Perhaps it was inevitable. We had that Civil War almost one hundred forty years ago, and, if you’ve ever lived in the South, you know they’re not happy with how that one turned out – people still mutter that the South will rise again, and you see that on bumper stickers here and there. And now they have their own political party, the Republicans, who have pretty much been reduced to a regional party, able to carry most of the states of the old Confederacy, or the southernmost states of the old Confederacy and Texas, and not much more. The Republicans have lost the northeast – no one in either house of Congress from there – and have lost the major cities and the coasts, and young people, and a big bloc of professionals, and the majority of those with any education beyond high school. They have Utah, of course – but they seemed to have hunkered down into being the Guns and God Party, characterized by angry old white men who hate government when it does much of anything, and hate taxes, as what the government collects it spends foolishly on the undeserving who should get off their asses and do something useful, as with most minorities. The pro-business Rockefeller Republicans, or Eisenhower Republicans if you’d like, have been elbowed aside, along with the William F. Buckley intellectuals. These folks have become pleasant curiosities, and sometimes useful, but just not that important. And they work out of New York, of all places. David Frum and the rest of the Edmund Burke conservatives, with their careful thinking and elegant prose, may fume, but compared to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin, they hardly matter now. Joe the Plumber commands more respect. It’s a Southern thing, really. The key is the anger.
All of this has been noted by many of those who follow politics, and perhaps it’s a gross characterization – but it fits, as it feels right. And once you get this notion into your head, that the Republicans have become the Sons of the Confederacy, representing the South that will rise again, what you see, what you hear, what you read – everything, everyday, simply falls into place.
And now we have our first black president, or African-American if you wish, or to go back decades, Negro, or to go south now, Nigra – and if the Republicans have become the Sons of the Confederacy, you can see no good will come of that.
And then, on Tuesday, February 24, this new president, like the one before him, and the one before that one, gave the usual State of the Union Address to the Joint Houses of Congress, the fake one each new president gives in the first months of his first term, before he’s had a year to do anything and have something to report. It’s an odd tradition, not a report on where we’ve been for the last year, and what has been accomplished, but only where we should go – it’s all policy and intention. And the urbane, and urban, articulate black president gave this one:
Standing before the nation on a “day of reckoning,” President Barack Obama summoned politicians and public alike Tuesday night to forge a path out of the worst economic disaster in a quarter-century by embracing shared sacrifice and costly new endeavors to improve health care, schools and the environment.
“The time to take charge of our future is here,” Obama declared in his first address to a joint session of Congress, watched by millions of worried Americans on television and the Internet.
Adding words of reassurance, he said, “Tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
The message was that we are not quitters, and we can do this.
The Sons of the Confederacy responded as expected:
Republican leaders continued their attacks on President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy Tuesday, calling it irresponsible and certain to increase taxes and federal debt.
Responding to Obama’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress, top Republicans said the president relies too heavily on spending, and not enough on tax cuts, to try to revive the gasping economy. They said they want to work with Obama, and sometimes blamed congressional Democrats more than him. But their criticisms were sharp and plentiful.
“The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who gave the Republican Party’s official response. The massive economic stimulus bill recently enacted by Obama and congressional Democrats, Jindal said, will expand the government, “increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt.”
“It’s irresponsible,” said Jindal, who is eyeing a presidential bid in 2012 and frequently cited his accomplishments in Louisiana.
And even if he is not white – Jindal’s heritage is from India – he might as well have been. He has the aggrieved-anger thing down cold. But he was, perhaps, humble:
“You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility,” he said. “Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington.” Now, he said, “our party is determined to regain your trust.”
All he asks is for another chance for his party. But Andrew Sullivan is onto him:
I’m told Olbermann’s open microphone got it right: Jindal’s entrance reminded one of Mr Burns gamboling toward a table of ointments.
Stylistically, he got better as he went along but there was, alas, a slightly high-school debate team feel to the beginning. And there was a patronizing feel to it as well – as if he were talking to kindergartners – that made Obama’s adult approach so much more striking. And I’m not sure that the best example for private enterprise is responding to a natural calamity that even Ron Paul believes is a responsibility for the federal government. And really: does a Republican seriously want to bring up Katrina? As for the biography, it felt like Obama-lite. With far less political skill.
Well, yes – he was angry – at those who thought the business with Hurricane Katrina went badly. You see, everything worked out fine, and the government was useless, and private enterprise saved the day – everyone knows that. That’s an unual take on what happened, but he seems to believe that. And Sullivan is also surprised at what else Jindal seems to believe:
It was also odd for Jindal to keep talking about the need for tax cuts – when Obama just announced a massive tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans. He gave no alternative proposal on the financial collapse; and tried to attack government spending simply because it’s government spending. In a deepening depression, grown-ups can take a slightly different view of such spending in the short term.
But give him his due: he did in the end concede that the GOP currently has a credibility problem on the fiscal issues they are now defining themselves with. This matters – it matters for the future of the GOP and the possibility of minimal accountability after an age that disdained it.
The rest was boilerplate. And tired, exhausted, boilerplate. If the GOP believes tax cuts – more tax cuts – are the answer to every problem right now, they are officially out of steam and out of ideas. And remember: this guy is supposed to be the smart one.
Actually, Jindal didn’t do that well. And you know it’s bad when the people at Fox News think Jindal blew it:
BRIT HUME: It read better than it sounded… this was not Bobby Jindal’s greatest rhetorical moment.
NINA EASTON: The delivery was not terrific.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Jindal didn’t have a chance.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Childish.
That’s cold, but the Fox News studios are in midtown Manhattan. Maybe it played better in Tupelo. And Jindal did offer a core concept:
Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need?
That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It’s irresponsible. And it’s no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs, or build a prosperous future for our children.
Matthew Yglesias sees this as nonsense:
The first thing to observe is that this doesn’t even begin to resemble a macroeconomic argument. The moral of Jindal’s parable, is basically that it is per se wrong to implement policies that increase the national debt. Doing that is “irresponsible” due to the burden it places on “our children.” But of course someone who actually believed that it’s per se wrong to implement policies that increase the national debt would have opposed the 2001 Bush tax cuts. He would have opposed the 2003 Bush tax cuts. He would have opposed the invasion of Iraq. And he would most certainly not be calling for the extension of the Bush tax cuts. But none of that sounds to me like a description of Bobby Jindal.
So that means that the narrower point that “things we do not need” is actually doing all the work in the analogy:
But which things? People who get laid off at a time of generally contracting employment really do need unemployment insurance money. I’m sure these people would prefer to get a job, but when the total number of jobs is decreasing that’s just very difficult. Similarly, families who qualify for food stamps are genuinely poor enough to need assistance to put reasonably nutritious food on the family table. States quite certainly do need financial assistance to avoid needing to furlough workers – cops, teachers, firefighters – and keep up their basic facilities. Everyone agrees that the country faces a shortfall in infrastructure. The overall macroeconomic situation is unquestionably poor. And nobody can deny that conventional monetary policy has nothing more to offer us.
This is stuff we need. You can quibble around the margins, of course. The $500 billion or so of spending in the package isn’t the exact $500 billion in spending I would have written. But broadly speaking, it’s spending on useful stuff at a time when spending is needed.
Of course Jindal famously says he will take no stimulus money to extend unemployment benefits for any of his constituents – on principle. That might lead to higher taxes on business three or four years out – when the stimulus program winds down – and he won’t risk making it harder for business to turn a profit. He seems sure the folks in his state will understand that, and agree to the sacrifice. Perhaps they will.
The numbers: 68% of viewers said they had a positive reaction, compared to 24% negative. And an astonishing 85% said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction the country is headed in (though granted, feeling more optimistic than before might be a low bar), and only 11% said it made them more negative.
And 82% of speech-watchers say they support Obama’s economic plans as outlined in the speech, with only 17% against.
A caveat from CNN polling director Keating Holland: “These are great numbers for Obama, but they are no better or worse that Bill Clinton or George W. Bush got after their first speeches to Congress.”
The numbers are also distorted somewhat, in that CNN estimates the viewing audience was 8-10 points more Democratic than the general public. But even if we subtracted 10 points from all the positive numbers above, that’s still more than pretty good.
And informally, see these reactions:
Sitting here watching the speech I have been thinking that something is wrong. My first thought was that he is talking too fast. Then it dawned on me: he knows what he is talking about and expecting me to keep up. After eight years of being talked to like a child (or an idiot), my president is speaking to me like I am an intelligent adult. This is going to take some getting used to.
… This guy means business. And with every action of his, and with every foot-in-mouth episode from the GOP, we will come to understand that governance in this nation has transitioned into an entirely new paradigm.
Why did the very simple sentiment of the President acknowledging that despite differences, we all love the United States and want the best for her send me into a fit of tears? Perhaps because it’s been eight long years of enduring a President who preached and lived the opposite. It was such sweet release to say goodbye to the attacks on the patriotism of others simply because they disagree with the party in power.
Well, Obama did say he never questions the intentions of his opponents – everyone wants things to work out for the best, even if we disagree. He doesn’t seem to do that anger thing.
If it sounds like Jindal is targeting his speech to a room full of fourth graders, that’s because he is. They might be the next people to actually vote for Republicans again.
And there’s Marc Ambinder:
Forget the nomenclature of what this speech is supposed to be. It’s both grand and pedestrian; grand, from the perspective of history, which is that a Democratic president is making an unapologetic case for activist government, for comprehensive, integrated, values-based expensive solutions to major problems, and, indeed, is asserting that the times themselves require that effort. Pedestrian – because – basically – the speech reads as a President justifying his plans to expand government.
And Ezra Klein:
Obama doesn’t talk to us like we’re stupid. This wasn’t an inspiring speech. And it wasn’t a terrorizing speech. It was an explanation. The president told us what he was planning to do. And the speech was written as if he believed that we could understand him. He didn’t wrap his agenda in a lot of rhetoric about America’s mettle or hide it behind stories and icons. He just sort of said it.
Well that’s something new.
Still, the angry will not be mollified, as with Russell Roberts:
I just heard Obama guarantee that no one making less than $250,000 a year will pay a dime in higher taxes for the budgets he is proposing. He said he would be rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of the American people. The top 1% of all taxpayers currently pay about 40% of the income taxes. So what Obama is saying is that that is not enough. The wealthy need to pay more. And he is also saying that the other 98%, who are getting all the goodies are going to get it for free. This process cannot be sustained.
Okay – that’s more like it. That’s the kind of anger that can start a new Civil War – but this time not about slavery. This one will be about protecting the wealthy.
And that will do. It will be all about the losers trying to grab the goodies from the hard working good guys, abetted by a slick-talking black guy running things and grinning.
Just drill down into the details, as Yglesias does in On So-Called “Irresponsible” Borrowers:
Along with the absurd, Santelli-led revolt of the overclass against efforts to help middle class homeowners, there’s been a larger sense that “reasonable” people can all agree that there’s “plenty of blame to go around” and that on some level “irresponsible borrowers” deserve to take their lumps in all of this. I have my doubts.
When someone applies for a mortgage, there are two parties to the transaction. On one side of it is a teacher or a blogger or an electrician or a lawyer or a nurse or a guy who manages a Home Depot. On the other side is a guy who, for a living, as a professional, works in the “deciding on what terms to offer people mortgages” business who works, for a living, at a financial services business. Businesses like that got in the habit of making loans with little regard to actual prospects for long-term payment on the theory that since house prices were rising, the borrower could always sell or refinance. That, to repeat, wasn’t the judgment of electricians and store managers; it was the judgment of people who were professional mortgage-offerers. They, in turn, were being lax in part because they were finding it very easy to sell the mortgages off as securities. And it was easy to sell the mortgages as securities regardless of their quality, because big sophisticated financial services firms devised tactics for slicing and dicing the securities into packages that could be easily resold. Those packages could, in turn, be easily resold because they had high ratings from the bond agencies. These ratings were based on models which held that a nationwide decline in housing prices was impossible. The ratings agencies and the modeling firms were, in turn, regulated by the U.S. government. And in addition to the formal regulatory agencies, there are a variety of public officials – the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the President, the Secretary of the Treasury – who have a kind of generalized responsibility for oversight of the economy. Beyond the political system, the American media offers extensive coverage of business and real estate.
So, if you want to get angry, things get too complicated – too much blame to go around. And starting a Civil War requires that you find an enemy, and not being all stupid about assigning BIG BLAME:
I just don’t see how more than a tiny fraction of it could possible adhere to our electrician or teacher or secretary who’s decided, basically, that the financial services professionals and government regulators know what they’re doing. Now could she have known better? Sure. She could have been reading Dean Baker and Paul Krugman and others. The idea that this lending was all being undertaken on a false premise that a nationwide housing bust was impossible wasn’t a highly guarded secret. … And I believed that analysis. But at the same time, I write about U.S. public policy debates for a living. If there’s a dissident line of thinking that, despite its general unpopularity, is popular among left-of-center economists -well, that’s the kind of thing I know a lot about. But our nurse? Why would she know?
Think back to 2006. It’s not as if CNBC and your paper’s real estate section were rigorously probing this question. Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson weren’t saying “the economy seems dangerously vulnerable to the possibility of a nationwide decline in real estate prices, something that major financial institutions’ models say is impossible but that history says is likely.” And to be fair and non-partisan, it’s not as if Harry Reid was saying it either.
And I just don’t think it’s the responsibility of individuals to know that all the experts, and all the conventional wisdom, are secretly wrong. All kinds of people have been buying iPhones because everyone says they’re great. And if this November, the iPhones all suddenly explode injuring tons of people, I think there’ll be a lot of blame to go around. But really just about none of that blame will land on iPhone owners – it would land on Apple and AT&T and regulators and gadget reviewers and everyone else. If not, if the people who run the country and its media don’t actually expect their pronouncements to be taken seriously, then really they ought to all quit and make way for people who take their responsibilities seriously.
Okay – maybe you cannot blame homeowners in over their head. But you can blame Obama for being irresponsible and doing all sorts of crazy things without rationally thinking of the awful consequences of what he is attempting. Or maybe not, according to Andrew Sullivan, as you really need to consider the context here:
That context is a staggering array of problems that keep vying for urgent attention – arguably the gravest and most intractable set of issues in my lifetime.
The first is a financial crisis which has triggered an economic slump which is intensifying the financial crisis. Given the scale of this, and the long years of debt that make it so much more dangerous than it might have been, I don’t think it’s fair to conflate a practical plan to tackle it in all its aspects with a utopian and rationalist approach to remaking the world. The truth is: the world has already been un-made. Obama has no choice but to think big. Americans understand this, as anyone outside the Washington cable-chatter cocoon would. Although I cannot see through the unknowns … it does seem to me that so far, the main criticism of Obama’s plans – on foreclosure, the banks, the stimulus – is that they may not be bold enough. And addressing long-term fiscal health at the same time is not an over-confident over-reach. It’s a recognition of reality. We may not be able to get through the short-term borrowing we need without calming the global markets about long-term fiscal stability.
Others do not see it that way.
Andie Coller at Politico – Obama’s Challenge: A Nation of Santelli’s – “When CNBC’s Rick Santelli argued last week that President Barack Obama’s mortgage bailout plan would force hard-working Americans to pay for their neighbors’ mistakes, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed him as a know-nothing derivatives trader out of touch with Main Street.” (But the revolution, or revolt, or civil war, is now starting.)
A. W. R. Hawkins in Human Events – Eleven States Declare Sovereignty Over Obama’s Action – “State governors – looking down the gun barrel of long-term spending forced on them by the Obama ‘stimulus’ plan – are saying they will refuse to take the money. This is a Constitutional confrontation between the federal government and the states unlike any in our time.” (It really is civil war – or the Civil War again.)
See Tom Maguire at JustOneMinute – The 92 Percent Solution – “Feel the anger – here is a website dedicated to the 92 percent of Americans who are making their mortgage payments.” (The Rebels are organizing!)
Against that, the New York Times with Survey Reveals Broad Support for President – and the Washington Post with Poll: Most Americans Back Obama on Stimulus, Mortgage Plans – and here’s Charlie Cook:
As polling very clearly shows, congressional Republicans have done nothing to help themselves by almost unanimously opposing the massive stimulus package. Indeed, they look increasingly isolated: a narrow party that is looking inward for sustenance.
And from the Post:
Head-to-head, though, Americans are putting far more faith in Obama than in congressional Republicans: 61 percent said they trust Obama more than the GOP when it comes to economic matters, just 26 percent side with the Republicans in Congress. Obama’s advantage on that question is bigger than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or George H.W. Bush ever had over the opposition party in the legislature on dealing with the economy.
Overall, Democrats maintain a nearly 2 to 1 edge over Republicans as the party Americans prefer to confront “the big issues” over the next few years.
The parties will meet at Gettysburg again, with Obama as Lincoln, the man he admires, looking on from Washington. Thinking about it gets scary.
But it’s just odd, as you can see in this from Think Progress, regarding South Carolina’s Republican governor:
On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Sanford received a call from a Charleston resident who said he lost his job because he has been taking care of his mother and sister, both of whom have serious illnesses. The caller told Sanford he is “wrong” to decline the money. “A lot of people in South Carolina are hurting. And if this money can come and help us out we need it.” In response, Sanford could offer him only his prayers:
CALLER: I hope you all are not playing politics with this. People in South Carolina are hurting. You know how unemployment rates are high right now and going up higher. We are running out of money in the unemployment bank — we need money for that, the people that need help. And I’m one of them, I can’t get no help. ..
SANFORD: Well I’d say hello to Charleston because its home and I’d say hello to this fellow this morning and say that my prayers are going to be with him and his family because it sounds like he is in an awfully tough spot.
Sanford offered no other alternative solution for his constituent and instead argued that the state could not accept money to extend unemployment benefits because “increasing the tax on unemployment insurance” would negatively “impact the caller’s family” (although he didn’t say how).
Digby comments – “Oh, that’s what Sanford meant a couple of weeks ago when he said ‘we are moving toward a savior-based economy.’“
Oh well, all this will be straightened out in the new Civil War – which seems to be a continuation of the old one.