Category Archives: Politics

Reich: Full Employment Now, Deficit Reduction Later

“If we do too much deficit reduction too soon, we’re in trouble. That’s why the fiscal cliff is so dangerous. The Congressional Budget Office and most independent economists say it will suck so much demand out of the economy that it will push us back into recession. That’s the austerity trap of low growth, high unemployment, and falling government revenues Europe finds itself in. We don’t want to go there.”

Yep.

American Conservatives Are Creating Their Own Pocket Universe

The Mythbusters’ Adam Savage has a great shirt that reads “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” This is amusing when you’re in the business of blowing stuff up and tossing crash-test dummies off of buildings. It’s not quite as amusing as a principle for running your country.

American populist conservatives have spent the last 15 years constructing an information bubble to support and insulate their agenda. Part of the strategy is making false assertions in such a rapid-fire manner that by the time the truth catches up, popular attention has already turned to the next outrage. But the information bubble also works to insulate conservatives from information that they find uncomfortable or that is at odds with their agenda. This is toxic for the political dialog, because if you’re unwilling to accept facts, it means you’ll believe virtually anything and you’re highly unlikely to change your mind.

Supporting this is a strong combination of beliefs at the root of contemporary American populist conservative thinking:

  1. Corporate media (derided as the “lamestream media”) obviously can’t be trusted, particularly when its conclusions are at odds with the populist conservative agenda. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s heard Sarah Palin rant, but the mistrust against traditional information channels seems wide and deep. That most corporate of the corporate news organizations, Fox News, is exempt from this, since most of its programming is in alignment with the populist conservative agenda.
  2. You can find a justification for virtually any aspect of the populist conservative agenda in the words of the constitution, if you just look hard enough. (This is the “do your homework!” argument.) Conversely, people who suggest policies that populist conservatives object to are either in willful violation of the constitution or are ignorant of what the constitution really means.
  3. “Supporting the troops” can similarly be used as a justification for virtually any conservative political agenda, even though the conservative political agenda more often than not involves getting more of the troops killed. “God,” and “The Constitution,” and “fiscal responsibility” can also stand in for “the troops” in this context, as needed.
  4. Liberals are a subclass of generally stupid or deluded people who mainly aim to get their greedy mitts on the nesteggs of the conservative middle class and the wealthy, and to restrict their rights in various ways.
  5. A failure to completely obliterate the budget deficit right this very minute will cause the imminent collapse of American civilization. (For the record: wrong.)
  6. Whatever is good for the wealthy is automatically good for the middle class. (This is the argument that’s masterfully deconstructed in the Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter with Kansas?)
I’ve been knee-deep in this after finally getting the goat of former game show host Chuck Woolery on Twitter. Chuck is a populist conservative who apparently thinks that freedom is the freedom to get married four times. I’m guessing that his aim is to replace Rush Limbaugh if Rush ever has an Oxycontin relapse. To bolster his conservative cred he’s been ranting on Twitter and flogging a web site that features his own political rants on video. At this point, he’s managed to turn himself into a poor man’s Victoria Jackson sans spell checker.
In recent months, Chuck and I have been engaging in an amusing and mostly-respectful back-and-forth on politics. Here’s a representative exchange:

It happens that Chuck is not such a great rhetorician. As a result, poking holes in his contradictions and half-baked platitudes is highly amusing; it’s not unlike midget wrestling in this regard.
I should point out here that I consider this to be comedy, not politics, and I don’t have the illusion that I’m convincing anybody of anything here. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like conservatives on Twitter really want to engage in principled political debate. They’re more about bullying, belittling others, and ultimately shutting out facts they disagree with. This is kind of a shame. On Twitter, the pattern of engagement was consistent: 1) Unearth one of my incendiary responses to Woolery; 2) Post a response to me that contains some kind of personal insult; 3) Block me if I make a political point that is impossible to rebut; 4) Rise and remove your caps as we all sing God Bless America.

The bullshit avalanche really cranked up after this exchange:

“This event” was the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi, something that conservatives and Fox News are desperately trying to gin up as an 11th-hour “game change” for the election. The premise, I guess, is that if we can somehow pin responsibility for the Benghazi killing on Obama (not just his administration, but Obama as an individual), the American people will finally wake up and agree that we should repeal health care reform, enable some old white dudes to regulate reproductive health, and reduce taxes until most of our highways and schools collapse into rubble.

Unsurprisingly, Woolery really didn’t like what I said. He called me a moron and blocked me on Twitter:

Aw, Chuck, we hardly knew you. I’m really going to miss our gentlemanly tête-à-têtes.

Anyway, the really interesting part happened after Woolery blocked me on Twitter. It felt like what Jon Stewart calls “Chaos on Bullshit Mountain“: dozens of conservatives on Twitter discovered my feed and piled invective on me in hopes of impugning or discouraging me. Because it’s basically impossible for strangers to hurt my feelings on the internet and I had some time to kill between World Series at-bats, the parrying continued throughout the weekend.

Among the lowlights: More than one commenter took the opportunity to call my daughter (who is 11) a whore:

Fortunately my daughter has a really good sense of humor about this (she’s taken to calling people on Twitter “ants in a jar”). But it’s still a little distressing — not because it says anything about my daughter’s virtue, but because of what it says about the state of our political discourse. You don’t like my politics so you call my daughter a whore? Really?

What are these people hoping to accomplish (besides, maybe, poisoning the well of American political discourse)? Where are the principled conservative debaters? They surely have some great points to make; why aren’t they making them? Maybe Twitter is located in the wrong aisle of the marketplace of ideas, but you’d think that someone could do better than this (or, if not better, at least funnier).

Finally, I should give credit for the germ of the “keys to my daughter’s uterus” tweet to the brilliant and deeply weird @robdelaney.

Things About the US Constitution That Conservatives Do Not Absolutely Adore

  • The 14th Amendment, which guarantees children of immigrants (like me!) US citizenship. The opposition to this amendment is one of the darkest and most obviously racist aspects of the Tea Party agenda. In addition to being wrong-headed, it’s poor political strategy in a world in which the number of immigrant children is large and growing. You can try to control or suppress that population if you want, but good luck with that.
  • Another part of the 14th amendment states that “the validity of public debts of the United States…shall not be questioned.” This means that Congress can’t add to the debt and then later refuse to raise the debt limit, as the Republican Congress threatened to do last year. This was a staggeringly irresponsible move that demonstrated that John Boehner would happily drive our national credit rating and our economy off a cliff if it meant hurting President Obama. But in this case it’s clear that politics won out over constitutionality.
  • Voter suppression. There is only one form of meaningful electoral fraud in this country today, and it’s coming from Republican-led voter suppression initiatives across the country. These are engineered with the clear intent of disenfranchising US citizens, particularly the poor. The public officials behind them should be impeached for violating the Constitution’s ban on poll taxes.
  • The advise and consent role for political and judicial appointees. Minority Republicans in the Senate have engaged on an unprecedented and unconstitutional campaign to limit President Obama’s authority by blocking qualified political and judicial appointees. They’ve done this for reasons that go far beyond their “advise and consent” power spelled out in the Constitution — they’re doing this for political reasons, to diminish Obama’s influence over the government and to thwart the power of agencies they don’t like, such as the judiciary and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But this is not an “advise and consent” role, it’s governmental sabotage, and it’s certainly not what the Constitution envisioned.

There’s more, of course, such as the Tea Party opposition to Federalism, and on and on.

I’ve asserted for a while that when a Republican describes himself as a “constitutional originalist,” you should hide your wallet. It’s very clear that Republicans only believe in rigid adherence to the Constitution when the Constitution happens to be in alignment with their agenda.

A lot of this seems like religious demagoguery to me: using appeals to authority and ancient, poorly-understood texts to further a political agenda. Any constitution is a tool. It’s not gospel.

Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law

A $22 fee and a 250-mile round-trip to be able to vote? In what way is this not a straight-up poll tax? (Poll taxes, it should be pointed out, are explicitly forbidden by the constitution; there’s really no grey area here.) So this is more evidence that the constitution only matters to Republicans when the constitution happens to align with their agenda.

In unanimously ruling that the state had not met its burden, the court cited evidence that showed that voters who lack driver’s licenses could be required to pay $22 to obtain underlying documents necessary to apply for a state ID card and that those in some counties would need to travel as many as 250 miles round-trip to get the card. Registered minority voters were at least as likely as white ones to lack driver’s licenses, and were more likely to be poor.

via Court Blocks Texas Voter ID Law, Citing Racial Impact – NYTimes.com.

Expanding the American Electoral Franchise

As Republicans make their best attempt to suppress voter turnout, it occurred to me that we can either cry about it or we can come up with better alternatives that would increase voter turnout and counteract the Republican voter suppression campaign.

A poll tax (the notion of charging someone money to vote) is unconstitutional in the United States. But the bureaucracy associated with voting is a kind of poll tax that imposes penalties of time and logistics rather than money. Here are some ideas that we should pursue in the next Congress that would expand the franchise and make American democracy more inclusive:

  • Keep the polls open for more than one day. This would benefit shift workers as well as people like small business owners who can’t easily take time off to vote on voting day.
  • Make election day a holiday. If there’s a problem with adding an extra holiday to the calendar (and I don’t think there is), then make one of the two election days a Saturday or vote on another existing holiday such as Veteran’s Day.
  • Make voting compulsory by recognizing that democracy is a duty, not just a right. Countries like Australia do this and their participation rate is 95% or more. The penalty for failing to vote should be modest (along the lines of a traffic ticket) but sufficient to ensure that everyone without a valid excuse turns out.
  • Same-day voter registration. If Republicans want to require a legal ID to vote, then fine. It should then be legal for anyone to vote on election day without having to register beforehand, simply by showing a legal ID at their polling place.
  • A modest tax rebate for voters. Staple your voter stub to your 1040 in April and knock $50 off the amount of tax you owe. This would also be a spectacular wedge issue for Democrats because this would place Republicans in opposition not only to democracy, but to a tax decrease for everyone.

None of these ideas are radical. Only the last idea is new. And none of the counter-arguments pertaining to cost or lost worker productivity can possibly hold water in a world in which we spend trillions of dollars to enforce democracy in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Ryan is a Slightly Younger, Male Version of Michele Bachman

Paul Ryan is about as conservative as Michele Bachman. And they’re both from the same region of the country. Why do we perceive Ryan differently, then? I’m thinking it’s gotta be Bachman’s crazy-eyes.

Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann, the controversial congresswoman of Minnesota.

via A Risky Rationale Behind Romney’s Choice of Ryan – NYTimes.com.

When is it Time for a Conservative to Start Clamoring for Big Government?

When the place where you live catches fire, apparently. From last year, Texas’ Chief “Oops” Officer Rick Perry whined about not getting enough federal dollars Texas got after their epic wildfires of last year.

And now this week, conservative attack poodle Michelle Malkin (who lives in Colorado Springs and was forced to evacuate by godless socialist big-government fire authorities) has found someone to blame for the hundreds of homes that have burned in the eastern Colorado foothills. No surprise, it’s President Obama. That’s right, the skinny kid from Chicago is personally responsible for the outcome of the Colorado Springs fire.

I suppose this couldn’t possibly be the fault of homeowners who built or purchased their homes in the urban-wilderness interface. America is all about the freedom to buy a home wherever you want, right? Although this does sort of seem like another example of the conservative impulse to socialize risk and privatize gains. When the value of your hillside home goes up, are you allowed to complain when your property tax (which pays for fire protection) goes up? Answer carefully!

We lived in Colorado Springs for a few years when I was in elementary school, so I know the area a little bit; our old neighborhood is about four miles from the fire boundary. On the other side of our street was a wilderness preserve. Well, I guess it’s a former wilderness preserve; according to Google Maps satellite view — half of it is housing tracts now. I’m sure those folks are OK since they’re on the other side of the highway from the fire, but as anyone who’s lived in a foothill wilderness knows, sometimes those things catch on fire. The question before us is: who is to blame when your house burns down?

I’m sure it can’t be the fault of conservatives in state legislatures who are forcing austerity budgets, reducing the sizes of public safety agencies (as well as schools and other infrastructure projects).

But you gotta ask: Where is your free market now, Ms. Tough-Gal Conservative? Why didn’t you come prepared for this moment and secure additional fire protection through private industry?

I realize that after George Bush’s sterling performance following Hurricane Katrina, conservatives are desperate to turn the tables on Obama, hoping to indict both him personally and the federal government’s disaster-relief role in general. But they can’t have it both ways: you can either support the notion of a robust federal role in disaster preparedness and relief, or you don’t get to criticize the government when your back yard burns down.