the knee because an exposed thigh, she has explained, amounts to “nakedness and shame.” The girls generally avoid beaches and swimming pools under the same logic. Jessa Duggar (whose recent wedding TLC treated as a Very Special Event, dedicating multiple episodes to it) married her fiancé not just having never had sex with him, but having never kissed him.

Fine – if that makes her happy – but the whole thing was one long lecture, or a sales job that somehow ended up on The Learning Channel:

The overall effect of the show and the books and the overall omnipresence of the Duggars is promotional – and promotional, in particular, of a way of life that rejects the norms of the mass culture in favor a kind of moral libertarianism. “19 Kids and Counting” doubles as an extended infomercial for “family values” as the Duggars define them. … And the show, being what it is, spreads the messaging beyond television alone. On TLC’s website, the older Duggar children keep “life books”: virtual scrapbooks “where you can immerse yourself in the milestone events of Duggar family members who’ve recently had memorable life moments – courtship, marriage, pregnancy, and so on.” Michelle has her blog. Jessa has her Instagram account. Josh has his, too – and, until yesterday, a high-profile job at Washington’s conservative Family Research Council.

So the Duggars have built a micro-empire by way of the mass media. They are celebrating the rejection of mass culture through the tools of that culture. They have been using their fame; now, they are victims of it. The extremely sad scandal they are now contending with is what happens when family values collide with cultural norms.

Garber wonders what The Learning Channel will do now:

Earlier this year, the network cancelled “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” its alternatively beloved and belittled spinoff of “Toddlers and Tiaras,” after that show’s matriarch, Mama June, began dating a convicted child molester. (He never appeared on the show.) But “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” was not morality in the guise of entertainment; with “19 Kids” the stakes are higher. What will TLC do now that the show that so stridently celebrates the wholesome is wholesome no longer?

That’s easy – they pulled all past episodes and are mum on continuing the thing. That makes sense, because the new the headline from Gallup is “On Social Ideology, the Left Catches Up to the Right” – so the writing is on the wall:

Gallup first asked Americans to describe their views on social issues in 1999, and has repeated the question at least annually since 2001. The broad trend has been toward a shrinking conservative advantage, although that was temporarily interrupted during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Since then, the conservative advantage continued to diminish until it was wiped out this year.

Ed Kilgore adds detail:

That in itself is significant, but if you add partisanship into the mix, the change is even more significant. As recently as 2009, 31% of self-identified Democrats also self-identified as “conservative” or “very conservative” on “social issues.” That was a bit of an outlier, but the number was in the low twenties earlier. Now it’s at 14%, even as the “liberal/very liberal” total has spiked to an all-time high of 53%. There’s been a smaller but still significant shift among Republicans from “conservative’/very conservative” to “moderate,” but the overall trend is being driven by Democrats.

Kevin Drum adds perspective:

For a long time, one of the rocks of political analysis in America has been the simple fact that conservatives outnumber liberals. That’s been true since at least the 60s, and probably for the entire postwar period – and it’s been a perpetual millstone around Democratic necks. They couldn’t win national elections just by getting the liberal vote and a little bit of the center-right vote. They had to get a lot of the center-right vote.

But it now looks like that era is coming to an end. With social issues increasingly defining politics, a social liberal is, for all practical purposes, just a plain old liberal – and the trend of increasing liberal ID is already underway.

How did that happen? It was all the lectures, lectures about very bad people. Says who?

Posted in America Turning Liberal, Duggar Sex Scandal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Personal Note

It was December 14 in Paris almost fifteen years ago, cold and dark at dawn, followed by heavy rain, and I was bleary-eyed from staying up all night watching CNN-International in the hotel room. Somewhere in the middle of the night there was Al Gore on the screen, conceding the presidential election to George Bush.

So that was that. And a few hours later I was across the street at the Café Bonaparte doing that French breakfast thing – lots of black coffee and smoking my pipe, and leafing through Libération and Le Figaro and Le Monde, trying to get a sense of what people made of the whole thing. Now and then I’d glance up and stare at the old church next door, where Descartes is buried.

But you can only do so much coffee, and sitting and watching, so it was walking, as the rain started.

Walking the rainy December streets of Paris, with the pipe, is fine, in a Hemingway sort of way or something. The city has its winter smells – wet leaves and bread baking somewhere, and a whiff of burnt diesel from all the odd little cars. And there are the sounds – strange chatter and distant up-and-down silly sirens. And what E. M. Forster once said about winter in London was just as true in Paris – the air did taste like cold pennies. But by noon it was time to find a clean, well-lighted place, and there, in the warren of small streets behind the Odéon, was 16 Rue des Quatre-Vents, the Moosehead – everyone’s favorite Canadian bar in Paris. It would do.

And then the conversation started – with the old fellow who walked in, who claimed he ran a wire service but looked like a bum. We were about the only two customers that afternoon, so we ended up buying each other beers and talking about international politics. It was better than walking in the rain. And he was a good sort – not French, but not exactly a Brit, and certainly not an American. He’d lost it all. He wasn’t anything in particular any longer. He’d just knocked around Paris for decades on the edge of the news business, a go-between, a forwarder of this and that. But he knew things.

Of course we covered the current American political madness, and the French stuff, de Gaulle and Algeria, de Gaulle and NATO, and the nuclear weapons – the whole idea of France’s independent force de frappe and all that. We were appropriately cynical. It was all madness. But the thing I remember now is that he turned to me and said something peculiar – “You know it’s over for America, don’t you?”

The talk that followed that had to do with George Bush, as you would expect. The American electoral system, never very sensible, had broken down, and the guy who had fewer votes was appointed by the Supreme Court, which was bad enough, but the guy was clearly a dim bulb with a nasty streak and a way of invoking God to avoid having to think anything through. No good would come of this.

But that’s not what the old fellow was getting at. He wanted to know just what it was Americans did. He liked the going-to-the-moon thing, and the gaudy junk movies, and rock and jazz – but American cars were crap, and everything we’d invented was now made better and cheaper elsewhere, like the electronics, and Airbus was well on its way to eating Boeing alive, and so on and so forth.

What is it that we did, really, that was so cool? As far as he could tell we were a nation of consumers, producing nothing really fine – just sitting around watching television. France had the extraordinary cheese and wine, and then he pointed up to the television on the wall – the Simpsons, dubbed in French, was on. He said if we were in Germany it would be Bay Watch. And then he muttered a few things about empires in decline.

The only thing to say in response was something like wait – you’ll see. Amazing things will happen. And he smiled and bought another round of beer.

Posted in American Exceptionalism | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Family Dynamics

There may be a third President Bush, but he has to live with the decisions of the second one. He can praise those decisions or say he’s his own man and distance himself from them, but this is family – he has to say something. Americans want to know what they’re getting if they vote for him.

What’s done is done. In response to those September 11 attacks we invaded and pretty much took over Afghanistan, to rid that place of the Taliban and that guy they’d hosted, Osama bin Laden, who had said he had been the one behind what happened, or at least approved it. We took care of the Taliban, more or less, and nurtured a new if somewhat flaky government that would not let the Taliban run things again, hosting al-Qaeda again, but we didn’t get Osama bin Laden. He’d slipped away, but by then we were off to Iraq anyway, because of those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had – which he didn’t have – and because Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism – even if that was a matter of their support for the PLO and other enemies of Israel. Al-Qaeda had long despised Saddam Hussein for being too damned secular. There was no connection there, and George Bush was finally forced to admit that Saddam Hussein didn’t have anything at all to do with the September 11 attacks, but terrorism is terrorism, right?

That wasn’t going to fly – we’d lost years there by then, and far too many lives, and spent far too much money – so we shifted to talk about how the point had always been to build a Jeffersonian secular democracy in Iraq, as an example to the region, to show everyone over there the virtues of the American Way in that New American Century that the neoconservatives had said was well underway. It had been a demonstration project all along. Now we knew, and all we had to do was tamp down the Sunni-Shiite civil war that had exploded once we had settled in, and George Bush’s “surge” would take care of that – thirty thousand additional troops to stop the internecine violence, to give both sides “breathing room” to work out their differences and form a sensible inclusive government.

That didn’t work. The Bush administration finally just set a firm date for us to leave, and carefully negotiated a status of forces agreement, to keep enough of our troops in Iraq to keep al-Qaeda types from setting up shop there, until 2011 – but no longer. Malaki would be hounded out of office if he agreed to Americans in Iraq pretty much forever. He told Obama they he really couldn’t sign any extension to the Bush agreement – his own parliament would never ratify it – and we left.

We really had no choice, because we had said that Iraq really was now a sovereign nation after all – we had made it so – and that left Iraq as a sovereign nation run by a Shiite strongman, Malaki, as opposed to a Sunni strongman, Saddam Hussein, and closely aligned with their two Shiite neighbors, Iran and Syria, our current nemesis-twins in the region. The major Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia, was infuriated, and the internal Sunni-Shiite civil war still rages on in Iraq, and with ISIS trying to take back what they can from the Shiites in Iraq and Syria, and with the Saudis fighting the Shiite rebels who have taken over Yemen. We pulled a few strings two years ago and got rid of Maliki, but the new guy, Haider al-Abadi, is little more than a more pleasant version of Maliki – a Shiite strongman who smiles and says he’s working on that be-nice-to-Sunnis thing. He isn’t. And we are long gone from Iraq.

At least Osama bin Laden is dead. We got him, far too late, and curiously, without a major war and occupation. A small team slipped into Pakistan and shot him dead, not that it mattered that Obama did what George Bush had vowed that he, George Bush, would do. By then Osama bin Laden didn’t matter. Al-Qaeda had become a loose affiliation of independently owned and operated franchises, or really, a trademark appropriated by all sorts of terrorists organizations calling themselves Al-Qaeda in This or Al-Qaeda in That. Osama bin Laden wasn’t even a figurehead by then. The thing had metastasized. Now al-Qaeda is almost a memory – ISIS took its place.

That’s the legacy, and in February, 2014, Slate’s Fred Kaplan insisted on setting the record straight:

It’s maddening to have to repeat this fact over and over, but George W. Bush – not Barack Obama – negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, which required the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. One clause allowed the deadline to be extended by the vote of both countries’ parliaments, but the Iraqi parliament wasn’t about to do any such thing. Obama dispatched emissaries, including one who’d also worked in the Bush White House, to see if some deal could be arranged. It couldn’t.

At the time, Kaplan added this:

Maliki has his own agenda. It doesn’t align much with ours; it never did, a fact that some smart colonels and generals realized at the time. He sees our past alliance as one of convenience and has now moved on to other allies, including Iran – except, of course, when he needs arms and consulting advisers to stave off his old enemies, in which case he turns to us again, and we supply him with what we can. This is fine, when it’s also in our interests to resupply him, but there should be no illusions; there’s no point going back in deeper, even if the treaty allowed it, because, like the last time, we won’t be able to settle the war on our terms.

That’s the reality of the thing. Obama actually understood Maliki:

He too has an unsentimental outlook on the world. His views have been tempered by Iraq and scorched by Afghanistan. He’s not shy about using military force, but insists, when possible, to grip it tightly. “Escalation” is a suspect term; “uncontrolled escalation,” is an unacceptable one.

Those, however, are not suspect terms to Republicans, and Robert Costa explains a new shift in Republican strategy:

After more than a decade bearing the political burden of Iraq, Republicans are making a dogged effort to shed it by arguing that the Islamic State’s gruesome ascent is a symptom of Obama’s foreign policy, rather than a byproduct of the 2003 invasion they once championed… At the least, it is an attempt to have Iraq seen as a shared failure, begun by a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress but inherited and fumbled by Democrats…

The political endgame for Republicans is a general election where Clinton can be portrayed as someone who initially backed the U.S. mission but did not see it through. In that sense, foisting blame on Obama is only the first step in the GOP’s aims. Knowing their ownership of the invasion in the eyes of voters has not faded, they would like to distance themselves from the messy debate over weapons of mass destruction and make the Islamic State – how it rose and how to stop it – the central political battleground on foreign policy.

Jeb Bush is already testing out this new strategy:

Bush said that Obama “abandoned” Iraq and lamented the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State terrorists, saying that “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president” and that Al Qaeda was decimated under his brother. “You think about the family members who lost – our blood and treasure’s in Ramadi, and they won, they won that battle,” he said. “It was hard-fought and that stability has been lost.”

Asked about Bush’s Iraq comments on Thursday, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said reporters were “missing the point.”

“We know that ISIL was an outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that did not exist prior to the fateful decision by the previous administration to launch an invasion in Iraq,” Earnest said.

The former Florida governor also reiterated that he loves his family, but that he is a different man than his brother and father, the 43rd and 41st presidents, respectively.

“I love my mom and dad, I love my brother, and people are going to have just get over that,” he said to applause.

That’s an interesting dynamic, and Greg Sargent adds this:

It’s hard to say whether it will work: While blaming Obama is a sure-fire winner among GOP primary voters, the middle of the country may still have firm memories of Iraq as Bush’s war. The strategy also risks putting more pressure on Republicans to detail what they would do in Iraq instead. Of course, with the situation in Iraq deteriorating, and with Obama’s numbers on foreign policy ailing, perhaps many Americans will be open to spreading the blame around.

It’s also worth noting, though, that the current sanitizing of the history of the Iraq War could help in this effort. The “knowing what you know now” question simplifies the genesis of the Iraq War by blaming it all on a supposed intelligence failure. That alone whitewashes away the fact that many critics warned at the time that the intelligence might not actually indicate what Bush and company claimed it did, and that Bush might be cherry-picking intelligence to help build the case for an invasion. Worse… this narrative also obscures the fact that invading was a bad idea regardless of whether Saddam had WMDs – because it risked creating all kind of unintended consequences.

But it might work:

The story now becomes: Hey, we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq based on what we know now, and it was a mistake, given the intelligence failure. But since we did, what really matters is how we prosecute the current conflict. This is now all about Obama’s strategy – Bush’s “mistake” is old news – and Obama’s weakness is really to blame for the current mess.

Simon Maloy notes the other factor:

Establishment Republicans and neocons pleaded with Jeb to stop being so bad at politics and start defending his brother’s war. Randy Scheunemann, a neoconservative activist and lobbyist, told BuzzFeed that Jeb should immediately pivot to blaming Obama for the chaos in Iraq. “Gov. Bush could easily say to Obama, ‘The surge was working. You were handed a three-run lead at the bottom of the ninth, all you had to do was come in and close, and you blew the game.'”

That was actually the message Jeb laid out back in February in his big national security speech that everyone’s already forgotten. And he’s coming back to it now, attacking Obama for not leaving behind a large residual force of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. “The focus should be ‘Knowing what we know now, Mr. President, should you have kept 10,000 troops in Iraq?'” he said in New Hampshire yesterday. Instead, Jeb argues, Obama “abandoned” Iraq for political reasons.

Okay, one more time:

This is a bogus argument that assumes that the only factor preventing the U.S. from leaving a massive troop presence behind in Iraq was Obama’s political agenda. It was actually the Iraqis who made the residual force an impossibility. George W. Bush had negotiated a timetable for withdrawal that required all U.S. troops to be out of the country by the end of 2011, and the Iraqis (after many years of military occupation) were eager to adhere to it. Obama, despite his campaign promises to withdraw American forces from Iraq, tried to negotiate with the Iraqi government to leave behind a residual force of 3,500 soldiers, but Iraq would not agree to necessary legal protections for the American troops. There were powerful factions within the Iraqi government that would not support any troop presence of any size, and “followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were threatening renewed violence if any American troops stayed past the end of the year.” Unable to achieve any sort of agreement, the negotiations fell apart and the U.S. troops pulled out.

Maloy is not impressed:

The argument coming from Bush and Scheunemann and other critics who blame the rise of ISIS entirely on the failure to leave behind U.S. troops is that Obama should have forced the Iraqi government to ignore or overcome its political divisions and accept a continued American military force. And the assumption they make is that the presence of those American forces would have encouraged the corrupt and authoritarian prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to stop alienating and repressing rival Sunni factions, which helped create the toxic political conditions in which ISIS has thrived. The Bush administration wasn’t able to accomplish that task with over a hundred thousand troops on the ground, but Obama could have done it with 10,000 because… well, just because.

The neocons say we invaded Iraq so we could bring freedom and democracy to the region. And after setting up a democratically elected Iraqi government, they’re attacking Barack Obama for not trying hard enough to undermine that government’s sovereignty and strong-arm it into accepting American military forces.

The illogic of all this is inescapable, so Jeb will have to rely on Americans’ profound and persistent disregard for logic. Iraq is a mess. The whole Middle East is a mess. My brother is a fine fellow. It’s all Obama’s fault. That might work, but there’s a backup plan:

Jeb Bush on Thursday put a bit more space between himself and his brother, part of a slow-motion and seemingly reluctant distancing effort as he moves toward a White House bid.

After being asked by a questioner at a sports bar here whether there is any “space” between the Bush brothers on issues, Jeb Bush pointed to the scale of government spending during the George W. Bush presidency.

“I think that in Washington, during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money,” Jeb Bush said. “I think he could have used the veto power – he didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C.”

Well, he did face the facts:

Total federal spending grew from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to nearly $3 trillion in 2008, an annual growth rate of 7 percent. Spending in President Obama’s first six years has had an annual growth rate of about 4 percent.

There’s no getting around that, but Jeb is not exactly cutting ties:

“I don’t feel compelled to go out of my way to criticize Republican presidents. Just call me a team player here,” he told voters at the sports bar Thursday morning. “It just so happens that the last two Republican presidents happened to be my dad and my brother.”

Later, Bush was asked during a radio interview whether he is ever bothered by attacks on his family. He said he will be ­”successful” if he can “show what kind of person I am.”

“If it’s all about the past, if it’s all about whether the Bushes are going to break the Adams family [record] in terms of the number of people who are president, that’s a loser… I totally get that – and I think people have a right to question me, and I’ll have every opportunity to convince them of who I am.”

That might be difficult. Jeb has issues, and this calls for an expert like Peter Wolson – a Training and Supervising Analyst on the faculty of the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies and their former President and Director of Training, and a Resident Faculty member of the Wright Institute Los Angeles. He has a private practice here in Beverly Hills, but he often writes about politics, from a psychoanalytic perspective, and he finds Jeb interesting:

There is convincing evidence of Jeb’s internal conflict between his desire to become “his own man” and his fear of separating from and antagonizing his family, especially the brother he idealized as a child. This dynamic may be even more conflicted because Jeb’s personal history demonstrates that he has already strongly differentiated himself from his family to become his own man.

He married a Mexican woman whose father had been a waiter and migrant worker, for example, not a society debutant. He became fluent in Spanish and converted to Catholicism. His policies as Florida governor were far closer to conservative than moderate. He also made Florida his home rather than the family favorites, Maine and Texas.

Put that in perspective:

Separating from your family is part of growing up. You go from extreme dependency as a baby and throughout childhood to the independence of adulthood. Teenage acts of rebellion, when adolescents can disagree with virtually everything parents say and stand for – is part of this transition. The turbulence of adolescence reflects the internal conflict between a teen’s desire to remain a child and the desire to separate and become his or her own person. It culminates in a break that enables teenagers to form separate identities.

As teenagers reject their parents and their values, they create the internal space to develop their own opinions, tastes, ideals and goals. Though they may retain many aspects of their parents’ views and values, they develop their own distinctive framework for them. They create who they are in the world.

Mark Twain described this transition. “When I was a boy of 14,” he wrote, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

But it could be that, in striving to step into the presidential shoes of his long-idealized older brother and his even more idealized father, Jeb somehow regressed and lost confidence in himself.

That may be what’s going on here:

Children with powerful family members are frequently filled with self-doubt. They can feel like failures when comparing themselves to older siblings and parental figures. They might experience normal manifestations of separation or individuation – including adolescent rebellion or just the act of forming their own opinions – as if they are attacking or even killing their family members. Understandably, this causes them not just guilt but a growing fear of alienating their family.

Clinging to family love through idealization is a defensive reaction against aggressive feelings from separation and individuation. Most adolescents resolve this conflict as they realize they are merely killing off their family’s controlling influence over them – not their actual family members.

If these are the psychodynamics that caused Jeb to flounder this past week, his major challenge is if and how quickly he can work through them. He has to fully recover a mind of his own – and convince the American public that he is not George W. Bush II.

And first he has to convince himself, or something, and Digby (Heather Parton) has what seems to be an appropriate reaction:

Reading that almost makes me feel sorry for Jeb. Not because of the armchair psychological profile of his family dynamic – which is cheap speculation – I feel sorry for him because he’s being discussed this way at all.

I guess it’s inevitable but I hate it. Yes, he’s shackled to his family’s political legacy and is having to pay a price for his father and brother’s failures. But this stuff is junk. Who knows what his motivations are and whether or now he’s gone through the normal processes of “separation and individuation”? And who cares? What matters is how he deals with the reality that his brother’s presidency was an epic failure and how or if he would do things differently.

That’s what people want to know. People are waiting, or maybe not:

On the heels of uninspired reactions from an Iowa focus group, “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough sounded the lack-of-enthusiasm alarm Thursday for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush among potential Republican primary voters.

Scarborough, along with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, remarked that voters they’ve come in contact with at GOP events, unlike other candidates, are not coming to events to see Bush. The MSNBC host said that voters are simply not “talking about him,” adding further that excitement surrounding the potential candidate is “non-existent.”

“Nobody’s running around with their hair on fire going ‘I just hate Jeb Bush’ – it’s worse than that,” Scarborough said. “Nobody’s talking about him. I have yet to find the first person in all the Republican events I’ve been to come up to me and go ‘I’m here for Jeb.’ It’s non-existent.”

“Have you ever had anybody come up to you in any of these Republican events saying, ‘I came here, I drove here specifically for Jeb?'” Scarborough asked Halperin. “You hear that for everybody else. Have you ever heard that for Jeb?”

He hadn’t, and Scarborough added this:

“I do think that he would be the strongest general election candidate. And I think he would be a great president. That’s me personally,” Scarborough admitted. “But, boy, I don’t see how gets through a primary process where people – again, it’s not anger or rage. They just don’t connect to him.”

That means that Peter Wolson may be right. Jeb first has to work out those family dynamics. Then he’ll have something to say. But no one has time to wait for that, although everyone wishes him well. We all know our own families.

Posted in Jeb Bush, The Bush Legacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment