Friday, December 30, 2011

Idiots’ Delight: The Annual Edition

Well, kids, here it is: the first annual Idiots’ Delight year-end awards.  Yes, I know it was hard waiting, but hopefully your patience will be rewarded.  I held nothing back. If you had it coming, you got it. And, in keeping with my commitment to be even handed, there will be a winner from the Left.  Somebody has to be fair and balanced.

The envelope, please.

John Boehner: Not since the Ford Motor Company decided it would be a good idea to name a car after the son of its founder, has more misfortune befallen one individual.  Yes, he has had to deal with the worst bunch of delinquents ever to hit Washington in the form of the Tea Party freshmen, and yes he has had a dearth of reliable and loyal (hello, Eric Cantor) leaders with whom he could form a unified consensus, but the simple truth is that from day one the Speaker of the House has done a lousy job of leading his caucus.  He has, to put it succinctly, been his own worst enemy.

From the debt ceiling fiasco where he pouted that Obama moved the goalposts on him, to the payroll tax deal where he crossed up his own colleagues in the Senate (particularly Mitch McConnell) and handed the President a gift-wrapped political win just in time for Christmas, Boehner’s list of follies would fill a Dave Letterman Top Ten List. 

But his greatest flaw has been an inability to set a tone that would’ve allowed his party to effectively utilize the leverage it won in last year’s midterms.  Rather than channeling the energy of the Tea Party, he allowed it to ostensibly run roughshod over the entire House of Representatives, thus tying his hands and rendering his “leadership” abilities moot.  His predecessor would never have allowed that to happen.  Nancy Pelosi had her hands full dealing with progressives and blue dogs alike in her caucus.  Not once did she lose control and cede her authority.  By contrast John Boehner looks like the proverbial rudderless ship lost in a storm.    

Whether he can survive through this congressional term remains to be seen.  What is certain is that the political firestorm that is the House of Representatives will be a sore spot for the GOP throughout the 2012 campaign and for that, Republicans – and Democrats, as well – have John Boehner to thank.

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry: Or, as I prefer to call them, Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest.  Bachmann, Cain and Perry epitomize the very worst of a polarized and paralyzed political process that has made them the laughing stock of most voters and severely damaged their own party. 

The dumbing down technique is nothing new in American politics.  Many effective politicians have used it successfully to achieve victory.  But what sets these three dim bulbs apart is how thoroughly they have immersed themselves in it.  They not only dispense the Kool-Aid to their minions, they swim in it.  It’s like that hair club for men commercial, where the speaker says, “I’m not just the president, I’m also a client.”  It’s hard to know who’s more stupid: these three idiots or their target audience.

Let’s see, there was Michele Bachmann’s foray into that wonderful world where geography and history meet where she didn’t know that the Battle of Lexington and Concord was fought in Massachusetts and not New Hampshire.  Then there was Herman Cain’s brain freeze in the now infamous Libyan War interview.  Can you really imagine this guy in the Situation Room in the White House?  But who can forget Rick Perry’s finest moment during a debate when he couldn’t even remember which three departments he would eliminate if he became President.

Thankfully, none of these bozos has a shot at the White House.  Bachmann’s campaign is imploding – one of her top aides recently defected to Ron Paul; Cain has all but disappeared into political oblivion; and Perry is now trailing Rick Santorum of all people.  Proof positive that there is a God after all.

Anthony Weiner: And now we come to the greatest shame and waste of 2011.  The former Democratic representative from New York was one of the Party’s most articulate, passionate and effective leaders until his fall this past spring.  In a piece, titled “The Last Word on Weinergate,” I wrote the following:

The loss of Anthony Weiner will have profound consequences for the Democrats, not only in next year's election, but in the years to follow…What he brought to the floor of the House was a rare commodity.  A fearless proponent of progressive causes is almost a dying breed these days.  For Anthony Weiner, it was a calling.  That he has now deprived his Party of that calling is the thing which disappoints and angers me the most.  He should've known better, and because of his poor judgment, millions may well pay the price.   

In a House of Representatives that desperately needs sensible alternatives to the madness of the Tea Party infestation, Democrats are still searching for their voice.  Weiner’s departure has left a political vacuum that the Party must fill somehow or risk further collateral damage in 2012.

As I said at the time, nice goin’, putz!

The Agents of Intolerance: Whether it was Fox News, or much of the A.M. radio dial, or the Tea Party Express, or some pretend evangelical spewing hate as scriptural doctrine, 2011 was yet another painful reminder of just how far the nation has been dragged into the mud and how much farther it still needs to go to recover; assuming that’s even possible.

But as deplorable as the Right has been, the Left has had some rather embarrassing moments of its own.  Sure the latter’s faux pas weren’t nearly as plentiful or colorful as the former’s, but that is hardly the point.  Both ideological extremes must share the responsibility and burden for the intransigence, which has all but crippled Washington and threatens the very future of the Republic.  No, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow are not the moral equivalent of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh; that should be painfully obvious.  But the constant retching it up by both sides has so thoroughly poisoned the well that for millions of independent and moderate voters they seem to be one in the same.

And that is exactly what the Right is hoping for: that a majority of the electorate will see this as nothing more than a pissing contest between two extremes.  And if they are able to frame it that way, you can kiss 2012 – not to mention 2014 and 2016 – goodbye.  Tit for tat not only isn’t the smart play politically for the Left, it’s just flat out wrong.

I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again.  The only way the Left can persevere is to resist the urge to one up the Right.  Succumbing to its lesser angels not only undermines its moral high ground, it elevates that which it purports to hate the most to the status of equal.

And can there be any more revolting a concept as that?   

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

News that Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has decided to pack it in and not seek reelection in 2012 has progressives simply beside themselves with glee.  Finally, the DINO is stepping aside and the Party can run a true progressive to fill that seat.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, right?

Of course, the fact that we’re talking about Nebraska – one of the ten most conservative states in the country – doesn’t matter to the faithful.  All they can see and remember is how much of an irritant Nelson has been throughout his two terms in the Senate.  While he did cast the deciding vote in the Healthcare reform bill, he managed to get his state exempt from paying billions in Medicaid expansion costs, a stunt which has now given the GOP a wedge issue in the 2012 election.  And then there is his voting record, decidedly conservative.  Only Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has a lower rating among progressives.  Not even Party scab Joe Lieberman is held with such contempt.

Completely overlooked by the Left is the fact that Nelson’s two wins in this very Red state are nothing short of miraculous given the makeup of the electorate there – he’s the only Democrat among the state’s five member congressional delegation – and, if you subtract the Northeast and West coast, most Democrats are moderates at best.  Progressives may not want to admit it, but they do NOT represent the majority in the country, let alone Washington. 

All that, however, is beside the point.  For the moment progressives have gotten what they were wishing for.  Well forgive me for being a party pooper and refusing to drink the Kool-Aid, but if anyone on the Left thinks that Nelson’s exit means a more progressive Democrat will waltz into Washington, that Kool-Aid must be spiked with something real strong.  The Blue Dogs, for better or worse, were the reason Democrats enjoyed huge majorities in both chambers of Congress for two years.  Many of those Blue Dogs were in swing districts and/or conservative states and when they lost in last year’s midterms, gone went the House, with the Senate precariously close to doing the same.  Believing that they can somehow purge their ranks of the “impure” like their counterparts on the Right is a recipe for failure.

As things stand now, Democrats will be quite fortunate to hold the Senate.  Nelson’s seat will almost certainly go Red.  Kent Conrad’s seat in North Dakota is a virtual tossup.  There are 23 Democratic seats up for grabs against only 10 for Republicans.  If the GOP picks up 4 seats next year they win the Senate.  Assuming Elizabeth Warren beats Scott Brown – she currently leads him by four points – that would mean Dems would have to hold serve in 19 of their Senate contests, a tall order.   Now is NOT the time for being picky.  The most conservative Democrat is still light years ahead of anything the GOP has in its offing.

That progressives still don’t get this is mind numbing, not to mention suicidal.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tip of the Hat

Being a New York Giants fan, it was fun watching my team take apart the Jets last Saturday.  But the real fun came after the game listening to the Jets’ commentators rip into the team for their “stellar” performance.  There’s nothing like tigers eating their young to really get my juices flowing.

The recent House Republican debacle has been well chronicled by the Left. It was a rare moment in which all progressives could sit back and watch with great delight as the other side imploded politically.  But, just like the aforementioned Giants game, the real joy for me has been watching and reading conservatives’ reaction to this meltdown.

I stumbled upon this piece in FrumForum, and thought it quite apropos, if for no other reason than it draws the same conclusions I did in my earlier piece, titled “Uncomfortably Numb.”  Great minds do think alike.  But read between the lines and you’ll see a great deal of concern about what is going on in the Republican Party, not to mention a growing contempt for the Tea Party, which appears to have worn out its welcome among many conservatives.  Hmmm.  You know, I’m starting to get cautiously optimistic about 2012.

And while it was never my intention to include two Tip of the Hat features in one month, since I didn’t include one in November, I thought I would make up for it this month.  After all, December is the month for giving, isn’t it?

Boehner is Trapped by His Caucus
By Steve Bell

An old joke heard often in the Southwest ends this way: “It isn’t always your enemies that get you into it; it isn’t always your friends who get you out of it; but, when you are in it up to your neck, keep your damned mouth shut.”

Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner’s predicament confirms again the truism above.

The rebellion of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in the House has once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Two weeks ago we wrote that inclusion of the Keystone XL pipeline language in the “payroll tax cut” bill had been a neat bit of jiu-jitsu that gave Congressional Republicans at least a chance to stop their erosion in public opinion polls. We neglected to take into account two things: theology and acting out.

Einstein once wrote: “Only two infinite things exist: the universe and stupidity. And, I am unsure of the universe.”

To summarize: apparently Boehner on behalf of his caucus made a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance for long-term unemployed, and reversal of an impending 27% cut in reimbursement under Medicare for health care providers. The Senate passed the bill, 89-10, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed down shop for the year.

Conventional wisdom, and apparently the Speaker, forecast passage of the bill in the House. Both were wrong.

The damage to the Republican brand is profound. Tax cuts, energy independence, good-paying jobs was a message that had started resonating for the GOP. Pressure for quicker approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and its promise of another real step toward independence from oil from the Middle East began to divide the Democratic Party. Keeping Medicare reimbursement at current levels removed a possible attack line in 2012 campaign advertising. Unemployment Insurance expiration will only apply to the long-term unemployed, but the room for misunderstanding, reinforced once again by campaign messages, is huge.

Let’s see: “Republicans support a tax increase on working men and women, but refuse to increase taxes on billionaires.” “Republicans cut Medicare spending 27 per cent, forcing many doctors and hospitals to refuse Medicare patients.” “Republicans deny help to Americans laid off from their jobs.” You can conjure up the visuals accompanying those kinds of headlines.

The Hill ran a major story Monday on its front page about the Boehner tenure. One of the tenets of the story was, “His colleagues say his biggest triumph lies in having kept the GOP conference united” in opposing the culture of spending. That reminds us of how Custer kept his troops united in opposing the Indians at Little Big Horn.

At the beginning of this year, we wrote that the Speaker had the worst job in town. Some of his leadership team seemed undependable. He had 87 new members, most of whom didn’t know budget authority from outlays, but wanted to cut the deficit. He had more than his share of new members who had almost no stake nor interest in making Congress work. Indeed, some of them said that they way to change Washington, D.C., was to raze Washington, D.C. They bragged that they had no interest in being re-elected. Some of them believed, almost as a matter of theology, that they were “The Elect.”

Just like the “Progressive Left” has paralyzed the Democratic House caucus, the new Republicans have frozen Congress. It doesn’t work … and both extremes are happy with that.

We hear often that the Speaker should simply find enough Democrats to pass controversial legislation, and leave about 80 or so House Republicans out in the cold. Only one problem exists with that notion: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has absolutely no inclination to lobby her caucus to support any Republican initiative. The old saying goes like this: “When your enemy is knotting his own noose, leave him alone.” Pelosi has watched, probably with something between astonishment and amusement.

Seven continuing resolutions for appropriations, a downgrade by a major rating agency of American sovereign debt, three trips to the brink of serious government disruption—this legacy may well haunt many Republicans in November, 2012. Many of the newcomers were elected by less than 55 per cent in 2010, one of the best Republican years in more than a half century. Many were elected because of unusual turnout, very high enthusiasm among soft Republicans and independents, and the failure of younger and minority voters to turn up at the polls as they had in 2008. Apparently, these newcomers believed that every turnout on election days would resemble November, 2010. In 1980, Republicans won the Senate for the first time in decades. In 1986, every single one of those first-term Republicans lost except one.

As Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a serious and thoughtful Senator, said on CNBC this morning: “This has been awful,” when he was asked about the impact of the House GOP fiasco. We suspect that that judgment holds sway in the office of the Speaker this morning. In Politico this morning, Manu Raju and John Bresnahan write of the silence of Senate Minority Leader McConnell as this all unfolds. Most often, such silence speaks volumes.

A final note: alongside the theologians in both parties stand House members who believe that “if I can’t get my way, I will just throw a tantrum and vote no on everything.” Counselors who deal with teenagers often call similar behavior “acting out.” Republicans will argue, correctly, that Democrats do that, too. Here’s the difference—you are in the majority in the House. It’s your job to get the basics done at least.

Poor John Boehner, surrounded by too many members who “believe” and too many who “rebel.” He probably yearns for a few more who will help him govern.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Uncomfortably Numb

Forget all the “fighting the good fight” bravado from the Speaker of the House.  Forget all the denials from congressional Republicans that they caved on their principles to “do the right thing.”  Forget all of it.  This was the political equivalent of the Alamo.  In the end this was as humiliating a defeat as this group of miscreants has had since they stormed into the Capital building this past January.

House Republicans not only needlessly strung out a process that should’ve been a slam dunk politically, they handed President Obama the best Christmas gift he has gotten since he took office.  John Boehner sheepishly admitted engaging in a payroll tax fight “may not have been probably the smartest thing in the world to do.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Facing overwhelming criticism – most of it coming from his own Senate colleagues and even some conservative newspapers like The Wall Street Journal – Boehner finally cried “uncle” and will call for a unanimous consent on the Senate bill Friday.  If all goes well, it will be signed by Obama; however, if someone objects – always a possibility with this crowd – then Boehner will have no choice but to call back the House next week for a formal up and down vote; the same up and down vote he could’ve had on Tuesday had he stood up to his caucus and been a real leader instead of a spineless sheep being led around by his wayward flock.

Since he took the gavel of leadership from Nancy Pelosi last January, Boehner has behaved much like the captain of a rudderless ship, unable or unwilling to take charge.  True, the Tea Party freshmen class would test the patience of a saint, but his failure to set a tone early and establish himself as the head of his caucus has been the single greatest issue plaguing and now threatening his reign.  Far from commanding with authority, his hands off approach has only encouraged the more intransigent among his members to become more emboldened and steadfast, much to the detriment of his own party’s standing.  The debt ceiling standoff was a fiasco and severely damaged the Republican brand.  The only thing that saved the day was that there was plenty of blame to go around.

This time, however, there was no one else to blame; no one else to point the finger at.  The culprit was as plain as the nose on his face.  Mitch McConnell won the battle for him.  He got the President to cave on the Keystone pipeline; he thwarted Senate Democrats’ attempt to attach a millionaire’s tax to the bill; and he made sure the bill was fully paid for.  All the Speaker of the House had to do was lead his caucus to the finish line.  But instead he opted to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Whether John Boehner can survive this remains to be seen.  He looked tired and beaten as he stepped up to the podium to deliver his capitulation address.  He should be exhausted, especially dealing with the likes of those characters.  Kindergarten teachers expend less energy tending to children than the Speaker does attempting to run this insane asylum.  But, difficult or not, that’s his job, and right now, John Boehner is failing at it badly.       

Of course the main problem is that as lousy as Boehner has been, the fact is there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the House who would be able to step up and be an effective replacement should it come to that.  Eric Cantor – old Benedict Arnold – is even more to the right than Boehner, and in all likelihood would’ve held out longer in the Tax Cut deal.  Truth be told the House Majority Leader is far more liked and respected among the Tea Party faction, who never quite warmed to the current Speaker’s propensity for “reasonableness.” 

Should Cantor take over as Speaker, we can expect more and not less gridlock in Washington which, given how embarrassing this year was, should prove to make 2012 a year for the ages!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three and Out: House Punts on Payroll Tax Cut

Remember that Debt deal the President had with John Boehner last summer before Obama went back and asked for more revenue?  Remember how that went?  Well apparently John Boehner didn’t take notes, because he just made the same mistake of looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Circle December 20th on your calendar.  That’s the day House Republicans will, unless sanity prevails, come to rue.  In a stunning – even for them – turn of events, the House rejected a Senate bill that would’ve extended the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for two months while both parties worked out a longer deal next year.  The bill passed the Senate with 89 votes, meaning it was a true bipartisan vote across party lines.  In what has to be the dumbest play imaginable, the Speaker of the House allowed the Tea Party faction of his caucus to kill a bill that was paid for and had bilateral support.  Indeed the bill was never given a straight up and down vote.  Instead, by a vote of 229 to 193, the House passed a motion to “disagree” with the Senate bill.

Can you spell political suicide?  I knew you could.

“This is not a game,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing. Actually it is a game, a dangerous game; one that Republicans have been playing ever since they took the House in last year’s midterms. It's called Chicken and so far they've been winning.  They even had a win here.  The Senate bill forced the White House to ostensibly fold on the Keystone pipeline.  Either Obama agrees to fast-track it, which would alienate his base yet again or he kills it, which would give the GOP badly needed ammunition in next year’s general election.

But that wasn’t good enough for House Republicans.  They wanted yet more concessions and by rejecting this deal the plan was to lure the White House and Senate back into the negotiating room, while at the same time portraying themselves as being concerned about the “economic uncertainty” a temporary deal would elicit.  The “official” reason cited for killing the bill was that House Republicans didn’t want to “kick the can” down the road when it came to the tax cut.  In other words, the GOP thought the idea of a mere temporary extension not viable.

Really?  That wasn’t what they said last summer during the debt-deal negotiations when they only wanted to increase the debt ceiling just enough so that the President and the country would have to go through the whole nauseating process again in March – during the middle of primary season no less.  Apparently the only short-term extensions House Republicans approve of are the ones which favor their interests.

Well their plan has backfired and now, with two weeks left before both the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits are set to expire, House Republicans are left with a lot of egg on their face.  Even their own colleagues in the Senate are ganging up on them.  Scott Brown, who is in for the fight of his life as he runs for reelection next year, said, “It angers me that House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions.  Their actions will hurt American families and be detrimental to our fragile economy. We are Americans first; now is not the time for drawing lines in the sand.” 

Not bad for a RINO.  And it isn’t just their fellow Republicans who are ticked off.  This act is growing old fast on the voters as well. The latest polls by The Washington Post and CNN show that the President and Democrats are winning the battle on taxes.  Obama’s approval rating now stands at 49%; the highest it’s been since the bin Laden killing.  Conversely, the GOP is hovering near single digits.

Looks like Christmas is coming a few days early this year, courtesy of John Boehner.  Thanks, we needed it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Over and Out

It started March 20, 2003 and came to a merciful conclusion today, and in between it cost the lives of more than 4,500 American soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians. It destroyed one country, emboldened another and badly destabilized a region that was already on the brink even before it started.

At long last George Bush’s fraudulent, immoral and illegal war is over. And while the cost for waging it – estimated to be around a trillion dollars – will never be recouped, the United States can finally begin to turn the page on one of the worst chapters in its existence. We can never undo the damage we did, not only to Iraq but to our reputation, but hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and never again allow ourselves to be hoodwinked into an unlawful invasion over flimsy intelligence and outdated methods.

Already the neocons are plotting our next incursion into a Middle Eastern country. Iran is in their sights. Their pursuit of nuclear power has them all worried at the Pentagon and they are once more pounding on the war drums in the march of freedom and liberation. The temptation to act will be great for the foe this time is real and the threat precarious.

But, tempting though it may be to resort to a military solution, the nation must resist the urge to flex its muscles; it must look to other, less costly alternatives. The United States has overextended itself into a region that loathes us and has grown tiresome of our dog and pony show.

It is time for a new, bolder foreign policy; one which doesn’t retreat from a clear and present danger, but instead thinks outside the box. The Libyan War was a case study in how to prosecute a successful action. Compare and contrast Libya with Iraq. Both countries had ruthless dictators who murdered their own people and both were despised by the Muslim community. Iraq cost a trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. lives; Libya two billion and a handful of casualties. And yet to some Libya was a failure because we didn’t go in guns a blazin’ and light up the joint. Instead we left the lion’s share of the conflict to the Libyan people and because of that decision, Libya can now chart a new course free from American intervention.

This should be our goal: a Middle East that is free and independent from any outside influence, especially us. We simply can no longer afford to be the world’s cop on the beat, not with a crumbling infrastructure and a mountain of debt to tend to.

It is time to finally honor our dead and the best way to do that is to ensure that we will no longer needlessly send them into battle without a justifiable reason and a sound and sensible strategy for bringing them back safely.

Eye of the Newt

With less than three weeks to go before the Iowa caucus, guess who the front runner is? Newt Gingrich, that’s who. Yep, the guy left for dead only a few months ago, is now less than a month away from winning the first leg of the vaunted trifecta needed to landing his party’s nomination for president.

Talk about the tide turning.

Actually, Gingrich’s ascendency isn’t all that remarkable or unexpected. With Michele Bachmann all but dismissed as completely unelectable and Herman Cain falling on his own sword, the Tea Party was itching yet again for another anti-Romney candidate they feel can lead them to the promise land. In fact, not only has Gingrich’s stock risen over the last few weeks, but Ron Paul’s as well. The two are running neck and neck in Iowa, with the used-car salesman placing third.

Now, while it’s important to remember that winning Iowa isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – let’s remember that Mike Huckabee won in ’08 – it can be important strategically, especially if Newt wins. And that’s because while the polls in Iowa are extremely close, that is not the case in South Carolina – the final leg in the trifecta – where Gingrich is ahead by double digits over Romney. A win by Gingrich in Iowa and South Carolina could be potentially devastating for the Mittster.

Which might explain all the piling on that we’ve been seeing from many establishment Republicans over the rising fortunes of the former Speaker of the House. Old Mr. Congeniality has been getting his comeuppances at long last. Those who know him best and who have served him in the past are absolutely petrified at the prospects of Gingrich winning the nomination and have not been shy about voicing their concerns. And you thought all that stuff about elephants having long memories was just a myth.

What we’re witnessing here is a fundamental split within the Republican Party between the establishment and the rank and file. The establishment sees Gingrich and Paul as way too extreme, erratic and unelectable, while the rank and file – insert Tea Party here – sees them as personifying the very essence of what they want from a candidate. While Paul is far more the outsider than Gingrich, both men share two things in common: the ability to get under the skin of their own party’s leadership and looking authentic while doing it. By contrast, Mitt Romney looks like someone who’s trying to memorize Ronald Reagan’s lines from a 1980 speech. Electable, yes; believable, hardly.

That’s one of the reasons why Romney has been stuck in second or third place pretty much throughout this process, while the Tea Party has rotated in what it thought were its favorite sons or daughters to have a shot at the nod. First it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, followed by Herman Cain. All had their fifteen minutes of fame in the spotlight and all melted under the scrutiny of the bright light. And now Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are vying to see who can emerge as the last great hope for the oppressed and overtaxed hordes, with poor Mitt Romney once more looking in from the outside. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, as they say.

Well, it looks as though the Republican establishment may be taking matters into their own hands. One by one they are not only going out of their way to blast Newt, they are practically fawning over Mitt. Just this past Friday Romney got a huge endorsement from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The significance of this cannot be overstated enough. If Gingrich does indeed win Iowa, Romney must win New Hampshire and, if not win South Carolina, at least make a solid showing there. Haley’s endorsement may just have saved his bacon. Forget Chris Christie, this is huge. The endorsement of a southern governor and a Tea Party favorite is nothing to sneeze at. It also gives the right-wing faction yet another chance to look at the former Massachusetts governor.

That’s one of the reasons why Gingrich has slipped a bit in the polls over the last few days. Another is that more and more Republican voters are starting to take a closer look at the former Speaker and not liking what they see; by comparison Romney, if you can believe it, is more consistent, at least recently. He may not be a true disciple, but at least he doesn’t come with all that baggage. And what baggage it is.

Even if you give him a mulligan regarding his past shenanigans as Speaker of the House – which apparently many of his former colleagues aren’t willing to do – his most ardent of supporters admit that he is a walking time bomb. Erratic would be a word in a half. His Meet the Press interview in which he called the Paul Ryan budget “right-wing social engineering” has conservatives worried. Many still have not forgiven him for that slight; a slight that will most surely be dredged up by Obama in a general election should Gingrich win the nomination.

And that’s not the only time that Gingrich has stuck his foot in his mouth. In another interview he referred to the Palestinians as an “invented people.” In the latest Republican debate Gingrich didn’t back down from his remarks. “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists,” he said. “It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, ‘Enough lying about the Middle East.’”

And then there are his rather unique and dangerous views regarding the judicial branch that have drawn the ire of even some conservative scholars. In Newt’s world, if he doesn’t like a decision rendered by a court he should have the option to ignore it or to force the judge to explain his or her decision.

On a Face the Nation interview Gingrich said the following:

“Today you have judges who are dictatorial and arrogant, who pretend that they are the dominant branch and who issue orders that clearly are against the Constitution.”

When asked by Bob Schieffer to expound on his comments, Gingrich suggested that judges could be subject to subpoenas. When an incredulous Schieffer countered that they wouldn’t have to honor them, Gingrich just couldn’t resist digging the hole deeper:

“Bob, if that's true, than the court can't say something to the Congress either, can it? By your standards, this Supreme Court cannot dictate to the president and cannot dictate to the Congress. But they do. And there are clear provisions in the Constitution to re-balance it. There's a judge in San Antonio that issued a ruling so anti-religious, so bigoted, and so dictatorial on June 1st. He should be called in front of a committee and they should ask him, ‘By what right do you dictate to the American people?’”

This is the real Newt Gingrich – the consummate anti-Romney. A loose cannon that has a tendency to go off at the most inopportune moments, with no mute button and apparently no common sense. He’s been this way ever since he became the Speaker of the House in ‘95. His biggest critics say he just can’t help himself; his arrogance is his biggest undoing. Regardless of his seeming intelligence, he will inevitably say or do something so incendiary it will end up becoming a lightning rod for his opponents and a source of embarrassment for his party.

And that is why Iowa means so much this time around. A Gingrich win will make an awful lot of operatives in the GOP extremely nervous. The White House has never been closer than it is this coming election and to have it slip away with a candidate so thoroughly unreliable and flakey as the likes of a Newt Gingrich would be unforgivable.

If I’m Obama and the Democrats, I’m praying for a Merry Newt Christmas and a very Happy Gingrich New Year. Used-car salesmen be damned!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Idiots’ Delight

This will be the first of two features. The first will be the monthly award; the second a yearly. With all that has happened over the last few weeks, I simply couldn’t let December go by without including another three worthy contenders for the coveted annual booby prize.

While it is getting more and more difficult to narrow the field down to three – Herman Cain had November all to himself and currently has the inside track on the yearly award – I find the challenge exhilarating in a perverse sort of way.

The theme this month is intolerance, and, after reading this piece, I’m sure you’ll agree all three winners went above and beyond the call of duty and truly earned the “honor” accorded them.

So, without further ado, the envelope please.

The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church: So what exactly did this tiny, rural, all-white Kentucky church do to merit mention in this feature? Well, the hint lies in the all-white designation. Seems some of the members of this church have some rather “interesting” views about what constitutes an acceptable marriage. By a 9 to 6 margin, the elders voted to bar mixed-race couples from joining the congregation. The resolution basically says that “parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals.”

“We are not a group of racist people,” said Keith Burden of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. No, of course not. You’re just a bunch of Neanderthals who sat back and allowed nine people to speak on your behalf while you did nothing to stop them.

Melvin Thompson, the former pastor who called for the vote, wouldn’t say why he did it. “I am not racist,” Thompson insisted. “I will tell you that. I am not prejudiced against any race of people.” Thompson just doesn’t believe that members of one race should marry another, that’s all.

The sad reality is that more than forty years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down statutes in more than fifteen states banning interracial marriage and still, in some parts of the country, churches remain largely segregated. Still it is quite unusual to find such overt displays of bigotry, even in Kentucky.

Succumbing to outside pressures, the church later overturned its decision after realizing that its resolution ran contrary to local, state or federal laws. Current pastor, Stacy Stepp, added that the proposal had been discriminatory and that the church now “welcomes believers into our fellowship regardless of race, creed or color.”

Nothing like a bit of good old-fashion shame to convict a sinner, right reverend?

Lowe’s: Joining the anti-Muslim hysteria that seems to be sweeping the country, the home-improvement giant pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a show that chronicles the everyday lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan who apparently don’t fit the stereotypes of what Muslims are supposed to act like.

A statement released by Lowe’s said the following:

“Lowe's has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

Of course, what Lowe’s left out in its statement is that one of those groups is the extremely conservative Florida Family Association, which has been “aggressively” pushing advertisers to drop the show on the basis that it depicts “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” Translation, the show didn’t fit the myopic views of the FFA.

Adding insult to injury, Lowe’s decision to pull its advertising from the show sparked a number of overtly racist comments on its facebook page. Here’s a gander at some of the more egregious rants.

“Sadly, we imported the Muz during WWII to make tanks in Detroit at GM. Just too bad we didn’t send them home after the war was over.”

“I would love to watch a show called being Christian in America. Or being Jewish in America, or being Hindu in America. Even would watch a show called being an atheist ion America. Never would I watch this crappyshitshow. LOL. Way to go Lowes. Got my money for a new bathroom all ready for you. Where’s the show called Being White in America?”

“The troops are coming to liberate America and turn it into Redneckistan!”

Not all the comments were offensive. Surprisingly, many derided the chain’s decision. One comment stands out among the crowd. “So it’s okay to advertise during Jersey Shore and other shows that make Americans look idiotic but it’s not okay to advertise during a show that demonstrates another perspective in an intelligent manner? Way to go pandering to the lowest element, Lowe’s.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Jimmy Fallon: Let’s get something straight. I have about as much use for Michele Bachmann as a bug has for a can of Raid. The Republican congresswoman and presidential candidate has had some of the more “colorful” missteps of this strange campaign and at times has embarrassed herself and her party, but regardless of how you may feel about her, what happened on Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show was inexcusable.

In case you missed it, or just happened to have been in a coma the last few weeks, Bachmann, a guest on the show, walked out to the strains of a 1985 Fishbone song, “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” Bachmann apparently didn’t get the slight during her interview, but it wasn’t long before the fur began to fly and the incident was rightly condemned.

Fallon later apologized for the incident, which was laudable, but the point is that no one should ever have to endure such a humiliating stunt. It was not funny and it was definitely not appropriate. It is one thing to criticize or raise legitimate concerns about a candidate’s position or record, but it is quite another to degrade them in such a sophomoric fashion.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Tip of the Hat

Since I missed last month's installment of this feature, I thought it only fitting to lead off December with it.  While initially intended to be a rather polite way of giving credit where credit was due and "dialing down" some of the political rhetoric, I have come to realize its true value as a microscope on conservatism in America.

Like so many progressives, I assumed that the far-Right's stranglehold on the Republican Party represented the only voice of conservatives out there.  I have been forced to reassess that assumption.  While not necessarily agreeing with the underlying premise of conservatism, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover just how many of my counterparts have seen fit to abstain from drinking the Koolaid of the demented.

This month's piece is an excellent exposé on how the Right's eschewing of the intellectualism that helped define its very existence in the first place now stands as its biggest liability. 

Russell Kirk Would Not Recognize These "Conservatives"

by David Jenkins

The other day, I read a disturbing column by Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal’s deputy editorial page editor, entitled “The Great Global Warming Fizzle.” In the column, Stephens compares concern about global warming to religion and characterizes such concern as “…another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.”

He goes on to say:

As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate.

Mr. Stephens, in one fell swoop, is equally dismissive of religion and science. What kind of hubris causes one to have no use for either the knowledge gained from empirical evidence or the faith that has pushed mankind to rise above his base instincts?

This type of egotism seems to be running rampant among those—particularly in the right-wing media—who profess to be conservative. I believe this unfortunate phenomenon is the by-product of traditional conservatism being shoved aside by a radical, libertarian-inspired ideology that is deeply antithetical to traditional Burkean conservatism.

This ideology elevates personal freedom and financial gain far above all other values, and in doing so, empowers its followers to dismiss or even belittle anything that does not directly serve those parochial ends.

One of our nation’s most authoritative conservative voices was Russell Kirk, an author and political theorist credited with giving rise to conservatism’s intellectual respectability in post-World War II America. President Reagan called him “the prophet of American conservatism.”

In his seminal book “The Conservative Mind, From Burke to Eliot,” Kirk pointedly described how the nation deviated from true conservatism in the 1920s. He wrote:

The United States had come a long way from the piety of Adams and the simplicity of Jefferson. The principle of real leadership ignored, the immortal objects of society forgotten, practical conservatism degenerated into mere laudation of ‘private enterprise,’ economic policy almost wholly surrendered to special interests—such a nation was inviting the catastrophes which compel society to re-examine first principles.

These words are no less applicable to the situation we have today.

Just listen for 10 minutes to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Mark Levin and you will hear private enterprise exalted with the level of reverence and passion typically afforded religious belief, and the accumulation of monetary wealth promoted as the ultimate measure of human success.

Ambition is good and necessary, but as Kirk put it “ambition without pious restraint must end in failure.”

Other influential conservative thinkers, such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Richard Weaver, also have emphasized the dangers of, as Weaver put it, having all other “virtues subordinated to successful gain-getting.”

When you listen to the policy focus coming from the right, such as a gluttony-driven energy policy that eschews conservation and renewable energy but favors aggressive fossil fuel production, it sounds a lot like 1960s liberalism’s credo: “if it feels good, do it.”

Any restraint on material appetites, even efficiency measures that make a dollar go further, is the enemy of a political ideology that places a premium on material gain and immediate gratification. This is not conservatism. There is nothing conservative about waste and gluttony.

Kirk underscored this when he wrote, “The American conservative will endeavor to exert some intelligent check upon material will and appetite.”

Stephens’ views on climate are typical of those who subscribe to what I refer to as “pretend conservatism.” His views are driven by a dogma and an egotism that results in a closed mind. There is no piece of evidence likely to alter his preconceived notions.

Conservatism requires decisions to be made on the basis of a clear-eyed and unbiased analysis of fact, and an adherence to values that have stood the test of time, not emotions stemming from a rigid political dogma.

The hostility towards faith exhibited in Stephens’ op-ed is as disconcerting as his egotistical dismissal of fact. It should serve as a wakeup call to religious conservatives.

The libertarian-inspired ideology that is masquerading as conservatism today is just as dangerous to religion as the secular humanism we find on the left. Traditional conservative values are being cast aside, such as humility, reverence, responsibility, stewardship and other moral principles—most of which stem from Biblical teaching.

The most fervent adherents to this doctrine, while giving lip service to traditional values, family and religion, will only accommodate them until they become inconvenient to their more immediate goals of gain and personal gratification.

The pro-life issue is one case in point.

A pro-life position is embraced in the abstract in order to not offend religious conservatives, but these pretend conservatives are not inclined to advance the pro-life cause if it would mean a departure from the “mere laudation of private enterprise,” to quote Kirk again.

In fact, many on the right support policies that contradict a pro-life position and would result in harm to unborn children.

Mercury is a well-known toxic pollutant that bio-accumulates and works its way up the food chain. It is highly hazardous to human health and poses a particular threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.

Industrial emissions, especially from coal-fired power plants, are the leading source of environmental mercury, but there are many so-called “conservatives” who are trying to block Clean Air Act standards that would significantly reduce the amount of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants.

One supposedly conservative Congressman even went so far as to claim—against all medical evidence—that there is “no medical negative” to mercury emissions from power plants.

Why? Apparently because the coal industry is opposed to the standards—citing cost concerns and fear that it will lose market share to cleaner, natural gas-fired power plants.

Mr. Stephens’ op-ed is just one of many examples showing that what passes for conservatism today is a far cry from the real deal. Real conservatism may not be dead—most Americans still retain its core values—but the word “conservative” is being quickly redefined by the media on the left and right to describe a radicalism that betrays traditional conservatism.

Facing so many challenges that require taking the long view, including energy security and climate change, our nation cannot afford to have pretend conservatives in the driver’s seat. It needs real conservatives who are guided by traditional conservatism’s ethic of responsible stewardship, prudent forethought, and protecting the interests of future generations.

That will only happen if we start a whole new discussion about who and what is—or is not—conservative.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Idiots’ Delight

Really now, with all the craziness coming out of the GOP field of candidates the last few months, I’m starting to wonder if I even need a separate Idiots’ Delight feature.  Seems not a day goes by that something idiotic doesn’t happen involving that group of half-witted presidential wannabes.  Sometimes I think I should just go ahead and change the title of my whole blog from The Spirit of a Progressive to Idiots’ Delight and be done with it.

And then, miraculously, someone steps forward and goes that extra mile, confirming my long-held belief in that most enduring of sayings: Patience truly is a virtue.  This month’s winner of the Idiots’ Delight award so outdistanced every other past winner that I am going on record right now in predicting that, barring a late entry even more absurd, he has first dibs on the yearly prize, so egregious was his fait accompli.  

So without further ado, let’s have at him.

Herman Cain.  It takes a certain amount of determination to rise to the top of any political opinion poll, especially a presidential one.  But give the Godfather Pizza man credit, rise he did.  Like a one-hit wonder from an old jukebox, Herman Cane shot up the charts to become the prohibitive favorite among Republican voters.  His 9-9-9 tax plan – flawed though it is – garnered him attention from the main-stream press and accolades from every-day people who connected on a visceral level with his simple and down to earth approach.   

And then it happened.  Herman Cain began to speak and not just in vague political speak; he started answering questions regarding important issues that a candidate for the highest office in the land should concern himself with and at least know a little bit about.  Forget the sexual harassment charges concerning him – funny they never seemed to derail Bill Clinton – it was Cain’s own words not his alleged sexual impropriety that has now become his worst enemy. 

They say in the advertising world that nothing kills a bad product better than good advertising.  If that’s true, Herman Cain is as good as dead.  The now famous “Libya interview” was about as embarrassing a display of ignorance as I have ever seen quite possibly in my entire lifetime.  Forget Gerald Ford’s insistence that Poland was not under the sphere of Soviet domination; forget Michele Bachmann not knowing that the Lexington and Concord she was referring to was actually in Massachusetts and not New Hampshire; forget Rick Perry not being able to name all three of the departments he would eliminate should he be elected president.  Old Herman has ‘em all beat. 

In a moment that can only be characterized as Ross Perot like, the former presumptive Republican nominee, when asked by a reporter what he thought about the Libyan war, melted like an ice cube under a burning mid-day sun.  Never mind a deer caught in a headlight, this was pure out to lunch.  It was actually painful watching the man struggle to formulate even a thought about the war.  In five minutes Cain managed to dig himself a hole halfway to China. 

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon tried to downplay the gaffe.  “He didn't say anything wrong or inaccurate; it just took him a while to recall the specifics of Libya.”  Yeah, like almost two minutes.  To make matters worse, Cain completed his journey to downtown Beijing several days later by defending his performance and insisting the Taliban and elements of Al Qaeda are now a part of the new Libyan government.


What can you say about someone who makes Michele Bachmann look sane and Rick Perry seem intelligent?  It’s one thing to be wrong about an issue, or even to flip flop on it – hello, Mitt Romney.  It’s quite another to be clueless about it.  With the exception of the killing of Osama bin Laden, no other issue dominated foreign policy more than Libya.  You don’t get a mulligan for not being at least somewhat aware of what happened and what your thoughts about it are.

No matter what spin Cain chooses to put on the interview the fact remains that his lack of knowledge is appallingly apparent.  Anyone seeking the nomination of his party for the Presidency of the United States needs more than just a smile and a catchphrase to earn the right to occupy that office.  Honest men and women may disagree as to whether Barack Obama has earned the right to be reelected, but it is nothing short of arrogance to presume that just because you differ with him philosophically on every issue that you somehow deserve the job.

At the end of the day, who ever wins the 2012 presidential election is going to face the toughest challenges any head of state has had to face in decades.  To solve the problems besetting us will take more than just guile and simple delegation; it will take a level of competence and sophistication that few men and women possess.  It is a title no one should ever seek lightly; yet Herman Cain has turned the quest into a sideshow and, in so doing, has embarrassed himself and his party.  There is simply too much at stake to entrust the nation to someone who is in over his head and is clearly a flimflam artist. 

If Mitt Romney is the used-car salesman from hell, then Herman Cain is the conman extraordinaire.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bait and Switch Time Again for the GOP

By now you’ve heard of the proposal floated by one Republican on the Super Committee to “raise taxes by $300 billion” over the next ten years as part of the $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan.  The lone Republican? Pennsylvanian Senator Pat Toomey, that’s who.  Hopelessly locked in a quandary between a unified Democratic opposition to any deficit-reduction package that does not include some revenues and an equally unanimous steadfast rejection by the conservative flank of his own party against any tax hikes, Toomey has come up with a way to have his cake and eat it too.  He has baited Democrats with promises of additional revenues in exchange for the lowering of tax rates on all income brackets, the lion’s share of which would come from the top bracket.  And the source of the “revenue” would come from the elimination of tax deductions, mostly from the middle class.

Toomey’s plan basically has two stages:     

1. All tax brackets would be reduced, starting with the top bracket, which would drop from 35% to 28%.  The lowest bracket would fall from 10% to 8%.

2. To make up the anticipated loss in tax revenues, all charitable donations and mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions would be eliminated for individuals earning more than $174,400 and married couples earning more than $212,300. 

Critics of the plan were quick to point out that roughly one third of all filers – or 50 million households – would see a precipitous increase in the taxes they pay every year, not to mention that the elimination of the mortgage deduction would adversely affect a housing market which is still trying to recover from the worst crash since the 1980s, with experts predicting years before a full recovery occurs.  Additionally the loss of charitable donations would be devastating to countless charities, churches and synagogues that provide, in many instances, the last hope for millions of impoverished people. 

Of course the switch in this bait and switch scheme of Toomey’s is the “revenue” part.  The fact is there isn’t any real revenue, because the elimination of the deductions under this plan would barely cover the lower tax rates.  At best it would be revenue neutral to the Treasury, at worst it would actually increase the deficit.  At the end of the day, millions of Americans would end up paying more in taxes just to enrich the wealthiest 1 to 2 percent of their fellow citizens.

This is what the GOP offers up as a fig leaf to appease Democrats and deficit hawks within their own party.  Not a balanced plan to reduce spending AND legitimately increase tax revenues, but a scheme designed to appear as revenues that is in effect nothing more than supply-side economics on steroids.

I would’ve had more respect for Toomey and his ilk if, while he was asking hard-working middle class families to make a sacrifice, he had proposed eliminating other tax deductions like corporate jets and the like.  But then I’ve long since given up any hope of having even an ounce of respect for a party that still has the nerve to invoke the name of Lincoln, but who long ago abandoned any resemblance to that historic president and what he truly represented.     

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty: Republicans Going AWOL on Messaging

Are my eyes and ears deceiving me or has the GOP gone soft?  Like the Grinch on Christmas day, maybe their hearts have suddenly grown three times in size?  Perhaps there’s something to this compassionate conservatism after all.

Listening to Tom Coburn this past Monday, it sure seemed that way.  You see Coburn released a report this week that revealed some rather startling and unsettling facts.  Millionaires, it seems, are receiving billions in taxpayer dollars for things like childcare and bad debts.  And Coburn was none too thrilled over the details.  This is what he wrote in an accompanying letter to the report:

“From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Multimillionaires are even receiving government checks for not working. This welfare for the well-off – costing billions of dollars a year – is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate.

“The income of the wealthiest one percent of Americans has risen dramatically over the last decade.  Yet, the federal government lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks.  The government's social safety net, which has long existed to catch those who are down and help them get back up, is now being used as a hammock by some millionaires, some who are paying less taxes than average middle class families.”

In case you were wondering that was the Tom Coburn, bad-ass Republican from the state of Oklahoma.  It has suddenly dawned on him that the wealthy in this country have been getting along just dandy while the majority of Americans – the 99 percent – have not been nearly as fortunate.

And it isn’t just Coburn who’s had an awakening of sorts.  Recently Darrell Issa, old Mr. Subpoena himself, while addressing a group of retirees whose pensions have been drastically cut, let slip the following:

“We don’t need laws for the powerful. We need the Constitution and laws for the weak. Ultimately the success of our Democracy is about the minority having rights, not the majority.”

Oops, that was rather transparent, not to mention quite obvious.  But wait, as they say in that commercial, there’s more.  In fact, I’ve saved the best for last.  None other than Paul Ryan – yes the Paul Ryan who wants to privatize Medicare and turn Medicaid into a grant program for the states – agreed with a caller on a conservative talk radio show that Glass-Steagall should be reinstated.

“Mixing banking and commerce, meaning allowing banks to go do non-banking activities, by leveraging their deposits. The way I look at this, there’s a lot of merit to what you just said. If banks want to make hedge fund-like returns, then they should go be a hedge fund. But if you want to be a bank, then be a bank. Don’t try to be a hedge fund and take undue risks with your depositor’s money. So the way I see it, we need to have more conservative leverage limits, so you can’t leverage too much, and keep these firms within the silos where they are supposed to operate based on the degree of risk that they’re supposed to take. And if you’re just taking deposits, then I think we need to reestablish those kinds of limits.”  

Wow!  I hope you were sitting down for that last one, because it was a doozy!  Now, before we start nominating any of these fearless leaders for a humanitarian award, a little context, I believe, is in order.

One, Republicans are starting to get an earful from their constituents over not just the state of the economy, but the side-show antics they’ve been engaging in.  It has become abundantly clear to them that their dog and pony show is starting to wear thin with an electorate that has already seen fit to give the Democrats the heave ho in the last election and is now apparently prepared to do the same to them.  Give them this much, they can read the poll numbers.  President Obama may have a low approval rating, but he’s still considerably higher than anybody in the GOP.

Second, they’re taking a page out of Bill Clinton’s playbook.  After seeing what happened in Ohio, Maine, Mississippi and Arizona just the other week, some Republicans have decided to engage in their own game of triangulation.  They have figured out that crazy isn’t selling the way most of them thought it would, so they’re trying something unique. They are taking populist positions that resonate with voters in the hopes of stealing some of Obama’s thunder in next year’s election.  Witness Mitt Romney’s flip flop over the Occupy Wall Street movement.  First he was against it, then, when he found out how popular it had become with a majority of Americans, he quickly reversed himself and said he sympathized with their message.

Whether this new-found strategy is successful will depend on two things: 1. How many Republicans actually have the daring to break free from the wingnuts who control the apparatus of the conservative movement, and 2. How long they can keep up the show before their true inner selves re-emerge.  And make no mistake about it: It IS a show.  The greatest freak show on Earth, in fact.  Just make sure you bring your shovel with you. It can get pretty messy having to clean up after so many elephants.

Compassionate conservatism?  Sure, and I’ve still got that bridge in Brooklyn that I’m trying to unload.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Harbinger of Things To Come?

Sometimes the glass is just plain full.  For over a year the country has been watching a heated and tense legal tennis match going on between conservative-leaning courts and liberal-leaning courts over the legality of President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.  Conservatives have been adamant in their opposition to the individual mandate, calling it unconstitutional and an infringement of their liberty.  Proponents have consistently held that the only way to ensure that every one would be covered was to include a mandate in the law.

Prior to this week, the score of this wild back and forth volley was deadlocked with one court ruling in support of the mandate, one against and one court refusing altogether to hear the case.  Now the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit – a conservative court if ever there was one – has cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the mandate.

The majority opinion was written by Judge Laurence Silberman – a Reagan appointee!

“It certainly is an encroachment on individual liberty, but it is no more so than a command that restaurants or hotels are obliged to serve all customers regardless of race ... or that a farmer cannot grow enough wheat to support his own family.

“That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before – but that seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations.  The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems."

The dissenting opinion issued by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, also a conservative appointed by George Bush, was hardly helpful in that he said that the court lacked the jurisdiction to even hear the case due to the fact that the law does not take effect until 2014.

The significance of this decision cannot be stressed enough.  A conservative court has rejected the argument of the appellants in this case.  This is not only newsworthy but it reveals a fundamental flaw in the prevailing logic that the law’s fate will ultimately be decided along strict political lines.  If anything what this ruling shows is that opponents of the law may be in for quite a surprise as they learn what true judicial restraint could mean.  For if you read the whole opinion by Silberman it is clear that, while he is sympathetic to the claims made by the appellants – as indicated by his use of terms like “encroachment” and “intrusive” – the claims are ultimately irrelevant to the main thrust of their argument. At one point he wrote that the fact that Congress has never mandated individuals to purchase something before “seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations.”  In other words, Silberman was saying, “So what?”

That this decision is the first rendered by a court with no trace of ideology or politics anywhere near it is not only refreshing, it is encouraging.  The Supreme Court will ultimately have the final say, and it is likely that both this decision and the 11th Circuit one out of Atlanta, which struck down the mandate, will figure prominently in its ruling.  While we’re still not out of the woods yet, we are getting closer to the clearing.           

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not So Fast!

The news that Ohio voters resoundingly defeated Senate Bill 5, and in so doing dealt a serious blow to Republican Governor John Kasich’s plans to ostensibly destroy the unions in that state, should be celebrated by every progressive not just in Ohio but across the country.  This was a good day no matter how you sliced it and diced it.  Also encouraging was the news out of Maine that voters in that state overturned a law that banned same-day voter registration, a law which had only one purpose: suppressing Democratic turnout. In Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that not only would’ve outlawed abortion – even in the case of rape and incest – it would’ve defined human life as beginning from the moment of fertilization.  And in Arizona, voters recalled that state’s immigration law architect, Russell Pearce.  A grand slam you could say.

But, as they say at the racetrack, hold onto your tickets, boys, this race ain’t over; not by a long shot.  Yes what happened in Ohio and Maine and Mississippi and Arizona was certainly uplifting and gratifying, given how dismal Democratic fortunes have looked over the last year, but a closer look at what happened reveals not so much a leftward shift among the electorate but rather a repudiation of a poorly played hand by Republicans.  In each and every loss suffered by the GOP, voters expressed a profound disapproval over what they perceived as an ideological distraction from the number one objective they had voted for in 2010: Jobs, jobs, jobs.  Issues like collective bargaining, voter registration, abortion and illegal immigration, while fodder for the Right, were considered inconsequential to millions of independents and moderates, and they voted accordingly.

But no matter how tempting it may be for the Left to pound its chest and beat the drums of victory, the painful truth is that Democrats in general still have an uphill battle on their hands when it comes to convincing a majority of voters that they have the answers to what ails the economy.  The Republican gains in Virginia, a crucial swing state in 2012, underscores this point all too well.  There were no controversial and ideological-driven initiatives on the ballot in that state.  Rather it was a straight up and down referendum on whose vision voters preferred to run the state.  And if Virginia was a litmus test for their fortunes going forward, I’d be very worried if I were a Democrat.

Translation?  Crazy got shown the door, but the Landlord still hasn’t seen fit to hand over the keys to the other tenants.  And that adds up to a major problem come November 2012.  I have been saying this now for months.  Democrats need to get up off their butts and start building a sellable narrative to the electorate that doesn’t start and end with the other side being insane.

Consider the facts.  Unemployment remains stubbornly high, with little prospect of it coming down over the next year or so.  Indeed, the Fed recently downgraded its economic forecast for 2012.  Growth projections will remain anemic for the foreseeable future.  We may not be headed into a double-dip recession, but it will take several years before anything resembling a full recovery occurs.

No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with such poor numbers.  Poll after poll over the last few months has shown definitively that voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed in.  With the exception of a temporary bump in the wake of the bin Laden killing, President Obama’s approval rating has been south of 50% for well over a year now.

And yet, even with such woeful numbers, Democrats will proudly remind you that their guy is beating all the other Republican candidates by anywhere from 5% (Romney) to 15% (Cain).  And while that may comfort a good many of them, the truth is that those numbers do NOT represent an endorsement of Obama but rather a concern – particularly among independents – that the current crop of GOP contenders has not made the case for change.  And not only that, it has demonstrated some rather “interesting” idiosyncrasies that are most disturbing to them.  Want proof?  The Republican with the least amount of baggage – Romney – is the one closest to beating Obama.  If between now and next fall the GOP manages to dress up this turkey-shoot enough to make it look respectable to the electorate this is going to be a very difficult presidential election to watch for Democrats.

The good news is that, for now at least, the Republican Party seems hopelessly caught in the grips of an ideological wave hell-bent on remaking the country in its own twisted image; the bad news is that for every John Kasich, there is a Bob McDonnell.  If history is any indication, sooner or later the Bob McDonnells will prevail.  Democrats had best accept this or they stand to lose a lot more than just the next election.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Iraq Revisited

Of all the deplorable things that the Right has done, none has been more loathsome and damaging than its incessant attempt to rewrite history.  Throughout most of 2009 and 2010 Republicans desperately tried to convince the public that the Great Depression was brought about, not by a lack of government regulation and intervention, but by a plethora of wasteful and meddlesome government spending that prevented the private sector from doing what it does best: create jobs.  Only the advent of World War II got us out of the depths of that depression.  It mattered not that not a single economist has gone on record to validate such hogwash, just saying it made it so, as far as the GOP was concerned.  I don’t suppose it would do any good to remind conservatives that the build up to that War, whether they want to admit it or not, counts as government spending, meddlesome or otherwise.

It was the same with the causes of the 2008 recession.  Forget all you’ve heard about derivatives and sub-prime mortgages, according to conservatives, the real culprits were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac forcing all those helpless bankers to loan money to poor black people who knew they couldn’t afford a mortgage in the first place.  Not doing it for you?  Well then how about all that nasty debt due to wasteful government spending?  How about a combination of both?  Facts?  Why concern yourself with such trivial things as facts when it’s so much easier to pull nonsense out of your ass and peddle it as truth?

Well, as strange as it might sound to those of us who actually bother to fact-check such stupidity before falling for it, the electorate bought in lock, stock and barrel.  Whether out of sheer frustration, a lack of commons sense, or a combination of the two, a majority of people polled now believe that the Great Recession of 2008 was due in large part to excessive government spending and needless regulation of an industry that was running just fine without a hitch.  Go figure.

And now comes the greatest obscenity of all: the Iraq War.  With this monstrosity of an endeavor now coming to a long overdo end, the final price tag has far exceeded the trillion-dollar mark, and that’s not counting the impact it had on the economy.  In fact, according to Joseph Stiglitz, the total cost for both the Afghan and Iraqi Wars is over $3 trillion.  Granting that our involvement in Afghanistan was just, given the 9/11 attacks, that still leaves the sixty-four thousand dollar question: why did we get involved in Iraq?  If you thought the Right’s explanation of the causes of the Great Depression and Great Recession creative, you won’t believe what they have to say for themselves regarding Iraq.

The reason for our involvement comes down to one word: hindsight.  Bet you thought it was going to be something radical like temporary insanity brought about, no doubt, by Cold-War withdrawal.  But, no, hindsight is what they’re going with.

For those of you who don’t feel like consulting your on-line dictionary, hindsight is defined as the ability to understand, after something has happened, what should have been done or what caused the event.  So when Republicans use the word hindsight to defend the Iraq War, what they are really saying is that had they known the reality of the situation – in other words had the true facts of the matter been available to them – naturally they wouldn’t have gotten involved in such a costly endeavor.

To which I say, Bullshit!

There is no hindsight regarding Iraq, for the very simple reason that the Bush Administration knew full well that the “intelligence” they had “gathered” was suspect at best and flat out fraudulent at worst.  There were no weapons of mass destruction and they knew as much.  There was never going to be a mushroom cloud over a populated city because the terrorists who attacked us were not in Iraq.  The lone reason for invading that country had nothing to do with how evil Saddam Hussein was – and for the record he was a bad guy – or whether he had any involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks – he didn’t.  It was about the oil that Iraq possessed, pure and simple.  9/11 was an excuse for overthrowing a legitimate and sovereign government in the name of the almighty dollar.  If hindsight comes into play at all it has more to do with the fact that the Bush Administration grossly underestimated the resources it needed for securing the country’s borders not to mention its inept occupation of that country in the aftermath of the military victory, which led to the chaos that continues to mar its badly fractured political system, and which has now embolden its neighbor and chief exporter of terror: Iran.  Some mission accomplished!

But to suggest with a straight face that saddling the U.S. taxpayer with a $1 trillion plus dollar debt for an unjust, illegal and unnecessary war has anything to do with hindsight is the grossest form of obscenity that can be perpetrated on the general public, and for the mainstream press, which was derelict in its duty in ’02 and ‘03 during the buildup to that War, to now even permit it to be spoken aloud without challenging it does violence, once again, to the journalistic integrity they purport to have. 

Well, unlike the economic fairytales that have gained traction over the last couple of years, thankfully the majority of the American public isn’t swallowing this whopper of a lie.  The hindsight justification is falling flat on its face and, no matter how hard the Right tries to spin it, there appear to be few takers.

It just goes to prove what Lincoln used to say: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”  Or, as another, less popular Republican President once said, “Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Get Them To the Greek

What was I thinking believing that even the Greeks couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth?  Well guess what, folks?  Not only have the Greeks looked a gift horse in the mouth, they have screwed the pouch as well.  That’s because Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou did his best impersonation of Curly Howard by calling for a referendum on the European bailout.  If the vote is “no” (and many analysts now predict that that is a likely scenario) it could be disastrous, not only for Greece, but for the entire European Union and most of the West.  It would most likely mean bankruptcy for Greece and a nasty split with the euro.  A payment of $11 billion, which would’ve kept the government afloat, is now in jeopardy.

But wait, it gets worse.  The bailout wasn’t only designed to prevent a Greek default, but shore up other fragile economies in Europe like Italy and Spain, which are substantially larger and far more problematic.  Italy’s debt is roughly $1.4 trillion – or the entire emergency fund set aside in the deal – and if it goes south, like dominoes, it will take most of the other countries with it.  So much for a rosier economic forecast for 2012.

This is what Curly – I mean – Papandreou had to say about his decision.

“We will not implement any program by force, but only with the consent of the Greek people.  This is our democratic tradition and we demand that it is also respected abroad. A referendum will be a clear mandate, and a clear message within and outside of Greece, about our European course and our participation in the euro.  The dilemma is not this government or another one, the dilemma is yes or no to the agreement, yes or no to Europe, yes or no to the euro.”

This is what I get for being an optimist.  The next time I see a half-filled glass of water somewhere, I’ll be certain to pour it out. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dumbing It Down: The Pursuit of Intellectual Mediocrity in America

It never ceases to amaze me how so many Americans are not only ill-informed but apparently prefer to remain hopelessly lost in their own self-imposed ignorance.  Case in point, while driving on the road just today I happened to be behind a van that had a bumper sticker on it, which read:



What was so sad about the sticker was that somebody obviously took the time to write it out and have it printed up, and did not even bother to check it for the correct punctuation.  I’ve been noticing that and other grammatical errors, such as “There going out to lunch,” instead of “They’re going out to lunch” or “Your really not going their are you?” instead of “You’re really not going there, are you?” or “Its raining cats and dogs,” instead of “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  It reminds me of that famous comedian, whose name escapes me at the moment, who did a routine about illiteracy by announcing, “I is a college graduate!”  Most of the audience got it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a certain percentage were completely oblivious to the slight.

What scares me most is that the percentage of people who aren’t getting it in America is growing and, worse, they apparently don’t seem to care one bit.  Indeed there is a swelling pride in somehow being perceived as “simple” or “plain” that has become appealing in a perverse sort of way.  Conversely, to be thought of as well-spoken and articulate is rapidly being frowned upon and thought of as elitist and snobbish.  It’s like that classic joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy?  The response of “I don’t know and I don’t care” has now become the official anthem for a new world order.

And it isn’t just the sloppy use of language that is disconcerting.  The lack of intellectual curiosity about how things work and an almost pathological pursuit of the lowest common denominator of understanding is frighteningly apparent to anyone with a modicum of awareness.  Both have risen almost exponentially over the last few years.

If you’re looking for empirical evidence of this malaise in the culture look no further than the spectacle of the GOP debates.  The current front-runner Herman Cain – Mr. Godfather himself – has risen to the top, not by meticulously explaining the problems that currently beset our tax code, but by reducing it down to a cheap and easy to remember catch-phrase: 9-9-9!  Sounds more like the price of one of Cain’s pizzas, than a solution to what ails the common taxpayer, doesn’t it? 

Forget for a moment that nobody who understands even the basics of tax law believes it is workable, that’s not important.  Cain connected on a visceral level with a segment of the population so fed up with the complexities and frustrations of an inefficient system that they have elected to throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than try to grapple with a workable framework.  And Cain has capitalized on his good fortune not by challenging their ignorance, but by enabling and encouraging it.

Not to be outdone, old Quick Draw McGraw, Rick Perry, came out with his own “simple” tax plan.  In his scheme you get a choice: stay with the old, convoluted system with all its confusing deductions and exemptions, or opt for a flat 20% tax rate that even a child could understand.  That the target audience for both Cain and Perry fails to grasp that under both plans the amount they pay in taxes would actually go up is apparently irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is that both men are appealing to a baser instinct within that demographic that eschews anything even remotely complicated for a softer, easier to comprehend resolution.   

The public may demand accountability and answers, but it has no stomach for the gory details.  As one political pundit once put it, “It likes the sausage, it just doesn’t want to see how it’s made.”  The result has been a lot of flimflam artists selling snake oil as health tonic to an awful lot of lost and sick souls who neither have the inclination or the capacity to realize they’re being flimflammed.

As a retail salesman I often employed this technique of dumbing it down to capitalize on my customers’ inability to decipher anything remotely difficult.  It made me a fair share of money along the way.  Do I regret it?  At times, yes.  But the fact is if I hadn’t dumbed it down, my competition would’ve.  Barnum was right.  There is a sucker born every minute. 

As of right now, the American public is that sucker and it is being taken for the ride of its life by a very shrewd and manipulative political process that is capitalizing on its fears and frustrations by promising it the world with a song and a dance.  Before this song and dance are through an awful lot of dazed and confused dullards are going to be in for the shock of their lives.  And the worst thing of all is that these dullards willingly lined up for the shock.