Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Republican slog continues

Well, Romney continues to slog his way to the nomination.  My only hope is that he doesn't mean most of the right wing extremist things that he says, and he is just posturing to get the nomination.  But that brings to mind one of my favorite quotations from Mark Twain:

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it." Mark Twain

I think Romney is in the first category, and I fear that Santorum is in the second.  

In truth, I think that Romney is a pragmatic problem solver without a deep sense of ideology, and that he would probably be a pretty good president.  But, he certainly inspires no one, and remains the "Other Guy" to Obama - pretty well an undefined character that the country could turn to if they decide that Obama has messed up too much. But, I really don't think Santorum would be a good president, and the country is not about to elect someone from the evangelical Christian camp (even though he is an extremist Catholic rather than an evangelical, his appeal seems to be the absolutism of the religious zealot)

I think Obama's main challenge is to keep from becoming overconfident.  Unless, of course, the world blows up in some way between now and November.  I think prayers for a stable, slowly improving world are in order.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Romney's failing economic proposal

Eliot Spitzer, former Democratic governor of New York, points out that Romney's campaign is faltering because his only issue, his approach to reviving the economy, is faltering.

The Romney, and the Republican, approach is austerity and tax cuts: cut spending, reduce taxes, reduce regulations.  But, where that approach is being tried, Europe, it is creating further recession, not economic revival.  

The Obama, and the Democrat, approach is stimulus and regulation:  bail out the auto industry, regulate the banking industry, inject stimulus into the economy directly with a stimulus package and payroll tax cuts.  The result seems to be a slowly growing economy and subsequent job growth.  The results are painfully slow, but it's a very big economy, and for it to take time seems understandable to me.

I still wish either party would propose a Simpson-Bowles type plan where there is dramatic cuts in government spending combined with a real tax reform that would raise revenue while simultaneously lowering tax rates and closing loopholes and ending tax earmarks.  I think that approach both cuts spending and stimulates growth, but both parties avoid that as toxic, especially during an election.  Who wants to answer questions about which spending gets cut and which earmarks get eliminated while running for office?  I think it would sell, but it would take an educated electorate to be able to discern how it would work, and the cacophonous blather from the ideologues on both extremes would certainly try to drown out reasoned discussion.

If Romney's campaign collapses because all of his eggs are in the economic turnaround basket and that approach looks flawed, where do the Republicans turn?  Santorum?  A social conservative whose leading trait seems to be scolding America for being sinners?  I don't think that is the honey likely to attract many bees.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is the "Rigid Right" heading for the cliff?

The Republican Primaries may be giving the country a vivid demonstration of the inflexible and dogmatic nature of the extreme right wing, and its iron-fisted control over the Republican party, as all the candidates have tried their best to cater to the primary voters by toeing the hard core right wing line, even Romney, whom nobody really believes when he professes his dedication to the acceptable positions.  

 By the time all of this comes mercifully to an end, I suspect that the country will turn away from the last candidate left standing who will be anointed as the Republican presidential candidate.  The Republican brand may well be branded for quite some time to come as the party of inflexible, uncompromising, and dogmatic extremists.  

After all, a few decades back, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan came to power as their electorates turned against what was then perceived to be the "Loony Left" - a left wing that was so dedicated to its own ideological vision that it had blinders on and unable to see how it was perceived by the rest of society.  

I think the "Rigid Right" is in the same situation now, and they are only doubling down on their passions rather than looking up and seeing that they are headed for the cliff.  

I can't see Santorum as anything other than a Social Conservative candidate, and I don't think more than about a quarter or a third of the country will ever vote for him or any other candidate whose main passions are social conservatism.  And by the time they are through with Romney, he may be too damaged to have any real chance in the general election.

The question might end up being "will the Republican Party survive the election of 2012?" rather than "will be Republican Party win the White House?".

Friday, February 17, 2012

Contraception, a winning Obama strategy

Andrew Sullivan, center right editorialist, points out that the hard core conservatives are making a big political blunder by trying to whip up voter frenzy about the Obama administration's stance on contraception as a part of the health care law.  

At first, I thought that the administration had made a political mistake by mandating that Catholic institutions had to provide full contraceptive, sterilization, and morning after pills to people in their employ as part of their health coverage.  After all, it is part of Catholic teaching that these things are immoral, so why not honor their religious beliefs?  

But, Obama quickly made a compromise that took the Catholic administrations of these institutions off the hook and still allowed women these contraceptive services if they chose.  Sadly, many Catholic leaders, and Evangelicals as well, seem to have kept pounding on the notion that the Obama administration is anti-religion and is trying to impose a dictatorial secular morality on religious institutions.  It seems to me that the hard core culture warriors of the social-issues right wing is in the process of destroying itself, which causes me no grief.  I suspect that they are not persuading anyone to their position and are quite literally "preaching the the choir", (the I-hate-Obama choir, that is).

Most Catholics practice contraception, or at least see no evil in it.  Maybe the bishops don't know this.  But, there seems to be a lot that bishops don't know when it comes to sexual morality. 

Sullivan's point is that perhaps Obama didn't make a political blunder at all, but set out bait that the socially conservative right wing leaped at, and revealed themselves to be dogmatic and scolding compared to the accommodating and compromising Obama.

Not a bad tactic, whether planned or not, as a way to demonstrate to the country that it is the hard core right wing, not Obama, who is dictatorial, uncompromising, and out of touch.  Sullivan's point is that one of Obama's greatest political gifts is his ability to help his political opponents over-reach and self-destruct.  He may have a point.  Of course, if your political opponents are the hard core culture warriors, from either end of the political spectrum, it is not hard to help them over-reach.  Over-reaching is an intrinsic characteristic of extremism.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to tell if you're liberal or conservative

I think there is an easy way to tell if you are a liberal or a conservative - at the gut level.  Which song would you like to be our national anthem? "America the Beautiful" or the "Star Spangled Banner"?

America the Beautiful has as its top words - "good" and "brotherhood."

The Star Spangled Banner has as its top words - "free" and "brave."

These words speak to the emotional heart of each ideology.  

To liberals, brotherhood, doing good, being part of a beautiful community is what America is all about.

To Conservatives, freedom and bravery are at the heart of what America is all about.

Unfortunately, we have entered a time when the brotherhood and caring of community so valued by liberals, and the freedom and bravery of individualism so valued by conservatives are seen to be in such distant poles that they no longer seem to be in the same country.  That is why both those on the extremes of liberals and conservatives are always trying to win their country back from the alien beings who seem to have stolen it from them.

It seems to me that caring and freedom can coexist, that community and individuality are both needed, but at the extremes they look to be mutually exclusive.

If the flag were to be raised at the Olympics, which song would bring a tear to your eye?  the song of Brotherhood, or the song of Freedom?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who votes for what and why

I read a very informative book: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by historian Colin Woodard.  It's observation is that each part of our country was founded by different people with different ideas and valules, and that over time those ideas and values have remained pretty much intact and have created their own cultures that have endured.  His point is that there is not one United States, but rather there are nine distinct cultural nations in the U.S., all of which vie for political power each election.

The heart of liberalism is the cultural nation of "Yankeedom", started in New England and spread across the land in its particular way; and the heart of conservatism is the Deep South, started in South Carolina and spread in its particular way.  The other nations align to greater or lesser degrees with these polar opposites as the times change.  

I am posting my summary of this book, so this is a longer than normal post, but I think it is an interesting summary of our cultural and political landscape.  One final note about these cultures.  I don't believe that any of our cultures are written in stone, and that they can evolve and change as the times change.  But, here is a pretty interesting fingerprint of the America:

AMERICAN NATIONS:  Colin Woodard – 11 rival cultural centers of North America 2011


  • Founded in Massachusetts 1620
  • Calvinists, Puritans
  • Reform minded public protestants
  • To found a religious utopia on earth
  • Came as families, community oriented
  • Salvation of society, not individuals
  • Believe freedom is more for the community than for the individual
  • Drive to improve the world
  • Social engineering, social justice emphasized
  • Mission to impose their ways on everyone else
  • Turn everyone into a Yankee
  • Faith in government
  • Government is an extension of citizenry
  • Local political control
  • Common good, government to improve people’s lives
  • Intolerant of corruption
  • Protestant work ethic
  • Men judged by hard work and righteousness
  • Frugality, thrift, cleanliness, punctuality
  • Individual self denial
  • Common people, with an aristocracy of the educated
  • Education, literacy valued
  • Rebel against arbitrary authority
  • Environmentally concerned
  • Opposed to military expansionism
  • Lead the Democratic Party

  • Colonized by merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen from New England who arrived by sea and controlled the towns, and by farmers, prospectors, and fur traders from Appalachia who dominate the countryside
  • Yankee faith in good government in the cities
  • Common good
  • Social reform
  • Peace movement
  • Cultural revolution
  • Environmental movement
  • Gay rights movement
  • Reform minded
  • Individual self-exploration
  • Discovery is valued
  • Believe the world can frequently be reinvented
  • Salvation of society not individuals
  • Global information revolution
  • Battles libertarian-corporate agenda of the Far West
  • Oppose military expansionism
  • Lean toward Democratic Party

  • Dutch colony, 1624
  • Global commercial  trading society
  • Private enterprise
  • Free trading
  • Self made men are the elite
  • Materialistic
  • Profitability ethos
  • Speculative ethos
  • Invented modern banking
  • Invented modern corporation
  • Men judged by material achievements
  • Upward mobility
  • Open to immigrants
  • Raucous
  • Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic
  • Haven for heretics, freethinkers, cultural avant guarde
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Internal bickering and negotiation
  • Great universities
  • Freedom of the press
  • Reform minded public protestants
  • Salvation of society, not individuals
  • Opposed to military expansionism
  • Freedom of inquiry
  • Lean toward Democratic Party


  • Founded by Barbados slave lords 1670
  • Modeled on slave states of ancient Greece and Rome
  • Saw enslavement as the natural state of the many
  • Politically polarized on racial grounds today
  • Oligarchy, Radical disparities of wealth and power
  • Desire one party oligarchy with colonial style economy
  • Aristocratic privilege
  • Leisurely pace of life for the aristocracy to develop refinement, culture
  • Subsidize oligarch’s businesses
  • Cut taxes for the wealthy
  • Least democratic of the nations
  • States’ rights
  • Fights federal power
  • Fights taxes on capitalism
  • Fights organized labor
  • Fights environmentalism
  • Fights consumer protectionism
  • Authoritarian society
  • Wants a compliant, low wage workforce
  • Order and obedience are valued
  • The poor existed to support the oligarchs
  • White supremacy, contempt for all “inferior races”
  • Contempt for the middle class
  • Religion important
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • Support wars
  • Lead Republican Party

  • Founded by the younger sons of southern English gentry
  • Jamestown, John Smith 1607
  • Desire to reproduce the life of the semi-feudal English manors
  • Tobacco plantations, indentured servants, then slave - haves & have-nots
  • Values authority and tradition
  • Personal honor, duels
  • Leisurely pace of life
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • No towns, schools, local governments
  • Little respect for public participation in politics
  • Little respect for equality
  • Nation in decline, losing power to Midlands neighbors
  • Support wars
  • Lean toward Republican Party

  • Founded in early 18th century by rough, bellicose war ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, Northern England, Scottish Lowlands
  • Came from a condition of near constant war and upheaval
  • Warrior ethic, combative, will fight anyone who tries to lord it over them
  • Extreme individualism
  • Men judged by their toughness and ferocity
  • Aggressive military, support wars
  • Lampooned as rednecks, hillbillies, crackers, white trash
  • Backcountry people, beyond rule of law
  • Opposed to strong, central government controlled by elites
  • Egalitarian
  • Taxes low, schools sparse, government slight
  • Suspicious of aristocrats
  • Suspicious of reformers
  • Opposed to strong labor unions
  • Maximize freedom rather than increase wealth as top priority
  • Clan based
  • Honor based
  • Salvation minded private protestants
  • Lean toward Republican Party


  • Founded by Dutch Quakers
  • Utopian colonies
  • See humans as essentially good
  • Welcome many nations and creeds, immigrants
  • Tolerant
  • Multicultural, multilingual
  • Organized around the middle class
  • Society should be organized to help ordinary people
  • Middle class ethos
  • Thrift, sobriety
  • Neighborliness
  • Skeptical of top down government intervention because they escaped tyrannies in Europe
  • Distrust of big government
  • Reject hierarchical authority
  • Government is an unwelcome intrusion
  • Moderate politics
  • Practical politics
  • The key swing vote in every election
  • Timid and ambivalent
  • Not militaristic, expansionist
  • Moderating force in politics

  • The oldest nation, founded by Spanish missionaries and soldiers, 1560
  • Catholic opponents of Protestantism
  • Overwhelmingly Hispanic
  • Mexicans are the progeny of Spanish and Indian unions
  • Hybrid between Anglo- and Spanish- American
  • Independent
  • Self-sufficient
  • Work centered
  • Adaptable
  • Ruled by oligarchy over the peons
  • Obedient, respectful
  • Self sufficient, independent ranch hands, cowboys
  • Lean toward Democratic Party

  • Environmental barrenness more important than ethnicity
  • Treated as an internal colony to be exploited for natural resources
  • Reviles federal government interference, but demands federal government largesse
  • Run by the corporations exploiting the natural resources
  • Libertarian-corporate agenda
  • Want the federal government to get out, leave us alone, give us money
  • Rarely defies their corporate masters
  • Industrial base grew as a result of WWII and Cold War
  • Hostility to Federal Government
  • Independence of the cowboy ethos
  • Extreme individualism
  • Allies with deep south sometimes
  • Lean toward Republican Party


  • Founded in 1604
  • Mixed society, embraced Indians
  • Cross cultural marriages
  • Tolerant open society
  • Down to earth
  • Egalitarian
  • Consensus driven
  • The most liberal on the continent
  • Multicultural

  • Far northern Canada
  • Environmentalism
  • Limited sense of ownership
  • Sharing society
It is a fascinating book and worth the read if you are interested.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"The Other Guy" is winning for the Republicans

Mitt Romney is winning the Republican nomination.  He is trying to become "The Other Guy."  

If the election is about Obama, The Other Guy will either win or lose depending on how things are going for Obama in November.  Romney's biggest strength is that he is a generic Republican, the kind that often beats Obama in polls.  When they ask about Obama vs. specific Republicans, Obama wins because most specific Republicans are disliked for particular reasons.  But when asked about Obama vs a generic Republican, Obama often loses depending on how the country is feeling about the country, the economy, Obama's leadership, etc.  Since most of what Romney says is not believed anyhow, he morphs into the generic Republican, becomes The Other Guy, and has the best chance to defeat Obama in November.

All that the Republican primary elections are showing the country so far, as far as I can tell, is that the Republicans have only unpalatable offerings to make for the presidency, and the one winning is the one where people dismiss what he says as things that he doesn't really believe.

Romney might be a competent manager of the country, but he is certainly no visionary.  If you think he doesn't believe what he says, then he becomes an inkblot test - he becomes whatever you wish him to be.  In a way, that is how Obama ran four years ago, undefined and believed to be a multitude of things to a multitude of voters, many of whom became disappointed because he wasn't who they projected him to be.

If people actually listen to Romney and vote based on the silly things he is saying, he will no longer be just The Other Guy, but will be someone who represents actual policy possibilities, and he too will be rejected.  But, for now, he is just The Other Guy.