A Proposed Colloquy

“Mr. President, Speaker Boehner says that he will not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless there are trillions of dollars in spending cuts.  How do you respond?”

“Well, Jake, since the Speaker has refused to make the very wealthiest pay their fair share, and has taken Defense spending off the table, the only way to get trillions of dollars in spending cuts is to dismantle Medicare and Social Security.  So essentially, he’s saying that the Republican Party will cause a collapse of the US economy unless it gets to dismantle Medicare and Social Security.  I won’t let them do either one, and I think that the American public agrees with me.”

Election Law Question of the Day

If progressives are mouting a campaign to recall the GOP state Senators who voted to crush labor, and then Governor Scott Walker, then why not include US Senator Ross Johnson as well?  There would be no better time to do it, and he certainly deserves it.  I suspect that the answer lies in the fact that Johnson is a federal official, but that’s not necessarily true: federal elections are often settled by state law.

UPDATE: Several people (including a commenter) have said that recalling federal officials is unconstitutional and that it is “settled law” (one person) or the US Supreme Court has decided it (another).  Neither is right, as far as I can tell.  The most recent case on point is Committee to Recall Robert Menendez v. Wells, 7 A.3d 720 (N.J. 2010), which concluded that it is unconstitutional.  But that’s the New Jersey Supreme Court, not a federal court.  And if there is any authority on point regarding this, the New Jersey Supremes couldn’t find it.  Maybe the point is that it’s hard to generate the revenue to mount an effort of this nature, knowing that there is a decent chance that it will be thrown out.  But that’s why a recall move against Johnson would work: the effort is already in place.

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”: The Coach and the President Heed an African Proverb

African-American leaders know better than to frighten their followers. Shouldn’t the rest of us know better than to berate them for their self-restraint?

The people who’ve spent the past several seasons calling for the head of Coach Lovie Smith on the grounds that he’s “ignorant and weak” and “emotionless” (among many less printable adjectives) are nowhere to be found since he led the Chicago Bears to the NFL Conference championships. Having failed to bury Smith, they absolutely refuse to praise him.

Why?   Because Coach Smith is a soft-spoken professional who leads not by shrieking but by—well, leading.   Chicagoans, particularly Chicago sports fans, can’t seem to wrap their heads around the notion that this gentle man— this gentleman—could possibly be any good at coaching football. That’s because the mold for Da Coach was set by Mike Ditka, a screaming, foul-mouthed, temper-losing maniac whose heart attack only narrowly missed taking place on the field.   If you’re not yelling like that, you must not be leading.

But if Coach Smith behaved like that—berating his players and abusing the press in rants liberally sprinkled with profanity—we’d hear nothing but tut-tuts about what an angry black man he was.  Probably neither the fans nor the team itself would be willing to follow him.  It’s no accident that the most successful African-American coaches — Tony Dungee, Mike Singletary, Lovie Smith — are all matter-of-fact and free of braggadocio.   That’s the way black men have to negotiate the world to avoid waking the not-very-soundly sleeping dogs of white racism.

Which brings us to the case of President Obama.   Everyone who derides him for not being tough enough—for not being Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson—seems to forget that they’re speaking of someone whose life has required constant attention to the problem of being non-threatening.   That’s quite a challenge for a man who’s tall, brilliant and black.

But the President has succeeded at it through a combination of self-deprecation (“a skinny kid with a funny name”) and unshakable composure (“No-Drama Obama”).   If instead he’d emulated FDR in saying of his opponents “I welcome their hatred,” Fox News would have announced that he hated all white people. (Oh, right, someone on that network did that anyway.)   If like LBJ he’d insisted a reporter accompany him while he used the toilet, he wouldn’t be considered a lively and original character but just some ghetto type who didn’t know how to behave.

Consider the reportage when the president held a news conference explaining his decision to make the tax-cut compromise.  Having answered a series of questions designed to get him to say that he’d betrayed his promises, his party and his people, he was finally irate enough to respond, “It’s the health care battle all over again. Some people would rather rest in their purity than get something done,” or words to that effect.   As a rebuke goes, his was a pretty mild one.   But it was sufficient to produce several weeks of headlines about how the President had “scolded” his party and how “angry” he was.   If he’d actually been angry, we’d probably have seen articles of impeachment.

So all the people who want to give the President—and the Coach, for that matter—lessons in leadership should bear in mind that both men have learned precisely how much force they can use before that force is turned against them.   And they haven’t learned it from the Op-Ed pages or the screaming-heads fests.   Experience keeps a hard school but we will learn at no other.

I myself wrote—but fortunately did not post—the following incredibly misguided advice:

I understand the President’s unwillingness to assume the role of Angry Black Man into which his opponents wish to thrust him. But when the people on the other side of the table are card-carrying members of the Paranoid Style in American Politics, it’s time to stand up and call them the proto-fascists they are.   And hoping they’ll be willing to compromise seems a deliberate act of denial, like whistling past the graveyard. Instead, Barack Obama should emulate Harry Truman.   Give ’em hell, Barry!

WRONG!   As the Tucson shootings demonstrate, the last thing we need right now is public officials giving each other high-decibel hell.   And even if hell were called for, a black man in power couldn’t be the one to deliver it.   That’s an indulgence reserved for powerful white men—and every powerful black man knows it. It’s time the rest of us learned the same lesson.

The volume of reproach and disappointment and disapproval and correction directed at Coach Smith and the President says nothing about their leadership ability.   It’s purely a reflection of the fears and fantasies a significant subgroup of American white people have about American black people.   The fact that one of them produced a championship team, and the other achieved the health-care reform none of his white predecessors could manage (among many other victories), demonstrates that they’re far better leaders than anyone less challenged could dream of being.

So let’s stop giving them hell.

First responders

Two first-responder stories highlight the need for health reform.

I saw three news stories yesterday that add up to one message that seems right for this season.

The first was Jonathan Cohn’s New Republic/Kaiser Health News piece noting Republicans’ basic plan for poor people is to cut Medicaid and other programs that provide health care for them. During the health reform debate, Congressional Budget Office analyses of Republican proposals consistently found that these would only cover a miniscule fraction of the uninsured. Beneath a thin rhetorical veneer, Republicans unapologetically argue that we should just leave tens of millions of people uninsured.

The second was Jon Stewart’s evisceration of those same Republicans for filibustering legislation providing health benefits to 9/11 first responders. Stewart focused on the target-rich environment of Republican hypocrisy. For those who fell asleep under a tree during the Clinton administration, FOX news has spent the last nine years honing its partisan 9/11 rage machine, trotting out first responders to attack opponents of the Iraq war and torture, not to mention the “Ground Zero Mosque” as soft on terrorism and unpatriotic. Yet FOX was oddly silent when Republicans blocked the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to help those same first responders pay for their lung diseases, cancers, and other serious health difficulties.

Yet watch that clip and read up on these providers’ real problems. Continue reading “First responders”

Holes in the Ground on Wall Street

A more sympathetic take on the tax deal.

I was going to do another post on Obama´s loss of nerve, compulsive Broderist triangulation, cringe to the Tea Party hicks, selling out his base, etc. But now comes the tax deal, and I thought again. I respect Andrew´s gloomy take, but don´t share it.

Basically Obama had a choice between

  • letting all the tax cuts expire (the default outcome of a gridlocked Congress), scoring a satisfying victory against the malefactors of great wealth, and improving long-run fiscal sustainability at the expense of short-term employment;
  • making a deal along the lines he has, improving the short-run prospects for the economy, protecting (if only for one year) many of a large group of vulnerable Americans, the long-term unemployed, and giving the rich and their GOP tools the tax cut they crave for two years.

That he chose the second reveals a lot about his priorities, and they are sound. Morally, as it´s more important to do good to your needy friends than to punish your enemies. Politically, as the White House seems to have relearnt the Clinton lesson from the mid-terms: ITES. [Update as this confused commenters: ¨It´s The Economy, Stupid.¨] (I agree that it would have been much better to have seen this earlier). It looks OK to kick the long-run fiscal sustainability problem down the road for two years. Andrew´s right, full-employment US taxes will have to go back to Clinton levels at least, someday.

Giving away money to investment bankers to spend on Ferraris, caviar and cocaine is about the second most inefficient and inequitable stimulus imaginable. It´s still a stimulus. Every billion helps Obama´s reelection prospects and ordinary Americans a little.

Ordinary Irish and Greeks too.

The title is a tip to Keynes. General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Chapter 10, VI:

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.

The Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire

Bumbling Greek terrorists and American electors

A pair of amateur Greek terrorists were arrested on Monday after mailing a round of small, primitive and easily detected letter bombs. The only professional touch to their groupuscule was the terrific name (above). The bad-taste video game is no doubt in the works, but I doubt if the inventors can claim the rights from prison.

Messrs. Tsakalos and Argyrou are understandably upset about the brutal austerity programme imposed by the EU and the bond market as a condition for bailing out Greece (or more accurately, Greece´s bondholders). So they, less understandably, mailed bombs to:

  • Angela Merkel
  • Nicolas Sarkozy
  • ¨the embassies of Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Chile, the Netherlands and Belgium.¨

Merkel was the bad cop on the Greek bailout, so you can follow the thinking. Sarkozy played good cop, but with his usual shallow opportunism, and joined Merkel in the end. Belgium supports everything the EU does and Zurich banks are, as is well known, staffed by evil gnomes. But what have Bulgaria, Mexico and Chile done recently to the hapless Greeks?

The mailboxes of the following appear to have been left undisturbed:

  • the previous Greek Prime Minister, Finance Minister, head of the Central Bank, and head of the tax collection service,
  • the national statistical office of Greece, who cooked the books to order, and Eurostat, who failed to notice for years;
  • the ECB and the inventors of the Euro and Stability Pact;
  • Moody´s, S &P, and Fitch – the corrupt and/or incompetent rating agencies;
  • Goldman Sachs and other investment banks who advised Greece on how to game the system.

In other words, the poor saps had no idea who was really responsible for the mess their country is in and just lashed out blindly at friends, foes and innocent bystanders.

Just like American electors.

If the shoe doesn’t fit, why does it make you so comfortable?

It’s clearly unfair to lump Republicans together with the Tea Party—says a Republican outraged that anyone would criticize the Tea Party.

Vice President Biden said yesterday that the alternative to President Obama was the “Republican Tea Party.”  A leading Republican senator was outraged. But note how he expressed his outrage:

“I can’t imagine any elected official making fun of people becoming highly involved in the electoral process,” said Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) when asked to comment on Biden’s remarks. “I just don’t see how that’s healthy. And yes, I think people who might criticize people getting highly engaged in the electoral process — I think that’s problematic and I just don’t understand why one would perceive criticizing that to be a good thing” (emphasis in original).

In other words, Corker’s objection to being lumped in with the Tea Party consists in lashing out at, and weirdly portraying as an opponent of all civic engagement, anybody who criticizes the Tea Party.

I can’t think of a tag line for this better than Biden’s: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

What if the Republicans DON’T Take Back Congress?

Holding onto to Congress gives us a glimmer of a chance to effect the most positive change in US political culture in 30 years.

This summer and fall, the Democrats are playing defense — and that makes sense.  A rotten economy puts the majority party on the defensive, and retirements combined with the big victories in 2006 and 2008 means that we are mostly trying to hang on.

But it doesn’t get the base energized very well.  “Let’s try not to make our losses too big” really doesn’t inspire the faithful.

So let’s try looking at it another way — what if the Republicans DON’T take back the House and Senate this year?  What might that mean?

They have waged all-out war on the Democrats, on Obama, on American institutions of governance, on the economy, on common sense, on decency, on facts, and even on the Constitution.  They have their entire noise machine going full throttle.  And by far most importantly, they are massively helped by the greatest recession since the Great Depression, a recession they created and for which the voters are now blaming the Democrats.  This should be a piece of cake for them. So what if Nancy Pelosi still holds the gavel in January?

Put another way, we can think of this election as an opportunity — simply by virtue of maintaining control, we can begin the work of destroying Movement Conservatism in this country.  Not conservatism, surely; no one should want that.  Nor the Republican Party; no one should want that, either.  But the Conservative Movement — the nexus of shadowy (and not so shadowy) institutions, fake think tanks, insider pressure lobbies, 527s, Wednesday Morning Groups, astroturf organizations, talk radio gasbags, media echo chambers — that has done more to poison the political culture of this country for the last 3 decades, might show itself, much like the Soviet Union in the late 1970’s, to be superficially powerful but rotten at the core.

Consider the issue from the perspective of a conservative.  The Democrats have elected the first Black president, enacted universal health coverage, restored New Deal regulation in the financial sector, put together the biggest domestic spending bill in decades, openly supported gay marriage and made it stick — and even then, with all of the financial resources and institutional infrastructure, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Movement still cannot engineer a political victory.

Perhaps — just perhaps — conservatives might begin to consider that the Movement they have placed so much of their hope on might not be the way to go.  Perhaps — just perhaps — they might consider that actual argument based on actual facts might be a useful method of reaching the electorate.

Politicians often talk about bipartisanship, but how are you to achieve it?  Not in the first run through reason, or through compromise.  You do it by beating the crazies like a drum until they realize they simply cannot continue to survive as a political force until they recognize that reality exists.

No, I wouldn’t bet on it, either.  But if the GOP does take back either or both Houses of Congress, the Movement will see it as vindication.  If it fails, perhaps someone on the other side of the political spectrum will realize that it is time to change course.  Political scientists call this a “realignment.”  I favor the disease analogy: it might just be time to let the fever break.

Teachers’ Association President proves a point.

California Teachers Association president David A. Sanchez makes the strongest case he can for Tom Torlakson in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Draw your own conclusions.

California Teachers Association president David A. Sanchez makes the strongest case he can in less than a minute for supporting Tom Torlakson for Superintendent of Public Instruction in today’s California primary election.

If you find this compelling, vote for Torlakson. If not, there is an alternative.

This isn’t likely to become moot after today: there will probably be a runoff for this nonpartisan office in November.

Wage slavery

With due respect to Mark (here and here), I think that Rand Paul’s real problems in 90-percent-white Kentucky will stem from the implications of his radical libertarianism for working-class whites, not African-Americans.

Jonathan Singer at mydd.com asks four questions that Paul couldn’t answer in a way that would make him both truthful and electable:

  1. Do you believe the federal minimum wage is constitutional?
  2. Do you believe federal overtime laws are constitutional?
  3. Do you believe the federal government has the power to enact work safety laws and regulations?
  4. Do you believe that federal child labor laws are constitutional?

Here’s where the Tea Partiers have made their mistake, and fallen into thinking they’re more popular than they are. Americans are “anti-government,” but not in the way that extreme libertarians are.  You can scare them with talk of pork, corruption, Big Government, welfare or debt.  You can’t win them over by taking aim at everything that protects them from being slaves of their bosses (namely, well, government—unless one prefers unions).  The position that private action, however deplorable, is not a fit subject for government action puts libertarians in the position of repeating simultaneously all the things that are wrong with the world and their resolute determination to do nothing about them. Yes, I know that some commenters will say the Constitution requires this.  But that will be all the more reason for most voters to stop listening to what Paul and his supporters say, with a sincere tone of subjective authority, about the Constitution.

(via J.P. Green at The Democratic Strategist)