The Gray Line Of Stagnation And Why Income Inequality Should Matter To Hillary Clinton

Brad Plumer of Wonkblog published a piece today (“The shocking truth behind the saddest chart in Congress”) that readers of this blog will find all too familiar. It was accompanied by this chart:

Keep an eye on that bottom line, that depressing gray line that represents, quite likely, everyone reading this post. Think about all the colorful activity above and all the stagnation that defines the movement of that dreary gray line at the bottom.

Then think about the next presidential election. Many of us believe it is too late for anything meaningful to be done during the Obama administration about trying to make that bottom gray line as dynamically active as those colored lines above it. Improving the economic lot of the bottom 90% of Americans is not even on the radar screen for the Republicans who now effectively have control of the legislative branch of the federal government, as well as control of many governorships and state legislatures around the country.

But if I were Hillary Clinton, who most certainly is going to run in 2016, I would make that 90% my priority. In every speech, in every interview, in every op-ed she will write or every Tweet she will peck out between now and then, my focus would be on that 90%, that gray line of stagnation.

Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews also published an interesting chart a couple of months ago:

Read this amazing paragraph that Matthews included with the graphic:

Until the 1970s, the bottom 90 percent had actually seen its income grow more than any other income group. The income gap was shrinking. But the ultra-rich quickly reversed that trend. In 2007, the top 0.01 percent had an average income almost seven times that of 1917; the average income of the bottom 90 percent had barely tripled. The country has grown more unequal, not less, since then. And, interestingly, the 90-99th percentiles all saw their average income grow faster than all but the tippy-top of the top 1  percent. The divide between the rich and the rest isn’t the only gap growing, in other words. The gap between the ultra-rich and the merely rich is growing, too.

Again, look at that graph. That red line representing you and me and most people in America was, from about 1940 through the early 1970s, on top of the stack. We did all right as a country, didn’t we? We did all right as a country with that red line on top, wouldn’t you say? And that red line of 90 percenters was on top of that deep blue line of the richest-of-the-rich until the 1990s. What happened to thrust that blue line of wealthy folks so high into the sky?

In 1997—with a Clinton in the White House—capital gains taxes were reduced from 28% to 20%, via the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which was one of the largest tax cuts in history (the child tax credit and some other items meant to lure Democrats was a part of the mix).

The bill was sponsored in the House by Republican John Kasich (now the right-wing extremist governor of Ohio) and was opposed by some among my contingent of bellwether liberal legislators: Bernie Sanders (in the House at the time), Barney Frank, Elijah Cummings, Ed Markey (now running for John Kerry’s senate seat in Massachusetts), and Henry Waxman. Sadly, only eight Democrats in the Senate voted against final passage of the bill (the late and great Paul Wellstone was one of them).

Bill Clinton, Hillary’s husband, signed it into law, saying, among other things, that he had reservations about the capital gains tax cut component of the law:

I continue to have concerns that the across-the-board capital gains relief in H.R. 2014 is too complex and will disproportionately benefit the wealthy over lower- and middle-income wage earners.

Well, those “concerns” turned into reality fairly quickly, as the graph above demonstrates, especially since Republicans, via George W. Bush’s signature in 2003 (part of the infamous “Bush tax cuts”), further lowered the capital gains rate for the wealthiest Americans from 20% to 15%.  Just what effect have these insanely low tax rates had on income inequality? As Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews says, a lot:

If you don’t look at capital gains, the top 0.01 percent only captures 3.15 percent of income in the United States. That’s about a third smaller a share as when capital gains are included. That suggests that capital gains income is exacerbating the income inequality problem.

Here’s my point: Hillary Clinton, running in 2016, can use the issue of income inequality as a nationwide campaign to not only win the White House, but, at least as important as far as I’m concerned, win control of the House and Senate for Democrats, which would be the only way she could effectively govern and do a damn thing about income inequality.

She should begin with Bill Clinton’s rather muted and understated warning in his signing statement in 1997 that the tax-cut law would “disproportionately benefit the wealthy over lower- and middle-income wage earners,” then move on to attack Republicans for the 2003 tax cut (she voted against it), and, finally, base her campaign on moving the trajectory of that sad, gray line that represents nearly the entire American electorate. The ridiculously low tax on capital gains, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy, is the perfect vehicle to make the case that America needs a come-to-Jesus moment over the growing disparity between the rich and poor in our country.

In other words, she should run for president not just because she has a very good chance of becoming our first female chief executive, an amazing achievement in itself, but because if she can do something to move that gray line of stagnation she will be the people’s champion in the vein of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt and go down in history as something more than being the first President of the United States without a Y chromosome.

And, even as conservative pundits and politicians are trying to pin blame on her for the the tragedy in Benghazi, she should start talking about these income inequality issues today.

Pardonable and Unpardonable Sin

“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Republican Party, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”

—GOP Jesus, in the Erstwhile Conservative’s translation of Matthew 12:32

Imagine that. Republicans in the Old Christian South forgave the lying, philandering, Jesus-loving trespasser, who, as governor of South Carolina, disappeared for four days, misused taxpayer money, and while serving in Congress the first time, voted to toss the lying, philandering, Jesus-loving Bill Clinton out of the White’s House.

Voters preferred Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress, to, well, a Democratic woman who couldn’t exactly go all-in with the Democratic Party in a blood-red, Jesus-loving Republican district.

Sanford is now back in the Tea Party House of Representatives, where he truly belongs. We know he belongs there because, uh, God said so. The Washington Post reported on the victor’s victory speech this way:

Sanford also sounded a spiritual note in his address, thanking “god’s role in all of this,” and calling himself an “imperfect man” who was “saved by god’s grace.”

So, here’s the lesson in all this, my friends: If you’re a politician who wants to leave his four kids and Christian wife for his “soul mate” in Argentina, and who wants to subsequently keep his job in politics, make sure Jesus is your co-pilot.

Because Jesus, apparently, will forgive anything except being a Democrat.

Here’s What Obama, The Winner, Should Say In Private

Although you wouldn’t know it by listening to them, Republicans did lose the election.

At least I think they did.

Mitch McConnell, the lead saboteur who failed to sabotage Obama’s chances of reelection, fired off a statement to one of the most virulent right-wing websites in the country, Breitbart, and said this:

One issue I’ve never been conflicted about is taxes. I wasn’t sent to Washington to raise anybody’s taxes to pay for more wasteful spending and this election doesn’t change my principles. This election was a disappointment, without doubt, but let’s be clear about something: the House is still run by Republicans, and Republicans still maintain a robust minority in the Senate. I know some people out there think Tuesday’s results mean Republicans in Washington are now going to roll over and agree to Democrat demands that we hike tax rates before the end of the year. I’m here to tell them there is no truth to that notion whatsoever.

Everyone knows that McConnell’s Kentucky senate seat is up next time, and since the only thing that matters to him is political power, the first thing he has to do to keep the little power he has is to make sure teapartiers don’t challenge him in a Republican primary. Thus, he has to grovel before them like the low-life reprobate he is.

In any case, the President is supposed to deliver a “fiscal cliff” speech today to address the confluence of budget dilemmas that face the country at the end of this year.

I obviously don’t know what he will say publicly, but here is what he should say privately to Mitch McConnell:

I won. Despite your best efforts to screw me and the country over, I won. And Democrats won. There are now more of us in the Senate. Sorry about that. I know you were counting on being Majority Leader. Ain’t gonna happen. Live with it. In fact, you may have a tough time getting elected next time against that Democratic fox Ashley Judd.

In any case, here’s the deal: Your party does still control the House. I’ll give you that. But that doesn’t entitle you to get your way. You see, I campaigned on raising taxes on those who are prospering. I told folks that’s what I wanted to do. And I’m gonna do it. And you can threaten me with that fiscal cliff bullshit all you want. I ain’t having it. If you want to go there, if you want to risk all those Pentagon cuts, hell, if you want to shut down the whole damned government, all in service to your rich friends and to those Tea Party creeps, so be it.

But I’ll tell you this: I will visit every bleeping town in Kentucky, from Bowling Green to Butcher Holler, from Louisville to Lick Creek, and tell them what you are doing. I’ll tell them that you are willing to wreck the country just to give Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers tax breaks. I’ll tell them you would rather see taxes go up on middle class folks in Kentucky than give one inch in your quest to let rich Republicans keep a few more dollars.

And I’ll tell them just how slimy you are, just what you have tried to do. 

You won’t get your way this time. I’ve got nothing to lose politically. Can’t you see that? Those tax rates on the rich, the ones that existed when Bill Clinton was president and the country was prosperous, they are going to go back up, Senator. And if you want to stand in the way of that necessary first step in getting our fiscal house in order, then I’m going to run right over you.

See ya when negotiations start.

Bubba’s Revenge

He looked great. He sounded great. And with a smile on his face he stuck a dagger in the heart of that monster we know as Tea Party Republicanism.

Bill Clinton’s speech was extraordinary and had to be seen to be fully appreciated. As Steve Schmidt, who essentially ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, said:

I wish to God, as a Republican, we had someone on our side who had the ability to do that. We don’t. It would be great if we did. Just an amazing performance.

Anyone who lived through the wounded Clinton presidency—some of those wounds self-inflicted—who watched Republicans try to destroy him through slander and impeachment, had to marvel at this early part of Wednesday night’s speech:

Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats.

If there ever was a Democratic president who was hated with the same ridiculous hatred that characterizes Republican opposition to President Obama, it was Bill Clinton. I mean, Republicans seriously suggested that Clinton had someone murdered for God’s sake, and a fundamentalist creep and popular Republican preacher named Jerry Falwell heavily promoted a film alleging other murderous crimes.

Yet in that one remarkable sentence—”I actually never learned to hate them“— Clinton managed to put himself up above all their hate and by extension lifted Mr. Obama above it too.

Early in the speech, Clinton cited his history of cooperating with Republicans, like Reagan and both Bushes, to get things done, and then he pulled out his Clintonian dagger and began stabbing at the cause of our political ills:

Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict?

Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.

And every one of us — every one of us and every one of them—we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time and hoping we’re right more than twice a day.

Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness. Just in the last couple of elections, they defeated two distinguished Republican senators because they dared to cooperate with Democrats on issues important to the future of the country, even national security.

They beat a Republican congressman with almost a hundred percent voting record on every conservative score, because he said he realized he did not have to hate the president to disagree with him. Boy, that was a nonstarter, and they threw him out.

And after that dagger hit its Tea Party target, he wiggled it around with this appeal to independent voters:

One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation.

Still committed.” After all the hate thrown his way, Mr. Obama is still willing to work with Republicans who are willing to work with him. Clinton said that President Obama “tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and new jobs,” but “that didn’t work out so well.” Why? The other side’s “number one priority was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work.”

David Corn remarked that no one can “merge passion and policy” like the “master” Bill Clinton. In a mere 48 minutes he managed to tell Americans, in plain language and with great detail, why Barack Obama’s first term was remarkably productive, why folks should give him another one, and, knife in hand, why Republicans are offering nothing new:

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was actually pretty simple — pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.

He continued:

…they want to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place. They want to cut taxes for high- income Americans, even more than President Bush did. They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts. They want to actually increase defense spending over a decade $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend it on. And they want to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor children.

And later he twisted the knife even more:

We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down.

He attacked Republicans for their poor “arithmetic“; their past and future deficits; their additional “$5 trillion in tax cuts heavily weighted to upper-income people“; their lack of budget specificity; their lies about Medicare cuts and welfare to work waivers; their desire to repeal “ObamaCare”; their voter suppression efforts; and, most important because it is most neglected, he attacked them for their proposed Medicaid cuts:

Now, folks, this is serious, because it gets worse. (Laughter.) And you won’t be laughing when I finish telling you this. They also want to block-grant Medicaid, and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years.

Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors — (applause) — who are eligible for Medicaid.

(Cheers, applause.) It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including — (cheers, applause) — a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. (Applause.) And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.

How often have you heard the Romney-Ryan Medicaid cuts even discussed, let alone discussed in such personal terms?

Clinton raved about Obama’s “recovery program,” which “saved or created millions of jobs” and “cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.” He noted the 29 months of job creation and the 4 1/2 million private sector jobs produced and couldn’t help twisting the dagger again:

We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs.

He touted the “500,000 manufacturing jobs” created since the recovery began and praised the “auto industry restructuring” which “saved more than a million jobs.” And he added:

There are now 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than on the day the companies were restructured.

And another knife twist:

…we all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. (Boos.) So here’s another job score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and across the country? (Cheers.) Here, here’s another job score: Obama, 250,000; Romney, zero.

Clinton also praised Obama for something I haven’t often heard Obama take credit for himself:

Now, the agreement the administration made with the management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage, that was a good deal too. It will cut your gas prices in half, your gas bill. No matter what the price is, if you double the mileage of your car, your bill will be half what it would have been. It will make us more energy independent. It will cut greenhouse gas emissions. And according to several analyses, over the next 20 years, it’ll bring us another half a million good new jobs into the American economy.

He extolled the President’s energy policies. He lauded his education policies—particularly the student loan overhaul, which “means no one will ever have to drop out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt,” and,

it means that if someone wants to take a job with a modest income, a teacher, a police officer, if they want to be a small-town doctor in a little rural area, they won’t have to turn those jobs down because they don’t pay enough to repay they debt. Their debt obligation will be determined by their salary. This will change the future for young America.

Wow. Why haven’t we heard much about that before now?

Clinton took on Republicans on health care reform, defending ObamaCare robustly. He talked about the billion-dollar-plus in refunds to individuals and businesses because insurance companies didn’t spend enough on health care after taking our premiums. He talked about how the law is pressuring insurance companies to “lower their rates” to comply with the law’s health care spending requirement.

He talked about the “3 million young people between 19 and 25” getting insurance on their parents’ policies and the “millions of seniors” receiving preventive care and “millions of new customers” for insurance companies, many of those customers “middle-class people with pre-existing conditions who never could get insurance before.”

He also mentioned something I didn’t know:

Now, finally, listen to this. For the last two years — after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.

Why haven’t I heard that?

With the audience fully and energetically his, Clinton ended with a plea to vote and re-elect President Obama, which began this way:

Look, I love our country so much. And I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back. (Cheers.) People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden false teeth. (Laughter.) And so far, every single person that’s bet against America has lost money because we always come back. (Cheers, applause.) We come through every fire a little stronger and a little better.

And we do it because in the end we decide to champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor — the cause of forming a more perfect union.

Ah. That is the Democratic Party’s raison d’etre, its reason for being. I have never heard a contemporary Republican emphasize “the cause of forming a more perfect union.” Rather than working on a better national union these days, they are trying like hell to disturb what unity we have.

Finally, I want to end with something Bill Clinton said early on in his speech that illustrates, I think, the morality and practicality of continuing to find ways to perfect our union:

It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty, and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.

It will be the realization of this Democratic vision, a vision of equality and empowerment, of combating discrimination, poverty, and ignorance, that will not only bring new wealth to all, but it will bring us closer together as a people, that elusive cause the Founders championed.

(Getty Images)

A Black Chunk Of Republican Economics

On Wednesday the Pew Research Center released a report titled, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.” I want to highlight just one part of the report:

For the half century following World War II, American families enjoyed rising prosperity in every decade—a streak that ended in the decade from 2000 to 2010, when inflation-adjusted family income fell for the middle income as well as for all other income groups, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to connect what happened in the last decade to the policies of the political party in charge when things went south. Here’s a better graph that shows the damage:

That last little black chunk of negative growth is the George W. Bush-Republican Party legacy, the result of a brand of economics that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are at this moment weirdly championing as the solution to our slow recovery from the ravages of that black chunk of negative growth. Go figure that one out.

Here, in case your eyesight isn’t what it used to be:

Say what you want about Bill Clinton (and I have said plenty of negative stuff myself), if you look back at the decade he dominated, a decade in which taxes were raised to pay for the government people wanted, a decade that saw the budget come into balance, and a decade that saw millions upon millions of new jobs created, you have to admit that the following commercial with its simple message is something folks ought to pay attention to:

America, The Owned

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

—Jesus 

t’s time to face some uncomfortable facts about America, as yet more banking malfeasance makes the news:

WASHINGTON — Shareholders of JPMorgan Chase filed two lawsuits Wednesday against the biggest U.S. bank, accusing it and its leaders of taking excessive risk and causing the recently disclosed $2 billion trading loss.

The provision in the Banking Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall) that prohibited commercial banks from gambling investing gambling using depositors’ money (and vice versa) had been gradually weakened over time, apparently starting in the 1970s, through permissive interpretations of the law by federal banking regulators and the courts.

As the Congressional Research Service put it:

Facing lower profits and stiffer competition from securities firms, banks began seeking approval from regulators to engage in a greater universe of securities activities.

Facing lower profits,” you see, can justify nearly anything in an increasingly corporatized America. And if there is enough campaign money spread around (this, before Citizens United), well, things can get fixed and profits can rise again like Jesus on Easter!

Seeking to stick a fork into and finish off Glass-Steagall, in 1999 a Republican-controlled Congress (you know, the same one that impeached and tried Bill Clinton), with a shameful assist from, uh, Bill Clinton (and too many Democrats to contemplate), passed the Financial Services Modernization Act, which finally allowed commercial and investment banks and securities and insurance companies to stop slyly shacking up with each other and unite in unholy but legal matrimony.

Now, to be fair to Clinton and his conservative-minded pals, they argue that their legislative efforts to finally kill Glass-Steagall actually “softened” the Great Recession. Gulp.

Clinton actually stated:

I have really thought about this a lot. I don’t see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis…On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I’d be glad to look at the evidence. But I can’t blame [the Republicans]. This wasn’t something they forced me into. I really believed that given the level of oversight of banks and their ability to have more patient capital, if you made it possible for [commercial banks] to go into the investment banking business as Continental European investment banks could always do, that it might give us a more stable source of long-term investment.

It’s nice to know that Mr. Clinton hasn’t lost his unparalleled ability to rationalize.

Fortunately, around at the time of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan. Unfortunately, not many listened to him.

Dorgan was one of only seven—seven!—Democrats in the Senate who voted against finishing off Glass-Steagall (Missouri’s two senators at the time, Messrs. Ashcroft and Bond were Ya-Ya sisters). He warned us in 1999:

I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930′s is true in 2010…We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.

Fortunately, once again Dorgan the Prophet is here to present a way to fix things. Unfortunately, once again not enough people are listening to him. But you can for half a minute:

Get that? Restore Glass-Steagall, prohibit naked credit default swaps, and break up too-big-to-fail companies. By the way, here is the way the Financial Times described naked default swaps:

A naked CDS purchase means that you take out insurance on bonds without actually owning them. It is a purely speculative gamble. There is not one social or economic benefit. Even hardened speculators agree on this point. Especially because naked CDSs constitute a large part of all CDS transactions, the case for banning them is about as a strong as that for banning bank robberies.

Pretty simple, no? So why won’t any of it happen? Oh, that’s pretty simple, too. Senator Bernie Sanders blurted it out Wednesday night in a beatified bit of truth-telling:

Let me tell you what many others might not tell you. Some people think, well, gee, the Congress regulates Wall Street. I think the truth is that Wall Street regulates the Congress.

Yikes. He restated the truth a little bit later:

Let me just say again what many people will not be happy to hear. Wall Street is extraordinarily powerful. Congress doesn’t regulate them, the big banks regulate what Congress does.

Another Senator, Dick Durbin, said three years ago:

…hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

Well, at least we still get free checking! What? Oh my God.

________________________

Here is the entire 7-minute segment from The Ed Show, featuring Sanders:

Don’t Let ‘em Forget

As I have argued since the beginning of this blog, the cut-taxes-and-grow nonsense told by conservatives armed with laissez-faire logic has no support in the laboratory that has been our national experience since the end of WWII.

The most recent evidence, of course, happened during the Bush II years, when marginal tax rates were irresponsibly cut and job growth turned out to be nonexistent, a sad fact we should all be acquainted with now, since unemployment remains stubbornly high. 

Beginning early in 2008 and up until Bush left office in January of 2009, the economy lost 4.5 million jobs.  In the months following the inauguration of Mr. Obama, jobs continued to hemorrhage—credit them also to the Great Bush Recession—and the total job loss climbed to around 9 million.  Here’s the famous graph again that chronicles the damage: 

Bush and Republicans cut the rates that had been raised as a result of the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act under Bill Clinton and the Democrats, possibly the last piece of responsible tax legislation that will ever pass in my lifetime.  Those “high” and “punishing” rates on “job creators“—which Republicans at the time predicted would stifle economic growth—managed to coexist with an economy that created somewhere around 22 million jobs.

That is just recent history.  The Center for American Progress (Rich People’s Taxes Have Little to Do with Job Creation“) put together a more comprehensive look at the relationship between the highest marginal tax rate and unemployment:

 

There are lots of factors that contribute to a thriving economy and certainly one of them is the tax system.  But given the history of the issue, conservatives should be called out every time they use their “we can’t raise taxes on the job creators” mantra. 

Enough is enough.

The Safety Net: A Sign Of Strength, Not Weakness

“Randy,” a frequent commenter on this blog, wrote the following in response to my post, “President Obama, Are you Listening?,” in which I claimed that the Democratic Party “is historically associated with protecting the blind, the elderly, and the poor“:

Well Duane, it all depends on how you define “protecting.” If you consider creating dependency “protecting” or “helping” – then yes, one party certainly has an historic record of enlarging the dependency roles. However if your idea of protecting or helping someone is to give them the tools they need (education) and an opportunity, and freedom… and provide them with a path to self sustainment and self pride – then that would lead you to a different party. I realize I am simplifying this that that both sides of this debate have pro’s and con’s. But once again, your analysis is one sided and disingenuous. Once again, you are part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Don’t be what you don’t like about the some of the Republican politicians (and if you were honest some of the Democrats too). Be the light. Be different. Be honest. You have a platform, you have a voice, use it wisely.

Since Randy has been a thoughtful commenter, and a good debater, I have chosen to use his comment—which contains a fairly common complaint—to make a larger point:

Randy,

My analysis is “one sided and disingenuous“?

There is no good argument—no good argument—against the claim that the modern Democratic Party has historically been vitally linked with the disabled, the poor and the elderly, in terms of providing them a safety net.  No good argument, Randy.  In that sense, I suppose my analysis is “one-sided.”  

And as for disingenuous, I’ll leave that for the readers to decide at the end.

You brought up “dependency.”  We can argue all day whether that social safety net has made folks dependent, which is the line I used to use when I was a conservative Republican.  But how do we measure such dependence?  Is it the amount of help received? The duration? A combination? Are the 30% of welfare recipients who work also dependent?  Are the people who have been forced on welfare due to the Great Recession dependents?

And why is dependence a dirty word?  Sometimes you and I both are dependent on others for help for lots of things. So what?  Is it a moral failing to need help?  To ask for it? To take it?

The welfare overhaul in the 1990s put an end to the dependence “hammock” (to use Rush Limbaugh’s phrase) that Republicans claimed the welfare system had become.  With time limits on benefits and “welfare to work” requirements, the cases of dependency in the long-term sense you apparently mean it have all but disappeared.  So, there is little in the way of evidence to support your suggestion that dependency is a problem.

And even if it were a problem, do you really think the relatively stingy benefits that some people on welfare get are the cause of such dependence? From The Wall Street Journal we learn that “a family of three earning more than $636 a month is ineligible” for welfare, in New Jersey of all places.  Imagine: If a family of three in New Jersey earns—earns!—about 160 bucks a week, they are ineligible for benefits.  How long could you or I live on that?

 And from that same article we find:

The average monthly welfare benefit in 2006, which reflects the most current data collected by the government, was $372.

Is that what is wrong with such people? They are selling their souls for $372 a month?

And even if—if!—that were the problem, what’s the alternative for such unmotivated folks?  Is it, as you say, education, opportunity, and freedom?  Huh?  Do you really think people who would rather get $372 a month for free than work for a lot more would avail themselves of the proper education that would “provide them with a path to self sustainment and self pride“?

It would be more likely that such people—to the extent they exist—would, if they had zero benefits, undertake  a life of crime, wouldn’t it?  Therefore, wouldn’t it be cheaper to give such undeserving folks a few food stamps each month than put them in prison for stealing bread—or cars?  Randy, it comes down to this: What kind of society do you want to live in?  One with a large prison in every community or one with a welfare office that might occasionally give help to folks who don’t need it or don’t deserve it?

And by dependency do you mean to include, say, some 70-year-old folks who no longer can do productive work and can’t get health insurance?  Are they part of the “dependency” problem?  Many are essentially dependent on Social Security and Medicare—two Democratic Party-inspired programs—to stay alive and well.  Is that what you mean by dependency?  If it is, I say thank God—and the Democratic Party—that there is something to be dependent on, something one can count on to avoid an ignominious and painful death.

You see, Randy, it really isn’t as simple as you suggest.  There are lots of dependent folks, dependent on each other, the government, their churches, and so on.  It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of cultural strength that there are places to go for help, whether short-term or long-term. 

And the only question is whether the American people, at least in the case of government, are willing to pay for such strength.

Republican Math, You Know

I know much has been made about Bill Clinton’s “I hope Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” backstage comment to Paul Ryan, about the dazzling win by a pro-Medicare Democrat in blood-red NY-26.

But let’s look at Ryan’s comment to Clinton:

My guess is it’s gonna sink into paralysis, is what’s gonna happen. And you know the math. I mean, It’s just — we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving.

Despite Ryan’s sounding like a wounded pup looking for some comfort from his master, I will give him and the Republicans credit for putting themselves “out there.” They are out there, that’s for sure. But I’m more interested in this part of Ryan’s comment:

You know the math.

Ah. The math. As columnist Gene Lyons has said, Republicans have been waging a war on arithmetic for years. Now, it turns out that Ryan knows “the math.” And he knows others “know the math.” Which doesn’t explain why, if the math is so crystal clear, why his budget plan—now the plan of the entire Republican Party—fails so miserably in its arithmetic.

Let’s forget for the moment the eventual and drastic reductions in Medicaid; let’s forget for a moment the destruction of the Medicare system, replacing it with something worth much less; let’s forget about the cuts in domestic programs like food stamps—which money goes directly in the coffers of local retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and other grocers—and instead, let’s just focus for a minute on the Republican vision for taxes—which any realistic budget mathematician has to consider—and see what we find.

We find tax cuts.

That’s right. The man and the party so concerned about “the math” propose to cut taxes even more, cutting the top individual rate from the current 35% down to 25%, which represents the lowest rate since 1931. You remember 1931, right? That was before Social Security. Before Medicare. Before Medicaid. Before Democrats stepped in to rescue America from that era’s Republican Tea Party dominance.

With a federal budget already starving from insufficient revenues, a budget that is as much a victim of Republican arithmetic as an aging population, we have Republicans in Congress—both chambers, now—proposing to cut taxes even more, suggesting, as they always do, that doing so will result in—voilà!—a thriving, prosperous, job-creating economy. You know, like the one George W. Bush left us!

Paul Ryan said to Bill Clinton, “You know the math.” Yes, we know the math, the Republican math.

And a lot of us know it doesn’t add up, not now, not ten years ago, or twenty years into the future.

Joplin Globe Opinion Page: Fantasia

fan·ta·sia 1. A free composition structured according to the composer’s fantasy.—2. A medley of familiar themes, with variations and interludes. [The Free Dictionary]

 

For their daily dose of misinformation and silliness, conservatives have Fox “News” and talk radio, and local conservatives have those sources plus a bonus source: the editorial page of the Joplin Globe.

Today’s dose of deception comes from frequent letter-writer and former professor in the computer information science department (!) at Missouri Southern State University, John Cragin.* Here is part of what the learned professor wrote:

The pitiful cries of extreme stalwarts in the most socialistic administration in our mutual history is a case of the pot calling the tea kettle black.  On is hard-pressed to view as not extreme the deliberate case of a highly partisan president who wept about inheriting a $3 trillion debt from President George W. Bush, going back as far as Herbert Hoover.

Having wept about his inherited debt, he proceeded to run the national debt from $3 trillion up to $14 trillion in less than two years.

Did I mention that this man was once a professor at our local university? 

Let’s get straight what Cragin is saying: In less than two years, Barack Obama has added $11 trillion dollars to the national debt!  Get that?  That kind of dishonesty makes the Rush Limbaugh Show sound like NPR.

Nevertheless, that’s the kind of stuff that regularly appears in my local paper, mostly coming from letter-writers who apparently have untethered themselves from reality, seeking the comfort of interpreting their own sets of facts.

In any case, here are the reality-based particulars:

When George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, he inherited Clinton-era budget surpluses.  Along with those surpluses, he inherited a cumulative national debt of almost $6 trillion.  When he left office, the national debt was around $10 trillion.  That’s ten trillion. Mr. Cragin’s three trillion wasn’t even close by conservatives’ standards.

But that’s not the whole story.  During the first two months of Obama’s presidency, more than $400 billion was added to the debt due to the federal bailout of the finance industry, and almost a trillion was added to the debt in order to counter the effects of Bush’s Great Recession by stimulating the economy.  So, it’s wildly unfair to blame Obama for all the spending needed to avoid an economic depression that was looming largely due to years of Republican misgovernance.

Finally, we should all take note of this: According to an article on Wikipedia titled, National debt by U.S. presidential terms, when Bill Clinton left office, he had trimmed the federal debt as a percentage of GDP from 66.1% to 56.4%.  George Bush took that 56.4% debt ratio and increased it to 83.4% of GDP.  And that doesn’t count all the spending that was necessary to pull the economy out of the sinkhole that his administration left it in.

So, now we have people like John Cragin, who apparently slept through the profligate and socialist Bush years (remember Bush’s expansion of Medicare, Mr. Cragin?), creating his own facts and labeling Obama a socialist and crying for fiscal responsibility, as if Democrats invented the national debt.

Here is a chart from the Wikipedia article which shows the various presidencies since WWII and the percentage of debt to GDP.  Notice that all the red numbers are under Republican presidents:

___________________

*I’d supply a link to Cragin’s letter, but mercifully someone neglected to post it on the Joplin Globe website.

Libya: It’s Harder Than You Think

It appears that Qaddafi is well on his way to repelling the rebel assault in Libya.

This morning on Morning Joe I heard lefty Nicholas Kristof say the following about the Obama Administration’s position:

Question: What is now holding back the United States from acting in a forceful way, in a way that shows leadership, maybe even out front, but with the support of others?

Kristof: Part of the problem is that we have stalled too long.  I mean a no-fly zone would have been, I think, quite effective three weeks ago, I think, probably would have been very effective. At this point, when… Qaddafi has been able to move all of his artillery right next to Benghazi, there’ much less that we an actually do.  And so now the administration is talking about going way beyond and actually attacking tanks and having a “no-move” zone in eastern Libya, which actually makes me kind of nervous.

Question: Was there an opportunity missed here? What happened?

Kristof: Absolutely. Absolutely.  They were so nervous about a no-fly zone that they missed that opportunity. There was a real window here, when we could have moved in with, I think, minimal costs and peeled off the Libyan military from Qaddafi, but that window at this point has pretty much closed.

A bona fide lefty who thinks Obama should have acted sooner and that the “costs” would have been “minimal.”  Hmm. I’m not sure why he thinks that.

Now, let’s turn to the Right.   National Review was initially opposed to direct intervention in Libya, and wrote of the so-called no-fly zone strategy:

If we are serious about limiting his ability to massacre his countrymen, the no-fly zone would have to become a no machine-gun zone, too — in other words an honest-to-goodness military intervention to affect events directly on the ground. Deploying our air power while Qaddafi continued to kill with impunity would make us look more ineffectual rather than less. For now (perhaps this will change if Qaddafi begins to consolidate his position on the strength of his air force), the no-fly zone seems a classic case of looking for lost keys under the streetlight; it’s the handiest way for us to intervene, not the most effective.

That was written on February 28.  Yesterday, the same editors wrote this:

Qaddafi is a murderer of Americans with whom we still have a score to settle. If he survives after we and our allies sought his ouster (even if ineffectually), he will be even more unpredictable; he would be foolish not to restart his WMD programs as insurance against foreign intervention against his regime in the future.

Uh-oh. The Right talking about WMDs again? I suppose you know what is coming next:

All this means that we should want the rebellion against Qaddafi to survive. We initially opposed a no-fly zone, but circumstances have changed. We should establish both a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone in the approach to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to prevent Qaddafi’s armored vehicles from entering the city.

Make no mistake about this: That “no-drive zone” means war. And just how long would it be before that strategy would mean American troops on the ground in Libya?  Well, National Review’s conservative editors think of everything, don’t they? Try this:

We are not talking of a military operation comparable to taking and occupying Baghdad in 2003. If we check Qaddafi’s offensive, then we can consider other options. Perhaps we will only want to do what’s necessary to maintain the rebels’ enclave so they can fight another day; perhaps we will want to undertake decapitation strikes against the regime in Tripoli; perhaps we’ll want to use the threat of such strikes to try to bargain Qaddafi out of the country.

Or perhaps we will get ourselves involved in a mess that we can’t get out of. 

Even if we stopped Qaddafi’s advance into eastern Libya, namely Benghazi, then what?  Help the rebels overthrow him? We know next to nothing about the motives of the rebels. We don’t know they would be better or worse than Qaddafi himself.  We don’t know that if they were to overthrow him that they would establish a Madisonian democracy or call up Glenn Beck for instructions on how to establish a caliphate.

Besides all that, there is evidence that tribal loyalties were much misunderstood in the West and that the rebel strength was vastly overrated.  This point is made very well in an article by Vivienne Walt at Time, who quoted Mustafa Fetouri, of the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli, as saying,

The West’s interpretation was very, very stupid. They just gambled on the wrong thing, and made a huge, stupid mistake.

The Time article continued:

One crucial error by Western leaders, says Fetouri, has been to downplay Libya’s complex web of tribal loyalties, which has helped to keep Gaddafi in power for more than four decades — an impressive achievement, given several assassination attempts and years of Libya being an international pariah under stiff economic sanctions. Some tribal alliances date back decades to the bloody rebellions against the Italian colonial forces before World War II, and even some tribal leaders who hold grudges against Gaddafi, for having failed to deliver services or cutting them out of certain privileges, rushed to his defense once the antigovernment demonstrations in Benghazi became an armed rebellion. For those people, says Fetouri, “they will die for Gaddafi, because he belongs to their tribe.”

And because the rebels adopted the same flag used by the much-despised monarch that Qaddafi overthrew in his 1969 coup, it became much easier for him to enlist volunteers, as Time put it, “to fight to hold Libya together.”

It turns out, as G. K. Chesterton told us long ago, that it matters what flag one flies.  Time:

That flag, says Fetouri, “represents the misery my country lived through as puppets of the West.” He cites one of his relatives — no fan of Gaddafi — who traveled 400 miles (640 km) to join the government forces against the rebels; he had driven from the Bani Walid area, the heartland of the Warfalli tribe southeast of Tripoli, which has long been the bedrock of Gaddafi’s support. Fetouri, who says he himself had been tempted to join the antigovernment protests before they morphed into an armed rebellion, asked his relative why he was “fighting for Gaddafi.” He said the man told him “it was about Libya the country, not Gaddafi.”

Thus, we are likely watching Qaddafi retake the territory he has lost, unless the West does something. 

I confess, I’m torn here.  Like a majority of the American people, part of me thinks we should not get involved. Mind our own business.  We’ve invaded two countries over there, enough is enough.

But part of me also believes that if we could help the rebels without a long-term commitment, we should.  We should be on the side of so-called freedom fighters, particularly since the Arab world is asking us to. What that involves militarily, I don’t know.  But I do know it should not involve putting one American on the ground to possibly die in someone else’s civil war.  Not now, not this war.

Some good folks are urging President Obama to act now.  They seem to know better than he does what is involved both in terms of his personal legacy as president and in terms of America’s larger legacy.  The New Republic writes that Bill Clinton “waited tragically too long” to intervene in Bosnia in the mid-1990s:

When Slobodan Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies launched their war of “ethnic cleansing,” while “the West”—which is always to say, first and foremost, the United States—wrung its hands, many tens of thousands of innocent people were murdered and raped before President Bill Clinton finally found the resolve to mix air power and diplomacy to bring the genocidal violence to a halt.

Therefore:

Qaddafi is the kind of neighborhood bully that Slobodan  Milosevic was. And he must be met by the same kind of principled power. For America to do less than that now—less than the minimum that the Libyan rebels and the Arab neighbors are requesting—would be to shrink into global vacillation and ultimately irrelevance. If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?

It’s a lot easier to write that kind of stuff than it is to have to actually make a real decision, no doubt.  As for me, I can live with whatever limited intervention the President decides to undertake, or I can live with his decision not to intervene. But I won’t measure his presidency by this decision one way or the other.  It’s just not that simple.

And I don’t think that America’s global reputation hangs in the balance over what to do about Libya.  It’s not that simple, either.

What is simple to understand, though, is that being president these days is an especially tough job.  And I remain confident that the right man for these times is holding that job.

Mitch McConnell: No New Taxes, Take It Or Leave It

It’s clear from the election last year, we will not be raising taxes,” Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell said this morning on Morning Joe. He was responding to a question about the budget.

That unequivocal statement is why, my friends, the battle will go on.  Until the GOP leadership moves off that position, nothing of substance will happen.  I hope.  Democrats, especially President Obama, haven’t exactly shown themselves to be competent negotiators.

McConnell also said, when asked why the Republican Party doesn’t take the lead with regard to entitlement reform, that it was because “I’m not the President.”  He said he has told President Obama both publicly and privately that divided government is the time to get something done and, “We’re ready to go.”

Ready to go? Hardly. Oh, they’re ready to go on spending cuts. If Democrats let them, radical Tea Party Republicans will suck the marrow out of the budget. But responsibly raising taxes to pay for the government people say they want? Not a chance, McConnell said.  That’s some compromise offer.  If Democrats agree in any way to this bargain, they deserve permanent exile.

McConnell used the example of the Reagan-O’Neill compromises in the 1980s and, most egregiously, the Clinton and congressional Republican compromises in the 1990s that led to budget surpluses as examples of how things can get done during times of divided government.

Except, naturally, McConnell ignored one teeny, tiny, tittle of a fact.  What he doesn’t mention, and Democrats shouldn’t let him ignore, is that in 1993, Clinton and the Democrats raised taxes responsibly to pay for government. Imagine that. Asking the American people to pay for the government they have voted for over the years. How novel that sounds today.

That law, known widely as the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, received exactly ZERO Republican votes. ZERO. And what followed that responsible legislation was years of prosperity and job growth.

The GOP confirmed its fiscal irresponsibility via the infamous cuts in 2001 and 2003 that essentially repealed the 1993 law and set us back on the road to massive deficit spending.  And if Democrats let the Tea Party have its way, the home-bound chickens from that malgovernance will roost in a much smaller and less effective government hen house.

As I said, if Democrats yield to the my-way-or-no-way Republicans, led by anti-government teapartiers, then the Democratic Party deserves the dissolution it most surely will suffer.

Carnahan Triangulates On Bush Tax Cuts

Now that it’s been confirmed that Robin Carnahan, the Democratic candidate to replace Kit Bond in the U.S. Senate, supports extending the Bush tax cuts—including those for the wealthiest Americans—I suppose the onus is on those of us who call ourselves liberals or progressives to determine just how hard we will fight to elect Ms. Carnahan.

Beyond question, she would be far superior to Roy Blunt, who just this morning had to pull down an offensive web video that attempted to exploit Carnahan’s support for New Yorker’s right to choose on the issue of the quasi-mosque near Ground Zero.  Blunt, the ultimate insider who is trying to sell himself as some kind of reformer, would always vote in lockstep with obstructionist Republicans, so there is no doubt that those of us on my side of the political divide have little choice but to continue supporting Carnahan.

Which, of course, is why she thinks she can afford to piss off those of us who are her natural allies. Dick Morris, the repulsive conservative advisor to Bill Clinton, used to call this stuff “triangulation.”  And I suppose there is a certain logic to it here in the politically schizophrenic land of Missouri.

But there is something unseemly about supporting a continuation of tax cuts for wealthy Americans who will not contribute much of it to the economy—since they don’t need it to live on—and at the same time asking working folks for their votes.

As I said, no doubt I and other liberals will vote for Ms. Carnahan in November.  But much of the enthusiasm for her campaign—supplied in large part by people like me—is waning.  Already, the damage is apparent.  On DailyKos today, posted by TomP:

I’ve been pushing Robin Carnahan as a fighting Democrat, but she just lost my support and contributions.  I’ll vote for her in Missouri as better than Blunt, but my pocketbook is closed.  There is a real progressive across the river and I’ll donate to him instead.

It’s sad and sobering that from Scott Eckersley to Robin Carnahan, local liberals have to go to the polls holding their collective noses, just to keep right-wing extremists from really waging a Waterloo-like war against President Obama and his agenda to restore the strength of middle class America.

Here is the web ad posted, and then removed, by the Blunt campaign:

Republicans Will Bring Gas To The Fire

I know some folks don’t want to hear it, and I know November 2012 is a long way away, but since the debt and deficit issues loom large in our politics these days, let’s look back, once again, on Republican presidential leadership vis-à-vis the national debt. 

Republicans blame Obama for out-of-control spending and for exponentially increasing our debt, so let’s review what they did when they held the White House over the past 30 years.

I created the chart below from treasurydirect.gov.  I began with the first fiscal year following the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and ended with the last fiscal year following the exit of George Bush II, for the simple reason that presidents can’t be held responsible for their predecessor’s budgets and should be held accountable for the last budget they signed, which remained in effect after they left office.

It shows very clearly that the sainted Ronald Reagan—hero of the deficit hawks on the right—nearly tripled the national debt.  Tripled. Three times. 3X.  Okay?*  To put that number in perspective, it would be like Obama increasing the debt from the roughly 10 trillion he inherited to a staggering 26 trillion (260%), should he get elected to a second term.

The chart also shows that after 12 years of Reagan/Bush, the country’s national debt increased by about 400%, which makes the doubling of the debt under George Bush II seem modest in comparison.

Of course, I realize that any president represents only one branch of the federal government and that responsibility for our debt problems also resides in Congress.  But as the chart shows, the years between Reagan/Bush and Bush II—when Democrat Bill Clinton, the scourge of the right, was president—saw only a slight (in recent historical terms) increase in our indebtedness.  So, just judging by the record, a Democratic president performed better than any of the last three Republican presidents—by far.

What difference does any of this make, you ask?  The problems with the debt must be solved no matter who is to blame, right?

Yes, they do.  But when we’re looking around for someone to help put out a fire, should we ask the guy holding the five-gallon can of gas?

Here’s the chart:

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* I’ve previously addressed the false objection that Reagan was a victim of a Democratic Congress.

 

Lyons: “Paranoia Blooms Whenever Democrats Take Power”

Gene Lyons, one of the few highlights on the Joplin Globe‘s editorial pages these days, expressed an opinion about our fellow citizens that many are afraid to utter:

…much of the electorate is so poorly informed that it’s a wonder our political system works as well as it does, which many think is hardly at all.

Recently, CNN released a poll showing that 86 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is “broken.” I admit my first reaction was to wonder subversively, “How would they know?” A contemporaneous Pew survey of the public’s “political news IQ” showed that on one of the most heavily reported issues of 2009­-10, only 32 percent knew that the Senate health-care bill passed without a single Republican vote; 26 percent understood that a supermajority of 60 votes is required to break a GOP filibuster. In short, they haven’t got a clue.

Referencing New York Times reporter David Barstow’s article on Tea Party people, in which the reporter interviews disgruntled citizens who make up the anti-government movement, Lyons reminds us that,

Paranoia blooms whenever Democrats take power in Washington. Remember militiamen fearful of U.N. black helicopters during Bill Clinton’s first term?

Yes, I do.  But I think the kind of paranoia that has blossomed under Obama has additional shadings, shall we say, than the Ruby Ridge- and Waco-inspired militia nonsense back then.  Beyond the black helicopter crowd, Clinton was seen as a cunning womanizer and political opportunist, even as a murder-ordering political opportunist, but wasn’t, as far as I remember, seriously charged with wanting to destroy the country, as part of an exotic plot to colonize America for Communism.

Beyond the goofy claims that Obama is a socialist—which don’t just come from marginalized extremists in the GOP, but from what passes for mainstream Republicans these days—Obama has been accused of hating America and wanting it to fail so he can implement his real agenda: a complete overhaul of our political and economic system along Marxist contours. 

I don’t think Bill Clinton was earnestly characterized as an active Communist sympathizer, even when Republicans took a break from fixating on his sex life.  But even if he was, it certainly wasn’t done by serious politicians in the GOP.

And nobody referred to Bill Clinton in mockingly Messianic terms, the way Hannity and Limbaugh refer to Obama—without objection from conservative Christians, by the way.

So, Lyons is right to remark that during times of Democratic ascendancy, the paranoid right-wing manufactures conspiracies about Democratic plans faster than Fox “News” can report them.  But this time, under America’s first African-American president, who has a strange name and a culturally diverse background, things are a little different, if not a lot worse.

The Truth Behind The Phony Outrage

From Michael Steele to Liz Cheney to Senators Jon Kyl and John Cornyn to nearly every conservative pundit, the right wing is making much of Harry Reid’s racially-tinged comments about Obama found in Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann:

He (Reid) was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he later put it privately.

Steele laughingly said Reid should resign; Kyl, too, invoking the Trent Lott controversy over sympathetic remarks Lott made about a real racist, Strom Thurmond, said Reid should step down.  Cheney predictably said liberals were protecting one of their own and ignoring his “racist” remarks.  In a fight with none other than George Will yesterday, she said,

The comments were outrageous … I don’t think it’s okay if you say it in private or public. The excuse by liberals is inexcusable.

First, notwithstanding phony outrage from conservative Obama-haters, Reid’s comments were not “racist” in the same way that Bill Clinton’s alleged remarks about Obama—found in the same book—were.   As quoted,  Clinton supposedly said to Ted Kennedy in 2008, while the former president was seeking Kennedy’s endorsement of his wife,

A few years ago this guy would have been getting us coffee.

Now, those are racist remarks, pure and simple, and if Clinton made them (which, of course, will probably never be confirmed) then he deserves condemnation from all sides, including liberals.

But Reid’s comments were in a different class, albeit they do demonstrate a certain “polite” or “genteel” kind of racism we might call racism-lite.  

However, no matter what one thinks about Reid’s remarks, what he said says more about us as a culture than it says about Harry Reid, who is prone to making dumb statements. The truth about America is that it has travelled a long way in overcoming its racial past, from abolishing slavery, to overturning Jim Crow, to electing its first African-American president. But a deeper and darker truth is that our country is a long way from treating all blacks as equals and Harry Reid’s comments reflect a reality very few want to acknowledge.

During the Obama campaign in 2008, I attended a meeting locally with some union activists who supported Obama and were preparing to work to get him elected.  During a talk, one of the activists who was working on behalf of the AFL-CIO, was talking about the difficulties of campaigning for a black candidate around these parts (a realistic concern) and said something like this:

When you run into someone who is sympathetic to Obama’s views, but has problems with him because he is black, remind them that he is only half black and encourage them to vote for the “‘white half.”

Now, I knew this person and I knew he was not a racist in any way I could discern, but as we all acknowledged at the time, there is something sad about the truth he was expressing.  Light-skinned blacks do fare better in our culture than dark-skinned blacks.  And, à la Harry Reid, blacks who talk like educated whites do fare better than blacks who don’t.

Naturally, Democrats, including Obama, are giving Reid the benefit of the doubt.  Reid is an Obama supporter and the top Democrat in the Senate, who is steering health care reform through some rough seas in Congress.  And quite as naturally, Republicans are crying hypocrisy on every news channel.

But the larger truth shouldn’t get lost in the charges of hypocrisy, whether applicable or not.  As Americans—Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites—we have a long way to go before we are truly color blind.

Blunt Stands Behind Virginia Foxx

Since before the election of Barack Obama and after, we’ve all seen some historically stupid commentary coming from the bowels of American politics, namely the hysterical right-wing of the Republican Party.

And many of us have sort of become jaded by it, no longer shocked by the inanity and idiocy swirling around the GOP establishment and threatening the integrity of that national political party. 

But someone recently directed me to a Website created by Floyd Brown, a dirty Republican activist who constitutes the H1N1 of our politics.  The site, Impeach Obama Campaign.com,  is the vehicle through which Brown is earnestly seeking the removal of Obama from office because of his “unabated malevolence toward this country, which is unabated.” [His penchant for dirty politics does not extend to the English language.]

Now, of course, Obama won’t lose any sleep over Mr. Brown’s efforts, which are nothing more than a continuation of his attacks on Obama that began early last year, but it’s worth knowing that Brown isn’t exactly on the fringe of Republican politics nor is he a stranger to Fox “News.”

I’ve seen him on the O’Reilly Factor, where he explained that when Obama was 7-years-old he may have been a Muslim, and on Neil Cavuto’s show a few months ago, where he explained how Obama wants the unemployment rate to remain high, so people will turn to the government for help.

This kind of stuff has become commonplace on the right.  The fear mongering over the health care reform bill in the House, which Brown claims Obama will use to “take away your freedom,” is an example of how Brown’s ideas are becoming mainstream Republican issue positions.

The most recent tea party gathering, the one sponsored by Michelle Bachmann and Fox “News,” demonstrated just how much support Brownian notions have in Congress, including our own Roy Blunt—see pictures and videos from the event. Blunt has even legitimized* the “birther controversy,” another one of the “charges” Brown listed as support for Obama’s impeachment:

Obama has consistently refused to approve the release of his actual birth certificate, college transcripts and his medical records.

But if you really want to see just how low people like Floyd Brown will go, watch the following CBS News report from 1992, exposing Brown’s efforts to use a distraught family to force Bill Clinton to withdraw from the presidential race:

We can expect such tactics and worse to be part of Republican efforts to “take their country back” in 2012.

*BLUNT: “What I don’t know is why the President can’t produce a birth certificate. I don’t know anybody else that can’t produce one. And I think that’s a legitimate question. No health records, no birth certificate.”

The Right-Wing Hate Sweepstakes

Admittedly, I have been highly critical of contemporary conservatism’s caustic critiques of President Obama and the Democrats. I have even claimed that the level of vitriol directed at Obama is to some extent historically unprecedented.

Now, I’m not so sure.

clinton in kosovoRecently in Kosovo, an 11-foot statue of Bill Clinton was unveiled to honor our 42nd president. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians were celebrating Clinton’s role in launching NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 that saved their lives and culture from the attempted ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Serbians. As some chanted “USA!,” “USA!,” Clinton was honored as a hero.

The attention on President Clinton’s good deed—which, of course, was also America’s good deed—was not prominently featured on right-wing media outlets. All of which made me start to remember the days of the Clinton administration, most of which were filled with endless attacks on Bill and Hillary emanating from people I considered to be my ideological allies at the time.

I don’t want to go into all of the lurid details, so I will just cite a couple of passages that sort of bring back the flavor of those times:

Timothy Noah, writing a review of former conservative David Brock’s, Blinded By The Right, for Slate in March of 2002, said:

We know, well before picking up Brock’s book, that an appallingly well-financed hard right was obsessed with smearing Clinton, and that a large proportion of Clinton’s hard-right accusers failed to conform to hard-right notions about morality, being either adulterers, homosexuals, or begetters of aborted fetuses. We know further that Clinton was placed deliberately into a perjury trap, whereupon he committed perjury.

Senator Al Franken (take that Rush Limbaugh!) wrote in his book, Lies (And The Lying Liars That Tell Them):

…did you know that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian? And that, despite her homosexuality, she was having an affair with Vince Foster? Who then had to be murdered to cover up Whitewater? And did you know that Foster’s execution was only one small part of a killing spree that claimed nearly forty lives, including those of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and the wife of an Arkansas state trooper who apparently didn’t “get the message”? And did you know that Clinton, to finance his own gargantuan cocaine habit, had struck a deal with the CIA and the Contras to smuggle duffel bags filled with coke into Arkansas?

If you didn’t, you weren’t reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the American Spectator, or the Washington Times.

Reading these short summaries of the 1990s reminded me of some things I had forgotten, like how fervently publications like the American Spectator had attacked Clinton, and then how those unfounded attacks made it into the mainstream media, sort of like how today some of the nonsense on Fox “News” makes it into the New York Times. Conservatives learned in the 1990s that if you throw enough dook at the wall, some of it will eventually stick.

Franken also reminded me of just how disrespectful conservatives were of the office of the presidency, as they employed epithets for Clinton like: “scumbag” (Rep. Dan Burton from Indiana), “sociopath” (Craig Shirley), “perpetual preener” and “rapist “(George Will), “craven miscreant” (Michelle Malkin).

Clinton ChroniclesAdditionally, Franken reminded me of the little publication, The Clinton Chronicles, which attempted to link the Clintons to “dozens of murders.” According to Franken, The Clinton Chronicles sold over 100,000 copies, “thanks in large part to the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who cofinanced, publicized, and distributed the video…

Snopes.com had to begin “The Clinton Body Count,” as the bodies of people killed by Bill Clinton were starting to pile up—the last count was “close to fifty.”

Damn! How could I have forgotten that?

So far, Sean Hannity hasn’t had anyone on his program accusing Barack Obama of murdering one of his cabinet members (like when Sean had on Chris Ruddy, who wrote, The Strange Death of Vince Foster). But stay tuned. It’s early yet, and so far no member of Obama’s cabinet has died in a “mysterious” plane crash, so the right-wing hasn’t had much to work with.

At this point I will have to recant my previous claim, and give an edge to Bill Clinton in the Right-Wing Hate Sweepstakes. But, as conservatives continue to document Obama’s plan to destroy American culture—gifted to us by white Europeans—Obama is at least gaining on him.

(Photo credit: Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA)

He Scared The Beje$u$ Out Of Me

Sadly, David Horowitz has gone from cavorting with Black Panthers in his youth, to cavorting with people who push the idea that our white European cultural inheritance is under attack by America’s latest black revolutionary, Barack Obama.

Horowitz emailIn an e-mail he sent out Tuesday, hot “From The Desk Of David Horowitz,” he is soliciting donation$$$ for his effort to “Expose Obama.” He wrote:

As I’ve said on the Glenn Beck show and places where I’ve spoken in recent months: This isn’t like four bad years of Jimmy Carter or even eight years of Bill Clinton. This is the systematic transformation of our nation from an open, capitalist society, to a Big Brother-type socialist nation. We must stop it. Now. [emphasis, his]

Wow! Barack really is a Magic Negro.

The problem is the things Horowitz cites as Obama’s radical “agenda” could have just as easily applied to Bush-Cheney, but I don’t recall getting these scary e-mails while those two were bankrupting the country, destroying our capitalist economy, and funding a couple of wars on our descendants’ dime, wars that had the enthusiastic approval of Mr. Horowitz. Maybe at the time Horowitz was busy hunting for those elusive WMD’s.

I also don’t recall the Horowitz horror over Bush’s “Czars.”

Or Horowitz labeling the Republicans’ creation of a new prescription drug program for seniors as “a maniacal attempt to socialize our health care!” (His exclamation point.)

He also used the “Post Office,” like so many ignorant conservatives do, as an example of what “government-controlled health care” (itself a false suggestion) will look like. He references logo-usps_1__5rjwthe long lines at post offices, but is so blinded by his present ideology that he can’t see that those lines are the result of the Postal Service acting like a private business, rather than a government agency.

Postal management has cut staffing to save money, and if you wait in line or receive your mail after dark, it is because since 1970, the Postal Service by design and by law is required to operate like a private company.

The fact is that the post office is not subsidized by the government, but is financed by postage purchased by its customers, and the cost of a stamp today is, adjusting for inflation, about the same as it was in the early 1970s, despite the fact that there are tens of millions more delivery points and tens of thousands fewer employees.

And notwithstanding the long lines and sometimes-erratic delivery, USPS maintains consistently high customer satisfaction ratings, and Consumer Reports found last year that the post office outperformed FedEx and UPS in a head-to-head test of services, commenting:

Bottom line, all three delivered as promised…but the good old U.S. Postal Service is often the cheapest by far.

In the mean time, private health insurance costs, like a Bill Ayers-planted bomb, have blown the lid off inflation, and it is hard to find someone who doesn’t have a night’s worth of horror stories about the treatment they or someone they know have received from a private insurer.

Horowitz also cited security lines at airports as an example of government malfeasance. Huh? Those lines are a result of The War On Terror and Homeland Security. Let me see. Whose brainchildren were those? I missed that e-mail, too.

Finally, Mr. Horowitz is outraged that Obama,

…plans to repeal the Bush tax cuts, raise the income taxes, the capital gains tax and block the repeal of the estate tax (death tax) for the sake of “morality” he said. But there is nothing moral about taking more and more of your family’s income to feed his socialist agenda.

Again, such solid waste coming from right-wingers would be funny, if there weren’t so many people who believe it. But here is the skinny:

  • Obama has repeatedly said he is not going to raise income taxes on the middle class (wrongly, in my view).
  • Obama’s 2010 budget actually called for a reduction (!) of the capital gains tax for small businesses. The current capital gains tax rate for taxpayers (15%) is due to expire at the end of next year and return to its previous level of 20%. Obama proposes for 2011 that capital gains be taxed at 20% for only those in the top two tax brackets, and at 15% for those in the middle two brackets, and at 0% for those in the lowest two brackets. What a flaming socialist he is!

I’m not even going to get into the morality of the estate tax, since most people reading this blog will never have to worry about whether their wealthy parents can leave them a billion bucks with impunity.

The bottom line is that David Horowitz, a former left-wing radical and Marxist, who gave aid and comfort to real revolutionaries like Huey Newton, now claims that Barack Obama is attempting to lead a new American revolution.

And such outrageously false claims are made to scare the bejesus out of folks, who are then willing to part with some of their $$$$$$$$$ before Comrade Obama gets a hold of them:

…if you are able to join me in the project with a contribution of $25, $35 $50, $100 or even $1,000 today, I will send you – at no cost – my new booklet detailing the radical transformation Barack Obama and the socialists in Congress are implementing.

I suppose 25 bucks is a small price to pay to keep the country out of the hands of Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia, a veritable cabal of Marxist revolutionaries.

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