Forward or Perhaps Not

Forward. That was Obama’s one word campaign slogan this time, replacing Hope – not that anyone noticed. This was the Statisticians Election. There was endless daily polling at all levels and places you could go to see the averages of all the polls, or if you liked, other places that offered specially weighted averages of all the polls, if you didn’t like what you were seeing, and still other places you could go to find analyses of the track record and thus the reliability of each polling operation. It seems Gallup is hopeless and Rasmussen always showed Republicans doing well when they weren’t. Of course there were projections of how things would turn out, derived from all this polling weighed against demographic and geographic and historical factors – the real wonk stuff. The New York Times’ Nate Silver was the master of that sort of thing, again – he projected the winner and the electoral outcome in all states but one last time, and this time got all of it right.

This made election night kind of boring actually. It just wasn’t that exciting – well before midnight on the East Coast all the networks had called the race for Obama. Numbers don’t lie, even if Karl Rove had that brief argument with Fox News that they do. As Jon Stewart showed us the next day, even the folks at Fox News were exasperated with him.

There were no surprises. It was like watching a PowerPoint presentation from the meek and scholarly Nate Silver – everything fell into place, in sequence, as it should, mathematically. Yes, the Romney folks were shellshocked – they really did think they would win and Mitt hadn’t even written a concession speech, even as a contingency. Oops. But they had been listening to the wrong people – the old-school big thinkers who spoke seriously of momentum and the national mood and just who would be deeply inspired to vote and which voting blocs would be so put off that they’d simply stay home. These were all educated guesses – but guesses, however educated, are just guesses, not statistical data. A whole class of political commentators had suddenly become obsolete. No one knows what they’ll do now. There isn’t enough room on Fox News for all of them.

So that was that – it was all over but for Florida, where at the end of the week they were still counting ballots. They may declare the winner there by Thanksgiving, not that it matters. As Kevin Drum worked out, even if Romney had won Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, he still would have lost – so the folks in Florida can take all the time they want.

The Romney folks have now conceded Florida anyway – all the uncounted votes are in Democratic districts. It’s all over. Republicans lost big – Obama won the electoral vote and the popular vote. The Republicans hoped to regain control of the Senate and thought it would be easy – but the Tea Party crowd forced them to run some very strange candidates in what were supposed to be safe seats, and the Democrats ended up with a net gain of two more senators. The social conservatives lost big too – two states voted to make the recreational use of marijuana legal and three states voted to make same-sex marriage legal. This was the first time voters – not legislatures or the courts – said same-sex marriage was just fine. All in all, it seems there was something wrong with the Republican perspective on America, or with their math. They are now in the process of making adjustments to each.

That’s one way to move forward. Fox News’ Sean Hannity flamboyantly announced that he has evolved on immigration – maybe we should not just toss out eleven million or so undocumented workers, even if they are Hispanic or whatever. They’re here, working hard and paying taxes and probably fine folks, so there might be some way to let them stay. John Boehner and other key Republicans were saying similar things – Charles Krauthammer and Haley Barbour  and there are even such signals from Eric Cantor – although Boehner got creamed by others in his own party for even hinting at such things. Evolution is hard, even if you don’t believe in evolution. Still, when the other guys win seventy-seven percent of the Hispanic vote – when you give away the votes of the largest and fastest growing minority ever – it might be wise to make some adjustments.

Heather McDonald, however, suggests that won’t be easy:

I spoke last year with John Echeveste, founder of the oldest Latino marketing firm in southern California, about Hispanic politics. “What Republicans mean by ‘family values’ and what Hispanics mean are two completely different things,” he said. “We are a very compassionate people – we care about other people and understand that government has a role to play in helping people.”

There’s a real problem there, but Conor Friedersdorf suggests one easy adjustment:

Stop letting prominent voices of movement conservatism get away with saying things that are a) actually just racist; b) demagogic race-baiting; or c) so obviously tone-deaf that anyone with common sense can see how terrible it would sound. Why is that so hard? This isn’t a call to embrace mindless political correctness, or to implement a full scale amnesty, or to cave on issues like affirmative action. This is so much easier! Just stop associating with people who deliberately play on America’s racial anxieties for profit! Given the contours of America’s racial fault lines… doing so is always going to turn off blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and a lot of whites.

That seems pretty obvious, but one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers doesn’t see much hope for these guys:

One thing that is disgusting about the current GOP and something you’ve not touched on much since the 47% tape faded away, is that a core tenant [sic] of the GOP is that they are the makers and everyone else (the Democrats) are the takers. Look at most any of the commentary from the right since the election night and this is pushed over and over again: America is lost because now the takers outnumber the makers. This premise is patently and outrageously false.

And this is their default worldview now. Certainly the welfare state is not anywhere near as small as most everyone wants it to be, but to presuppose a Democratic voter is nothing less than a leach on society is flat out disgusting. The GOP starts with contempt for their fellow citizen and they go down from there. They make it a practice to insult everyone in the middle and lower classes then wonder why nobody wants to join their team.

Specifics follow:

They insult women for caring about their personal health and freedom and viability in the workforce and wonder why there is a gender gap. They assume a successful person of color is a result of affirmative action and wonder why they don’t get credit for Condi Rice and Colin Powell. They refuse to accept that an effective safety net does not create mass poverty. Jesus had a lot to say about the poor in his day, yet I don’t think there was much of a safety net back then. The right wing today will demonize anyone who needs help and they demonize anyone who wants to give help. How is that American? How does any of that solve our real issues?

The last two Democratic presidents were honest-to-goodness American Dream success stories – men who came from broken homes and poverty only to transcend their status to become brilliant and powerful forces in America. They should be heroes to every little kid growing up in a tough neighborhood or boring suburb.

But not on the right – they degrade both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama while at the same time trumpeting the privileged soft-handed sons of power. How is that American? How is that patriotic? How does this appeal to those of us who believe in our public schools and our dart league at our favorite tavern and our “dinner for eight” every Saturday night at our church? Just because a person decides to write code for a living or they have to wait tables or they are promoted into middle management in some shitty corporation instead of “taking chances” and “sticking their neck out” as entrepreneurs or “Job Creators” doesn’t mean we are not good, loving Americans. And we vote Democratic now because we don’t want to hate our neighbors for simply being normal people.

Oh my! It’s hard to fix that, especially when Dan Savage, assessing why same-sex marriage finally won big in Washington this time, says this:

I know so many straight people in Seattle who worked unbelievably hard to approve R-74. They gave money, they volunteered their time, they reached out to friends and relatives and coworkers – all in an effort to make it possible for same-sex couples to marry. Gays and lesbians are a tiny percentage of the population. We couldn’t do this on our own. A majority of the legislators who voted for same-sex marriage? Straight. The governor who signed the law making same-sex marriage legal in Washington State? Straight. The majority of the folks manning the phone banks for R-74? Straight. The overwhelming majority of people who voted to approve R-74? Straight. The president who took a huge political risk and came out for marriage equality before his reelection campaign? Straight.

It has gotten better for us – better, not perfect – but it hasn’t gotten better for us in a vacuum. It’s gotten better for us because straight people have gotten better about us.

The Republicans are straight people too, but they haven’t gotten better.

What has happened is obvious. Everyone else decided to move forward, for better or worse, but probably better, and a few decided to say no thanks, we prefer how things are now, or how they were in 1980, or 1953, or 1927 or so. They got left behind. William F. Buckley famously said that a conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” Buckley probably meant that in an ironic but essentially heroic way – the only battles worth fighting are losing battles and that sort of thing. He probably liked to feel noble, but he said nothing of that stunned and empty feeling when the train has left the station and you’re standing alone on the platform, watching it disappear in the distance, full of quite happy just normal people, off on an adventure to see the world.

That seems to be where the Republicans are now. The train has left the station. The election is over. They shouted “stop” – and Karl Rove specifically shouted that on election night right there on Fox News – but the world moved on anyway. And on the big issue that came next, Obama had to remind them that the world has moved on:

Three days after his reelection, President Obama said he was ready to reach a long-delayed budget deal with Republican congressional leaders, but reiterated that the wealthy must pay more in taxes, a stance he argued was validated by voters.

“This was a central question during the election,” Obama said. “It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”

Obama said he was ready to start building consensus and that he’d meet with congressional leaders the next week, but he was also telling them that the train had left the station and they weren’t on it. They actually lost the election and they can yell “stop” all they want, but it’s a little late for that. Also, Obama may be ready to start building consensus, but he’s the one who won:

He also renewed pressure on House Republicans to pass a measure – which the Senate already has approved – that would ensure taxes for 98% of Americans would not increase Jan. 1, when current tax rates are set to expire. Under that bill, rates for the richest taxpayers would increase to the same level they were under the Clinton administration, while current rates would prevail for everyone else.

“I’ve got the pen ready to sign the bill right away. I’m ready to do it,” he said.

That was a dare. All the polling shows, and has always shown, that almost everyone agrees keeping the tax cuts for the ninety-eight percent of those earning less than a quarter million a year, almost all from wages, would keep us from another deep recession or worse, and the two percent earning more than that, almost all from vast pools of money held in tricky investments, really ought to pay their fair share again. Economists also agree that’s sensible – that it will not hurt growth at all – and Obama ran on that proposition, and he won. That train has left the station. Stand athwart history yelling whatever you want to yell, if it makes you happen. Numbers don’t lie, just like on Tuesday night.

It seems that doesn’t matter:

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who will be Obama’s primary Republican counterpart in the negotiations, reasserted Friday that he was steadfastly opposed to raising tax rates. By implication, the GOP position is that it will be up to Obama to find an acceptable compromise.

It’s the same old position. Keep the deep tax cuts for the very rich or we’ll make sure no one gets any tax cuts at all, and thus tank the entire economy, and that will be your fault, not ours.

It’s just that this is playing with fire:

The coming negotiations create particular problems for the Republicans. If no legislation passes before year’s end, the nation faces a confluence of automatic tax hikes and spending reductions that economists warn could jar the economy back into a recession. If negotiations fail, Obama would get the upper-income tax increase he campaigned on and an opportunity to blame Republicans for raising taxes on all Americans and disrupting the economy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney in a media briefing Friday laid out exactly that scenario, suggesting that Republicans would have a hard time explaining why they let the tax breaks for the middle class expire. “What is the argument for not passing it? That we’re going to force everyone to have a higher tax bill next year just because millionaires and billionaires didn’t get a tax cut?”

That is the argument, actually. Brian Beutler frames it this way:

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have each made cursory appeals to cooperation in the wake of Tuesday’s election. But they’re still making incompatible demands about the tax code. And on Friday, President Obama made clear that if Republicans reject the policy goal he campaigned on, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire.

“If we’re serious about reducing the deficit we have to combine spending cuts with revenue, and that means asking the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes,” Obama said in public remarks at the White House. “Right now if Congress fails to come to an agreement on an overall deficit reduction package by the end of the year, everybody’s taxes will automatically go up on January 1.”

In both 2008 and 2012, Obama campaigned on the goal of allowing the Bush tax cuts that exclusively benefit top earners to expire. That would increase the top marginal tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent next year. But Boehner and other Republicans want tax rates off the table and GOP aides suggest higher tax rates can’t pass the Republican House.

That means there’s no way to fix this, and Beutler goes on to report on all the Republicans going hard-ass with Boehner – there will be no return to the former tax rates for the rich ever, period, or we’ll destroy the economy. Boehner also is quoted as saying that Obama has no mandate on this, or on anything. Obama may have won the election, and all the polls show that almost the entire nation agrees with Obama on this tax matter, as do the economists – but that’s no mandate, really. It’s a William F. Buckley thing. Stop! You can feel real heroic shouting that, and feel sure that people will admire you. You can feel anything you’d like.

Obama is simply saying something else. Forward. The nation voted. They’re saying that too. Forward. The election is over, John.

Matthew Yglesias argues that Boehner actually knows this and he’s really bluffing:

Remember the famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones faces off against a guy who unsheathes a scimitar and wows the audience with his fancy swordsmanship- – only to get shot in the chest by Indy? The swordsman – that’s House Speaker John Boehner right now on the Bush tax cuts. Whether it’s out of deference to the office, eagerness to have an interesting story to write about, or plain gullibility, every congressional reporter in town is now dutifully reporting on his negotiating strategy. But this fight is over. Boehner has brought a knife to a gunfight, only nobody seems to have told anyone in the conservative movement.

The issue is structural:

Back when George W. Bush was in office, he wanted to cut taxes. And he wanted to disguise the cost of his tax cuts. So he had his allies on Capitol Hill write the legislation so that the tax cuts would automatically expire at the end of a 10-year window.

That window closed at the end of 2010. But during the 2010 lame-duck session, Republicans were riding high on electoral victory and the Obama administration was concerned that tax hikes would hurt the economy. So they cut a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts two more years into the 2012 lame-duck session. It was a smart idea for everyone concerned. With the economy weak, there really was no case for a short-term tax increase, and this way the presidential election would resolve everything. If Obama lost, his GOP opponent would surely sign a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. But if Obama won, then he’d block any extension.

Obama won – end of story:

The conceit here is the frankly bizarre idea that since Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class he needs to engage in some kind of bargaining process. But this is silly. The Senate already passed a plan to extend the middle-class tax cuts. Now the choice before the House of Representatives is whether they want to vote to pass that plan before the new year or after the new year…

To take the bargaining process seriously at this point you have to believe that come 2013, House Republicans would actually refuse to cut taxes on the grounds that the president’s tax-cut proposal doesn’t cut taxes enough. Then they would blame the economic drag and middle-class pain that their own refusal to cut taxes had caused on the Democrats. But that doesn’t pass the laugh test as a political argument. It ignores the fact that the GOP quite genuinely wants to see rich people pay lower taxes. And since rich people have lots of income that falls below the top bracket cutoff, they actually benefit massively from the middle-class tax cuts Obama favors.

It’s all nonsense:

Republicans took a risk with the tax sunsets, and they lost. Boehner is bluffing, and it’s time for everyone to recognize that, take the next couple of months off, and pass the Obama middle-class tax cuts in January.

Yglesias later adds this:

Nothing will happen during the Lame Duck session. Then the Bush tax cuts will expire. Then Obama will propose some middle class tax cuts and the House will pass them. The interesting thing to talk about is whether that Obama tax reform could somehow be more creative/interesting/better than simple extension of the Bush tax cuts. But either way, Obama will get what he wants on policy and Republicans will get what they want on politics – namely the ability to complain that taxes on the rich are too high and people need to elect them to enact some tax cuts.

So what else is new? It’s just odd that we had an election to settle these matters, and a few more.

Yes, it does seem that there was something wrong with the Republican perspective on America, and with their math, and they’re now in the process of making adjustments to each. Or maybe they’re not doing that at all. It’s so romantic and sad and tragic and noble to stand on that train platform, in the cold rain and the gathering darkness, as music swells, as that train slowly leaves the station with everyone else but you. It’s a great scene and in many a movie. It’s just that everyone on that train is just fine and probably quite happy. And that train is moving forward, by the way. The election really is over.

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.
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4 Responses to Forward or Perhaps Not

  1. Madman says:

    Great work as usual, Alan. I am a little surprised that the English teacher in you would allow this to slip by: “… a core tenant of the GOP is that they are the makers….” Damned homophones!

    • Alan says:

      Ah, but that wasn’t me. When I provide excerpts from what others write, well, it seems rather rude to correct their minor mistakes, as a scold or something.

  2. Madman says:

    Of course it was NOT you — you obviously know better by far. Do English profs still instruct their students to use “sic” when repeating someone else’s errors? That’s how I was taught — but that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.

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