Distortion of North Carolina News Fuels False Conservative Narratives Regarding Liberals

The modern American conservative movement is an unique example of authoritarianism based upon propaganda and misinformation coming from sources which, while technically outside of the government, are closely aligned with the Republican Party. They attempt to achieve their control by promoting an alternative reality in which liberals, who actually are promoting an increase in liberty, are falsely portrayed as attempting to impose a wide variety of controls on the population while ignoring the real restrictions on liberty coming from the right wing. We saw an example of this last week in a story about a lunch room in North Carolina which does provide some insight into how the right wing operates.

A story from The Carolina Journal (a right wing site which promotes conservative false narratives about liberals) reported a story last week claiming that a child had her lunch from home replaced because it didn’t meet government nutritional standards. Conservatives, who have no concept of fact checking, not only reported this as fact but also added unsubstantiated claims that this was a policy promoted by Democrats. Never mind that liberal sites were also arguing that the action was wrong if the story reported was true.

Initially this appeared at worst to be a case of a worker in a school misinterpreting North Carolina law, but the actual facts turned out to be quite different from those reported. There was certainly no federal agent imposing Democratic policies as many conservative blogs and commentators were claiming. Over the course of the week the actual facts came out and were reported by blogs which didn’t stick mindlessly to the conservative narrative, such as The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Among the key facts that came out was that this was a voluntary program which parents must make a decision to opt-into. The program is to provide food to children who do not receive meals from home with sufficient nutritional value by giving additional food–not taking away the food they brought in. In this case, a worker at the school noticed the child did not have any dairy products and advised her to go back through the line and receive a free milk. Hardly tyranny from Big Brother as conservatives described the case.

It appears there were misunderstandings between the pre-school student, a school employee, and later the student’s mother. This led to some misunderstandings in the original story, and most likely considerable distortions from conservative sites. Reading conservative accounts, it is clear that they had no interest in finding the truth but instead were interested in finding ways to portray Democrats as imposing their rules upon innocent pre-school children. In some cases the distortion was probably intentional. In other cases, conservatives believed what they read and repeated this as it reinforced their view of Democrats. Of course this story had nothing to do with Democrats, and it was reinforcing not an accurate view but a view they held due to multiple other episodes of misinformation.

Conservatives have been misled to believe that liberals support big government to impose their will upon them. In reality the situation is reversed. Speaking simply of big government is misleading as, if we are to look at size alone, government is primarily the military, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Of course conservatives typically ignore the parts of government they support, such as the military, when complaining about big government.  Going to war in Iraq based upon lies was the largest expansion of big government in quite a while. We see the same phenomenon when members of the Tea Party carry signs demanding that government keeps its hands off their Medicare. Even for more consistent conservatives who seek to eliminate or greatly reduce Medicare and Social Security, taking away someone’s Medicare might lead to smaller government, but it won’t make them more free.

What really matters is not the total size of government, which will vary little regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in office, but how intrusive government is in the lives of individuals. Once again, conservatives ignore the policies they support. It is conservatives who repeatedly have supported the use of government to impose their desires upon others, frequently as part of imposing the agenda of the religious right. This includes restrictions on reproductive rights, along with government intervening in personal end of life decisions in the Terry Schiavo case. Not only do conservatives fail to see this as the real problems of big government imposing its will on individuals, many actually misunderstand freedom to mean the freedom to spread their religious beliefs, and impose them upon others.

Same-Sex Marriage, Limited Government, And Michele Bachmann

The common response from conservatives to the passage of same-sex marriage in New York demonstrates once again that the fundamental principle of conservatism is using big government to impose their views upon others. This is hardly a limited government philosophy.

It was a pleasant, but limited, surprise to see that Michele Bachmann supports the right of New Yorkers to legalize same-sex marriage considering the amount of homophobia she has displayed in the past.

BACHMANN: In New York state, they have passed the law at the state legislative level and, under the 10th amendment, the states have the right to set the laws that they want to set.

WALLACE: So even though you oppose it, then its ok from — your point of view — for New York to say that same-sex marriage is legal.

BACHMANN: That is up to the people of New York. I think that it’s best to allow the people to decide on this issue. I think it’s best if there is an amendment that goes on the ballot, where people can weigh in. […]

WALLACE: But you would agree, if its passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor then that’s the state’s position.

BACHMANN: It’s state law. And the 10th amendment reserves to the states that right.

Bachmann’s view of this based upon states’ rights remains flawed as this should be  a matter of individual liberty. Neither the federal or state government should be interfering with the private lives of individuals by regulating who someone can legally marry. While Bachmann might support the right of the people of New York to pass this, she would far more enthusiastically argue that the people of other states have a right to restrict the liberties of its citizens. Again, conservatism is not a limited government position.

Update: Michele Bachmann’s respect for the rights of the people of New York remains rather limited as she has also repeated her call for an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and overturn the recent vote in New York.

Obama Takes On The Republicans on the Economy

One of the frustrations of the last year and a half has been that the Obama White House has not been able to match either the Obama Campaign or the Republicans on messaging. Sure, more often than not Obama has been right on policy matters while the Republicans have been screaming nonsense, but the GOP has still won the spin wars with their distortions. With the conventional wisdom being that the Democrats are in serious trouble (even though it is too early to be certain about that), Barack Obama is attempting to make up for some lost time in the spin wars with today’s economic speech in Cleveland. Obama did refer to Republicans, but Republican leaders of the past as opposed to today’s Republicans who refuse to lead or govern responsibly. Out with the bipartisanship which has never been reciprocated and in with actual attempts to give Americans a reason to vote for Democrats.

Here are some key portions, with the entire prepared text under the fold. He began by reminding listeners of his hopes of transcending the old partisan divides and pointing out the different governing philosophy under the Republicans:

We also hoped for a chance to get beyond some of the old political divides – between Democrats and Republicans, Red states and Blue states – that had prevented us from making progress. Because although we are proud to be Democrats, we are prouder to be Americans – and we believed that no single party has a monopoly on wisdom.

That’s not to say that the election didn’t expose deep differences between the parties. I ran for President because for much of the last decade, a very specific governing philosophy had reigned about how America should work:

Cut taxes, especially for millionaires and billionaires. Cut regulations for special interests. Cut trade deals even if they didn’t benefit our workers. Cut back on investments in our people and our future – in education and clean energy; in research and technology. The idea was that if we had blind faith in the market; if we let corporations play by their own rules; if we left everyone else to fend for themselves, America would grow and prosper.

For a time, this idea gave us the illusion of prosperity. We saw financial firms and CEOs take in record profits and record bonuses. We saw a housing boom that led to new homeowners and new jobs in construction. Consumers bought more condos and bigger cars and better televisions.

But while all this was happening, the broader economy was becoming weaker. Job growth between 2000 and 2008 was slower than it had been in any economic expansion since World War II – even slower than it’s been over the past year. The wages and incomes of middle-class families kept falling while the cost of everything from tuition to health care kept rising. Folks were forced to put more debt on their credit cards and borrow against homes that many couldn’t afford in the first place. Meanwhile, a failure to pay for two wars and two tax cuts for the wealthy helped turn a record surplus into a record deficit.

The speech described the economic situation and how progress has been painfully slow.He spoke about how the Republicans have no answers, no new ideas:

A few weeks ago, the Republican leader of the House came here to Cleveland and offered his party’s answer to our economic challenges. Now, it would be one thing if he admitted his party’s mistakes during the eight years they were in power, and was offering a credible new approach to solving our country’s problems.

But that’s not what happened. There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner. There were no new ideas. There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade – the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations. Instead of coming together like past generations did to build a better country for our children and grandchildren, their argument is that we should let insurance companies go back to denying care to folks who are sick, and let credit card companies go back to raising rates without any reason. Instead of setting our sights higher, they’re asking us to settle for a status quo of stagnant growth, eroding competitiveness, and a shrinking middle class.

Obama gave his vision of the proper role of government, refusing to surrender to the misleading Republican meme that Democrats are the party of big government and oppose the free market:

I have a different vision for the future. I’ve never believed that government has all the answers to our problems. I’ve never believed that government’s role is to create jobs or prosperity. I believe it’s the drive and ingenuity of our entrepreneurs, the skill and dedication of our workers, that has made us the wealthiest nation on Earth. I believe it’s the private sector that must be the main engine of our recovery.

I believe government should be lean, it should be efficient, and it should leave people free to make the choices they think are best for themselves and their families, so long as those choices don’t hurt others.

But in the words of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, I also believe that government should do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.

That means making long-term investments in this country’s future that individuals and corporations cannot make on their own: investments in education and clean energy; in basic research, technology, and infrastructure

That means making sure corporations live up to their responsibilities to treat consumers fairly and play by the same rules as everyone else; to look out for their workers and create jobs here at home.

And that means providing a hand up for middle-class families – so that if they work hard and meet their responsibilities, they can afford to raise their children, send them to college, see a doctor when they get sick, and retire with dignity and respect.

That’s what we Democrats believe in – a vibrant free market, but one that works for everybody. That’s our vision for a stronger economy and a growing middle-class. And that’s the difference between what we and the Republicans in Congress are offering the American people right now.

Obama contrasted his plans with past Republican policies and turned to a discussion of American values:

This country is emerging from an incredibly difficult period in its history – an era of irresponsibility that stretched from Wall Street to Washington and had a devastating effect on a lot of people. We have started turning the corner on that era, but part of moving forward is returning to the time-honored values that built this country: hard work and self-reliance; responsibility for ourselves, but also responsibility for one another. It’s about moving from an attitude that said “What’s in it for me” to one that asks, “What’s best for America? What’s best for all our workers? What’s best for all our businesses? What’s best for our children?”

These values aren’t Democratic or Republican. They aren’t conservative or liberal values. They’re American values. As Democrats, we take pride in what our party has accomplished over the last century: Social Security and the minimum wage; the GI Bill and Medicare; Civil Rights and worker’s rights and women’s rights. But we also recognize that throughout history, there has been a noble Republican vision as well, of what this country can be. It was the vision of Abraham Lincoln, who set up the first land grant colleges and launched the transcontinental railroad; the vision of Teddy Roosevelt, who used the power of government to break up monopolies; the vision of Dwight Eisenhower, who helped build the Interstate Highway System. And yes, the vision of Ronald Reagan, who despite his aversion to government, was willing to help save Social Security for future generations.

These were serious leaders for serious times. They were great politicians, but they didn’t spend all their time playing games or scoring points. They didn’t always prey on people’s fears and anxieties. They made mistakes, but they did what they thought was in the best interest of their country and its people.

That’s what the American people expect of us today – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. That’s the debate they deserve. That’s the leadership we owe them.


Right Wing Confusion Over “Statism”

I find that in recent years I find far less worth reading from conservative writers and those I still read are no longer accepted by much of the conservative movement. The conservative movement has become increasingly dominated by the religious right and those who prefer Sarah Palin style ignorance over science and reason, with many now accepting the misinformation spread by Fox and right wing talk radio as fact. There are many false beliefs spread in right wing writings which lead me to ignore them. One is the claim that liberals support more control from big government.

Conor Friedersdorf, sitting in for Andrew Sullivan, has a few recent posts explaining Why Statism Is The Wrong Frame which continues here. He points out, using some views held by Matthew Yglesias, that “The desired end of Matthew Yglesias isn’t to grow the American state.” Liberals such as Yglesias will support more government action in some areas than conservatives (and less in others) to fulfill their goals, but this is far different from holding a philosophical view based upon making expansion of state power a primary goal.

Actually Matthew Yglesias does support a bigger government than I do. Yglesias, like Kevin Drum, are significantly  to the left of both the Democratic Party and many liberals. The left in the United States today actually includes a wide variety views which have been lumped together due to an opposition to today’s conservative movement. Many former conservatives now identify with the left (a trend which began as far back as Barry Goldwater describing himself as a liberal in his later years in opposition to the religious right). Others such as Andrew Sullivan, as well as many of the more rational Reaganites, might continue to call themselves conservatives but their views are not welcomed by the conservative movement. E.D. Kain summed up the differences:

One thing I’ve realized over the past few months is that liberalism is a pretty big tent. This in stark contrast to contemporary conservatism which is, if anything, a few small embattled tents each trying to out-crazy the other. I’ve also realized, perhaps a little late, that a lot of people on the left think pretty much like Matt does here – a lot of people don’t but you’re not tossed out of the movement for it (not yet anyways)

Matthew Yglesias is a blogger who I frequently quote when I am looking for a sensible view to the left of me, plus there are many issues where we do agree.  As with most of today’s left, the primary overlap in our views stems from opposition to the restriction in civil liberties and expansion of the warfare state as an irrational response to the 9/11 attack by the right wing, support for civil liberties, opposition to the expansion of Executive power during the Bush years, and support for reality-based polices.

I might have philosophical differences with some of the more liberal economic views of Yglesias and Drum but at least, for the most part, we are basing our arguments upon facts. In contrast, right wing arguments in recent years start with their goal and make up the facts to support them under the assumption that if enough right wing sites make the same claim it becomes “true.”

Often in modern conservative writings liberals are distorted to sound like Ayn Rand villains, with any desire to use government action dismissed as “statism” and tyranny.  Even when I disagree with some views from some liberals, such as with some of Kevin Drum’s views outlined in his response here, I understand enough of where they are coming from that I don’t see their views as evil or tyranical.  Drum concluded:

When it’s all said and done, if we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive. “Statist” is an obviously provocative (and usually puerile) way to frame this, but really, it’s not all that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be tyranny, any more than Sweden is a tyranny, but it would certainly be a world in which the American state was quite a bit bigger than it is now.

My utopia would have a  smaller government than that of Kevin Drum. Drum provides far stronger ammunition for charges of “statism” than many other liberals who are far more moderate on economic positions, making a blanket attack on the left for “statism” absurd. This comes off as even more ridiculous considering that among the strongest areas of agreement in the big tent which makes up the left is opposition to the far more odious statism of the right.

Conservatives dwell on the size of government–except when it involves invading other countries, torture, or imposing the agenda of the religious right upon others. As a consequence, much of the actual growth of the United States government in recent years came under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. A supposedly smaller conservative state is also far more likely to interfere with personal decisions which should be left to the individual.

In contrast to conservatives, many liberals (and “liberaltarians” as mentioned in the previous post) see limitations on the power of government in the lives of individuals as being the more important than dwelling over the actual size of government. If the question is tyranny, those who support the agenda of the modern conservative movement are on pretty shaky ground.

Update: It looks like Steve Benen was also working on this topic  as I was writing this. His post is also useful for links to other liberal bloggers on this topic.

David Brooks Almost Becomes A Democrat

David Brooks says he was a liberal Democrat when he was younger, and I think that deep down he wants to be one now but something is holding him back. In today’s column he briefly pretends to be a Democrat again and likes some of what he sees:

I feel beleaguered because the political winds are blowing so ferociously against “my” party. But I feel satisfied because the Democrats have overseen a bunch of programs that, while unappreciated now, are probably going to do a lot of good in the long run.

For example, everybody now hates the bank bailouts and the stress tests. But, the fact is, these are some of the most successful programs in recent memory. They stabilized the financial system without costing much money. The auto bailout was criticized at the time, but it’s looking pretty good now that General Motors is recovering.

He found more to like about how Barack Obama is governing:

What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe? Then I remember President Obama’s vow to move us beyond the stale old debates. Maybe he couldn’t really do that in the first phase of his presidency when he was busy responding to the economic crisis, but perhaps he can do it now in the second phase.

It occurs to me that the Obama administration has done a number of (widely neglected) things that scramble the conventional categories and that are good policy besides. The administration has championed some potentially revolutionary education reforms. It has significantly increased investments in basic research. It has promoted energy innovation and helped entrepreneurs find new battery technologies. It has invested in infrastructure — not only roads and bridges, but also information-age infrastructure like the broadband spectrum.

These accomplishments aren’t big government versus small government; they’re using government to help set a context for private sector risk-taking and community initiative. They cut through the culture war that is now brewing between the Obama administration and the business community. They also address the core anxiety now afflicting the public. It’s not only short-term unemployment that bothers people. What really scares people is the sense that we’re frittering away our wealth. Americans fear we’re a nation in decline

Brooks unfortunately took what could have been one of his best columns in a long time and ruined it by thinking in terms of right wing talking points. His fear when acting as if he was a Democrat became: “What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe?” His hope:

Eventually, I see a party breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again, and I start feeling good about the future. Then I take off the magic green jacket and return to my old center-right self. A chill sweeps over me: Gosh, what if the Democrats really did change in that way?

Brooks managed in the same column to show the benefits of Obama’s economic plans while also fearing they will tagged as big government. He worried about having “the same old tax debate” while ignoring the fact that Obama included some of the biggest tax cuts in history in his stimulus package.

The difference between the parties is that the Democrats are trying to solve today’s problems, even if not always in the right way, while Republicans have taken an extremist and inflexible position. They say no to virtually everything, and would never think of joining Brooks in finding things to praise in some of Obama’s policies.

Republicans certainly would not echo Brooks and admit that the differences generally are not big government versus small government. It was clear to most people, even if not David Brooks, that in 2008 the Democrats were the party which was “breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again.”

Republicans will label the Democrats as the big government party, regardless of whether it is true. Never mind how much government grew under the Republicans, or that it is Republican policies which wind up infringing upon the rights of individuals far more than those of Democrats. Even the major “big government” program passed by the Democrats, health care reform, is made up of ideas initially proposed by Republicans.

If David Brooks wants to move beyond stereotypes and really wants to pursue pragmatic solutions to today’s problems there really is only one choice among the major political parties. If he could overcome his biases he would even realize that even for someone who calls himself center-right, at present the positions of the  Democrats are far closer to the views of any sane people than the extremism which now dominates the Republican Party.

Libertarians Right to Object To Characterization of Republicans As Against Government

In several recent speeches, including at Carnegie Mellon University and at The University of Michigan, Barack Obama framed his arguments as a debate over the needs for government actions versus the anti-government Republicans. This is a fair characterization if we are to look at the rhetoric of the Republicans, but not their actual policies. Reason has legitimate reason to complain that the Republicans do not share their libertarian beliefs.

I have pointed out in several previous posts how the Republicans, despite their rhetoric, are really the party of big government. Reason provides some additional arguments to back this up:

Keep in mind, the president is talking specifically here not about libertarian freakazoids who want to privatize their own grandmothers, but about governing Republicans. You know, the gang who, “during the first half of 2001 and all of the 2003-07 period maintained full control of both the White House and Congress,” during which time they “increased total spending by more than 20 percent, an average of 5 percent a year,” jacking up “both nondefense spending and mandatory programs enormously.” How in the hell can you spend so much money on “more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations”? Which one of those two answers (the only ones the GOP has, remember) best describes No Child Left Behind, Sarbanes-Oxley, or Medicare Part D? If Bush was really all about “fewer rules for corporations,” how was it that he managed to be “the biggest regulator since Nixon“? (And do click on those links, they are filled with things like facts and numbers.)

Republicans promote big government at least as much as the Democrats. The difference is that Republican big government tends to be less competent in areas where we want government. Republican big government tends to stress different priorities such as invading other countries, torture, redistributing wealth to the ultra-wealthy, or imposing the views of the religious right upon others.

POTUS In The Big House: Barack Obama Commencement Speaker at The University of Michigan

Hope and change were two big themes at the University of Michigan 2010 commencement in Ann Arbor Saturday morning as President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech. Several of those speaking prior to Obama discussed hope and change, relating it to both national policy and the changes in the University of Michigan football program in recent years.

Governor Jennifer Granholm thanked Obama for supporting the auto industry and other measures to help the economy recover. She also thanked Obama for delivering on many promises such as health care, along with thanking him for coming to Michigan rather than that school to the south.

Prior to speaking, President Obama was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Obama began by saying “Go Blue” as he admitted he was going for the “cheap applause line to start things off.” He discussed letters he reads to remain in touch with the world outside of Washington, including ones from children:

But it was the last question in the letter that gave me pause. The student asked, “Are people being nice?”

Well, if you turn on the news today – particularly one of the cable channels – you can see why even a kindergartener would ask this question. We’ve got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names. Pundits and talking heads shout at each other. The media tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story – which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make the most outrageous comments.

He noted that this is nothing new with political conflict being common through our history. Obama cited accomplishments of previous presidents of both parties, and those who opposed them, along with the proper role of government:

Of course, there have always been those who’ve opposed such efforts. They argue that government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative. And in certain instances, that’s been true. For many years, we had a welfare system that too often discouraged people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. At times, we’ve neglected the role that parents, rather than government, can play in cultivating a child’s education. Sometimes regulation fails, and sometimes its benefits do not justify its costs.

But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. One of my favorite signs from the health care debate was one that read “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare,” which is essentially like saying “Keep Government Out Of My Government-Run Health Care.” For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.

Government is the police officers who are here protecting us and the service men and women who are defending us abroad. Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them. Government is this extraordinary public university – a place that is doing life-saving research, catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small.

The truth is, the debate we’ve had for decades between more government and less government doesn’t really fit the times in which we live. We know that too much government can stifle competition, deprive us of choice, and burden us with debt. But we’ve also seen clearly the dangers of too little government – like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy.

So what we should be asking is not whether we need a “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter, better government. In an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before, government shouldn’t try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.

Obama discussed the lack of civility and some of the more extreme and absurd attacks:

But we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

Again, we have seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth.

The problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized.

The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning – since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

Obama talked about how the echo chamber can lead to greater polarization, advising people to pay attention to sources with other views. For example, he advised fans of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh to read The Huffington Post, and those who read The New York Times to read The Wall Street Journal, even if it makes their blood boil.

Today’s twenty-four seven echo chamber amplifies the most inflammatory soundbites louder and faster than ever before. It has also, however, given us unprecedented choice. Whereas most of America used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows.

This development can be both good and bad for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we will become more polarized and set in our ways. And that will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country. But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.

This of course requires that we all agree on a certain set of facts to debate from, and that is why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Still, if you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

Obama encouraged the graduating students to be involved in public life. He cited John F. Kennedy speaking in Ann Arbor fifty years ago describing “the ideals behind what would become the Peace Corps.”

Before the conclusion of the commencement ceremony, Barack Obama was called upon again. In his role of Commander in Chief, President Obama swore in the members of the ROTC.

Videos of the speech are available here and here.  The full text is available here.

Go Blue!

Tiger Woods Issues Apology Giving Lines to Comedians and Not-So-Funny Politicians

Tiger Woods has issued his statement in which he apologized, admitted he cheated and said he is undergoing therapy. To paraphrase David Letterman, now Tiger can get back to what he does best, and also play a little golf.

Tim Pawlenty also tried to make a comparison the Obama administration and Tiger Woods over at CPAC, the conservative hate-fest.  He told voters to follow the lead of Tiger Woods’s wife Elin Nordegren and “take a 9 iron and smash the window out of big government.” I imagine that the extremists he is pandering to also see Joseph Stack as a hero for doing this yesterday.

Arctic Melting Could Cost Trillions

Two false memes spread by global warming deniers is that 1) this is a prediction of future events as opposed to something which is already happening, and 2) this is a view held by people who are hostile to market economies. A study by the Pew Environment Group shows that melting of the arctic ice caps is already occurring, and already costing billions:

Arctic ice melting could cost global agriculture, real estate and insurance anywhere from $2.4 trillion to $24 trillion by 2050 in damage from rising sea levels, floods and heat waves, according to a report released on Friday

“Everybody around the world is going to bear these costs,” said Eban Goodstein, a resource economist at Bard College in New York state who co-authored the report, called “Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away.”

He said the report, reviewed by more than a dozen scientists and economists and funded by the Pew Environment Group, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, provides a first attempt to monetize the cost of the loss of one of the world’s great weather makers.

“The Arctic is the planet’s air conditioner and it’s starting to break down,” he said.

The loss of Arctic Sea ice and snow cover is already costing the world about $61 billion to $371 billion annually from costs associated with heat waves, flooding and other factors, the report said.

The losses could grow as a warmer Arctic unlocks vast stores of methane in the permafrost. The gas has about 21 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Melting of Arctic sea ice is already triggering a feedback of more warming as dark water revealed by the receding ice absorbs more of the sun’s energy, he said. That could lead to more melting of glaciers on land and raise global sea levels.

It is necessary to respond to the effects of climate change which are already occurring. Contrary to the paranoid conspiracy theories popular among many in the anti-science right this view is not motivated by opposition to our industrialized society or market economies or a desire to control the world, but out of a realization that action is needed to preserve our economy.

It is consistent with human nature to deny climate change and avoid having to take action to solve difficult problems such as this. Conservatives and libertarians have the added motivation to deny climate change because it is a problem which can only be addressed by government and by international cooperation.

Conservatives prefer not to admit that any problems require government action for their solution and would prefer to deny that the problem exists. Conservatives might go along with some big government programs, primarily those involving invasion of other countries, torture, or imposing their religious codes upon others. They are far less likely to go along with big government programs which involve cooperation with other countries as opposed to invading them.

Brown Defeats Coakley, Benefiting From Mindless Rage

Tonight can be seen as an example of what happens when a candidate runs a poor campaign which takes the voters for granted, along with evidence of how poor a memory many people have. News is still coming in and the final margin of victory is not yet certain, but there is no longer any doubt that Brown will defeat Coakley for the Massachusetts Senate seat.

If this was a purely local election it would be hard to be concerned about Coakley losing after the type of campaign she ran. Despite this, the national ramifications cannot be ignored. This is a failure for Democrats–but more for their ability to get out their message than of their policies. Republicans have been successful in distorting the Democratic policies and in blaming Democrats for the conditions which directly arose from their mismanagement of government.

Democrats should hardly be surprised that this would happen. We’ve seen the right wing noise machine in operation for many years and Democrats will continue to have bad nights like tonight until they learn to counter this and control their own message.

In some case the policies define the message. It was a tremendous mistake for Obama to give in and support a health care reform plan which contained an individual mandate. This reinforced every stereotype which the Republicans wanted to hit the Democrats with. Instead of remembering that it was the Republicans who are the big bad government which restricted civil liberties, wrecked the economy, and engaged in torture, the Democrats can be portrayed, (even if this is a distortion) as the big bad government who will put you in jail if you don’t buy their health care plan.

One irony of this race is that Brown had supported a health care plan similar to the national plan he opposes when in the Massachusetts legislature. This is far less surprising when we keep in mind that Republican strategy is purely based upon blocking all Democratic proposals to deny them victory, regardless of how much this harms the country. Brown’s flip-flop here is entirely consistent with the overall Republicans strategy.

Brown ran as a moderate Republican but his success is being seen by some as a sign of the success of the tea party movement. The tea baggers are the ultimate example of mindless rage being turned in the wrong direction. Tea baggers show their support for fiscal responsibility by backing the party which ran up the deficit and fought two wars of the book, along with trying to block health care reform bill which is our best shot at getting health care costs under control. Andrew Sullivan has explained why this is no libertarian rebellion:

The rage is adolescent. It did not exist when the Republicans were in power and exploded government during years of economic growth. Fox News backed Bush to the hilt through it all, as he added mounds of unfunded entitlements to the next generation’s debt, and then brought Beck in as soon as Obama inherited the mess. Scott Brown, moreover, has no plans to cut the debt or control government: none. He is running in defense of every cent in Medicare. He wants to increase the deficit by more tax cuts. He favors an all-powerful executive branch that can suspend habeas corpus and torture people. He has no intention of cutting defense. His position on the uninsured is: get your own states to help. His position on soaring healthcare costs is: stop the first attempt to control them.

We hear Karl Rove lamenting big government! We hear Dick Cheney worrying about deficits! The cynicism here is gob-smacking. And the libertarian right is just happy to go along.

There is, moreover, the incredible lie that somehow all the debt that lies ahead was created by Obama in twelve months, in a recession, when austerity would be fatal. This was a lie propagated mercilessly by the FNC/RNC and by partisan bloggers like Glenn Reynolds. And it has stuck, as Obama has pressed for centrist reform between the screamers on the left and the haters on the right.

I’m sorry but this is not an anti-government vote. It’s a hissy fit because reality has finally hit and the conservative bromides of the 1980s work as poorly as the liberal bromides of the 1970s. If Brown were urging big, structural cuts in entitlements, if he were proposing junking health insurance reform because he has a plan to balance the budget in five years, if he were pledging to vote against the wars for the deficit’s sake, if he were proposing ways to restrain private healthcare costs and Medicare’s GOP-passed Medicare D – whose fiscal impact makes the current reform look like a tightwad’s – it would be one thing. But he isn’t and they aren’t.

They merely want to kill a reform presidency. They have no alternative. They have no policy that could restrain health insurance costs and the desperate plight of the uninsured. They have no plans for tackling climate change, when they can bring themselves to admit it exists. They have no plans to win or end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama himself isn’t trying. They have no idea how to balance the budget – except more tax cuts!