Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ending fascist control of our Congress

I think the biggest problem facing the country is the extreme polarization of our politics.  But there is a small window of possibility right now for a systemic change in congress that can marginalize the biggest source of that polarization, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.  There is also an extreme left wing of the Democratic Party, but they don't hold the country hostage the way the right wing reactionaries do.

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has been continuing a tradition of the House instituted by the former Republican speaker, Dennis Hastert, in 2004.  That is to say, the Republican speaker won't bring a vote to the floor unless he has counted that a majority of the Republicans will vote for it.  

What that means in practice, is that a minority of House members - in this case the Tea Party, evangelical, and libertarian extremists - can stop any legislation by voting against it.  So, rather than needing a majority of the House, which includes both Republicans and Democrats, what is really needed is only a majority of a little over half the House, a majority of the Republicans, to stop any legislation. In other words, only a little over a quarter of the House of Representatives needs to oppose a bill in order to defeat it.

This empowers the fanatics of either party to rule the country.  This is not good for the country.  The heart of fanaticism is fascism, either of the right or the left, that is to say, authoritative dogmatic zealotry for an ideology that allows no compromise or flexibility. The House of Representatives has been in the grip of intransigent fanaticism since the zealous rise of the Tea Party in 2010.  The zealots have always been there and have always done as much damage as they were able to do so, on both sides of the spectrum, long before 2010, but the country has been crippled for the last couple of years by these right wing  fanatics.

So, here we are facing the fiscal cliff.  

The president and the Senate can easily come up with legislation that will pass the Senate and be signed by the president into law that will raise taxes and cut spending and avoid the catastrophic effect of going over the fiscal cliff and severely damaging the economies of the U.S. and the world.  And, that legislation would be able to be passed by a vote of the entire House of Representatives, a combined vote of all Democrats and all Republicans.  The only thing that would stop that vote passing the House would be if the Republican Speaker refuses to put it on the floor unless he can get a majority of his Republicans to vote for it before he puts it on the floor.  And, of course the fanatics won't vote for it so they will stop it, once again.

The only hope, therefore, for the country to avoid the fiscal cliff is if Boehner puts it on the floor in violation of the majority of the majority tradition.  Put it on the floor for a vote even if a majority of the Republicans will vote against it. One can certainly assume, for example, that the former V.P. nominee, Paul Ryan, will vote against it.  A good thing he is not going to be the real V.P. of the country, or so it seems to me.

This will take a remarkable act of courage on the part of Boehner to do, since doing so may end his speakership and his political career.  He may plan to put off this decision until after the vote for the Speaker of the new House on January 3, 2013.  This is more than a matter of personal pride for John Boehner.  If he is challenged and beaten by a fanatic, that would be very bad news indeed for the country. We need politics in the House of Representatives to return to being politics, i.e. deal making and compromising to get the best each side can manage in the negotiating process of actual politics.  We cannot continue to be held hostage to the fanatical intransigence of about a quarter of the elected representatives in the House.

So, perhaps we don't get the bill to the House floor until the first week of January.  But if we do, and do so by abandoning the "majority of the majority" tradition of the last nine years, we will be seeing a needed structural change in the House of Representatives.  The Speaker will still decide what gets voted on, but he will no longer be held captive by his own party in making those decisions.

This applies in the future, regardless which party gets in power.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Democratic Party has the same kind of fascist authoritative dogmatic zealotry on the left that allows no compromise.  The country needs to insist on freedom from zealots.  This is a window of opportunity to free the House of those fascist tactics.

In addition, it appears that the Senate will also grapple with a way to free the Senate from the fanatical, fascistic tactics of the minority to stop legislation by abusing the filibuster rule.  I haven't read enough about the options being considered, but I believe that the essence of the filibuster can be maintained, i.e. slowing down legislation in order to allow extended debate and deal making, without crippling the Senate into inaction.  The Senate was not designed by our Founders to need 60% votes to pass legislation.  So, there should be a way out of that mess as well.

One can hope and pray...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sell more weapons for slaughter...

The NRA's response to the slaughter of children with assault weapons is...increase weapons' sales.  So, the weapons' industry has only one objective: increase sales. There was a window of opportunity for a glimmer of sanity, but the insane slammed it shut.  

Ideology allows no information to penetrate its bubble of belief. No matter what happens, the ideological beliefs are only strengthened. For some people weapons are good, more weapons are better, more powerful weapons are best, more and more and more and more...  And, as a lovely benefit you get to make lots of money as well. Life is good indeed for the ideologically insane. 

Slaughter produces...outlawing of high capacity assault weapons?  No.  Mandatory background checks for gun buyers at gun shows and online?  No. Limits on ammunition quantities one can buy?  No. Not to the weapons industry and their spokesman, the NRA. Slaughter produces more weapons sales. People rush out to buy weapons out of fear that they will be outlawed, and the NRA advocates armed guards in every school in the nation.  Slaughter is good for business, I suppose.

My only hope is that the response of the NRA and the avid assault weapons supporters will disgust more and more people.  

I guess it is too much to hope that fanatics will change. But I can hope that their responses will alienate more and more people, and they will become increasingly marginalized. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wouldn't it be wonderful...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the NRA actually showed some leadership around this tragedy and promoted sensible gun laws outlawing weapons with excessive numbers of rounds in the clips?  That is, for them to represent sensible gun ownership rather than representing the maximization of sales for the weapons industry?

One can dream...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm sick of it

I''m sick of it.  Sick of news of crazy young men massacring innocent people.  These events are at the intersection of two things that aren't working in our country:  how we deal with people with mental and emotional problems, and how we deal with gun laws.  Both of these issues are kept dysfunctional by political interests.

Decades ago, liberals, in an effort to be compassionate, closed psychiatric hospitals and made it impossible to commit a disturbed person against their will.  The mentally ill can only place themselves in a hospital and get the medication that they need in order to get through a difficult passage.  And, of course, often times, part of their illness is a paranoia and a refusal to be institutionalized out of fear that they will never be able to go free.  Understandable, but sometimes toxic to innocent people they encounter.

And the weapons industry has taken almost total control over how our country views weapons.  The NRA and true believer second amendment absolutists block as much reasonable gun control laws as possible. 

The terrible result is that sick people can and do buy semi-automatic weapons and use them to kill dozens of people in a frenzy of destruction.

I think we need to dramatically change our approach to both how we treat mentally ill people (create a system where someone who is off the rails can be committed against their will - bound to be violently opposed by liberals), and how we treat gun control (eliminate multiple magazine quick fire weapons, and at least prevent those weapons from getting in the hands of mentally and emotionally disturbed people - bound to be violently opposed by conservatives)

Although I personally am disgusted by guns, I have long been a supporter of the second amendment because it is a constitutional right of personal freedom. But society is allowed to draw reasonable lines to protect itself.  In the same way that we can outlaw machine guns and bazookas, we can outlaw these weapons of mass destruction.  I understand that doing so won't keep them out of the hands of criminals who will get them via illegal means, but just because we can't do it perfectly doesn't mean we can't improve the situation.

And it is time to put some trust in our mental health professionals, and allow them to take in the mentally disturbed and give them the medications and treatment necessary to get them back on their feet and back into some reasonable ability to go back out onto the street.

I read a headline earlier this week that a huge percentage of those killed by police in the line of duty are mentally ill people.  

I am sick of it, the intersection of bad gun laws and bad mental health laws.  People are dying who do not need to.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Signs of politics breaking out

Prior to the election, I wrote:

"Voting against Romney is the only way I can vote against the Tea Party, the Evangelicals, and the Libertarians."  

I was afraid that if Romney won, the extremists of the Republican Party would take it as a victory for themselves and would take over the party and the country, which I most assuredly did not want.  

I had hoped that the whacko wing would lose power to more reasonable and moderate voices, voices of those whose goal was to run the country rather than over-run the country with their ideological purity.  There are glimmers in the water of that hopeful future, which I am glad to see.

My favorite center-right columnist, David Brooks, points out that Marco Rubio gave a speech that suggested a move toward the center, and that there are some signs that House Republicans will join with the Speaker, John Boehner, in committing politics - i.e. creating a deal, compromising, and raising taxes along with cutting spending in order to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.  Thank goodness.  

In addition, Brooks points out that even Paul Ryan, unsuccessful VP candidate, is talking about helping the middle class rise rather than spouting Ayn Randian libertarian absolutes.

It could well be that the Republican Party can be taken back from the revolutionaries whose only passion is their ideology.  

The country needs a healthy Republican Party.  It becomes healthy with the marginalizing the ideologically intransigent extremists.  It becomes a healthy political party by acting as politicians, i.e. cutting deals, negotiating behind closed doors, finding compromises, getting what they can and allowing what they need to.  Pushing aside the ideologues and creating space for politicians.

Of course, the Democratic Party needs to do the same thing.  Right now we have the hard core lefties like Robert Reich writing that no deal is better than a bad deal.  No deal means the country goes over the Fiscal Cliff, and despite what Mr Reich would like us to believe, that would be a very bad thing, indeed.

Both parties need to gently ignore their extremes and get on with the business of working together to run the country like adults, rather than warring with each other as alien tribes bent on unconditional surrender.

One can hope. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck, RIP

The wonderful jazz artist Dave Brubeck died today at 91.  He and his tenor saxaphonist, Paul Desmond, were/are my favorite musicians. "Take Five" is their signature piece, and is my favorite piece of music of all time.  Here it is:

Dave Brubeck - Take Five - 1966

Uploaded by  on May 24, 2007
1966 in Germany

Dave Brubeck - piano
Paul Desmond - alto sax
Eugene Wright - bass
Joe Morello - drums

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Phase in a compromise

Will the government push the country over the fiscal cliff?  

The left wing of the Dems and the Right wing of the Reps are all for it, if they don’t get their ways.  I have a pretty good expectation that the two sides will come together with a deal, after lots of fierce posturing and rigid expressions of core principles.  But, it is very easy for the process to become captive to the rigidities and rhetoric.  

What happens if no deal is made?  The Bush tax cuts expire and dramatic spending cuts go into place.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Won’t that lower the deficit? 

Apparently, these are good things in the abstract but become toxic for two reasons.  First, when these things happen suddenly, with no glide path into them, it will shock the economy and cause a second recession.  Not a good thing.  Second, the cuts called out are designed to be so stupid that it forces the government to make a deal.

So, what is the basic outline of the fiscal cliff?  As I understand it:

  • End of the reduction in the “payroll tax” i.e. Social Security tax – 2% raise in taxes for everyone who works
  • End of the Bush tax cuts - increase in taxes of everyone who works and invests
  • End of some tax breaks for businesses
  • Deep automatic cuts for over 1000 government programs

Effects expected?  As I understand it:
  • Cut GDP by 4% in 2013 sending the economy into recession
  • Raise unemployment about 1%, or two million lost jobs
  • Reduce total government spending over $100 billion per year, split evenly between defense and non-defense spending
  • Increase tax revenues over $400 billion per year
  • Total deficit reduction of $569 billion per year (about half the total current deficit)
How about agreeing to the numbers involved (cut spending about $100 billion per year, raise revenues about $400 billion per year) but phasing them in over a four year period, starting with 10 % the first year, 20% the second year, 30% the third year, 40% the fourth year?  
  • Cuts to be 50-50 defense vs non-defense.  
  • Revenue increases by maximizing deductions available as a percentage of income and let people choose whatever deductions they like.  Plus, perhaps, the Buffett rule, income over $1 million have a minimum tax of 30%, over $10 million have a minimum tax of 35%.  

Wouldn't the certainty of an actual plan stabilize business expectations and provide the certainty needed for business to plan and start spending their huge cash reserves, boosting the economy?  Wouldn't the debt glide down to manageable levels eventually if not right away?  Wouldn't the toxic partisan hatreds in Washington and in the country diminish as each side has to compromise and make deals, letting go of their own sense of righteous purity and perhaps even being able to see their political opponents as human beings rather than devils?  i.e. become politicians rather than ideological purists pandering to their extremes?  

In a nutshell, compromise and phase it in over course of one presidential term. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving

As I wrote the day after the election, the most shocking thing to me was that my conservative friends really did think that Obama would lose in a landslide. What this showed me was that they were getting nearly all of their information about the election, and about the world, from right wing media, especially right wing radio and Fox News. So, they were getting spin and propaganda rather than news and opinions. That is to say, their thinking is not based in reality, but rather, is based in the fantasies of ideological purity.

I have stopped being a Republican, so part of me would be happy to see the Republicans destroy themselves, and there is no quicker path to self destruction than self delusion. But I care more about the country than I do about the Democratic Party, which I still view with a distrustful eye. I'm not a Democrat either. There are parts of the Democratic Party that can't be trusted with a budget.

I believe we need a smart, vibrant, reality based Republican Party, and essential to that goal is for those on the right to turn away from Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, et al whose job it is is to get an audience rather than to provide political wisdom. I heard Limbaugh say it very clearly not long ago, that his job is to be ideologically pure.  That is a simple job.  All you have to do is know the ideological dogma and apply it to each and everything in the world, no matter how you have to stretch and distort the world to make it fit.  Thinking is not required, only memory of dogma.  Probably the primary cause of the fall of Communism was the inability of the ideologically pure to see obvious realities all around them that contradicted their dogmas.

I think there are some hopeful signs that this is happening. I am reading that some Republicans are saying that they can't be held to the no-tax pledge of Grover Nordquist, and the are some Republican consultants who are speaking out against Limbaugh. 

Those glimmers of sanity on the political right wing are good reason for my being thankful on this Thanksgiving.

There is  reason to hope that conservatives can regain their sanity and walk away for the fanatics of the Tea Party and the Libertarians and the Evangelicals and become a reality based political philosophy and contribute to our national dialog in a constructive manner. 

Who knows, maybe even the fanatics themselves will start to soften and re-look at their views... well, that is probably a bridge too far.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My hope for the country

The strangest thing, to me, about this presidential election is the fact that many on the right wing of the Republican Party actually thought that Romney was going to win by a landslide.  I had a conservative friend who predicted a 54 to 46 percent victory by Romney, with about 340 electoral votes.  This is not an uniformed person, nor a dumb one.  He is very political and almost obsessively followed the campaign.  So, how was he so wrong?

One answer, of course, is that his hopes overrode his good sense.  But, the real reason seems to be that his sources of information were very limited.  That is to say, his window to the political world is Rush Limabaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Fox News, Rassmussen polling, Carl Rove, Dick Morris, etc – the right wing echo chamber.  So, his view of reality was not a view of reality, but rather it was a view of the spin by the right wing spinmeisters.  

Conservatives are not the only victims of spin, the left wingers whose view of the world is through the lens of MSNBC don’t see reality either, they see the left wing spin and believe it to be the world as it is.  It has been humorously said that MSNBC is Fox News for vegans. 

I have written many times before that I have been a left wing whacko and a right wing whacko, and I am now trying very hard to be understanding rather than polemic.  As a result of my experience, I know for a fact that I was a good man when I was a lefty and I was a good man when I was a righty, and there are good, decent people on both sides of the aisle.  There are idiots and jerks on both sides of the isle as well, of course, but I try to see the goodness in the people, and see the idealism in the ideas on both sides.

Another thing that I know for a fact is that once you are inside an ideological bubble, whether in the left wing whacko bubble or the right wing whacko bubble, all you see is the reflections of the beliefs of your bubble bouncing back at you.  Everything, everything proves to you that you are right and that your ideology is correct.

It takes a lot to break out of that bubble.  What broke the left wing bubble for me was the plight of the Vietnamese after the communists drove the U.S. out of Vietnam.  They were persecuted mercilessly to the point that they became boat people and risked and lost their lives at sea trying to escape the totalitarian oppression of the communists.  I had to rethink my entire view of the political world because I had thought that the U.S. war in Vietnam was based upon a trumped up false view of communism as a threat which was just to justify capitalist and imperialist greed of the U.S.  I decided I was wrong about communism, and eventually became a right wing whacko instead.

What broke the right wing bubble for me was the collapse of the housing and finance industry bubble in 2008.  My view that markets could be trusted to self-regulate and create wealth for all ran aground on the rocks of the realities of Wall Street greed, government indifference, and corporate-political corruption.  I decided I was wrong about deregulated free markets, and I decided that markets can only exist in the environment of regulation and governmental and legal restraints, otherwise they become corrupt enterprises that harm rather than empower society.

So, during the elections, I was aware of what both the right wing and left wing propaganda wings were pumping into the body politic, and tried to find a view that I considered to be fairly close to reality rather than too much influenced by the True Believers of either side.  As a result, the election came out pretty much as I had expected: an Obama win, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House.

My biggest hope from this election is that the fanatical, Rigid Right will lose their grip on the Republican Party as a result of this election – Romney lost and I believe a number of extremist senatorial candidates also lost.  I hope  that the Republican Party can regain its sanity, see the world as it is rather than as being distorted by the extremist echo chamber of talk radio, Fox News, Carl Rove, etc., and become engaged in governing the country rather than trying to create some kind of bogus revolution that is supposed to establish a Libertarian or evangelical utopia on us all.

That is my hope for the country.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Voting against the Tea Party

I will vote for Obama because I wouldn't be able to figure out which Pretend-Romney to vote for.

Which will people vote for when the vote for Romney?  The Romney that pretended to be a Tea Party Right Wing extremist when he was campaigning to win the nomination?  Or for the the Romney who is pretending to be a Massachusetts Moderate?  

I don't say these things with venom or disdain for Romney, in fact, I can admire his guile to some degree.  Once the debates started he did a better job of running as Obama than Obama did running as himself. But why vote for the empty suit whose top qualification is that he knows how to pretend to be whatever his research tells him voters want him to be?

The key question is how he would govern.  I expect he would be the pawn of his fears, that is, he would be a tool of the extremes of the Republican Party, and I do fear the extremes of the Republican Party - Bush's domineering foreign policy, Ryan's libertarian domestic agenda, the Social Conservative's social agenda.  All of which I do regard with venom and disdain.

Voting against Romney is the only way I can vote against the Tea Party, the Evangelicals, and the Libertarians.  

I wish I were more enthused about Obama, but I think he has been a pretty good president overall.  I think his foreign policy has been quite good: Osama is dead, the country has not had a major attack, the status of the country has improved, our defenses are good, our diplomacy is doing OK, the Arab Awakening has not drawn us into yet another misguided fruitless civil war, we are approaching the world in a cautious, thoughtful, principled way.  It seems good enough to me.

I think he did an adequate job of keeping the country from plunging into a second Great Depression, and the problem with the economy is a structural one, not a government one, as far as I can tell.  

Obamacare was pretty disgusting to witness being formed, but in the end, I think it is good that health care has expanded dramatically to cover most people, that people cannot be dumped by their insurance companies for pre-existing conditions or because they become too expensive to cover, and the only way that can be accomplished and still keep health care in the private sector is to put everyone in the pool of the insured, i.e.the individual mandate.

I have always been a liberal on social issues and fully support a woman's right to choose whether to have a child, and don't see where it is the government's business whether or not same sex people want to marry, think that women should have the government keep its nose out of their reproductive health and issues, and think that racism still needs some prodding from both law and societal change to continue to die its long awaited death.

My hope is that Obama is re-elected.  But what I really care about is that the Tea Party, Libertarian, and Evangelical extremes of the Republican Party lose resoundingly during this election cycle.  It is time for the Rigid Right to shatter on the rocks of the reality of public opinion and election failures.

It is time for the Republican Party to be free of the death grip of their extremists.  It would be so nice to get a reasonable Republican Party back which is more interested in governing the country rather than converting it to their fanatical vision of utopia.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Too much rain

Sending love and light and healing energy to our neighbors on the east coast. Too much rain.  Oh my.  Now is a good time for a well run government to step in and help when needed.  Thank goodness we have one.  For now, anyhow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Obama finds his confidence and his voice

Obama looked like he actually knew exactly what he was talking about in the final debate tonight.  He finally seemed to be comfortable in himself and was a master of the topic.  Maybe it was because it was the third debate and it took him some time to get good.  Maybe it was because he feels much more comfortable when discussing foreign policy because he is better at foreign policy than domestic.  At any rate, he seemed to me to be himself and did a good job.

Romney seemed to be playing a conservative, don't make any gaffes type of game tonight.  He seemed to be debating as if he was convinced that he had a big lead in the race and only had to keep from making mistakes.  He wasn't as bad as Obama in the first debate, but he let Obama carry the night.

So, I expect that Obama will make liberals feel reassured that their man can cross the finish line, and I expect that Obama will pick up a couple of points in the polls, which could well be all that he needs.  

The surprise of a Romney who seemed like a reasonable, thoughtful guy rather than a hard core right wing extremist has probably pretty well worn off.  And, in the end, America is faced with a choice.  I think the incumbent will win.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The everyone else vs the angry white guy election

I am begining to think that Democrats need to focus their pitch to women and minorities from this point out. 

I understand that Obama and the Dems feel that they are best suited to run the economy, but as long as they focus on the economy, they are playing in the Reps home field.  No matter how much the Dems trash the Reps approach to taxes and the economy, the underlying truth is that the economy sucks and people are not feeling confident of the economic future of the country.  People are open to the notion that a change of leadership might be a good change for the economy.

For the Dems, the blame game is necessary only as it is in response to an attack by the Reps, but it should be a quick two-step:  the economy is bad because of what the Reps gave us and how the Reps are saying no to everything we want to do, but, by the way, what about the Social Issues? what about Roe v Wade, women’s empowerment, reproductive freedoms, education, immigration, civil rights, censorship, capital punishment, bigotry of all forms, poverty programs, inner city schools, child abuse, etc?  The Dems target voters are all the groups other than angry white males who seem to be dedicated to being tough guys in the world. 

Plus, Dems need to push hard for a diplomatic, negotiation oriented foreign policy.  Forget about looking tough.  The Rep white male seems to care a lot  with looking tough, and is convinced that looking and being tough is what stabilizes the world.  But it doesn’t.  It destabilizes the world.  And the country is sick of war in the Middle East with religious fanatics.  Talking tough will appeal to the Rep white male, but I believe it is a turnoff to women and non-whites in America.  John Wayne is long dead, and the Rigid Right haven’t figured that out yet. 

So, I hope Obama does everything he can to quickly rebut the tough-guy-you're-on-your-own-war-loving talk of the Reps, and ignore the low-tax free-the-economy mantras of Romney and make a quick shuffle off into the social issues and the need for a diplomatic approach to foreign policy. 

He needs to turn it into the everyone-else against the angry-white-guy election.  Or so I think.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Focus on the economy probably helps the Republicans

Joe Biden did fine.  Paul Ryan did fine.  Both made their points and presented their cases.  Each side thought their man won. Biden probably accomplished his primary objective of stopping the freefall in the polls that had resulted from Obama’s disastrous debate performance last week.  Ryan did fine on the big stage and established himself as a significant player in the Republican Party.

So, who won?  I think the Reps probably won because they are keeping the discussion on the economy.  What is not on the table is the Culture Wars.  I have been writing for some time that the Reps want to have the economy be the issue for this election, and the Dems want the Culture Wars be the issue.  The economy sucks, the Radical Right want to enact an evangelical puritanical culture in America.  If people think the economy is the most important issue, advantage Reps.  If people think the Culture Wars are the most important issue, advantage Dems.

So far, it looks to me like it is advantage Reps because the field of play in the debates is the economy. 

Foreign policy was also hit pretty hard last night, and I think that gives the Dems an advantage because the Reps are sounding too much like George W and the neocons.  I think the country is pretty sick of sending its children off to die in the Middle East, and bellicosity is probably not playing real well today.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Romney, the Rockefeller Republican, emerges at last?

As usual, David Brooks of the New York Times clarifies something for me: why Romney did do so well in the debate Wednesday, and why Obama did so poorly.

Obama seemed unprepared for the debate, whereas Romney seemed to be remarkably prepared?  Why?  Was Obama just too busy to get ready sufficiently?  Was John Kerry a bad choice to play Romney in the practice debates with Obama?  Or was it something else.  I think it was something else.

Obama had prepared to debate the Tea Party version of Mitt Romney, that is, the version of Romney that had been campaigning all year in order to get the Republican nomination.  He was prepared to go up against the Libertarian/Evangelical wing of the Republican Party.  But he ran into a Rockefeller Republican Romney instead in the debate.  

He was ready to go after the Tea Party/Paul Ryan/Libertarian extremist that Romney had campaigned as.  He got a remarkably reasonable and persuasive man on the stage with him instead.  He just didn't know what to do.  Not because he failed in some way to react intelligently, but because the things that Romney was saying, with such reasonable and persuasive language, were actually the things that any reasonable non-ideological person would say as well, including Obama himself.  He couldn't counter Romney's words because they were words that made sense to Obama himself. 

This Romney believes in regulation as a necessary part of free markets (an obvious truth denied by the Ayn Rand Libertarian extremists).  This Romney says the rich will not have their taxes reduced (an obvious need denied by Ayn Rand Libertarian extremists).  This Romney says the government needs to help the elderly and disabled with their challenges in life (an obvious and necessary government function denied by the Ayn Rand Libertarian extremists).  This Romney praised government job training programs and support for education (an obvious and necessary government function denied by Ayn Rand Libertarian extremists).  This Romney pledges to work across the isle with Democrats looking for common ground (a total repudiation of the last four years of Tea Party/Libertarian/Evangelical Republican orthodoxy).  

This Romney is a center-right Republican, a Rockefeller moderate, a conservative who believes in the necessary functions of the government and one who believes that conservative approaches can make the government work better, one who looks to rein in the excessive spending enthusiasms of liberals while keeping and improving the needed functions of government.

The etch-a-sketch Romney has emerged.  He shook up his message and came up with what is needed to get elected to the presidency.  Just like he tailored his message to the extremist Republicans while he was running for the nomination.  

I don't know who the real Romney is.  David Brooks thinks we are finally seeing the real Romney, the Romney he has been writing about for the last year.  It could be that this Romney is just fooling us, that he is truly an Ayn Rand social Darwinist after all.  But I don't think so.  

So, even though this Romney is exactly who I want the Republican nominee to be, I have grave doubts that he will be able to deliver as promised.  

He could just be doing what he always does - exhaustively examining the evidence and coming up with a course of action that responds to the data and still give him what he wants - the presidency.  That is, it could be that he doesn't believe any of what he said last night, he is just saying what he has to say to close the deal.  So it could be that he is a man without a center, only ambition.  Could be.

Or, he could really want to run the country like a sensible center-right conservative president, but won't be able to pull it off because all of the supporting Republican cabinet and staff and Senators and Congresspeople that come along with the Republican Party are the same people that brought us over-deregulation, over-militarization, over-Puritanical hits from Republican administrations of the past.  So, this could be a man who won't be able to change his party's stripes even if he tries.  Could be.

Or, he could lead his Republican Party from the wilderness of extremism back into the mainstream and save not only his party but the country from plunging headfirst over the cliff into extremist oblivion. Could he?

Romney has a big task ahead of him, to my mind, and that is to prove to me that he is not just playing word games and keeping the extremist right wing policies he has been campaigning on all year.  Where is the real Romney?

Obama has a big task as well.  It is up to Obama to adjust and run against this new Romney.  Just calling him a liar or a hypocrite won't get the job done.  He has changed his stripes, at least at the rhetorical level.  As David Brooks so clearly pointed out in his excellent article:

"He'll have to develop a positive passion for something he actually wants to do.  I gave Obama better reviews than most pundits Wednesday night, but his closing statement was as bad as any I've heard.  If he can't come up with a two-minute argument for why he should be president again, the former Mr. Audacity might still lose to the former Mr. Right Winger."

It's time for President Obama to give us his vision for America, to inspire us all, to create his vision and to show us that he is our leader into that future.  So far, he's just been the Other Guy, the Not-a-Tea-Party-Nut-Case guy. That might not cut it anymore.  Where is Obama the leader?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Does Romney win the intangibles?

I thought both Romney and Obama gave it their all tonight, and both of them did a good job of articulating their opinions.  I enjoyed the new format where each had time to develop what they were saying and could respond to each other.

On the issues, I would give it to Obama. I think he made good points against the challenger.  Romney made good points against the president as well, however.  So, on the issues, conservatives will think that Romney won and liberals will think that Obama won.

Who won the intangibles?  Romney did, I believe. He had the advantage of being the challenger, so just standing on the same stage as the sitting president and looking like he belonged there is always a win for the challenger.  Romney passed that test.  With flying colors.

I think that Obama did fine in the intangibles arena, but he is by nature a more cautious, hesitant, reflective man than Romney is.  He made his points quite well and with force.  But he didn't have the presence of a leader compared to Romney, or so it seemed to me.  That is a pretty big thing when when trying to be elected president.

Romney was amazingly well prepared for this debate.  There was never a time when he didn't speak with confidence, precision, and force.  He seemed eminently reasonable.  He did not appear to be a heartless plutocrat out to destroy the lower classes.  He seemed to have a clear idea of who he was and what he stood for.  He looked like more of a leader than the president.

However, I think that Romney's intangibles are likely to strike men and women quite differently.  

Romney also came across as bullying at times when he butted in and over-rode the moderator.  I am not remembering if he ever seemed to be bullying Obama, I think not.  So, I think many of women may have seen his presence as being too forceful, not respectful, or perhaps not thoughtful or nuanced.

However, I think that Romney's eagerness and decisiveness probably played pretty well with many men, who saw him as having a larger and more decisive presence.  

I think Romney had no problem looking directly at Obama and challenging him, but it looked to me like Obama had difficulty holding eye contact and had to look away to get out of the glare of Romney's forthrightness, and withdraw into himself.  

But, is there any real benefit for a president to be a challenging presence?  Or is there any real drawback for a president to need to go within and gather himself before responding?  I am not sure that it really matters.  But I think Romney was a good representative of the Republican brand - strength as represented by direct action; and I think Obama was a good representative of the Democratic brand - thoughtful evaluation in preparation for action.

The convicted will remain convicted.  The undecided will respond more to the intangibles than the policies, I would guess.  I think more undecided men will be attracted to Romney, and more undecided women will be attracted to Obama.  

Edge to Romney in round one, or so I think. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How much do Americans really pay in taxes?

I try to get input from both the right and the left on issues, and I am grateful to have Ezra Klein of the Washington Post as a source of liberal viewpoints.  I have found that he is a very effective spokesman for his side, and I really appreciate that he stays away from ad hominem attacks and demonization of the right.  His points are always reasonable, i.e. based upon reasons, rather than being emotional appeals to his liberal tribe.

He presents a really interesting fact about taxes - how much do the different strata of society pay in taxes?  Actually, all strata pay substantial taxes.  Here is the chart:

The bottom fifth income group pay a total of about 17% in total taxes, and the top fifth income group pay about 30% of total taxes.  

So, the idea that some conservatives have that they are being taken advantage of by freeloaders (the beliefs of Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and the donors that Romney was appealing to in Boca Raton) is just nonsense. The lower strata don't pay as much Federal Income Tax, but they pay state and local taxes.  The less income they have, the lower the percentage of federal taxes they play and the greater the percentage of state and local taxes they pay.  

Here is that chart:

I think this is an example of the damage that Rush Limbaugh and conservative radio has had on the Republican Party.  I know that years ago, Limbaugh had a statement on his website that half of Americans didn't pay taxes.  I don't remember if he distinguished that he was only talking about Federal Income Taxes.  I just looked at his website and couldn't find that graphic today.  But I think that became a rallying cry for conservatives who felt taken advantage of by the Takers who were seen as exploiting the Producers.

But, a little analysis, and the picture changes dramatically. Is it really some kind of injustice that the lower fifth income group pays 17% while the upper fifth has to pay 30%?  Don't the lower fifth have their hands full with food, shelter, and a hope for an education for their children without the upper fifth trying to figure out ways to raise taxes on them?

I think the Democrats are winning this one, by a pretty wide margin.