Friday, February 26, 2010

Are Conservatives Stupid?

I have good news and bad news: The good news is that the article you are now reading is the 200th ever posted on RiskingHemlock, a milestone for this website. The bad news involves the subject that this article must discuss.

Excerpted from an article on

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

The IQ differences, while statistically significant, are not stunning -- on the order of 6 to 11 points -- and the data should not be used to stereotype or make assumptions about people, experts say. But they show how certain patterns of identifying with particular ideologies develop, and how some people's behaviors come to be.

The reasoning is that sexual exclusivity in men, liberalism and atheism all go against what would be expected given humans' evolutionary past. In other words, none of these traits would have benefited our early human ancestors, but higher intelligence may be associated with them.

As a monogomous liberal who, though not atheistic, is certainly independent-minded enough in his spiritual convictions that he cannot be rightly lumped in with any single religious group, this article should make me happy. Instead it infuriates me.

For one thing, it operates on the assumption that IQ scores are a meaningful measurement of human intelligence. Rather than attempt to explain the inherent flaw in this point-of-view on my own, I shall instead refer to a far superior scientific mind, that of Alfred Binet:

"The scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured."

Suffice to say that countless studies - psychiatric, biological, genetic, and sociological - have reinforced the unassailable wisdom of Benet's observation in the 105 years since he made it. Considering that disproving a definite connection between IQ and intelligence deals a fatal blow to Dr. Kanazawa's case, one might assume that it'd be unnecessary for me to further analyze the errors in that scientist's survey. Unfortunately, there are problems here that transcend even the unwarranted confidence placed in the veracity of standardized tests.

Kanazawa asserts that "liberalism" is a sign of intelligence - but how exactly does he define "liberalism"? Is he using the extreme views of Noam Chomsky and Dennis Kucinich as his benchmark, or the more moderate perspectives of Paul Krugman and Barack Obama? Considering that most people are not "liberal" on every single issue, which specific set of beliefs are most important when getting one's self lumped in that all-important "liberal" category - economic liberalism, social liberalism, foreign policy liberalism, or some complex formula consisting of all three in just the right proportions?

The same logical dissection can be applied to Kanazawa's other two categorical constructs. As a secular Jew who believes in G_d, an afterlife, and a higher moral law, but doesn't subscribe to the specific tenets of any theological dogma, do I qualify as close enough to "atheist" to be counted by Kanazawa's study, or should I bow my head in shame because I only meet two of his three criteria? There are thinkers like Bill Maher, who despite being an outspoken critic of organized religion, has stated "I'm not an atheist, though, because the belief that there is no God only mirrors the certitude of religion. No, I'm saying that doubt is the only appropriate response for human beings." How does that nuanced cynicism factor into Kanazawa's formula? And as for sexual exclusivity... well, since my girlfriend reads this blog, it's a given that I'm going to declare myself sexually exclusive, but does my IQ drop a few points every time I stop to stare at a picture of the lovely Fergie in all of her deliciously zaftig glory? If so, I may want to stop writing this blog and prepare for a stint on Jersey Shore.

Of course, there is an easier way to invalidate the categories used by this survey as criteria. One need not search too long through history or the present to find countless examples of intelligent conservatives (Alexander Hamilton, William Buckley, Antonin Scalia), religious individuals (Michelangelo, Galileo, Francis Collins), and sexually wayward males (Albert Einstein, Diego Rivera, Bill Clinton). However, considering how quickly proponents of this theory will brandish their most obnoxious have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too qualifier - the "I'm saying my finding is a rule of thumb, not an absolute rule" caveat - I thought it best to avoid mentioning this particular detail until after I had dispensed with the more inherent flaws in Kanazawa's thinking.

Just as important as identifying the glaring logical fallacies behind Kanazawa's whole survey, though, is trying to understand WHY it would propound these absurdities in the first place. For an answer to that question, I turn to another great scientist, Stephen Jay Gould:

"…the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status."

While I wouldn't classify conservatives, religious individuals, and adulterous men "oppressed" and "disadvantaged", the principle illustrated by Gould in that quote applies just as well here. It cannot be denied that one of the quickest ways to delegitimize a given point-of-view or lifestyle is to call into question the intelligence of those who adhere to it. What's more, though I can't say with certainty that Kanazawa and his fellow scientists are sexually exclusive atheistic liberals, it is safe to assume that those belief systems are very popular within the academic community (well, at least two of the three, since monogomy isn't really popular anywhere). As such, it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to suspect that Kanazawa's underlying motives for publishing this study - as well as CNN's incentive for reporting on its findings, thereby lending them de facto credibility - could be to spread the gospel that the religious, adulterous, and politically conservative are just not as smart as their counterparts.

So if Kanazawa's study can't tell us which among these different groups possesses superior intelligence, then how CAN we find out?

The answer is not one that most people like to hear - judge each human being you encounter based on solely on who he or she is, on a case-by-case, individual-by-individual basis. Don't blindly follow the guidelines established for you by a political pundit, religious leader, or institutionally revered scientific mind, and don't try to find neat little tricks for ranking the different categories of people. Heck, don't even waste your time CREATING categories for people, as homo sapiens have an irritating habit of defying classifications just as soon as you think you've got them pegged. Instead, take each seperate person as he or she is - with his political and religious views exactly as they are, as a whole - and come to your own independent conclusion as to whether he/she is intelligent, and thus whether he/she is worthy of your respect. The chances are that you'll find that liberals have Keith Olbermann AND Rosie O'Donnell, that conservatives have Charles Krauthammer AND Glenn Beck, that the religious have Reinhold Niebuhr AND Jerry Falwell, that atheists have Stephen Hawking AND Richard Dawkins, and that our sex lives - monogomous or otherwise - are almost always dumb as hell.

I won't deny that the process I just described - of thinking deeply, carefully, and above all for yourself - is a burdensome one, because it's so complicated; then again, it allows you to possess the most accurate reflection of real life, which is also complicated, so it makes sense that the price for understanding it lies in the chore of unraveling it. Besides, you never know - by following through on my system of separating the intelligent from the lacking, you may just find that the mind whose intelligence you wind up saving is your own.

Unemployment: Why Republicans Don't Give A Damn


Starting Monday, the jobless will no longer be able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.

These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Because the Senate did not act, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

That could be devastating to the unemployed who were counting on that income. In total, more than one million people could stop getting checks next month, with nearly 5 million running out of benefits by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.

Why did the Senate fail to act?

Lawmakers repeatedly tried to approve a 30-day extension this week, but each time, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., prevented the $10 billion measure from passing...

First of all...


If the developments over the past year on health care reform and the stimulus package prove anything, it is that GOP congressional leadership is masterful in getting its members to follow orders.

Some other important statistics, culled from the same source:
- About 11.5 million people currently depend on jobless benefits.
- Nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work and a record 41.2% have been unemployed for at least six months.
- The average unemployment period lasts a record 30.2 weeks.
- The unemployment rate, which now stand at 9.7%, is expected to rise in February as snowstorms in many states disrupted the economy and stalled hiring.

There are two obvious questions to be asked right now:

1) Why are the Republicans playing political games with unemployment benefit extensions, an issue that both parties acknowledge has an immediate and profound affect on the lives of countless Americans?

2) Why are the Democrats, who technically possess overwhelming control over both houses of Congress, permitting individual Republicans to interfere with the well-being of the American people?

The answers to each question are, tragically, quite simple:

1) The Republican Party needs the economic situation to worsen so that they can take power away from the Democrats. While some would argue that such a tactic is bound to backfire - that by exacerbating the hardships caused by our economic predicament in order to win votes, the Republicans run the risk of being the recipients of public resentment instead of the Democrats - history has shown that this isn't likely to happen. Most Americans don't follow politics closely enough to be aware of the complicated machinations and maneuverings that go on behind the scenes, and thus how to properly allocate blame; instead they follow a simple formula, one in which the incumbent party is blamed if the country is faring poorly and rewarded if it is believed to be doing well. As such, all the Republicans have to do is allow our economy to continue its deterioration - even intentionally harm the situation from time to time, such as Senator Bunnings has done - and wait for the Democrats to be punished by the general public. In a two-party system, the Democrats' punishment becomes, by default, the Republicans' gift.

There is another reason why Republicans are obstructing the Democratic Party agenda, one that does not receive nearly enough attention. On a fundamental level, the liberal philosophy (which controls part, though not nearly all, of the Democratic Party machinery) embraces the idea that a democratic government, representing and controlled by the people it serves, should use its power to fight economic injustice, just as the government currently uses its power to fight other forms of injustice (such as crime, attacks from foreign nations, and so on). Since the policies that would achieve this objective will, naturally, be opposed by the main perpetrators of economic injustice - businesses that underpay and/or mistreat their workers, companies that sell unsafe or malfunctioning products, banks that engage in reckless practices with people's savings and threaten the entire economic infrastructure, corporations that control vital goods and services and wish to use their power to price gouge the public (health insurance companies, private university boards, credit card companies), wealthy individuals who don't want to pay their fair share of taxes or simply hold the non-rich in contempt, and so on - these people need a political organization that will oppose the encroachment of liberal ideas. The vessel they use today is the Republican Party.

It wasn't always that way. In the early 19th century, their organization of choice was the Federalist Party, a political coalition that openly declared its belief that the "rich and well-born" were superior to all other classes of Americans and deserved a government that catered primarily to their interests (they even went so far as to advocate granting more votes to those who possessed large amounts of property and denying suffrage to people whose incomes weren't large enough). Given the inevitable unpopularity of any group that preached this ideology in an egalitarian society like this one, Federalists found openness to be a losing strategy; after losing five consecutive presidential elections to the liberal Democratic-Republican Party, the Federalists dissolved, and from that day to this, the parties that have succeeded them (first the National Republicans, then the Whigs, and finally the Republicans) have made a point of justifying policies that help the economically powerful at the expense of the weak in terms more consistent with the humanitarian ideals upon which America (inconveniently for their purposes) was founded. Sometimes the cover they use is that of "lower taxes" and "smaller government"; sometimes they try to discredit liberalism through erroneous ad hominem arguments, claiming that left-wingers are "socialists" or "communists"; sometimes they try to discredit liberalism by building straw men for people to attack instead of the wealthy and powerful, such as by focusing on such ultimately frivolous issues as gay rights, school prayer, flag burning, or putting the Ten Commandments in courthouses. Yet regardless of the ornamentation used to conceal their real agenda, of the interests of these conservatives - as made manifest today in their primary political vehicle, the Republican Party - has always been focused on helping the economically powerful, even when doing so is often at the expense of those 95% of all Americans who are part of the working class. This fact goes a long way in explaining the GOP's current indifference to the economic sufferings being felt by the American non-wealthy in 2010.

2) Of course, none of the Republican Party's efforts wouldn't work if the Democrats used the full measure of their political power to thwart it. Yet unlike the Republican Party - which during and after the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s effectively purged all ideological dissent from its ranks, leaving in its wake a remarkably unified instrument through which to very effectively implement its will - the Democratic Party remains divided into two factions: Those who wish to boldly avow and fight for liberal principles, and those who feel that the Democratic Party's liberalism must be watered down for public consumption, a belief based on the (incorrect) notion that America is a right-wing nation, and as such will turn against any politician which tries to press an openly liberal agenda upon them. The ongoing war between these two factions prevents Democrats from having enough political strength to effect their will on all but a handful of small issues; as such, they are rendered powerless when they are confronted by their united and well-coordinated Republican adversaries.

So how can the Democratic Party end this dynamic? Simply put, it has to do what the Republicans have done since 1980 - under the leadership of strong-willed politicians, it must force its members to work together toward common partisan goals or face political exile. The dominance of the modern Republican Party - during the period called the Age of Reagan - took place as a direct result of the actions of men who knew how to do this, including not only Ronald Reagan, but individuals like Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Lee Atwater, and Karl Rove. When the Democratic Party has been dominant in by-gone eras, it has likewise been because it had strong men to lead it - Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James Polk, Amos Kendall, and Roger Taney during the Age of Jackson, or Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Hubert Humphrey during the Age of FDR.

Right now, due to the absence of such strong leadership, the Democratic Party is being easily victimized by their Republicans. The tragedy is that the steepest price for their weakness will be paid not by themselves, but by the American unemployed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Thoughts on the 2012 Election

Back in September 2009, I made the following observation about the 2012 presidential election:

In a situation where the economy is still struggling by late 2011/early 2012, (Massachusetts Governor Willard "Mitt") Romney will be the obvious candidate. His extensive background as a fixer-upper in the business community and sterling personal integrity will be exactly what the Republican base and American public crave in such an environment - the former because of his unwavering loyalty to the oligarchy of wealthy Americans and big businesses that rule the Republican party, and the latter because his business background can be sold very easily as a prime qualification for getting us out of our economic turmoil (something along the lines of, we've had four years of a president who thinks government is the road to prosperity, now we need a man who understands that it's business that leads to growth, and here is a man who not only appreciates the value of business, but personally excelled in it). Romney's three main deficits will be his social class (people may harbor feelings of class-based resentment against a presidential candidate born into an economically and politically privileged background), his wishy-washy record on the social and cultural issues that matter so much to important elements of his party's base (due to his career as Governor of Massachusetts), and, sad though this is, his Mormonism (which has often been viewed with suspicion by Christian right-wingers and which polls show is a disincentive for many mainstream voters). These problems are serious, but if the economy is in severe enough difficulty, none will prove insurmountable: Romney's personal background will be irrelevant to average voters if they believe that he is better equipped to rescue them from economic woe than Obama (just look at how the wealthy Roosevelt trounced self-made man Hoover in 1932), his lack of conservative street cred (which would only really hurt him in the Republican primaries, but actually be an asset for the general election) can be fixed with the support of such prominent right-wing pundits as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter (both of whom have already proclaimed their undying love of the man), and his Mormonism - though an undeniable disadvantage under normal political circumstances (and sadly so, since Romney would deserve to lose for his political, not religious, beliefs) - would once again be rendered politically irrelevant in a time of economic desperation.

At the time, I felt that the economy WOULD have experienced significant improvement by 2012, and thus that the nomination would have naturally fallen to the most electorally viable of the hard right candidates, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Now I have revised my opinion, for three reasons:

1) Huckabee's popularity among grassroots conservatives has fallen considerably. While some point to his poor showing at the CPAC straw poll as evidence of this, I don't place a great deal of stock on the prophetic powers of that particular survey. To me, the more important developments have been:

i. The Maurice Clemmons Scandal. Back when Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas, he commuted the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, a man who had been convicted of committing unarmed burglary and sentenced to 108 years in prison. Huckabee, feeling that this punishment was excessive, reduced Clemmons' sentence t0 47 years, a decision that made the former burglar eligible for parole. Upon being released (with the unanimous consent of the parole board members), Clemmons was arrested multiple times (including for child molestation and aggravated assault, although prosecutors declined to file charges on those occasions), and his long rap sheet finally came to an abrupt close when he killed four police officers in Washington State, was pursued in an aggressive manhunt, and was finally shot dead by a Seattle police officer.
This scandal will be used by Huckabee's political opponents against him should he seek the presidential nomination in 2012. In many ways, this is unfortunate: Huckabee was hardly alone in believing that Clemmons had reformed himself, the sentence he commuted WAS excessive, and at the time of his release, there wasn't any reason to believe that Clemmons would go on to commit such a string of heinous crimes. Even worse, there actually IS an offender whose premature release from jail SHOULD lead to the downfall of Huckabee's candidacy - Wayne DuMond. Back in 1984, DuMond raped a 17-year-old girl who just so happened to be the third cousin of then-Governor Bill Clinton. This prompted right-wing conspiracy theorists to assert (without a shred of evidence, of course) that DuMond was the victim of a massive frame-up; therefore, as soon as Huckabee became governor, he commuted DuMond's sentence and, in a gross overstepping of his executive power, pressured the parole board into releasing him. The newly freed former jailbird went on to rape two women, murdering one (who was pregnant at the time).
Of course, because the DuMond controversy involved a Clinton relative, Republicans were loath to let that get in the way of considering Huckabee to be their presidential nominee in 2008. The Clemmons incident, however, will probably prove too much for them to handle; considering the questions it raises - legitimately or otherwise - about Huckabee's competence and commitment to law-and-order, it will quite likely deal a bodyblow to the Arkansan's White House ambitions.

ii. The Rise of Sarah Palin. While I still believe that Sarah Palin's association with the ideological fringe in the Republican party will ultimately thwart her efforts to be the party's nominee (see Point 2), it is obvious now that it has sucked a lot of the energy away from the movement Huckabee tapped into during his 2008 campaign. Energy, manpower, and momentum that would otherwise be Huckabee's exclusive province are being monopolized by Palin, thanks in no small part to the vast amounts of airtime she has been receiving. While Huckabee's television show on FoxNews was no doubt intended to keep him in the spotlight and thus help him maintain an enthusiastic base, the tendency of his program to "play it safe" has not helped it garner the publicity that Palin's penchant for controversy constantly attracts. With her soon to be joining the FoxNews roster, that will only further the downward spiral of his political brand at her hands.

2) The rise of the Tea Party movement makes Romney a more attractive political figure. Although some pundits believe that the Tea Partiers could push the Republican party farther to the right in the 2012 contest, I am inclined to believe that they will have the exact opposite effect - GOP bigwigs, while wanting to do everything in their power to keep Tea Partiers in the party fold, will nevertheless be wary of nominating a candidate too closely associated with their movement, for fear of turning off the independent and moderate voters whose ballots often decide presidential elections. Throwing enough red meat to ensure the Tea Party movement's loyalty to their candidate (as well as tap into their grassroots power) while simultaneously building a bridge to voters in the ideological center will be a very delicate balancing act, one that candidates like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and even Tim Pawlenty could never hope to perform. Romney, on the other hand, has the perfect mixture of unapologetic conservatism (particularly on the economic issues that Tea Partiers value most) and comparative moderation (on social policies) to make such a feat possible in his case. In short, Romney is the only high profile potential candidate with the power to capitalize on the support of the radical right while obtaining votes from swing voters; all of the other major contenders (especially Sarah Palin and Ron Paul) would receive the enthusiastic support of the conservative base, to the neglect of every other major voting bloc in America.

3) The most important reason for all: I no longer believe that the economy will have significantly improved by 2012.

The reason for this dreary prediction is simple - Obama has, with a steadfast determination that utterly baffles me, refused to pursue the policies that will be necessary to lead us to a recovery. What he should be doing right now, for political as well as moral reasons, is casting himself as a bellicose populist, one who uses the prestige and raw power of the presidency to help the people in their time of need by pushing through policies which solve their problems and serving as a bulwark between them and the cupidity of their adversaries (a tactic that has worked beautifully for economically progressive presidents from Andrew Jackson to the two Roosevelts). Equipped with this image, he should then push for measures that - however unpopular with conservatives and so-called centrists, and however initially extreme they may appear to many independent-minded Americans - are nevertheless guaranteed to have an immediate, significant, and overwhelmingly positive effect on our country's economic life. Above all else, this should involve passing an additional $1 trillion stimulus package, including $700 billion in private investment and infrastructure spending, $200 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $100 billion in a second WPA, which will almost instantly start creating thousands of jobs, bringing us into a much healthier economic state by autumn 2012 (when Obama needs to be re-elected) and to full employment within a year or two after that.

Instead, Obama refuses to do any of this. He seems to have bought into the myth that has been adamantly propounded by the Democratic Leadership Council, the Blue Dog Coalition, and other so-called centrist groups within his own party for years - i.e., that America is a right-wing nation, and as such will turn against any politician who tries to press a liberal agenda upon them. The fact that all of the evidence, historical and contemporary, points to Americans being a distinctly non-ideological bunch - that we are, indeed, a nation that cares far more about meat-and-potatoes RESULTS than we do about the ideological mechanisms through which those results are reached - has eluded him. To avoid being branded a "socialist" or a "radical", Obama has chosen a strange approach that can best be called glorified inactivity, consisting of proposing measures that nibble at the edges of our biggest problems without doing anything meaningful to solve them. For a tactic that is meant to win over the support of all three American voting groups - his conservative opponents, liberal allies, and moderate friends - Obama's approach has pulled off the unique feat of guaranteeing the worst of all three worlds: his political allies are angry at his insistence to budge from his love affair with inefficient half measures, his enemies continue to distort the inadequate piffle that he does push through as being "socialist" and "radical" (despite the fact that they are mostly borne of his attempts to accommodate them), and because his policies don't work, moderates continue to be angry at the lack of tangible results. Yet with a stubbornness that is very unbecoming a president (as we saw when it was displayed by George W. Bush in the last decade), Obama refuses to recognize the error of his ways, and instead plods ahead with the same failed strategy.

Should this continue, the chances are very strong that the economy will not have recovered enough by 2012 for Obama to be re-elected. Although the current polls show the Republican presidential field to be very competitive (with Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney exchanging the lead amongst themselves by very slight margins while roughly 40% of all Republican voters express themselves as "Unsure"), the political arithmetic for a Mitt Romney nomination in an economically-depressed 2012 is too compelling to be defied. Indeed, to win with relative ease, all Romney would need to do is avoid any major political gaffes, not allow any scandals to mar his image, and pick a solid running mate - someone conservative enough to please the Christian right-wing element of the Republican base (which will initially have difficulty swallowing his flip-flops on touchstone social issues and his Mormon background) while not so radical as to frighten moderates (as Sarah Palin did in 2008), as well as an individual with foreign policy and federal political experience to compensate for Romney's deficiencies in those areas. Unfortunately, unless a significant change comes from the Obama administration, that is precisely the situation I see occurring in America's future.

Final Blog Addendum - March 19, 2010:

PS: For what it's worth, if the economy recovers before the 2012 election (and, of course, no other significant issues arise to tarnish the Obama Administration in the eyes of the American people), the chances are that:

i. The Republican Party will nominate a right-wing All Star - someone who, like Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern (for the Democrats) in 1972, is able to coast to the nomination on the enthusiasm of the GOP's grassroots base of right-wing ideological purists. This will happen because, in the absence of a climate in which defeating President Obama appears likely, the pragmatism that would normally compel Republicans to nominate a Mitt Romney will go by the wayside, leaving in its wake the vociferousness of the Tea Partiers and their ilk.

ii. Conventional wisdom among pundits dictates that the candidate of choice among these voters would be either former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The former can be ruled out of contention for the reasons I've already discussed; the latter, though admittedly popular among certain segments of the GOP base, is nevertheless reviled by libertarian purists, who are turned off by her lack of intellectual heft , close ties with the Christian right, and reputation for cronyism during her gubernatorial tenure. What's more, despite their passionate followings, neither Huckabee nor Palin inspire the unadulterated zeal necessary to compensate for the political conventional wisdom that dictates (correctly or incorrectly) that each of them is unelectable. Indeed, of all the hard-line conservatives, only one has inspired the type of devoted following that conjures up memories of the Goldwater and McGovern revolutions - Congressman Ronald Ernest "Ron" Paul of Texas.

iii. Should the economy have recovered by 2012, I believe that Ron Paul's well-organized grassroots campaign - combined with his cerebral mien, admirably consistent voting record, and novel ideological message - will make him the surprise victor of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

That said, the nomination won't come easily to Ron Paul. Although Huckabee and Palin would likely split establishment conservative votes between themselves, thereby permitting him to monopolize the right-wing base of the party, Romney will soon thereafter emerge as his key adversary for the nomination. What Paul will have in the support of libertarian and right-wing ideologues, Romney will counter with the backing of the big business interests that control Republican party fortunes (which, despite Paul's laissez-faire policy proposals, remain deeply distrustful of his positions on foreign policy and the Federal Reserve), ideological moderates (especially in the Northeast and other blue states), Mormons who will want to produce their faith's first president, and even conservatives who will be frightened away from Paul by the perceived radicalism of his agenda. I suspect that a showdown would erupt, comparable to the Ford-Reagan nomination contest in 1976. Whereas the moderate (Gerald Ford) ultimately defeated the radical (Ronald Reagan) in 1976, two factors will work in the favor of the radical (Paul) this time around:

- Unlike Gerald Ford, Mitt Romney does not have the benefit of incumbency.

- The Reagan revolution of 1980 significantly altered the ideological composition of the Republican party from what it had been in Gerald Ford's day; while Ford had many moderates whose support he could tap, Romney will find that the supply has significantly dwindled over the past thirty-six years.

In short, I would see Ron Paul sweeping the Southern, Plains, Midwestern, and Pacific States (even picking up on the support of Christian right-wingers who, though disappointed in Paul's conquest of Palin and Huckabee, will still prefer him over the Mormon Romney), while Romney would claim the Northeastern and predominantly Mormon states, as well as Michigan. It would be a close and hard-fought battle, but my instincts tell me that Paul would emerge as its champion.

iv. While I am uncertain as to who Romney would choose as a running mate in 2012 (should the economy be poor and he be the quasi-inevitable nominee, of course), it's relatively easy to figure out Paul's pick. He would want to win over the support of Mormons who will have been disappointed at the defeat of their champion, place a younger candidate on the ticket to balance out his septuagenerian status, and pick someone whose philosophy is close enough to his own so as to avoid alienating his die-hard supporters. Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona is a perfect fit.

v. Barack Obama would defeat Ron Paul by one of the greatest popular vote landslides in American presidential history. This would be in no small part due to the success of his first term as president; however, the media will no doubt focus on Ron Paul's radicalism as a central issue of the campaign, much as they did for Goldwater in 1964 and McGovern in 1972, causing a knee-jerk reaction against it among the independent voters who are so critical in deciding elections. In addition, the lukewarm support Paul will receive from the well-moneyed interests that so often make-or-break GOP candidacies will significantly hinder his fortunes (despite what will probably be overwhelming financial support from grassroots constituencies). Finally, Ron Paul - unlike John McCain in 2008 - has made questionable comments on racial topics in the past, the significance of which will be accentuated by the fact that he will be running against our first black president. All of this will no doubt combine to put Ron Paul on the wrong end of the most one-sided popular vote margin in American presidential politics since the Johnson-Goldwater and Nixon-McGovern contests. His electoral vote tally will probably be somewhat better than those of his predecessors (he'll likely claim the entire South, Plains, and Rocky Mountain states), but not by much.

vi. As a quick sidenote, I suspect that an Obama-Paul race would see the Democratic ticket winning the largest percentage of Jewish votes in recorded American history. While this may seem like an unusually bold assertion, the fact that Jews are an overwhelmingly liberal voting bloc - with even Jewish Republicans generally tending to be closer to Obama's governing philosophy than that of Ron Paul - will combine with Paul's well-known opposition to providing foreign aid to Israel to cause Jews of almost all ideological stripes to flock to the Obama-Biden campaign. The greatest Jewish vote-getters in American presidential history (post-1916, anyway) have been Franklin Roosevelt (90% in 1940 and 1944) and Lyndon Johnson (90% in 1964). I could easily see Obama surpassing those figures by receiving more than nine-out-of-ten Jewish votes.

vii. What will the ultimate legacy of a Ron Paul campaign be? There is a temptation to claim that, like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, he will cause an influx of new voters into the fold of one of America's two major parties, significantly altering its ideological composition and the future course of American politics and thereby turning a landslide defeat into a historical victory. The problem with this, in Ron Paul's case, is that he would merely be repeating a revolution that has already happened; Barry Goldwater already brought the Paulesque elements into the Republican Party back in 1964, and Ronald Reagan handed them the reins of government in 1980. Arguments over whether the Reaganites were ultimately loyal to their own principles notwithstanding, the reality is that Paul wouldn't be forging a new coalition so much as he would be infusing energy into an old one. While many of the Republican Party's power-brokers will be leery of him, the chances are that his resounding defeat will enable them to find ways to win over his supporters in future elections while luring back those elements who defected during his campaign. In short, it is doubtful that Ron Paul will leave the Republican Party looking that much different than it had been before his brief time at its helm.

That said, there is one significant impact Ron Paul will have on the American political landscape. Since its creation during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the Federal Reserve has been considered an untouchable institution - pundits and citizens may question its practices and policies, but rarely if ever has it been deemed acceptable to openly oppose its very existence. Although Paul's war against the Federal Reserve will be depicted at the time as radical, the very fact that his voice will at last be heard will end the long-standing taboo against challenging its existence. Considering that America does have a historical precedent for destroying national banks that control its economy (see Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and American politics in the 1830s), people who begin to mull over Paul's opposition to the Federal Reserve and find that opposing its ilk is NOT un-American will gradually become emboldened to challenge it on their own. When you combine that with the growing populism caused by our recent economic calamity, what you get is a climate where the Federal Reserve may be in dear trouble in the near future.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obamacare: Questions & Answers

What does Obama's new health care plan promise to do?

- It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today. This helps over 31 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today – and makes coverage more affordable for many more.

- It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving tens of millions of Americans the exact same insurance choices that members of Congress will have.

- It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.

- It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.

- It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years – and about $1 trillion over the second decade – by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

Will Obama's plan actually achieve these objectives?


Will Obama's plan involve "death panels" that will kill the elderly and disabled?

No... and if you believe that, you need to stop attending Tea Party rallies and start reading literature that disseminates information, not dogma and propaganda.

Will Obama's plan completely solve the health care crisis in America?


Is Obama's health care plan useless?

No. While it doesn't go nearly far enough in making high-quality health care affordable to every single American (which is the ideal), the humanitarian value of lowering costs, extending care to the socioeconomically dependent, and ending discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions cannot be overlooked. Fiscal conservatives should also be pleased that, rather than INCREASING our budget deficit, this plan will ultimately REDUCE it by $100 billion over the next ten years - although, given their knee-jerk opposition to any policy that has the Obama stamp on it, the chances are that these conservatives will not appreciate this aspect of the proposal (or will try to spin it into something more sinister).

Is Obama's plan unpopular with the American public?

That depends on how you look at it. The individual policies contained within his proposal tend to be very popular; for example, 81% of Americans support a plan for a health insurance market exchange, 80% want a law that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, 56% are pleased with a plan that trims $100 billion of excessive health care costs, and 60% support Obama's plan to finance the new policies by increasing taxes on Americans who earn either $200,000 per year individually or $250,000 per year jointly. That said, when these isolated components are lumped together into a single policy named "Obama health care reform plan", the number of supporters falls to 40% in favor, as opposed to 49% against.

Is President Obama doing the right thing by focusing on health care reform right now?

This is a tricky question. There is an analogy that I often use to illustrate my position on Obama's emphasis on health care reform: Pretend that there is a cancer patient in a burning hospital. What do you do first - try to cure his cancer, or get him out of the building and away from the flames?

While the answer to this question is obvious enough when posed in such stark and viscerally powerful terms, it becomes a bit trickier when its principles are manifested in more abstract themes such as "unemployment", "budget deficits", and "health care reform". Few apart from the most strident conservatives would argue that each of those three issues rank among the most important in American life (the far right acknowledges the significance of our budget deficit but tends to be contemptuous of those who want to solve unemployment and our health care crisis). Yet because all three of those problems are so pressing, sometimes it can be difficult to properly prioritize them. Such was made clear in an article published earlier this month which described:

"One senior Democratic senator said (Chief of Staff Rahm) Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy. But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers."

I will not deny that, given the humanitarian urgency and moral imperative behind America's health care crisis, there is something extremely admirable in Barack Obama's determination to focus on resolving this problem. Unfortunately, the health care crisis - and for that matter the budget deficit, another issue on which Obama has placed great emphasis - is the cancer eating away at the flesh of America's socioeconomic fabric, while rising unemployment is the burning building in which we as a nation are trapped. That is why I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments expressed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson when he recently said:

"Let's make a last effort to get universal health care... But if it doesn't work let's move into creating jobs and boosting the economy."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why They Hate Obama

A few days ago, The New York Times published a featured piece on the rising Tea Party movement that is sweeping over America. Although the article contained many valuable insights into the type of person who chooses to associate with this organization, the most telling portions of that paper's analysis came in these paragraphs:

The ebbs and flows of the Tea Party ferment are hardly uniform. It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure. Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What’s more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party...

Local Tea Party groups are often loosely affiliated with one of several competing national Tea Party organizations. In the background, offering advice and organizational muscle, are an array of conservative lobbying groups, most notably FreedomWorks. Further complicating matters, Tea Party events have become a magnet for other groups and causes — including gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, libertarians, militia organizers, the “birthers” who doubt President Obama’s citizenship, Lyndon LaRouche supporters and proponents of the sovereign states movement.

It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny. This narrative permeates Tea Party Web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. It is a prominent theme of their favored media outlets and commentators, and it connects the disparate issues that preoccupy many Tea Party supporters — from the concern that the community organization Acorn is stealing elections to the belief that Mr. Obama is trying to control the Internet and restrict gun ownership. trumpets “exclusives” reporting that the Army is seeking “Internment/Resettlement” specialists. On, bloggers warn that Mr. Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his personal police force. They call on “fellow Patriots” to “grab their guns.”

Mr. Beck frequently echoes Patriot rhetoric, discussing the possible arrival of a “New World Order” and arguing that Mr. Obama is using a strategy of manufactured crisis to destroy the economy and pave the way for dictatorship.

At recent Tea Party events around the country, these concerns surfaced repeatedly.

Many Americans are frightened of the Tea Party movement - not only liberals such as myself, but moderates, independents, and even a growing number of conservative intellectuals (like David Frum and Richard Cohen). All of them are correct in feeling grave apprehension, although I fear they are mistaken as to why they ought to. What is worrisome about the Tea Party movement isn't the radicalism of their doctrine, or the ease with which they fall prey to absurd conspiracy theories, or their tendency to lap up the rhetoric of vapid demagogues like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. All of these things, though legitimately disturbing, have easily identifiable precedents in American history: Paleoconservative ideas can be traced as far back as the days of Robert Taft and Homer Capehart, outlandish conservative conspiracy theories about the left have existed since the heyday of the Antimasonic party; and when it comes to charisma, eloquence, and sheer malevolence, Palin and Beck have nothing on erstwhile right-wing stemwinders like Joe McCarthy and George Wallace.

No, when it comes to maniacal right-wing hatred of everything and everyone liberal, the Tea Party movement of today is not that much different from its predecessors. The antecedents of the Tea Partiers could be found denouncing Thomas Jefferson as a Jacobin, Andrew Jackson as a madman, Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant, and Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton as Socialists and/or Communists (apparently they ran out of epithets in the 1930s).

So why should today's Tea Party movement cause such consternation? It is because, unlike its predecessors, it doesn't seem to coalesce around any single issue. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with their agendas, the right-wing populist movements of times past were at least able to unite around specific subjects, and thus manufacture organizations that at least possessed the semblance of ideological consistency. Anti-Jacksonians focused on his opposition to Nicholas Biddle's National Bank; haters of Lincoln harped about the Railsplitter's positions on states' rights and slavery; adversaries of Roosevelt focused on the New Deal and, later on, the prosecution of the Second World War; and right-wing enemies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson would denounce their expansions of New Deal policy (via the New Frontier, Great Society, and War on Poverty) and their support of civil rights for African-Americans (they also accused Kennedy of being a lackey for the Vatican).

This isn't to say that a plethora of other groups didn't coalesce around the right-wingers who opposed those previous presidents; any movement, to be effective, needs to expand beyond the parameters of the initial issues that brought it into existence and open their arms in welcome to a wide range of other interest groups and ideological factions. That said, no matter how diverse any such coalition became, there was ultimately a single issue or set of issues that served as a nucleus, a rallying point, at the center of the larger organization. The fact that this is transparently not the case with the Tea Party movement disturbs me to no end. While their organizations are rife with subscribers to the most noxious conspiracy theories about Obama - that he is a socialist, that he wasn't born in this country, that he is a secret Muslim - no single one of those convictions, no matter how absurd, has seemed to define any of the rallies and organizational meetings that take place for the Tea Partiers. Although they claim to oppose Obama's health care reform plan and economic stimulus package, these movements sprang into existence before any details about his policies in either area came to public light -and even after those details were released, Tea Partiers became notorious for being woefully misinformed as to their contents. Indeed, Tea Partiers could be found before Barack Obama was even elected president, such as when Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher confronted Obama on how his tax policies would destroy "the American dream", or when wrathful citizens would shout out their desire to murder then-Senator Obama in the middle of then-Governor Sarah Palin's speeches.

What it comes down to is this: the Tea Partiers don't really have a "movement" at all. At least, they don't have a "movement" in the sense that the leftists who wanted to end the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, or the right-wingers who wanted to illegalize abortion and ban gay marriage, possessed a movement. They are, rather, a hodgepodge of right-wing zealots - some new to politics, some not-so-new, and more than a few claiming to be new when they are not - who don't seem to be united on any single subject except for one - the fact that they really, really hate Barack Obama.

The obvious question that no one seems to ask is, in light of the absence of any clear and consistent reason, why do the Tea Partiers hate Barack Obama? Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the ideas of past right-wing populist movements, at the very least they hated their liberal leaders for specific, clear-cut reasons (albeit ones that history has usually deemed either shockingly idiotic - such as claims that FDR and JFK were Communist traitors - or morally abhorrent, such as despising JFK and LBJ for helping African-Americans). The fact that the anti-Obama movement seems to have, as its fundamental objection, WHO OBAMA IS and instead of what they believe (accurately or inaccurately) Obama will do, it becomes increasingly clear that the elephant in the room - the one explanation that so many of us have on the tips of their brains, but are afraid to articulate - needs to be voiced.

Jimmy Carter put it best:

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American.

Later on, he elaborated:

When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds.

I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.

It's a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States.

I know that it is hardly chic to quote Jimmy Carter. Fortunately, I also have an observation from John Avlon, a Republican political worker who served as speechwriter to Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign (and who we can thus assume wishes that the erstwhile New York City mayor was occupying the White House right now):

Race has always been a fault line in American politics but what I believe is at work here is something more subtle than simple racism, and it is what I call the birth of white minority politics... I think there is an anxiety underneath this that President Obama represents the rise of a multicultural elite and the rise of a non-white majority in America. If you talk to many of these protestors in the field, one of the dates that keeps coming up is 2050, which is the date the US census estimates that there will be a non-white majority in the United States.

Predictably, some of my conservative friends have expressed resentment at my characterization of their Tea Party counterparts. Without exception, they have tried to argue that it is the ongoing economic crisis, rather than a hatred of Obama's melanin concentration, that causes their animosity toward the president.

Unfortunately, that assertion is confronted with reality (which as Stephen Colbert once observed, has a well-known liberal bias). Our current recession began in December 2007, more than a year before Obama took office, and the meltdown that turned it into "The Great Recession" took place in September 2008, more than four months before Obama was inaugurated (and two months before he was even elected). Prior to that, the man who occupied the Oval Office was none other than George W. Bush. If the Tea Party movement's primary cause is our nation's economic woes, then why were they so silent when this calamity first befell us? For that matter, why were they indifferent to the countless warning signs that had existed for years regarding the detrimental economic impact of Bush's deregulatory, anti-labor, and pro-plutocratic policies (such as negative job growth, stagnant wages, disproportionate distribution of wealth, and an exploding deficit)? Most important of all, why - despite failing to take serious umbrage at the fact that Bush ignored our impending economic calamity for most of his presidency, and horribly bungled it when it became a meltdown during the last four months of his tenure - did the Tea Partiers only begin to assemble in protest of Obama? Even more, why were they so quick to materialize in protest of Obama LESS THAN ONE MONTH after he had taken office, brandishing claims even at that early time that the economic crisis was somehow his fault?

Here is an excerpt from one of my blog articles that pretty succinctly sums up why I entirely dismiss every claim made by Tea Partiers of legitimate ideological disagreement with President Obama:

Defenders of the Tea Party movements that I personally know will claim that they oppose President Obama's expansion of the power of the federal government; but why do they object to Obama's economic stimulus package and health care reform initiatives, while having remained strangely silent during the far more dangerous expansions of government power that took place during the Bush years (the Patriot Act, the dishonest war in Iraq, the wiretappings, the politicized firings of federal judges, the retributive outing of undercover intelligence officers)?

Then I will hear that Tea Party protesters are concerned about the growth of the budget deficit. But if that is the case, then why do they gloss over the fact that the deficit grew 89% during the administration of George W. Bush (to say nothing of 189% during the reign of right-wing beau ideal Ronald Reagan)?

This is not the first time that I have found myself frustrated by the faulty logic of the grassroots Tea Party movement. Here is an excerpt from a conversation that I had with Kevin Brettell a few months ago:

Take, for instance, the "Tea Party" protesters who claim that they are "true conservatives" who never liked George W. Bush but now object to the taxation policies of Barack Obama. If that is really the case...

Then where were they when Bush spent trillions of dollars on an unnecessary war in Iraq?

Where were they when millions of dollars meant to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were used on - well, we still don't know what?

Why didn't they get up in arms against Bush when he squandered Clinton's budget surplus early in his presidency on a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich?

The fact of the matter is that the so-called real conservatives didn't have a slight problem with George W. Bush when he flouted the principles on which they stood (or if they did, they were surprisingly silent about it), and only began distancing themselves from Dubya when his political stock began to plummet during his second term (although they couldn't get enough of him during his first term, convenient revisionism aside). Obama, on the other hand, they began to oppose almost from the first day he took office.

Note: While I strongly disagree with Ron Paul and his son Rand (growing favorites among Tea Partiers) on most substantive issues, they are the only prominent individuals on the extreme right who criticized George W. Bush AT THE TIME OF HIS PRESIDENCY for the violations of conservative principles that now cause them to lash out at Barack Obama. If nothing else, they deserve respect for not being hypocrites, and the benefit of the doubt insofar as their ideological sincerity is concerned.

The rest of the conservative movement, and especially the Tea Partiers, had no problem when George W. Bush trod upon the Constitution of the United States and the fundamental conservative principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, political accountability. They didn't object to the faltering economy as it reached critical mass during his watch, and they never complained about the encroachments of our basic liberties that ACTUALLY occured while he was in power. Indeed, it wasn't until Bush's approval ratings began to dip that these conservatives realized that "by much dragging of chestnuts from the fire for others to eat, his claws were burnt off to the gristle, and he was thrown aside as unfit for further use". That is why we now see them engaged in the politically convenient act of distancing themselves from him - although even now, though, the presence of "Miss me?" pro-Bush paraphernalia makes it clear that the temporary parting-of-the-ways between conservatives and Bush is coming to its end.

So why is it that these conservatives were silent when a white Republican ACTUALLY created an overly-powerful executive branch and CAUSED an economic crisis, but they managed to organize protests against a black Democrat whom they can only claim is committing abuses of power by LYING and whose worst sin is INACTIVITY in the midst of an economic crisis, as opposed to actually causing it? Why is it that they opposed Obama BEFORE he had even become president, and even now can't seem to find a single consistent reason or coherent argument in favor of WHY they dislike him so much?

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

Economic Priorities of 2010 - Part Three

Of the many strong reasons I have for resenting the Tea Party movement, perhaps the most significant is that they drown out intelligent criticism of this president with their avalanche of bullshit. In the world of the Tea Party protesters, there is a very simple dichotomy which exists - one must either SUPPORT Obama out of stark raving liberalism, or one must OPPOSE him on the grounds of conservatism. The fact that there may be a more nuanced reality to this situation not only eludes them, but seems to be booed and hissed at by them as the political equivalent of speaking in tongues.

That is very unfortunate, because while I feel obligated to defend President Obama from the sundry outrageous and fatuous charges regularly levied against him by the Tea Party movement, developments such as the one described in "The New York Times" fans my own anger against the administration:

President Obama will draw on the power of his bully pulpit to mark the first anniversary of his economic recovery act at the White House on Wednesday, as administration officials fan out across the country to spotlight jobs created by the stimulus package.

It's an irony so absurd that, were it not for its tragic consequences, it would be humorous - even as conservatives all across America claim that Barack Obama is intending to turn America into a socialist state, Obama himself is trying to pass off the fact that he has done NOTHING as somehow being ENOUGH. The main reason for Obama's flagging approval ratings is because Americans, though not blaming him for our current crisis, feel that his administration has not done nearly enough to solve it. A leader with a modicum of political common sense would recognize that the way to solve this problem is to aggressively address the issues that his or her constituents are complaining about. Instead, in what can only be described as brazen arrogance and thick-headedness, Obama has decided to convince that the American people that they're wrong - that his policies HAVE worked and that, despite the suffering we experience and see all around us, that he really HAS been successful.

Let me explain, one more time, what Obama should be doing right now (I will refrain from going over what he should have done since January 2009, since such matters are currently irrelevant):

- He should pass a $1 trillion stimulus package, including $700 billion in private investment spending, $200 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $100 billion in a second WPA, all within the next three years.

- He should pass legislation that strengthens regulations on banks and large businesses (the ones that were reversed during the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II presidencies), re-empowers labor unions (so as to give the American working class control over its income, work hours, and workplace conditions which they have sorely lacked since the Reagan era), and compels banks (the ones we technically own anyway) to stop sitting on the money we gave them and start giving out loans to small businesses.

- If Congress supports such a bill through traditional means, great. If not, he should try to force the bill home through the process of budget reconciliation, so that it will pass with 51 votes instead of 60. Should that fail, he should implement these measures via Executive Order, citing our current worsening crisis as justification for his drastic actions.

- He should accept the following political realities:
- Yes, your enemies will accuse you of seizing too much power and pushing for a socialist agenda. Guess what? You have been pitifully timid so far in your presidency, and they are already accusing you of these things. Anything short of adopting their approach hook, line, and sinker is going to be branded by Tea Partiers, Republicans, and so-called centrists as "socialistic" and "excessive" because you are (a) a Democrat and (b) black. Stop modifying your actions so as to avoid being depicted in this way, because the people who would be inclined to view you in that manner are going to do so no matter what you do.
- The average American WOULD have supported you wholeheartedy had you pushed for these measures when you first became president (I know I said I wouldn't dwell on what he should have done in January 2009, but I had to let out this jab). Now that you have had more than a year of failure on the economic front, those Americans are going to probably oppose what you do, NOT because they have any inherent ideological disagreement with your proposals but because they will suspect that such measures will simply amount to more spending with little if any discernable result. This is something that you will need to endure for the time being BECAUSE...
- Those measures would work. Let me repeat that sentence: Those measures would work. If you did what I propose - that is, if you passed a second New Deal - Americans would, believe it or not, see an immediate and noticeable improvement in their economic circumstances. Because Americans prize results more than they do the ideological mechanisms used to reach those results AND because they care more about being gainfully employed than they do about the budget deficit (which is not to say that they don't care about the deficit, but they do know how to put first things first), the positive outcome of your policies will cause you to become very, very popular. Don't believe me? See: Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson (pre-1966).

This is the last installment in the three-part series I have created, "Economic Priorities of 2010". I know that each piece has repeated many of the points made in its predecessors; this was perhaps avoidable, but I am too frustrated with what I am seeing to refrain from hammering home what needs to be said. Perhaps my greatest regret is that, because the voices of racist reactionaries are crowding out those who actually care about the welfare of America (and I stand by that comment - Tea Partiers, and their sympathizers, clearly care less about their country than they do in propogating outlandish baloney about Barack Obama because they can't stand the fact that their president is a black man), legitimate criticism of this president is being muffled.
Another victim of the economy. Thanks to Marni Blank for allowing me to use her socially conscious snowman for comedy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Economic Priorities of 2010 - Part Two

According to a story posted by Reuters yesterday:

A job-creation bill could be headed for defeat in the U.S. Senate next week, lawmakers and aides said on Friday, as key Republicans have withdrawn support for what was supposed to be a relatively noncontroversial measure.

Anyone who is surprised by this development doesn't understand the prerogatives of the modern Republican party. In order for them to retake power - first in the 2010 midterm elections, then in the 2012 presidential election - they need Barack Obama to fail. For Barack Obama to fail, they need the sufferings of the American people - specifically their economic hardships - to be progressively worsened at least until November of this year, and more likely until the November that follows two years after that one. As such, it is in their vested interest to make sure that any legislative program which Obama proposes, and which could have the effect of solving the major problems facing America right now, goes down to miserable defeat.

Republicans, of course, can't let it be known that they are intentionally obstructing Obama's agenda, and with it the well-being of their own country, for purely political reasons. They like to claim that they have legitimate disagreements with Obama's proposals, even though - on issues as wide-ranging as foreign policy and health care reform to economic stimulus and deficit reduction - Obama has done far more to reach out to conservatives than any of the more recent right-wing presidents (Reagan, the two Bushes) ever did to liberals (and, for that matter, far more than Obama's own liberal supporters would have liked). Indeed, the jobs creation bill in question was by-and-large one crafted BY conservatives - it consists mainly of pork barrel projects in red districts and tax cuts/incentives for businesses, all of which are based on a distinctly Republican philosophy on how to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Although watered down to be more acceptable to Democratic moderates, the legislation itself was ultimately a product of Reaganite minds, as evidenced by the manner in which one of its key provisions was drafted by far-right Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (with the help of New York Senator Chuck Schumer).

Yet Republicans are still determined to defeat it. Why? Because even this measure, paltry though it is, would effect at least modest improvements in our economy. That, in turn, would benefit the political fortunes of Democrats in general and President Obama individually. Such an occurrence, even if it comes as a result of Americans being helped through the worst economic crisis in three generations, is one that Republicans simply cannot abide.

This doesn't mean that Obama doesn't have other resources at his disposal. He could engage in a more aggressive campaign against Republican obstructionists and so-called "centrists" in his own party, thus using the bully pulpit of the presidency in order to put his opponents, rather than himself, on the defensive. He could take bold measures to effect positive change over-the-heads of the legislative branch, such as by pushing through important bills via a process known as reconciliation (which only requires 51 Senate votes instead of 60, and is filibuster-proof). He could implement vital policies via Executive Orders instead of legislation, which - even though they are inherently temporary by nature - could, if successful, become permanent as a result of widespread popular support.

Obama seems to be under the misconception that his troubles are due to American leeriness of bold, sweeping action, and a preference for moderation and bi-partisanship. Although vocal right-wing zealots are certainly inclined to give him this impression (since, after all, a timid and ineffective liberal president is an easier opponent to beat than a strong and bold one), the reality is that most Americans are angry at Obama because HE HASN'T SOLVED THEIR PROBLEMS. If he suddenly has the image of a forceful leader, and is seen taking daring and effective steps to solve the problems of average Americans, with Republicans forced into the role of enemies of the American people's interests, he will see many of his current troubles vanish with remarkable celerity. America's most popular and successful presidents - from liberals like Franklin Roosevelt to conservatives like Ronald Reagan - are those who, regardless of their ideological dispositions, were perceived as taking charge and shaking results out of problems, no matter how obstinate those problems might have seemed. It would do Obama well to remember the sage advice of the Roman poet Virgil:

Fortune favours the bold.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Economic Priorities of 2010

Conservatives love to claim that the plummet in popularity being suffered by President Obama and his congressional partisans is a result of their excessively liberal policies in a nation that is much more right-wing in its philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that Americans judge their incumbents based more on performance than ideology, with those who meet the needs of the times receiving high marks and those who fail to do so being punished with disapproval.

In order to determine which side is correct, I decided to go straight to the source - the American people themselves. Since I don't fear contradiction when I assert that the primary issue about which most Americans are concerned is the economy, I have decided to start with a poll that addresses which specific economic issues are consuming the country's attention:

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (January 22-24, 2010):
How important is it to you that the President and Congress deal with each of the following issues in the next year?

Not That


"The economy"



"Unemployment" N=508 (Form A), MoE ± 4.5



"The federal budget deficit" N=501 (Form B), MoE ± 4.5



"Taxes" N=501 (Form B), MoE ± 4.5



Two important details here:

1) Americans are more concerned about issues that they perceive as having a direct affect on their day-to-day lives (such as rising joblessness) than they do subjects which, though potentially important, do not have the same sense of immediacy or urgency (such as the budget deficit).

2) Liberal economic programs focus on using the government's power to cultivate job growth, while conservatives emphasize cutting taxes and shrinking the budget deficit. Although unemployment and taxes both directly affect average Americans, 94% consider job creation to be either "Extremely Important" or "Very Important" (with a 58-36 breakdown) while only 69% consider taxes (and presumably a desire for lower taxes) to be either "Extremely Important" or "Very Important" (with a 33-36 breakdown). In short, while Americans would ideally prefer job growth AND lower taxes, if left with a choice, they would opt for the former and then, upon reaching that goal, strive to attain the latter. In short, the liberal economic program is, on principle, far closer to the sentiments of most Americans than its conservative counterpart.

Now that we've established that the foremost priority of most Americans is job creation, the next question is how Americans size up the performance of President Obama and Congress (which is dominated by Democrats) on these two fronts:

Quinnipiac University Poll (January 5-11, 2010):
Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Obama is handling creating jobs?





CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (February 12-15, 2010):
Do you think Congress has done enough to create jobs, or don't you think so?

Has Done
Think So




For what it's worth, the American people are absolutely right in being upset with the performance of Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress on this front. No matter how much they may trumpet the alleged accomplishments of the stimulus package, the reality is that unemployment has gone up, wages have gone down, and our overall economy has seriously deteriorated since they took office.

Many Republicans like to take that last fact and extrapolate from it the idea that Democrats - and liberals particularly - are responsible for our plight. There are two problems with this assertion:

1) It doesn't just ignore the facts of history - which is easy enough to do when dealing with the Founding Fathers or Civil War - but it disregards facts that come from RECENT history. We had zero job growth during Bush's administration, along with stagnant wages, an increasingly disproportionate distribution of wealth, and rampant malfeasance on the part of big banks and large corporations due to deregulations that Bush pushed through. All of this culminated in widespread economic suffering that long preceded the Great Recession, which technically began in December 2007 (when Bush had more than a year left in office) and became a full-fledged meltdown in September 2008 (when Bush had four months left in office).

2) Apart from the fact that laying most of the blame at the feet of liberal policies and the Democratic Party isn't true, it also doesn't happen to be how most Americans feel, as shown below:

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll (January 8-10, 2010):
Do you think the Democrats or the Republicans are more responsible for the country's current economic problems?

Equally (vol.)

Quinnipiac University Polls (January 5-11, 2010):
Who do you blame more for the condition of the current condition of the U.S. economy: Former President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama?

BushObamaNeither (vol.)Both (vol.)Unsure

What Obama, the Democratic Party (particularly the Blue Dog Coalition, Democratic Leadership Council, and other "centrist" groups), and political pundits in general should learn from these conclusions is that Americans care less about means then they do about results. Most of them remember that our economic downturn began under George W. Bush, and as such have lingering resentment against both him and the conservative cause he represents; at the same time, most feel that President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress have not done enough to solve our economic problems, resulting in a gradually increasing decline in the esteem within which both our held. Considering that Americans place job creation above deficit reduction, tax cuts, and all other economic measures - AND considering that Americans fault Obama and the Democrats not for being too ACTIVE in working on these issues (as conservatives like to claim) but for being too INACTIVE - the way for Democrats to improve their standing in the polls is to pass legislation that aggressively tackles our nation's unemployment problem, even if doing so violates conservative tenets regarding deficit reduction and tax cuts.

This would most likely involve passing a second stimulus bill - at least $700 billion in private investment spending, plus $200 billion to help state and local governments meet their financial needs an additional $100 billion on a new WPA (to say nothing of legislation to re-empower labor unions, strengthen regulations on banks and large corporations, and force the hands of banks when it comes to offering loans to small businesses and socioeconomically disadvantaged Americans). Of course, this would temporarily require the theme of "cutting the deficit" - one shrilly propounded not merely by Republicans, but by Obama economic advisors like Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner - to go the way of the Dodo bird. What's more, while Americans will no doubt oppose such a measure (due less to any dislike of the principle of economic stimulus and more to the fact that the last one which went through Congress didn't cause any discernable improvement in our economy) that opposition will turn to support IF the second measure, unlike the first, has an IMMEDIATE and SIGNIFICANT effect on the twin issues of rising unemployment and falling wages. It is important to note, though, that skepticism regarding the viability of a second stimulus bill and strong progressive economic legislation is generally based NOT on whether it would work - for moderates as well as liberals generally concede that such measures would be quite effective - but whether getting them passed would be possible without great political risk and controversy.

That's what Obama would need to remember - centrist reservations about government spending, deficit reduction, and tax cuts need to be disregarded as at best immaterial and at worst counterproductive (at least for the time being), while the paranoid rantings of Republican politicians and right-wing grassroots groups would have to be viewed in the appropriate context - as the fumings of a vocal minority that is, nevertheless, A MINORITY. Because a second New Deal would work (as it did the first time), a second New Deal is what would best serve not only the United States of America, but the political fortunes of President Barack Obama and the Democratic party.

Note: It isn't that this country doesn't want a smaller deficit (or, Quixotic though this may sound, a non-existent one), and it isn't that we wouldn't prefer to have our taxes reduced; rather it is that we know our priorities. Before a balanced budget and lower taxes can have any meaningful effect on our lives, we first need to be gainfully employed.