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:

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Villagers

Something was said during Sunday’s GOP debate that reminded me of my days as a conservative and of former Republican senator and vice presidential (1976) and presidential (1996) candidate Bob Dole, from my home state of Kansas.

I met Senator Dole here in Joplin in 1988. He was campaigning for the GOP nomination against Vice President George H. W. Bush and I went out to see him at Northpark Mall. There was quite a crowd, with big-time news cameras everywhere.  I was a rabid conservative at the time, and like a lot of rabid conservatives, I tended to distrust the “compromising” and witty insider. Newt Gingrich once said of him: “Bob Dole is the tax collector for the welfare state.” That sort of gives you an idea of what conservatives thought of him.

Dole—who served more than 35 years in Congress— had a reputation for being a savvy pol, and one who would work with Democrats to get things done. You see, he thought that was why he was in Washington: to get things done.  He didn’t really think he was sent there to make ideological points and watch the country fall apart in the mean time, a fact about him I failed to appreciate in those days.

After Dole finished his stump speech, I made my way toward him and got to “talk” to him. As I shook his left hand—his right arm was paralyzed from an encounter with a German machine gun in 1945—I said, “Don’t forget us conservatives.”  The knock on Dole on the far right was that he was not “one of us.” He was a phony conservative who would let us down, and I wanted to make sure he got the message that we were out there and we were watching. I also asked him to consider appointing Jeane Kirkpatrick as his Secretary of State.  She was the foreign policy darling of the right at the time and was a Dole supporter.

Dole, with the enthusiastic crowd pressing on him, looked at me and said, “I am a conservative.” There was something about the way he said it, above the noise in the crowded space, that sort of made me feel sorry for him. The man had spent a good deal of time answering his conservative critics, trying to convince them that he was one of them, mostly to no effect (he lost that Missouri primary race to Bush 42%-41%, and then lost to uber-conservative Pat Buchanan in the 1996 Missouri primary 36%-28%).

In any case, I thought about Bob Dole after I heard this comment from Rick Santorum at the NBC GOP debate on Sunday:

I haven’t written a lot of books.  I’ve written one.  And it was in response to a book written by Hillary Clinton called It Takes A Village.  I didn’t agree with that.  I believe it takes a family.  And that’s what I wrote. 

Clinton’s 1996 book, which was fully titled, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, shouldn’t have been controversial, since it was based on common sense: not only do kids need parents to flourish, they also need good neighborhoods to grow up in, good schools and teachers, and access to health care, among other things. She did not advocate that “the state” raise our children in some kind of socialist utopia (that’s pretty close to the conservative critique of the book at the time), but she did argue that the health of any society could be measured by the way it treats its children.

And who can argue that whether we like it or not, parents are not the only influence on children as they grow up?  The village plays its part, for good or for ill.

Bob Dole, long before Rick Santorum wrote his 2005 book, had already shamelessly pandered to conservatives who feared the Clinton’s “socialism” (sound familiar?). In his GOP nomination acceptance speech in 1996, he said,

…after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon this country—on which this country was founded—we are told that it takes a village, that is, the collective, and thus, the state, to raise a child.

The state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of children, and children are now more neglected, abused, and more mistreated than they have been in our time. This is not a coincidence. This is not a coincidence, and, with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.

That wasn’t one of Dole’s finest moments (nor was the entire speech, which reads like it could have been written by almost any radical right-winger today), mostly because he went on to contradict himself:

If I could by magic restore to every child who lacks a father or a mother, that father or that mother, I would. And though I cannot, I would never turn my back on them, and I shall as president, promote measures that keep families whole.

Huh? He would, as president, “promote measures that keep families whole“? You mean, as the village chieftain?  It takes a village, indeed.

Bob Dole’s attempt to use an issue—implied socialism—to authenticate his conservative bona fides, to attempt to convince the true believers in his party that he was one of them (sound familiar?), was sad enough. But now all these years later comes along another candidate, Rick Santorum, and like Dole he contradicts himself after making the identical point that “it does not take a village to raise a child“:

We– we know there’s certain things that work in– in– in America.  Brookings Institute came out with a study just a few year– a couple of years ago that said if you graduate from high school and if you work and if you’re a man, if you marry, if you’re a woman if you marry before you have children, you have a 2% chance of being in poverty in America.

 And to be above the median income, if you do those three things, 77% chance of being above the median income.  Why isn’t the President of the United States, or why aren’t leaders in this country, talking about that and trying to formulate, not necessarily federal government policy, but local policy and state policy and community policy to help people do those things that we know work and we know are good for society? 

As a former conservative, it is now so very hard to understand how I once could have thought like that. How I could have denounced on one hand the “it takes a village” idea of Hillary Clinton (it was not, of course, original with her) and on the other hand extolled the virtues of “community policy to help people do those things that we know work and we know are good for society.” If “community policy” is not the village then what is it?

Such embarrassing contradictions, made in the service of an irrational conservative ideology, are why this blog is one of repentance for past ideological sins. Obviously it takes a village to raise our kids.  And it takes a village to put out our fires, patrol and pave our streets, build our bridges and dams, check our food and our skies, treat us when we are sick, shelve books in our libraries, and teach our children arithmetic and science and good citizenship.

Bob Dole knew that in 1996.  Rick Santorum knows it today. But the right-wing ideological herd, trampling reason underfoot, doesn’t want to hear about villages and social responsibility and government. In Dole’s day they wanted to hear this, which he provided:

It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned, should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes.

And today they want to hear that Barack Obama is, in Santorum’s words,

working exactly against the things he knows works, because he has a secular ideology that is against the traditions of our country and what works.

That’s what a majority of Republicans want to hear today. That’s what they wanted to hear in 1996. And I suppose it is what they will want to hear in 2016 and beyond.  But what they should be told, what they should understand, is that it does take a village—villagers—to make our country work, and to help raise our kids.

It is hard to improve on greatness, so I will just quote John Donne, the English poet-priest who famously wrote of the interconnectedness of humanity and the tolling of the church bells at the death of a villager:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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.

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.

The National Debt: Let’s At Least Ask Who Dunnit

My friend Juan Don has turned me on to a chart created by Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, who used to be a budget analyst for the Pentagon and who is famous for criticizing what Wikipedia calls, “the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences.”

About the painful choices that will soon have to be made relative to our present revenue and spending imbalance, Spinney asks:

So, as a first cut into a complex issue, perhaps it is time for the angry masses to ask which political party put them into the fiscal straight jacket that is setting them up for this horrible choice?

Here’s the chart that serves as that “first cut into a complex issue”:

James Fallows posted Spinney’s chart on The Atlantic website, and here is the explanation:

To be clear: the middle column is how much overall federal debt grew, or shrank, as a share of gross domestic product during each administration, and the right-hand column is the average annual rate of growth or reduction during that administration. As Spinney said in a note to me, “The idea of this column is simply to show the average annual change for the period covered in the first column — so you can compare one term administrations to two term administrations in terms of their annual performance.  The first row of the second column says, for example, that the average debt burden ratio declined by 4.7% during each year of the Truman administration.”

When the economy is growing faster than the debt, that administration looks “green.” When it isn’t, red. The chart may give a slightly unfair boost to Harry Truman, whose administration coincided with the end of huge outlays and borrowing for World War II. Otherwise…

Voodoo Redo

Supply-side economics—essentially giving tax cuts disproportionately to the wealthy and claiming it will magically multiply economic growth and miraculously increase revenues to the government—is all the rage right now on the right, including here in Southwest Missouri, where even the Democrats wrestling Republicans for our seat in the U.S. Congress can’t help but join in. 

Supply-side economics was famously characterized by Bush The Elder a long time ago, when he was running in the Republican primary against Ronaldus Magnus, but I’ll let Saint Rachel take it from here:

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Republicans Will Bring Gas To The Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the chart:

_____________________________

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

 

Saint Rachel

George Bush the Elder even had me suckered.  It turns out that he is as sly as a Fox “News” story, masquerading all this time as a nice guy, when he was at heart a Roger Ailes-inspired pit bull. 

Saint RachelLast Friday the ex-CIA director-cum-President of the United States called Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow (“Saint Rachel,” as far as I am concerned) “sick puppies.”  But in doing so, he accidentally triggered something that Ms. Maddow explored in an interview with Ron Suskind. 

She noted ( in the video posted below) that as Fox “News” has gone deeper and deeper into extremism, people often accuse her of growing more extreme, so that there can be a nice and comfortable narrative about what’s happening  on cable television.  In other words, it helps people to understand and deem acceptable the quasi-journalism on the Fox “News” Channel, if it can be shown that the same thing is going on across the cable news street.  But this analysis, claiming that there is “extremist symmetry” between Fox “News” and MSNBC, is flawed, even if it makes some folks feel better.

As I have tried to point out, MSNBC does bend  to the left, but it doesn’t “push” the news like Fox unquestionably does—throughout its broadcast day.  And there is no comparison between what Rachel Maddow does and what Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or other ringmasters do under the  Fox “News” circus tent. 

One may not like Rachel’s liberalism, or the issues she chooses to highlight each night, but she is very smart (and educated) and painfully fair (for some of us who want her to skewer the “opposition”).  She isn’t paranoid like Beck; she doesn’t talk over her guests or monopolize their air time like Hannity; and she doesn’t yell at her guests or otherwise act like the ego-bloated and insufferable O’Reilly.

Now, granted, Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC program is a bit different.  His show does comes closer to  typical Fox fare, but to insist that he is as much of an extremist as, say, Glenn Beck, is another example of the false symmetry syndrome.  

Watching Glenn Beck is a lot like watching what one might imagine a talented but disturbed patient at the old Nevada State Hospital might have done with a couple of cameras, a blackboard, and an eager research staff.  Or, if Lyndon LaRouche had daily access to a high-tech TV studio, and a case of VapoRub, one imagines that his show would look a lot like GB’s. 

In any case, Olbermann’s show is well within the bounds of civilized commentary, and the idea that Fox “News” Channel is just a mirror image of MSNBC must be challenged, and hopefully that is what is behind the Obama administration’s attempt to expose Fox’s phony claim that it practices authentic journalism.

Here is the segment from the Rachel Maddow show:

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