Laugh Until You Cry

Governor Mitch Daniels, former W. Bush budget director (thanks, Mitch), said in response to Mr. Obama’s address on Tuesday:

As Republicans, our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots. We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.

Daniels claims that the “first concern” of Republicans is for those who desire to “climb up life’s latter.” Now, I’m going to pause right here and give you time to grab a tissue and wipe the tears of laughter from your face…

Back? Good. Let’s move on and look at Daniels’ last sentence:

We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.

The truth is that if voters continue filling Republican prescriptions for what ails us as a country, we will, indeed, “always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves,” because the soon-to-haves will always be waiting and hoping for their economic boat to be floated by trickle-down economics.

Americans throughout history have tended to believe that with hard work they could at least better themselves economically. And for more than a generation now, the meme spread by the Republican Party has been that if you just let the “job creators” enjoy more and more of the wealth of this country, then anyone can become, say, a Mitt Romney, even if few people have the stomach to get rich the way he has become rich.

But even if becoming a Romney-like “have” has always been beyond most folks’ expectations or desires, it remains true that economic mobility is the foundation of the American Dream. But upward mobility and income distribution in the U.S. is not what they should be and are certainly is not what they need to be in order to keep the American Dream from becoming the American Mirage.*

From our country’s founding, most Americans have believed that government should have some role—we have always argued over the size of that role—in ensuring that everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic position and reducing—reducing, not eliminating—inequality. The Preamble to our Constitution indicates that our government was formed, among other things, to “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.”

Surely we can all agree that our domestic tranquility and general welfare are threatened by the gross economic inequality we see around us. Surely we can agree that, in the richest country the world has ever known, the grit and determination woven into American workers’ DNA, manifested in their willingness to work hard and play by the rules, ought to count for more than just earning enough to stay alive.

With the slow death of middle-class-creating unions in this country (remember also that the wages of even non-union folks are higher because unions exist), and with corporations—conscious only of the bottom line—shipping away jobs or keeping wages low and cutting benefits for their American employees, the prospect of improving things for working folks looks bleak.

And it should be obvious that in the face of such bleakness is where government—the people’s government—can act such that Americans today can enjoy what Americans used to enjoy, best expressed by President Obama in his State of the Union address,

the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.

In other words, a hard-working American could at least expect to move into the middle-class, if not become a “have” of the stature of a Mitt Romney.  I can say without fear of contradiction that most American workers don’t get up in the morning, go to their low-paying jobs, work hard, come home to their families, fret over the cost of health care and the price of gasoline, all in the hopes of one day having Romney-like tax returns, with all the excitement of parking money in the Cayman Islands or in Swiss bank accounts.

And since I believe strongly that Romney will become the Republican nominee, I think it is important to understand what he thinks about all this. Something he said recently—without rehearsal—gives us an insight into how he views America’s income inequalities.

From NBC’s Today Show:

MATT LAUER: When you said that, “We already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy,” I’m curious about the word “envy.” Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or is it about fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you’ve opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. And the American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it’ll fail.

To Romney there are “no fair questions about the distribution of wealth” outside of those discussed in “quiet rooms.” And for President Obama to point out the need to do more to address the problems we have with what Lauer called “the distribution of wealth and power in this country,” is an act of “dividing America” and somehow threatens, for God’s sake, “the concept of one nation under God.”

If you hear Mitt Romney say, as he has said before, that “Republicans are about middle-class America” and that he is “fighting to help middle-class Americans get better jobs and better incomes,” remember that interview.

And if you ever hear Mitch Daniels or any other Republican say again that their “first concern is for those waiting…to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder,” feel free to laugh, long and hard.  Just keep a tissue in your pocket.

___________________________

* From a piece in The Washington Post (“The downward path of upward mobility“):

The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom”…was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.”

Heart Specialists

In 2010, Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book, widely praised and quoted by conservatives, titled, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  On Amazon.com you can see this official description of the book:

The Roots of Obama’s Rage reveals Obama for who he really is: a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America’s strength, influence, and standard of living. Controversial and compelling, The Roots of Obama’s Rage is poised to be the one book that truly defines Obama and his presidency. 

Newt Gingrich, who is the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination, actually added a blurb to D’Souza’s book:

“Stunning…the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” —NEWT GINGRICH

Now, let’s get this straight. D’Souza and Gingrich aren’t saying they just have policy differences with the President . They are saying Barack Obama is actively seeking “to reduce America’s strength, influence, and standard of living.”  In other words, Mr. Obama is working against his country’s interests. His heart is not with America.

In case this idea wasn’t clear enough to the right-wing Obama-haters, Human Events offered some help by adapting part of D’Souza’s book and presented it under the title,

All of which brings us to last night’s excellent State of the Union speech. I present to you a selection of short statements uttered by the President Who Hates America:

We can do this.  I know we can, because we’ve done it before.

What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values.  And we have to reclaim them.

The state of our Union is getting stronger.

America is more productive.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country.  We admire it.

I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:  That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.

…when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.

…tyranny is no match for liberty…

We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power…

America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes.  No one built this country on their own.  This nation is great because we built it together.  This nation is great because we worked as a team.  This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.  And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard.  As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

A mere 83 words into his response speech, the Man Who Republicans Wish Would Have Run For President, Mitch Daniels, said this:

On these evenings, presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition. But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true.

It’s strange to me how Republicans always seem to know what is in Barack Obama’s heart.

The Case Against Mitch Daniels, Part 1

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is running for president.

Oh, he hasn’t said so for sure, but he is.  I watched him on the Fox-Republican “News” Channel yesterday and you can just see it in his nervous eyes. 

But one of the real reasons I am certain he is running is because he took the trouble to downplay his time serving as a W. Bush official. Unfortunately for him he was Bush’s first Budget Director. He served the administration for almost two and a half years, when drunken conservatives were spending Clinton surpluses on millionaires and billionaires and two wars and a Homeland Security behemoth and a new entitlement program, Medicare Part D.

As the Indianapolis Star reported in 2005:

Bush gave Daniels the nickname “The Blade,” but the administration’s tax cuts combined with an economic downturn put Daniels in the awkward position of watching a $236 billion annual surplus turn into a $400 billion deficit during his 29-month tenure.

Whoops!  But don’t worry. It wasn’t his fault.  He told Fox,

…nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away no matter who was the president.

Ha. That’s funny. But it gets better. He said to NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning:

DANIELS: Look, I was proud to serve in that administration, but that surplus was going away, and it wouldn’t have mattered who was president, let alone in the supporting role of budget director. We had the collapse of the bubble, the recession…

INSKEEP: After 9-11.

DANIELS: Then 9-11, with all the costs that came with that, the whole new category we call Homeland Security and two wars — so, I mean, that deficit [sic] was going away and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in any of those jobs.

Another laugher. But this time with a twist. That “[sic]” NPR had to insert in the transcript tells a tale. A nervous tale.  He meant surplus, obviously, but deficits and his role in creating them are on his mind. The man is a little worried about how his role in the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the economy will play in Peoria.

I want to note that Inskeep should have asked him why, with all the massive government spending the Bush administration believed was necessary, didn’t Daniels advocate actually paying for some of that stuff?  Maybe someday out on the campaign trail we’ll get an answer to that question.

But Inskeep did get close:

INSKEEP: Would you not have, would you not have approved of those tax cuts?

DANIELS: I did approve of the tax cuts. And by the way, they were widely credited — and still are, by honest people, with the shallowness and the swiftness of recovery from that recession.

Like a good conservative, he did approve of the tax cuts. But what about that business about the “shallowness…of recovery“?  I, for one, won’t argue with that anxiety-induced admission.  But he’s clearly nervous talking about this issue.  That’s not good for  a man George Will claims has the “charisma of competence.”

But I want to continue on with what he said next:

That was lucky by the way, it’s only fair to say, President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus as we now see matter, ’cause nobody knew we had a recession starting up. But the timing was somewhat lucky.

Now, let’s look at what Bush’s budget czar is saying here:

1) The Bush tax cuts had a positive effect on the economy: “they were widely credited…with…the swiftness of recovery from that recession.” 

There is a dispute whether those tax cuts had anything to do with the recovery. But let’s move on:

2) The tax cuts, which have deprived the treasury of at least $2 trillion and counting, were not intended as government stimulation of economic growth: “That was lucky by the way…President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus.”

Hmm. Just lucky?  Doesn’t Mr. Daniels know that the First Law of conservative economics is that tax cuts = economic growth?  And if he thinks they weren’t designed to enhance economic growth, what was their purpose?  To destroy our fiscal health?  Huh?

And surely he knows that George Bush did in fact sell the 2003 tax cuts as stimulative. Bush said the following, when he was signing into law the final phase of the Bush tax cuts:

By insuring that Americans have more to spend, save and invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery. We have taken aggressive action to strengthen the foundation of our economy so that every American who wants to work will be able to find a job.

It’s obvious Governor Daniels wants to run for president and wants us to forget his time and part in the previous mismanagement of our nation’s finances.  I don’t blame him for that. But the Bush tax cuts were a big piece of that mismanagement and are responsible for a big chunk of our debt, and their legacy continues.  Yet Daniels, who sees the debt problem as the new “Red Menace,” has learned exactly nothing from his previous role in the mismanagement of the economy:

INSKEEP: Uh, is the problem grave enough that those tax cuts should be allowed to expire? They’ve now been extended through 2012.

DANIELS: I think it’d be a catastrophic mistake…I think raising taxes right now in a very fragile economy, still, would be a real mistake.

Let’s see here.  Back in 2001, when we had budget surpluses, Republicans, including Daniels, argued that was the time to cut taxes. “Give Americans their money back,” they insisted.  Now, when we have enormous deficits, we must keep the cuts in place.  “We can’t afford to raise taxes,” they insist.

Perhaps you guessed by now that there is never—never—a time in which conservative Republicans believe taxes should be such that they pay for the size of government Americans have come to love.  And Daniels, who is widely praised as the best hope to defeat Obama in 2012, represents everything that got us to this point of unsustainable debt.

He also represents everything that is wrong with conservative thinking on today’s hot topic, public sector unions.  As NPR pointed out this morning, it didn’t take Daniels long to establish himself as a full-tilt conservative union-buster:

In 2005 on his first day in office, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed an order ending collective bargaining with public employee unions. He said it freed him to turn over some state jobs to private contractors.

If that doesn’t energize the labor movement against him, nothing will.

But beyond that, should Daniels decide to run, as I believe he will, Democrats need to hang the Bush tax cuts around his Bush-administration neck and make him defend them again and again, even while he hypocritically tries to convince voters that a deficit menace is our nation’s biggest threat.

You just can’t claim you’re serious about the debt problem and take taxes off the table.

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