Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gingrich: The Honest Liar

Herman Cain quit. That he has suspended his campaign means that he can still raise money. How presidential. I feel for Cain's followers, especially the ones who donated their money and their time to his populist posturing. However, I do not feel anything but contempt for their candidate. Narcissists never apologize for anything, like dishonesty. It is not the alleged sexless extramarital business, which he denies; it is his dishonesty that has further disqualified him.

Strategic ambiguity aside, Newt Gingrich will do the same thing as Cain – raise money on the pretense of a further presidential campaign. At least, Newt is an honest liar. He admits it. But, lying is still dishonest.

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) said that Newt Gingrich is dishonest. Frank called Gingrich “fundamentally intellectually dishonest” about the former House Speaker’s consulting contract with Freddie Mac. Frank used the word “ludicrous” during a recent MSNBC interview on the topic. Then again, there have been words between these former colleagues. Gingrich said the Representatives Frank and Chris Dodd “should be jailed” for their oversight of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the GOP debates. So, Frank qualified “dishonest.”

In fact, as Bloomberg reported, Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with mortgage company Freddie Mac. Gingrich said that he provided only “strategic advice” over an eight year period. The Gingrich assertion has been since that such advice is not lobbying. Obfuscation notwithstanding, it is paid political influence wielding. We are supposed to forget about that just as we were supposed to forget about the multiple Herman Cain sexual harassment case settlements. Bygones are supposed to be bygones. The truth is irrelevant.

For examples, ten years ago when he ran for president, Gingrich said, “I helped balance the budget for four straight years.  We did it by cutting taxes and bringing the unemployment rate below 4%." He said that on “Meet the Press.” It was not true then and it has not become true now. President Clinton's 1993 tax increase on the wealthy lead to a booming economy, after it passed without a single Republican vote. That Mr. Gingrich is known for saying misleading and contradictory things, however, does not cover such dishonesty.

Consider the Monica Lewinsky affair. The former Speaker of the House engaged in an extramarital affair at the same time he was going after President Clinton for one. Gingrich admitted it in a 2009 broadcast interview, “There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards.” Moreover, he argued that he should not be viewed as a hypocrite for pursuing the impeachment of Clinton over infidelity. Perhaps, more accurately, he meant his “double standards.”

The House Ethics Committee went after Gingrich on numerous ethics charges. They found Professor Gingrich wrongly used tax-exempt funds to teach a college course. The House reprimanded him for his using tax-exempt funds to promote Republican causes and then lying about it to ethics investigators. Gingrich paid a $300,000 fine in 1997. The next year, facing with a revolt within his party, he resigned the speakership and quit the House of Representatives.

Cain caved because of his dishonesty. Gingrich has admitted to and paid for his. So the question is, do voters prefer a known liar to a discovered liar? With the Cain cancelation, eyes will focus on the comeback of Newt Gingrich. He has truly been there and done that. Under the circumstances, however, I have to question the veracity of a Gingrich candidacy. Dishonesty is still dishonesty, even if one is honest about it.

Article first published as Gingrich: The Honest Liar on Blogcritics. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wishful Thinking

The Newt Gingrich candidacy for President is a cynical practical joke. He is not a serious presidential candidate. He is a recognizable figure promoting himself for personal gain, to sell his books and indulge in some fantasy about a future Republican presidential administration, just not anytime soon. His only viability is to make Mitt Romney seem a more reasonable and safer candidate. Gingrich is the spice in an otherwise bland stew. The only expectation of him is for self-destruction within the next eleven months. It is not for him to become the President of the United States in 2012 and it never has been. It is for him to make more money.

But the Gingrich candidacy has shed light on other things about the post-Bush weaknesses of the Republican Party. There is no credible expectation for the GOP to win the national election against the incumbent Democratic president than there was when the Republican standard bearer was Senator John McCain. Media attention always follows shiny objects that move quickly in and out of headlines be it Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann. Fame seekers are just fame seekers. There is no substance to them. Attracting attention does not count.

The 112th Congress has done so much to discredit the Republican Party that Gallup reports, “About three-quarters of registered voters (76%) say most members of Congress do not deserve re-election, the highest such percentage Gallup has measured in its 19-year history of asking this question.” How that GOP majority expects to run on its record of obstruction and be returned for another term as the majority party is wishful thinking. There is no record of accomplishment. There is only a documented record of opposition to a single person, President Barack Obama.

The country is not “Choking on Obamacare.” The country has not had time to taste, eat, or digest it because most of its 10 provisions will not go into effect until after 2014. Just because conservatives recite those three words does not make the comment so.

The 111th Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). That the PPACA is remarkably similar to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care legislation has been hashed and rehashed so much so that it has become a liability to Romney, especially in the “flip-flop” category.

I do not single out columnist George Will as an ardent wishful thinker, either. The conservative pundits have their own problems with which Will is not alone. They tend to nod with favor towards Gingrich as a man of great intellect and of big ideas. To borrow a Richard Nixon quote, "That's just plain poppycock." It isn’t true. Gingrich may come across as smart compared with Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann. Compared with people of true intellect, however, Gingrich is a pretender.

What are those big GOP ideas for government? They seem limited. Repealing a law that has not been completely implemented, abolishing abortion, repealing the Great Society, and replacing President Obama are less than noble ideas.

The wealthy professor and the wealthy businessman are tribunes of a cause that is limited for a nation in the midst of a turn-around. The only reason for a Gingrich candidacy is a Romney candidacy. The only reason for a Romney candidacy is that the GOP has to run someone. Romney winning is wishful thinking.

Article originally published as “So Much Wishful Thinking” on Blogcritics.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Buying Bad Ideas

There are a lot of expressions for bad ideas, like shooting one’s self in the foot. A bad idea is simply one that does not work. The problem is that from time to time, both as ourselves and as a people, we do not recognize a bad idea when we encounter it. The danger comes when for whatever reason -- ignorance, stubbornness or hubris – we stick with a bad idea to our detriment. Unfortunately, bad ideas tend to compound themselves. We have been suffering from that effect.

Consider the candidacy of the former governor of Alaska for Vice President. At the outset it is with some reluctance that I acknowledge a grudging gratitude to Sarah Palin. Until she appeared on television as if a human bridge to nowhere, nothing compelled me to engage in a political debate that I considered both cyclical and one-sided. The cyclical part was the fact that the country was due to change political leadership after an eight year Republican run, which is something that the country does. The one-sided part was the fact that the Democratic Party had emerged from a climactic contest between two compelling and competent Senate candidates, one of whom destined to become a historic first as President of the United States.

An oblivious Palin seemed to take herself seriously, saying stupid things and celebrating such stupidity. It offended me. I minded and began saying so. I minded that Palin did not speak any American language I would expect to hear from a competent executive. It was not alright, folksy or cute. But I underestimated the “moose-hunting rube,” as columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to her in the National Review.

Palin reminded me of one of the most vapid students in my high school graduating class who was the vice president of student body and vice president of at least a half-a-dozen high school clubs. The girl had a mid-double-digit IQ and passable looks. She would have been rather doltish except that she knew how to glom. She would stick to and campaign for the more popular students, thereby elevating her status in the high school social pool. She was a person who was never troubled by an original thought, just like Sarah Palin. The difference is that the high school girl understood the limitations that make bliss of ignorance. Palin did not.

Palin wowed conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who told the New York Observer that Palin was “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” Soon after, Palin brought self-aggrandizement to a new level as she energized the baseness of the Republican base – people who use racial epithets in private when they explain that they just don’t like blacks. She appealed to people of limited educational backgrounds as she championed anti-intellectualism with a wink and a nod. She became a darling of Fox News, the moral equivalent of a grocery store tabloid for people who do not read and who feel threatened by people who do.

People at Republican rallies began to shell out big bucks to hear her cheerlead and Palin noticed.

The Republican Party’s self-inflicted loss in 2008 is due as much to its selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President as the country’s guts being full of the Bush Presidency. A 2008 New York Times editorial said of her choice for VP, “It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.” It was a bad idea. But having proved to be such a draw, the crowd pleasing Palin glommed on to the burgeoning Tea Party – another bad idea – and became an influential force.

With Palin on the payroll, Fox News aggressively promoted negativity and hostility, specifically towards the newly elected president. The Tea Party appeared to resuscitate the out-of-power GOP in the mid-term elections. Republicans believed it was important to take control of congress’ lower chamber more so than Democrats and they did, kind of. Reciting an edited version of the US Constitution, the GOP majority of the 112th Congress had no idea that it had been infected by such a polarizing group. Its anti-government/anti-tax/anti-Obama negativity proved to sell to an electorate suffering from a deep, GOP induced repression.

However, the new Speaker of the House soon discovered that he only controlled a majority of the new Republican plurality. The Tea Party faction held it hostage. Compromise was futile. Government shutdowns and default threats became normal operating procedures.

As a result this bad idea, Gallup reported in September, “Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation's governance.” At present, “Congressional job approval remains at 13% in November, identical to October and tying the all-time Gallup low on this measure. The 2011 average is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in Gallup's history.” What an accomplishment that is.

We are being bullied by the rhetoric of Tea Party acolytes in the Republican Party into thinking that the United States is not a prosperous country, despite evidence to the contrary. We are being coerced into thinking that taxation is too high, even though it is at its lowest point in 60 years. We are being fed a line that our economic policy needs to be austere and rife with cuts. Such contentious conjectures are bad ideas.

There are better ones. For example, here is what President Lyndon Johnson said in his January 28, 1965 message to Congress.

"The task of economic policy is to create a prosperous America. The unfinished task of prosperous Americans is to build a Great Society. Our accomplishments have been many; these tasks remain unfinished:

- to achieve full employment without inflation;

- to restore external equilibrium and defend the dollar;

- to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of our private and public economies;

- to widen the benefits of prosperity;

- to improve the quality of American life."

Palin and her gibberish have been replaced by other people every bit as unqualified for high public office as she who similarly say stupid things. Negativity and attack ads directed at the incumbent president remains the top Republican theme. Fox News is a beneficiary of the advertising revenue but the country is not. I am not convinced that the electorate will buy into more such negativity as a winning proposition as it did in 2010. It isn’t a winner. In its celebrated ignorance, it asks us to buy some more of a bad idea.

Originally published as Buying Bad Ideas on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Something Missing

You have doubtless had the experience that something is missing and you don’t know what that something is. You would know instantly if you came across the missing something and I am not referring to Governor Rick Perry’s much discussed television lapse, although I could. Because it was the surplus of televised debates that had been on my mind and something about them was missing. Then it occurred to me out of the thin television air. It was as if someone had snuck up behind me and popped a paper bag full of air. Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich used the words “public servant” -- the missing concept revealed.

"My view is when people speak like this in a campaign referendum," Mr. Kasich said, “you have to listen if you're a public servant.” Ohio overwhelmingly rejected a law that restricted the collective-bargaining power of some 350-thousand government workers. Now, that law that Kasich championed will never take effect
But it is the idea of public service that has been missing in the Republican debates because it is all about them and not about us.

In the last decade US television audiences began their affair with so-called reality TV shows. Suspending the notion that such shows have production requisites -- like cameras, lights, audio, make-up, direction, catering, transportation and lots of folks behind the scenes – reality is just an abstraction. The sponsored GOP debates are also such an abstraction in addition to being a relatively cheap shoot. They are to professional politics what wrestling is to professional sports.

It’s like watching a reality version of Gilligan’s Island as an elimination game show. Just look at the cast. Seven contestants are or have been elected public officials and one has never held an elected public office. Three candidates are from the House of Representatives and one is from the Senate. Two are former governors and one is a sitting governor. There is a white woman, a black man, two white seniors and four middle-aged white men. Republicans call this diversity.

100% divided by 8 equals 12.5%. Polls only make the television event dubious.

Here is what is apparent. Gallup shows that Huntsman, Santorum and Paul do not register among likely Republican voters. What that means is that the money is not there. Gallup also reports that Romney, who has been running for president for five years, is the most likely to make it to the finals of the contest to win the Republican nomination. He is dull. So is the contest. There is no debating. Except for Perry’s lapse, debate moderator John Harwood said on PBS Washington Week, the television show would have only been about people reciting lines. The Perry gaffe made it interesting
Only interesting.

The Tea Party stains Bachmann and Cain: Bachmann, who thinks US default on its debt is good and Cain, who thinks sexual harassment is an acceptable management style. Age dims Paul and Gingrich: the Libertarian and the former Speaker could be a formidable tag-team for one presidential term, as US comic relief in a troubled world. Texas dung sticks to Perry’s pointed-toe boots, by his admission, and it stinks.

By the way, Romney and Perry may have the campaign money, but their support of US military intervention in Iran lacks money. They have not said how they would have the US pay for yet another war. Neither did George W. Bush, the former Republican president, who paid for two wars by deficit spending.

So, what about public service? There isn’t any. Romney knows what it is but won’t admit it. Huntsman and Santorum know what it is but lack the money to demonstrate it. Bachmann and Cain do not comprehend what it is. Paul and Gingrich are just there for the show. And none of them mention public service – that something missing in their television show.

Originally published as That Something Missing on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Republican Brand: An Empty Hat

The GOP became the removed-from-power party when Barack Obama won the 2008 election. The Republican Party ran a Senate veteran with a relatively novice politician to follow its flawed Presidential incumbency. They lost the election. The GOP squandered time for the necessity of rebuilding in favor of expedience. By the midterm elections it embraced a faction called the Tea Party. In so doing, the GOP became fractious, forgetting that it took six years for candidate Richard Nixon to successfully reinvent the Nixon brand: Nixon’s the One. Nixon had a plan. The Republican debates demonstrate no such plans from its cast of candidates and puts the brand in jeapordy.
To its credit the Republican National Committee replaced Michael Steele at its helm. However, the RNC retained the same elite hypocrisy as the John Boehner House speakership demonstrates. Being the party of business became the party owned by business. The recent debt ceiling crisis and deficit debate debacle that Speaker Boehner allowed makes matter worse. It difficult to argue that such GOP stewardship has been looking after the best interest of its stock holders, Republican and Independent voters. Some observers allege that the disparities in the Republican Party stem from ideological differences. However, those allegations are phony.
One might think that it must be hard to be both phony and shallow. Failure to distance the Republican brand from its Tea Party faction as well as from self-appointed spokespeople like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin has corralled the GOP into a political pen. Bigots have come to roost. The Republican debates may have demonstrated reach and audience, but the star candidates lack substance. They are becoming highly paid political celebrities who are famous for being famous. Unfortunately, that is all there is to them. They don’t stand for anything; they stand against things, President Obama foremost among all. They don’t represent anyone other than themselves. A television audience is a poor substitute for a constituency.
The concept of “take the country back” deserves derision, not applause. It is an expression of rube rhetoric that may sound good but does not mean anything. Does it mean taking the country back to another time in history, like before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- an idea floated by Rand Paul? Does it mean taking the country away from a person or from a group? I ask because neither the President nor the Congress is a foreign occupier of our government. Even so, the Tea Party faction likes the “take back” slogan fragment because it is an identifier, like a verbal secret handshake.

Although they won’t admit it, the Tea Party folks are pissed off because they lost the most important election of our time in 2008. They have hated the loss now for three years. They will continue to hate it for another five years if the secret handshakers in Congress continue to make the O in GOP stand for obstruction.
There is a limit to just how much empty-hat policy the country will tolerate. Griping about everything the president does or doesn’t do is no substitute for policies on issues such as civil rights, ending the wars, and immigration reform. Karl Rove’s acolytes drove Hispanics and Blacks from the GOP to appeal to the white Christian right. That was their master plan, their conservative agenda. Gallup reports, “The Republican Party in 2011 remains demographically and ideologically similar to the way it looked in 2008. The only change is that “Republicans are now slightly less likely than they were in 2008 to be male and to be highly religious.”
The Tea Party rejuvenated the GOP sufficiently in the midterm elections to keep it out of any meaningful rehabilitation. Had it undergone rehab, the Republican Party would have admitted it is powerless over the greed that subsidizes it and that subsequently tarnished America’s reputation and finances. It would have made amends to everyone it hurt, like the American people. Seeking some forgiveness is no longer an option. Repudiation is in order, such as bringing criminal charges against Bush, Cheney and Rove -- indicting them with high crimes and misdemeanors.
Instead, the GOP has served up a meaningless series of television debates among candidates who are incompetent for the presidency. The debates offered lots of talking points but no policy, just empty-hat ritual and rube rhetoric. The debates showed that the party lacks the courage for the conciliation required to rebuild the Republican constituency. It will require those attributes for the Republican brand to become inclusionary, to end obstructionism and to become a smart, loyal opposition.
The “O” in GOP stands for “Old.” The elephant logo dates from 1874. It looks like something one would expect to find hanging on the wall at Applebee’s. I can venerate the GOP for what it once was in my father’s lifetime. “I like Ike” was then. Today, the GOP brand is like old-time religion -- significant to a former time, just not to this time. The once venerable Republican Party has become more about political celebrities, who vie for money by denigrating the incumbent president than it is about conservative policies articulated by credible candidates. Deep down inside, it is shallow.

Originally published as Republican Brand: An Empty Hat on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 14, 2011

End Sweeping the Voting Rights Act

The good news about the Voter ID law debate is what it demonstrates: the modern GOP’s antipathy to civil rights. The concerted state level effort to end-sweep the constitution is a cynical attempt to limit the electoral process in the knowledge that it will not be litigated until after the damage is done. The GOP knows that the lower the voter turnout in 2012, the better prospect their party has in the national election. However, despite financing, hypocritical rhetoric and a dependence on public ignorance, these new state Voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American in his heart can justify. The right is one which no American true to our principles can deny.” President Lyndon Johnson made those remarks before Congress on August 6, 1965, when he signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Extended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, the VRA codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent guarantee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law. It prohibits any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and states that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focuses instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters. New Voter ID laws are not.

The GOP falsely claims that widespread voter fraud exists. Once upon a time it did.

Electoral fraud by ballot box stuffing, throwing out non-Democratic votes, or counting them for the Democrats even when cast for the opposition, was the norm in the Southern states before legal means of voter disenfranchisement became entrenched. Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. The rhetoric is flawed.antee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law. It prohibits any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and states that proof of intentional discrimination is not required.

In a Wall Street Journal column Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wrote, "You can't cash a check, board a plane, or even buy full-strength Sudafed over the counter without ID.” Kobach is the co-author of Arizona's SB 1070 illegal immigration law and former Counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. “That's why it's not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship."

Nice try, but voting is not a privilege. Voting is constitutional right. There is no Bill of Privileges.

Rolling Stone reports that 38 states have introduced legislation designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process. Alabama and Kansas require new voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Registration drives for new voters by groups like the League of Women Voters in Texas and Florida are now restricted. Maine’s Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973, has been repealed. Moreover, early voting periods have been shortened in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the New York University School of Law. At a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 -- 63% of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

Most cynically, an internal memo circulated by executive assistant of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Steve Krieser, instructs employees: "While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free [Voter] ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it." Obtaining a state-issued photo ID for the purpose of voting is actually free of charge. But if voters don't specifically ask for the free ID, they'll get charged $28.

Can you say “Poll Tax?”

"There is cost no matter what, whether they give these IDs out for free or not," said the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, Scot Ross. "There is a cost that you would not normally have to bear in order to be an eligible voter."

Even if an ID is free, getting the documents to obtain it can be expensive and difficult. For example, a U.S. passport costs as much as $145. Naturalization papers can run up to $200. A birth certificate in Texas costs $22. People born out of state who lack transportation, work multiple jobs, have disabilities, or are home-bound or poor cannot access or afford this paperwork.

It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prohibit the poll tax in state elections. The Supreme Court independently declared poll taxes an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections. Congress applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on literacy tests. However, the modern GOP seeks to end-sweep the VRA in specific and Constitution in general.

President Johnson said, “The denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong.” That denial is the effect of new Voter ID laws. As LBJ admonished Congress in 1965, "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.”

Article first published as End Sweeping the Voting Rights Act on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Class Warfare: Boo--Hiss

Well, “Boo-Hiss,” say the Republicans. “It’s class warfare!” They object to the president, of course. That is just doing their Republican job. It is politics, after all, and they have to object to the incumbent Democrat chief executive and all things Obama. But the GOP would prefer that we have no perspective, as evidenced in the “class warfare” mantra and that oft repeated and tired bit about a “resounding defeat in 2010” referring to the mid-term election. That “referendum on the Obama presidency” elected a fractured Republican majority that now has approval ratings that are approaching single digits. Boo-Hiss.

Class warfare, huh? Let’s talk about that. The richest 10 % of Americans control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. Between 1979 and 2007, the income gap between the richest 1% of Americans and the poorest 40% more than tripled. Statistically speaking, 88% of the increase in real national income went to corporate profits as the US economy grew in 2009 and 2010. Recently released census data shows that real incomes of average Americans declined by 2.3% in 2010. If it is class warfare, the rich are the only ones doing the fighting.

The 112th Congress has yet to address the fact that almost one in 10 Americans is unemployed and 15% live at or below the poverty level. It cannot even get the government funded for more than a few weeks at a time. But I have written a lot about the Republican majority inventing problems it wants to solve and I want to stick with class warfare. The real problem, as opposed to a make believe one, is that the president is not in capitulation mode, anymore. In fact, Obama is taking the argument to the Republicans with the American Jobs Act and calling them out in the process. He has gone on offense. Boo-Hiss, again.

"We're going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party," Obama told the crowd of union members in Detroit. "The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs." That’s got to sting as only the truth can.

At a Denver campaign stop on September 20th, the president told a crowd that Republicans in Washington have "a habit of becoming curiously deaf to the voice of the people. They have a hard time hearing what the ordinary people of the country are saying. But they have no trouble at all hearing what Wall Street is saying. They are able to catch the slightest whisper from big business and the special interests." That president was Harry S. Truman and the year was 1948. “What I am really telling you is not that the Republicans are coming, but they are here. They have been in Washington for the last 2 years in the form of the notorious Republican ‘do-nothing’80th Congress.”

Truman represented the middle class and took it to his Republican opposition who gave him a load of Boo-Hiss. “Big business is against any aid to the farmers, and the Republican leaders in Congress are the errand boys of big business and special privilege,” Truman told his Winona, Minnesota audience on October 14, 1948. He explained the term he had coined, a handle if you will, that the 112th Congress is trying to avoid being called – “do-nothing.” Truman said, “That is why the Republican 80th ‘do-nothing’ Congress--I mean do nothing for the people, they did something for the special interests all right . . .”

Republican sympathizers like to point to President Obama’s decline in the polls, as if they are proud of their low polling numbers. It is a point that the administration notes as well. Republicans pointed to Truman’s polling more 60 years ago, too. In fact, here is the Gallup comparison of presidential approval in September: 1951 Truman -- Approve 32%, Disapprove 54%; 2011 Obama -- Approve 41%, Disapprove 51%.

“By 1948, Truman began to employ a more relaxed, folksy, and sometimes fiery speaking technique,” according to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “He combined both style and substance in launching effective attacks against the Republicans.” He took his argument to the people by train. On Truman's "whistle-stops”, he attacked the Republican Congress, warned that a Republicans White House would repeal the New Deal, and reminded voters that the Democrats had saved the country from the depression.

"If you give the Republicans complete control of this government, you might just as well turn it over to the special interests and we'll start on a boom and bust cycle and try to go through just what we did in the twenties. And end up with a crash which in the long run will do nobody any good but the Communists," he said. Truman won the 1948 election against all odds.

The Republican class warfare charge is also dated in our relatively recent political history. A Republican opposition originally accused President Franklin D. Roosevelt of turning class against class. Although FDR came from elite wealth, he championed the middle class in his opposition to such wealthy elite. “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob,” Roosevelt said. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.” Evidently, so does Obama.

“If asking a millionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher makes me a class warrior, a warrior for the middle class, I will accept that; I’ll wear that as a badge of honor,” President Obama said in a speech promoting his jobs bill recently in Denver. “Because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade now.” So President Obama’s new strategy is similar to Truman’s – be aggressive, push new ideas, and call out those who oppose him. They do not like him anyway.

Is it working for Obama? Just listen to the Boo-Hiss. The right’s most ardent Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer protests that Obama’s new tack is “anti-millionaire populism” from a “self-proclaimed class warrior.” Speaker John Boehner tweets, “Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership.” Yes, the Speaker of the House tweets.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says, “Members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do when they go home at the end of the year if they’ve done nothing, nothing, to address the urgent need to help our economy and create jobs. ... Their constituents are demanding it.”

American Enterprise Institute political scholar Norm Ornstein says, "Republicans came in believing the radical, conservative ideology is what voters were aiming for -- and more confrontation." However, President Obama’s inability to quickly solve the nation’s economic situation has only reinforced the right’s ideological advantage, according to others. Even though poll after poll shows that the public wants less confrontation, toned-down rhetoric and a spirit of bipartisanship, it has not worked for Obama.

The president has been recast. Like Truman before him, Obama has decided that populism only works when it is taken out of Washington and out of a studio. He has changed his tone and is again on the public speaking circuit. That the fractious right has taken up class warfare as an issue demonstrates that Republicans have become defensive. Boo-Hiss.

# # #

Article first published as Class Warfare: Boo--Hiss on Blogcritics.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Tea Party Shutdown Movie

Since January 5, 2011, for John Boehner (R-OH), his position as Speaker of the House has been just a title in words not in deed. The words are those of the 1789 US Constitution. The Speaker presides over the proceedings of the House and is the highest position in the House leadership. However, the deed is that Boehner does not demonstrate leadership of the majority party. The Tea Party wing that enabled the GOP to achieve its majority status has also rendered it factious. Once again it has compromised Boehner’s speakership by its handling of a Continuing Resolution to fund the government. Once again, oblivious to public opinion, House action threatens us with a government shutdown.

Tea Party Republicans defied their leaders and brought down a bill to keep the government running after September 30 because it did not meet their demands to make deeper spending cuts. In the past, disaster relief rushed out of Congress with strong backing from both parties. Not this time. Instead, the House Republicans made it the focus of a political issue: offsetting the cost of funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with cuts elsewhere.

The bill failed. Boehner and his operatives cobbled together support for a slightly different but essentially similar bill. They brought some recalcitrant freshmen on board in video and photo opportunities with the old pros to recite sound bites, and then narrowly passed a stopgap bill two days later.

“We are now watching the Tea Party shutdown movie for the third time this year,” said Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) of the House not passing the CR. “The ending isn’t surprising,” Durbin said on MSNBC. “It isn’t even interesting anymore. They can’t get together the basic Republican votes on the House side to even pass the continuing resolution they agreed to just a few weeks ago, let alone some disaster aid for a country that’s been hard-hit by a lot of disasters.”

A Continuing Resolution is a temporary measure designed to buy time for negotiations to continue when the fiscal year ends. In the past, as with raising the debt ceiling, passing a stopgap was routine business. It becomes necessary when the House and Senate fail to agree on appropriations bills to fund government for a whole fiscal year, as is the case. Tea Party Republicans said they believed their party should push for deeper cuts at every turn. 50 of them signed a letter to Boehner calling for those deeper budget cuts and when those demands were not met, 48 of them voted against their own party’s bill.

So did Democrats, but for different reasons. Former Speaker of the House and now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that Democrats believed disaster funds were for emergencies and no offset spending cuts would be acceptable to her members. Asked whether there might be any offset that House Democrats would back, Pelosi said, “I think I answered that question: there has never been an offset for disaster assistance.”

Boehner and other House leaders had to rewrite the measure to appease Democrats and to appeal to the Tea Party wing of their own party. Democrats saw the amount of disaster assistance as inadequate and objected to the Republicans’ insistence on offsetting some of the cost with cuts elsewhere. They remained nearly united against the measure. So, Boehner cracked the proverbial whip with his members and the revised bill passed by seven votes to go to the Senate in time for the House to go on recess.

"The House bill is not an honest effort at compromise," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "It fails to provide the relief that our fellow Americans need as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of floods, wildfires and hurricanes, and it will be rejected by the Senate." Saying that he had hoped House Republicans would move toward the middle Reid said, "Instead, they moved even further toward the Tea Party." 

The Senate voted 59 to 36 to table the House bill, which effectively killed it.

The funding for the federal government got wrapped up into the debate about FEMA funding and they became tied together. Speaker Boehner had assumed and hoped that the stopgap bill to keep government operating until November 18 would be a routine matter, as such resolutions usually are. Instead, the matter blew up and illustrated that his control of the House majority only exists on paper.

The government’s funding will run out Friday evening, September 30, if something is not passed by then. Of course both Democrats and Republicans have repeatedly said that they do not want a government shutdown and they do not want to have FEMA run out of funds. However, just how they are going to achieve that is anything but clear.

So House Republicans decided to blame the Senate and its Majority Leader Harry Reid for the impasse. Led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), they contend that the Senate is responsible for blocking desperately needed disaster dollars from flowing to FEMA.

“Harry Reid is now talking about perhaps bringing up a clean CR without disaster relief funding,” Cantor said, and that the House acted to provide the disaster relief. “If that happens, FEMA will run out of money, and it will be on Harry Reid’s shoulders because he won’t act,” Cantor said.

For the record, in October 2004, Cantor voted against an amendment to an emergency supplemental bill for disaster aid that would have "fully offset" the cost of that supplemental with "a proportional reduction of FY05 discretionary funding" elsewhere. The 2004 emergency supplemental was proposed after five hurricanes hit the United States, including Tropical Storm Gaston, which did damage to Cantor's home district of Richmond.

Meanwhile, Speaker Boehner shrugged off the defeat as the price of trying to get legislation through the democratic process. "I have no fear in allowing the House to work its will," he said. "Does it make my life a little more difficult? Yes it does." Boehner added, "There is no threat of a government shutdown. Let's just get this out there."

Are there philosophical differences within the Republican Party, as has been suggested in our media, particularly in the House of Representatives? If there are, that would require intelligence and thought such that would lend it to making compromises in the best interests of House member constituencies. As the polls suggest, however, that does not appear to be the case. Instead, the differences are not philosophical but ideological. That relies on slogans and sound bites, scripts that are rehearsed and recited that require neither thought nor care. Unfortunately, such last minute play acting is making the audience weary of disagreement and threats.

The threat of a government shutdown proved to be just a threat back in April. Likewise, the threat of government default proved to be just a threat in August, but with collateral credit rating fallout. With this threat of a government shutdown, it should be of little wonder that Gallup’s Congressional Approval poll finds 15% of Americans approve of Congress and 82% do not. It is also clear that despite his efforts, the current Speaker of the House is only the leader of the majority of the majority which has compromised his leadership. Boehner maybe acting as a leader, but he is just part of the audience.

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Article originally published as The Tea Party Shutdown Movie on Blogcritics

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hating Obama and Raising Money

There are two messages being sent to us by the House of Representatives. "Hate Obama. Vote Republican." The other message is, "Save the Rich. GOP Now." But, the question the American people want answered is, "How are you going to guide the country?" Pending focus groups, we’ll have to wait for an answer. Meanwhile, House Republicans showed the country that they do not think that trust is an issue. They did two things last week to prove that. First, they voted for the country to default, which would increase the deficit they oppose. Second, they voted to help send jobs overseas, which they excoriate. They also seek reelection at the time when their approval rating is less than 13% and expect the country to reward such delusional behavior.

That will work if the country is delusional, too.

On September 13 the House passed a resolution of disapproval of the debt ceiling deal that they passed in August. They had also granted themselves the right to pass a resolution saying they disapproved of it. They passed such a resolution. I did not make that up. Never mind that the Senate has already rejected their attempt to put the country into default and that House Republicans do not have enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. They passed it anyway.

HJR 77 says, “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves of the President’s exercise of authority to increase the debt limit, as exercised pursuant to the certification under section 3101A(a) of title 31, United States Code.”

To put this in context, the Republican House also passed the "Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act" just two days later. According to the GOP, HR 2587 essentially prevents the National Labor Relations Board from doing its job, which is what “government interference" means to them. They do not say that, naturally, but that is what the bill does. The other thing it does is to pander to the corporations that fund the Republican Party.

“This bill dismantles key functions of the National Labor Relations Board and guts more than 70 years of established labor law in our country,” said Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) in opposition. “If this legislation becomes law, it would eliminate nearly all worker protections when companies illegally fire workers and close or move plants in retaliation for union activities.”

Remember the GOP “Pledge to America?” It promised a “government more transparent in its actions” and “honest in its dealings.” They lied or forgot about it.

Today’s consumer confidence rating is the fourth lowest since 1952, according to GOP pollster Bill McInturff. “The collapse of confidence in government has substantially eroded already weak consumer confidence.” The debt ceiling negotiation profoundly reshaped our view of the economy and the federal government that has yet to be realized in full measure. “It has led to a scary erosion in confidence . . . at a time when this steep drop in confidence can be least afforded.”

When the GOP’s McInturff says, “We are entering a new phase of the American political dialogue that has been irrevocably shifted in a way that will prove difficult to predict,” he is not kidding. Why would he? By its actions however, the GOP does not seem to care about such cause and effect. It seems to think that default is an option. It seems to care more about the party itself and raising money than it cares about the best interests of American people and real governance.

Hating Obama is a posture, not a policy. The resuscitation of Republican party that brought enough new members to the 112th Congress to create a majority succeeded by rallying contempt for the new Democratic administration, personified by the president. HJR 77 and HR 2587 are more posturing. Neither bill advances a course of action to address chronic U.S. unemployment or to improve our anemic economy. Neither bill demonstrates smart opposition. Instead they lend credence to the cynical observation that the GOP agenda is to maintain the recession in order to win a national election.

Hating Obama and raising enough money to mount a successful campaign may not be as mutually sustainable as the GOP seems to believe.

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Article first published as Hating Obama and Raising Money on Blogcritics.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Presidential Approval: So What?

Presidential popularity begs a lot of questions. The most important question at election time is what candidate gets the most Electoral College votes, making the popular vote only interesting. Presidential approval begins with inauguration day and can be less than 50% to start, as with the administrations of Kennedy, Carter and “W” Bush. Between 1961 and 2001, voters changed their opinions widely about the eight presidents who occupied the White House. They disapproved of all of the presidents and demonstrated that economics drives public opinion more than current events.

Gallup has been tracking presidential job approval since Harry Truman took office in 1945. The Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center shows President Obama with an all-time high of 69%, when he took office in January 2009, and a to-date low of 40% recorded at the end of July. He is about two-months shy of being in office 1000 days and his average approval is 50%. Regardless of how one interprets the data, one thing abundantly clear: an awful lot of people disapprove of a President most of the time. Who is in office does not really matter.

Imagine becoming President with barely half of the vote by any measure. In 1960 Democrat Senator John Kennedy became president by defeating Vice President Richard Nixon with a 0.1% margin of the popular vote, 49.7% to 49.6%. Since JFK’s overall approval is 70.1%, he is assumed to have been well approved by Americans. That was not the case at the time. People who did not like him personally despised him. In the South for example, I remember seeing Ku Klux Klan bonfires burning to celebrate his assassination because Kennedy was a Catholic and a pro-civil rights president.

JFK also sent the first US troops to a country few people had ever heard of – Vietnam. During his 1036 days in office, JFK’s budgets ran deficits to finance his New Frontier programs. His approval ratings scored a high of 83% and a low of 56%. They had been trending down when he was murdered.

JFK’s Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency and then won the 1964 election in a landslide, defeating Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. LBJ also won the popular vote by a margin of 61.1% to 38.5 %. Johnson’s overall 55.1% approval rating ranged from a high of 79% to a low of 35%. He used his popularity when he had it, too. His Administration submitted 87 bills to the 89th Congress and LBJ signed 84 of them into law.

''This country,'' LBJ said, ''is rich enough to do anything it has the guts to do and the vision to do and the will to do.'' His Great Society is still with us ''in Medicare and Medicaid, in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the rivers and lakes we swim in; in the colleges our students attend; in the medical miracles from the National Institutes of Health; in mass transportation and equal opportunity,'' as former Johnson advisor Joseph A. Califano has stated. LBJ also expanded costly US involvement in the Vietnam War. With his approval ratings in decline, Johnson did not run for reelection.

As a private citizen, former Republican Vice President Richard Nixon won his second campaign for president in 1968 defeating two other candidates: LBJ’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran as an Independent. Wallace captured 13.5% of the popular vote, leaving a 0.7% margin between Nixon and Humphrey, 43.4% to 42.7%. Although Nixon won reelection in a 1972 landslide victory and 60.7% of the popular vote, he resigned the presidency under the threat of impeachment and saw his approval numbers fall from a high of 67% to a low of 24%. Nixon had an overall term and a half approval rating of 49%.

Nixon inherited a weak economy from the Johnson administration but delivered a balanced budget in 1969. However, inflation, rising energy costs and high unemployment troubled Nixon’s administration. Despite wage and price controls and other measures that did not work, Nixon’s budget plans included using large deficits to marginally improve the economy. Although Nixon called upon “the great silent majority” for support, continued expansion of the Vietnam War, including bombing Cambodia, and the costs of war in addition to the Watergate scandal further degraded his approval numbers.

After Nixon’s resignation, Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency and served its remaining 845 days only to lose his subsequent election bid in 1976. During his time in the White House, Ford gave Nixon a presidential pardon and concluded US involvement in the Vietnam War. His overall approval rating scored 47.2% for the time of American discouragement with politics that followed the highly publicized Watergate hearings that contributed to Ford’s becoming president. Ford’s approval ranged from a high of 71% to a low of 37%. Despite the Ford “Whip Inflation Now" program, 7% inflation and growing unemployment continued to weaken the economy that had slipped into recession and further eroded his approval numbers.

The next presidential race was so close, many voters stayed up until the early morning hours to see Georgia’s Democrat Governor Jimmy Carter win the 1976 election. A US Naval Academy graduate and peanut farmer, Carter won the election with a less than a 2% popular vote margin, 50.1% to 48%. Elected by just half of the voters like Jack Kennedy, Jimmy Carter only earned an overall approval rating of 45.5% that ranged from a high of 75% to a low of 28%. The federal government was in deficit every year of the Carter presidency. Slow recovery from the ’73-‘75 recession, fuel shortages, double-digit inflation and 9% unemployment plagued the Carter administration which lasted one term only. The American hostage situation in Iran exacerbated disapproval of Carter.

The country turned to a former Hollywood actor and spokesperson in the 1980 election of California Republican Governor Ronald Reagan, who won with 50.7% of the popular vote to Carter’s 41% and Independent Congressman John Anderson’s 6.6% protest vote. Reagan got his landslide reelection four years later, defeating former Vice President Walter Mondale by 58.8% to 40.6%. While Reagan’s overall approval rating is 52.8%, it ranged from a high of 68% to a low of 38%.

Reagan survived an assassination attempt and took credit for the end of Communism with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although he railed against the debt ceiling, it raised 17 times during his eight-year administration. His supply side “Reaganomics,” which his critics called “voodoo

economics,” created more new debt than the combined deficits of all previous presidents. While Reagan said he was committed to reducing government spending, it rose by $321 billion during his presidency, to more than a trillion dollars. He also raised taxes seven times. Only his age and the 22nd Amendment prevented Reagan from running for a third term.

Instead, with a revenue improved economy, the enormous popularity of Ronald Reagan and relative world peace, Vice President George H. W. Bush won the presidency by defeating Massachusetts Democrat Governor Michael Dukakis by a popular vote margin of 53.4% to 45.7%. Best known for his famous pledge, "Read my lips: no new taxes," a recession began. Rising deficits, a declining economy plus a growth in mandatory spending began to further increase the federal deficit. Bush’s approval ratings ranged from a high of 89% to a low of 29%.

By 1990 the deficit had grown to three times its size in 1980. The federal government shut down for three days and the Democratic majority in Congress eventually forced Bush to raise tax revenues. But events of the Gulf War pushed economic issues out of the news and Bush ended up with an overall approval rating of 60.9% for his term in office, second only to Kennedy.

After three Republican presidential terms and the economy again in recession, two candidates ran against President Bush in the 1992 election: Arkansas Democrat Governor Bill Clinton and Independent businessman Ross Perot. Bush's 89% approval ratings following the Persian Gulf War made him look like a certain winner, but the economy trumped his approval ratings at the ballot box. Clinton prevailed with 43% of the popular vote to Bush’s 37.5% and Perot’s 18.9%. Ross Perot capitalized on the economic woe in his 1992 campaign and ran again in 1996. He siphoned an 8.4% popular vote as incumbent President Clinton defeated Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole 49.2% to 40.7%.

The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the longest economic expansion period in US history. Only the second president to be impeached by the House, the Senate failed to muster the Constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an officeholder. Despite the impeachment and another government shutdown, Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any US president since World War II at 60.6%. His highest approval rating scored 73% and his lowest recorded 37%.

Economy tends to trump political events no matter how much of a splash those events create. Kennedy’s high rating occurred because he died in office before his first term ended. Reagan’s approval rating of 52.8% falls behind the 55.1% approval rating of LBJ and Bill Clinton, who tie for 3rd place. George H.W. Bush comes in second to JFK at 60.9%. Those are the numbers.

Here are some more. Take a look at the disapproval ratings for the eight presidents and keep them in mind the next time approval ratings is brought up as some kind of data being foisted as something significant.

John Kennedy: 56

Lyndon Johnson: 35

Richard Nixon: 26

Gerald Ford: 37

Jimmy Carter: 29

Ronald Reagan: 37

George H.W. Bush: 38

Bill Clinton: 37

The public changes its mind with regularity and presidents are just not that popular. Why anyone would want such a job is another question.

Article first published as Presidential Approval: So What? on Blogcritics.