Friday, August 20, 2010

Bush Whacked!

Watching Democrats these days is a little like watching the New York Mets play a baseball game. You know they have talent, but you also know that at some point they are going to blow some crucial play that will, if not totally cost them the game, at the very least turn an easy win into a squeaker.

Blessed with a resounding mandate from an electorate that had thrown out the Republican Party like yesterday’s trash, they have spent the last year and a half committing error after error, turning a seeming route into a nail biter whose outcome is now in doubt. Not even Marv Throneberry could’ve been so inept.

It reminds me of the classic Saturday Night Live skit featuring Dana Carvey playing George H. W. Bush and Jon Lovitz playing Michael Dukakis. After watching Carvey repeat the same useless phrases like “We are on the right track,” “a thousand points of lights,” “stay the course” over and over and over, Lovitz turns towards the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

Believe it, both then and now. The lesson is the same, and it’s a lesson Democrats seem unable or unwilling to learn. It’s as though they enjoy getting their lights punched out. To use one more baseball metaphor, it’s like watching an infielder play back on a short hop (i.e., playing it safe). It almost always results in an error. You have to charge the ball to make the play; otherwise the ball gets by you. As of now the bases are loaded with Republicans and the Democrats can’t seem to buy an out.

And it’s not as though the Republicans are hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Like Dana Carvey’s Bush character, they are saying the same old tired and worthless phrases over and over and over. Except that they have been relentless and consistent with their message while the Democrats seem all over the place, e.g., out of position. The result?  The ball drops in instead of getting caught. Here are a few of the high (er, low) lights.

The G.M. bailout: Government takeover!

The stimulus bill: Skyrocketing deficits!

Healthcare reform: Socialized medicine and death panels!

Financial reform: Institutionalized bailout!

Extending unemployment benefits: Rewarding laziness!

And my favorite so far,

Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire: The single greatest tax increase in history and the Obama ticking tax bomb!

The Democratic response to the above gibberish? Well, in deference to the remaining forests in Canada, let’s just say there isn’t enough paper left south of the border to get a handle on what their individual responses have or, in some cases, might be when they actually get around to it. And that has been the biggest problem so far. The Democrats are quite simply lousy at calling out the other side’s stupidity. When presented with the prototypical “thousand points of light” moment they go all John Kerry and look for deep-seated and thought-provoking things to say, rather than just charge the damn ball and throw out the runner. If the Democrats were any more on their heals they’d be on their backs!

Take the lower Manahattan mosque situation as a case in point. It was no less than President Obama himself – old Captain Pragmatic – who bravely and appropriately defined what the real issue was. Religious freedom and expression, no matter how it may irk some, is sacrosanct. Period. End of discussion. That is until the rest of the Meek Old Party got weak in the knees, and started backtracking.

Harry – I never met a serious issue I couldn’t defer leadership to someone else on – Reid did the ultimate mea culpa on the topic with this lame statement from his spokesman: “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” Where would you like it to be built Harry? In the Village? Uptown? Central Park? How about Coney Island? Imagine the delight in the Angle camp when they realized that their opponent was conceding to their xenophobic viewpoint.

Stupidity thou art a donkey.

When are Democrats going to get it? Running away from who you are only gives your opponents more ammunition to shoot you with. It also makes you look as though you don’t believe in your principles. There was and is an appropriate way to handle the mosque situation and Obama handled it for you. Instead of backing him up, you left him out in the rain and made yourselves look foolish in the process. Duck hunters have a more difficult time shooting ducks than Republicans have of picking off Democrats.

And now with less than three months to go before the midterms, Democrats are scrambling to find answers to the Carvey-like statements that Republicans are famous for making. It is going to be a dogfight and that usually spells trouble for Democrats. They are not good in one-run games, especially when they have to field their position.

The President has done his best. He has gone on the stump and tried to make the connection between what the Republicans are proposing and what Bush had already done to the country. It isn’t working, at least not to the extent that Democrats are hoping. The problem is that while most of the country gets it that Bush dug this hole, they are looking for solutions from Democrats as to how they are going to get us out of it. When you’re out of work, you don’t want to hear what the other guy did to you – you already know that. You want to hear how you plan on getting him a job!

Frank Rich had it pegged right in his op-ed piece in The New York Times called, “How to Lose an Election Without Really Trying.”

“But rather than wait for miracles or pray that Bushphobia will save the day, Democrats might instead start playing the hand they’ve been dealt. Elections, the cliché goes, are about the future, not the past. At the very least they’re about the present. It’s time voters were told just how far right the G.O.P. has lurched since Bush returned to Texas.”

In some instances this is working. Before the mosque boomerang, Harry Reid was leading Sharon – space cadet – Angle by two to four points depending on which poll you were looking at. That represented a fifteen-point slide for the GOP nominee. No telling what will happen now that Reid has stepped on his own third rail. As more and more voters get a closer look at the Tea Party candidates they look less and less appealing.

Democrats must seize on this opportunity and shine the light of day onto these xenophobic, and backwards-thinking Neanderthals. The only way to kill a vampire, so the story goes, is either by a stake in the heart or with a sunrise. The Rand Pauls and the Sharon Angles have made more than enough ridiculous statements to use against them successfully. It’s time to challenge them in the light of the morning sun.

It is getting late in the game. At stake is the country’s future. The Republicans know they will not have a shot at the White House until 2012. Their objective is obvious. Get either one or both Houses of Congress and effectively gum up the works for the next two years. That means nothing will get done and millions more will needlessly suffer while the Party of No holds the nation hostage. Democrats must make this argument and make it effectively.

Looking backward is useless. All it gets you is recrimination. Hindsight is 20 / 20. You can’t do anything about the errors you’ve already committed. What you can’t do is let the guy at the plate beat you. There’s no place to put him – all the bases are filled – so you have to pitch to him. The Democrats need to get out of this. They need to find the voice inside of themselves that will redefine the narrative that Republicans have made for them

It isn’t going to be easy. But then climbing out of a hole never is.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Where are the sane conservatives? Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up one morning and all the loonies were gone? No more Beck, no more Limbaugh, no more Palin, no more Levin, or Hannity, or Coulter. Instead of fear, hatred and bigotry we could have a genuine discussion on actual policy. Seems worth praying for, don't you think?

Of course I could say this prayer over and over ad infinitum and it would still be futile. The simple truth is that insanity and the Right have entered into a mutually exclusive contract with each other, and it doesn’t look like they are going to part ways any time soon. So it seems we – and by that I mean the nation – are stuck with them for the foreseeable future.

But, to get back to that famous Beach Boys’ song, wouldn’t it be nice if some sane voices could somehow seep into the cesspool of rhetoric that is the Right and disinfect it in some small way. Not much, but maybe just enough to offer up some hope that not everybody right of center is an escapee of a lunatic asylum.

There are a few voices out there that once in a while offer up some cogent and salient tidbits to what generally passes for discussion these days, and while I am not intimating an agreement with their points, I would be remiss if I did not at least grudgingly tip my hat to them and say, bring it on.

People like David Frum, for example. Frum, a former speechwriter for the Bush White House and editorial editor for The Wall Street Journal, was ceremoniously booted from the American Enterprise Institute for criticizing the GOP strategy of refusing to negotiate with President Obama and congressional Democrats on health care reform, saying that it had resulted in the Republicans’ “most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.”

Frum has been a thorn in the side of the lunatic fringe of the Right ever since it went on this crusade right around the night of the ’08 election. That was when the wheels came off the psychiatric ambulance and all the patients escaped. All, it seems, but Frum and a few other fair-minded conservatives – they are more aptly referred to as RINOs among the far Right (Republican in name only) – who knew damn well there was a problem. The GOP had just gotten their asses kicked, and not because they weren’t vocal enough, but because they were simply not delivering a message the American people wanted to hear.

It didn’t take long for Frum to realize there was a bull’s eye strapped to his back. In March of ’09 the assault began. First Mark Levin, who called Frum an “a-hole” on his program; followed in short order by virtually the entire glee club. Frum shot back in an op-ed piece for Newsweek titled, “Why Rush is Wrong.” His premise? That the party of Buckley and Reagan had now become “bereft and dominated by the politics of Limbaugh.” Forget for a moment any personal ideological differences that may exist between progressives and what Frum stands for, just having the chutzpah to come out and say something like that, especially in that environment, should’ve earned him, if nothing else, the Purple Heart for journalism. Instead what it earned him was scorn.

But it wasn’t just Frum. David Brooks was also ridiculed as being everything from “lukewarm” to a “Repube-lican” – that last one courtesy of Levin, who seems to call anybody with even a hint of a soul that name. Brooks’ crime? Besides not volunteering for service in the loony bin of hack journalists, Brooks has been that rarest of commodities: a moderate conservative. Let me repeat that for you in case you didn’t hear it. A moderate conservative. Look up dinosaurs in the aftermath of the great asteroid impact in the Gulf of Mexico and you might find the appropriate analogy.

Brooks has had the temerity to say the following:

“Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, ‘a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.’ On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.” – The New York Times, March 2, 2009.

“To come up at this moment in history with a stale ‘government is the problem,’ ‘we can't trust the federal government’ - it's just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we're just gonna - that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that - in a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say ‘government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,’ it's just a form of nihilism. It's just not where the country is, it's not where the future of the country is. There's an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He (Bobby Jindal) thinks they got too moderate, and so he's making that case. I think it's insane, and I just think it's a disaster for the Party. I just think it's unfortunate right now.” – The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, February 24, 2009.

Small wonder he has been vilified by the far Right. There’s more of Brooks’ introspective logic, and you won’t have far to search. He’s been pretty consistent.  For instance, he recently wrote a piece in which he praised some of Obama's policies, such as the bank and auto bailouts.  When was the last time you saw anyone remotely conservative being complimentary towards a Democrat?

Now, of course, the far Right is basking in the sun of its defiance and now stands poised to reassume the mantle of dominance it once had in its possession. In deed it might even find something prophetic, if somewhat perverse, in Brooks’ warning above, though I’m sure it will likely fall on deaf ears. You know, the part about “the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.”

And therein lies the real tragedy. Saying no repeatedly and engaging in race baiting and inflammatory rhetoric has apparently stirred the pot of discontent within the electorate to such a degree that the polls have swung around and now show an overwhelming disapproval of President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

But while standing in a corner and holding your breath until you count to a zillion and in the process turning blue may be acceptable for little children who do not know any better, for grown men and women, charged with the task of running a country – even if they be in the minority – it is a poor excuse in deed. The far Right may break their collective arms patting themselves on the back for capitalizing on the fear and anxiety of millions of Americans, but its lack of vision, and for that matter, lack of any semblance of a workable solution for what ails the country is reprehensible. Worse, the prospects for anything substantive coming out of any candidate with an R next to his or her name between now and November is remote at best.

The real fear is that Republicans will take back both Houses, but because they won’t have a super majority in the Senate – hence they won’t be able to override an Obama veto – ostensibly the government will come to a screeching halt. Nothing will get done until after the 2012 election. Talk about spoiled brats.

The nation’s history has always been marred by bitter partisanship, but never as much as it is now. On the one hand we have the current party in power. Whether you agree with their solutions or not, they have at least come to the table and made a good faith effort to reach across the aisle for consensus. They have been spurned by a party that wants no part of compromise, and seems perfectly willing to allow its constituents to suffer needlessly at the hands of the socialist hordes who have stolen their liberty, whilst they wait for their opportunity to cash in on the pain and misery.

With that in mind, we come back to David Frum, who I will now give the last word to.

“Here’s the thing that puzzles me: America is suffering in the throes of a terrible economic and financial crisis. Yet in Washington, political leaders barely discuss the economy. What we discuss is the federal budget: taxes, spending, deficits, debt.

“The Democrats’ plans to revive the economy have crashingly failed. The stimulus programs, the tax credit to encourage home buying (and thus maintain housing prices) … no result. As John Makin nicely phrased it, “We do not have lift off.”

“Meanwhile the big idea on the Republican side is Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reduce spending, hold the line on taxes, and balance the budget. That’s like recommending diet and exercise to a patient bleeding to death.

“Fiscal policy isn’t economic policy. A plan to rescue the finances of the federal government is not a plan to rescue the finances of the American family. Reducing public debt will not help an economy crushed by the burden of excess private debt.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finally, A Spine!

This past Friday, at a White House dinner, President Obama finally took a stand and broke his silence concerning the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan.

“We must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

“But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

While they were long overdue, the President’s words were, nonetheless, on target and, for me at least, refreshingly candid. Not since candidate Obama spoke on race in the wake of the Reverend Wright controversy have we heard such transparency emanating from his lips. For once, this President, though measured, knew the truth and wasn’t afraid to speak it. Bravo, sir, that took guts. And in an election year!

In all seriousness, it has taken this president almost nineteen months to make a statement that bold and courageous. Courage is rare in politics, so if I and others on the Left have been critical of Obama for lacking the testicular fortitude needed to take a stand on matters of national import, here is where we, all of us, should tip our proverbial hats and give credit where credit is due. Kudos, Mr. President.

But before we go completely overboard and give him another Nobel Peace Prize, let’s look a little closer shall we? This President has never done anything purely on altruistic terms. Every decision has been carefully planned and weighed against potential consequences. As I have said before, this may make for good politics, but it makes for lousy leadership. The building of the mosque in lower Manhattan – and let’s get one thing straight, shall we? It’s not on Ground Zero; it’s a full two blocks north of Vescey Street – presented Obama with an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

While reading through some editorials on this issue, I stumbled upon one from the Boston Globe, which has hit the nail on the head.

“But there is a higher purpose to Obama’s somewhat surprising decision on Friday to inject himself into this dispute: He clearly understands that the best way to isolate radical Islamists is to appeal to mainstream Muslims. Around the world, mainstream Muslims are the key to curbing the spread of radicalism; at home, they are the first line of defense for average Americans, the people best-positioned to spot radical plots in their infancy. And the surest way for America to isolate and alienate mainstream Muslims is to scapegoat them for the actions of the radicals.”

Hmmm, me thinks me smells a pragmatist at work here. So there was an ulterior motive behind Obama’s bravado. Figures! But before we all jump to conclusions here and brand him an opportunist, as if that somehow disqualifies the act, I for one am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. No matter the motive it was still uncharacteristic for this president to go out on a limb politically and risk further damage to his Party in a mid-term. And for that he gets a big “attaboy” from me. It was not only appropriate for Obama to speak out on behalf of religious freedom – not to mention the Constitution – in the end it will, I feel, go down as one of his defining moments as President. It will also go a long way towards creating the kind of inroads that this country needs to make among Muslims that will hopefully heal some of the divide that exists between Islam and the West and at the same time help route out the extremists within the Islamic community. Some would call that having your cake and eating it too.

But, the real issue, apparently, is not Obama’s unusual resolve, or even the anticipated response by moderate Muslims to his overture. No, the issue at hand is the one that has plagued the country throughout most of its storied history. And that issue is its religious intolerance. The pushback against the President’s remarks has been the most telling, not to mention the most damning. And it appears to be coming from both sides of the political aisle. No doubt some of the flack coming from Democrats is owed in no small part to a concern on the part of many that anything less than a demonstrative rejection of Obama’s remarks could spell doom in November. How typical.

Political cowardice notwithstanding, I have been flabbergasted to hear the outcry from so many people, some long-time liberals who typically would despise this type of xenophobic, knee-jerk response. Quite frankly, it has left me dumbfounded to say the least. With all the polarization that has occurred in this nation over the last year and a half, most of it caused by conservatives hell bent on distorting or flat out lying about the facts, one would’ve thought that we could at least agree on one of the core tenants of our democracy: religious freedom. I guess I was as guilty of being naïve about this matter as progressives in general were about Barack Obama being the next FDR.

So much for the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus being real. The descent from Mount Olympus can be quite bruising. I thought, even after all the nation went through on 9/11, that we had progressed enough to appreciate the difference between the values of those who attacked us and those of our founding fathers. Yes, the wounds still run deep, and yes it will take many more years before the families of the victims – as well as the nation – can completely heal, but I suspect the greatest wound we possess is the one we still insist on inflicting on ourselves. And that is the wound of intolerance and bigotry.

We must remember what the terrorists’ real goal was. It was not the toppling of two skyscrapers or the deaths of thousands of innocents. No, the real goal was to destroy who and what we are as a nation. It is our pluralistic society – our freedom of expression and religion – that eats at them most. They cannot live knowing that a nation such as ours exists. And they are smart enough to know they can never kill all of us. They don’t have to. If we pander to our worst fears and prejudices, we have, without quite realizing or intending it, done their work for them. The moment America is no longer free for all its citizens, it is dead, not only as a democracy but also as the dream for countless millions who have always seen it as a beacon of light in a dark and often perilous world.

If we truly hate what the terrorists stood for then the best way to show it is by observing our own laws and values and by keeping that light shining brightly for generations to come. Yes the proximity of this mosque is a problem for some, perhaps many, but our laws don't say honor the right of free speech and religious expression, except where inconvenient or painful. In deed the true hallmark of a free society lies in its willingness to do what's right even under the most difficult of circumstances. We failed that test miserably during World War II when we allowed internment camps for the Japanese. This is yet another test for us. Will we pass it or fail it?  Seems to me that we can honor those who died best by preserving what it was that they died for best.

If an incurable pragmatist can shake off the shackles of his modus operandi and make a bold gesture, the very least all of us as a nation can do is look in the mirror and bite down hard.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Same Old Tired Song

I’m always amused when anyone over on that paragon of financial stewardship, CNBC, gets on their high horse and starts preaching about the failures of Washington. These were the “experts” who not only missed the bursting of the housing bubble that led to this free fall, but confidently encouraged all of us to go full speed ahead towards the edge of the cliff. You know, experts like Rick Santelli, who went all Howard Beale when he found out that a small percentage of the bailout would go to struggling homeowners to help them pay their mortgages; or Jim Cramer, who was practically imploring his viewers to buy Bear Stearns five days before the stock collapsed; or Maria Bartiromo, who, when debating Anthony Weiner on healthcare, apparently didn't know that a 44 year-old can't be on Medicare. To quote Jon Stewart, “If only I’d followed CNBC’s advice. I’d have a million dollars today. Provided I started with a hundred million dollars.”

So you’ll forgive me if I seem somewhat skeptical over Larry Kudlow’s latest contributions to the Monday-morning quarterback contingent of financial experts who are once more talking out of their asses about something they still seem to know very little about.

The first was a piece Kudlow wrote for the Nation Review On Line called, “A Democratic Panic Attack?” In it Kudlow suggests that some Democrats are panicking over the “stalled economy” and, in some kind of “revolt,” are leaning towards extending the Bush tax cuts. Apparently, like so many conservatives, Kudlow doesn’t get it that not all Democrats drink from the same polluted fountain as their Republican counterparts. There are conservative Democrats along with moderate and liberal. Try finding a moderate Republican Larry and drop me a line when you do. And one more thing, since when is it a “revolt” for a politician to have weak knees during an election year and cave on core issues? That Kudlow doesn’t get this only proves how completely clueless he is.

But, not to be outdone, ole’ Larry’s finest moment came in a subsequent “op-ed” for Chip Hanlon’s mouth piece Greenfaucet, called, “The Fed Can Print More Money, But It Can’t Print More Jobs.” And guess who his prime culprit is in this piece? Yep, you guessed it, The Fed. Seems the only thing more vilified than liberals these days in the eyes of staunch conservatives is the Federal Reserve. When they’re not on their high horse advising investors to buy, buy, buy gold, then they’re railing against the Fed and calling for its abolishment.

Kudlow’s main beef? There’s plenty of money already in the system, so why did the Fed, in its monthly FOMC statement, abandon its money tightening policy by reinvesting the proceeds of mortgage bonds into treasuries? Unless, of course, it plans on “monetizing more Treasury debt and expanding the balance sheet to print money.” So why is that a problem? Because in that event, “the dollar will depreciate more and gold will rise more. A lot more.”

Funny, I would’ve thought that a supply-side, gold standard guru like Kudlow would welcome a depreciating dollar and a rise in gold prices. But seriously, this is just another example of Kudlow and his ilk missing the point. The issue isn’t how much money is “in the system.” The issue is how to get it moving. While I agree that merely printing more money isn’t in and of itself going to get the gears moving, tightening the supply of money sure isn’t going to do it either.

The trick is to get the money from A to B to C. To hear Kudlow tell it, the recovery is being held up by the “tax-and-regulatory threats and anti-business attitude coming out of Washington.” Oh, I see. It isn’t the actual tax policy, but the threat of one, along with that poor anti-business attitude, that is preventing all those entrepreneurs from jump-starting the greatest economic engine in the history of mankind. All you had to do was explain it to us. Now we understand. You see it’s really quite simple. Corporations won’t invest if they feel that all those bureaucrats in Washington don’t like them. And we all know from experience how sensitive they are to public opinion.

Come on Larry, give it a rest. This old “The stimulus was a bust and all we have to do is tighten our belts and get our financial house in order” line is getting a little long in the tooth, even for you. The real reason for your angst is that you and your Wall Street cronies don’t want the Bush tax cuts to expire. Well you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You want fiscal discipline in Washington? Fine, eliminate the greatest contribution to the deficit in over a decade and practice what you preach. Don’t whine about deficit spending out of one side of your mouth, while defending the single most fiscally irresponsible act out the other.

For once in your life stop being an ass and admit the obvious. Supply economics has never worked. And not because rich people don’t invest the extra money they get from the government, but because the Treasury never recoups in receipts what it loses on the damn tax reductions. Any child with a calculator can figure that out. But then a child would have enough sense not to tell its parents to drive full speed ahead towards a cliff.

Wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anchors Away!

As we all know from our history books, Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans – as if there were any other kind – have a deep and abiding respect for the Constitution that holds no bounds. And they fervently abhor anything that even remotely tampers with what the Founding Fathers set down on that sacred parchment, lo those thousands of years ago. OK, 230 years ago.

Unless, of course, it suits their political objectives.

Just when you thought the GOP couldn’t get anymore hypocritical or unhinged, it steps on one of its own land mines and blows up one of its core tenants in the process. The notion of a static – rather than a living, breathing – Constitution has long been settled among conservatives for decades, going all the way back to Earl Warren. The litany of cases adjudicated by that Supreme Court helped set the stage for the bitter divide that has been going on between what are commonly referred to as strict constructionists and judicial activists.

But now, undoubtedly seeking to score some quick brownie points within a particularly narrow and myopic element within the base of its party – let’s just get it out of the way and call them what they are: racists! – certain Republicans have decided to revisit the Fourteenth Amendment and explore the possibility of excluding certain groups, notably illegal immigrants from Mexico, from being able to have babies in this country and then endowing them with automatic citizenship.

Such offspring are referred to as anchor babies, and if you listen to Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham and John (I used to be a maverick before I sold my soul) McCain, you’d think they were being grown in a secret laboratory by “drop and leave” drug lords bent on destroying our way of life while forcing all of us to do the Macarena. Forget for a moment that these “anchor” babies won’t be able to help their parents until they reach the age of 21. Forget for a moment that there is no proof that illegal aliens are deliberately coming here just to have babies. For the record they’re coming here to find the same opportunity most of us take for granted every day; they want a piece of the American dream. And in the process they have babies just like very other ethnic group on the planet.

Basically, under the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, any child born in the United States is granted automatic citizenship, regardless of whether or not his or her parents are here legally. Section 1 of that clause says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

It is the part of that clause that deals with jurisdiction that certain conservatives are challenging. They contend that since the parents were never subject to American jurisdiction in the first place, how can their offspring be entitled to automatic citizenship? Unfortunately for them that contention, along with their compassion and sense of shame, has no basis for legitimacy. In deed, the only exceptions to the clause are children born to foreign diplomats, children born to enemy forces in hostile occupation of the United States, and children born to Native Americans who are members of tribes not taxed. They were later granted full citizenship by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. If the Amendment had any other exemptions they would’ve been stated.

Of course this issue has very little to do with actual Constitutional law. Even the most ardent and rabid challengers of the citizenship clause concede there is little chance of overturning it or adding another exemption to it. No, what all this is about is riling up the base even more than it already is. As if all the shouts of death panels and socialist takeovers haven’t been sufficient to incite this herd to an absolute frothing mass of hysteria, planting paranoid delusions about the coming invasion of the Mexican body snatchers is always good for another point or two in the standings.

Except now the GOP has a real problem on its hands, and one that it didn’t bargain for. It seems not everyone is drinking the koolaid on this one, and the ensuing political boomerang is coming back and smacking the Party upside its proverbial head. Some senior GOP members have questioned whether this is a cause worth fighting for and have labeled it a distraction. Even Lou Dobbs, perhaps the staunchest critic of American immigration policy and hardly a wallflower himself when it comes to showing his own xenophobic tendencies, has questioned the validity of challenging the clause. When Lou Dobbs is the one talking you down from the ledge, you know you’ve got problems.

But problems be damned. Despite the fact that every pollster has stated that this tactic will have dire long-term consequences for Republicans in years to come as the Hispanic population continues to grow, short-term results are all that matter to them. They are so fixated on this year’s mid-terms that they will say or do anything if it means picking up a seat or two in the House or Senate. Like so much of corporate America, the GOP’s fixation with the here and now, at the expense of any hope for future growth, is a classic case of failing to see the forest for the trees. Whether they achieve their objectives this November will be owed in no small part to how effective they are at fanning the flames of racism that are alive and well within the electorate.

It was Hegel who once said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” When it comes to bigotry and ignorance it seems not much has changed in 140 years.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Eight-Hundred Pound Gorilla in the GOP Bedroom.

There’s no way to get around it. Despite an economy that is weak and a recovery that is limping along, Republicans’ long-term plans to seize control of Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012 are in jeopardy, and for the very reason that their immediate fortunes soared in the first place. The Tea Party is both the best and worst thing that has happened to the Republican Party in decades. On the one hand it has energized the base of the Party like nothing has since the good old days of Ronald Reagan; on the other hand it has revealed long-standing and profoundly toxic elements within that base that are particularly distasteful to the general electorate when brought out into the light of day.

Witness the continued plummeting of Sharon Angle’s fortunes out in Nevada as a case in point. After defeating her Republican challenger Sue Lowden, Angle immediately jumped out to a 13-point lead over Democratic incumbent Harry Reid. In the weeks since, as more and more Nevadans learn of Angle’s stances, and more importantly her lack of qualifications, support for her within the base of the Party remains firm, but support among moderates and independents has all but eroded to all-time lows. As things stand now, even Rasmussen has her trailing Reid by a 45 to 43 margin.

And it isn’t just Angle. In Florida Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, leads Republican and Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio by as many as 11 points depending on which poll you site. Only Rasmussen has Rubio ahead, and only by 2 points. The RCP average for Crist is 5 points. At the way this race is trending, Crist should win handily.

Whether it be the Senate races or the House races, the Tea Party candidates are starting to leave a nasty taste in many people’s mouths. There’s no denying the unrest within the electorate, but there’s also no denying that these candidates represent values, which when put under a microscope, are not even close to mainstream America. The GOP has put all its eggs into a basket that is starting to come apart at the seams.

Their strategy has been both predicable and consistent. From day one of the Obama Administration they have steadfastly refused to be a partner and bring workable solutions to the table, opting instead to say “No” at every opportunity; and they have irresponsibly stoked the fears and prejudices that were already deeply imbedded within the country and used them to ignite their political fortunes. Through the auspices of Fox News and virtually all of A.M. talk radio, conservative factions spread lie after lie about Obama and Congressional Democrats. Shouts of socialism, death panels, government takeovers, loss of individual freedoms, deficit spending – funny how that is never a problem when Republicans are in power – filled the ether and stirred the masses to a boiling point. Last year’s August Town Halls were a case study in how deplorable political discourse had become in this country.

But now, as they say, it is time to look at the eight-hundred pound gorilla that is in the room. The moderate Republicans are all but gone, replaced by a plethora of xenophobes, strict constitutionalists, birthers, anti-gay advocates, climate change deniers, and second amendment lunatics. They want their country back, as though someone had stolen it from them in the first place. Their base is as steadfast and as malevolent as ever. They should be. They have been waiting for a moment like this, it seems, forever. They are poised to seize control and lay waste to all Obama stands for. Like a mad dog they are frothing at the mouth at the possibilities that await them in 2011.

There’s just one fly in the ointment. While the majority of the country is uneasy and dissatisfied with the way the economy is going, they are also becoming increasingly uneasy about these Tea Party candidates. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I am not nearly as pessimistic about Democratic prospects this November. Not because I think that they have done, on the whole, a stellar job at running the country. Actually, I have been quite critical of both Obama and Congressional Democrats these past eighteen months. The progressive agenda I thought we were getting as morphed into a middle-of-the-road pragmatic hodge-podge that has disenchanted the Left and lit a spark under the Right. No the reason I remain optimistic about Democratic fortunes is that, despite what Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin and their ilk keep saying about the country being decidedly conservative, the truth remains that most Americans are far more progressive and forward thinking than conservative pundits are willing to admit. While they are understandably worried about the economy, when they get a good look at who the Republican Party is running in this year’s mid-terms, they become even more uneasy.

Not that the GOP won’t net gains with this strategy of fear mongering and race baiting. But me thinks, in the long run, among moderates and independents, it will cost them more votes than it will get them. The variable here will be Democratic turnout. If it is weak or low, Republicans could take both Houses; if it somehow gets energized, I still feel that Democrats will prevail in the end. And the Republicans will have no one else to blame but themselves.

That’s what happens when you go the way of ignorance and hatred. You gain the insipid, the ignorant, the frightened, and the racists. But while people in the middle may be desperate, I’m betting they’re not stupid enough to turn the reigns of government over to individuals who are neither capable of healing the country’s wounds, nor intellectually able to even understand what created them in the first place.

Monday, August 2, 2010

NAILIN' PALIN: Another WTF moment brought to you by your friends at Fox News

“Some people just don’t get it,” I wrote in a blog back in 2008 regarding the aforementioned half-term former governor of Alaska and current guest of honor in the Hall of Shame, Sarah Palin. To which you can now add the following, “And those people don’t seem to care!”

Fact checking and politics are somewhat akin to oil and vinegar. Mixed together they can form the basis of a very satisfying salad dressing. But when allowed to separate, as they are want to do, they are simply dreadful to the taste buds. So it’s never a surprise to me that politicians on both sides of the aisle tend to bend and twist the facts to suit their political agenda. They fail to speak the complete truth to their constituents and hope that their dearth of forthrightness will not be uncovered by the media. That is when the media decides to do its job and probes for the truth.

But seldom do they go to such lengths to deliberately mislead and flat out lie.  Enter Sarah Palin, stage right (what else?), who never seems to disappoint when it comes to deceiving her public. While appearing with Chris Wallace on Fox News last Sunday, Palin was asked by a surprisingly objective Wallace whether Republicans were being hypocritical in criticizing Obama and Congressional Democrats for run away spending and huge deficits while defending the Bush tax cuts, which have not been paid for and are adding to the deficit. Palin not only failed to answer the question, she added insult to injury by not even getting the facts straight.

Forget for a moment that, once more, she had to resort to writing crib notes on her hand. Forget also that even the Wall Street Journal – hardly a paragon of liberal reasoning – posted a chart which shows taxes for single Americans making less than $300,000 will stay the same under President Obama's tax policy for 2011, and taxes for married couples making less than $300,000 will actually go down. Forget all of that for a moment and focus on the inane idea being floated, not only by Palin, but by the entire Republican Party, that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would mean the largest tax increase in American history.

Regardless of how one feels about taxes – and I assume we all feel that we pay too much – the idea that rolling back the top tax rates to where they were under Bill Clinton and at the same time reducing the deficit somehow equates to the “largest tax increase in American history” goes above and beyond in the dumb and dumber department. Furthermore, Palin’s contention that this tax “hike” will hurt all Americans is again not supported by the facts. Only small companies that “net” over the $200,000 threshold will be affected. As a percentage of S-type corporations they do not represent a majority. In deed only about 3% of small businesses would be subject to the new tax rates.

Let’s look at the facts shall we, governor? President Obama wants to let the cuts lapse for joint tax filers who make at least $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals) but extend them for everyone else. That means the top two tax rates would revert to where they were in the late 1990s – the last time we had a balanced budget by the way. The 35% rate would go to 39.6% and the 33% rate would go to 36%. If that qualifies as the largest tax increase in American history, then we just made history, because those rate hikes – such as they are being proposed – are far less than they were in 1917 when the top rate went from 15% to an astounding 67%. Furthermore, even that draconian number pales in comparison to the top tax rate of 91% in1963. Put that in your pipe, Ms. Palin, and smoke it!

To add insult to injury, Palin, and her band of cronies isn’t just content with making ludicrous charges about fake tax hikes; they now claim the same rubbish that Bush himself tried to pawn off on the American people: namely that allowing these tax cuts to continue will somehow, miraculously increase tax revenues, because the more money rich people have in their wallets and bank accounts, the more money they will have to invest and propel the economy forward towards a rigorous recovery.

This bit of tripe – better known as supply-side economics – has been thoroughly discredited. In a nut shell – which is a fitting analogy all things considered – lower tax rates produce more investment, hence more taxable revenues. The problem with that “logic” is that the amount of additional revenues do not offset the tax reductions. In deed, as the facts reveal, during the Reagan and Bush Jr. years, the deficit went up considerably due to this policy. Rich people may have loved lower taxes but the treasury sure didn’t.

Another bit of convoluted logic that Palin and Co. try to spin is that increasing taxes on the wealthy means they will not have the incentive to continue to earn the money that both they and the rest of us need to keep our economic ship afloat. Rubbish. One look at the more affluent areas of the country should be all you need to debunk that lie. The wealthy are doing just fine, thank you, and thanks to Reaganomics they have been doing just fine since the 1980s. In fact, with the exception of the early twentieth century, at no time in our history have we seen a greater percentage of wealth in the hands of so few people.

The gap between rich and poor in this country has been widening steadily for three decades now. Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire will not right all the wrongs in our tax code, but it will begin the process of putting the country back on the correct path and hopefully bring a semblance of equity to a system that is as rigged as any slot machine in Vegas, and equally corrupt.