The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” Factcheck.org also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Please Share

Conservative Projection

Conservatives often project their failings onto other groups. Here is a classic example of conservative projection. The Republican Party has driven out not only its moderates, but it’s less extreme conservatives. Even Ronald Reagan would be too “liberal” these days, supporting tax increases and supporting increases in the debt limit without question. Barry Goldwater would be seen as a flaming liberal with his attacks on the religious right. In contrast, the Democratic Party ranges from conservatives to liberals (most generally barely left of center by international standards). Michael Goodwin claims at the far-right New York Post that it is the Democratic Party which has driven out its moderates.

Please Share

Bob Dole And Ronald Reagan Would Not Have Made It In Today’s Republican Party

I have often pointed out that actual views of  past conservatives, even ones still held up as founders of the conservative movement, would not be welcome by the extremist and reactionary members of the current conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was strongly opposed to social conservatism and the influence of the religious right on the Republican Party to the point where he considered himself a liberal in his later years. Richard Nixon supported social conservatism but also supported a form of activist government which neither liberals or conservatives support. Ronald Reagan had the right rhetoric for the conservative movement, but was not as out of touch with reality as modern conservatives, supporting increases in taxes and the debt ceiling which today’s conservatives would protest without even considering their merit. Bob Dole correctly added himself to this list.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday Bob Dole responded to questions on the Republican abuse of the filibuster and whether he could have made it in today’s party:

“I doubt it,” he said in an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday” when asked if his generation of Republican leaders could make it in today’s GOP. “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn’t have made it, cause he had ideas. We might’ve made it, but I doubt it.”

Dole, a wounded World War II veteran from Kansas and icon of the party, said he believes it needs to rethink the direction it’s heading in.

“They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says ‘Closed for repairs,’ until New Year’s Day next year,” he said. “And spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.”

Video is above.

Dole agreed the filibuster is being over-used and criticized Barack Obama for not reaching out more to lawmakers during his first term. In reality Obama moved far to the right in attempts to reach agreement with Republicans. This was not successful as Republican leaders placed opposition to Obama, and their goal of trying to deny him a second term, over support for policies they have supported in the past as well as over the good of the country.

Please Share

Romney Fails To Buy Election; Conservative Extremism Defeated

Republicans spent four years obstructing economic recovery to promote their main goal of making Barack Obama a one-term president. Mitt Romney sold his soul to the radical right. Millions were donated by conservatives hoping to elect a candidate who would give them a slightly lower marginal tax rate, possibly costing some  more than paying the taxes would. Not only was Obama reelected, Tuesday was a victory for liberalism over the authoritarian right with voters objecting to Republican policies of increased government intrusion in the private lives of individuals.

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock both lost, perhaps a gift from God for those who support the right of a woman to control her own body. Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and Grand Rapids, Michigan voted to decriminalize it.

In 2004 Republicans might have defeated John Kerry by boosting turnout among social conservatives by placing votes on gay marriage on the ballot in several states. Since then the nation’s attitude has changed, but until yesterday legalization of same-sex marriage only came from the legislatures or courts. Yesterday voters turned out to pass measures supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland and Maine.

Some Republicans believed that a proposal to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota would bring out more evangelical voters than expected by the pollsters, tipping the state and ultimately the nation to Mitt Romney. Republican pundits and blogs have had multiple theories to promote their predictions that Romney would win and the polls were wrong. Instead facts prevailed with the polls, and those predicting based upon the polls such as Nate Silver, turning out to be right. If this was simply a matter of partisans being overly optimistic about their chances this might be understandable. The problem is that the conservative media promotes an alternate reality which ignores facts on a daily basis, ignoring the facts which should be considered when deciding policies on matters such as the economy, health care, and the environment.

One argument from Republicans was that the polls were wrong because they over-sampled Democrats. (Some Democrats made the same mistake in denying Obama’s temporary fall in the polls following the Denver debate). I was confident of an Obama victory as soon as the exit polls showed that the electorate closely resembled what was shown in the polls. Party identification is fluid, with voters supporting Obama being more likely to identify themselves as Democrats. This also must be considered when hearing reports that the polls showed a lead for Romney among independents. Large numbers of the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 now call themselves Democrats. The Republican name as become so toxic that many former Republicans now call themselves independents, making it likely that a substantial number of such independents would vote Republican. In the past centrists and independents had much more overlap than now. While independents now lean Republican, centrists voted Democratic in substantial numbers.

Republican strategy did not work because they did not realize how out of tune they were with the voters, or did not care. Once again, the Tea Party helped the Democrats pick up Senate seats and maintain control. Speaking out against abortion rights and contraception was a losing strategy. With Florida’s final results not yet in but appearing to go to Obama, supporting policies which would seriously damage both Medicare and Social Security also does not look like a winning strategy. Romney’s strategy of enormous ad spending, non-stop lying on the campaign trail, and voter suppression also turned out to be failing political strategies.

The extremism of the Republican Party makes it difficult to see how the Republicans can have much success in the future unless they change. William F. Buckley, Jr. was right when he fought to keep the equivalent of the Tea Party in his day out of the conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was right when he called himself a liberal in  his later years in protest over the influence of the religious right on the GOP. If Republicans could not win this year, when it wasn’t difficult to place the blame for the Bush economic crash on the incumbent, how will they do in future years after the economy continues to recover? Republicans can no longer count on their Southern strategy for guaranteed electoral votes. Virginia and most-likely Florida went to Obama, and Obama looked like he might also win in North Carolina before the first debate. In future years the Republicans will have a tougher time holding on to North Carolina, Arizona, and possibly Georgia.

The Democrats retain control of the Senate, and appear likely to continue this despite the manner in which the Senate is tilted towards the smaller, often conservative states. They might hold onto the House for the next several years due to the advantages Republicans received from redistricting after the 2010 elections. We might need to wait until 2020 to reverse this.

The presidency is now far harder for Republicans to win. Changing demographics will make it even harder in the future for Republicans to win based upon their main base of voter support–poorly educated, low-information, white Christian males. Republicans need more support from minorities, but that also means abandoning their strategy of obtaining votes by promoting fear and hatred of minorities among their base.

If Romney had won, Republican economic ideas might have mistakenly received credit for the continued economic recovery which is likely to occur over the next four years. This was the last shot for Republicans to block Obamacare, which may soon become a permanent part of the country as Medicare and Social Security have become. Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, may have a chance to appoint the next few justices to the Supreme Court, preventing the court from overturning Row v. Wade and possibly reversing Citizens United. Conservatives wanted this election badly as many realized this could have been their last chance prevent the United States from being part of the 21st century. They lost, and it is difficult to see where they go from here.

Please Share

Mitt Criticized By His Father’s Longtime Aide

There was once a time in which there were moderate Republicans who did not hold positions which are bat-shit crazy. These included former Governor George Romney of Michigan, whose greatest sins were admitting he was brainwashed in Viet Nam and having a pathological liar for a son. One longtime aide to George Romney has been speaking out about Mitt:

A longtime aide to George W. Romney issued a harshly worded critique of Mitt Romney, accusing him of shifting political positions in “erratic and startling ways” and failing to live up to the distinguished record of his father, the former governor of Michigan.

Walter De Vries, who worked for the senior Mr. Romney throughout the 1960s, wrote that Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House was “a far cry from the kind of campaign and conduct, as a public servant, I saw during the seven years I worked in George Romney’s campaigns and served him as governor.”

“While it seems that Mitt would say and do anything to close a deal – or an election,” he wrote, “George Romney’s strength as a politician and public officeholder was his ability and determination to develop and hold consistent policy positions over his life.”

Mr. De Vries’s stinging assessment was contained in a nearly 700-word essay that he distributed to a small group of journalists with whom he has spoken over the past year. He said it was an outline for a book that may or may not be published. A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign declined to comment.

A registered independent, who said he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, Mr. De Vries has previously expressed reservations about Mr. Romney’s political postures in interviews, but never with such sweep.

In a telephone interview, he said he was motivated to write the essay by “an accumulation” of Mr. Romney’s actions, like his comment about 47 percent of Americans and his decision to campaign with Donald Trump.

Mr. De Vries said he was annoyed by Mr. Romney’s repeated references recently to his father as inspiration and influence on him.

“I just don’t see it,” he said. “Where is it? Is it on issues, no? On the way he campaigns? No.”

Mr. De Vries continued, “George would never have been seen with the likes of Sheldon Adelson or Donald Trump.”

I know some might discount this because De Vries has voted Democratic, but it must be kept in mind that the same is true of many Republicans of the 1960′s who did not move as far to the extreme right as today’s Republican Party. This is not limited to the now-dead moderate faction of the GOP. In his later years Barry Goldwater called himself a liberal while protesting the growing domination of the religious right over the party. Despite how often his name is raised, the party has also moved far to the right of Ronald Reagan.

Recently, after Mitt Romney shook the Etch-A-Sketch, there has been a myth of a Moderate Mitt. While he has reversed himself on some positions, his views remain quite extreme. Besides, even if there really was a Moderate Mitt, there is no doubt that if president, Romney would rubber-stamp all the extremist laws passed by the far right GOP Congress and there is also little doubt that he would nominate Supreme Court justices who are acceptable to today’s Republican Party. The result of a Romney presidency would be far greater government intrusion in the private lives of individuals, further rigging of the system to transfer the nation’s wealth to the top one-tenth of one percent, and increased risk of war.

Please Share

The Choice This Year Is Between A Center-Left Democratic Party And Far Right Republican Party

If Democrats are to have a chance at retaining the White House and possibly controlling both houses of Congress, it is necessary to get out the message to voters who have voted Republican in the past that this is not the same Republican Party. It has moved so far to the extreme right that it is no longer the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. Rather than being the party of William F. Buckley, Jr., the Republican Party is now dominated by the type of far right wing extremists that Buckley once fought to exclude from the conservative movement. Today two columnists who often push for a centrist agenda discussed the extremism of today’s Republican Party.

Barack Obama has called the Republican economic plan Romney Hood, or Robin Hood in reverse. Matt Miller has another name for the GOP: Drawbridge Republicans:

Mitt Romney came from wealth and went on to build his own quarter-of-a-billion dollar fortune. Paul Ryan, who has never worked a day in the private sector (outside a few months in the family firm) reports a net worth of as much as $7 million, thanks to trusts and inheritances from his and his wife’s family.

Wealthy political candidates are nothing new, of course. But we’ve never had two wealthy candidates on a national ticket whose top priority is to reduce already low taxes on the well-to-do while raising taxes on everyone else — even as they propose to slash programs that serve the poor, or that (like college aid) create chances for the lowly born to rise.

Call them the Drawbridge Republicans. As the moniker implies, these are wealthy Republicans who have no qualms about pulling up the drawbridge behind them. Such sentiments used to be reserved for the political fringe. The most prominent example was Steve Forbes, whose twin obsessions during his vanity presidential runs in 1996 and 2000 — marginal tax rates and inflation — were precisely what you’d expect from an heir in a cocoon…

Today’s Drawbridge Republicans can’t be bothered. Yes, when their political back is to the wall — as Romney’s increasingly is — they’ll slap together a page of bullet points and dub it “a plan for the middle class.” But this is only under duress. The rest of the time they seem blissfully unaware of how off-key they sound. As the humorist Andy Borowitz tweeted the other day, “As a general matter, it’s a bad idea to talk about austerity if you just had a horse lose in the Olympics.”

Contrast conservative Prime Minister (and heir) David Cameron’s decision to defer his plans to lower the top 50 percent marginal rate in the UK. “When you’re taking the country through difficult times and difficult decisions,” Cameron said, “you’ve got to take the country with you. That means permanently trying to make the argument that what you’re doing is fair and seen to be fair.” As his spokesman added: “We need to ask those with the broadest shoulders to contribute the most.”

Now that’s a conservative ruling class with a conscience! Can anyone imagine Romney and Ryan saying the same?

Thomas Friedman’s column is about the need for a conservative party, quoting some conservatives who hold reasonable conservative positions as opposed to the extremist positions now held by the Republicans. Friedman, who often calls for centrist policies, now realizes that he is far more likely to see centrist policies from Barack Obama than the current Republican Party, with the extremism of the GOP preventing the government from passing reasonable solutions to today’s problems:

We are not going to make any progress on our biggest problems without a compromise between the center-right and center-left. But, for that, we need the center-right conservatives, not the radicals, to be running the G.O.P., as well as the center-left in the Democratic Party. Over the course of his presidency, Obama has proposed center-left solutions to all four of these challenges. I wish he had pushed some in a bigger, consistent, more daring and more forceful manner — and made them the centerpiece of his campaign. Nevertheless, if the G.O.P. were in a different place, either a second-term Obama or a first-term Romney would have a real chance at making progress on all four. As things stand now, though, there is little hope this campaign will give the winner any basis for governing. Too bad — a presidential campaign is a terrible thing to waste.

This is an important message to get out. This election is not a choice between a liberal Democratic Party and a conservative Republican Party. It is a choice between a center-left Democratic Party and an extremely far right Republican Party. The middle of the road is not somewhere between the Democrats and Republicans–it is near where the Democrats stand on most issues and far from where the Republicans now are. Those who seek centrist, or even old Republican ideas, are more likely to find their views represented by Democrats than Republicans if they go beyond all the misinformation being spread by the far right.

Please Share

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who News; Merlin; Fringe; Homeland; Alias; David Simon on Romney’s Taxes; George RR Martin on GOP Voter Suppression; Romney and Ryan as Herman and Eddie Munster

Doctor Who is rumored to be returning on September 1, with many of the cast and crew interviews are concentrating on an event to take place later in the season. In the video above, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner discussed the Ponds leaving the show and the introduction of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character. While we still know little about Clara, Coleman’s character, there are unconfirmed reports that the character is going to be a computer expert.

Steven Moffat says he completely rewrote the final scenes with Amy and Rory:

Moffat told Digital Spy that he “completely” rewrote the pair’s last scenes in upcoming episode, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’.

“I completely changed the ending as I was writing it, thinking ‘No, I’ve got it wrong… I’m on the wrong emphasis’ – but it’s a good one and it’s properly emotional,” he promised.

Of the final script, Who star Matt Smith said: “I was very moved, very moved indeed, because not only is it two characters that I love, it’s two actors that I love working with. To see them go – and I think go so beautifully… it’s moving.”

Karen Gillan – who plays Amy – added: “I instantly phoned Matt [when I read the episode] and I was crying and laughing hysterically… because it’s so good!”

“It was like getting the last chapter of the best book you’ve ever read and being really surprised by the ending… and really satisfied,” explained Rory actor Arthur Darvill. “It was pretty emotional.

“It’s Doctor Who – I’m so proud of being part of such a big show. The show is bigger than all of us and it will outlive all of us… I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”

More from Steven Moffat in this radio interview.

Karen Gillan has been offered, and turned down, a role on Gray’s Anatomy.

John Barrowman has joined the cast of Green Arrow.

Colin Morgan on Merlin:

“It’s definitely the most ambitious series yet,” says actor Colin Morgan, who plays the titular Merlin in BBC One’s medieval fantasy. “They’ve pushed our characters into manhood, and this is the Merlin I’ve been waiting for.”

At the end of series 4, the wizard dealt a fatal magical blow to Arthur’s villainous uncle, Agravaine de Bois, who was in league with Morgana. Things have altered dramatically since then, and when the show returns later this year, Camelot will have jumped forward three years. Arthur has settled into his new role as King of Camelot with Queen Guinevere at his side, and Merlin is continuing along his new path…

“We left Merlin at the end of the last season tipping over into a darker side, and I think that’s a reference for me for the rest of this season,” Morgan continues. “I think he is so confident in himself now, and in who he is and what he is destined to do. He has a resilience and power that drives him for this season. He gives as good as he gets.”

This, apparently, is going to lead us to some of the “most important scenes there has ever been in terms of Merlin’s magic.” Could this mean that the secret is finally coming out? Morgan teased: “Arthur is forced to confront magic a lot in this series, and that could change everything, for Merlin and for everyone.”

What do you think that means? Is the time right for Merlin to reveal his magical mojo?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KP3G2FqIOnE

Fringe returns September 28. Two different trailers which tease the season in different ways are above.

Homeland returns September 30–trailer above.

From time to time there has been talk of rebooting Alias. I never saw any point in this. The story ran its course. A new spy series would be better off going in its own direction rather than trying to recreate what was already done. I also had doubts that a reboot could compete with the original because of how great the cast was on the original. While I doubt this would ever happen, Jennifer Garner provides hope that if there ever is a reboot of Alias it might be with the original cast:

 If Alias was ever rebooted, would you want to be a part of it?

I think J.J. Abrams has got his hands full. I don’t see him turning around and rebooting Alias anytime soon. If  he was involved, I’m sure the rest of us would sign right up. We had a blast making that show and we’re all still superclose, so I’m sure you would find an eager group of participants right there.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, blasts Mitt Romney on his taxes:

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of at least 13 percent. And he’s proud to say so.

Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit.

Stunning.

Am I supposed to congratulate this man?  Thank him for his good citizenship?  Compliment him for being clever enough to arm himself with enough tax lawyers so that he could legally minimize his obligations?

Thirteen percent.  The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college.  If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter.  Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such incomes.

I can’t get over the absurdity of this moment, honestly:  Hey, I never paid less than thirteen percent.  I swear.  And no, you can’t examine my tax returns in any more detail.  But I promise you all, my fellow American citizens, I never once slipped to single digits.  I’m just not that kind of guy.

God.

This republic is just about over, isn’t it?

George R.R. Smith knows about power plays as he portrays them on Game of Thrones. He commented on Republican voter suppression:

“Show Us Your Papers”

I am way too busy these days for long political rants.

But I would be remiss if I do not at least make passing mention of how depressed, disgusted, and, yes, angry I’ve become as I watch the ongoing attempts at voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, and other states where Republicans and their Teabagger allies control key seats of power.

It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.

It would really be nice if there were still some Republicans of conscience out there who would stand up and loudly denounce these efforts, a few men of honor and integrity for whom “win the election” does not “win the election at any cost.” There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is. I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this, any more than Robert A. Heinlein would have. They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.

The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.

And don’t tell me they are libertarians either. No true libertarians would ever support a culture where citizens must “show their papers” to vote or travel. That’s a hallmark of a police state, not a free country.

Finally this picture, with apologies to the Munster family:

Please Share

Barry Goldwater on Campaign Contributions

“In order to achieve the widest possible distribution of political power, financial contributions to political campaigns should be made by individuals, and individuals alone. I see no reason for labor, or corporations, to participate in politics. Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies — whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it.” –Barry Goldwater from The Conscience of a Conservative

Please Share

False Centrism In An Era Of Republican Extremism

Americans Elect has failed to come up with a candidate to challenge the Democratic and Republican Party’s hold on the electoral system. There were problems with their idea. The group was backed by centrists but whenever you look at the types of policies self-described centrists want, you have a platform which is only very slightly to the right of that of the Democratic Party. Old concepts about moderation and centrism no longer hold when one party has moved to the extreme right, and the other party has responded by moving towards the center.

I was also not terribly impressed by the idea of picking a presidential candidate from one party and vice presidential candidate from the other. It just sounds like a gimmick, as if having candidates from different parties would make the party more representative of the entire nation.  If I were to seriously consider a party, it is the ideas promoted by the candidates and not their party affiliation which really matter. Match Ben Nelson and any Republican and for all practical purposes you would still have two Republicans. Substitute Joe Lieberman and it wouldn’t be much better.

There is one purpose I could see for gaining ballot access for a party which is center-right The move by the Republicans to the extreme right does not leave a home for less extreme Republicans. Perhaps some day the typical Republican voter will get a better idea as to what has happened to the Republican Party and will want a choice which reflects their views. Where does a supporter of Ronald Reagan vote these days with the GOP moving so far to the right of Reagan?

If people really wanted centrist positions, they would be backing Barack Obama, who has gone overboard in offering policies which compromise with Republican ideas even though Republicans refused to come to the table to honestly negotiate with him. It was a noble idea on Obama’s part, but the wrong time for this. Fortunately Obama has realized this and has gone on the offensive against Republican extremism.

Chuck Hagel, while still too conservative for my tastes, would be preferable to the current GOP leadership. Last week Hagel discussed why Ronald Reagan would not identify with the current Republican Party:

“Reagan would be stunned by the party today,” Hagel said in a long interview in his office at Georgetown University, where he now teaches. He also serves as co-chair of President Barack Obama‘s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Reagan wanted to do away with nuclear weapons, raised taxes, made deals with congressional Democrats, sought compromises and consensus to fix problems, and surrounded himself with moderates as well as Republican hard-liners, Hagel noted. None of that is characterized by the current GOP leadership, he said. In his eyes, the rise of the Tea Party and the influx of new GOP lawmakers in Congress have driven the party away from common sense and consensus-based solutions.

“Reagan wouldn’t identify with this party. There’s a streak of intolerance in the Republican Party today that scares people. Intolerance is a very dangerous thing in a society because it always leads to a tragic ending,” he said. “Ronald Reagan was never driven by ideology. He was a conservative but he was a practical conservative. He wanted limited government but he used government and he used it many times. And he would work with the other party.”

The situation today is similar to where the GOP found itself in the early 1950s, when there was a battle for the direction of the party over the party’s identity, Hagel said. Dwight Eisenhower and his moderate allies won that fight, diminishing the influence of extremists like Joe McCarthy, Hagel said.

But today, the extremists are winning.

“Now the Republican Party is in the hands of the right, I would say the extreme right, more than ever before,” said Hagel. “You’ve got a Republican Party that is having difficulty facing up to the fact that if you look at what happened during the first 8 years of the century, it was under Republican direction.”

Yesterday former Bush speech writer David Frum discussed the extremism of the GOP, repeating a recent argument by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein that the core of our political problems today stems from the current extremism of the Republican Party:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

After discussing the work of Mann and Ornstein, Frum went on to explain how the Republicans build support out of fear–with many acting out of fear to vote for Republicans contrary to their self-interest:

In these times, we are debating whether government should impose large reductions in programs or impose big increases in taxes — taking from people benefits that they now enjoy.

Human beings will typically fight much more ferociously to keep what they possess than to gain something new. And the constituencies that vote Republican happen to possess the most and thus to be exposed to the worst risks of loss.

The Republican voting base includes not only the wealthy with the most to fear from tax increases, but also the elderly and the rural, the two constituencies that benefit the most from federal spending and thus have the most to lose from spending cuts.

All those constituencies together fear that almost any conceivable change will be change for the worse from their point of view: higher taxes, less Medicare, or possibly both. Any attempt to do more for other constituencies — the unemployed, the young — represents an extra, urgent threat to them.

That sense of threat radicalizes voters and donors — and has built a huge reservoir of votes and money for politicians and activists who speak as radically as the donors and voters feel.

Which means the solution to the problems so astutely diagnosed by Mann and Ornstein must ultimately be found outside the American political system — and will not be solved until America’s rich and America’s elderly become either less fearful or more generous.

Add to that the racism, homophobia, and xenophobia of the Republicans, who scare conservative voters into fearing that people who are not exactly like them will take away what they have or otherwise represent a threat.

In an atmosphere such as this, there is no point in searching for a centrist position, treating the Republicans and Democrats as being on opposite ends of the spectrum with equally valid viewpoints to consider. As Mann and Ornstein pointed out, the problem comes from one party being extreme, and unwilling to work towards real solutions.

Please Share

The Conservative Mind

The differences between left and right have increasingly become a matter not of differences in opinion but in differences in facts which are accepted. This has been studied the most with regards to science, with conservative belief in science now hitting new lows. This has also been commonly seen with high profile issues ranging from false conservative beliefs that Saddam threatened the United States with WMD or was involved in the 9/11 attacks  to their false beliefs that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a Socialist, and someone born outside of the United States.

Conservative rejection of science is most striking to those who understand that science is the best way to study the world around us based upon verifiable facts, but Republican anti-intellectualism is not limited to science. They promote a revisionist history to justify their policies, and promote economic views which have no basis in any sensible economic theory, even ignoring the actual economic views of capitalist economists they claim to follow. If Adam Smith were to come back to life, he would die laughing over the economic views which today’s conservatives promote, often claiming they are based upon his views.

Chris Mooney, who has written a lot on this topic, has an article in Mother Jones coinciding with the publication of his new book on The Republican Brain. Studies have shown biological differences between conservatives and liberals. These differences certainly might have some influence as to the ideology someone holds, but I suspect that this is something influenced by both nature and the influences on an individual. Therefore we see far more liberals on the coasts then in the deep south.

Kevin Drum raises the question of why American conservatives are more anti-science than those in Europe. Similar questions could be raised based upon time. At some times, such as during the McCarthy era, conservatives were as fanatic as those today, while at other times the bulk of the conservative movement tended to be less extreme. William F. Buckley, with all his faults, would probably have tried to keep the Tea Party followers out of the conservative movement as he did with the Birchers.  Barry Goldwater was so repulsed by the direction that he saw the conservative movement moving that he considered himself a liberal in his later years. If Ronald Reagan were still alive and alert I suspect he would do the same.

I think this also comes down to the importance of environment impacting on possible biological factors. While other factors are at play, there are two main characteristics of today’s conservative movement which makes them more likely to reject facts. First, the conservative movement consists of alliances which have a vested interest in ignoring facts. This ranges from the religious right to those being duped into denying science change to support the interests of the petroleum industry.

Secondly, today’s American conservative movement has a propaganda machine which might be powerful than has ever been seen in human history, with the ability to get conservatives to internalize and spread beliefs which are totally irrational. Fox has been far more successful in promoting misinformation than the propaganda machines of Hitler or Stalin.  In many ways the American conservative movement is far closer to the authoritarian movements of the 20th century than to any beliefs held in the past by Americans. Unlike Hitler and Stalin, the conservative movement does not need to eliminate the trappings of democracy when they can fool their followers into thinking that they are promoting freedom and  limited government. Orwell certainly saw this coming.

Please Share