Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why I Support the Walker Recall, Even as I Have Concerns About Recalls

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

The minute the clock strikes midnight Monday night, signifying that November 14 has turned into November 15, the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will begin.

The organizers of the Walker recall have some wind at their backs. They were able to recall two GOP state senators in August. And last Tuesday voters in Ohio overwhelmingly overturned a union-busting law (similar to the one that has made Walker a recall target) that was championed by the state's newly elected Republican governor, while voters in Maine restored same-day voter registration, which had been eliminated by the state's rookie GOP/Tea Party governor and the Republican-controlled legislature.

But recalling Walker will require accumulating more than 500,000 signatures in 60 days just to trigger a recall election. Then the Democratic opponent will have to face an incumbent who will be able to raise tens of millions of dollars from his corporate sponsors. (A Walker supporter formed a bogus recall committee earlier this month as a strategy, allowing the governor to get a head start on fundraising.)

There is one obstacle to a Walker recall that I understand fully, but that I hope won't stop people who oppose the governor's policies from signing a recall petition and voting against him: The idea that using the recall process because you don't like a governor's policies is wrong.

I get it. I admit that, ideologically speaking, I see a lot of merit to the idea that recalls should be reserved for moral, criminal or ethical misconduct. I know regular recall campaigns can create a state of perpetual elections that prevents government from getting anything accomplished. And I find the argument persuasive that the democratic process has to be respected.

I've often said that the democratic process works, even if you don't like the results. When Americans re-elected George W. Bush in 2004, anyone surprised at the incompetence that followed for the next four years clearly wasn't paying attention to his first term. And the same can be said about the 2010 elections. While Walker, like the other Koch Brothers-supported GOP gubernatorial candidates, campaigned on job creation, anyone paying attention had to know that a full-on wish-list of traditional conservative initiatives (union-busting, anti-abortion rules, concealed carry, tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts for education, corporation-friendly laws that hurt consumers, etc.) would ensue, not job creation (something not happening in significant numbers in Wisconsin).

And yet, I will be looking for a petition to sign on November 15. And, if given the chance, I will vote for a Democrat over Walker in a recall election.

Why? My inspiration comes from, of all places, the Tea Party-controlled Republican party. I've watched over the last year as an allegiance to blind ideology has pushed Republicans--in both state and federal settings--into corner after corner, making it impossible to govern responsibly. Want to bargain for long-term deficit reduction? There can't be any compromising because of Tea Party- and Grover Norquist-driven no-tax pledges. Think it might be a mistake to allow visitors to a state capitol building to carry guns? Well, you can't vote against it if you are a rigid ideologue wedded to a vision of Second Amendment supremacy. The list goes on.

The modern GOP, which puts a blind loyalty to far-right-wing ideology over practical governing, has provided me with a wonderful lesson, one I will put into action with Walker's recall.

Yes, in theory, recalls may not be ideal for the democratic process. But unlike the Tea Party-controlled GOP, I will not let ideology get in the way of helping people in need. And there is no doubt in mind that the vast majority of the people of Wisconsin are being hurt by Walker's agenda as governor. He is championing policies that, brick by brick, are rolling back the victories for the middle, working and lower classes won over the last eight decades, trying to turn the clock back to the Hoover years, all in service to his far-right ideology (and, of course, his wealthy and corporate donors).

In addition to the politically motivated union-busting "budget repair" law (he used a budget deficit as a cover to take aim at a key financial supporter of Democratic candidates, so his corporate money could go unchallenged, as well as to pay back his corporate donors like the Koch Brothers, for whom union-busting lies near the center of their agenda), Walker's education cuts are reason alone to support a recall, as they have left the finances of most school districts in trouble (and prevented local communities from taking action to raise money for education).

Walker has pumped out propaganda claiming his policies have helped school districts better handle their finances, but the evidence doesn't back up his claims. Susan Troller of The Cap Times conducted a survey of school district superintendents, and her findings are downright depressing: Bigger classes, discontinued programs, and 3,400 lost jobs (so much for Walker creating jobs). (Troller's piece is a must-read.)

Throw in the governor's concealed carry law, his own voter ID law meant to keep traditional Democratic voters like students and the poor from the polls, and the rest of his anti-middle class, traditional far-right laundry list of initiatives, and it's clear that Walker's policies are a constant attack on the quality of life of a majority of Wisconsin's citizens.

So my concerns about recall efforts must be set aside. It's more important to support the effort to recall Walker, for the good of the state. And I hope others who share my recall concerns come to the same conclusion.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Income Inequality Is the Achilles Heel in the GOP Strategy to Demonize Occupy Wall Street

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

"I don't care about that."

That is what Rick Perry said in the New York Times when John Harwood told him his tax plan would increase income inequality. Give Perry credit for his honesty. After all, he just articulated out loud what is the accepted dogma of the modern Tea Party-owned Republican party, which is completely dedicated to protecting the wealthy and corporations on the backs of the (rapidly shrinking) middle class, by way of a religious adherence to far-right free market principles.

But there is a danger to Republicans adopting a "Let them eat cake" approach. By dismissing income equality as a key issue, the GOP is headed for a trip wire the party doesn't seem to see coming.

We see it in their approach to Occupy Wall Street. The GOP strategy seems to be that if they can dismiss the protesters as a bunch of crazies (or "human debris," as the always vile Rush Limbaugh put it), then Americans won't notice the issues underlying the protest.

In the short term, the Republican strategy will probably work. By highlighting the elements that look and sound the most out of the mainstream, average Americans won't be able to relate to the protesters and will be wary of being grouped with them.

But what the Republicans are missing is that the anger underneath the Occupy Wall Street protests isn't limited to the dedicated individuals sleeping in a Lower Manhattan park.

So long as the GOP can frame Occupy Wall Street as an attack on the rich or an attack on capitalism, its appeal will be limited. No matter how tough things are with the U.S. economy, Americans don't hate rich people. On the contrary, they aspire to be rich people.

But the middle class can't become wealthy if the government is, through action and inaction, helping the rich get richer while keeping the middle class down, as it has done for the last 30 years (something Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate in "Winner-Take-All Politics").

And Americans have no use for unfairness. They want there to be a correlation between hard work and success. For the financial executives who caused the 2008 financial crisis, there wasn't even a correlation between success and success. Wall Street bankers made billions of dollars for recklessly devising and selling financial instruments they knew were junk, resulting in a near financial collapse that required a government bailout from the Bush administration.

The resulting recession and economic stagnation hit the middle class hard while leaving the wealthiest Americans untouched and corporations flush with cash. (Paul Krugman provided a great recap earlier this month of the abuses that led to the financial crisis.)

The bottom line is that income inequality has been skyrocketing since Ronald Reagan took office (and accelerated under George W. Bush) behind policies (like massive unpaid-for tax cuts for the wealthy) that had the effect of redistributing income from the middle class upward.

Mother Jones recently compiled some staggering statistics on income inequality:

- Between 2007 and 2009 (pre- and post-financial crisis), Wall Street profits rose 720 percent while American's home equity plummeted 35 percent, all while the unemployment rate went up 102 percent.

- The average income of the top 1 percent has nearly quadrupled since 1980, but the top 20 percent showed only modest growth while the bottom 80 percent flatlined during that period. As a result, the top 1 percent's share of income has exploded by nearly 120 percent since 1980, while the top 20 percent went up a bit and the bottom 80 percent lost its share of income. Put another way, if income growth was equal during the period, the top one percent would have made $597,241 less per household (totaling $673 billion), while the bottom 90 percent would have made more (between $3,733 and $10,100 per household, depending on where the family fell in the percentile list).

- Even as the top 1 percent made out like bandits over the last 30 years, they actually bore less of the tax burden. Between 1992 and 2007, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes experienced a 392 percent increase in income but saw their average tax rate go down 37 percent.

- As of 2007, the top 1 percent of Americans in wealth controlled 34.6 percent of America's net worth. The top 10 percent controlled a whopping 73 percent of the country's wealth. And these figures came before the housing bubble burst, hitting the middle and working classes especially hard.

The AP recently did a study that found that the recovery from the 2008 recession has been the most unequal of any recovery since the 1930s. The money did not find its way to the middle class. The percentage of the economy made up of workers' pay and benefits hit an all-time low, all while corporate profits surged, as did CEO compensation. And the stock market recovery put money in the pockets of the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans, even as the middle class continued to struggle and lose ground. In fact, the New York Times ran a front page story today noting how there has been a 53 percent increase in poverty in the suburbs since 2000, with the bulk of that coming after the 2008 financial crisis.

The key to why the Republicans are miscalculating in dismissing income inequality lies in a telling piece of data Mother Jones provides: The actual distribution of income in the United States is far more unbalanced than Americans think it is, and, as importantly, far, far above what they think it should be.

The Republicans want to claim that the Democrats are engaging in class warfare by trying to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but the Republicans have been waging a class war on behalf of the top ten percent against everyone else for the last 30 years.

It's not about hating on the rich. Nobody begrudges entrepreneurs and hard-working visionaries like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet their successes. No, the anger underneath Occupy Wall Street is about fairness. And income inequality fostered by government policy is not fair.

As unemployment continues to remain high, the economic situation remains murky, and Americans start to see the redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy, anger will intensify. And when the anger moves from more easily dismissible protesters in Lower Manhattan to a larger swath of the American citizenry, comments like Perry's "I don't care about that" will not be received well.

The participants in Occupy Wall Street may not look like Middle America, and they may not have a polished plan to rectify the problems they are seeking to publicize, but that doesn't make the anger they are expressing less real. More importantly, that anger is shared by more Americans than would make the GOP comfortable.

So Republicans should ridicule Occupy Wall Street at their own risk. They may be able to belittle the protesters, but they can't hide income inequality from the American people.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Hope Obama's Veto Threat Is the Start of a New Effort to Fight Back Against the GOP

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

When I read that Jerry Brown was "bewildered and stunned" at how ideological and uncompromising the GOP had become in California, I was surprised and dismayed, all at the same time.

I was surprised because I had to wonder if the governor had been paying attention to national politics. I've discussed how the Republicans have become a Tea Party-captured institution of far-right activism. Even conservative columnist David Brooks went from arguing in November 2010 that pragmatic conservatives would dominate the Republican leadership in the House to a full-on anti-Tea Party rant in July 2011, declaring that the GOP had been "infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative" and that would not "accept the logic of compromise" or "accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities." He went on to conclude that they have "no economic theory worthy of the name" and "no sense of moral decency."

But I was dismayed, because it only made clearer how much damage the Tea Party-captured Republicans are doing to the country's political process, and how few people outside of those immersed in politics seem to be noticing. And, as I discussed after the debt ceiling battle, I've had it with the total capitulation of the Democrats and the president.

What really struck me about the timing of the Brown piece in the New York Times was that over the last few weeks, it feels as though I've seen story after story that exposes the very specific agenda of the new GOP, which is, as 28-year-veteran Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren put it, "solely and exclusively" interested in helping the wealthy (while camouflaging their policy positions to hide their true motives). Specifically, in just the last few weeks:

- After successfully dangling the U.S. economy over a cliff and threatening to drop it in a bid to extort spending cuts before agreeing to raising the debt ceiling, the GOP again is playing chicken, refusing to pass legislation funding the government (which could lead to a government shut-down) if they can't extort spending cuts in exchange for helping people suffering from the effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Irene. And this comes just weeks after the Republicans held the funding of the FAA hostage (resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in uncollected taxes from the airlines) while trying to include cuts and union-busting provisions to the legislation.

- With millions of Americans out of work and more suffering due to the slow economy, the Republican leadership in Congress wrote a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke asking him not to try and help spur the economy (something CNBC described as "highly unusual"), blatantly and callously putting their political strategy for 2012 ahead of what's best for the American people.

- The Republicans energetically and vehemently went on the offensive to protect the wealthy from the president's proposed tax on millionaires to help spread the sacrifice in addressing the long-term budget situation, but rejected the president's call for a middle class payroll tax break. (Fortunately, Mother Jones came up with a short, to-the-point, six-item list demonstrating the fictional assertions behind the GOP's stated reasons for opposing a millionaire tax.)

And the Republican refusal to consider any revenue increases to help cut the deficit goes against the views of an overwhelming majority of the American people, including Republicans. A July Gallup poll revealed that while Americans do want cuts to close the budget gap, 68 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of independents said that their preferred method to balance the budget included at least some tax increases.

But I'm also dismayed because I'm afraid Brown's surprise at GOP unreasonableness is symbolic of the lack of understanding of Democrats in how to handle what is happening in the country now. After all, despite holding positions shared by a majority of the American people (on issues from gay marriage to tax increases on the wealthy), the party hasn't made a clear case as to why they should be preferred to Republicans. The president's poll numbers are falling, a Republican won a special election to fill Anthony Weiner's House seat (yes, I know the Democrats ran a weak candidate and Ed Koch decided that the Orthodox Jewish candidate would be worse at protecting Israel than the Catholic one, but a Democrat losing a House seat in Queens and Brooklyn is newsworthy), and the Democrats are in the strategically problematic position of defending far more Senate seats than the Republicans in 2012.

The problem can be summed up in some recent conflicting poll numbers. Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post how a recent MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that while a majority disapproved of the president's handling of the economy, those same respondents nevertheless supported his policies over those of the GOP.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between policy and politics.

Part of the problem, of course, is that by failing time and time again to stand up to the Tea Party Republicans in the House, the Democrats haven't provided a clear contrast for voters. And in doing so, they've allowed the conversation to shift to the right, with the GOP agenda dominating the conversation. But I think it's more than that. I think that in the current atmosphere in the country, policy positions aren't enough. It's about emotion.

My thinking on this issue came from the oddest place: A 2009 Fox News program. As part of my research for my graduate school thesis, I have been doing a textual analysis of cable news programs in August 2009, around the time Sarah Palin coined the term "death panels" to misrepresent provisions in proposed health care reform legislation (it was PolitiFacts' top lie of 2009). I was reading the transcript from Sean Hannity's August 13, 2009, show, during which a member of his "focus group" said, in reference to the 2008 election: "I felt very safe with Bush. And that was a prime issue for me."

Knowing what we know now, how, under President Obama, U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan, decimated al-Qaida, cut off threats to America before they could take place, and, most of all, killed Osama bin Laden, the woman's statement has no basis in fact.

But she wasn't making a factual assertion. She was expressing a feeling. She bought the line the GOP was pushing in the campaign (and continued to push in 2009) that Obama wouldn't do enough to keep the country safe from terrorists, and that's how she felt.

What does that have to do with 2011? Well, the emotions being felt by many Americans now are equally pronounced. After three years of a down economy since the financial crisis, they're worried and angry. And all they see in government is dysfunction (putting aside for the moment the reason for the dysfunction). For example, in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 71 percent of respondents had a negative view of the debt ceiling deal, and they blamed both parties for the mess.

So like the woman who felt safer with Bush, voting decisions may not match up with the facts. Democrats have to recognize and work with the anger and fear that Americans are feeling. And they can best do that by demonstrating how they differ from the current crop of extremist, unreasonable Tea Party Republicans.

Which is why the president's threat this week to veto any deficit-reduction bill that doesn't include tax increases on the wealthy along with cuts to Medicare is so important. It's not just the issue (a vast majority agree with him), but for once he seems to be fighting for the American people. For once, it appears like he gets it. Is it too late? There is no way of knowing if voters (especially independents) have irretrievably soured on the president. But something had to change.

There is an anti-incumbent feeling now. Congress's approval rating is, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, a record low 12 percent. At this point, other than partisans on both sides, too many Americans think there is no difference between the parties. They think both parties are bought and paid for by special interests, and that they're not looking out for the American people. While it's true that too many Democrats are beholden to the corporations that fund their campaigns, there is a real difference between the parties. We saw the damage George W. Bush inflicted on the country for most of the 2000s, and we are seeing the far-right agenda being relentlessly pursued as we speak by the Republicans who control the House. If the GOP were to control Congress and the White House, things would get much worse for most Americans in a hurry.

I understand that President Obama is very interested in appearing above the fray, avoiding partisan battles. But the current GOP is interested in nothing but partisan battles. They are focused on defeating President Obama in 2012, not lowering unemployment or jump-starting the economy. Democrats in Washington, including the president, have to start doing a better job of addressing the fears and anger of the American people, while pointing to the differences in the policies of the two parties. They have to find a way to demonstrate that the Republicans' policies are not only potentially disastrous, but they seek to redistribute wealth upward, helping the rich get richer, destroying the middle class, and further pushing the wealth disparity to levels not seen since Hoover was president. And that means standing up to the Tea Party and forcing the debate back toward the center.

Since in office, the president has been more interested in policy than politics, but policy alone isn't enough anymore. As Jerry Brown discovered, things have changed. Many Americans don't see a difference in the parties. They're afraid, and they're angry. It's up to the Democrats, especially the president, to understand the lay of the land an act accordingly. If they don't, the anger- and fear-driven anti-incumbent fervor could drive the party from Washington, no matter what their policy positions are. And that would be disastrous for the American people.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Debt Ceiling "Compromise" Is a Total Democratic Capitulation to the GOP

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

Imagine this scenario: You're pro-choice and you attend a debate between two candidates for office on the issue of a constitutional amendment to criminalize abortion. The first candidate argues that abortion is murder, and if a doctor performs an abortion on a woman, both of them should be charged with first-degree homicide. The second candidate then rises in rebuttal, saying, "No, if a doctor performs an abortion, only he should be charged with first-degree murder. The mother should be charged with negligent homicide."

Would you feel represented? Of course not. But that's what has happened with the debt ceiling negotiations.

It's easy to take shots at the Tea Party-controlled Republican leadership for holding the American economy hostage to fulfill their extreme-right, not-supported-by-the-American-people obsession with cutting spending, and how their alleged concern over debt is really a smoke screen to fundamentally change American society, returning the country back to the 1920s when corporations and the wealthy were allowed to run amok and there was no social safety net for everyone else (leading, of course, to the greatest depression of the 20th century). I did just that last week.

But what has me so angry right now is the news of Harry Reid signing off on a compromise to the debt-ceiling clash that is, in essence, a complete capitulation to the Tea Party position. I have never been so pessimistic about the state of our political process and the future of the country.

I have one simple question: Where are the Democrats?

Isn't the Democratic party supposed to be the institution in place to oppose the Republicans when they offer bad policy, especially when polls show that a majority of Americans don't share the GOP obsession with spending cuts? (Not only did polls from CBS News and Gallup show that Americans favored revenue increases along with spending cuts to settle the debt ceiling impasse, but another Gallup poll on July 20 revealed that only 16 percent of Americans thought the deficit was "the most important problem facing the country today," while 27 percent listed unemployment and 31 percent said the economy in general.)

After all, you can't blame the Republicans for advancing their agenda. And while using blackmail and putting the country's economic condition in peril may be amoral, it's pointless to expect the John Boehners of the world to stand up to that amorality.

No, it's on the Democrats, who, not incidentally, control two of the three institutions necessary to make a deal, to stand up to what Steve Benen called "extortion politics."

It's the job of the Democrats to stand firm on the proposition that the debt ceiling (honoring past commitments democratically agreed to by a decade's worth of Congresses and presidents) has nothing to do with decisions on how to handle future budgets, and to link them is just extortion politics.

It's the job of the Democrats to make the case that while fiscal responsibility is an important long-term goal (after all, it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who signed the last budget with a surplus, while a Republican president working with a Republican Congress proceeded to sign off on budget after budget with deficits), with the economy struggling and unemployment high, slashing spending now will only make things worse for most (that is, those not in the top one percent of wealth) Americans.

It's the job of the Democrats to stand firm that not one dollar of spending should be cut before tax cuts are rolled back for the wealthiest Americans, tax breaks are discontinued for corporate jets, and subsidies are discarded for large oil companies raking in copious profits.

It's the job of the Democrats to continually highlight that massive spending cuts, especially slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, have a human face. That while the Republicans were straight-out lying (Politfact's top lie of 2009) when they told tales of death panels and policies to discontinue care to seniors, cuts to Medicare and Social Security would actually send countless senior citizens into desperate financial situations.

But what did the Democrats do? They accepted the Tea Party premise that it was vital right now to address spending instead of unemployment and the economy. They never held firm on the idea that the debt ceiling had nothing to do with future budgets. They never pressed the case that by not raising the debt ceiling, Republicans would be taking the unbelievably un-American step of forcing the country to renege on its already agreed-to obligations. They didn't make a clear case to the American people that the GOP was holding the American economy hostage to fulfill their political motives. (For example, John Boehner admitted that many in his caucus wanted to let the debt ceiling deadline pass and "create chaos" in order to force through their far-right fiscal policies, including a balanced budget amendment, and yet the Democrats did nothing to publicize this fact.) They failed to make the case to the American people that the cuts being thrown around by Republicans would negatively impact their day-to-day lives, far more than deficits would this year. They never held firm on insisting on the wealthiest Americans, who profited most from the last decade of fiscal irresponsibility, paying their share toward the fiscal solution with rollbacks of the Bush tax cuts, standing with those looking to support the wealthiest Americans instead of the rest of us.

In short, the Democrats did more than just cave. They actually adopted the Republican position, and then engaged in a debate on how extreme that Republican position would be (offering far-right crazy in opposition to the Tea Party's all-out, society-changing crazy).

Put another way, the Democrats didn't fulfill their duty in a two-party system of representing the opposing point of view on the debt ceiling (especially, again, when polls show that the people don't support the GOP's draconian position on the issue).

It has been argued that since the Tea Party members of the House, as David Brooks put it, "do not accept the logic of compromise," "do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities," and "have no sense of moral decency," the Democrats had to be the adults, doing what was necessary to avoid a default and the calamitous results for the American economy that would come with it. Under this argument, the Democrats could not stand firm because their first allegiance had to be preventing default, no matter what it took, while the Tea Party Republicans irresponsibly ran around declaring that a default would not be a big deal.

I don't buy this argument. In fact, I find that approach weak and counter-productive. What would stop the Tea Party from holding the economy hostage again and again? The Democrats had a moral obligation to stand firm to protect the American people from the Tea Party zealots in the House (and the members of the Republican leadership that were too afraid of a primary challenge to stand up to their lunatic fringe). And they failed.

As importantly, while a default and/or a credit downgrade would have been disastrous for the American economy, I'm not convinced that the drastic slashes in spending (with zero increase in revenues) in the "compromise" won't be as bad or worse. As Paul Krugman said on This Week today:

"We have 9 percent unemployment. These spending cuts are going to worsen unemployment. It's even going to hold the long-run fiscal picture because we have a situation where more and more people are becoming permanent long-term unemployed. ... I have nobody I know who thinks the unemployment rate will be below 8 percent at the end of next year. With the spending cuts it might be above 9 percent at the end of next year. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. We're having a debate in Washington, all about, 'Gee, we'll make the economy worse, but will we make it worse on 90 percent of the Republicans' terms or 100 percent of Republicans' terms?' The answer is 100 percent."

The debate over the debt ceiling was an epic test for leading Democrats, and each and every one of them failed miserably. Reid, as the majority leader of the Senate, had the ability to hijack the discussion in the same way Boehner did. Same goes for the president. But both chose to adopt the Republican position and, as Krugman said, fight over whether it would be 90 percent or 100 percent Republican.

Who was fighting for the traditional Democratic position, the one that looked out for middle-class and working-class Americans? No Democrat in a position of power.

(I want to acknowledge the argument many have made that this outcome is, in fact, consistent with the president's policy preferences, in that he, like the Republicans in Congress, favors massive spending cuts. We don't know what is inside the president's mind. But as a Democratic president, I feel like he had an obligation to stand up to the Republican madness, and, as such, I will hold him accountable for not doing so.)

So we got a "compromise" that was really a capitulation, and we had to endure sad-sack Democratic quotes, like Diane Feinstein not being pleased, and Carl Levin pointing the finger of blame at the president. It's unacceptable. If they're not happy, why didn't they stand firm against the GOP proposal?

And what is especially galling about the whole sad affair is that the Democrats have seen over the past year how far-right Republican policies are pushing voters over to Democratic candidates. It began in 2010 when Republicans lost extremely winnable Senate seats in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado and West Virginia because voters rejected Tea Party-GOP nominees (something I discussed last November). It continued through the emergence of buyer's remorse in states electing Republican governors, including New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin. It was on stark display in upstate New York when voters in a traditionally conservative district elected a Democrat in a special House election. And it is currently visible in the senate recall efforts in Wisconsin. Opposing draconian cuts, especially to Medicare, has been good political business for Democrats (something Republicans, of course, realize).

So not only is standing up to Republican excesses the right thing for Democrats to do, it has also been demonstrated to be good politics. But the Demcorats still managed to completely capitulate to the Tea Party position. And in doing so, they potentially removed the Medicare issue as one they could use to hammer Republicans in 2012.

The takeaway from the debt ceiling negotiations, for me, is that while the two-party system is alive and well in the United States when it comes to partisan bickering and political gamesmanship, when it comes to the powers in Washington deciding what to do for the country, the two-party system is dead. Democrats have abdicated the role of fighting for the interests of the American people, so that we now have Republicans and Democrats who will eventually accept the Republican position.

Such a state of affairs is upsetting to me as a liberal/progressive. But it is far more of a blow to me as an American citizen. Who in Washington is presenting the argument for what is best for the whole country, not just corporations and the wealthiest one percent? Nobody I see, and certainly not Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

The Republicans are the easy villains in this sordid affair. Their behavior in holding the country hostage to push a far-right agenda out of step with the beliefs of the American people has been disgraceful.

But the Democrats can't escape blame. When the moment of truth came, they showed no resolve. I'd honestly rather have faced a government default that would have been squarely on the shoulders of the Tea Party. At least then we would know exactly what happened and who was responsible. But when working class and middle class Americans, already hammered by a decade of increasing wealth disparity and an unemployment crisis, are further ground down by draconian and unnecessary budget cuts, while the wealthy enjoy tax cuts and oil companies continue to receive subsidies, it will be sad to know that the Democrats signed off on such an outcome.

We will look back and know that when the debt ceiling issue was in play, the Republicans made their case, but nobody in a position of power made the opposing argument. The Democrats just went along. And Democratic leaders will have to live with the consequences, along with the rest of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lesson from the Debt Ceiling Negotiations: The GOP Is Now Run by Far Right Ideologues

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

If one message has emerged from the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, I think it's this: The Republican Party, at least in the House of Representatives, has been captured by far-right ideologues who are either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the practical effect of their insistence on ideological purity. And in doing so, they are putting the economic health of the nation at risk.

Raising the debt ceiling is not something that should be controversial. Congress (mostly with Republicans in power, and with the support of current GOP leaders) raised the debt ceiling 19 times during George W. Bush's presidency, and 17 times under Ronald Reagan (including with Reagan's support). And if you need any further proof that raising the debt ceiling is not a liberal enterprise, the very conservative, Obama-opposing, business-protecting U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out strongly in favor of raising the ceiling.

More importantly, something that isn't noted often enough is that raising the debt ceiling is not an action that involves new spending. Rather, it is a decision for the United States of America to stand by commitments that it has already made (and has made via the democratic process of congresses passing legislation that was then signed into law by presidents).

So opposing raising the debt ceiling is not in itself a move to stop future spending. More accurately, it is an attempt to go back and repeal old legislation, but without the guts--and political cost--of doing so head-on.

Opposing raising the debt ceiling is essentially an announcement to the world the United States will not stand by its commitments. No American should want to be part of such a statement.

Tea Party Republicans can talk all they want about the effects of a U.S. default being "exaggerated," but their position is not supported by an array of economic and political experts across the ideological spectrum, including major financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, with the company's chief executive calling a default "catastrophic." Even Ronald Reagan wrote a letter in 1983 warning of the danger of not raising the debt ceiling, arguing:

"The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar."

Whether you think the country's spending and/or debt is a problem or not is not the discussion here. That's a separate debate. The two issues are only linked in that those who argue that the country's spending (but not the deficit, apparently, since these same people oppose any tax increases, even though state and federal taxes as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950) is a problem are using the need to raise the debt ceiling as a tool to blackmail those who disagree. Otherwise, the two issues do not have any business being part of the same debate, since one addresses how we should proceed in the future (debt/spending), while the other asks if we will honor the promise to pay for money already spent in the past.

The bottom line is that despite the spending/debt debate, Tea Party ignorance (or willful indifference) and blind ideology is putting the economy of the United States at risk. These Republicans are putting fidelity to Grover Norquist's fringe anti-tax fanaticism above what is best for the country.

And it's not like the Tea Party position is supported by many Americans. In a recent poll 66 percent of respondents said the debt-ceiling solution should consist of both spending cuts and tax increases, with a Gallup poll discussed by Nate Silver revealing similar results.

(We won't even get into the fact that a key Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, may stand to financially profit if the country defaults.)

Two columns by David Brooks, a year and a half apart, illustrate how the GOP (at least in the House) has been captured by far-right Tea Party ideology (and lost all touch with practical governing). And why it's so dangerous for America's future.

On November 1, 2010, with the Republicans about to make gains in the midterm elections, Brooks wrote how pragmatic conservatives would keep the influx of Tea Party ideologues in line. He paraphrases Cantor as saying: "We can’t do anything that might unsettle [skeptical Americans], like shutting down the government," before predicting:

"Republican leaders are also prepared to take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like."

And to those who would argue that "there is no way the fire-breathing Tea Party-types are going to cooperate," Brooks had an answer: While he acknowledged the Tea Partiers would need to be addressed, he concluded with these paragraphs:

"But this leadership-versus-the-crazies storyline is overblown. The new Republicans may distrust government, but this will be a Republican class with enormous legislative experience. Tea Party hype notwithstanding, most leading G.O.P. candidates either served in state legislatures or previously in Washington. The No Compromise stalwarts like Senator Jim DeMint have a big megaphone but few actual followers within the Senate.

"Over all, if it is won, a Republican House majority will be like a second marriage. Less ecstasy, more realism."

At the time, I thought Brooks was delusional. It seemed clear that the Tea Party ideologues would put their far-right, impractical fiscal positions ahead of the best interests of the vast majority of Americans. And that is exactly what happened, something that Brooks was forced to confront on July 4. In a column lamenting the inability of the Republicans in the House to accept a staggeringly GOP-friendly deal to raise the debt ceiling (something he called "the mother of all no-brainers"), he wrote:

"Over the past few years, [the GOP] has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

"The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

"The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

"The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

"The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name."

He reaches the conclusion that the Republican Party, as dominated by these Tea Party ideologues, just may be an "odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance."

Brooks's nearly 180-degree turnaround in 20 months gives stark illustration to what the Tea Party/GOP is doing to our nation. And Americans have noticed, with buyer's remorse breaking out across the country. Several recently elected Tea Party/GOP governors have seen plunging approval ratings, including in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin; a conservative New York House district recently elected a Democrat in a special election; the senate recall effort in Wiscosin has gained momentum; and a recent poll found President Obama ahead of every Republican presidential challenger, just to point to some more prominent examples.

Brooks and American voters are starting to realize that the Tea Party/GOP is an intransigent, dangerous force in the country, as they value far-right ideological purity over everything else.

But this epiphany won't change anything if Republicans in the House lead the country's economy over a cliff on the debt ceiling.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Brooks Is Right: Democrats Have Caved to the GOP in Debt Ceiling Negotiations

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

David Brooks's New York Times column on Monday created quite a stir, getting major play on cable television news and online (at least between Casey Anthony reports).

Most of the discussion turned on Brooks' assertion that "the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative."

The idea that the current Tea Party-dominated GOP is single-mindedly focused on its far-right ideology at the expense of what is best for the country is not news to anyone who has been paying attention for the last two-and-a-half years. I suppose the fact the statement came from Brooks, a conservative, is what caused the column to get so much attention.

But I am way more interested in Brooks's premise than his conclusion. His declaration that the Republican Party has been "infected" is based on the fact that the Democrats are offering the GOP a great deal on the budget, but the Republicans are holding out for complete victory. Brooks's second paragraph reads:

"Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession."

This infuriates me. Not that I disagree with Brooks's premise. He is, of course, correct. What angers me so is how easily the Democrats have rolled over to the Republicans, both because it's bad for the country and bad, strategically, for the Democrats' electoral chances in 2012.

With unemployment still high despite corporations rolling in profits (Think Progress recently relayed a Northeastern University study that showed that 88 percent of the growth in national income for the last 18 months has gone to massive corporate profits while only 1 percent has gone to wages, and the New York Times recently reported that top executives enjoyed a 23 percent pay increase in 2010), it is patently illogical, immoral and bad for the country to fund cuts in government spending with tax cuts for the wealthy.

But by using the debt ceiling issue to extort cuts in government spending, Republicans, who control only one of the three segments of federal lawmaking, the House of Representatives, are dictating to the Democrats, who control the other two entities (the Senate and the presidency), the terms of negotiation.

So why have the Democrats caved into the Republican assumption that cuts have to be made to raise the debt ceiling? The decision is especially vexing when you consider that the Democrats have not even tried to point out the two big lies at the heart of Republican claims.

First, Republicans talk about runaway spending, but a recent study revealed that when you control for population growth and inflation, 2011 federal spending is roughly equal to that in 2001 (Clinton's last budget), but in 2001, that spending level resulted in a surplus. Why? The Bush tax cuts. In other words, it's not spending that has gotten out of control, but a deficit has erupted due to tax cuts for the wealthy (plus the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq).

Second, the Republicans talk a lot about the federal deficit, but, in practice, they don't care at all about the deficit. If they did, they would put tax cuts for the wealthy, which could be used to balance the budget, on the table. Instead, they are resolutely protecting the wealthiest Americans, to the detriment of the rest of us. The party's priority is to effectively do away with safety net programs they have despised from their inception (like Paul Ryan's plan to destroy Medicare) and to cut taxes, regardless of the impact on the deficit.

The most troubling part of the Democrats' surrender to the GOP, though, is that the president has offered Medicare cuts as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

For starters, raising the debt ceiling isn't (and never was) a controversial action. Bush approved the move seven times during his presidency, and the ultra conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-bashing right-wing-loyal business group, has come out strongly in favor of raising the ceiling.

So why are the Democrats surrendering on this issue? And why offer Medicare cuts?

Politics can be hard to predict sometimes. President Obama and the Democrats won in a landslide in 2008, only for the Republicans to make gains in 2010. But there has been one constant in recent elections and polling that could not be clearer: Americans don't want Medicare cuts, nor do they want massive cuts that affect the middle class to fund tax cuts for millionaires. (In a Gallup poll, 59 percent said they supported the end of the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,00 per year.)

Part of the Republican victories in 2010 can be attributed to opposition to the health care reform legislation, and much of that anger was stoked by right wing media lies, the biggest one of which was that the law would make massive cuts to Medicare benefits and result in rationing and death panels that would keep senior citizens from getting needed care. (I am in the beginning stages of a research project looking at how Fox News and MSNBC discussed health care reform in August 2009, and my preliminary findings show that Fox News prime-time programming hammered home claims that seniors would be denied care under the health care reform proposal being considered in Congress at the time.)

In 2011, Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which included the essential destruction of Medicare (turning it from a single-payer system to one with vouchers that would have been inadequate for tens of millions of seniors to fund health insurance, leaving them without health care), was so unpopular, Americans rebelled. In May, voters in a historically Republican House district in New York turned out in unusually high numbers to hand the seat to seat to a Democrat in a special election, almost entirely due to outrage at the Ryan Medicare plan. (New York's 26th district had been in Republican hands for all but 16 years since 1857.)

It seems clear: If you propose Medicare cuts, the American people will vote against you.

Due to Republican over-reaching on spending cuts and tax reductions for the wealthy, buyer's remorse is sweeping the country, with recently elected Republican governors in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin facing plunging approval ratings. And a recent poll found President Obama ahead of every Republican presidential challenger (and even leading Rick Perry and Sarah Palin in Texas, one of the most conservative states in the country).

The American people may often be hard to read, but now is one time they are speaking loudly and clearly: Don't cut Medicare, and don't make drastic budget cuts without raising taxes on the wealthy.

So what are the Democrats doing? Not pushing hard enough for eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, and putting Medicare cuts on the table. It's maddening. Bill Clinton came out and urged the president not to cave into the Republicans, arguing that there is no reason for the Democrats to agree to cuts without raising taxes on the wealthy.

To me, the take away from Brooks's column isn't that members of the Tea Party-captured Republican party "do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it." We knew that already.

No, the important part of Brooks's piece is the fact that the "Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill."

It is easy to make the argument that the policies of the current, far-right GOP, with its goal of returning the country to the approach of the Hoover administration (and the wealth disparity and massive suffering that went with it, as well as the depression that followed), are bad for the American people. What is harder to understand is why the Democrats are so afraid to stand against these ruinous proposals, and why they have allowed the Republicans' false assumptions to be the accepted premise for the debate.

Brooks argues that if no compromise is reached and the debt ceiling isn't raised, independents will blame the Republicans for not acting reasonably. I'm not sure I agree. The American people have spoken, and they don't want cuts to Medicare. If the Democrats cave into the GOP and agree to Medicare cuts in exchange for the necessary and routine act of raising the debt ceiling, they will be every bit as responsible as the GOP for the pain the country experiences, and will get their share of the blame.

So if the Democrats don't stand firm, not only will the American people pay the price, the party will have missed out on a golden opportunity to win elections in 2012. The message from Americans is clear. The Democrats just have to listen.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day, the Declaration of Independence and Understanding American History

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

When Tea Party darling Herman Cain announced his candidacy for president in May, he decided to cite words from the U.S. Constitution to underline his key points. Unfortunately for Cain, he got his documents wrong. The passage he chose was from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

Cain is not alone. There seems to be an epidemic of Tea Party Republicans botching historical accounts of the founding of the United States. Since Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and given the recent Tea Party problems with history, I thought it would be fitting to look a little closer at Cain's gaffe, as it has both symbolic and substantive importance regarding modern American politics.

Symbolically, Cain's problem with historical accuracy represents a major characteristic of the modern Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. Whether it is Sarah Palin's butchering of Paul Revere's role in the American Revolution, or Michele Bachmann's truly revisionist mangling of the facts to claim the founding fathers tried to abolish slavery (not to mention her belief that John Quincy Adams was a founding father, even though he was born in 1767), the Tea Party has shown a disdain for knowledge, facts and learning. History is not something set in stone, but rather something to be twisted and manipulated to support the immutable, ideological beliefs of the movement.

So if Palin or Bachmann plainly get American history wrong, the response isn't to admit it (after all, the statements are not debatable; Revere was not riding to warn the British, and slavery was enshrined as legitimate in the Constitution, notably through the three-fifths compromise). No, instead, their supporters tried to change history to match the statements of their leaders, which in 21st century practice means Palin supporters editing the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to reflect her mistakes, and Bachmann's followers doing the same for the page on John Quincy Adams.

The ignorance of Cain, Palin and Bachmann holds importance beyond a "gotcha" moment to demonstrate that these three individuals aren't up to the task of being president (similar to Mitt Romney's gaffe of telling an unemployed attendee at one of his events that he, too, was unemployed). More importantly, the lack of respect (or even caring about) facts, both by the candidates and their supporters, is indicative of the larger GOP approach to political positions. For example, Republicans support lower taxes for millionaires because that is what their core constituency and base ideology calls for, but they justify the position through unsustainable assertions that such tax cuts somehow create jobs, even though we know they don't (also here and here). Or, Republicans reject the existence of climate change to keep costs as low as possible for corporations regardless of the consequences, but justify their position by denying the existence of climate change, even though the overwhelming majority of scientists say it is real.

There are myriad issues for which Republicans rely on patently false assertions to back policy positions that may be otherwise unpalatable to the American public ("We're creating jobs" plays better than "Rich people shouldn't have to pay a lot in taxes"), but nowhere is this lack of respect for facts and history more prevalent than in the party's attacks on Barack Obama. Rather than oppose his policies on the merits, Republicans have engaged in a two-prong strategy of personal attacks meant to score political victories: First, they opposed every proposal made by the president, even if Obama called for the adoption of a policy once embraced by Republicans (i.e. becoming the Party of No, although I have argued they have evolved into the Party of F You).

Second, the right, including politicians and the right-wing, Fox News/Limbaugh propaganda echo chamber, has engaged in a coordinated assault to paint the president as being out of the American mainstream, regardless of the facts. They want you to think he is dangerous and un-American, that he was born in Kenya, and that his policy proposals are radical, and that he has no desire to keep Americans safe from terrorists with whom he actually sympathizes.

(Never mind that he has governed as a centrist and consistent with his campaign promises, which resulted in a hefty victory. For example, the stimulus package was smaller than many economists supported and included a ton of tax cuts; he didn't push for a single-payer system or even a public option as part of health care reform, instead getting behind a bill that pushed tens of millions of new customers into the hands of private insurance companies; and he stepped up the pursuit of Qaeda and Taliban targets, including drone attacks, taking out more terrorists than his predecessor, including Osama bin Laden.)

In right-wing rhetoric, the president is a threat to the American way of life, a socialist who wants to change traditional American values, even though there is no actual evidence to support these claims.

Why do these attacks matter? Well, that question segues nicely into the substantive problem with Cain's Constitution/Declaration gaffe, since the Tea Party regularly invokes an Obama attack on liberties, drawing on the Declaration of Independence (even if Cain thought he was citing the Constitution, not an insignificant error since the Constitution is the law of the land, providing a framework for our entire political system, while the Declaration is mainly historical in nature).

In his speech, Cain said:

"You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believe in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t stop right there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do."

This kind of language should sound familiar, since it is the bread and butter of Tea Party ideology. And Cain is right about what the Declaration says (well, he got the wrong document, but he got the right sequence of passages). The second paragraph of the Declaration begins:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

And then the paragraph goes on to say:

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Warms the cockles of the Tea Party heart, right? Well, with a little more perspective and examination, not so much. First of all, I'm sure it's no coincidence Cain stopped where he did, since the next line of the Declaration is:

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes."

So yes, the Declaration supports "the Right of the People to alter or to abolish" the government when it becomes "destructive" to "unalienable Rights." But not for "light and transient causes." What did the founding fathers think were big enough threats to warrant revolution? The answer is right in the Declaration, a laundry list of grievances that make up the bulk of the document. It is a litany of charges that the King of England had impinged on American liberties by, among other things, engaging in the hindering and dissolution of of legislative bodies, ignoring laws, preventing the adoption of laws (including, much to the Tea Party's disdain, I'm sure, the "Naturalization of Foreigners"), interfering with the judiciary, quartering English soldiers, interfering with trade, and imposing taxes without consent.

In short, the founding fathers bristled at being ruled by a dictatorial monarch. It is easy to see how in the over-hyped, rabid and, most importantly, false and historically inaccurate rhetoric of the Tea Party, such a connection would be apparent, from the tyranny of a King to a president looking to institute a socialist/Nazi/Islamist dictatorship in the United States.

Only, much like Bachmann's and Palin's lack of knowledge of our history, Cain (and it's not like he is the only Republican who talks about Obama's assault on our liberties) completely misunderstands and misapplies the content and context of the Declaration's call for revolution. Republicans can't seem to understand that if the president disagrees with them on how to address the country's roster of problems, it doesn't make him a tyrant. It's doubtful the founding father would look kindly on anyone trying to argue that the Obama presidency was comparable to the reign of King George III.

The language of the Declaration of Independence doesn't provide the support the Tea Party thinks it does.

(As an aside, the core charges of the Tea Party against Obama are all false: They complain about taxes, but Americans are experiencing their lowest tax burden since 1958, with taxes lower than they were under Reagan. They charge Obama with wanting to take away their guns, but the president hasn't signed a single piece of gun control legislation, nor did he veto bills with pro-gun provisions attached. I could go on and on.)

Cain (and Bachmann and Palin) getting history wrong isn't just about a funny media story. Rather, the Tea Party's ambivalence about facts and history is a necessary component of the GOP political strategy, as the party seeks to continue its drive since the 2010 elections to return the country to the 1920s (attacking social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security, busting unions, cutting education, catering to corporate special interests and prioritizing eliminating abortion, all while further increasing the historically massive divide between the very wealthiest Americans and the rest of us). As Think Progress tweeted last week: "REMINDER: Current deficit + economy product of crisis created by deregulation + huge tax cuts. Solution isn't deregulation + huge tax cuts." (Just look at Tim Pawlenty's tax cut proposal, for example.)

Republicans, to win in 2012, are relying on Americans to forget history, not remember it.

So on this Independence Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, let's take the opportunity to read the document and better understand what it did (and did not) say, and, more importantly, against what the founding fathers were actually rebelling.

And let's try and stick to facts and accurate history when debating the issues. I know cognitive dissonance can be troubling for an ideologue, but here is a tip: If you find yourself literally trying to rewrite history, you're probably on the wrong side of a debate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weiner's Hubris Means There Is One Fewer Democrat to Fight Bad GOP Policies

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

I was speaking to a friend of mine who lives in Anthony Weiner's district, and we both had the same reaction to the congressman's Twitter scandal. Oddly, though, the element of Weinergate we both zeroed in on has been largely unrepresented in the news media's coverage.

Specifically, we were upset that one of the few Democrats in Congress with the nerve to consistently speak out against bad Republican proposals--and, more importantly, for traditional Democratic ones--had done something so colossally foolish, reckless and arrogant that he had undercut his position as a champion for good policy. The importance of the role that Weiner played in the political battles of the last several years seems to have been lost in a sea of stories on the more prurient and strategic aspects of the brouhaha.

To me, in the wake of Weiner's foolishness, the big question is: How will the Democrats proceed without one of their most steadfast and articulate spokesmen in Washington?

There is so much at stake in the next 17 months leading to the 2012 elections. The Tea Party-dominated, increasingly ideological Republican party is in the middle of a crusade to turn the clock back to the 1920s, a time when corporations could operate unfettered by protections for individuals, workers had few rights, there was no social safety net, and the wealth disparity between the wealthy and the rest of the citizenry was huge (as it has become again after the Bush years).

Since the Republicans won the House and many governors' mansions and state legislatures across the country in 2010, they have moved in concert to attack a woman's right to choose, unions and the social safety net, using fears about deficits to drive spending cuts, all while refusing to consider any revenue-related solutions, including scaling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (even as the Bush tax cuts exploded the deficit and did nothing to help the economy, as Republicans claim).

Even though Democrats control the Senate and the White House, they have often been reluctant to fight back. They backed down when Republicans threatened to shut down the government if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy weren't extended, and they've allowed the Republicans to set the agenda on spending, deficits and other issues, especially since January.

But not all Democrats capitulated to GOP demands, and Anthony Weiner stood out front of that small group. Weiner was a staunch advocate for traditional Democratic principals. He was an articulate and passionate proponent of health care reform, championing his proposal of Medicare for all without fear. He also was out front in opposing the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He displayed strength and steadfastness in the face of Republican pressure.

Who will stand up for Democratic idals now?

I'm not writing to defend Weiner's behavior. My advice to his wife would be to hire a good divorce attorney. But his private failings have nothing to do with his service as a member of Congress. He didn't break any laws, and he probably didn't even violate any House rules. It's been hard to watch Republicans call for his resignation, even though the GOP said nothing when David Vitter essentially admitted to using the services of a Washington madam.

But, of course, by engaging in such reckless, irresponsible and stupid behavior, Weiner has made it impossible (whether he resigns or not) to continue his influential and important advocacy for Democratic policies and opposition to damaging Republican proposals. And that's the true loss, on a national basis, to come from Weiner's idiocy.

The rush of major Democratic House figures like Nancy Pelosi to call for Weiner's resignation was disappointing but not surprising. Weiner often pushed them to show more backbone in battling Republicans and pushing for Democratic solutions to problems. Democratic leaders in Congress, from health care to stimulus to financial regulation to the extension of the Bush tax cuts, acted timidly (and seemingly out of fear), quick to capitulate to Republican demands. At the same time, Weiner was bold and steadfast. He exposed the weakness of leadership, and I'm sure they were none too happy about it. And I'm sure that history played a roll in the quick calls for Weiner to step down.

But if Democratic leaders get their wish (and, to a large extent, even if they do not), Weiner won't be there anymore to stand up to the Republicans as they try and remake the country, Tea Party style. That is, to me, the single most important consequence of the Weiner scandal.

The irony is that it's not really risky to stand up to the extreme right-wing policies Republicans have advanced since taking over the House and governors' mansions and state legislatures across the country. On a state level, when, after campaigning on jobs, Republican governors and legislators instead started paying back their corporate and religious-conservative benefactors with a virtual conservative wish list of policies (going after abortion and unions, mainly), the result has been massive buyer's remorse. The governors in Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin saw plunging approval ratings, and in Wisconsin, six Republican senators already face recall elections (the efforts to recall three Democratic senators have not been certified by the state elections board due to apparent fraud).

On the federal level, when Paul Ryan proposed satisfying the decades-long conservative dream of ending Medicare, and Republicans in the House and Senate voted for it, voter backlash was strong and instantaneous, leading to a Democrat winning a special election for a House seat in a heavily Republican district in Western New York.

(And yes, I know Ryan's plan retains a program called Medicare, but his voucher-based approach would effectively kill what Medicare has been since its formation, leaving it Medicare in name only. Paul Krugman did a fantastic job laying out how Ryan's new Medicare would result in completely different--and inferior--medical coverage for seniors.)

So standing up for mainstream Democratic ideals (individuals over corporations and the wealthiest two percent) and opposing the far-right initiatives Republicans are pushing (like busting unions and killing Medicare, as well as prioritizing taking away a woman's right to choose over job creation) has turned out to be good politics (not just good for the country).

This is something Anthony Weiner not only understood, but reveled in. He didn't just speak out for Democratic solutions to problems (and against Republican proposals that were bad for the country), he did so confidently, strongly and happily.

Now, thanks to his Twitter activities, we've lost that voice. And sadly, there are few Democrats in Washington who have demonstrated Weiner's strength and resolve. That is the tragedy of the Weiner scandal, that it will be that much easier now for the Republicans to roll forward with a truly odious agenda, one that will be damaging for the country.

That is the story I take away from Weiner's downfall. It's less fun than the prurient stuff the news media latched onto, but I think the tabloid fodder should stay on the late night talk shows where it belongs.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The GOP Has Gone from the Party of No to the Party of F You

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (a week after Mike Huckabee also chose not to run), he said it was because of the "interests and wishes" of his family.

And while I have no reason to doubt Daniels's claim, I can't help think that there may also be another factor in play. Daniels has carefully built his reputation as a reasonable governor, one who puts practical solutions in front of ideological battles. (Whether he actually is the above-the-fray leader he portrays himself to be is a different story, of course.) But, as Jacob Weisberg astutely pointed out in Slate on Friday, to be a national Republican figure today, you have to embrace a litany of lies, distortions and flat-out factually incorrect positions. The GOP lives now, he says, in "a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems ... can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact ... expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot."

And living in a self-produced and Fox News/Rush Limbaugh-protected bubble of false reality has practical consequences. For the first two years of President Obama's administration, the Republicans were the Party of No, obstructing every one of the president's initiatives to address the pile of problems left behind by George W. Bush, all for political gain. But after winning control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections (as well as state governor's mansions and legislatures across the country), the Party of No morphed into something else, fully embracing a far-right, Tea Party-driven, wealth-and-business-obsessed, social and fiscal conservatism that sits to the right of even Ronald Reagan.

The GOP is now the Party of F You. (Fitting, given last year's infectious hit of the same name by Cee-Lo Green.) And that might be too much for Daniels to embrace.

After all, the Republicans campaigned in 2010 on jobs, deficits and health care, but it was all an act, a strategy to get elected. Once in office, the GOP has embraced a very different agenda, one that could easily be called the F You Agenda. Simply put, if you are wealthy or a large corporation, the Republicans have nothing but hugs and kisses for you. But for the rest of us? The GOP only offers a stern "F you."

- Are you out of a job because of the financial collapse-induced recession that spiked the country's unemployment rate in 2008? The Republicans say "F you." Unless you believe the fairy tale that tax cuts for the rich create jobs (a lunatic fringe position not accepted by virtually any respected economists), the GOP has done nothing to help address unemployment. They've fought federal programs to boost job growth (including stimulus proposals, even lying about the effects of the 2009 stimulus legislation). And if not addressing the problem wasn't bad enough, Republicans have blocked efforts to extend unemployment insurance to those out of work, at both the state and federal level.

- Are you worried about another financial collapse due to a lack of regulation of the industry? The Republicans say "F you." The 2008 recession, the effects of which are still with us today, was precipitated by a near collapse of the financial system, which was brought about by major financial institutions unscrupulously taking huge risks on junk securities, all while making billions in the process. This conduct was made possible because of 30 years (dating back to Ronald Reagan) of repealing regulations that had prevented just such abuses for nearly 50 years, from after the crash of 1929 until the Regan administration. So you would think it would be common sense that regulation would be needed to ensure that the financial industry can't do it all over again. But you would be wrong. The Republicans fought the modest financial regulation bill, Dodd-Frank, that was finally enacted in 2010, and have continued to fight to weaken it or delay its implementation ever since.

- Are you worried about cutting the federal budget deficit? The Republicans say "F you." The GOP doesn't care about deficits, despite its rhetoric, because if it did, it wouldn't adopt the position that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy cannot be rolled back, adding billions to the deficit in the years ahead. (And it's not like we're being over-taxed as citizens right now. The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently found that Americans now enjoy their lowest tax burden since 1958.) No, the Republican agenda is to cut taxes at all costs for corporations and the wealthy, and then to use the deficits that are created to justify draconian cuts in government spending. The end game is undoing the safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society, including government programs like Medicare and Social Security that Americans have come to rely on. Paul Ryan's proposed budget (based on ludicrously optimistic projections provided by the right-wing Heritage Foundation), which effectively destroys Medicare by replacing government-paid-for health care for seniors with vouchers that won't begin to cover their insurance costs (assuming they can get insurance at all), is the realization of 80 years of conservative dreams of returning the country back to the 1920s. Which leads to ...

- Are you someone who hopes to have medical care when you're elderly? The GOP says "F you." Acceptance of Ryan's proposed budget, with its destruction of Medicare, has become unassailable dogma in the Republican party ( just ask Newt Gingrich). As I described above, Ryan's plan would leave many seniors without health care (including in his home state of Wisconsin). But hey, that's a small price to pay for an ideological victory, right?

- Do you believe a woman should have the right to control her own body if she gets pregnant? The Republicans say "F you." Since taking office, both in the House and in the states, eliminating a woman's right to have an abortion has been at the top of the GOP agenda. In fact, the very first bill introduced in the GOP-controlled House this session, HR 1, was laden with anti-abortion provisions.

- If you are a woman who has been raped in a way House Republicans don't think is rape, they say "F you" to you. GOP legislation introduced in the House sought to redefine rape, limiting the types of acts that constitute rape.

- In fact, if you are a woman, period, Republicans say "F you" to you. Even beyond abortion, GOP proposals have been so detrimental to women, especially women's health services, that myriad organizations and writers have used the term "the Republican war on women."

- Do you want the government to responsibly manage the country's finances and prioritize the financial health of the nation over strict ideological games and tests? The Republicans say "F you." Despite the fact that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling "threatens the health of our entire global economy and the jobs of millions of Americans," and an independent report outlined the potential disastrous consequences to the economy, the Republicans are playing games. They're using the need to raise the limit as a bargaining chip, trying to extract draconian budget cuts in return, all while disingenuously downplaying the impact of failing to raise the ceiling (also this), even as John Boehner traveled to New York to assure financial executives that the limit would be raised.

Keep in mind, it is truly the ideologically driven radical right behind the debt ceiling obstruction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-despising conservative institution, as well as financial executives like the managing director of J.P. Morgan, want the debt ceiling raised.

- Are high gas and oil prices having a real impact on your family's budget? The Republicans say "F you." Republicans in the Senate voted to protect subsidies for big oil companies, who have made billions in windfall profits thanks to high prices, choosing their corporate benefactors over the American people (not to mention blowing an opportunity to cut into the deficit and perpetuating a dependence on oil that has grave national security, economic and environmental implications for the United States).

I could go on (global warming denying, birther-coddling, union-busting, etc.), but the Republicans repeatedly say "F you" to everyone in this country except for the elite wealthy and big corporations. The party has moved so far to the right, its core policies are far out of the American mainstream. No wonder so many Republicans are dropping out of the presidential race, including Daniels, who would have to surrender his carefully developed persona as a reasonable, pragmatic leader if he wanted to have even a prayer of getting through the far-right-dominated GOP primary process.

I know Daniels is worried about the scrutiny on his past marital problems, but I can't help wonder if, at least in part, he just didn't want to be the standard bearer for the Party of F You.