Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
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
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
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.”
Thursday, October 6, 2011
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.
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Article first published as Class Warfare: Boo--Hiss on Blogcritics.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
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.
Article first published as Hating Obama and Raising Money on Blogcritics.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
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.
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.
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%.
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
Article first published as Presidential Approval: So What? on Blogcritics.