Fighting the Noble Battle against the Inevitable Stupid

Tuesday, April 29, didn’t seem like a good day for throwing anyone under the bus. The bus probably wasn’t moving. The Washington Post explains why: 

 

In every state, the average price of diesel fuel was more than $4 a gallon. Diesel fuel cost $4.35 a gallon in the District, $4.30 in Maryland and $4.10 in Virginia, according to the survey. Diesel costs were highest in New York, averaging $4.59 a gallon.

 

But of course the busses were running – out here they run on liquefied petroleum gas or compresses natural gas, and in some places on biodiesel from restaurant deep fryers or manure, and smell as you would expect. They were running, and the day was for throwing someone under the bus.

 

Some say that is what Barack Obama did. The Politico headline says it all. Obama Breaks With Former Pastor:

 

Sen. Barack Obama coolly denounced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for his “appalling” words and for his personal and political betrayal Tuesday, a day after Wright seized center stage in the race for the White House and six weeks after Obama said he could no more “disown” his former pastor than he could his own grandmother.

 

He had to do it, wasn’t happy doing it, but was glad to do it. Does that make sense?

 

You can watch all seven minutes (6:57 actually) of his statement here (MSNBC) and find the transcript of that and the question-and-answer that followed here (Salon). It was a model of clarity, and he remain who he seems to be:

 

I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That’s in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe. That’s what this campaign has been about.

 

Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America.

 

He pretty much said that a man who speculates that our government might have created AIDS to rid the nation of pesky minorities, and who says our military practices terrorism and all the rest, is full of crap – that sort of thing makes him angry, and from this particular man makes him sad, but although earlier he had given the man the benefit of the doubt, he was walking away from such foolishness. One got the impression he felt betrayed, and knew the only thing to do was refuse to defend such nonsense in any way at all. Some of those who disagree with him might have a point, but Jeremiah Wright had, by amplifying his earlier peculiar comments, forfeited any right to be taken seriously.

 

And Obama did his usual shift-to-the-larger-issue pirouettes, reminding everyone of what they must know is far more important:

 

I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me. It’s never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain. It’s not about Reverend Wright. People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children, and that’s what we should be talking about. And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry but also saddens me.

 

It was a mild sort of in-your-face challenge. You want to talk about issues? Then let’s talk about the issues, damn it – not this nonsense.

 

Will this work? At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner thinks so:

 

I’m not sure what more Obama could say, to be honest. He’ll be tarred somewhat for having spent 20 years in Wright’s congregation and touting him so heavily as his mentor. But this should stop the bleeding.

 

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly doesn’t buy it:

 

You betcha. I’m sure Sean Hannity and John McCain will take this straight to heart.

 

Drum is a realist, but Brendan Loy makes a rather obvious point:

 

The truth is that Obama is speaking to black people, too – he’s speaking to everyone – and he is sending a very clear message: enough with the bullshit. Haven’t conservatives been waiting for a black leader to do that for, like, forever?

 

This is the promise of the Obama candidacy, encapsulated and made real. Obama is urging blacks to leave behind, once and for all, the politics of conspiratorial victimhood – the politics of Jeremiah Wright and, although Obama can’t afford politically to say so explicitly, of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – and embrace the politics of unity and hope and, ultimately, self-empowerment.

 

Well, self-empowerment is what the conservatives love. But, as Andrew Sullivan notes, that won’t work in this case:

 

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this. They are not as interested in getting beyond the racial question, in changing the hopes and dreams of black America, as they are in exploiting it for partisan advantage. Their response to the first major black candidate for president tackling the old racial politics? “We don’t believe him.”

 

Of course they don’t. Obama consorts with madmen and terrorists, don’t you know? They will keep this alive.

 

Richard Einhorn, in a long piece at Hullabaloo, says it’s long past time to fight them on this:

 

Of course, there is much I don’t like about Wright – you can start with his defense of Farrakhan and go from there – but that is hardly the point. He was made into a campaign issue – and thereby given a national voice – by Republicans and a media who deliberately distorted his words. These are the very same people who had no trouble excusing Huckabee’s enthusiastic effort to release a serial rapist and his anti-science initiatives as governor. And who, right now, are burying McCain’s actively sought support of a Catholic-hating pastor.

 

Some of Wright’s ideas are rotten, but hardly more so than those preached at Bob Jones. What’s different is the way those ideas are portrayed and that portrayal – which seeks to link Wright to Obama – stinks of bigotry. This is an unavoidable issue and shame on those who think it shouldn’t be raised in this context or can be finessed in general. It will be raised again and again and Obama will lose ground until liberals fight back tooth and nail rather than try to distance themselves.

 

So the idea is don’t let this pass – it’s not settled. The right will bring up Jeremiah Wright again, and William Ayers, and maybe even Harry Bellefonte and Barry Bonds – you know, those crazy black folks who say awful things and stir up so much trouble, when they have gotten all they want and should be grateful.
 
The one who nails this best is John Cole, the former Bush conservative who got fed up. He has what may be the final word on this matter:

 

And you know what? They may be assholes, or jerks, or whatever term you want to use, but they sure as hell didn’t run this economy into the ground. They aren’t responsible for turning a huge surplus into a several hundred billion dollar deficit. I have yet to read any memos from Barbra Streisand detailing how we should spy on American citizens.

 

… Maybe it is because I am totally and unrepentantly in the tank for Obama, but I just can’t get worked up over what his pastor said. Maybe it is because I am not religious, and I am used to religious people saying things that sound crazy. Or maybe I just refuse to spend any more time and energy getting worked up over and denouncing, distancing, and rejecting the wrong people – people who really don’t matter in the big scheme of things. If you have a memo from Jeremiah Wright to John Yoo showing how we should become a rogue nation, let me know. If you have pictures of Jeremiah Wright voting against the GI Bill, send it to me. If you have evidence of Jeremiah Wright training junior soldiers on the finer aspects of stacking and torturing naked Iraqi captives, pass them on.

 

Until then, I just can’t seem to get all worked up about the crazy scary black preacher that Obama has to “throw under the bus.”

 

Or maybe the last word comes from Duncan Black:

 

This election is going to be much, much stupider than the last time. Last time much of the stupid was at least nominally about serious issues, this time it’s just all about the stupid.

 

But it doesn’t have to be. See Andrew Sullivan:

 

That was a very impressive, clear and constructive re-framing of the core message of his candidacy; and a moment given to him by Wright. No one will ever be able to say that Obama threw his father-figure and pastor under the bus. We all know that the reverse happened. We also know that this clear repudiation of Wright’s toxic, indeed “ridiculous” views on AIDS, 9/11 and permanent immiseration [sic] of people of color could not have happened unless Wright had made it necessary. Skeptics may wonder whether Wright actually deliberately did Obama a favor. I doubt it. But a favor it unintentionally is.

 

He suggests that maybe some good will come of this:

 

Maybe these racial and cultural divides can help us understand how better to move beyond them. Cynics may scoff – and certainly will. They will parse every nuance and try to paint Obama as another cynical, positioning pol. I don’t believe it. He has more sincerity and integrity than the vast majority of politicians, more honesty, and more resilience in a very tough spot.

 

And today, we found that he can fight back, and take a stand, without calculation and in what is clearly a great amount of personal difficulty and political pain. It’s what anyone should want in a president. It makes me want to see him succeed more than ever. It’s why this country needs to see him succeed more than ever.

 

Of course, one of his readers has a vastly different take:

 

The point has been made before, but we need a reminder. Obama did not have a strong model of masculinity, a father figure to know intimately and revere, in his earliest years. He yearned desperately for it; somehow, finding the patriarch would make him whole and normal in a way he thought others felt.

 

So he found Wright a few decades ago. But he’s flying blind. If we’re lucky enough, and our fathers live long enough, we can see them for the humans they are. We don’t love them less, but in the process of maturing we begin to grow independent by seeing them with new eyes. We separate, and in doing so, enter a new ambivalence about what the father-son role means as it transforms. We might be watching a limnal process for Obama in real-time here. The sad thing is that (and I believe Obama is sincere) I don’t think any of us could know the inner turmoil this causing Obama. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how privileged those of us who know well the father-son dynamic are; it’s just too easy to yell “throw Wright under the bus.” Obama is human, too.

 

That’s interesting. It’s also not particularly useful. Things will only get nastier, in spite of family dynamics.

 

And there are other issues, where one certainly has to fight the inevitable stupid:

 

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

 

While Mr. Obama’s view is shared by environmentalists and many independent energy analysts, his position allowed Mrs. Clinton to draw a contrast with her opponent in appealing to the hard-hit middle-class families and older Americans who have proven to be the bedrock of her support. She has accused Mr. Obama of being out of touch with ordinary Americans who are struggling to meet their mortgages and gas up their cars and trucks.

 

See Kevin Drum on this matter:

 

I’d say there’s approximately a zero percent chance that Hillary Clinton or John McCain actually believe this is good policy. It would increase oil company profits, it would make hardly a dent in the price of gasoline, it would encourage more summertime driving, and it would deprive states of money for transit projects. Their staff economists know this perfectly well, and so do they.

 

But they don’t care. It’s a way to engage in some good, healthy demagoguery, and if there’s anything that the past couple of months have reinforced, it’s the notion that demagoguery sells. Boy does it sell.

 

Of course it does, but Obama stands his ground – lose those tax funds and highway construction stops, and hundreds of thousands lose their jobs, for a minimal individual savings. What’s the point?

 

Also see the economist Dean Baker:

 

Almost all economists would agree that the tax cut proposed by Senators Clinton and McCain would save consumers nothing. With the supply of gas largely fixed by the capacity of the oil industry (they claim to be running their refineries at full capacity), the price will not change in response to the elimination of the tax. The only difference will be that money that used to go to the government in tax revenues will instead go to the oil industry as higher profits. If Senator Clinton is able to use this proposal to draw a contrast with Senator Obama in expressing concern for middle-class families it could only be attributable to the extraordinary incompetence of the reporters who are covering the campaign.

 

But watch her new television ad – Obama never cared about working-class people and never will, as you see he won’t even give you a few pennies. She knows it’s nonsense, but it works.

 

See also the long discussion of all this from Alex Koppelman in Salon:

 

The federal gas tax currently stands at 18.4 cents a gallon — 24.4 cents for diesel — and the money collected from it goes into a highway trust fund that helps state and local governments pay for various road-related expenses.

 

The merits of the suspension proposal are, at best, debatable. First, McCain’s formulation of the idea would increase the federal deficit, as he supports shifting other federal monies into the trust fund to make up for the difference. (Clinton’s is supposed to be revenue neutral, as she’s also calling for a windfall profits tax on oil companies to make up for the lost tax dollars.)

 

Then there’s the question of what a gas tax holiday would actually accomplish.

 

To that end he cites Princeton economics professor and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in this blog post, one that the Obama campaign is now sending out to reporters:

 

John McCain has a really bad idea on gasoline, Hillary Clinton is emulating him (but with a twist that makes her plan pointless rather than evil), and Barack Obama, to his credit, says no.

 

Why doesn’t cutting the gas tax this summer make sense? It’s Econ 101 tax incidence theory: if the supply of a good is more or less unresponsive to the price, the price to consumers will always rise until the quantity demanded falls to match the quantity supplied. Cut taxes, and all that happens is that the pretax price rises by the same amount. The McCain gas tax plan is a giveaway to oil companies, disguised as a gift to consumers.

 

Is the supply of gasoline really fixed? For this coming summer, it is. Refineries normally run flat out in the summer, the season of peak driving. Any elasticity in the supply comes earlier in the year, when refiners decide how much to put in inventories. The McCain/Clinton gas tax proposal comes too late for that…

 

The Clinton twist is that she proposes paying for the revenue loss with an excess profits tax on oil companies. In one pocket, out the other.

 

He then cites this interview with Christopher Knittel, professor of economics at the University of California at Davis:

 

The U.S. is just now starting to get on board with the idea that we need to fight climate change, and this is just reversing that fight. Basically we’re going to reduce the price of gasoline, which means consumers are going to respond by either driving more in the short term or changing how they make vehicle purchases and buying less fuel-efficient cars, because fuel efficiency won’t be as important.

 

Well, duh – the fix makes things worse.

 

In North Carolina, Obama said this:

 

This isn’t an idea designed to get you through the summer, it’s designed to get them through an election. The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is to tell you what they think you want to hear. But if we’re gonna solve our challenges right now, then we’ve gotta start telling the American people what they need to hear. Tell ’em the truth.

 

Now that’s a novel idea.

 

Over at Same Facts you can find the thorny truth from Michael O’Hara:

 

The ease with which politicians say “gas prices are too high” combines their cowardice (or cynicism and irresponsibility, or maybe just ignorance) with a widespread confusion of price with cost in the public mind, one for which we educators probably have to answer though a supine and feckless press isn’t helping at all. The distinction is no piece of technical arcana, but one of the most fundamental keys to getting policy right, and in this case, a very big batch of policy with enormous consequences. If you don’t understand the difference, you do what Hugo Chavez does and suppress the price by enormous public subsidies. Unfortunately, the cost of anything is quite independent of what we want it to be, or the price at which it is offered, because cost is a reality sort of thing, the value of the economic resources consumed in providing it. If you call a dog’s tail a leg, it still has four legs, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one. If you lie about the cost of gasoline, or anything, by offering it for sale at an arbitrary price, the cost doesn’t change, but the behavior of everyone gets crazy with very bad consequences.

 

Okay – cost and price are two different things. But why?

 

Here’s the key:

 

Price and cost can drift apart for many reasons, of which direct meddling by incompetent authority is only one. Sometimes the cost of goods includes resources that the producer doesn’t have to pay for, or that aren’t traded in markets, so their price misrepresents their real value in the way market goods prices usually don’t. The global warming and local pollution costs of burning gasoline are not reflected in what refiners pay to get gas to the pump (even including the tax intended to build the roads that make cars worth having), so the US price of gasoline is not too high but too low, probably about half what it should be. “Should be”, meaning “what would tell consumers the real cost of using it.” “Should be”, not meaning “what people want it to be, as long as they can pretend reality will be suspended.”

 

So O’Hara is with Obama:

 

When a candidate takes risks that position him to be a better official if elected, and tells voters the truth instead of enabling our worst habits of magical thinking, he gets props in my book and should in yours.

 

But, the same day, the president had a news conference – things are tough all over and none of it is his fault. Congress just wouldn’t do what he wanted them to do, like approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

 

You find a run-down and a video clip of this here (Talking Points Memo) but that links to a Reuters item on what seems like magical thinking:

 

The Bush administration says the United States would be less addicted to foreign oil and fuel prices would be lower if Congress had only opened up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

 

But that claim doesn’t reflect the long lead time to develop the refuge’s huge oil reserves, which would not be available for several more years and initial volumes would still be small if Congress in 2002 had approved the administration’s plan to drill in ANWR, energy experts say.

 

And if he had had his way it would have meant little:

 

The extra supplies would have cut dependence on foreign oil, but only slightly. With ANWR crude, imports would have met 60 percent of U.S. oil demand in 2020, down from 62 percent without the refuge’s supplies.

 

All three leading presidential candidates, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, are against oil drilling in the refuge.

 

But all we got was the usual not-my-fault puerile whining.

 

And that was rather awful, as you can see in this video clip – for some reason Martha Raddatz decided to ask about the quickly deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan. He didn’t like that and went off on “an impassioned diatribe” about how important it is to keep fighting hard there.

 

But the key exchange was this:

 

Q: Can I just add to that, a couple weeks ago –

 

THE PRESIDENT: No, you can’t. This is the second follow-up. You usually get one follow-up, and I was nice enough to give you one. I didn’t give anybody on this side a follow-up, and now you are trying to take a second follow-up.

 

Q: Can I just say –

 

THE PRESIDENT: They just cut off your mic. You can’t, no.

 

Q: A couple weeks ago you said –

 

THE PRESIDENT: Now she’s going to go without the mic. This is awesome.

 

Ah, you cannot fight the inevitable stupid.

 

And it’s what we can easily get more of. See Steve Benen summarizing John McCain’s inability to make up his mind about whether we should have a long term presence in Iraq, just like we have in South Korea. That goes like this – 1) in 2005, McCain decided Iraqis resent our military presence, so we should reject a Korea-like model for long-term troop deployment. He insisted that “U.S. ‘visibility’ was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America’s presence — positions held by both Obama and Clinton.” Then 2) in 2006, McCain reversed course, and embraced the Korea model for a long-term military presence. Then 3) in 2007, McCain reversed course again, saying the Korean analogy doesn’t work and shouldn’t be followed. “[E]ventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws,” McCain told Charlie Rose last fall. Then 4) in 2008, McCain reversed course yet again, deciding that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq, even if it means 100 years or more.

 

Kevin Drum was amused by all this – “Foreign policy is easy when you just make it up as you go along!”

 

Ah, you cannot fight the inevitable stupid. It’s time to look for another bus.

 

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Attack Politics, Bush, Class Warfare, Complexity, Economic Issues, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah Wright, McCain, Obama, Political Ambition and Delusion, Political Posturing, Populist Politics, The Economy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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