Calling It Quits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So give the guy a break:

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

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

And there are these things to consider too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has a different take on things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool, but this doesn’t sound like Reagan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.
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3 Responses to Calling It Quits

  1. I read virtually all of your posts, from beginning to end. Many of them I forward to others.
    This one, I will forward as well. But I’m not as much in agreement as usually.
    President Obama has expertly played the cards he has been dealt, beginning with dealing with the race card, expertly, and doing what he can within the gridlock that exists in DC and will doubtless continue. Nothing will come easy for his administration, but they seem to have pretty good “mine-detectors” and this has to frustrate their detractors.
    Those who know me best, family, friends, would call me a loyal, liberal Democrat. And I am such. But the people I look on a political heroes include state and national Republicans who would willingly call themselves progressives, who were outstanding leaders, and would not be allowed within spitting distance of todays Republican leadership. Todays Democrats, the ones who stay in office, the ones who know how the game is played, are much like those old-time moderate Republicans, and they aren’t sellouts either. They know that change in a complex country is slow and incremental and frustrating.
    The Tea Party fringe thought they had it all, four years ago, when they raged into control. Too many Democrats let them have it – they were people who didn’t vote at all because Guantanamo wasn’t closed on the first day of Obama’s term in 2009; or they didn’t get single-payer health care “Gold Plus Premium” ideal in the first try. We’ve reaped the consequences of this ‘stay at home’ mentality in the 2010 elections: redistricting, etc., etc.
    But if the Democrats couldn’t control things with a Senate majority, how will the Republicans (if they achieve nirvana, and are 51-49 or whatever)? Obama isn’t running for anything. You can bet that the Obama folks already have the playbook on the shelf to deal with that horrid possibility.
    Meanwhile, I’m spending my time looking at the legions of reasonable folks who live in my proximity – townies, ordinary activists – the people who don’t write blogs, or letters to the editor, etc. The people who just want things to work, and understand imperfection from being married, parent of children, etc. They just want things to work.
    I’m working actively for a local legislator who’s running for her second term “as we speak”. Two years ago she was a Freshman candidate (and we all know what it’s like to have been a Freshman)!
    She’s a reasonable, moderate, person, and she took her election in 2012 seriously. She’s an extremely hard worker, and does lots of door-knocking. I would be astonished if her race were even a little close this time.
    Some time back she was telling me that she always asks people who answer the door, “what are your issues?” Most often, she’s met with sort of a blank stare, initially. Then they’re embarrassed. But the bottom line is that they don’t have serious issues. The State government here, which went all blue in 2012, is a government which works as it is supposed to.
    “No drama.”
    (Ever heard those words attached to Obama?)
    Even people who live completely isolated from others doubtless get into arguments – with themselves. People know a little bit about how disagreements work, and that at some point the parties to the disagreement have to reach agreement on how to resolve whatever the issue.
    Our country is a little bit bigger fish to fry in this regard, but its the same principal.
    The Tea Party jerks thought they could take things over, and that was that.
    It isn’t quite so simple.
    Thanks for your always good work.

  2. Rick says:

    Back in the early 1970s, there was a big, noisy “51st State” movement in New York City, which called for the city itself to secede from New York State and become a state unto itself, for much the same reasons: “The rest of the state doesn’t like us.” In fact, the city was liberal and the rest of the state was conservative, so the city never seemed to get the resources from the state it thought it needed to deal with its problems.

    During this time, I sort of got involved in a journalistic way (I was videotaping their activities for a public access TV show I was trying to start) with the Park River Independent Democrats, an Upper West Side Manhattan political club founded by young reformers from the Eugene McCarthy campaign a few years before, who were busy urging passers-by to sign statehood petitions at card tables out front of their 72nd Street headquarters.

    I remember asking, off-camera, Paula Weiss, the club’s Democratic Party district leader, if her group really believed the city becoming a state will solve its problems, and she said, “What, are you kidding me? Hell, no! But don’t worry, the city has absolutely zero chance of becoming a state anyway.” She admitted, quite candidly, that the petitions were just a somewhat cynical way of getting those naive and idealistic rubes to sign up as new members of the club. So that’s what eventually comes of “reform” politics.

    Somebody could write a book on all the “51st State Movements” down through this country’s history, what with New York City, South Miami, Puerto Rico, and maybe every other state in the union. For all we know, there’s some group in West Virginia that wants to split off and become East West Virginia. In fact, there have been suggestions to split California into more than two states:

    “California, the most populous state in the United States and third largest in area, has been the subject of more than 220 proposals to divide it into multiple states including at least 27 serious proposals. In addition, there have been various calls for the restoration of the California Republic, which would entail secession from the United States.”

    It’s the same thing that happened to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and will probably happen to Iraq. How is it that, in this Age of Aquarius, in which everybody was supposed to come together, everybody seems to want to go their own way?

    Rick

  3. BabaO says:

    I think “Cascadia” has a nice ring to it. That’s what is periodically proposed as the name of a coalition of Oregon, Washington, Northern California – and maybe British Columbia, if the action comes during one of the BC folks’ occasional snits with their national government. I assure you that many people take this quite seriously. Economically, I believe that Cascadia would do very well. Politically, there’s something to be said for adopting a parliamentary system of government. I think that such would go some distance toward isolating the crazies – the larger proportion of which most likely will have departed with the new confederacy. (So long Ted. Don’t let the door hit you in your skinny ass Ann.)

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