Distance-lends-clarity Dep’t

A minister in the Tory-led UK coalition has said out loud that the House Republicans are a bunch of “nutters” who constitute a threat to the world financial system.

Vince Cable, an economist, is the Business Secretary in the UK center-right coalition government. Remarking on the irony of all the attention being focused on the Greek crisis and the future of the Euro when developments in the U.S. are so financially scary, he said yesterday:

The biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress.

Of course, lots of us – most of the readers of this blog, for example – already knew that the House GOP is dominated by “nutters.” But the mass public doesn’t – or at least didn’t –  know that, and the commentariat mostly didn’t think it polite to mention the fact: far easier (as Churchill said) to evenhandedly denounce the fire department and the fire.

The people feverishly denouncing Obama’s “sell-out” seem to me to be deficient in empathy. Not needing themselves to learn the lesson he’s been teaching for the past six weeks, they err in concluding that the rest of the populace also didn’t need to learn it. But they did, and do, and I predict that when the history of the 2012 election – and perhaps of the Teahadi movement in general – is written, this will turn out to have been its decisive month.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

18 thoughts on “Distance-lends-clarity Dep’t”

  1. You may be right, but it is easy to see what one wants to see in ambiguous data.

  2. From Wikipedia on Vince Cable:
    “On the issue of fiscal stimulus, Cable told the BBC in October 2008, “it is entirely wrong for the government to assume the economy should be stimulated by yet more public spending rather than tax cuts”. In February 2009, however, he said, “we believe — and the Government say that they believe — in the need for a fiscal stimulus. Despite the severe financial constraints on the public sector, we believe that such a stimulus is right and necessary”.

    On the principle of the independence of the Bank of England, Cable said at the 2008 Liberal Democrat party conference, “The Government must not compromise the independence of the Bank of England by telling it to slash interest rates.” The following month, though, he called on the Chancellor to urge the Governor of the Bank to make “a large cut in interest rates”. The Liberal Democrats have responded that this in no way changes their policy on Bank of England independence.”
    The rest of the article paints a picture of a quirky, bumbling social democrat, who also said:

    “But you’re quite right, and one of the problems of being a British MP is that you do tend to get rather parochial and I haven’t been to the States for years and years, so I wouldn’t claim to have any feel for what’s been going on there.”

    You lay down with Vince Cable and you come up smelling like Joe Biden.

  3. My optimistic reading of the evenings events agree with Mark: Obama is laying the groundwork to a controversial yet decisive end to the hostsage crisis. He needs to win popular support, and if you have followed polling on the debt ceiling and approaches to deficit reduction in the last months, you see that ALL of the momentum is on his side. My pessimistic reading is that he knows we are going down, and he is doing his best to lay this at the feet of the House GOP.

  4. I don’t think Obama’s stance is purely tactical. I think he genuinely believes that democracy only survives if the parties are sane, and he is trying to appeal to and nourish the few grains of sanity left on the right. A smashing political victory won’t help all that much if it just fuels the flames of crazy and makes the next crisis the GOP manufactures that much harder to solve. As others have noted, Obama generally plays the long game. Add to that that brute politics probably won’t work here, and you get more reasons. But this is speculative, of course.

  5. It’s a nice post Mark. But I notice you may be making the same mistake as Tom Friedman did on Sunday.
    Of course his error is much larger: He believes the great unwashed middle can rise into a passionate alternate party to save the country(!).
    Whereas you merely think they can be bothered to pay attention long enough to learn a simple fact…
    I think you have the more sincere argument…

    I noticed our media helped the fire department by giving equal time to Speaker Cigarette.
    As if this was a campaign. In all fairness we should have heard from Senator Reid too.
    We didn’t.

    But I have to agree with you and the sentiments of the posts upthread: Obama is finally taking a prod and trying to get the middle class to moo a bit…
    I suspect the prod may need a lot more juice.

    One more thing…
    He used the dirty D word finally: Dysfunctional.
    That may seem like a small step for this man, but I suspect it may prove to be a huge leap for this country…

  6. @mark–the main idea of your final paragraph would be much easier to believe if obama hadn’t volunteered to make cuts to social security (which has little to no effect on the deficit), and to raise the qualifying age of medicare from 65 to 67.

  7. Yes, Obama using some rather overt political gamesmnship, is trying to to grab the attention of the swing voters, many of whom are “ clueless and apathetic“, not always an easy task; a hat tip to Balloon Juice.

  8. Navarro beat me to it. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit; just the opposite and that is its problem. Raising the Medicare age of eligibility is ridiculous for any number of reasons. And cruel. Both proposals from Obama prove that he cannot be trusted. Period. He is smarter than this. Or this was his goal all along, which means he is simply a liar. Lasting political success comes from sticking to your principles (at least those enunciated in your campaign) and building upon the support of those who elected you. Not from sticking it to your base while courting “the reasonable middle” that exists only in the imagination of the fever swamp that is the the DC Village.

    And, Mark, you are right. I feel no empathy for Barack Hoover Obama.

  9. Teachers should teach what’s true. Obama has been actively promoting discredited economic ideas throughout this debacle, e.g., the notion that cutting spending leads to economic expansion. To the extent that people have been listening to Obama and taking leadership from him, they have now learned several ideas that are false and, if implemented, will make the economy worse.

  10. The only aspect of Soc Sec that anyone can surmise he offered to “cut” is the inflated COLA, over time, not taking any money out of the current economy, and removing an undue increase in benefits that is not related to actual inflation nor to the financial vulnerability of the recipients of benefits. And that’s a “cut” (actually a decrease in an unsustainable and unjustified rate of increase) that needs to happen.

  11. Exactly right, Betsy. In fact, my preference would be to suspend the Social Security COLA until the program is restored to actuarial soundness.

    As for Mark’s read of the politics, I find it almost as surreal as Obama’s speech, which was purely campaign mode, most UNpresidential, and cannot help but reflect badly on him. It was also strange that having supported the Reid proposal earlier in the day, which is revenue free, Obama acted as if that proposal did not yet exist. I guess the speech was written before the Reid proposal, and his campaign advisors decided to go ahead with it even though its content was already outdated.

    I thought he looked terrible and sounded nutty. I’m a little concerned about his general well being.

    As for the provision for extra time for the Speaker, Koreyel, that is not a function of any campaign. The party in opposition gets time after the State of the Union also. This is in accord with regulations.

  12. Vince Cable may be part of a center-right coalition, but he’s a Liberal Democrat and politically very much center-left (he came to the LibDems from the social democrats). If you want a UK right-wing position, take staunch conservative Kenneth Clarke, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and currently Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice:

    “I think the icebergs are probably the worst in the lifetime of anyone now living and we did have some good news last week – we have had some very weak leadership in Europe, but at last they demonstrated they were able to reach a political decision.

    “We are now waiting to see if the American political class can do the same thing in the next fortnight or so and if they don’t do it by early August that is the next big iceberg coming towards us.”

    As another, and more aggressive conservative European voice, Die Welt (a German conservative newspaper that is part of the Springer Press, the closest German equivalent to the Murdoch empire), in a commentary titled “America as a Hostage” (“Amerika in Geiselhaft”):

    “The quarrel no longer revolves around different notions concerning budget policy. The rebels in the Republican Party are not only concerned with the exclusion of tax increases in order to fix the budget. They don’t care that a great deal of the US financial problems were caused by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

    “They want to damage the president, ideally they’d like to drive him out of office now, well in advance of next year’s elections. Even the well-being of the economy appears not to be a price that is too high for them. Obama, on the other hand, with his often overbearing attitude, cannot find a compromise that would allow the moderate wings of both parties to agree with him.

    “If that remained as is, the world would face a catastrophe. Even now, the big US money market funds are hoarding liquidity for the worst case scenario, because they fear the [financial] meltdown, the default of America. One can only hope that the influential actors in both camps start listening to reason before August 2 — the deadline for an agreement — and convince their followers.”

  13. After Bush gave his “it’s nobody’s fault” TARP speech I don’t recall the Dems getting equal time.

  14. Obama can’t seem to do his job without throwing his base under the bus. And somehow it’s the base’s fault? BDS – Battered Democrat Syndrome.

  15. Career Politicians

    The advantages of being a federal career congressman include:

    $170,000+ salary
    PREMIUM health care plan (free)
    GENEROUS pension and perquisites

    There is also the ability to command lecture fees, write books, make paid apearences, and enjoy other income enhancements difficult to measure.

    Obviously, these are coveted positions – coveted even by those already wealthy. Power has its own attractions. The major flaw (for the citizenry) is that politicians will give up their principles to keep the huge amount of money flowing that enables them to continue their career. We cannot sensibly expect them to legislate term limits on themselves; nor would their “deep pockets benefactors” allow such a thing.

    The voters, however, can do this. We must make it our policy to never allow ANYONE to hold office more than twice, even if it means voting for someone we’d like to condemn to a desert island. We may lose some good people this way, but keep in mind that even “good” politicians go “bad”. The worst offenders have been career politicians, although there may(?) be a few decent ones.

  16. Joy, why do you think that term limits would help? Has any President ever switched gears and done what was right in his second term? Members of Congress would still have to please the lobbyists for whom they would work after they left Congress. In any case, if term limits could work, then the limit should be one term, or they’d devote their first term to raising money for re-election.

  17. Henry, what you say is true; but in the current setup, a politician’s priorities are fund-raising, re-election, and catering to their overlords. The nation’s business is merely an inconvenient time waster and an arena for egotistical control games. If they could not count on re-election, they would be less subject to the control of “big money” (I hope). They might even retract some of the erosion of the middle class by the wealthy and powerful. If nothing else, we would not have to give them all of the expensive golden benefits of long time “service” that they do NOT deserve.

    I think most of them should get one term at most, but I was trying to ease my draconian standards.

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