The Trinity Of Turmoil And The End Of The Republican Party

tur·moila state of great commotion, confusion, or disturbance

by now everyone who cares has heard several prominent Republicans absorb their fiscal cliff “defeat” by telling themselves, and the public, that the real fight is yet to come:

♦ over the debt ceiling ($16.394 trillion), which we technically exceeded earlier this week;

♦ over the sequester, those automatic cuts in spending that “would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs,” according to the White House and others who know what’s at stake;

♦ and over what is known as a continuing budget resolution, which is a short-term, ad hoc way of funding the things government does (the current one is good until March 27).

Let’s call these things the Trinity of Turmoil.

Now, let me give you just one example of Republican rhetoric related to this unholiest of trinities. This one is from Sen. Lindsey Graham, talking a few weeks ago on a Sunday show on Fox and responding to President Obama’s statement that he will not play the debt-ceiling game:

GRAHAM: In February or March you have to raise the debt ceiling. And I can tell you this, there is a hardening on the Republican side. We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling. We’re not going to let Obama borrow any more money or any American Congress borrow any more money until we fix this country from becoming Greece. That requires significant entitlement reform to save Social Security from bankruptcy and Medicare from bankruptcy. Social Security is going bankrupt in about 20, 25 years. Medicare is going bankrupt in 15 or 20 years. […]

Yes, we will play that game, Mr. President, because it’s not a game. The game you’re playing is small ball. You’re talking about raising rates on the top 2% that would run the government for 11 days. You just got reelected. How about doing something big that is not liberal? How about doing something big that really is bipartisan? Every big idea he has is a liberal idea that drowns us in debt. How about manning up here, Mr. President and use your mandate to bring this country together to stop us from becoming Greece.

Forget that nonsense about “we will play the game…because it’s not a game.” (What the hell does that mean anyway?) But that Greece motif has become quite popular among Republicans. I hear them use it all the time. It sounds really scary. And it’s supposed to sound that way, since what Republicans are proposing to do to the country is much, much scarier and they want to camouflage as much of it as possible.

Let’s think really hard about what it is that Lindsey Graham said:

We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling.

He said that. He said that Republicans are not going to pay the nation’s bills, most of them being bills that Republicans have racked up over the years. He actually said that.

I watched Senator Pat Toomey on Morning Joe yesterday morning say this:

Our opportunity here is on the debt ceiling. The president’s made it very clear, he doesn’t even want to have a discussion about it because he knows this is where we have leverage.

Leverage? Ultimately the leverage he is talking about is the well-being of the economy, ours and perhaps the world. That’s his leverage. He is really saying that he will threaten at least the well-being of the nation, of you and me.

Toomey goes on:

We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown, which is what that could mean. And get off the road to Greece because that’s a road that we’re on right now. We can only solve this problem by getting spending under control and restructuring the entitlement programs. This president doesn’t want to go there. We’re going to have to force it, and we’re going to have to force it over the debt ceiling.

Ah, there’s that Greece thing again. As I said, Greece is meant to scare folks, what with all that Grecian rioting and turmoil we see once in awhile on our TVs. But what should really scare people is that Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey and the other extremist Republicans who are talking this way really mean it. They aren’t kidding.

Toomey made it clear:

We absolutely have to have this fight over the debt limit.

I believe him. I believe that there is a contingent of Republicans in both the House and Senate who believe the thing to do to fix the country is to ruin it first.

I believe they will do it, if nothing else because they have to save face in front of their nutty electoral base, many of whom are pushing them to follow up the tough talk with action. Let me relate to you what one of those very influential wing-nut guys, Erick Erickson, wrote:

Have Republicans Boxed Themselves Into a Government Shutdown? First of all, I hope so…there are a number of Republicans who can expect primary challenges and need to show they have spines and will fight…Pat Toomey is already puffing his chest out in damage control to say the GOP must now be willing to shoot the hostage . . . er . . . shut it down for spending cuts…about the only thing the GOP can do to save face and look like they are serious is to be willing to shut it all down when Barack Obama refuses to negotiate.

See? “Save face.” I told ya. Nice stuff, no? But Erickson does say something important at the end:

The McConnell Tax Hike of 2013 has boxed the GOP in for the debt ceiling fight. If they can’t find a way to get real cuts without shutting the government down, there will be hell to pay if they cave without a shut down.

What’s important about that is this: In a weird way, Republicans agreeing to the deal on taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff has boxed them in for a fight over the debt ceiling. They don’t really have a choice, given what it is they currently stand for.

They claim, as Grover Norquist did yesterday, that they are all through with the revenue side of things. That only cutting remains. I heard Oklahoma Republican congressman Tom Cole say this morning that Democrats have had their dessert, now it’s time for the spinach.

But President Obama and the Democrats claim that the revenue side is still very much in play. That any deficit reduction will include additional revenues. So, unless Democrats are willing to slice the budget and entitlements without getting additional revenues, there is no place for Republicans to go but a shutdown of government and another downgrading of our credit rating and, well, fiscal chaos.

It’s important to understand what the Republican negotiating position is here. They are saying that in order for the country to avoid the Trinity of Turmoil, they have to get everything they want. Everything. And they are not going to give up anything to get it. Nothing. Democrats, they insist (as I heard Sen. Bob Corker insist this morning) must be willing to put on the table specific spending cuts, and spending cuts only. That’s it. That’s all they will listen to.

Thus, we all should prepare for the worst. And Democrats should be prepared, if it comes to it, to let Republicans self-destruct by trying to disrupt our economy and scare the bejesus out of people. As Erick Erickson suggested, this is a hostage situation, to be sure. Republicans are prepared, yet again, to hold the country’s well-being hostage and to shoot it if they have to. That’s what they mean by “leverage.” It can mean nothing else.

But this is a unique hostage situation. The hostage in this case cannot be killed, but only weakened. We will survive whatever it is that hostage-taking Republicans are prepared to do to us.

And through it all, we can be sure of one thing: we know the fate of every hostage taker in the end.

“As Christianity Fades, The Birth Rate Falls And Third World Immigration Surges”

The White establishment is now the minorityThe demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”

—Bill O’Reilly, November 6, 2012

y now we’ve all noticed that some of the adults in the Republican Party are talking about the party doing some soul-searching, making it more appealing to women, Latinos, young people, and, yes, even African-Americans.

These Republican grownups, folks like political gurus Steve Schmidt and Mike Murphy, realize the electorate is changing before their eyes and know that Republicans have to change too.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Not only are the extremists in control of the Republican Party not going to change—can anyone imagine Rush Limbaugh embracing immigration reform, for God’s sake?—it makes no sense for them to change, given what it is that really animates most of them.

There are two major forces that serve to energize the base of the Republican Party today. One is fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist religion, which is waging war against Constitution-blessed secularism. The other is an increasingly acute cultural anxiety over the browning of America.

Those two forces meet and merge in the mind of Pat Buchanan, who wrote three years ago:

In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays, and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

…The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges.

You see, to people like Pat Buchanan—I give him credit for honesty—a diverse nation is not a nation at all. True Americans must all have European blood and belief. All others represent an existential threat to the country.

About one-half of all American children under five have Buchanan skin, a fact that makes Buchanan’s thin cultural skin crawl. And there is evidence that Americans are slowly embracing the secular nation that our Constitution establishes.

Thus it is that those in the Republican Party who care deeply and disturbingly about the threat to the “European-Christian core of the country” —those misguided but earnest folks who nominated Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, for instance—are not going to tolerate any talk of moderating the party’s positions on the social issues.

The Republican Party platform in 2016 will look much like it did this year, a document that reeks of uncompromising extremism, such as the party’s stance on reproductive rights and the status of homosexuals. The party primary process will continue to produce extremist true-believers who honor that extremist document.

Because people who are moved by faith and fear, folks who are on a mission from God or who are defending their waning cultural dominance, will not be deterred by an unfavorable election outcome. They will not be coaxed or coerced into compromise by people in their party who don’t share their enthusiasm for lost-cause crusades.

So it is that we will continue to see Tea Party-types dominate the Republican Party until such time that there is nothing much left to dominate, at least on the national scene. Republicans will always have a voice at the local and state level, even a voice in the Congress, but with uncompromising crusading conservatives in charge of its national prospects, it will one day become irrelevant as a governing national party.

When that happens, when the browning of America forces Republicans into waging only regional and state and local battles, then perhaps the adults can take the party back.

And America would be all the better for it.

Afraid: The GOP War On Voting

I heard a conservative say on Sunday how “admirable” it was for folks to be willing to stand in line for six or seven hours to vote in Florida.

This morning I heard someone on the IQ-crippling morning show on Fox say essentially the same thing. How “dedicated” must those voters be.

All of us with a brain not poisoned by Fox “News” understand that what is going on in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere, in terms of how Republicans have intentionally made it more difficult for people, mostly Democratic people, to vote, would be a famous Fox-fueled scandal if it were reversed.

If Democrats were deliberately limiting or suppressing the voting opportunities of, say, white evangelicals, Fox hosts and guests—including Mitt Romney—would not be disingenuously fawning over those “dedicated” conservative Christians and their willingness to commit half a day—or night—to exercising their right to vote.

No, every minute of Fox broadcast time would be spent on how unpatriotic Democrats are to treat the voting process so shabbily, so self-servingly. “Our brave troops fought and died for that right!” they would sanctimoniously shout. They would demand the Justice Department put a stop to it. Hell, they would beseech GOP Jesus to send down a holy bolt of lightning to fry the oppressors.

The Joplin Globe, on Sunday, editorialized about voting, and offered quotes from famous Americans, including this one from John Kennedy:

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

In an editorial about the importance of voting, the Joplin Globe had nothing to say about how “afraid” Republicans are of letting “people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.” Nothing to say.

♦ Nothing to say about Republicans in Ohio, particularly the secretary of state, who has done everything he can to make it more difficult to vote than it was four years ago, including his latest move, which may even be illegal, to give local election officials the power to invalidate ballots. (There will be a court fight on Monday, if nothing is resolved.)

♦ Nothing to say about onerous voter ID laws, which, as a Pennsylvania Republican stupidly but fortunately admitted, were designed to deliver the election to the Republican presidential candidate.

♦ Nothing to say about right-wing groups like True the Vote—founded just after Mr. Obama took office—whose real goal is to intimidate or delegitimize minority and young voters. Read this article by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and cringe at the inquisition-like tactics being used by Republicans—lily white Republicans—against people of color who have voted all their adult lives. (Local inquisitors like Republican honcho John Putnam are using True the Vote tactics here in Southwest Missouri, for God’s sake, a place where Democrats usually poll about 35%.)

♦ Nothing to say about what has been happening in Florida, the lines, the chaos and confusion, the suppression. Republicans there deliberately cut back early voting days, including the Sunday before election day, typically a strong day of voting by African-American voters. And the former Republican governor of that state, Charlie Christ, criticized the current Republican governor for refusing to extend early voting hours, as folks waited a ridiculously long time to vote:

The only thing that makes any sense as to why this is happening and being done is voter suppression. That’s unconscionable. I think it’s just the wrong thing to do. And the right thing to do would be to sign an executive order to make sure this doesn’t happen and you expand the hours.

As one voter there, who waited in line for almost two hours, said:

This is America, not a third-world country.

She forgot, I guess, that since 2010, Florida has been living under Tea Party governance, third-world or otherwise.

All of the disgusting Republican tactics are ostensibly designed to address voter fraud, a problem that doesn’t exist in the form that things like voter ID laws and registration inquisitions would help fix. The New Yorker article quoted a public-policy professor at Rutgers, who said,

It makes no sense for individual voters to impersonate someone. It’s like committing a felony at the police station, with virtually no chance of affecting the election outcome.

Thus, it makes no legal sense that Republicans would spend so much time and effort to attack a problem that is not a problem, but it does make political sense. Again, as John Kennedy would certainly say today, if he were around to witness what Fox “News” and the Joplin Globe and even much of the national press refuse to witness, is that Republicans, who have embraced extremism wholesale, truly are “afraid” to allow people to “judge the truth and falsehood in an open market.

Because when it comes down to it, the conservative spirit, which animates Republican politics today, is and always has been afraid of We the People.

 

Lazy Journalism

Nothing angers me more than lazy journalists, like the kind I heard on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning discussing the state of our national politics.

The easiest thing in the world is to say about what is happening what Mike Barnicle said this morning:

There’s no certainty in this country as to what’s gonna happen to my children. We are now living in a country, where—because of the way this campaign is being waged on both sides—where too many people no longer can afford to dream, and that’s a huge hole in the American fabric. A huge hole.

The huge hole, of course, is in Barnicle’s careless, almost comatose, analysis. If he built his journalistic career on such sloppy, inattentive thinking he has been one lucky guy.

The uncertainty in the country belongs squarely on the Republican Party, whose leaders from the beginning of Obama’s term decided that the best political course for them to follow was to create as much uncertainty and cultural angst as possible. There is simply no disputing that.

And the Romney presidential campaign is following that myopic political script written after the 2008 election by trying to capitalize on the almost complete Republican obstruction of the Democrat’s attempt to fix the massive economic problems left to them by years of governance according to Republican Party principles.

On that note, today’s Joplin Globe editorial played the same kind of game that Mike Barnicle was playing on television this morning. Oh, the piece, titled, “Stop pointing fingers,” started out just fine:

In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the federal government would collect surplus funds in the amount of $5.6 trillion during the period 2002 through 2011.

Instead, we incurred a deficit of $6.1 trillion resulting in a gross loss in federal revenues during that period of time in the amount of $11.7 trillion. The question, of course, is why such a miscalculation occurred.

Well, that is certainly one question. But another one would be, who was responsible for the reversal from surpluses to deficits? Huh?

On the way to answering its question, the Globe cited some studies by the CBO, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Government, and the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, all of which came up “with the same answers”:

 • The overall weakened economy was the primary cause. Growth for the entire period was predicted to be 3 percent. But from 2002 through 2007, growth was only 2.6 percent. Then during the period 2008 through 2011, growth was only an average of 0.2 percent. This overall lower-than-expected growth caused a 27 percent drop in federal revenue expectations during those years.

• The second highest cause was a 13 percent drop in federal revenues caused by enactment and continuation of all the Bush-era tax cuts, amounting to a 13 percent drop in federal revenues. Other smaller contributors were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increases in discretionary spending, defense spending increases not related to wars, the Obama stimulus, and the 2010 tax cuts.

Now, a fair-minded person, upon discovering that the Republican Party was in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House during most of the time the country’s economy was in decline and collapsing and when the path toward massive deficits was first being cleared of surplus brush, would naturally blame the Republicans for most of the mess. Right?

Except that the Joplin Globe editorialist, shielding Republicans from the blame they deserve, had a better idea:

It seems rather naive to be arguing about which party alone caused today’s American economic problems. Again, they both did so big time by cutting federal revenues as shown above, yet continuing to spend at historically high levels.

“Both sides” are apparently equally responsible, it turns out, despite the facts cited in the piece and despite what is plainly clear to anyone paying attention.

All of this, from Mike Barnicle’s dumb statements this morning to the Joplin Globe’s dumb editorial conclusion, serves the right-wing reactionary Republican Party very well, as it requires very little thought to simply assert that both parties are equally guilty, that both parties are equally to blame for the mess we’re in, and therefore the economic philosophy that brought us to our knees can be tried again.

Disturbed And Disturbing Democrats

There is always some correlation between what pollsters call “engagement” with an upcoming election and the eventual electoral turnout on election day. Just how well prior engagement and turnout correlate is a matter of debate, but the news from the latest in-depth Pew Research survey is not good news for Democrats in terms of a voter interest gap in the November election.

While it is true that more Democrats are juiced about their candidate than Republicans are juiced about Etch-A-Romney, this bothers me a lot:

Republicans hold the edge on several turnout measures, in contrast to 2008 when Democrats had leads – some quite substantial – on nearly every indicator. More Republican voters than Democratic voters are giving quite a lot of thought to the election (73% of Republicans vs. 66% of Democrats) and paying very close attention to election news (45% vs. 37%). In 2008, Democrats held leads on both interest measures, the first time that had occurred in campaigns dating to 1992.

Moreover, GOP voters are more likely than Democrats to say it really matters who wins the 2012 election (72% vs. 65%). Four years ago, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say it really mattered who prevailed.

How can it be that only about two-thirds of the Democrats polled believe it “really matters” who wins? What narcotic, legal or illegal, is being ingested by the one-third of Democrats who don’t think it really matters? Whatever it is, Democratic leaders had better figure out how to pound reality into the heads of these disturbed and disturbing Democrats in the next four months or all of us will need narcotics to endure the reality of a Romney administration.

Jo Ann Emerson Asks For Forgiveness?

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Missouri bloggers tried to remind folks about Roy Blunt’s connection to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, both convicted felons, as well as Blunt’s other rather extensive ties to lobbyists. 

He trounced Robin Carnahan by a 54-41 margin.

Many also tried to point out his crucial role in the last-minute passing of the Medicare Part D entitlement—unfunded—which he acted out by helping the House Republican leadership cajole and caress as many reluctant Republicans as they could in order to get their votes, sometimes getting them to switch their votes. (FiredUp!Missouri has a nice summary of the sordid tale here.)

After all, as The Washington Post put it, the House leadership made sure their members knew the prescription drug benefit issue was important “to the party and the president.”

Yeah.  And to the drug companies.

The pharmaceutical industry benefits from the legislation because most of the cost is picked up by taxpayers and the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Not allowed by law.  By a law that was pushed by Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt and enacted in 2003 by a majority of Republicans, including by Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a legislative neighbor of Blunt’s here in Missouri at the time.

As former Reagan domestic policy adviser and Bush I treasury official Bruce Bartlett said, “the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway,” and it, “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.”  He added:

…anyone who voted for the drug benefit, especially someone who switched his vote to make its enactment possible, has zero credibility. People like Franks ought to have the decency to keep their mouths shut forever when it comes to blaming anyone else for increasing the national debt.

He finished with this:

It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.

Well, Jo Ann Emerson, who represents the south central and southeast part of our state, was one of those Republicans who voted for the prescription drug bill to keep it alive in the House.  And she was one of those who changed her vote, at the behest of Roy Blunt.  And then she voted against it on final passage.

Go figure.

In any case, I’m not at this time going to knock Emerson for that vote-and-switch. That’s not the point I want to make.

I want to offer her some praise.

Perhaps out of some kind of legislative penance, she is trying to make amends.  According to Vermont Public Radio Emerson is co-sponsoring a bill with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that would,

allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that are bought under the Medicare Part D program.

Congressman Welch has essentially called Medicare Part D a “corrupt bargain,” and claims that his and Emerson’s bill would save taxpayers $156 billion over the next ten years by giving the government the power to negotiate a bulk discount for drugs.

The idea has failed before but Welch is optimistic about the bill’s chances this time:

I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at passing it this year because there is such a focus on the budget. The total focus on the new Republican majority is on cutting spending. This is tailor-made to help them achieve that goal. It’s $160 billion in savings. I think it’s a very compelling argument and it will allow those who claim they want to taxpayer money a chance to do so.

I’m not exactly sure how proud Rep. Emerson is of her co-sponsorship of this bill, since I could find nothing about it on her website, but here’s hoping she will enthusiastically work out her penance for her past legislative sins, at least one of them at the urging of Roy Blunt.

And perhaps this proposal will serve as a test for those Republicans in Congress who talk big about the debt and deficit but often shrink in the presence of traditional Republican constituents like the drug companies.

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.

Obama And The Economy: Going The Way Of The Timid

The President should advance ideas that work, and go to battle for them. 

—Robert Reich

Today’s Joplin Globe featured a column by Robert Reich in which the former Clinton cabinet member scolds President Obama for not being bold enough in “spurring growth of jobs and wages.”

Saying that Obama is embracing ideas that appeal to Republicans, including “a corporate tax cut, accompanied by the closing of some corporate tax loopholes,” Reich makes the point that all economists this side of Sean Hannity are making:

Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don’t need more financial incentives. They’re already sitting on a vast cash hoard estimated to be upwards of $1.9 trillion… The problem isn’t on the supply side. It’s on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren’t enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell… The reason consumers aren’t buying is consumers’ paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.

Now, that’s a pretty standard analysis of the situation. Yet, mainly because of the fact that Republicans control the House and essentially control the Senate—the filibuster now gives the minority party veto power over everything—Obama can’t successfully act boldly to do what needs to be done.

Reich offers some ideas on how to solve the problem of the “continuing crisis on the demand side,” which includes:

♦ Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for a year.

♦ Create a WPA for the long-term unemployed.

♦ Allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, thereby giving them more clout with lenders to reorganize their mortgage loans.

♦ Lend federal money to (rather than bail out) states and cities that are now firing platoons of teachers, fire fighters, and other workers because state and local coffers are empty.

Of course, there is about the same chance of Newt Gingrich becoming president as there is of seeing the kinds of things Reich proposes getting passed through Congress.  And part of the reason why is demonstrated by today’s editorial from the Joplin Globe, which—back to its usual conservative line—spurted the following falsehood:

Voters have rejected the liberal approach to spend our way back to prosperity. That approach has not worked as the economy teeters on the edge and unemployment seems to be unsolvable, at least in the short term.

The stimulus bill passed in 2009 was a relatively moderate approach to the problem of a severely damaged economy and, thus, it had rather moderate results.  But it did have results.  Now that the money from the stimulus has mostly made its way through the economy, what we have is an obvious need for more short-term stimulus to keep the recovery going. 

As was proved in 1937 here in America and in Japan in 1997 and as is being proved in the United Kingdom and Ireland and Greece and elsewhere in Europe today, cutting back government spending and emphasizing debt reduction in times like these is a recipe for stagnation, or worse.

Unfortunately, as Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, the Obama administration has bought into the idea that worry over deficits is more important than worry over jobs and wages. David Dayen notes that,

Republicans theorize that a deficit deal would increase confidence in the business sector and financial markets, spurring economic growth all by itself.

You hear that all the time from Republicans.  Business hates uncertainty.  Business needs confidence.   

Sadly, Mike Konczal, of the Roosevelt Institute, relays this:

Someone noted that with Goolsbee leaving all of the big names surrounding economic policy are no longer economists but lawyers and people associated with Wall Street. And it is also telling that, with the Larry Summers editorial from the weekend, all of the economists you’d recognize who have left the administration are calling for more stimulus, while it is those there now calling for confidence.

Confidence it is, I suppose. A Democratic administration, in the face of a turtle-like economic recovery, with a game-changing election on the horizon, appears to be going the way of the timid, embracing the tried-and-failed economic theories of the Republican Party.

Perhaps the administration and fanatical Republicans in Congress can come up with a way for challenged consumers to spend that magical business confidence at the grocery store or at the appliance store or at the car dealership.

Friends May Go

Friends may come and friends may go,
Friends may peter out we know;
We’ve been friends through thick and thin,
Peter out…or peter in.

—old toast

Anthony Weiner, famous now for acting like an unsupervised teenager, was one of my favorite liberals.  He took on the bad guys on Fox “News”; he took on the hard-right Republican rabble in the House; he articulated the kind of liberalism in which I strongly believe.

Which, of course, is why he has to go, has to sort of peter out.

It doesn’t matter to me that he broadcast his photogenic weenie all over creation, or that he had sex talk with consenting adults, or that he rubbed himself raw while doing either one of the above.

But it does matter that he could walk in front of his constituents, via the camera he loves so much, and tell a self-serving lie.  He should have either shut up or confessed or resigned.  Democrats believe in the authenticity of government, in the basic credibility of the political class.  Lying so blatantly, even about one’s weenie, undermines that credibility and undermines the Democrats’ argument for good government.

If Mr. Weiner really believes in the politics he’s been preaching, he will leave the scene.  He certainly realizes that the other side will use his continued presence to delegitimize not so much him, but his brand of politics and his political party, home to his kind of politics.

He owes it to the Democratic Party, to his fellow Democrats, and to his fellow liberals, to go home, peter out or peter in.

Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

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