Remarks And Asides

Still good news for President Obama in the latest of four CBS News/New York Times polls done since April of 2009 on the question of:

Most to Blame for the Condition of the Economy  

                    Now         3/2010                7/2009       4/2009

Bush                26%           28                             30             33

Wall Street     25               22                             29             21

Congress        11                10                             12             11

Obama              8                 7                                4               2

All                     7                 7                                6               7

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In Minnesota, the Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton, and GOP legislators are locked in a battle over how to close the state’s $5 billion budget deficit—with progressive tax hikes or with even more big budget cuts—eerily calling to mind our larger national issue.

And as the case with our national deficit, much of it is due to a former Republican executive, in this case Tim Pawlenty.  Rather than seek another term as the state’s governor and help fix the problems he left, Pawlenty, no doubt in a spasm of selfless patriotism, is seeking to bring his governing wisdom and fiscal responsibility to Washington, where, God knows, we don’t have enough Republican experts on how to ruin the economy and undermine government.

The deadline to avoid a government shutdown in Minnesota is midnight.  Tick, tock.

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President Obama continues to suffer indignity after indignity at the hands of either right-wingers—Glenn Beck  calling him a racist who hates white folks and Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at him during an address to Congress—or comedians—Jon Stewart addressing him as “dude” on The Daily Show—or journalists, like this morning when a big-time editor of Time magazine, Mark Halperin, called Obama a, uh, “dick” on Morning Joe.

MSNBC suspended Halperin, who is a regular on Joe Scarborough’s program and an analyst for the network.  And Halperin  apologized.

I was watching the event and I must say that I was personally offended by the fact that it was part of his wrongheaded “analysis” of yesterday’s press conference.  Halperin, who is paid handsomely to offer insightful critiques of such things, was dead wrong about Obama’s performance. 

The Time editor thought the President should not have been so rough on those mistreated Republicans and should have tried to understand John Boehner’s inability to get the votes to pass a budget deal that included tax increases and not have acted so, well, so dick-like by insisting that at least some (but not nearly enough) reality be part of the debate.

Halperin’s stunningly bad analysis was at least as offensive as the D word. 

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And speaking of dicks and MSNBC, what’s up with former MSNBC star Keith Olbermann?  First he leaves MSNBC and begins another version of “Countdown” on Al Gore’s Current TV network, competing with Lawrence O’Donnell, who occupies Olbermann’s old spot on MSNBC with a show called The Last Word.

By the way, O’Donnell’s program is in many ways better than Olbermann’s original show.  O’Donnell is able to get opposition political guests on, which makes for entertaining television, and his “Rewrite” segment is often the best single segment on any cable news show.  And O’Donnell has worked in Congress, six years as an aid and senior advisor to Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a couple of years as the staff director of the Senate Finance Committee, maybe the most powerful committee in Congress.

In any case, Olbermann first tried to run his new show a little past the hour so as to cut into his former colleague Rachel Maddow’s show, but was duly criticized by his “fans,” and then apologized and pulled back to ending on the hour.  Then on Tuesday Olbermann tweeted (God, I hate that word and that method of communication) the latest ratings for O’Donnell, which dropped 12% in correlation with the debut of Olbermann’s new show (whose viewership is less than half of O’Donnell’s).

Jeeze, I used to like Olbermann, but this kind of behavior is so petty and so unnecessary.  With all the right-wing nuttery out there, one would think Olbermann would spend every single minute of his time taking care of that business rather than trying to embarrass fellow liberals.

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Finally, Glenn Beck’s last show is tonight, in case you want to find out how the world ends.  After many episodes of leading us to believe that our demise is near, surely tonight we will have the demented denouement.

Prediction: There will be plenty of references to his “new” gig away from Fox, just in case Obama doesn’t destroy the country anytime soon.

Tea Party Governance In Kansas Means Regulating Abortion Clinics Out Of Business

Whenever you hear Republicans waxing nasty about all the government regulation that hinders businesses and therefore hurts the economy, most of the time you can be confident they are lying through their gold teeth.

Such is the case in neighboring Kansas, where the legislature, completely controlled by Republicans, and the governor, a right-wing Christian Republican fanatic, have conspired to close down the state’s three—three!—remaining abortion clinics by using, what else,  so-called safety regulations, thirty-six pages of which are designed only to put the abortion clinics out of business.

As The Kansas City Star editorialized:

The latest political attack on abortion providers in Kansas is misguided, arrogant and dishonest, and opens up a state struggling to pay for schools to a long list of clearly indefensible lawsuits.

This attack came in the form of what is known as a TRAP law, a “targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Under the guise of ensuring the safety of patients, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature this year created a new regulation category for abortion providers, and gave the Kansas Department of Health and Environment broad authority to write the rules.

Officials gave the details to abortion providers in mid-June, noting that clinics had until July 1 to be in compliance or lose their license to operate.

The intent was to close down clinics and end the legal practice of abortion in Kansas.

The proof, as the Star offered, is that of the 241 ambulatory surgical clinics, “only the state’s three abortion clinics are subject to these regulations.”  And, “Many regulations have nothing to do with patient safety, and many are impossible to meet within two weeks.”

The editorial makes it clear that those who proposed these regulations aren’t really hiding their motivation: they want to make Kansas “the first abortion-free state.”

Religious zealots and anti-choice fanatics hitched a ride on the Tea Party train as it pulled out of Big Government Station just after President Obama assumed office in 2009, and after the train reached its November 2010 election stop, the zealots and fanatics got off and went to work attacking abortion rights.

The Star:

The attack on legal abortion is a cheap legislative trick to get around the law of the land. Legitimate safety regulations would be phased in, giving clinics time to get up to code. But these regulations were never meant to be legitimate.

Of course not.  And neither were the claims of many in the Tea Party movement who held signs at rallies around the country protesting the size and reach of government and making the outrageous claim that Obama and the Democrats were after our liberties.

What legitimacy there was in the Tea Party movement was soon undermined by Republican political operatives who moved in to take partisan political advantage of the Obama-induced angst on the Right by pretending to run “grassroots” operations.

And worse than that, Christian moralists and quasi-theocrats used the small-government, love-the-Constitution movement to gain power in order to enact their extremist anti-choice agenda, an agenda which includes using state governments to effectively eliminate in America the constitutional right to abortion.

Big government? You betcha.

Obama’s Presser: Here’s What He Said, Sort Of

In case you missed it, here’s what President Obama said today to various folks (more or less, in my stunningly accurate interpretation) during his press conference, the theme of which was, “Congress, get off your ass and go to work, the middle class is hurting“:

To those worried about jobs: There are plenty of job-creating bills in the congressional hopper right now that I would sign, if only Congress would act.  But speaking of acting, what the hell have you guys been doing?  While I’ve been dealing with Libya and handing over bin Laden to the bottom feeders, the Congress is here one week and gone the next.  Sheesh.  Good work, if you can get it.

To those who don’t want to raise revenues to help alleviate the deficit: Are you nuts? I’ve spent the last two years cutting taxes for ordinary folks, but the millionaires and billionaires and the oil companies and those who flitter about on corporate jets need to cough it up.  Come on, people.

To those who wonder whether Republican leadership will stop the nonsense and make a deal on the debt ceiling: My hope—and I confess at this point it is only a hope—is that despite all the teaparty talk, that eventually “leaders will lead” and do the right thing.  This debt ceiling business is not an abstraction.  It could kill the economy. The August 2 date is real and we won’t have any more “tools” to put off paying our bills.  Get busy.

To those who wonder what Obama’s stand on gay marriage is: Look, obviously I’m changing my mind about that issue but I’m not dumb enough to tell you that today because that’s all that would make news.  I came here to point out that Republicans have to get their act together on the debt ceiling negotiations and stop playing games.

To those worried about the National Labor Relations Board’s decision on Boeing:  Union folks, close your ears for a minute while I toss you under the bus:  The main thing is that as long as Boeing is keeping jobs here in America, nothing else much matters.  Okay, union folks, you can listen in again.

To those worried about over-regulating businesses: Don’t worry.  Businesses always complain about that stuff and we are working on eliminating a lot of previous regulations that we think are unnecessarily hindering business.  Give us a chance to get that done and you will be very, very happy.

To those making a fuss about his Libya policy: Are you kidding me?  Do you want to side with the American-killer, Kaddafi?  There’s no constitutional issue involved because I’m doing exactly what I said I’d do and this is nothing like Vietnam.  Do I look like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon?

To those who note that Obama didn’t use the word “victory” in his talk about Afghanistan:  Victory?  No way would I use that word, but I will use the word “success.”  And by success I mean giving the Afghanis a chance to defend themselves, whether they ultimately can or not.  I don’t mean turning their country into some kind of Jeffersonian paradise.

To those worried about how we will prosecute future terrorist suspects who are apprehended:  We will deal with those individuals on an individual basis, but the American people should rest assured that our top priority is killing the bastards who want to kill us.

To those concerned about our immigration policy: Nothing has changed.  We need comprehensive reform and we need to pass the DREAM Act. I’m shipping back more undocumented folks than any president in recent memory, so what more do you want from me?  Congress must act. 

To those worried about whether Sasha and Malia are getting their homework done: Look, my kids are more responsible than Republicans in Congress. They don’t wait ’till the last minute, when they know they gotta do something.

To those wondering whether the idea of cutting payroll taxes to stimulate the economy must be part of the debt ceiling agreement: Before I answer this one, I would like for all the Republicans to plug their ears: Hell no, it doesn’t.  I’m willing to wait on the stimulus as long as we get a deal on the debt ceiling. And I’m willing to say so right now, which means, of course, that I have lost my edge in negotiations.  Why the hell did I do that?

To those who want to know if Obama believes he can use the Fourteenth Amendment to get around the debt ceiling limitation statute:  I’m sort of not going to remember that Chuck Todd of NBC News ask me about that one.  Maybe I’ll just surprise you later.

Finally, to the middle class:  I think about you ever minute of every day because I know how desperate some of you are.  I came into this office pledging to fix the problems that plague you and most of the time the Republican leaders in Congress only want to play political games and look only to the near-term.  I’m a long-term sort of guy, and I am willing to make deals that aren’t that popular with the base of my party because I believe that in the long run fixing this economy and getting the deficit under control will serve you the best.

Obama’s Libya Policy Is Okay, Says The Congress

No matter what one thinks about it, for better or worse we live in a small world these days, especially in terms of how business works.

What is happening today in Greece matters to folks in Joplin, Mo., even if most folks in Joplin don’t know it.  The earthquake in Japan rattled economic windows here in the United States.  The so-called Arab Spring, a messy, frightening, encouraging, and confusing trend, definitely impacts not just American foreign policy, but because of the Western world’s heroin-like dependence on petroleum, it impacts our economy, too.

All of which leads us to what we are doing in Libya.

Unfortunately, much of the noise in the debate over President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in military operations in Libya is generated by concerns over his constitutional authority to continue our involvement in the NATO mission—yet another fight over the War Powers Resolution, which the Congress has not had the institutional chutzpah to actually test in court.

Despite all of the Republican handwringing over whether the President is in technical violation of the resolution vis-à-vis his Libya policy, it wasn’t that long ago that conservatives in both parties were close to repealing the act, and none other than current Speaker John Boehner actually voted to do so in 1995.

So Boehner’s newfound love affair with the War Powers Resolution has more to do with—again!—the GOP’s disdain for Barack Hussein Obama than any principled stand on the separation of powers.

Don’t get me wrong.  Whether—or more to the point, how—Congress can limit the power of this or any president to commit our country to war is a fundamentally important question, but the truth is that Congress has the unquestionable power to stop any president from making war by simply cutting off the funds. 

If Congress believes President Obama’s actions are unwise, it can simply stop paying for them.

That brings us to the question of the wisdom of the Libya policy itself, which has sort of got lost in the battle over presidential authority.

Unlike other parts of the restless Middle East, our actions in Libya—which are supported by other Arab countries—can have maximum impact with minimum cost.  That isn’t often the case in matters like this and that fact should mean something.  As Sen. John Kerry said, American troops are not on the ground or in the line of fire, and, unquestionably, Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya has prevented thousands of civilian casualties.

The current  NATO mission, of which we are a part, is responsible for keeping the pressure on Gaddafi to voluntary retire from the dictator business, and whether he goes on his own or at the point of a rebel gun, it is likely that his time can be measured in weeks.

I know, I know. We have been waiting for Gaddafi to get the message for months now, but as his ability to make war is daily degraded, his options have narrowed to a simple binary choice: go out standing up or lying down.  His recent offer to hold internationally supervised elections and then go away if he lost was, in the words of the U.S. government, “a little late.”  The rebels, of course, smell the dictator’s blood at this point and will accept nothing short of a Gaddafi-free Libya.

Here at home, a schizophrenic House of Representatives last week voted both to deny Obama the authority to use U.S. forces in Libya and to continue funding the use of U.S. forces in Libya.  That’ll show our unruly President.

In the Senate, yesterday the Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize Obama’s actions in Libya but some of the members couldn’t resist taking shots at the Commander-in-Chief.  Sen. Richard Lugar, who is running for reelection next year and therefore has to sound as anti-Obama as possible for the next several months, said:

In this case, President Obama made a deliberate decision not to seek a congressional authorization of his action, either before it commenced or during the last three months. This was a fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above constitutional responsibility.

Most of the time Republicans accuse Obama of failing to show “leadership” by “dithering” on such decisions. But even when he acted decisively and relatively quickly on the Libya mission, he is still accused of having a leadership flaw.  Hmm. I don’t think Republicans like the guy.

In any case, the mission in Libya is one case in which we, in conjunction with our NATO allies, can do something good for this small world we live in, and we can do it with relatively little cost, at least in terms of American resources.  It matters in the long run whether we are on the side of the dictators or the side of those who are fighting the dictators.

And even the United States Congress, notwithstanding its protests about presidential war powers, agrees.

George Will’s Tanning Bed

George Will’s column on Texas Governor Rick Perry, which should have been titled, “Run, Rick, Run,” appeared in Monday’s Joplin Globe.  I want to point out a bit of, well, chicanery from the column, but first this:

Supposed examples of Perry’s extremism evaporate in sunlight.

Now, when you have to point out that your guy has an “extremist” problem, you have a steep hill to climb in elevating him to presidential status, no?

In any case, Will plodded on:

One is that he intimated support for Texas’ secession from the Union. After people shouted “Secede!” at a rally, he said he understood their frustration but added: “We’ve got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it.”

The rally was an anti-tax tea party gathering in Austin, and Perry had entertained the crowd with suggestions that, in the words of the AP, “the federal government is strangling Americans with taxation, spending and debt.”

Strangling Americans.  Nothing extremist about that, I suppose.

Later, Perry was answering reporters’ questions and he said the following, only part of which Will quoted:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Will, who said “examples of Perry’s extremism evaporate in sunlight,” sort of kept his readers in the dark regarding Perry’s complete statement. Perry’s saying, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that,” sounds sort of, well, extreme doesn’t it?

But will had more strange sunlight to shine on Perry’s extremism:

He signed a law requiring women seeking abortions to be shown sonograms of their babies. Do people objecting to this mandatory provision of information object to the new graphic warnings on cigarette packs?

Hmm. What a clever use of deflection. Instead of thinking about Perry advocating government force to require women seeking abortions to look at sonograms of their “babies,” we are instead thinking about those nasty pictures on packages of smokes.

And we certainly don’t want to think about the fact that in order for the government to force women to view sonograms of their “babies,” they first have to force them to have sonograms in the first place, some of them possibly with vaginal probes.  That’s kind of like putting a picture of a charred lung on a pack of Camels, isn’t it?

Sunlight, indeed.

The truth is that there just isn’t enough sunlight to evaporate the extremism of Rick Perry, especially if that sunlight is really only a tanning bed in which conservative Republican George Will has tried to hide the truth about the Governor of Texas.

Barack Obama “Is No American,” Says A Guest Columnist For The Joplin Globe

Many readers of The Erstwhile Conservative are from places that the Joplin Globe, our local paper with which this blog is associated, doesn’t reach—unless, of course, one were to subscribe to the electronic version.

So, purely as a public service to those readers who don’t have the distinct pleasure of reading the Opinion Page of the Globe, I will give you a taste of what you are missing.

Today’s contribution is from someone named Mark D. Edmondson, who is featured—with a photo and everything—prominently on page 9A as a “Guest columnist,” who “lives in Neosho.” Mr. Edmondson has graced the Globe pages before, most notably a little more than a year ago, when he accused President Obama of being an enemy who wants to “destroy” America. He said at that time,

No one poses a greater threat to America and to our way of life than the man who currently occupies the Oval Office… All one needs to do is look at the people with whom Obama has surrounded himself. They are among the most radical people on Earth who have no great love for this country.

Well, that was last year. And Mr. Edmondson hasn’t much mellowed, despite the America-destroying enemy’s gracious and well-received presidential visit to Joplin about a month ago. Edmondson opened his latest offering with this:

Barack Obama may have been born in Hawaii, but he is no American.

Now, I don’t know why the Joplin Globe brass believes such malevolent moonshine—asserting that the President of the United States is not an American—is worthy of print. Perhaps there is an institutional fondness for provocation, or perhaps the brass agrees with the sentiment expressed, or perhaps Donald Trump owns stock in the company that owns the newspaper, or, my hope against hope, the brass is cleverly exposing the bigotry of a local writer under the guise of promoting it.

I don’t know.

But given all the vitriol that has surrounded President Obama’s tenure, particularly around the phony and embarrassing issue of his birthplace, I would think that our local newspaper would exercise a little restraint and not publish such tommyrot, even for grins and giggles.

In any case, I would be amiss by not at least letting you in on a little more of Edmondson’s sniping that followed the above remark, such sniping as regularly appears in the Globe courtesy of local letter-writers and columnists.

As he continues implementing his leftist agenda to “fundamentally transform America,” our beloved nation is sinking deeper into decline.

The dark cloud of socialism appeared over Washington, D.C., the day Obama first took office. Its inevitable spread to every region of America proved faster than the recent Gulf Oil spill, threatening the basic tenets of liberty and free market enterprise the country has traditionally stood for.

Seventy percent of Americans now say we are headed in the wrong direction. No doubt many of those who think this way rue the moment they marked their ballot for the man who has purposely driven this nation to the brink of economic collapse.

As Obama continues his brutal campaign of cutting America down to size, he does so in a way that our one-time adversaries and fiercest overseas competitors would have greatly admired.

None of this needs any further comment, except to say to those who don’t have the pleasure of routinely encountering such tripe on the opinion pages of the Joplin Globe: please pray for me.

Sabotaging The Economy: Cynicism Or Reality?

The opening segment of last night’s The Rachel Maddow Show was over sixteen minutes long.  It was one of those rare moments in cable television in which a lot was said that needed to be said and it was said by two very smart liberal commentators, St. Rachel and Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

The segment chronicled only some of the outrageous Republican hypocrisy evident since the Age of Obama.  We’re talking about policies that Republicans supported until they discovered that President Obama supported them too, including:

Pay-Go legislation, the bi-partisan deficit commission, cap and trade, the individual mandate for health insurance, trying terrorists in federal courts, raising the debt ceiling (done seven times under Bush with substantial Republican votes), a payroll tax holiday for businesses and workers, and the DREAM Act.

Toward the end of the segment, St. Rachel offered two competing explanations for such blatant and shameful duplicity: 

The nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy:  Republicans are merely opposing things they use to support because President Obama supports them too.

The less nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy: Republicans are opposing things they use to support because they believe those things will actually work and will improve the economy and thus improve Obama’s chances of reelection.  Therefore, they are sabotaging the economic recovery.

Chris Hayes pointed out that Republicans have,

starved the beast…they have cut taxes; now they’ve got everybody in the deficit-debt panic, and now the welfare state is in their sights…and they understand they’re gonna get one shot at it, and they also understand the only way to kill it is to get a Democratic president to do it.

Bush could not gut Social Security, couldn’t privatize Social Security…Barack Obama can. The only way to go after the big game they are hunting—which is Medicaid and Medicare—that’s the fundamental part of social insurance—is  to get a Democrat to do it.

Hayes also offered “an even more cynical interpretation” than Maddow’s suggestion that Republicans want to “take money out of the economy” at a time when the economy needs it:

HAYES: The one thing that refutes the deficit hysteria—which so benefits the Republicans in their mission to go after Medicare and Medicaid—is the fact that interest rates are at historic lows. So, you can say, “Oh, no one’s gonna lend us money,” and look out there and everyone’s lending us money at historically low rates.

What is the one thing that could screw that up?

MADDOW: Debt ceiling.

HAYES:  Exactly. A partial default, a delay in payments…all of a sudden if you had that you could point and say, “Look, the markets are panicked, the interest rates are up; we really have a debt and deficit problem.” The most cynical, the absolute most cynical interpretation of this is that they want some sort of crisis because that produces in the markets exactly the uncertainty they’ve been claiming was already there but has not manifested until now.

There you have it. A perfectly rational explanation of Republican behavior, particularly regarding the debate over the debt ceiling.

And the one thing that Republicans can do to prove wrong Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow—and top Democrats in the U.S. Senate, who have essentially suggested the same thing—is stop protecting the oil companies and the wealthiest Americans and agree to raise the debt ceiling before all economic hell breaks loose, if the Obama administration is forced to default on our debt payments.*

Here is the complete opening segment from last night’s show:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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*There is another possible out, a brief explanation of which can be found here and elsewhere. It involves invoking Section 4 of the 14th Amendment and it would be a very gutsy move by President Obama. In part it reads:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.

It’s just possible that Obama can ignore the fact that Congress refuses to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling and continue to pay the nation’s bills and its other obligations under the authority of this provision.  Let the fun begin!

Good Conservative Commentary As Easy As 1-2-3

Good things come in threes, the superstitious often aver.  On two of the Sunday morning shows, I heard two different conservative pundits—George F. Will and David Brooks—say sensible things, in threes.  And after I throw in a little William F. Buckley, this will mark the first time in the history of this blog that I have favorably quoted three conservatives.

From ABC’s This Week, I want to bring attention to this brief exchange between two regular panelists, Martha Raddatz and Will, during the program’s segment discussing President Obama’s speech last Wednesday on the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year:

MARTHA RADDATZ: I think the president has never wanted a full counterinsurgency. The president has never even mentioned counterinsurgency in December 2009 and he certainly didn’t mention it the other night.

I always had the impression that David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal before him were fighting a war based on counterinsurgency, but the president was never committed to that…

GEORGE WILL: Obviously Pakistan is key. If Afghanistan were next to Denmark, we wouldn’t be there, we wouldn’t be worrying about it the way we do, because it is next to Pakistan, a nuclear power.

I think Martha has got it exactly right, which is the commander in chief and his commander in the field are fighting different projects.

David Petraeus is the author, literal, of the book on counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is nation building. The United States army — army has been engaged in 16,000 economic projects over there.

There are three problems with nation building. It’s expensive and we’re short of money. It takes time and we’re short of patience. And, three, we don’t know how to it. It’s like orchid building, nations are not built like tinker toys.

I think Raddatz and Will are pretty close to the mark, although calling them “different projects” is going too far.  But Petraeus and Obama are not exactly on the same page with the counterinsurgency stuff, as I suggested last week

And Will’s triplet formulation and criticism of the counterinsurgency strategy is right on:

1. It’s expensive and we’re short of money.

2. It takes time and we’re short of patience.

3. We don’t know how to do it.

I will insert here a quote from another conservative voice, William F. Buckley, related to the nation-building idea:

One should not tire of repeating the fatalistic but wise maxim of Senator Fulbright, that the United States government has no proper quarrel with any nation no matter how obnoxious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. As much was said by President John Quincy Adams when he stressed that Americans were friends of liberty everywhere, but custodians only of their own.

I also want to point out another triplet advanced on Sunday by yet another conservative, David Brooks.  On NBC’s Meet the Press, this brief exchange took place:

DAVID GREGORY:  …I spoke to a CEO this week who said, “Yeah, you go around the world, in Asia and Europe, there’s this sense that Pax Americana is over.” But even in a more positive way, David, that American influence is waning because our politics is not up to the task of some of the challenges we face.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yeah.  We’ve got a government problem.  We don’t have a country problem.  We still have an entrepreneurial country.  We’ll still have the only country in the world, only big country, where people can come in from all over the world and magnify their talents.  But we have a government problem. 

We have to do three things.  We have to be fiscally sustainable, we have to do it in a way that increases growth, and we have to do it in a way that reduces inequality.  Those are three things that are in tension with each other.  So if any of us who watch Washington think that our political system is capable of doing two–three things in tension with each other all at once?  It means borrowing from column A, column B, I haven’t seen that level of borrowing.

Again, the triplet that Brooks advanced is sound:

1. We have to be fiscally sustainable.

2. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that increases growth.

3. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that reduces inequality.

While I tend to share Brooks’ pessimism about the ability of contemporary politics to achieve those three things, my admittedly liberal analysis leads me to believe that Democrats and Republicans all agree on the first two points, but the truth is that Republicans don’t give a damn about the third point: whether any fiscal solution involves the reduction of inequalities.

And that’s why they are willing to play chicken with the economy.

Eric Cantor: “I quit.” John Boehner: “Who, me?”

House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor is quitting half way through the infamous debt ceiling negotiations at the White House.

Cantor, in the spirit of the former half-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, stayed around long enough to do only the fun stuff: cutting what he claims is trillions from the federal budget.  The rest of the job—negotiations over revenue increases—will fall on the shoulders of Cantor’s boss, Speaker John Boehner.

Cantor said,

I believe that we have identified trillions in spending cuts, and to date, we have established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order. 

That said, each side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases. There is not support in the House for a tax increase, and I don’t believe now is the time to raise taxes in light of our current economic situation. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue.

The good news in Cantor’s statement is that it appears that Democrats are hanging tough on the issue of taxes, something many of us didn’t think possible.  The bad news is that no one knows what “trillions in spending cuts” means at this point.

Cantor claims—falsely—that, “there is not support in the House for a tax increase.”  John Boehner made the same false claim on Thursday.  What they mean is that there is not support on the Republican side of the House for a tax increase.  But most people forget that there are 192 Democrats wandering around the House side of the capitol, most of whom would certainly be open to revenue increases.

That means that Boehner cannot claim there is not support in the House for a tax increase, unless he admits that there is no way he could get a handful of Republicans to join Democrats to do the right and rational thing and vote for some kind of revenue increase. 

Right now there are 432 occupied seats in the House, meaning 217 is the magic majority number.  Assuming some very small number of Democrats behave like conservative tea partiers, Boehner would only have to come up with somewhere around 30 votes on his side of the aisle to get a deal passed that included tax increases.

Now, think about that.  We are talking about the debt ceiling and the full faith and credit of the United States.  We are talking about default and a potential economic catastrophe.  We are talking about geezers not getting their Social Security checks.  We are talking about international embarrassment.

Yet, John Boehner can’t come up with 25 or 30 Republican votes to save the day? Huh?

What kind of leader is he? What kind of party has the GOP become?

And that’s just the House side.

Over in the Senate, it is far from certain that rational behavior on the Republican side is any more reliable than in the tea party-dominated House.  Mitch McConnell is placing the burden all on President Obama:

Where in the world has the president been for the last month? What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch? He’s the one in charge.

Forget the fact that Mr. Obama established the debt-ceiling talks in the first place and that Democrats, according to Cantor, have been agreeable to “trillions” in spending cuts.  We just aren’t dealing with serious people here. 

Once upon a time, the dynamics of these kinds of negotiations would always feature a lot of grandstanding, but in the end, we could count on there being enough serious and rational people who would do the right thing for the country.

One wonders these days if there are any serious and rational people left in the Republican Party.

The bottom line is that Democrats need to stand their ground and continue demanding a more balanced approach to addressing our debt problems. And if the Republican Party wants to risk an unprecedented economic meltdown—and have the blame for such a disaster follow them for a generation—then there is little Democrats can do to stop them, short of surrendering.

And for now it looks like Democrats have no plans to surrender.

I said, “for now.”  We are, after all, talking about Democrats.

It Doesn’t “Almost Make Me Wonder”

I opened my Joplin Globe today and I found this headline on page 4B:

Poll: Economy weakens support for Obama

The AP story opened this way:

WASHINGTON   — Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and how President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation’s confidence.

Now, that story dovetailed nicely with what the top Democrats in the Senate did on Wednesday, which essentially was accuse Republicans of sabotaging the economic recovery in the name of politics.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said:

Our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate are driven by putting one man out of work: President Obama.

Senator Chuck Schumer said:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Almost makes you wonder?

What the Dems are talking about is the failure of Republicans to support economic stimulus incentives that Republicans once enthusiastically supported, like, just as one example, the payroll tax cut for both employees and employers, tailor-made to jibe with Republican economic philosophy.  But Schumer says:

John Boehner called it a gimmick, Paul Ryan called it sugar high. Lamar Alexander and Jeb Hensarling both criticized it as short-term stimulus — apparently that’s a bad thing. Would Republicans really oppose a tax cut for business that created jobs? This is sort of beyond the pale. So if they’d oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that would help create jobs.

You might think it is in bad taste for one party to accuse the other of such sabotage, so I will present to you one party accusing itself of, well, a kind of sabotage.  Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a fleeting moment of honesty, explained that recent Republican opposition to Obama’s Libya policy—remember, these are Republicans who have rarely, if ever, met a war they didn’t like, if not actually want to personally fight—is at least partly based on partisan considerations.

Via the Huffington Post, here is what McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor:

I’m not sure that these kinds of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president, but I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. 

So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to kind of mute them. … I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to kind of express their reservations, which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.

So, McConnell is saying that Republicans, whose first loyalty is apparently to their party, will tend to support their own president on war matters—even if they have “reservations”— but they feel free to thwart President Obama because he is of the other party.

Hmm.

Let’s go back to Chuck Schumer’s comment about Republicans one more time:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Nope. It doesn’t almost make me wonder at all. 

_______________________

Here is the press conference on job creation by Senate Democrats in which some of them wonder out loud about Republican motives:

 

Here is McConnell’s statement:

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