Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Tea Movement

On the day of Beckapalooza, Steve Benen tries to figure out what it is exactly that the Teabaggers are for.
This is about "freedom."
Well, I'm certainly pro-freedom, and as far as I can tell, the anti-freedom crowd struggles to win votes on Election Day. But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom.
This is about a fight for American "liberties."
That sounds great, too. Who's against American "liberties"? But I'm still looking for some details. Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we're told, not those kinds of liberties.

This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities.
I'm all for that, too. But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can't afford insurance? No, we're told, not those kinds of opportunities.

This is about the values of the Founding Fathers.
I'm a big fan of the framers' generation, who created an extraordinary nation. But if we're honoring their values, would this include their steadfast commitment to the separation of church and state? No, we're told, not those values.

This is about patriotic Americans willing to make sacrifices for the good of their country.
That sounds reasonable; sacrifices can be honorable. But if we're talking about patriots willing to sacrifice, does that mean millionaires and billionaires can go back to paying '90s-era tax rates (you know, when the economy was strong)? No, we're told, not those kinds of sacrifices.

This is about a public that, at long last, wants to hear the truth from those who speak in their name.
What a great idea. Maybe that means we can hear the truth about global warming? About the fact that health care reform wasn't a socialized government takeover? About Social Security not going bankrupt? About how every court ruling conservatives don't like doesn't necessarily constitute "liberal judicial activism"? No, we're told, not those truths.

Movements -- real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time -- are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change -- transformational change that sets nations on new courses -- is more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Captured Government

Mike Lux at Open Left has an interesting analysis of how frustration with government because of the dominance of narrow special interests is manifesting itself in the political debate.
This is going to sound counter-intuitive at first but I have become convinced in the course of discussions with both conservative and progressive people in recent months that at its core, the surge in anti-government sentiment and the progressive angst in the Obama era so far both come from the same root issue. The heart of the problem is that our government has become captured by a small number of very big and very powerful corporate interests, and that has made the federal government increasingly dysfunctional.
This dysfunction feeds the right-wing plenty of fuel for its anti-government-all-the-time narrative, helping them build their movement. Unfortunately, though, it has also created a crisis point for progressives. Progressives have always understood that government not only has an important role to play in promoting the public good in areas the market doesn't work well, but is sometimes the only entity that can be strong enough to take on monopolistic  or oligarchic private corporations who can become too powerful in a free market economy. When government gets captured by these powerful interests and becomes dysfunctional as a result, it puts progressives in a bad spot: defending the role of government when it keeps screwing up doesn't play very well with voters.

Because the progressive movement got used to the federal government playing a mostly positive role in economics, civil rights, the environment, and other issues during the New Deal era and the decades after, and because we don't worship the free market in all things and at all times the way conservatives do, there has been a tendency on our side in these last three decades of brutal attack on all things government to be reflexively defensive about it. As one example, I have had friends argue that progressives should avoid using the term "government waste" because it just feeds a bad frame about government. I have also heard many people talk about how important it is for us to be spending a lot of time explaining to people the positive role of government.

As someone who wrote about the historic political debate between the conservative and progressive movements, I don't agree with these arguments. The role and size of government in our society has changed dramatically over the course of American history, as has the role and size of private corporations, but the bedrock values and goals of the progressive movement have not changed. We stand for more democracy, more equality, and a better economic situation for poor and middle-income people, and we oppose trickle-down economics and the concentration of wealth and power for economic elites. To get better results in terms of those goals, we have frequently turned to government. But government is only a means to those ends, not the ends themselves- and it is not the only means to those ends, either. I want wages to go up for poor and working class people, and that can happen because the minimum wage increases (government) or through workers organizing a union and negotiating (collective action). I want to lessen the concentration of wealth and power of big corporations, and that can happen through regulation and anti-trust and progressive taxation (government), or through class action lawsuits, consumer boycotts, and shareholder resolutions (collective action). Of course it is always better for our purposes to have government on the right side, but we are not limited to government action to improve people's lives, and we also shouldn't be stuck defending government when it is on the wrong side.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Voters Choose

Ezra discusses what drives voters decisions.
First, campaigns don't matter as much as we think. I take that as a good thing: Democracy shouldn't be overly reliant on whose political consultants are better at spinning the truth into advertisements and attack mailers. 
Second, "elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy -- that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc." That's a bit unfair to incumbents, who aren't totally responsible for conditions, but it's nevertheless a fairly decent way for voters to make decisions.

Third is that voters don't approach elections with strong views on policy issues. Instead, they look to the political leaders they already trust to tell them what their views should be. If President Romney had proposed ObamaCare before a mostly Republican Congress, it would've gotten an easy majority of Republicans -- both in Congress and in the country -- and almost zero Democrats. Party affiliation drives policy opinions, and not the other way around.

The political science take on elections is sometimes accused of being nihilistic, as if doubting the importance of campaigns is like quoting Nietzsche and dressing in black. In fact, it's fairly optimistic: Elections are driven by the real state of the country, not the money candidates spend to advertise to voters. You could say that it would be better if people made their judgments based on the policy Congress was passing to change conditions rather than the conditions themselves, but when you really look into how people decide which policies they support, it's actually not clear that a more policy-centric process would be an improvement. Conditions are what voters know best, and so it's good that they rely on them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Bill Will Come Due Before They Know It

Steve Benen on the political trade-off behind the Republicans embrace of changing the 14th Amendment.
When Republican leaders embraced partial repeal of the 14th Amendment, knowing full well that this isn't going to happen, it seemed pretty obvious that we were seeing a cynical, nativist, election-year scheme at work. The message wasn't even subtle -- the GOP is prepared to be just as reactionary as its base when it comes to immigration, even if that means going through the motions on giving the Constitution a little touch-up.
The goal is to win some votes in the short term. Harold Meyerson reminds us that the ploy -- and the larger effort behind it -- will very likely cost far more votes in the long term.
By proposing to revoke the citizenship of the estimated 4 million U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants -- and, presumably, the children's children and so on down the line -- Republicans are calling for more than the creation of a permanent noncitizen caste. They are endeavoring to solve what is probably their most crippling long-term political dilemma: the racial diversification of the electorate. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are trying to preserve their political prospects as a white folks' party in an increasingly multicolored land.
Absent a constitutional change -- to a lesser degree, even with it -- those prospects look mighty bleak. The demographic base of the Republican Party, as Ruy Teixeira demonstrates in a paper released by the Center for American Progress this summer, is shrinking as a share of the nation and the electorate. As the nation grows more racially and religiously diverse, Teixeira shows, its percentage of white Christians will decline to just 35 percent of the population by 2040.
The group that's growing fastest, of course, is Latinos. "Their numbers will triple to 133 million by 2050 from 47 million today," Teixeira writes, "while the number of non-Hispanic whites will remain essentially flat." Moreover, Latinos increasingly trend Democratic -- in a Gallup poll this year, 53 percent self-identified as Democrats; just 21 percent called themselves Republican.
I got the sense that the Bush/Cheney team was very cognizant of this. The Bush team proposed a fair and reasonable approach to comprehensive immigration reform; made an effort to promote ethnic diversity in the administration; and made sure the former president spent plenty of time doing outreach (and pretending to speak Spanish). The result was a very competitive contest for the Latino vote in 2004.

Those efforts appear to have been tossed aside entirely, replaced not only with cynicism and divisiveness, but sacrificing the Republican Party's future for immediate gain. It's less of a gamble and more of last-gasp strategy -- let's just get all the angry white votes we can get right now, the argument goes, even if it means driving a fast-growing minority away for a generation.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's a dessert topping, it's a floor wax, it's both!!

Ezra examines the many and varied ways that the Republicans tout the Bush tax cuts.
Republicans have taken something of an infomercial approach to extending the Bush tax cuts. It's not just that they lower tax rates. They also stimulate the economy, increase revenue, shrink government, encourage small businesses, keep the feds from buying private companies, and allow corporations to plan for the future. No word, as of yet, on whether they will blend.
But there's a reason I don't use a blender to listen to the radio or a cloth to cover my house. And there's a reason you don't want to use a raft of tax cuts meant to lower marginal rates as a way to reduce the deficit, which they wouldn't do, or stimulate the economy and encourage small businesses, which they would do poorly.

If you want to help small businesses, cutting taxes for rich individuals -- some of whom file as small businesses -- is an awful way to do it. The average business income on a 1040 is $40,000. Extending the tax cuts for filers making more than $250,000 isn't going to do much for small businesses. But you know what would do a lot for small businesses? The small-business bill, which spends tens of billions of dollars opening lines of credit to small businesses that want to expand. And you know why we don't have a small-business bill? Because Republicans are filibustering it.

Similarly, a bill to reduce the deficit would do a good job of reducing the deficit. The Bush tax cuts, by contrast, will add about $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. A bill designed to stimulate the economy could do quite a bit to stimulate the economy. But the Bush tax cuts weren't designed to stimulate the economy, and so they're not good at it: You only get about 32 cents of stimulus for every dollar you spend, as opposed to a payroll tax cut or job-creation tax credit, both of which give you about $1.25.

The issue isn't that the Bush tax cuts do nothing but lower marginal tax rates. It's that they do the other things poorly, as those weren't things they were designed to do. Republicans, faced with the expiration date that they passed into law, are now grabbing every argument in the area to support an extension. But the tax cuts don't slice, dice and juice. If Congress wants to, say, help small businesses, it should pass the legislation it's considering to do exactly that. If it wants to reduce the deficit, or stimulate the economy, it should design a bill suited to that purpose. It shouldn't extend the tax cuts as some sort of fourth-best alternative.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Amendments Are Coming....The Amendments Are Coming

Think Progress has an excellent compendium of all the Constitutional Amendments that the Republicans and their Tea Party allies have proposed in their goal of perfecting our governmental system (h/t Joan on DailyKos)..
REPEALING CITIZENSHIP: Numerous GOP lawmakers, including their Senate leader and the most-recent Republican candidate for president, are lining up behind a “review” of the 14th Amendment’s grant of citizenship to virtually all persons born within the United States. Such a proposal literally revives the vision of citizenship articulated by the Supreme Court’s infamous pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford. It has no place in the twenty-first century.

REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO REGULATE THE ECONOMY: The Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” gives national leaders broad authority to regulate the national economy, but much of the GOP has embraced “tentherism,” the belief that this power is small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. The most famous example of tentherism is the ubiquitous frivolous lawsuits claiming that health reform is unconstitutional, but these lawsuits are part of a much greater effort.  In his brief challenging health reform, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli claims that Congress is allowed to regulate “commerce on one hand” but not “manufacturing or agriculture.” Cuccinelli’s discredited vision of the Constitution was actually implemented in the late 19th and early 20th century, and it would strike down everything from child labor laws to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters.

REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO SPEND MONEY: The Constitution also gives Congress power to “provide for the common defense and general welfare,” a broad grant of authority to create federal spending programs such as Social Security. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), however, recently called upon the Supreme Court to rewrite the Constitution’s clear language and repeal parts of the budget he doesn’t like. A Texas GOP official even went so far as to claim that the federal highway system is unconstitutional. Should this GOP vision of the Constitution ever be adopted, it could eliminate not just Social Security, but also Medicare, Medicaid, federal education spending and countless other cherished programs.

REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO RAISE MONEY: The Constitution also gives Congress broad authority to decide how to distribute the tax burden. Thus, for example, Congress is allowed to create a tax incentive for people to buy houses by giving a tax break to people with mortgages, and it is allowed to create a similar incentive for people to buy health insurance by taxing people who have health insurance slightly less than people who do not.  Nevertheless, the frivolous assaults on health reform would eliminate this Constitutional power. Many Tea Party Republicans go even further, calling for a full repeal of the 16th Amendment, the amendment which enables the income tax. Paying taxes is never popular, but it would be impossible to function as a nation if America lacked the power to raise the money it needs to pay our armed forces, among other things.

REPEALING EQUALITY: The Constitution entitles all persons to “equal protection of the laws,” a provision that formed the basis of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision yesterday that California cannot treat gay couples as if they are somehow inferior. Immediately after this decision was announced, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) called upon Congress to “act immediately” to overturn it — something that it could only do through a constitutional amendment.  Of course, Newt’s proposal does nothing more than revive President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment repealing the parts of the Constitution that protect marriage equality.

REPEALING FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: As Judge Walker also held, marriage is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. The GOP’s anti-gay amendment would repeal this constitutional protection as well.

REPEALING ELECTION OF SENATORS: Finally, a number of GOP candidates have come out in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment, the provision of the Constitution which requires direct election of senators, although many of these candidates also backed off their “Seventeenther” stand after it proved embarrassing. It is simply baffling how anyone could take one look at the U.S. Senate, and decide that what it really needs is even less democracy.