So for some reason or another I got to thinking about the chain of wackadoo claims conservatives/radicals have made about Democrats/Progressives over the last 20+ years. Some highlights:
Bill Clinton had his aide Vince Foster killed to cover up the Whitewater Real Estate “scandal” from his Arkansas days.
Bill Clinton had the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City destroyed to cover up the Whitewater “scandal” — some of the FBI agents killed in OK City were alleged to have been knowledgable about the “scandal.” Alternatively, the bombing was alleged to have been done to cover up the Clinton administration’s mistakes in Waco, TX, dealing with the Branch Davidians. (There were real mistakes in this confrontation, by the way, which is not an endorsement of this claim.)
The Clinton administration had purchased “black helicopters” they were using to surveil Westerners in preparation for placing them in UN-run internment camps. (Google the name “Helen Chenoweth.” She was a Congresswoman from Idaho who made Michele Bachmann look like a voice of reason and consideration.)
During the Clinton Administration, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre described federal agents as “jack booted thugs” (a reference to Nazi SS storm troopers) for enforcing the Brady Bill. Talk show host and former Nixon attorney G. Gordon Liddy, who went to prison for his part in the Watergate scandal, urged his listeners to “aim high” if they were raided by federal agents since—and I am not making this up—federal agents wore body armor, and shots to the body wouldn’t be effective. All of this, of, course, was in the midst of the rise of the militia movement, an incipient armed rebellion against the US government centered in Montana and Idaho and built off the dregs of the survivalist and white supremacist movements.
Skipping forward a few years, we get …
Claims during the 2008 campaign that Obama was the literal Biblical antichrist.
The 2008 election was stolen by ACORN.
Claims that having schoolchildren watch an Obama speech about the importance of education was political indoctrination into the Obama cult of personality.
Birtherism. ‘Nuff said.
Muslimism. ‘Nuff said.
The bailout of the auto industry meant the socialization of the American economy. Which is already a lot socialized. And the auto industry is basically on its own again.
Obamacare = socialism, despite the fact that it’s based on private insurance and was mostly a windfall for private, for-profit health insurance providers.
Signing the UN Treaty on the rights of disabled persons would let the UN set rules for American parents in raising their children.
The 2012 election was stolen by ACORN … which hasn’t existed for several years.
Any form of gun control is the first step in creating a fascist state under the communist fascist Kenyan Muslim antichrist Obama.
And before anyone starts with the “the Democrats demonized Bush II” too nonsense, let me concede that lots of Democrats accused/implied that Bush had become president through illegitimate means (e.g., a crony Supreme Court). Lots thought he was a terrible president for lots of reasons (Politicalprof among them). But you can show me nothing like this list from Democrats aimed at Republicans, particularly from elected, actual government officials or party leaders. And please note that in my list I cheated in the REPUBLICANS’ favor: I didn’t post anything from the assbags Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and their ilk. Nothing, despite the millions of people they have in their daily radio audiences (especially Limbaugh).
So forgive me when I roundly mock the next right wing wackadoo who screams the sky is falling. Really: reason, truth, facts, evidence, science … none of these work. Outright mockery is about all we have left to address these loons.
As I quoted the New York Times in this post in February (when the Republicans failed to reauthorize the act, which has now died), Republicans rejected the Violence Against Women Act because:
The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.
So think of this way: the Republicans decided it was better to protect NO women than to ALSO protect gay women, or transgender women, or undocumented women.
If we weren’t talking about the contemporary Republican Party, this would be impossible to believe. Now it’s only expected. And vile.
Higher taxes on individuals earning $400,000 and on families making $450,000 or more. Under that threshold, the Bush-era tax cuts will be permanent for all but the wealthiest households. The $450,000 threshold for families is a significant increase from Democrats’ initial proposal to raise taxes on Americans making $250,000 or more, but it is lower than Republicans’ earlier proposal to raise taxes on households making $1 million or more.
Higher tax rates on capital gains and dividends for wealthier households. Taxes on capital gains and dividends will be held at their current levels of 15 percent for individuals making less than $400,000 and households with income of less than $450,000. They will rise to 20 percent for individual taxpayers and for households above those thresholds.
Automatic spending cuts delayed for two months. The “sequester,” which would impose steep, across-the-board cuts to domestic and defense programs, will be delayed for two months.
One-year extension to unemployment insurance. Emergency unemployment benefits will be extended for a year. The extension was a priority for President Obama and congressional Democrats.
One-year “doc fix.” The measure will put off scheduled cuts in physician payments under Medicare. In the absence of an agreement, the payments were going to be reduced by 27 percent in January.
Nine-month farm bill extension. Breakfast lovers, rejoice: A much-feared spike in milk prices, dubbed the “dairy cliff” because it was also set to kick in abruptly on Jan. 1, will be averted through a nine-month extension of certain portions of the farm bill.
Personal exemptions phased out for individuals making over $250,000. Personal exemptions will be phased out and itemized deductions will be limited for taxpayers making over $250,000 and families earning more than $300,000.
40 percent estate tax. The estate tax will rise to 40 percent from its current 35 percent level, with the first $5 million in assets exempted. Democrats had earlier sought a higher increase to 45 percent and a lower exemption of $3.5 million.
Permanent fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax. The alternative minimum tax was levied to ensure the wealthiest Americans paid a fair share of taxes. It was not indexed for inflation but is usually “patched” annually to prevent an increasingly large swath of middle-class Americans from being caught in its net. As part of the fiscal deal, the AMT will be permanently indexed to inflation.
Tax breaks for working families. The deal includes five-year extensions of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be claimed for college-related expenses; the Child Tax Credit; and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable income-tax credit for low- to moderate income working Americans.
Business tax breaks. The Senate Finance Committee passed a package in August that tackled a variety of routinely expiring tax provisions known as extenders. These popular tax provisions include breaks for research and development. That package passed as part of the broader cliff deal.
Congressional pay freeze. President Obama recently authorized a congressional pay raise in a move that angered many congressional Republicans. Under the New Year’s cliff measure, members of Congress won’t see their pay increase.
By the way, this pretty much all proves no one’s really serious about “fixing” the debt … and why would they be? “Fixing” the debt means cutting benefits to real people (i.e., voters) TODAY. It means raising taxes on real people (i.e., voters) TODAY. All in return for a “fix” that may or may not happen a LONG TIME FROM NOW.
Does anyone take massive pain today in order to potentially gain something well in the future, especially when the pain you suffer today may well be fatal (to your political career)? At least, does any sane person do this?
Of course they don’t.
This deal almost certainly guarantees increases in the deficit going forward, not paying it off. The Bush tax cuts were, like so much of the Bush presidency, a disaster for America, and the fetishization of them today is moronic. But that didn’t stop lots of people from calling for making them “permanent” (whatever that means in DC) in this deal, did it?
See you at the next crisis (over the debt ceiling) in two months. Not a damn thing got settled with this deal … nor was there any intent to settle anything. The game continues.
Wondered why we seem on an inevitable course to go over the profoundly badly named “fiscal cliff”? It’s not all that hard to figure out:
Today, if the Republicans agree to a bill Obama will sign, it will mean, in the Washington description of things, that the Republicans have voted to let taxes rise (otherwise known as return to their pre-Bush “temporary” tax cut levels) on people who make more than some amount of money—say, $400,000 a year.
Four days from now, once the “temporary” Bush tax cuts expire and all rates have returned to their Clinton-era levels, the Republicans will claim that voting for THE EXACT SAME BILL THEY COULD VOTE FOR TODAY will mean they are voting to cut taxes for 99.9% of Americans (otherwise known as extending the Bush “temporary” tax cuts into the future for everyone making less than, say, $400,000 a year).
By now, many people are aware of NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s ridiculous press conference of yesterday, in which he claimed that the best way to stop bad guys with guns is to have more good guys with guns. Then he linked “badness” to “madness” and argued that since madness is basically unpreventable, we have to have people armed and ready to kill bad guys (of any kind) at the drop of a hat if we are to be “safe.”
Here are a few reasons why this is stupid.
1. Where do “crazy guys” get their guns? Well, recently most have used weapons that were attained legally, either by themselves or family. Control that access point and crazy guys can have all the murderous impulses they want, but they won’t be able to get the guns with which they enact their murders. (BTW, “bad” guys—e.g., drug dealers—get their guns by stealing them from “good” people who have them in their homes, so if we could control the home access point that violence would get better, too.)
2. Madness is fairly evenly distributed globally: there are crazy people everywhere. But mass murders occur only in those countries that have lots of guns in lots of peoples’ hands.
3. Video games are played everywhere in the world. Teenage angst and rage exist everywhere there are teenagers. Yet somehow these things seem not to induce mass murders anywhere but the US.
4. Columbine had an armed guard. The people at Ft. Hood were trained soldiers armed with high powered weapons. They couldn’t stop mass murders with guns. Why would even a vaguely sane person believe that untrained amateurs could … especially scared amateurs shooting at a moving target in a large crowd. (BTW, when those amateurs kill the “wrong” people, as they surely will, they’re guilty of murder, you know.)
There’s more, but that’s enough. Reality has a way of being, well, real, no matter what one’s ideology commands. A heavily armed America will be an America with greater numbers of murders, mass murders, suicides and accidental murders.
Sounds like a good idea to you, I guess. The rest of us choose to be part of the “reality-based community.”
So there is a phenomenon in American political and social life that seems to me to need to at least be acknowledged: our relentless urge to pull the ladder up after ourselves.
The ladder, of course, is the ladder of opportunity.
See, the thing is that while we often refuse to acknowledge this, all of us stand on others’ shoulders as we make progress in life. The accomplishments of medicine, the arts, and science, for example, all frame the context in which we live our lives and make our way. I, for one, am utterly blessed to have been born in an era where science can make good and complex eyeglasses: my eyes are lousy, and whatever successes I have had have been in part derived from the fact that I have had good glasses since I was six years old. Had I been born a century ago, my life would be lousy. But I wasn’t, and it isn’t.
In some sense, then, my basically successful life has been utterly dependent on other people’s work—the work that created the glasses that I have used to see my path to some kind of success.
Viewed this way, the plain truth is that all of us benefit from others’ accomplishments. Like antibiotics? Safe drinking water? Electric light (and batteries)? Whatever uses you make of these things, someone else had to make them before you could benefit from them. And those people, in turn, built off others’ accomplishments. it’s just how the world works.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to forget the socially-connected nature of our lives. It is all too easy to think only of our own — very real — accomplishments, and to imagine our successes are entirely of our own making.
It is likewise easy to imagine that others’ failures are entirely the result of their own flaws and fumbles.
We can see these attitudes in lots of parts of political and social life. To wit:
Recent immigrants are often the brunt of jokes and disrespect from more established immigrant groups.
People with jobs often perceive that any form of welfare is little more than coddling the poor—even when, in many cases, the employed have enjoyed government support in the past (like public education, tax breaks for home ownership and, in Mitt Romney’s father’s case, actual welfare when George Romney’s family moved back from Mexico when George was a child).
There are retirement towns in Arizona that have been exempted from paying that portion of local property taxes that goes to support local schools—an exemption granted on the theory that the retirees’ children didn’t go to school in Arizona, so they shouldn’t have to pay for the educations of current Arizona children.
All of this—and much more—is akin to pulling up the ladder behind you as you climb into a tree house: you got yours, so screw everyone else. Such selfishness is perhaps inevitable given that people seem to imagine our successes as totally ours and thus attribute others’ failings to their personal flaws, but in the end this kind of selfishness is self-defeating: the only way any of us can hope to succeed is to make sure that lots of people have lots of opportunities to succeed, even as we recognize that not everyone will.
An America with strong ladders that can hold a lot of people, even those who sometimes fall off, will be a better America than one where the ladders are reserved to the people with tree houses.
So if you figure that the key to getting attention in our media-saturated age is screaming at the tops of our lungs, and you realize that the most-common way to scream these days is to insist that you are “outraged” by something (or you are outraged at the lack of outrage about some outrage-worthy thing), a question:
That is, once the “outrage machine” breaks down, once outrage no longer draws attention (as it will eventually fail just like the “boy who cried wolf” eventually fails), then how will all the screamers draw attention to themselves post-outrage? Quiet murmuring? (Umm, no.)
In other words, what’s more outrageous than outrage? How will we know to pay attention to the “WAR ON CHRISTMAS” if OUTRAGE ABOUT THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS no longer brings us to focus on the faux “news”?
Because don’t kid yourself: it can get worse. And almost certainly will.
So it turns out we’re about to have a momentous opportunity to reform American politics, an opportunity for reform that is likely to be both sweeping in effect and easy to implement in practice. Such opportunities come rarely in life. Here’s hoping we take the chance.
The opportunity derives from the fact that the first thing the Senate has to do every two years, just after the newly-elected Senators are sworn into office in January, is to vote on the rules that will govern their actions for the next two years. This vote is a simple majority vote and sets the terms for all debate and action — or inaction — for the next Senate session.
The opportunity for major reform is this: in January the Senate can, by a simple majority vote, save the filibuster by eliminating holds.
Filibusters, for the underinformed, are Senate tactics by which a Senator can delay all Senate votes on bills by standing on the floor of the Senate and talking … about anything. They are dramatic events that define sides in arguments and provide opportunities for minorities to try to delay majorities seeking to pass laws the minority opposes. They are tools through which some Senators can try to fight for what they believe even if the majority of the Senate disagrees with them.
Notably, filibusters are, to borrow some language from economics, events with high opportunity costs. One has to expend enormous energy enacting a filibuster. Don’t believe me? Try standing and talking for 24 hours. It’s not easy.
These opportunity costs work to make filibusters rare. One only has so much time and energy, and the Senate has other business to take care of while you enact the filibuster — some of which is stuff you think is important, too. While filibusters can be stopped through cloture—the vote of 60 Senators to make you shut up—they are nonetheless high profile, high energy events that seriously disrupt the workings of the Senate — and of the individual Senators who pursue them. They are things not done lightly.
Importantly, at least partly as a result of the opportunity costs of filibustering, the Senate created a rule allowing Senators to place holds on bills. Basically, a hold is a threat to filibuster: any Senator can go to the majority leader (for most bills) and note that a filibuster will happen if the bill is sent to the floor of the Senate for a vote. In response, the majority leader puts the bill on hold, preventing it from coming to the floor for action but allowing other bills to proceed (something that would not happen under a true filibuster). Some holds are anonymous. No one need know who placed it. In other cases the holder is known. In either case, action on the bill is halted so long as the hold is in place.
In effect, then, holds are filibusters. Indeed, Senate rules treat them as such: the Senate has to invoke cloture to bring a held bill to the floor for a vote. But, crucially, holds are filibusters with virtually no opportunity costs. It takes virtually no effort to ask for a hold, and it takes virtually no effort to maintain one. Meanwhile, the effort to end a hold—rounding up 60 votes in the Senate—is extremely hard.
This is a formula for abuse. Why not hold pretty much everything in order to get one’s way since the costs to you are low and the costs to your opponents high? Indeed, one Senator, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, did in fact put a hold on every bill in the Senate at one point—although people backed away once the logic of that act was clear. Still, the hold has been crucial to Republicans’ strategies in the Senate in the last four years: the number of cloture requests has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels as Republicans have held bill after bill and Democrats have been unable to find 60 votes to end the holds. (See photo below.)
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the Senate simply eliminates the hold it can protect the filibuster while restoring it to its true place as a public and dramatic declaration of one Senator’s position on an issue.
Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. Let’s hope the new Senate decides to clean up its act in January and save the filibuster by ridding itself of the hold.
So as people analyze the Democratic wins (and Republican losses) in the 2012 elections, one theme is emerging as a common point of agreement: the changing demographic characteristics of the United States have hurt the too-white, too-male constituency of the current Republican Party.
One hears versions of this everywhere. Paul Ryan emphasized Obama’s “urban” vote — and we know what “urban” signifies. Mitt Romney has talked about Obama’s “gifts” to various groups … gifts taken from, no doubt, Republicans. Examples are easy to find.
As it happens, I agree with these analyses. Republicans are too white and too male. If they continue in this state, the party is in serious trouble in a changing America.
But this demographic analysis lets Republicans off the hook far too easily. It implies that if they change their public face — e.g., run candidates like Marco Rubio for office — they will fix the demographic gap. Toss in some candidates who are female and, well, Shan-gri-la apparently awaits!
What this argument misses, of course, is the answer to the question, “why”? Why have so many different groups of people abandoned a party that, twice in the last 40 years, set all time records for electoral college margins of victory. (521-17 for Nixon in 1972; 525-13 for Reagan in 1984.) Heck, the first President Bush got 426 electoral college votes in 1988. Now they have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections. How has this happened?
The plain answer is: the leaders of the Republican Party have squandered the party’s advantages by appealing to the worst, basest instincts of a small segment of the electorate:
Latino/a? The Republican Party’s leaders are virulently anti-immigrant.
Female? The party’s leaders are happy to legislate your sexuality before you give birth, but is indifferent to you once you give birth.
Poor? You’re a taker.
Minority? The party seems convinced your life is little more than drugs, crime, prisons and pathologies.
Worried about the financial meltdown? Don’t regulate the Masters of the Universe, cut their taxes.
Health concerns? Go to the emergency room.
Believe in science? You’re a member of the “reality-based community” that spins lies from hell.
Like to pay for college? Make sure you pay the bankers their interest.
This list could go on and on.
The Republican Party’s demographic problem is real. But it’s a problem rooted in policy. The Republican Party, which as recently as 2004 seemed poised to achieve the mythical “permanent Republican majority,” now risks falling into history if it can’t articulate a policy agenda that fits the real world of US politics.
There’s nothing like losing to focus the mind. We’ll see how the party makes out.
As liberals and progressives enjoy their well-earned victories on Tuesday night, allow me to offer a few thoughts on the risks of overplaying their hands going forward:
Like the tea party in 2010, Democrats need to remember that many of their Congressional pick ups in 2012 were in swing districts. Like it or not, most districts in the US have been gerrymandered into safe districts for one or the other party. There are only so many swing districts—places where both parties have a credible chance of winning on election day. On Tuesday, the Democrats won in lots of them. But as 2010 proved, one can lose them, too. Nothing is set.
Like 2010, 2014is an off year election, and is favorable to out-party candidates. Like 2010, in 2014 Barack Obama will not be on the ticket, nor would any other Democratic president. One consequence of this fact is that it is unlikely that turnout in 2014 will be anything near as good as it was in 2012. GIven that the groups that tend to vote Democrat also tend to be less likely to vote overall, with the exception of during presidential elections, Democrats are likely to be vulnerable in 2014 — especially in swing districts.
The tea party alienated the electorate. You can too. There will be a big temptation to react to this win with the attitude, “go for it.” This attitude will likely be intensified given Republican resistance to the Democrats’ agenda over the last four years. But ideological purity was death in 2012. The appearance of cooperation is key.
Building sustained dominance takes time. 2012 was one good election. It’s a start. Be smart.