Syria, Spookhousing, And A Scary Stroll Through The Neoconservative Mind

It was inevitable, of course. No, I’m not talking about the Obama-Kerry agreement with the Russians on what to do with Syria’s chemical weapons. I’m talking about the subsequent criticism and hysteria coming from the shoot-first-negotiate-later crowd.

No matter how things turned out, no matter what decision the President made, no matter whether we dropped bombs or didn’t drop bombs, shot missiles or didn’t shoot missiles, we could have expected this headline:

John McCain, Lindsey Graham Criticize Syria Deal: ‘An Act Of Provocative Weakness’

You have to admit that is a clever phrase: “Provocative weakness.” But what does it mean? McCain and Graham try to explain:

What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement: They see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part, We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.

Let me see here. If seeking and perhaps finding a non-bomb way out of an international dispute, while keeping the threat of bombs on the table, represents a weakness that will provoke our enemies, then it is not hard to fathom what is the right thing to do for McCain and Graham and others today criticizing the President’s attempt to find a peaceful way out of a crisis: bomb the hell out of your enemies even if your enemies are willing to give you what you want! Because, apparently, getting what you want without dropping bombs is not a sign of strength and success but a sign of weakness and failure.

Even though it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like spending much time rummaging around in the spook-filled heads of people who think like that, who refuse to take yes for an answer while there are still plenty of cruise missiles to launch. Trying to figure out what makes people like McCain and Graham tick, what makes them long for and lead cheers for warfare even when, at least right now, it isn’t necessary to accomplish our stated limited goal, is not likely to bear much fruit.

But one thing is very clear: McCain’s and Graham’s goal in Syria is not limited. It is much more ambitious than stopping a dictator from using chemical weapons that the world long ago agreed were too horrendous to countenance. Obviously, these two and others on the right are eager to jump into every fire in the Middle East, no matter how many times we get burned, because, well, otherwise we look weak. It is much, much better to get burned to a crisp, or burn others to a crisp, than to appear weak to some warmongering conservatives. Never mind that we have spent a decade at war in at least two countries in the region and we don’t appear all that strong. In fact, a good case can be made that protracted warfare has genuinely weakened us in the eyes of the world.

As I say, I don’t want to spend much time spookhousing, trying to figure out what makes people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham think and act the way they do. Suffice it to say that today we should all give thanks that the band doesn’t play “Hail To The Chief” when John McCain walks into a room, and that the weight of his opinions on our international dos and don’ts is felt mainly on television talk shows, on which he appears almost daily and on which he is rarely if ever aggressively challenged.

Don Knotts searches for spooks in Ghost ProtocolIn any case, speaking of strange thinking, speaking of spookhouse-minds to explore, perhaps this is a good time to mention one of the craziest things I have read in a major publication in a long time. It comes via the Wall Street Journal and an article authored by Norman Podhoretz, an old neoconservative who is widely respected—and I mean widely respected: George W. Bush handed him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for being “at the forefront of American intellectual thought for the last half-century.” Keep that in mind as we go on: “intellectual thought.”

There are at least three more things you need to know about Norman Podhoretz before we get to his article:

♦ He suggested in 1980 we might lose the Cold War with the Soviets and even believed Ronald Reagan wasn’t tough enough on the commies, saying in 1984 that the Gipper was “following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire, rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within.” A mere five years later the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Yikes, Norman!

♦ Not only was he a cheerleader for the 2003 Iraq War, he was a cheerleader for attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the 1990s. Yikes again, Norman!

♦ In 2007—in 2007!— he called for and prayed for George W. Bush to bomb the hell out of Iran because time was running out. He answered critics of his scheme, who warned of the dangerous repercussions involved, by citing, who else, John McCain:

Nevertheless, there is a good response to them, and it is the one given by John McCain. The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

Yikes once more, Norm! That’s three yikes! and Podhoretz should be out, but nope, he’s still in the game. His latest article, weirdly but strategically titled, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” is perhaps this old right-winger’s finest moment in right-wing intellectual nuttery.

Podhoretz believes that not only is the President’s leadership leading to national decline and an “erosion of American power,” it is not happening because Obama is “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish,” and “in over his head.” No, no, no. The President is none of those things, says this respected neocon. You see, Obama means to lead the United States into decline. Obama wants to undermine American strength, but he has to hide his motives:

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. The accomplishment would not have been possible if the intention had been too obvious. The skill lies in how effectively he has used rhetorical tricks to disguise it.

Referencing Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky—the unholy trinity in the liturgy that informs right-wing conspiracists in the First Church of Obama-Haters—Podhoretz says Obama is a “left-wing radical” who believes “that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs” and, thus, the President wants to fundamentally transform the United States by reducing “the country’s power and influence.”

Obama is so crafty in pursuing this diabolical goal, that all this apparent incompetence, fecklessness and amateurism is just a cover. And the President, Podhoretz tells us, doesn’t really care that people see him that way:

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.

You see? President Obama is willing to sacrifice his own reputation in order to weaken the country so that we will all live happily ever after as world citizens. Got it? Spooky, ain’t it?

Journeying through the ghoulish mind of Norman Podhoretz—again, a man well-respected as an “intellectual” on the right—makes one long for a respite in the little-less-scary and the lot-less-intellectual noggin of John McCain. Why? Because for all his militaristic bravado and chronic interventionism, I think John McCain really does believe President Obama is merely incompetent, amateurish, and in over his head, as opposed to believing that our Commander-in-Chief is skillfully misleading us all as he purposely engineers the decline of America.

No matter what, though, the neoconservative mind, represented either by John McCain or Norman Podhoretz, should send shivers down your spine.

Government Jobs Are People Too

I know I posted a segment from The Rachel Maddow Show earlier today, but I just have to post the segment below because it is the best 8 1/2 minutes you will spend, in terms of hearing a rebuttal to what right-wingers claim both about the nature of government employment and the alleged radical nature of President Obama and his administration.

Before you watch the segment, here is a graphic St. Rachel uses to make the point that what was standard practice in fighting recessions in the past has been turned on its head during the Obama presidency. The graph plots the change in government employment during the 1981 recession when Reagan was president, the 1990 recession when George H.W. Bush was president, the 2001 recession when George W. Bush was president, and the Great Recession when the Scary Negro socialist/communist was president:

government employment and recession

As you can clearly see, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II did not seek to shrink government, and government employment, when the economy slowed down. That would have been stupid. And neither did President Obama initially seek to eliminate government jobs. Part of his stimulus plan put in place early in 2009 was designed to help states keep teachers, cops, firemen, and other government workers on the job. But that stimulus, much maligned by Republicans as a “failure,” is long gone. And nothing like it is coming back.

Here is the St. Rachel segment, which you should commit to memory, especially those of you who have hard-headed conservatives in your midst:

A Creed, A Little Girl, And A Call To Action

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer isn’t right very often, but he did understand at least part of the significance of Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech:

In 1981, in his inaugural address within two minutes, Reagan had declared that government is not the solution, government is the problem. Today’s inaugural address was a rebuke to that entire idea.

The truth is that “that entire idea” of government being the problem not the solution was never actually a very powerful idea in practice, since under Reagan, and the two Republican presidents after him, government, and government debt, grew exponentially.

But the idea that government is the problem has lived on in the heads of conservatives like Charles Krauthammer and others who cherish the myth that America is a “center-right” country just waiting for another Reagan to baptize it anew in a bath of regressive radicalism.

The election last November, however, showed that Americans, at least a majority of them, have found—rediscovered really—another religion, and from America’s national pulpit Barack Obama offered them a liturgy that better reflects where we are as a country, as a people.obama swearing in

Strategically, he launched the central theme of his speech from a Reaganesque “skepticism of central authority,” saying that we have not “succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.” Upon the solid rock of historical American attributes, he rebuilt the idea that gave us the New Deal:

Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character. 

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.

Collective action. That phrase must still be ringing in the ears of the right this morning, especially those who thought candidate Obama’s assertion that “you didn’t build that” was a revealing slip-of-the-tongue that would be his downfall.

But a reelected President Obama refused to back down from the idea that collective action is required if we mean to keep the individual freedoms we have:

For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.  

We are made for this moment, and we will seize it,” the President said, “so long as we seize it together.” And to demonstrate how this call to collective action—a call that is really as old as this republic—is a requirement to preserve individual freedom, he said,

We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.  

little girlThat little girl would know nothing of genuine individual liberty if she remained gripped by “the bleakest poverty.” Hope is a liberator. Hope that hard work will bring some degree of prosperity is a chain-breaking force. The calls for “smaller government,” of a shrinking vision of America, would almost guarantee that little girl a long night of un-American dreams, a life of despair.

We need “a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American,” said the President, which “will give real meaning to our creed.” And on that notion he reassures those who hear the voices of conservatives eager to balance our budget by cutting social insurance:

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. 

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.  The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.  

Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are “commitments we make to each other.” They are part of the social contract that paradoxically makes this a free society, collective obligations that liberate individuals to enjoy at least a “basic measure of security and dignity.”

Invoking “the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal” and referencing “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” President Obama, again from his secular pulpit, called us to action:

That is our generation’s task — to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.

The values we—liberals and conservatives—celebrate are diminished, they are far less noble, if they are not real to that “little girl born into the bleakest poverty.” And our task, the President said, is to make them real to her and not argue over the abstract:

Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.  

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall. 

Seen that way, seen as an ongoing and imperfect task to make our founding creed of human equality real to all, rather than an epic ideological war, our work seems less daunting, the future less foreboding.  I can’t think of a better use for an inaugural address, here in our times, than that.

And if President Obama’s speech was also a devastating “rebuke” of Ronald Reagan’s mistaken idea that government is our problem, then all the better.

second inaugural

Remember Bin Laden And Dance, Dance, Dance

All weekend, and again today, the talk is about tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the demise of Obama bin Laden.

But Republicans are incensed that last Friday the Obama campaign released a web video—a web video, mind you—featuring President Clinton saying—surprise, surprise—nice things about Obama’s decision to send the terrorist bastard to the bottom of the sea.

The ball-buster was at the end when this question is posed:

Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?

That is a question worth asking because of Mittens’ remarks in 2007 that it wasn’t worth “moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”  John McCain found it in his politically duplicitous heart to criticize Romney at the time, but that was then and this is now. These days McCain is bad-mouthing Obama, claiming he is “doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get elected.

Well, after years of watching Republicans slander Democrats as being weak abroad, it is about time we danced and spiked the ball after our guy sent bin Laden snorkeling without a snorkel.

But more important, the Obama web video also featured a quote from a Reuter’s article from 2007:

Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary.

Whoops! Mittens shouldn’t have done that. Makes him look weak. And it is certainly fair game for the Obama team to point out that Romney couldn’t have been more wrong.

And that, of course, is what has Republicans, and their cable “news” channel friends, so theatrically indignant.

The truth of the matter is that it is more than okay for Democrats to point out their successes, even if it pisses off the entire Obama-hating world. And the reason it is okay is because the other side would be quick to point out Democratic failures. Just imagine what kind of campaign commercials we would be seeing from Romney, should the mission to get bin Laden have failed.

Some of us still remember Operation Eagle Claw.

That was the name given to the failed attempt in April of 1980 to rescue the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran by a mob of revolutionaries who had stormed our embassy in Teheran.  That failed mission, and the fact the hostages would not be coming home before Election Day, figured greatly in President Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan.

Anyone think that the Reagan campaign in 1980 simply ignored the botched mission? Anyone think that Republicans simply refused to go there? Refused to be divisive about a national failure? Or criticize Jimmy Carter for failed leadership?

Of course not. The campaign time and again emphasized Carter’s alleged foreign policy and leadership weaknesses.

Here’s the text of an ad that aired in 1980:

Do you really think Iranian terrorists would have taken Americans hostage, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Do you really think the Russians would have invaded Afghanistan, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Do you really think third-rate military dictators would laugh at America and burn our flag in contempt, if Ronald Reagan were president?

Isn’t it about time we had the strong new leadership Ronald Reagan would provide as president. Isn’t it about time America had a president whose judgment we can trust?

Nothing subtle about that.

In an ad aired just before election day, and “paid for and authorized by the Reagan Bush Committee,” a somber narrator read the following text:

In a copyrighted story in the New York Times on October 27th, William Safire wrote: “The smoothest of Iran’s diplomatic criminals was shown on American television this weekend, warning American voters that they had better not elect Ronald Reagan. Ayatollah Khomeini and his men prefer a weak and manageable U.S. president, and have decided to do everything in their power to determine our election result.”

Here’s another ad that aired that campaign season:

MALE NARRATOR: Very slowly, a step at a time, the hope for world peace erodes. Slowly, we once slid into Korea, slowly, into Vietnam. And now, the Persian Gulf beckons.

Jimmy Carter’s weak, indecisive leadership has vacillated before events in Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter still doesn’t know that it takes strong leadership to keep the peace. Weak leadership will lose it.

REAGAN: Of all the objectives we seek, first and foremost is the establishment of lasting world peace. We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong. It is when they are weak that tyrants are tempted…

Jimmy Carter’s weak, indecisive leadership…” Hmm.

The Republicans in 1980 even used Ted Kennedy in an ad against Carter. Kennedy ran against him in the Democratic primary and hurt him by saying things like this:

EDWARD KENNEDY: I say it’s time to say: No more American hostages. No more high interest rates. No more high inflation, and no more Jimmy Carter.

MALE NARRATOR: The time is now for strong leadership. Reagan for President.

“Strong leadership” is always worth emphasizing. It’s just that Republicans aren’t used to our guys emphasizing it. And it is just too damned bad that Republicans are upset that Obama’s team is showing American voters that this election year Democrats aren’t going to sit back and let Republicans smear them once again as foreign policy and military weaklings.

If Obama Is A Big-Government Socialist, What’s That Make Ronald Reagan?

I saw this interesting graphic on MSNBC (adapted from a Talking Points Memo piece), which should, but won’t, shut up all the talk about the socialist in the White’s House.

In terms of net change in government spending, Obama isn’t in the same league with either Bush or Ronaldus Magnus:

Obama: “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so.”

If you didn’t see it, I recommend watching President Obama’s amazing press conference on Tuesday or reading the transcript. What he said about Iran and Syria and the GOP pretenders pretending their policies—often couched in hyper-militaristic rhetoric—will solve all the world’s problems was remarkably forthright.

I confess that I have been nervous about Mr. Obama’s rejection of any kind of containment strategy, should Iran get nukes.  I worry that he has backed himself into a corner that could end up with the United States in another Middle East war.

Obama prefaced his position on this:

What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran.  Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way.  The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

Then he reiterated his policy and the reasons for it:

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon.  My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon — because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists.  And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

But Obama is cautious as ever:

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.  That’s not just my view.  That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.  And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Now, whatever one thinks of this strategy, it is sober and well thought out, and articulated by a man in control of his emotions.  He will not be bullied into a war with Iran, or, as some people who were not elected president would have it, a war with Syria.  I know I felt better after hearing his remarks.

And he had some words for his challengers, particularly Mitt Romney:

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities.  They’re not Commander-in-Chief.  And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.  I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game.  There’s nothing casual about it.  And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war.  If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so.  And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.  Everything else is just talk.

Contrast all that to Mitt Romney’s bluster and relative recklessness, as exhibited in his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Tuesday. After lying about Obama’s “naive outreach to Iran” and his “current policy of procrastination,” Romney said:

I will make sure Iran knows of the very real peril that awaits if it becomes nuclear. I will engage Iran’s neighbors. I will station multiple carriers and warships at Iran’s door. I will stand with the Syrian people who are being mercilessly slaughtered. I know that the fall of Assad would not only be an important victory for liberty, but also a strategic blow to Tehran.

Blah, blah, blah. But most appallingly, Romney raised up Ronald Reagan from the dead for some self-serving love:

I believe the right course is what Ronald Reagan called “peace through strength.” There is a reason why the Iranians released the hostages on the same day and at the same hour that Reagan was sworn into office. As President, I will offer that kind of clarity, strength, and resolve.

The bottom line: Elect Mitt Romney as president and the ayatollahs’ resolve will melt in his presence; their theocratic minds will bend to the Mormon’s determination. It is just that easy, isn’t it?

Except there is a profound contradiction in Romney’s strategy. He previously said,

There are some in this administration who argue that Iran’s leaders are “rational,” and that we can do business with them. The President speaks of common interests. Let me be clear: we do not have common interests with a terrorist regime. Their interest is in the destruction of Israel and the domination of the Middle East. It is profoundly irrational to suggest that the ayatollahs think the way we do or share our values. They do not.

Let me see. The ayatollahs are not rational but rationally recognized that Ronald Reagan meant business and they let go of the hostages out of fear. And these same irrational ayatollahs will somehow rationally conclude that President Mittens will blow them home to Allah, should they not see the light.

How does that work? How do irrational folks we can’t do business with and with whom we have no common interests respond rationally and do business with us out of a common interest not to get blown up?

A Parable

Most of us today know that the speech that propelled Barack Obama into the national spotlight was his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

But not many of us remember or learned that Ronald Reagan, the real father of what we know as the Tea Party (even though he’d have a hard time getting a tea bag to wear on his cap today) gave a similarly empowering speech in 1964—a speech that helped make him first governor of California and then president.

Many people refer to this televised address in support of Barry Goldwater simply as “The Speech,” but I call it the “Thousand Years of Darkness” speech because of the warning Reagan presented regarding the 1964 presidential election:

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.

We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

Message: Elect Lyndon Johnson and expect ten centuries of pitch-black socialism. Yes, he really suggested that. Sort of makes Newt Gingrich sound reasonable, doesn’t it?

Here is another famous passage from that speech, which demonstrates how seriously the extremists in the Republican Party in those days took poverty in America:

Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well that was probably true. They were all on a diet.

Now you know where Rush Limbaugh gets it.

In any case, Reagan’s reference, of course, was to Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” which was introduced that year and which helped reduce American abjection, but was attacked by right-wingers in those days the same way the welfare state is attacked by right-wingers these days.

But the passage in Reagan’s speech I want to focus on is this one:

Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me of a young woman who’d come before him for a divorce. She had six children, was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning 250 dollars a month. She wanted a divorce to get an 80 dollar raise. She’s eligible for 330 dollars a month in the Aid to Dependent Children Program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who’d already done that very thing.

It wasn’t until the 1976 presidential campaign, when Reagan was a GOP primary candidate, that the term “welfare queen” became a code word on the fanatical right. He said of this strange being, as reported by The New York Times (quoted on Wikipedia):

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

Anyone, Democrat or Republican, would obviously get outraged over that example, which may have been based on a real case in Chicago. But other than pointing out that some folks are criminals, what does it really mean? For the right-wing, it was intended to convince the voting public that a goodly number of folks on welfare were and still are undeserving of help, and are abusing the system because the system itself breeds such abuse.

Well, a health care company once paid a $1.7 billion fine for committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud—and the guy who ran the company while the fraud was going on was fired and received millions of dollars in severance and over $300 million worth of stock. And to put political icing on his cake, the guy, teapartier and Republican Rick Scott, is now the governor of Florida. That $1.7 billion worth of fraud could purchase over 11,333 of Reagan’s welfare queens, but Republicans have yet to invent a code word for corporations that defraud the government.

In thinking about all this, a parable came into my mind:

A boat capsized near a small town and most of the people swam to shore, saving themselves. But several people remained in the water, huddled together, holding on to whatever they could find to stay afloat, a short and swimmable distance from shore. Presumably, these folks either couldn’t swim or could not swim well enough to let go and give it a try.

Now, in the community nearby where the boat capsized, it happened that a raging debate had been going on involving the town’s rescue budget. For years the town had funded rescue crews and purchased equipment due to the large number of boating accidents just off its shore. Many people had been saved because of the town’s diligence.

But new folks had moved into the community, rugged individualists who were responsible for themselves and expected everyone else to take care of themselves, too.  These folks stirred up anger at the high tax rates used to fund the rescue efforts and began running for and winning political office. They advocated for slashing the rescue budget, insisting that a lot of the folks rescued in the past were careless boaters, many of them merely out on the water partying and having a good time.

Why should we encourage their recklessness,” these good Americans would say. “Many of the people we have saved were on party boats!” some would shout at town hall meetings, “And if they know we will always be here to save them they will just take advantage of us.”

Some of the people at the meetings reminded the townsfolk that surely not all the people needing help were reckless or were taking advantage of the town’s unselfishness, and they argued that it is not easy to discern during a rescue mission just how deserving the folks in the water are.  And besides that, they would argue, “Are we just going to stand on shore and watch these people drown? Is that what kind of community we want to be?

Whether this election year will be “a rendezvous with destiny,” as Ronald Reagan said so long ago, is, I suppose, up to each voter. But certainly either way we choose to go will not be “to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.” That silly rhetoric represents a rather diminished view of America’s ongoing potential.

But this election will be a snapshot of what kind of national community we are and what kind of obligations we believe we have to those folks clinging to their capsized boat or what is left of it.  Is there a majority among us who will walk away and leave them to sink or swim?

The Shade Tree

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

—Genesis 2:8,9

 

At the end of ABC’s This Week last Sunday, which was a “Great American Debate” with the resolution that “There’s Too Much Government In My Life,” George Will summed up his case in favor of the resolution: 

…I think big government harms prosperity. It harms prosperity by allocating resources not in terms of efficiency, but in terms of political power that directs the allocation. I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. And most of all, big government today harms equality. It harms equality because, by concentrating power in Washington, in big government, it makes itself susceptible to the rent-seeking by big, muscular interest groups. The only people who can come to Washington and bend the government to private purposes.

Get the government out of our lives more and more, and you’ll find that freedom and the market allocations of wealth and opportunity prevails.

Jefferson understood—Jefferson understood that you can have a government with minimal attention to the absolute essentials we have talked about. Of course, we want government to build roads, we want government to defend the shores, we want the government to deliver the mail. But after it does the essentials, understand what Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan said we’re going to have less government—under Reagan, respect for government, something we all want, respect for government rose as government’s role declined.

Now, there are several things wrong with what Will said (especially that erroneous claim about Ronald Reagan), even as he expressed very well the traditional, mainstream conservative arguments against big government, which contradict some of the extremists in the Tea Party and elsewherethat don’t necessarily even want the government to build roads or deliver the mail. 

But I want to focus on what appears to be the heart of his argument, as expressed by his shade tree metaphor, which does echo much of what teapartiers say today about Barack Obama and his mythical attack on our liberties: 

I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. 

Let’s look at that metaphor a little more closely because it illustrates the difference between conservatives and liberals quite well. 

I write this in the middle of the Arizona desert, where the sun in all its glory can be quite harmful, not to mention deadly. In the summertime, without shade, it is relentlessly efficient in its ability to scorch skin and earth. And there is a relentless efficiency in the laissez-faire approach that, much like the desert sun, would harm its potential beneficiaries, if there is no relief, no shade tree to thwart that sometimes destructive efficiency.

And that is what government does, or at least should do: Provide some shade from a relentless and necessary power source, a source without which we can’t live but with which we must take precautions to keep it from wilting us, or worse, from searing our civilization. So, there are those of us who welcome such a large shade tree, and we know there are species—”smaller institutions of civil society“— that can thrive—indeed, can only thrive—under its beneficence. 

Obviously, there are activities that can only be done in the sun, out from under the blessings of government’s penumbra. But in order to fully enjoy and benefit from those activities, we need to know that the tree of government—of “we the people”—is there when we, the people, need some civilization-saving relief from a withering sun. 

And that is, thanks to George Wills’ metaphor, a good accounting of the difference between those of us who call ourselves liberals, who see the value in a big shade tree, and those who call themselves conservatives, who do not. 

How Far Have We Come?

It was altogether fitting that the first pitch of last night’s CNN Republican debate was thrown by an old Reagan crony, Edwin Meese III.

It was fitting because in the news is police overreaction to the Occupy Wall Street protesters all around the country, particularly in California, in Oakland and at the University of California-Davis and UC-Berkeley campuses.

As a former conservative, I remember Ed Meese’s tenure as Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, but most of us are too young to remember Meese’s role in the People’s Park protest in May of 1969, when then-Governor Ronald Reagan turned the University of California-Berkeley into a police state. Here’s the lede from a New York Times article at the time:

LOS ANGELES — A group of professors from the University of California at Berkeley met with Gov. Ronald Reagan last Wednesday to protest the use of National Guardsmen against student demonstrators. Clearly agitated, the professors charged that Governor Reagan’s hard-line tactics had precipitated the violence at Berkeley, which grew out of student attempts to build a “People’s Park” on university-owned land.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Governor Ronald Reagan had been publicly critical of university administrators for tolerating student demonstrations at the Berkeley campus, and he had received enormous popular support for his 1966 gubernatorial campaign promise to crack down on what was perceived as the generally lax attitude at California’s public universities. Reagan called the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters and sex deviants.” Reagan considered the creation of the park a direct leftist challenge to the property rights of the university, and he found in it an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise.

And as for Ed Meese’s role:

As Reagan’s chief of staff, Meese was instrumental in the decision to crack down on student protesters at People’s Park in Berkeley, California, on May 15, 1969. Meese was widely criticized for escalating official response to the People’s Park protest, during which law enforcement officers killed one protestor and seriously injured hundreds of others, many of whom were bystanders. Meese advised Reagan to declare a state of emergency in Berkeley, contrary to the recommendation of the Berkeley City Council, which led to a two-week occupation of the city by National Guard troops.

Wow. Those were the days.

And so are these. We all have seen repeatedly the horrific images of the UC-Davis police pepper-spraying peaceful protesters, mostly students upset with the outrageously high cost of their California-system education (partly thanks to Ronald Reagan); we’ve heard about city officials all over the country dislodging protesters from parks and streets.

Naomi Wolf wrote recently of the disruptive protests around the country, saying,

an absolute “right to be free of disruption” from First Amendment activity does not exist in a free republic. But the right to engage in peaceable disruption does exist… the First Amendment means that it actually is not up to the mayor or the police of any municipality, or to the Parks Department, or to any local municipality to prohibit public assembly if the assembly is peaceful but disruptive in many ways.

Peaceful, lawful protest—if it is effective— IS innately disruptive of “business as usual.” That is WHY it is effective.

Wolf mentioned the famous Bonus Marches, with “thousands of unemployed and desperate former veterans who had been promised and denied their bonus checks in the Depression” and the fact that “they won, eventually, because of the disruption”:

Some of the power of real protest, which is peaceful and patient and civil but disruptive, comes from the emotional power of the human face-to-face: all those Congresspeople had to look those hungry men in the eyes on their way to legislate the decision about the bonus.

Look at the image below and ask yourself just what are the reactionary forces in our society afraid of:

This image, my friends, represents fear. It represents the dark forces of conservatism, forces that were unleashed in our time by the father of the contemporary conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, and his bullying sidekick, Ed Meese.  

And when I saw Mr. Meese last night, a formerly-friendly face from my days as a conservative, I thought about how far we have come from the student-led protests of the 1960s.

And how far we haven’t.

I’m glad someone pulled Edwin Meese out of mothballs to ask the first debate question. It reminded me why I’m an erstwhile conservative.

“Where’s The [Expletive Deleted] Growth”?

And I thought it was my little secret:

The most important paragraph in the whole wonderful piece was this one:

The GOP campaign to aid the wealthy has left America unable to raise the money needed to pay its bills. “The Republican Party went on a tax-cutting rampage and a spending spree,” says Rhode Island governor and former GOP senator Lincoln Chafee, pointing to two deficit-financed wars and an unpaid-for prescription-drug entitlement. “It tanked the economy.” Tax receipts as a percent of the total economy have fallen to levels not seen since before the Korean War – nearly 20 percent below the historical average. “Taxes are ridiculously low!” says Bruce Bartlett, an architect of Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. “And yet the mantra of the Republican Party is ‘Tax cuts raise growth.’ So – where’s the [bleeping] growth?

And Americans may put those guys back in charge?

Yep.

A Tale Of Two Conservatives, Not Two Countries

If you haven’t heard, Pat Buchanan, an old-time über-conservative and analyst on not-so-liberal MSNBC, has a new book out that basically pronounces America dead.

While I didn’t catch his appearance on white nationalist radio (a talk show called “The Political Cesspool“), I did listen for a bit to the hard-core Buchanan on The Diane Rehm Show.  She asked him about the title of his book, Suicide of a Superpower, to which he replied:

I was looking at my country with deep concern and sharing the view of that 79 percent of Americans who said yesterday in that poll, Diane, that the United States of America, the greatest country on earth, the country of Eisenhower and Nixon, you and I grew up in, is in decline. And I think it is in grave decline and I’m not sure the United States can turn it around.

Now, before we go on, notice that Buchanan’s “the greatest country on earth” happens to be “the country of Eisenhower and Nixon.” In between those two Republican presidents was, of course, Kennedy and Johnson, but as we shall see, those times weren’t America’s greatest moments, in Buchanan’s reckoning.

Pat explained why America is in an irreversible decline, which I will, as a public service, summarize:

♦ Our society is “disintegrating…”breaking down along the lines of race, culture, religion, and philosophy.”

♦ The idea “that diversity is a strength is a canard, it is nonsense.”

♦ We used to all speak English and be Judeo-Christians (it is okay to be a Mormon because they are a lot like Judeo-Christians, especially their complexions.) Only about 75 percent of us are now Christians, which means, of course, that we no longer have “a moral code…by which to live.”

♦ We all used to “read the same newspapers, listened to the same radio stations, ate the same food, danced to the same music,” and now we have that nasty diversity thing going on.

♦ The American Southwest will soon essentially become a part of Mexico.

♦ White people will soon become a minority. (Chapter 4 of his book is titled, “The End of White America,” and he suggests that we have therefore “imperiled our union.”)

And on and on.

Buchanan was asked what could possibly be done to prevent this doomsday scenario for America, and he replied using my all-time favorite James Burnham quote:

I think the solution’s — James Burnham had a great statement. He said, where there are no solutions there is no problem. I don’t think there is a solution to what I’m describing. To turn around the thinking of people after the cultural, moral, social revolution of the ’60s has changed the fundamental thinking of people.

Now it is apparent why Buchanan earlier used the phrase, 

the greatest country on earth, the country of Eisenhower and Nixon…

Those two presidents bookended those nasty 1960s, when the country went to hell by expanding the rights of all our people and making them a little more comfortable in the white’s America.

 He went on: 

I mean, we have two countries inside America morally, culturally and socially. We can see them all clashing over right to life, abortion, gay rights, all these things, stem cell research, God in school, prayer. We’re fighting with each other over that. That’s beyond politics. That’s beyond even a great political leader like Ronald Reagan. It is beyond politics. Politics can deal with our fiscal problem and all that but, Diane, we are two countries.

Don’t you see? If those of us who disagree with Pat Buchanan and the conservative movement would just change our minds and agree with them on all those divisive issues, or perhaps better still, pack up and move, they could have their country back and America could be great again.

As it is, out of the mouth of Pat Buchanan, we just can’t live together in a powerful America.

But I won’t let Pat Buchanan have the last word on this one.  Please take the time to read the following 1990 remarks by none other than Ronald Reagan, whom very few conservatives dare to contradict.  The remarks, for this former fan of Mr. Reagan, still give me chills:

And now, let me speak directly to the young people and the students here. I wonder yet if you’ve appreciated how unusual—terribly unusual—this country of ours is?

I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. but he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.

Some may call it mysticism if they will, but I cannot help but feel that there was some divine plan that placed this continent here between the two great oceans to be found by people from any corner of the earth — people who had an extra ounce of desire for freedom and some extra courage to rise up and lead their families, their relatives, their friends, their nations and come here to eventually make this country.

The truth of the matter is, if we take this crowd and if we could go through and ask the heritage, the background of every family represented here, we would probably come up with the names of every country on earth, every corner of the world, and every race. Here, is the one spot on earth where we have the brotherhood of man. And maybe as we continue with this proudly, this brotherhood of man made up from people representative of every corner of the earth, maybe one day boundaries all over the earth will disappear as people cross boundaries and find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man in every corner.

Thank you all and God Bless you all.

Remarks And Asides

TV evangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson has declared he is done with endorsing candidates: 

I’ve personally backed off from direct political involvement. I’ve been there, done that. The truth of the matter is politics is not going to change our world. It’s really not going to make that much of a difference.

Now, if only he will tell GOP Jesus that. The Man Upstairs has got at least three Republican candidates in the race.

___________________________

In response to an assertion from Dick and/or Liz Cheney that President Obama “slandered the nation,” and that he “owes an apology to the American people” for daring to criticize the Bush torture policy while subsequently following Bush-like counterterrorism strategy, John McCain said the following:

It is very obvious that one of the great recruitment tools that our enemy has is the fact that we tortured people, which is not in keeping with the standards of the treatment of prisoners. We never got useful information as a result of torture, but we sure got a lot of angry citizens around the world, and deservedly so.

Deservedly so.” Imagine, if you can, what would have happened if President Obama had said “citizens around the world” were “deservedly” angry at us for torturing prisoners. 

_______________________________

Speaking of Obama’s imitation of the Bush-Cheney strategy on terrorism, Joshua Hersh at HuffPo reminded us of this quote from the 2008 version of Mitt Romney:

Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the War on Terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.

He had no doubt.  He had no doubt that “Barack and Hillary” “would retreat and declare defeat.” Someone should tell that to Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki and many others because they do have serious doubts whether Barack and Hillary would retreat and declare defeat.

Of course if you want to tell them you will have to call long-distance.

_______________________________

In light of the Wall Street protests in New York and elsewhere, someone at HuffPo pulled this remarkable quote from an old George Carlin routine (I’ve changed the profanity to protect the innocent):

You know something? [Wall Street] will get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later, ’cause they own this (bleepin’) place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club. … The table is tilted, folks. The game is rigged. And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. Good, honest hard working people … continue to elect these rich (bleepbleepers) who don’t give a (bleep) about them.

Bleepin’ A.

________________________________

Finally, take this all you Obama-hating, Warren Buffett-loathing Reagan worshippers:

Ronald Reagan’s Broken Heart

Last night, I watched Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, on MSNBC.

Ms. Davis had movingly wrote of her father last February, discussing especially his “journey down the narrowing road of Alzheimer’s“:

I already knew his memory of being President had been extinguished. He remembered ice skating as a boy and swimming in the Rock River in summer but not his impact on the country and the world.

Alzheimer’s didn’t kill Reagan’s “graciousness, his kindness towards others, his gratitude and his humility,” she wrote.

Ms. Davis, who didn’t exactly share her father’s politics, wished she could have asked him about his amazing confidence, his utter trust in his faith that gave fear no place. And:

I want to tell him I remember the nights when I was a child and he traced the constellations for me, showing me Pegasus and Orion. I want to tell him that even though light-years came between us later on, I never stopped believing he hung the moon.

He lives in me on the edge of dreams,” she confessed. “He lives in the regrets that burden me and the sweet memories that keep me afloat.”  And a deeper confession:

There was a moment, midway through the Alzheimer’s years, when I was leaving my parents’ house and I said to him, “Bye. I love you.” His eyes opened wide in surprise and he said, “Well, thank you. Thank you so much.” He had no idea who I was. He was startled and typically gracious about another human being’s telling him she loved him. I don’t know if I will ever reach that level of grace, but I’m grateful for having been born to a man who did.

Grace.  Whatever you want to say about Ronald Reagan, whatever one thinks of his policies, he did have a certain grace, which may have been the secret to his electoral success, despite policies that did damage to much of the electorate that helped elect him.

All of which leads us to something Patti Davis wrote last week about the Republican debate held in her father’s presidential library:

If you walked out of the hangar-like building and turned left, went up a path past a wide grassy area with a canyon below and miles of sky above, you would reach my father’s burial site. On the stone tomb you would read these words: “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”

There is purpose and worth to each and every life,” Reagan’s tombstone inscription reads.  Which moves us to the critique of that disturbing part of last week’s Republican debate, when moderator Brian Williams asked Governor Rick Perry if he ever “struggled to sleep at night with the idea” that one of those 234 death-row inmates Texas has executed just might have been innocent.  If you remember, I asked readers to,

…forget for a moment, if you can, that a room full of Republicans thought it appropriate to applaud the record-setting government execution of 234 people…

Rick Perry’s strange and disturbing response was:

No, sir.  I’ve never struggled with that at all…

Patti Davis, the daughter of conservatism’s number one icon, said she remembered the first time her father, governor of California, had to order a state execution:

He and a minister went into a room, got down on their knees and prayed.

No bravado.  No shying away from admitting that taking a man’s or woman’s life, even if the state sanctions it, is necessarily fraught with fear and trembling, at least amounting to a “struggle” that perhaps out of those 234 people—just perhaps—one may have been innocent.  

Davis wrote:

The moment that would have broken my father’s heart was the moment when applause broke out at the mention of more than 200 executions ordered by Rick Perry in Texas. It was stunning and brought tears to my eyes. This is what we’ve come to? That we applaud at executions?

Yes, that’s exactly what some of us—those who call themselves conservative Republicans—have come to.

Spare-A-Dime Shift?

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?  Harburg and Gorney, 1931

I heard Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, say last night that because of the Republican victory in the contrived crisis over the debt ceiling, which was initially led by Tea Party types but consummated by the GOP establishment, there has been a “paradigm shift” in American politics.

I thought about that.  A paradigm shift is essentially a revolution in thinking, or “a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory.”  And what follows the change in underlying beliefs is a change in subsequent actions.

In the case of American politics, it can only mean a dramatic change in assumptions about how America should be governed, what kind of society should result from that governance, and who should be the governors.

Two popular versions of one of the great songs of the Great Depression, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee, were released in 1932, just before the election of Franklin Roosevelt, whose ascent to the White House certainly represented a paradigm shift in American politics.

That song, as Wikipedia summarizes it,

asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned, in bread lines.

Roosevelt’s answer, of course, was that such men should not find themselves abandoned. Thus, the New Deal began in 1933 with the lofty goals of helping the poor and those without jobs, fixing the broken economy, and reforming the financial system that had let so many Americans down.

If those lofty goals sound familiar to post-2008 crash ears, what doesn’t jibe with history, as we battle the continuing economic slump, is the response from today’s Republican Party, which essentially distills to,

No, brother, we can’t spare a dime.

In that sense, Mr. Steele is right. There has been a revolution in the character of today’s Republican Party, a collection of extremists that the putative Father of the teapartiers, Ronald Reagan, wouldn’t even recognize.

But have the wider assumptions about American governance that have prevailed since 1933 suddenly disappeared?  Has there been a mainstream paradigm shift?

No.

There has been, since the election of President Reagan in 1980, certain abstract and ambiguous ideas buzzing about the American electorate that government has grown “too big” and taxes are “too high.” 

But a noisy schizophrenia has always accompanied those comfortingly vague ideas: A swath of Americans hold that they want smaller government and lower taxes but they don’t want to cut down the pillars of the New Deal or its child, the Great Society.

Poll after poll demonstrate that Americans refuse to part with cherished programs, no matter what their abstract ideas about the size of government may be.  A CNN/ORC poll recently asked Americans if they would favor or oppose the following as a way to reduce the deficit:

                                 Favor cutting              Oppose cutting

Social Security:             16                           84 (81% of Republicans)

Medicare:                      12                           87 (85% of Republicans)

Medicaid:                       22                           77 (64% of Republicans)

Given numbers like these, the uninitiated might ask: How have budget-cutting and New Deal-threatening Republicans managed to be so successful?

Generalities.  They speak in generalities about the size of government and high taxes and the strange liberal man in the White’s House that wants to steal your freedom and take all your money and give it to the undeserving.

That’s how they do it.

But hopefully—now that President Obama and the Democrats perhaps finally understand the nature of the Tea Party beast they are confronting—they will use the tactics and budget votes of Republicans against them.  Tactics and votes that seriously threaten to kill the New Deal—which, if successful, would be a real paradigm shift.

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, Radicals Didn’t Control The GOP

Once upon a time, even Republicans thought it was “nutty to fool around with the Social Security system.” 

Those words were uttered in 1988 by George H.W. Bush during the Republican presidential primary, in which Republican candidate Pierre Samuel du Pont IV proposed partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that fell flat even with the GOP electorate.

But Bush II campaigned in 2000 on the issue of personal Social Security accounts and by the time he was reelected in 2004, he thought it was time to advance the idea beyond campaign rhetoric.  In his 2005 State of the Union address he said:

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Thankfully, given what happened in 2008, we didn’t “fix” Social Security in the way that Bush II and other conservative Republicans wanted to.  Bush’s first major failure—in 2010 the former President said it was his greatest failure—of his second term was handed to him not just by Democrats and the public, who wisely didn’t warm up to the idea, but also by legislators in his own party, legislators who controlled both houses of Congress at the time.

Well, the failures in the past haven’t deterred today’s radical Republicans from attempting to enact their privatization scheme.  Paul Ryan’s original budget proposal, the so-called “Roadmap for the Future,” essentially reiterated Bush II’s 2005 idea. 

And less than two weeks ago, with not nearly enough media attention, House Republicans introduced more privatize-Social Security legislation, this version with an immediate partial opt-out of Social Security and an eventual full opt-out of the system.

The bill, H.R. 2109, was introduced by the head of the House Republican campaign committee, Pete Sessions (TX).  Get that? The head of the House Republican campaign committee introduced a bill that would effectively kill Social Security.  How bold is that?

All of this demonstrates what Luke Fuszard at Business Insider (“How Republicans Win, Even When They Lose”) describes as the GOP’s, “remarkable capability for patience in advancing its agenda.” Extremists in the party have done this by continually offering radical ideas and hoping each time that those ideas will get more mainstream support, thus moving the debate in their direction.

It’s all really beautiful, in a macabre sort of way.

Fuszard uses as his prime example of this phenomenon the once-kooky Republican ideas on tax policy and the federal budget, ideas we know today as supply-side economics.  Again, once upon a time, both parties, Republicans and Democrats, agreed that tax rates and tax revenues ought to be such that the federal government could pay its bills.

How novel a notion.

But with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Laffers, what were once fringe ideas became mainstream ideas.  Fuszard summarizes them:

Drawing on Austrian thinking, supply-side economists advocated large reductions in marginal income and capital gains tax rates. The resulting federal deficits would be temporary, they argued, as lowering tax rates would raise the needed revenue by causing faster economic growth.

He notes that with the Reagan victory,

Liberated conservatives decoupled tax rates from balanced budgets and no longer had to insist on fiscal responsibility. The theory was political genius that was easily sold to the American public – all the growth with none of the sacrifice. Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. In 1981, Reagan slashed the marginal rates for the top tax bracket from 70% to 50%. Later he further reduced the rate to 28%.

The rest, as they say, is budget history.  We are still living with the results of this fiscal foolishness, and Republicans, including current Republican presidential candidates, are still selling it as mainstream economic thinking.

Fuszard uses Tim Pawlenty’s “Better Deal” economic plan as an example:

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, half of Pawlenty’s $7.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next ten years would accrue to people who earn $500,000 per year or more.

There’s nothing new, unfortunately, about Republicans proposing more tax cuts for rich folks or, God help us, proposing to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

What’s new is that they can be so bold as to broadcast their intentions to the public, seemingly without much hesitation or fear.

That’s how successful their long-term strategy has been.

Remarks And Asides

Thanks to Moe at Whatever Works, I learned that the fruits of Dan Quayle’s genius didn’t fall far from the tree.  His son, now an Arizona congressman, said:

“When I was a child, President Ronald Reagan was the nice man who gave us jelly beans when we visited the White House.

I didn’t know then, but I know it now: The jelly beans were much more than a sweet treat that he gave out as gifts. They represented the uniqueness and greatness of America — each one different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony . . . “

I happen to think Congressman Quayle is on to something.  I never saw Ronald Reagan eat a black jelly bean. 

Come to think of it, J. Danforth Quayle himself had that race thing down to a science. Speaking before the United Negro College Fund in 1989, he reengineered the group’s motto:

What a terrible thing to have lost one’s mind. Or not to have a mind at all. How true that is.

He also said this about David Duke, the Lousiana racist who ran as a Republican:

Unfortunately, the people of Louisiana are not racists.

And finally, he told a group of American Samoans:

You all look like happy campers to me. Happy campers you are, happy campers you have been, and, as far as I am concerned, happy campers you will always be.

Genius, pure genius.

_________________________

Speaking of genius-ness, it looks like George W. Bush will not be going to Switzerland after all.  The Decider was supposed to appear as the keynote speaker at a Jewish charity dinner in Geneva, but he made one of those courageous decisions not to attend, due to “security” reasons.

Of course, it may be, as some allege, that W. fears spending some time in the hoosegow, since criminal complaints against him for torture have been filed in Geneva courts.  According to Reuters, Reed Brody, an attorney for Human Rights Watch said:

President Bush has admitted he ordered waterboarding which everyone considers to be a form of torture under international law. Under the Convention against Torture, authorities would have been obliged to open an investigation and either prosecute or extradite George Bush,” Brody said.

Whoops. Perhaps world travel is not in the cards for our former president. Looks like Dallas’ Preston Hollow residents will have to get used to seeing W. hanging around there more often. 

_________________________

I did it!  I finally lived long enough to agree with Bill Kristol!  In his column, he said that it is “not a sign of health” that Glenn Beck “rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East…and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left.” That’s great.

But speaking of health, if only Mr. Kristol would get his own check up.  He still believes the Iraq War he helped bring to pass was the right thing to do. He has argued for U.S. military action against Iran. He strongly urged John McCain to unleash Sarah Palin on civilization.  So, I don’t think he’s exactly the right guy to pass judgment on Glenn Beck’s health, but on the right there aren’t too many right guys.

_________________________

Speaking of Sarah Palin and her continued assault on civilization, the former fractional governor of Alaska’s 20-year-old daughter, Bristol, will join in on the family’s bilking business as she gets set to release her, ahem, “memoir” this summer.  The much-awaited book is tentatively titled, “John McCain Answers Prayers.” 

An American Smile

Just a short, if unlikely, tribute to Ronald Reagan, on this day, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

I am on a short list of people, I suspect, who both loved and admired Ronald Reagan and love and admire Barack Obama.   My passionate affair with politics essentially began with Mr. Reagan and his ascent to the presidency in 1981.  I spent most of the following two decades as a hard-core conservative, with Ronald Reagan as my politico hero. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Even back then, I had my problems with Reagan.  My unrelenting and uncompromising conservatism found Reagan’s governance problematic, especially in his second term.  I vehemently disliked the way he seemed to throw Oliver North under the liberal bus, as Democrats pursued the Iran-Contra scandal. 

I wrote William F. Buckley—my intellectual hero at the time—and asked him if he wanted to reevaluate his fondness for Mr. Reagan in terms of his conservatism, since it seemed that Reagan was wavering on his commitment to conservative principles.  Mr. Buckley’s brother responded with a curt, “Bill hasn’t changed his mind.” 

I was fortunate enough to get to ask Bill Buckley a question in 1987, after a speech Buckley gave in Wichita.  “Is Ronald Reagan a good conservative?” I wondered.  Buckley’s answer was an affirmation of Reagan’s conservative credentials and a short lesson on how difficult it is to get things done in Washington.   But I think that’s still a good question today.  Was Ronald Reagan a good conservative?

Certainly the way Ronald Reagan practiced his conservatism is different from the way it is practiced these days.  Reagan’s pick of George H. W. Bush, a then-moderate Republican, as his running mate in 1980 and his subsequent appointment of James Baker, a pragmatic, non-movement conservative, as his first Chief of Staff was seen as something of a betrayal of principle, an unholy compromise, by many on the calcified Right. And certainly Reagan’s legendary “deals” with Democrats were not the kind of thing one would expect to see today from Republican leaders, despite the lame duck agreements last year. 

As uber-conservative William Bennett said today, there is good and bad to say about Reagan, in terms of his conservatism.  He signed a law as governor of California that was one of the most lenient abortion measures in the country; he raised taxes as president; he granted amnesty to illegal immigrants.  And outside of a conservative context, there are other things to say good and bad about the man: his description of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”; his pursuit of arms control agreements; his increased pressure on the Soviets until they collapsed; his legacy of deficits and debt; Iran-Contra; and so on.  

But all that is for another day. 

Today, I want to pay respect to a man whose smile, as James Baker said in a ceremony in California, was “a national treasure.”  No matter what you thought about his policies, there is still something comforting even today about that smile, which really is an American smile.  It was full of the promise and hope of America, and too often promise and hope are missing in our political chatter today. 

So, as much as it is possible for a liberal to do so, I want to honor Mr. Reagan, not so much for what he did, but for who he was: An American president who loved his country, a love inherent in every reassuring smile.

Does Antonin Scalia Have Alzheimer’s?

Whatever Glenn Beck has been smoking the past few years, he must have passed the pipe to Antonin Scalia.

Or maybe it’s just an early sign of Alzheimer’s.  In both cases.

Whatever it is, Scalia has managed to make himself look like a Tea Party nut, which really isn’t that hard for a Republican to do these days.

When asked whether “we’ve gone off in error” by applying the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to both sex discrimination and sexual orientation, the judicial fundamentalist said:

Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that…

I’m not going to bother quoting the rest of his statement, but I will bother to quote the relevant language in the Fourteenth Amendment:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

You may wonder how anyone can misunderstand the words “nor deny any person…the equal protection of the laws.” You may wonder, but not a man who fashions himself an “originalist,” which is just another way of saying he is the Jerry Falwell (Devil rest his soul) of constitutional interpretation.

You see, the Bible says God created the world in six days, science be damned. And the Constitution says women and gays (and by logical extension, Latinos, Jews and female Blacks) don’t have equal protection because those who wrote and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment didn’t particularly have women or gays or Latinos or Jews or female Blacks in mind when they did so.

So, under Scalia’s Falwellian judicial philosophy, if women, and others not originally and explicitly envisioned as deserving equal protection of the law, want that equal protection, they will have to get the legislature to guarantee it. “Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law,” Scalia says.

Never mind that conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger—and all of his colleagues—ruled in 1971 that women were protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. And never mind that here in 21st century America it is just plain silly to construe the Constitution in such a way that eliminates equal protection of the law for more than half of the population.

And never mind that Scalia’s originalist interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment turned to goo when it was politically convenient. As Adam Cohen pointed out:

Justice Scalia doesn’t even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters — who, after all, were trying to help black people achieve equality — intended to protect President Bush’s right to have the same procedures for a vote recount in Broward County as he had in Miami-Dade? (If Justice Scalia had been an equal-protection originalist in that case, he would have focused on the many black Floridians whose votes were not counted — not on the white President who wanted to stop counting votes.)

I think this is an appropriate time to remind everyone that Antonin Scalia was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a remarkably close vote: 98 to 0.

Can anyone today imagine a judicial nominee who is as far to the left as Scalia is to the right getting a seat on the court with a 98-0 vote?  Heck, such a nominee wouldn’t even get all the Democratic votes.

In any case, Scalia was chosen by Reagan for two reasons: he was very young and he didn’t have too many of those tell-tale opinions floating around that would clue us in to his Falwellian fundamentalism.

It’s sort of like if the Falwellian Jerry Falwell wanted to infiltrate the Unitarian Universalist Church, he would have to do so before they discovered he was a uber-Baptist who believed that Unitarians were headed straight for hell.

But for all his talents (his opinions are fun to read), we can now regard Antonin Scalia as, in the best case but still sadly, Glenn Beck with a law degree.  Is Goldline a sponsor of today’s conservatie Supreme Court?

Or, in the worst case, we are observing the first ravages of dementia, as Alzheimer’s sinks its teeth into the brain of a man whose faulty fealty to literalism seemingly knows no bounds.

I say “seemingly” because maybe we are merely observing the behavior of a man who is nothing but a hack for the Republican Party. Here is Adam Cohen again on the Citizens United decision, in which Scalia and is conservative colleagues anthropomorphized corporations:

It is a strange view of the Constitution to say that when it says every “person” must have “equal protection,” it does not protect women, but that freedom of “speech” — something only humans were capable of in 1787 and today — guarantees corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

A strange view, indeed.  But not if you are a Republican.

Remarks and Asides

Yet another federal judge rejected arguments that our new health care law’s insurance mandate is unconstitutional.  This time it was in Virginia, via a lawsuit brought by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, which is where Baptist brains go to die.

The “university” sued claiming not only that the Commerce Clause cannot be used to justify the mandate, but that the law violates the university’s religious rights (universities have religious rights?) because it forces the anti-choice zealots to subsidize abortion in some strange way that nobody can understand, including those who actually wrote the law. 

Oh, well.  It’s on to the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where the zealots believe they have a fighting chance with their fellow zealots who happen to control the court.  God is good, you know.

________________________

Republican presidential hopefuls are demonstrating orgasmic enthusiasm for doing something about the WikiLeaks fiasco.  Something violent.

Mike Huckabee, whom God made governor of Arkansas as part of his Plan to make the Huckster president (it worked once before), not only wants to execute the source of the leaks, he also wants to execute the New York Times for publishing some of the leaks.  How do you electrocute a newspaper?  

Sarah Palin wants the President to hunt down WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is from the Land Down Under, like a terrorist marsupial:

Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

Oh my God!  First Afghanistan, then Iraq, now Australia! 

________________________

Speaking of Sarah Palin, Joe Scarborough, a conservative with his own show on “liberal” MSNBC, has officially taken her on.  Well, actually he has taken on the Republican establishment for not taking her on:

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

Why speak the truth to her?  Why piss her off?  She’s not going to run for president, and anyone who wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party will need her loyal legions, whom she commands through Facebook and Twitter.  And it would be dumb, and unpresidential, to attack her for her anti-intellectualism, since that is what makes her so attractive to her anti-intellectual followers.

What was Scarborough thinking?

__________________________

Speaking of anti-intellectuals, in case you missed it, Steve King, Republican congressman from Iowa, has his hood and robe all in a tangle over the fact that black farmers might get their due, after the USDA admitted it had discriminated against them between 1983 and 1997 by not loaning them money to purchase farms or to save the farms they had. 

King, a follower of Jesus Christ, said,

We’ve got to stand up at some point and say, ‘We are not gonna pay slavery reparations in the United States Congress.’ That war’s been fought. That was over a century ago. That debt was paid for in blood and it was paid for in the blood of a lot of Yankees, especially. And there’s no reparations for the blood that paid for the sin of slavery. No one’s filing that claim.

But besides all that, did you know Obama supported the black farmers?  And did you know Obama was (whisper) b-l-a-c-k?  Well, actually King said Barack Obama was “very, very urban.” Apparently, that’s how folks in Sioux City and Council Bluffs refer to “negroes.”

Another fun fact about Steve King: Last year, the House voted to place a plaque in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center that would acknowledge the role of slavery in the construction of the Capitol.  The measure passed 399 to 1.  Yep. You guessed it. Here was part of King’s explanation:

This is just the latest example of a several year effort by liberals in Congress to scrub references to America’s Christian heritage from our nation’s Capitol. Liberals want to amend our country’s history to eradicate the role of Christianity in America and chisel references to God or faith from our historical buildings.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage is an essential foundation stone of our great nation and should not be held hostage to yet another effort to place guilt on future Americans for the sins of some of their ancestors.

This man sits on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil LibertiesWho knows, next January he may be the chairman. God willing.

How To Think About Our Economic Troubles

Bear with me, but the following is sort of dense and difficult to absorb, but I believe it is essential in understanding what to do about the state of our (and the world) economy, beyond the “cut spending at all costs” meme dominant today:

David Stockman, Republican Ronald Reagan’s budget director, said this on 60 Minutes last night, when asked by Leslie Stahl what he meant by “Tax cutting is a religion“:

Well it’s become in a sense an absolute. Something that can’t be questioned, something that’s gospel, something that’s sort of embedded into the catechism. And so scratch the average Republican today and he’ll say “Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.” It’s rank demagoguery. We should call it for what it is. If these people were all put into a room on penalty of death to come up with how much they could cut, they couldn’t come up with $50 billion, when the problem is $1.3 trillion. So, to stand before the public and rub raw this anti-tax sentiment, the Republican Party, as much as it pains me to say this, should be ashamed of themselves.

However, Stockman doesn’t just criticize Republicans for their demagoguery:

We have now got both parties essentially telling a Big Lie. With a capital ‘B’ and a capital ‘L’ to the public: and that is that we can have all this government—24 percent of GDP, this huge entitlement program, all of the bailouts—and yet we don’t have to tax ourselves and pay our bills. That’s delusional.

It is delusional, if Democrats are determined, like Republicans, to make the tax cuts permanent, forever and ever.  Americans of all income groups are taxed less today than in 1982, the beginning of the age of hyper-deficit spending.  And despite David Stockman’s role in that unfortunate age, he is willing to admit that the tax cut hysteria is wrong.  It is wrong arithmetically and it is wrong morally, given all that needs to be done in our country.

But because of the slow economic recovery, the answer is not to raise taxes on all Americans right now, when there is still some risk of a return to the 2008-2009 decline or worse.  Extending the Bush tax cuts on all incomes up to $250,000 is the prudent thing to do for the next couple of years, until we are safely removed from the threat of economic regression.  It is a good bet that a large amount of that tax-cut money will get spent—it will circulate—and act as a stimulus for the economy as a whole.

But, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, the current opinion regarding the world’s economic situation is on the side of those who,

demand fiscal austerity from everyone; to reject unconventional monetary policy as unsound; and of course to denounce any help for debtors as morally reprehensible. So we’re in a world in which Very Serious People demand that debtors spend less than their income, but that nobody else spend more than their income.

Following that advice, Krugman argues, will result in a continuation of the economic slump, “a prolonged period of economic weakness that actually makes the debt problem harder to resolve.”

And here’s why:

The background to the world economic crisis is that we went through an extended period of rising debt. Now, one person’s liability is another person’s asset, so rising debt made the world as a whole neither richer nor poorer. It did, however, leave the borrowers increasingly leveraged. And then came the Minsky moment; suddenly, investors were no longer willing to roll over, let alone increase, the debts of highly leveraged players. So these players are being forced to pay down debt.

The process of paying down debt, however, must obey two rules:

1. Those who pay down debt must do so by spending less than their income.

2. For the world as a whole, spending equals income.

It follows that

3. Those who are not being forced to pay down debt must spend more than their income.

But here’s the problem: there’s no good mechanism in place to induce those who can spend more to do so. Low interest rates do encourage spending; but given the size of the debt shock, even zero rates are nowhere near low enough.

So since the world economy can’t raise the bridge, it is lowering the water: without sufficient spending from those who can, the only way to make the accounting identities hold is for incomes to decline — specifically, the incomes of those not constrained by debt must decline so as to create a sufficiently large gap between their (unchanged) spending and their incomes to offset the forced saving of debtors. Of course, the mechanism here is an overall global slump, so the debtors are squeezed as well, forced into even more painful cuts.

If you have followed this argument thus far (I have left out Krugman’s discussion of inflation as a mechanism for eroding debt obligations), you can guess the remedy:

To avoid all this, we’d need policies to encourage more spending. Fiscal stimulus on the part of financially strong governments would do it; quantitative easing can help, but only to the extent that it encourages spending by the financially sound, and it’s a little unclear what the process there is supposed to be.

Oh, and widespread debt forgiveness (or inflating away some of the debt) would solve the problem.

As I said, this stuff is a little hard to understand, and in some cases, digest. But the bottom line is this:

1. We need more spending to ensure we don’t go into another severe recession, or God forbid, a depression.

2. In the absence of, or in addition to, effective policies to increase private-sector spending, government spending by those governments strong enough to do it is vital for a stronger economic rebound.

3. The long-term debt needs to be addressed by adjusting government revenue to spending in a rational and sustainable way. (However, if Republicans have their way, spending will be adjusted to insufficient revenue.)

“A Mistake Of Historic Proportions”

Juan Don has brought to my attention a post last week by Wallace Turbeville, a former Vice President of Goldman Sachs and now a visiting scholar at the Roosevelt InstituteThis is serious stuff.

I recommend reading the entire piece (which is only Part 1, with more to come), but I will excerpt a few nuggets here:

Unemployment seems strangely intractable in this particular recession, and no one will cut the party in power a break until the economic system’s wounds heal.

Believing this would be a mistake of historic proportions.

Decades of conservative policies, vigorously promoted by conservative Republicans and timidly acquiesced to by progressive…Democrats, have torn a hole at the center of the economy…For decades following the New Deal, prosperity of both the rich and the poor was secured through government policies that broadened participation of the weak and less wealthy in the economy. The Great Depression taught us that balancing the interests of the middle and lower classes against business and the rich is in the long-term interest of both. It is not about class war. It serves the practical long-term interests of everyone.

I have repeatedly argued that those of us on this side of the political debate are trying to save capitalism from the laissez-faire capitalists. The “weak and less wealthy” need to be a part of robust economic growth; they need, as President Obama said today, to have “ladders“—real ones—that allow them to climb into the middle class. As Turbeville suggests, this is a practical argument, not an attempt at class warfare, and folks out there need to know what his happening:

…conservative ideology encourages the wealthy to churn passive investments designed to squeeze out the last drops of value from existing assets through financial “innovations.”

The public needs reminding of the pragmatic connection between progressive principles and a healthy economy, in which businesses are profitable year after year and families have bread on the table. It turns out that the connection is real and has never been more relevant than today.

The former Goldman Sachs executive squarely places the burden of “reminding the public” on progressives themselves, urging them to turn Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase inside out: “Government is not the problem. Government is the only way to fix the problem.”

Here is a summary of the problem, according to Mr. Turbeville:

  • Income disparity has “reached levels that mirror income disparity in 1929” and is “comparable to several Latin American countries.”
  • In contrast to post-WWII recession history, periods of post-recessionary unemployment are increasing with each successive recession since 1990.  “In the 1990/91 recession, the recovery period was 23 months, and in 2001 the period was 38 months. The recovery period for the recent recession is unknown, but prospects are grim.”  Prior to 1990, “employment rates recovered fully within eight months of the trough of each recession.”
  • U. S. consumers are borrowing money and buying foreign goods from many countries who are also supplying the credit to buy those goods. Simultaneously, the export of American goods is far below the imports.
  • Asset price bubbles and bursts appear to be more frequent and extreme.”  This includes the residential and commercial real estate markets, as well as “‘dot-com stocks,’ oil and agricultural products. Deregulation of financial and commodities markets facilitated the bubbles, but an increasing investor preference for short-term financial profits drove them.”
  • The graduation rates of high schools and colleges have “stagnated,” which represents “an historic departure from longstanding American leadership in educating its young people.”  This is part of the unemployment problem referred to by Bill Clinton on Meet The Press on Sunday:

…the biggest problem, is there’s a skills mismatch.  The jobs that are being opened don’t have qualified people applying for them.  We need a system to immediately train them to move into that job…There are five million people who could go to work tomorrow if they were trained to do the jobs that are open, and the unemployment rate in America would immediately drop from 9.6 to about 7 percent or 6.9. 

As Mr. Turbeville suggests, Democrats need to quit playing defense and let the American people know what is going on and make the case that what Republicans are offering this November to solve our problems is what caused the problems we need to solve.

As I said, this is serious stuff. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Bearing False Witness, Sort Of

Cal Thomas, a regular Christian columnist in the Joplin Globe, reached a new low in dishonesty with his latest column on Barack Obama, a man apparently even Jesus doesn’t love.

The column, which appeared this morning in our local paper, isn’t anything new for Thomas, who despite his claim to hate the vitriol that is part of politics today, is as harsh and vitriolic a critic of Obama as one will find.

But it’s not his attacks on Obama in his column that bother me; those are standard-issue for conservatives. It is his use—or blatant misuse—of Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist who writes for the New York Times, and who Thomas calls a “liberal economic columnist.”

Fair enough. Krugman isn’t exactly Murray Rothbard.  

But then Thomas, a friend of Jesus, wrote this:

In a column last week, Krugman, who has enthusiastically supported the president’s redistributionist and stimulus plans, bowed to the reality that they are not working. In the column titled “This is Not a Recovery,” Krugman took issue with the president and Vice President Joe Biden that we have experienced a summer of economic recovery. “Unfortunately, that’s not true,” he wrote. “This isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters. And policymakers should be doing everything they can to change that fact.”

Krugman asked an essential question: “Why are people who know better sugarcoating economic reality? The answer, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s all about evading responsibility.”

Now, if Thomas had gone on to explain that the reason Krugman is upset with Obama and his economic policies is because they weren’t “redistributionist and stimulus” enough—they weren’t big enough to do the job—that would be a rare moment of truthfulness for Jerry Falwell’s former partner in theological crime.

But no.  Right after sharing with his readers Krugman’s criticism of the administration, Thomas writes this:

The administration is so locked into its left-wing, “tax, borrow and spend” ideology that it has become like someone trapped in a cult: unable to escape and endlessly repeating the same mantra.

Using Krugman to buttress this nonsense is just about as dishonest as my using Cal Thomas to buttress my argument that Republican politicians are phony, hypocritical charlatans who don’t deserve even one vote this November.  I mean, after all, a year and a half ago Thomas wrote this about his sometimes ideological soul mates:

Which Republican will you attach your faith and hope to next to usher in the Kingdom of God? You liked Reagan, right? He raised taxes, signed an amnesty bill for illegals and gave us three Justices who voted to uphold Roe vs, Wade. That worked out well, didn’t it? 

I could use that selection and build my anti-Republican case, but that wouldn’t exactly be Jesus-like.  Because Thomas wrote the above in response to criticism he received for urging his fellow Christians to get back to the Gospel and avoid Christian political activism in order to “save” America. 

I could also use Thomas’ urging of fellow Christians to concentrate less on the gay marriage issue and more on the problems associated with heterosexual marriages. I could write a blog supporting homosexual rights, and I could quote Thomas and then go on to bash Bible-thumpers who want to deny sodomites the benefits of marital bliss.

But that would sort of be bearing false witness, wouldn’t it?

Finally, just for the record, here are three paragraphs from Krugman’s column that followed the quote used by Thomas in his column:

Why are people who know better sugar-coating economic reality? The answer, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s all about evading responsibility.

In the case of the Fed, admitting that the economy isn’t recovering would put the institution under pressure to do more. And so far, at least, the Fed seems more afraid of the possible loss of face if it tries to help the economy and fails than it is of the costs to the American people if it does nothing, and settles for a recovery that isn’t.

In the case of the Obama administration, officials seem loath to admit that the original stimulus was too small. True, it was enough to limit the depth of the slump — a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office says unemployment would probably be well into double digits now without the stimulus — but it wasn’t big enough to bring unemployment down significantly.

Now, it’s arguable that even in early 2009, when President Obama was at the peak of his popularity, he couldn’t have gotten a bigger plan through the Senate. And he certainly couldn’t pass a supplemental stimulus now. So officials could, with considerable justification, place the onus for the non-recovery on Republican obstructionism. But they’ve chosen, instead, to draw smiley faces on a grim picture, convincing nobody. And the likely result in November — big gains for the obstructionists — will paralyze policy for years to come.

So you can see just how dishonest Thomas was, and you can see that although Thomas accuses the Obama administration of being trapped in a “cult” of ideology, it is a case of projection. 

Cal Thomas and other conservatives are so obsessed with their hatred of everything Obama, they are willing to hijack the friendly criticisms of Obama’s natural ideological supporters to serve their pathological philosophy.

[Krugman photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America]

Former Reaganite Calls Republican Economics “Vulgar Keynesianism”

I first wrote about David Stockman after the release of his tell-all book, The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed, in 1986.  As a conservative back then, I took issue with Ronald Reagan’s youthful OMB director for his “betrayal” of Reagan and the conservative movement by exposing some of the Republican family secrets.

Stockman, responsible for Reagan’s budgets, had earlier revealed to William Greider in the famous 1981 Atlantic article, “The Education of David Stockman,” that,

None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers.

Disturbing stuff back in 1981, when the so-called Reagan Revolution was taking root.

Stockman entered Congress in 1977 as an enthusiastic small-government Republican. In the words of Greider,

Stockman had made himself a leading conservative gadfly, attacking Democratic budgets and proposing leaner alternatives.

Later embracing supply-side economics, Stockman saw that philosophy as the answer to the question that plagued Reagan during the 1980 campaign: How can Reagan cut taxes, dramatically increase defense spending, and keep the budget in balance all at the same time?

Well, as Stockman found out by the time he left the administration in 1985, Reagan couldn’t do all those things and didn’t really have the stomach for the fight.  And for some Republicans, two out of three wasn’t bad anyway. Deficits smeficits.

But for Stockman, the mounting deficits resulting from the fiscal policies of both Reagan and the Congressional Republicans were intolerable.  He advocated raising taxes to keep deficits down. Republicans, Stockman said back then, simply weren’t willing to make the kind of cuts that would counter the loss in government revenues and keep the budget in balance.  They simply didn’t have the courage of their convictions in those days.

Or these days.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed by none other than David Stockman, “Four Deformations of the Apocalypse.”

It began in a fury:

IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

You have to like that “vulgar Keynesianism” charge, coming not from a blogger for the Joplin Globe but from a Republican who was down in the trenches when the first shots were fired in the mythical Reagan Revolution.

But there’s more.  When discussing the exponential increase in the national debt, he said:

This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.

Stockman says that the “primordial forces” that drive the “federal spending machine” are “the welfare state and the warfare state“:

…the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward. And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who were supposed to cut spending exempted from the knife most of the domestic budget — entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects. But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.

Claiming that it was not “supply-side strategy” but Fed chairman Paul Volcker’s crushing of inflation in the 1980s that enabled the famous economic recovery conservatives endlessly champion up to this day, Stockman said Republicans became,

hooked…on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts.

And listen to this:

By fiscal year 2009, the tax-cutters had reduced federal revenues to 15 percent of gross domestic product, lower than they had been since the 1940s.

Now, given that fact, if supply-side economics really worked, we would be awash in jobs and prosperity, the Bush years instead bringing us high unemployment and near-depression.

There is much more to Stockman’s piece in the Times, and anyone interested in the traditional Republican view of how we got to where we are today would do well to read it all.

But here is the last paragraph:

The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing — as suggested by last week’s news that the national economy grew at an anemic annual rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter. Under these circumstances, it’s a pity that the modern Republican Party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach — balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline — is needed more than ever.

Vulgar Keynesianism,” indeed.

Obama, Carter, And The Chipper Gipper

Realizing I am but a lowly blogger and Paul Greenberg is a mammoth Pulitzer-totin’ columnist, I will nevertheless attempt yet again  to criticize the opinion of a man who seems to have (well, his columns read like he seems to have) a firm grasp of “What It Means To Be An American.”

In today’s Joplin Globe appeared Greenberg’s already out-of-date commentary on Barack Obama’s oil speech last week.  But maybe a chance to resurrect Jimmy Carter once more was just too tempting for our fair newspaper to resist printing a column whose stale-by date had come and gone. 

Here is Pultizer Paul’s opening paragraph today:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Poor President Carter.  He hasn’t been president for 30 years—thirty years!—but conservatives rarely miss an opportunity to scratch his eyes out anew, usually with a view to tainting a current Democratic president.

The usual mode of attack is to bring up that “(in)famous” Malaise Speech.  The one that supposedly doomed Jimmy Carter’s presidency and put him forever in the pantheon of pathetic presidents.  Greenberg writes that in the speech, Carter’s message was easy to discern:

…that beleaguered president got his message across clearly enough: He was the victim of a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people.

Sorry, your Southern Highness, but that wasn’t the message of the speech at all.  Read it for yourself right here.

The message of the speech—which had as its backdrop the “energy crisis” of the time—no matter what you think of the wisdom of it, was to honestly express to the American people what their president thought was a major problem going forward:

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

He continued:

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

Carter’s message in the 1979 speech was not one which attempted to blame the American people for his own problems, as the myth about the speech—told and retold by conservatives—would have it.

How about this paragraph, which could have been written yesterday:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Again, folks, that was 1979.

In any case, the speech itself was very well received at the time. Americans initially responded positively to Carter’s call to renew their “strength in the struggle for an energy secure nation,” and his poll numbers went up 11 points. 

That solidly contradicts Greenberg’s—did I mention he has a Pulitzer Prize?—claim that such honest talk from our presidents “just doesn’t seem to get it done…in flyover country, where introspection may be taken as just an early symptom of constipation.”

Notwithstanding Greenberg’s uninspiring vision of the common folk, the real reason the American people abandoned the sentiments in the speech is because Carter, only two days after the speech, fired his Cabinet, understandably causing the public to lose confidence in his leadership.

As Ezra Klein wrote last year,

The real lesson of that period is that presidents shouldn’t abruptly fire their cabinet and signal that their government has fallen into chaos. Voters, it turns out, have a quirky tendency to find that sort of behavior unsettling.

So, our Pulitzer winning writer from Arkansas, who just doesn’t like Barack Obama’s un-Arkansan—and by subtle implication, un-American—demeanor, has it all wrong about Jimmy Carter’s speech.

But for conservatives, particularly those who feign an unassailable acquaintance with the sensibilities of the American people, the truth doesn’t often get in the way of an opportunity to denigrate a Democratic president, past or present.

Finally, commenting on the American people’s penchant for the positive, for leaders who exude confidence no matter the circumstances, Greenberg said, “we like our leaders chipper, especially when the roof is falling in,” like, he continued,

Ronald Reagan when he inherited the Carter Malaise but acted as if he had just been handed the lead in a musical comedy co­starring Jimmy Cagney — and the happy ending was waiting in the very next reel.

Like any good conservative, Greenberg can’t resist a tip of the cap to the patron saint of deficit spending, Ronald Reagan, especially when attacking a Democrat, whether it be Carter or Obama.

But the truth—there’s that nasty word again—is that on January 28, 1983, Reagan’s approval rating was at 35%, and if an election had been held at that time, Greenberg’s philosophy-hating, non-introspective, flyover-country nobles would have sent the Chipper Gipper back to Hollywood.  As it turned out, the economy improved and so did Reagan’s approval ratings.

You see, it’s not cheery, starry-eyed optimists we want, Mr. Greenberg, it’s results. Carter didn’t bring us any and Reagan did.

And Obama has only been in charge about a year and a half.

Let Obama Be Reagan

I don’t blame Republicans one bit.  Naturally, they want folks to forget their governance malfeasance.

With the help of sympathetic journalists, the cry is, “When are Obama and the Democrats going to stop blaming Bush for everything?

Well, Obama has only been in office about 17 months.  Certainly, by now he should have either have fixed all our problems or at least stopped reminding people that many of those problems are attributable to the prior administration’s conservative political philosophy and policies.

Having said that, let’s look back at 1984.  Ronald Reagan had been in office for about 44 months—almost a full term.  Certainly, this conservative icon was all about taking responsibility for the country and wouldn’t stoop to blaming a prior Democratic administration or liberal philosophy, right?

Wrong. From his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Dallas—in 1984:

Our opponents began this campaign hoping that America has a poor memory. Well, let’s take them on a little stroll down memory lane. Let’s remind them of how a 4.8-percent inflation rate in 1976 became back-to-back years of double-digit inflation…

Under their policies, tax rates have gone up three times as much for families with children as they have for everyone else over these past three decades. In just the 5 years before we came into office, taxes roughly doubled…

The Census Bureau confirms that, because of the tax laws we inherited

For the 26 years prior to January of 1981, the opposition party controlled both Houses of Congress. Every spending bill and every tax for more than a quarter of a century has been of their doing…

And while we have our friends down memory lane, maybe they’d like to recall a gimmick they designed for their 1976 campaign…

The biggest annual increase in poverty took place between 1978 and 1981… And 1983 was the first year since 1978 that there was no appreciable increase in poverty at all…

In the 4 years before we took office, country after country fell under the Soviet yoke…

We’ve heard a lot about deficits this year from those on the other side of the aisle. Well, they should be experts on budget deficits. They’ve spent most of their political careers creating deficits. For 42 of the last 50 years, they have controlled both Houses of the Congress. And for almost all of those 50 years, deficit spending has been their deliberate policy…

They call their policy the new realism, but their new realism is just the old liberalism

It’s what they’ve done to America in the past. But if we do our job right, they won’t be able to do it again…

I say Obama and the Democrats should model themselves after Ronaldus Magnus and the Republicans and keep strolling down memory lane,  just in case folks forget “what they’ve done to America in the past.” 

Only this time, the “they” is them.

 

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