Thursday, March 29, 2012

Constitutional oddities

So, I guess from the right wing point of view it is unconstitutional to mandate that everyone buys private health insurance (Obamacare), but it is constitutional to mandate that everyone buy government health insurance (Medicare and Social Security).  So, I guess that the right wing point of view is that it would be constitutional to have Medicare for everyone in the nation rather than just everyone in the nation that is 65 or over?

Poor Romney, he led a conservative triumph in Massachusetts when he signed Romneycare by stopping the left wing drive for a single payer (government) statewide health plan and instituted the conservative Heritage Foundation idea of offering universal health care by using the market rather than the government - i.e. by mandating that everyone in the state buy insurance, with subsidies to those who couldn't afford to.  Viola!  universal coverage provided by the market!  A completely conservative, market oriented solution designed to create a system where market forces would create the most efficient and cost effective health system.  Government bad, market good - the fundamental requirement for a conservative idea.

That is, it was a brilliant right wing idea until Obama adopted it and it became a bad left wing idea that was an attempt to force people to buckle under to the tyrannical left wing government on the way to a socialist takeover of everyone's freedoms.  

It's just one tribe fighting the other tribe with no attention being paid to the merits of anything.  Perhaps it is a result of a legal mindset that has taken over congress, inhabited mostly by lawyers.  The definition of a good lawyer seems to be that he or she can argue either side of any issue depending on who is paying them.  The issue doesn't matter, the arguments don't matter, just the winning matters.  Same thing for the endlessly exhausting culture wars in this country.  It seems to me that Obamacare and Romneycare are perfect examples of arguing for and against the same thing depending on whose ox gets to be gored.  

In a way, this current political environment in which the only thing that matters is winning looks to me like it is a parallel to what has happened to Wall Street, where the only thing that matters is making money.  When all other considerations are thrown away, everything goes out of balance and things are destroyed - millions of jobs destroyed when the financial system got so out of balance that it almost destroyed capitalism itself, and the ability of our politicians to govern is being destroyed by the polarization getting so out of balance that democracy itself is being compromised.

Lord, I'm sick of it all, but we have a whole presidential and congressional campaign ahead of us of vitriolic exaggeration and bile.  I send some prayers to our body politic for some soothing of the rhetoric, some listening to the ideas rather than just attacking of the enemies, and to that most hated word to the extremes - compromise - which is a synonym for another word - politics.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Will the Supreme Court legislate from the bench?

The Supreme Court is considering the challenges to Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act starting today.  It seems to me that the most conservative position that the conservative members of the court can take is to leave it alone, unchanged, to stand as is.  

I think that one of the tenets of conservative courts is that they should not legislate from the bench.  This law is what laws are - flawed, messy, a cobbled together set of compromises needed to get it passed.  I have never been avidly for nor against Obamacare, and have always been more on the sidelines observing, with some distress, the process that the legislation took.  All told, I expect it to cost more than promised (what government program doesn't?), and I expect that it will provide health care for a huge number of people that didn't have insurance coverage prior to the law.  And I expect that the insurance companies will not be able to reject coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.  In other words, the basic claims of both the right and the left are correct.  

However, there is one thing that seems obvious to me: this law is one of the most powerful examples of legislation by the legislature in my lifetime.  This wasn't passed in the dead of night after minimum debate.  It was the result of an excruciating year long process played out in both the Senate and the House, with maximum publicity, with all segments of society and business passionately weighing in to try to influence the outcome. At the end, the legislation passed, and a new law came into being.

To overturn it would be one of the most blatant examples of legislation from the bench of all time.  That alone should convince the conservative justices to leave it alone, it seems to me.  

If Obamacare is to be overturned, it needs to be overturned by the legislature, not the courts.  The hard core right wing seem to think that the country is as eager to overturn it as they are.  I sincerely doubt it.  I think that a Republican push to overturn the health care law will blow up in their faces.  The fight to overturn the law will enrage the country all over again, and is a lost cause, as far as I can tell.  It is what the ideologues want to do, but I don't think the country has the taste for it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What do the extremists believe?

I believe that the extremists of both parties are toxic to our national dialog and are inadvertently leading their parties to ruin.  Who are they?  What do they believe?

I believe that the Left Wing of the Democratic Party sees BUSINESS as rapacious, exploitative, insensitive, uncaring sharks who prey on the weak for their own selfish profit and greed.  They certainly have ample evidence to support their beliefs: from Bernie Maddoff and the Wall Street Too Big to Fail behemoths who made fortunes at their clients' expense, to the raping of the environment, to their disproportionate control over elections by campaign funding and lobbying.

I believe that the Right Wing of the Republican Party sees BUSINESS as the "strong horse that pulls the whole cart" to quote Churchill, and is the energy that actually creates prosperity for the modern world.  They certainly have ample evidence to support their beliefs as well: from the creation of the auto industry in America and then Japan, to the creation of the high tech industry in Silicon Valley and then around the world, to the stark contrast between the levels of prosperity in the affluent Capitalist world and the lack of prosperity in the impoverished Communist worlds during the Cold War, and still today.

I believe the Left Wing of the Democratic Party sees GOVERNMENT as kindly parents who exhibit caring and establish justice.  They certainly have ample evidence to support their beliefs: from the safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid to provide for the elderly and disabled who become unable to provide for themselves, to a vast system of criminal and civil justice that provide protection for the population from personal and corporate crime, and the establishment of a legal framework in which the Capitalist business system can operate freely with guaranteed competition.

The Right Wing of the Republican Party sees GOVERNMENT as meddling tyrants bent on accumulating more and more centralized power in the hands of faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats who run the country for their masters according to the latest intellectual fads of the day.  There is ample evidence to support their beliefs:  from the faceless insensitivity of the DMV bureaucrat, to the attempted government takeover of the largest economic sector of the country (health care), to the totalitarian control of every aspect of society and personal life in the past and present Communist countries, with enormous government take-overs like Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act seen as giant steps toward that kind of totalitarianism.

But most people, thank goodness, do not see business as either a predatory shark or a beneficent work horse, nor do they see government as either a totalitarian force in waiting or a kindly, caring parent.  I think most people look upon both business and government as human institutions, not capitalized super-entities, with some suspicion and some gratitude, and see that both are mixed bags of beneficial and harmful forces.  I certainly do, unlike how I viewed things in my earlier years where I more or less chose sides in the endless battle between the believers in GOVERNMENT and the believers in BUSINESS.  

That is why I am glad that elections are generally decided by the moderate middle of the political spectrum.  The middle is often fairly disengaged, but often quite engaged indeed, but they are not captive of the caricatures of business and government portrayed by the outer wings of each party.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Left Wing Extremism also loses elections

It's not just the Republicans who are in danger of extremism that alienates the mainstream voters.  Ruth Marcus, center left editorialist of the Washington Post, warns that the way Democrats lose is by being too extreme as well.

She cites a recent study that shows that Democratic Party activists are quite a bit more liberal than voters who identify themselves as Democrats.  

This fact is compounded by the fact that those who identify themselves as independent but leaning Democrat are more likely to vote Republican than those who identify themselves as independent but leaning Republican are likely to vote Democrat.  

The weakness of each party is oddly the very thing that party activists think is their strength - ideological commitment, passion for The Cause - extremism.  I believe that whichever party is able to reject its own extremism is the party of the future. Right now, it seems to me that Obama is a fairly moderate liberal, and Romney is a fairly moderate conservative, despite the red meat they throw out to their extremist wings in an effort to keep them excited.  

If the race is between these two, I would feel fairly comfortable with the choices presented.  The Republicans are trying their best to get a  passionate movement conservative on the ballot, but I think that they will end up settling on the pragmatic problem solver, Romney, in the end.

Who knows, we might even have an interesting race between two pragmatic candidates who discuss the issues and their positions.  In truth, if they would actually speak of how they see issues in the same pragmatic way that they would like to govern, they might end up doing a lot of agreeing with each other rather rather than adapting ideological poses to satisfy their wings and trying to create wide differences between them.  

Wouldn't that be a welcome relief?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Who are the big spenders?

Who raises government spending more - Democrats or Republicans?  Oops... it's Republicans!  Andrew Sullivan, center right editorialist, presents the following chart:  


Nixon-Ford, Reagan, and Bush II all raised growth well over 2.5% per capita during their terms.  Obama is under 1.5% and Clinton was under 1.0%.  

Maybe it's a kind of Nixon-to-China syndrome, the liberal Dems couldn't reach out to China without being accused of appeasing Communists, but the anti-communist Nixon could.  Perhaps it's the same here, the big spending Dems can't get much big spending done without being savaged for playing to type, but the cost cutting Reps can get away with budget murder.  

It would be nice if either party would seriously address our very big deficit issue along the lines of Simpson-Bowles cost cutting and tax reform, but I expect the upcoming campaign will stick to ideological sound bites and play it safe.  But after the election, I can't imagine the elected president not focusing on tax reform, cost cutting, and deficit reduction, regardless of which candidate wins.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is Rush Limbaugh killing talk radio?

Is talk radio dying?  

Has Rush Limbaugh, who gave birth to extremist political radio, killing it now?  Limbaugh spawned many imitators on both the right and the left, from Glenn Beck to Keith Olbermann.  Extremism seems to be the goal, and the hook needed to get a small niche audience.  It doesn't take many people to agree with a radio host to give them a very profitable audience.  I think I saw that the biggest success in the talk show world, Limbaugh himself, gets only about 5% of the radio audience during his time slot.  Most people are not that focused on politics, they actually have lives that concern them and aren't obsessing about how the political world is destroying the world.  Good for them.

Apparently, a company named Premiere Networks is a main distributor of Limbaugh and many right wing talk shows.  And they have made a pretty shocking announcement:  98 sponsors want guarantees that they will not be advertised on extremist, polarizing, mean spirited talk shows.  John Avalon, centrist editorialist, writes the following:

"Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”

This includes corporations like Ford, Geico, and McDonalds.  These are big players.

In a time where our politics has become so polarized that actual governing becomes almost impossible because both parties are incapable of compromise with opponents that they see as evil, I can think of nothing quite so promising as this development.  This is not the government suppressing free speech.  This is advertisers refusing to be associated with extremist nastiness that hurts their brand and inhibits their ability to do business.  

As I have written before, in the '80s the Loony Left became so separated from reality that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were given power to undo some of their craziness.  Now, thirty years later, the Rigid Right, lead by Limbaugh and others on the radio, have become so trapped inside the bubble of their own ideology that they can't see any reality that doesn't confirm their beliefs.  

I once heard Limbaugh announce that his job was ideological purity.  He is famous for saying that what you find in the center of the road is roadkill.  I say what you  find at the extreme edges of the road, both right and left, are ditches.  And these extremists have proudly led our country into the ditches: the ditches of right wing and left wing ideological purities that are incapable of pragmatism and compromise, in other words, incapable of the practice of actual politics, which involves give and take, and ... compromise.

They are lost in obsolete ideologies, and it is time for most of us to turn away from their sad little mean spirited conspiratorial views of the world - both right wing and left wing.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rush Limbaugh loses a sixth advertiser

Apparently, Carbonite is the sixth advertiser that has pulled their ads from the Rush Limbaugh show.  Carbonite's reason was very explicit:

No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.

Carbonite joins Sleep Number, Sleep Train, Quicken Loans, Legal Zoom, and Citrix as sponsors who have decided Rush Limbaugh damages their brands.  Perhaps also Auto Zone is part of that group.

Lack of civility in our political discourse is perhaps our greatest problem in this country.  When each side demonizes the other, no cooperation and compromise is possible, and thus, no actual governing happens.  Thirty years ago, it was the "Looney Left" that had gone off the cliff.  These days, extremists like Limbaugh are leading the Rigid Right off the cliff.

I remember back in the days when I was more conservative, and listening to Limbaugh from time to time, one of his accusations of liberals was that they would damage the country rather than do anything that would allow George W Bush look good.  This was supposedly because of Democrats' lust for power.  But, hasn't Rush Limbaugh already confessed to that very motivation right after Obama was elected when he said that he hoped Obama would fail as president?  Doesn't this man do everything in his power to force Republicans to refuse to cooperate in any way with Obama and the Democrats, just so the Republicans can seize power in 2012?

Conservatives like Limbaugh are seeming more and more desperate and sad to me.  I think they have put all of their eggs in the basket of overthrowing Obama and the Dems in 2012, and it looked like they were going to succeed a few months ago.  But now it looks like it is all slipping away from them.  Long term, demographics are working against the conservatives, and they know it, and I think they are panicking and becoming more and more extreme, and more and more alienating to those outside of their tight little world.  Hispanics and young people strongly lean toward the Democrats, and those demographics are only getting larger.  If Obama and the Democrats win 2012, there is a chance that the Reagan Revolution, so beloved by conservatives, will be dead, even to them.  

The stakes are very high in the minds of the True Believer conservatives like Limbaugh. And his nasty over-reaching as he assaults those he disagrees with is an indicator of their desperation.  Or so it seems to me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Santorum's self defined Courage sinks his candidacy

I finally broke down and listened to the last Republican debate last week prior to the Michigan and Arizona primaries.  Up to then I was content to see highlights on news reports and internet sites, on the idea that why listen to seven or eight people when only one is going to be the candidate?  

The key moment in this campaign for Santorum came, I believe, when someone texted in asking for each candidate to define themselves in one word.  Paul said "Consistent", Romney said "Resolute", Santorum said "Courage", and Gingrich mischievously said "Cheerful."  

I think they all revealed a lot, but most especially, Santorum.  Up until then apparently he had run a fairly focused and smart campaign, speaking as a working class guy that connected with people who were feeling the hardship of the economy and wanted to find a way to make a living and feel some self respect again which had been so hurt by the Great Recession.  That was a message with some appeal to a lot of people.  

But, I think that once he defined himself with the brand of Courage, I think he felt he had found his true voice, and had given his campaign a greater purpose - to be Courageous.  And, I think he proved to us what being courageous really means in Rick Santorum's world - to speak out against Godlessness and sin.  He became the preacher rather than the politician.  He scolded the country for their sins, courageously.  He spoke the truth on those things that he held as being the most important - issues of morality - courageously.  Say "no" to contraception because it places the will of men and women above the Will of God; wanting to Throw Up when he heard what John F Kennedy said about the separation of church and state - misinterpreting Kennedy's assurances that he would not be a pawn of the Vatican for a declaration that people of faith should stay out of politics; etc.  He revealed his deepest passions, his deeply held convictions of his faith and his obvious desire to impose his dogmas on as many Americans as he could manage.

Not an attractive message to most people, certainly not to me.  Those that shared his dogmatic views were thrilled, of course, but they had already seen him as one of them.  But many of the rest saw him as someone other than themselves.  So, he is losing.  I am willing to give thanks to God for that, personally.

As for Romney's identifying himself as "Resolute", I think that is also instructive.   I think he is resolute.  He is the energizer bunny that just keeps going even though he is not doing an awful lot to catch on.  I expect him to resolutely plow ahead and win the nomination.  I'm not inspired, but I think he would be so much better than his Republican opponents that I am happy to see him continue his upward, laborious path to the nomination.  I expect Super Tuesday to pretty much put the competition to bed and show that there is only one viable candidate.  

But, as long as billionaires are willing to back the non-Romneys I suppose we will have to endure more primary drama.  And that relentlessly negative drama only hurts the conservative brand - or does it just reveal it?