The Extremes

Those on the left who claim Barack Obama is a Reaganite conservative have no more understanding of actual conservative positions than the wingnuts on the right who claim Obama is a socialist understand actual liberal or socialist views.

(My current Facebook status)

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Democrats Forced To Rely On Finding Dirt As They Are Unable To Present A Coherent Message

The Washington Post describes how the Democrats are digging harder than ever to find dirt on Republican opponents.  This is a clear sign not only that the Democrats face some political difficulties  but that they are badly out-matched by the right wing noise machine in the spin war. It is sad that the party which far more often than not has been right on the issues feels compelled to rely on finding dirt.

The problem with relying on uncovering dirt is that, even if it helps against particular candidates, it does little to build long term support for the party. The Republicans are far smarter, even if  dishonest, in basing their attacks on distorting overall Democratic viewpoints and policies. This hooks their ditto head supporters for years.

The Republicans do have some advantages over the Democrats in the spin war. They dominate far more of the mass media, as they adroitly play the refs with their bogus claims of “liberal bias.” They have a far smaller tent, making it easier to define and defend a narrow set of views. They have a following which is not particularly concerned over whether their claims are reality-based as long as they support their biases. They are also far better at spin than the Democrats.

If the Democrats were willing to actually promote their views and demonstrate the differences with Republicans they would have a far better chance of developing a permanent base of support. They have been successful in building support among the educated which, along with their support among the young, will pay off long term. Short term they need to do a far better job of connecting the dots.

Democrats need to campaign against the flat-earth and anti-science views which dominate the GOP. The fact that the Republicans are full of candidates who believe in creationism, deny climate change, and oppose stem cell research is far more damaging than scandals involving a handful of individual candidates. If you go purely by the polls it might be argued that supporting evolution is not a winning issue in this country. I do believe that if one party had been defending science and reason during all these years the conservatives were screaming about birth certificates and imaginary conspiracies these poll results would be a little different.

Democrats need to point out far more clearly that the Republicans were virtually absent from the major political debate of the recent past. Relying on false claims that health care reform represented a “government take over of health care” while uniformly voting to allow the insurance industry to continue their abuses is a clear sign that the Republicans are not fit to govern.

Democrats need to do a  better job of defending their record on the economy and presenting a coherent philosophy. They need to make it clear they support a market-based economy while showing the need and justification for government action at times. They have generally acted in a pragmatic fashion but, failing to explain their beliefs, they have opened themselves to being falsely defined by the right as supporting “tax and spend” government policy, and even socialism.

A primary difference between the left and the right is support for individual liberty, but the Democrats need to be more consistent. Emphasizing support for individual liberty would be a far better way to frame some of the issues which have harmed Democrats in the culture wars. Some of those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage might eventually be able to understand support for a woman’s right to control her own body and for any individuals to decide for themselves who they want to marry. A more consistent emphasis on individual liberty would also give the Obama administration a stronger basis for more rapidly reversing the abuses of the Bush administration, with less fear that this would be distorted to mean weakness on national security.

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Advice For Republican Candidates

Former House majority leader Dick Armey has two pieces of advice for Republican candidates: don’t self- identify as a tea party candidate and stay off of MSNBC. This advice makes sense.Why would anyone in their right mind self-identify as a member of a band of people who have no understanding of the issues and limit their thought to simplistic bumper-sticker slogans? As for the second, it makes sense that Republican candidates avoid difficult interviews which would show they have no understanding of the issues and limit their thought to simplistic bumper-sticker slogans.

While the fundamentals work in favor of the Republicans in the upcoming off-year election, it is likely any gains will be a dead cat bounce unless Republicans take some additional action. Here’s some more advice I’d like to offer to them:

  • Don’t call yourself a supporter of small government and then support policies which increase the influence of the government in the lives of individuals.
  • Don’t call yourself fiscally conservative and then increase spending on credit while simultaneously cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy.
  • Don’t run on national security credentials until you understand that going to war should be reserved as a last resort, and should not be done based upon lies.
  • Don’t talk about socialism unless you are really talking about socialists, and not centrist politicians such as Barack Obama.
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The American Taliban Uses Religion To Justify Discrimination

Robert Stacy McCain, in discussing Robert Knight’s column, writes “In the secular world of modern intellectualism, it is too easy to forget that not everyone is secular, worldly or modern.” Actually with one of the major political parties in this country becoming outright theocratic and desiring to deny our First Amendment rights to separation of church and state, this is something we never forget. We are often shocked to see such views expressed in 21st century America. In his column entitled We’re smarter than God, Robert Knight (author of Radical Rulers: The White House Elites Who Are Pushing America Toward Socialism) falls back on religious views to justify discrimination against  homosexuals.

It is easy for the authoritarian right to accept Knight’s argument as McCain does since “more than 97% of Americans are heterosexual.” It is not justified to use one’s religious views to promote government restrictions upon the rights of any minority, regardless of how small.

Knight and McCain are convinced that god is on their side in opposing homosexuality and preservation of discrimination against gays in the military. Knight writes:

Those of us who believe that God created male and female and that sex outside marriage – adultery, fornication and homosexuality – is wrong and harmful, are just not being intelligent. It’s apparently not enough to love friends and family who are into homosexuality; we have to love the behavior that threatens their bodies and souls.

The problem with this view is that the world is full of many people with many views as to the nature of god, whether there is a god, and if there is a god what god actually believes about human conduct. No side in such debates has any real evidence and it all comes down to one’s opinion. The founding fathers recognized this when they devised a secular government with separation of church and state.

In secular America, everyone is entitled to their religious views but religious views are to never be the  justification for government policy. Constitutional scholar and then candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Barack Obama expressed such a theocratic position during the CNN/You Tube debate in 2007, arguing “we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.” Obama also discussed separation of church and state when interviewed by CBN in 2007:

For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn’t want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

Those who believe homosexuality is morally wrong are free to refrain from homosexual relations but do not have the right to impose this view upon others. Even many who are religious agree that we should not impose our views upon others.  McCain expresses a bizarre and nonexistent fear in writing, “Homosexuality may no longer forbidden, but it is not mandatory — yet.”

When Republicans pursue policies based upon religious views there is certainly a difference in degree but morally they are no different than the Taliban or any other group supporting theocracy and opposing the modern world. Such a tremendous difference in world views is also something we must remember when Obama and other Democrats sometimes pursue policies we disagree with. Most people will never agree with any political party on all issues, but that is a different matter from opposing the overall theocratic worldview held by the authoritarian right.

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The True War Over Economic Dogma

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, takes liberties with the meaning of the culture war to write in The Washington Post that free enterprise versus government control is the next culture war. While there are problems with the economic views expressed in the article which other bloggers such as Matt Zeitlin have discussed,I’m more interested in the erroneous framing used by Brooks. Brooks begins:

This is not the culture war of the 1990s. It is not a fight over guns, gays or abortion. Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country’s future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise — limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.

It is not at all clear which side will prevail. The forces of big government are entrenched and enjoy the full arsenal of the administration’s money and influence. Our leaders in Washington, aided by the unprecedented economic crisis of recent years and the panic it induced, have seized the moment to introduce breathtaking expansions of state power in huge swaths of the economy, from the health-care takeover to the financial regulatory bill that the Senate approved Thursday. If these forces continue to prevail, America will cease to be a free enterprise nation.

Brooks cites polls which show that Americans by wide margins support free enterprise. That is certainly correct but what Brooks misses is that a large majority of Americans support the actual American free market system which has been successful, while smaller numbers support the faux capitalism that those on the far right advocate.

While Brooks tries to portray those who disagree with his positions as supporting government control, the reality is that most people in this country, left and right, support some version of a free market system. Only a small minority on the left support socialism while there are some on the right who support a system which would better be described as fascism than capitalism if not for all the other negative connotations of the word.

The far right promotes a free market philosophy which denies virtually any role for government. They are essentially demonstrating the same fallacious thinking as Rand Paul in his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

In general there is little controversy in this country as to the benefits of a free market economy. Where the far right is mistaken is in believing that Adam Smith’s invisible hand will correct all problems, ignoring the fact that even Adam Smith saw a role for government.

Markets are the creations of men, and are at danger of men abusing the system. The profit motivations in the free market system often does result in what Brooks refers to as human flourishing. However at times the market system fails to work and provides incentives which are not beneficial to the nation.

One example has been with the health insurance industry which found that it was more profitable to find ways to deny health care to the sick than to provide for such care. This resulted in a need for government to step in and reform the system. This reform was not motivated by people who are opposed to the free market system. It is a market-oriented system which will result in even more people being covered by the private insurance industry than there currently are. The right distorts the facts in calling this a government take over of health care. In reality, even the American Medical Association which typically opposes government intervention supported health care reform, seeing this as increasing freedom of choice for both patients and physicians.

The war is not between supporters and opponents of a free market system but is based upon disagreements over the nature of the system. Liberals want to see a free market system in which everyone has the opportunity to participate and profit from their work.

The results of Republican economic policies have been to transfer wealth from the middle class to the upper class and bring us to the brink of depression. Many on the right try to disassociate themselves from Republican policies, ignoring the harm done by over-zealous deregulation. They protest that George Bush didn’t follow their policies but the reality is that their policies would be so disastrous that most Republicans in office will never follow them to the letter. Even Ronald Reagan raised taxes as opposed to blindly following the dogma that lowering taxes is the way for governments to increase revenue.

The American Enterprise Institute does not really advocate a serious economic policy. They claim credit for the benefits of a free market system which has little to do with their beliefs and distort economics to find ways to justify paying less taxes and escape necessary regulation.

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Right Wing Claiming Kagan Is A Socialist

A few days ago I half jokingly said that we would soon be seeing “various arguments coming from the right wing noise machine as to why Kagan is the most liberal person to have ever been nominated to the Supreme Court.” I underestimated the stupidity of the right wing here. They are actually claiming that she is a socialist based upon her college thesis. As Little Green Footballs summarizes:

Kagan’s undergraduate thesis is titled, “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933,” and it’s a historical study of the failure of socialism in New York in the early part of the 20th century. To Erickson and his dim followers, this is all the proof they need.

Red State, which first made these claims, was forced to take down the thesis for copyright violations. When I glanced through it earlier in the day I noted items which, if taken out of context, could have been used to argue both that Kagan is a socialist and that she opposes socialism. Considering that the claim she is a socialist comes from the same people who claim that Barack Obama is a socialist makes it hard to take their claims seriously. Whatever her feelings were about socialism when in school, her public record shows that she has been a moderate, not a socialist.

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Why The Authoritarian Right Has A More Negative View of Libertarians Than Democrats Do

I’ve had a number of posts on libertarian views of the Democrats and Republicans, including posts on libertarians supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 election.  Kos notes an interesting item in a Pew Research Center study which looks at it from the opposite direction. The overall survey looks at views on capitalism and socialism, but one question looks at how Democrats and Republicans view libertarians:

Reactions to the word “libertarian” are evenly divided — 38% positive, 37% negative. On balance, Republicans view “libertarian” negatively, Democrats are divided, while independents have a positive impression of the term…

More than four-in-ten independents (44%) react positively to the word “libertarian,” while 32% have a negative reaction. Democrats are nearly evenly divided (39% positive, 37% negative). However, Republicans on balance have a negative impression of this term (44% negative, 31% positive).

I agree with Kos that it is not surprising that Republicans have a more negative view of the word “libertarian” than Democrats do. He writes:

The notion that Republicans are libertarian is ludicrous. They stick their noses into our bedrooms, into our doctors’ offices, into churches. They demand the roundup of people who don’t look like them. They whine about Miranda rights and due process. They are more concerned about the rights of big energy conglomerates, than they are about the rights of people to enjoy long walks on pristine beaches. They whine about true independent and free media that doesn’t validate their ideology. They freak out about anyone who doesn’t believe in their god, or worse, in any god at all.

For the American Taliban, “liberty” means their ability to impose their beliefs and lifestyle on the rest of society.

So of course they would react negatively to the word, since they equate it with libertinism. For a movement predicated on imposing its mores on the rest of society, this is obviously deeply offensive.

I agree that for the most part the negative impression of  “libertarian” is due to the authoritarian nature of the current conservative movement and Republican Party. There might also be an additional factor. While it makes little sense, many libertarians have seen the Republican Party as being closer to their views and have attempted to influence the party. This may have resulted in more conflicts between individual Republicans and libertarians, making some Republicans more likely to express a negative opinion of them as a result of such conflict along with their fundamental difference in views.

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Paul Krugman Knows His Wingnuts

Earlier today Paul Krugman speculated that conservatives would find a way to blame the oil spill on Obama. He came up with some theories he suggested they might promote which didn’t sound all that different from ones we’ve heard before:

Will it be claims that liberals and/or scientific conspirators sabotaged the rig, to undermine good Americans who want to drillheredrillnow? (Michael Crichton already wrote that novel).

Will it be that oil workers, demoralized by the march of socialism, fell into despair and let the accident happen?

Will it be claims that since this didn’t happen under Bush, it obviously shows that Obamanomics is responsible?

I don’t know. But you know something along these lines is coming.

By later in the day Krugman was proven to be correct:

He shoots! He scores! Media Matters: Rush’s conspiracy theory: “Environmentalist whackos” may have blown up oil rig to “head off more oil drilling”

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Socialism Polling Surprisingly Well In Rasmussen Poll

Despite the paranoia and distortions from the right, actual  support for socialism in this country seems pretty non-existent. For example, the health care reform which the right pretends is a radical proposal actually is designed to increase the number of customers for private insurance companies. Neither a government-run program or even a single-payer program was ever considered. Government ownership in General Motors was a result of a plea from a private company for assistance with plans to return it private ownership, and certainly not a step towards government nationalization of industry. Calls for true socialism are limited to people who are marginalized on the far left without any influence on public policy, and I bet their is a very small number of them.

In such an atmosphere I would expect a poll of capitalism versus socialism in this country to show a result with virtually everyone choosing capitalism. A Rasmussen poll shows  socialism doing far better than I’d expect. Rasmussen both does real polls on elections which are of reasonable value, and does a number of  less reliable polls between elections to promote conservative memes (and in this case to promote a book by Scott Rasmussen). Their poll shows, “Sixty percent (60%) of U.S. adults nationwide say that capitalism is better than socialism.”  In contrast, 18 percent  disagree and  21 percent are not sure.

I’m sure we will see some conservatives use this to argue they are on the right side per public opinion. Actually I would definitely be on the side of supporting capitalism over socialism–provided we have the necessary government regulations to keep markets functioning properly. The same is true of Barack Obama as well as the Democratic Party. On the other hand, many of the actions of Republicans I have opposed over the years, from Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls to George Bush’s use of Medicare funds to provide corporate welfare for the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, are due to Republican actions which are contrary to free market principles. At other times my opposition to conservatives stems from their lack of understanding that some government regulation is needed for markets to function–a concept which even Adam Smith understood.

While I doubt many Americans currently support socialism, my bet is that some people who not actually support socialism are unsure about saying they oppose it because of the repeated Republican attacks on socialism. Some people might hear the false claim that Obama is a socialist and respond by saying they support socialism.

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Poll Shows Tea Party Supporters Are Your Typical GOP Reactionary Who Follows Conspiracy Theories

A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that Tea Party supporters demographically and ideologically are your basic Republican voter. This includes believing many of the falsehoods which are common on the far right. From the summary:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.”

And further results:

Tea Party supporters’ fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.

The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves. More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public.

They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people…

They are far more pessimistic than Americans in general about the economy. More than 90 percent of Tea Party supporters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with about 60 percent of the general public. About 6 in 10 say “America’s best years are behind us” when it comes to the availability of good jobs for American workers.

Nearly 9 in 10 disapprove of the job Mr. Obama is doing over all, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues: health care, the economy and the federal budget deficit. Ninety-two percent believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

“I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”

Digby discussed several points. Here are some that she discussed:

Here’s an interesting factoid that tracks with my intuition about these people: they blame George W. Bush and Wall Street far less for the economic situation than the rest of the country does. They hold Obama and congress mostly responsible. But then, if you listen to wingnut gasbags and FOX news crazies all day, that’s what you would think…

74% think the economy would have improved just fine without any government interference…

Only 37% don’t like McCain which is sort of surprising (31% like him and the rest don’t have an opinion.) A whopping 57% like GWB. Most of them don’t know much about Ron Paul. He only gets about 20% approval. They love Glenn Beck (59%) which I think tells you everything you need to know about this group. But it’s Sister Sarah they truly love: 66%, although only 40% think “she would be able to be an effective president”…

49% of the country thinks Obama is somewhat or very liberal, while 86% of teabaggers

Here’s a shocker: Only 58% of Americans think Obama was born in the US as opposed to 41% of teabaggers. The rest either think he was born in another country or don’t know. (It’s possible that some of these people don’t understand the significance and simply heard something about Indonesia — or think Hawaii is a foreign country.)

64% of these fools believe their taxes have been raised.

80% think you shouldn’t raise taxes on people who make over 250k a year in order to help pay for health care. (That’s opposed to only 39% of the public as a whole.)

They really don’t like poor people. 73% of them think that government benefits encourage people to remain poor (73%) while only 33% of the country as a whole believe that…

They are full on global warming deniers. 66% either think it doesn’t exist or won’t have an impact.

41% believe in civil unions and 40% think there should be no recognition for gay couples at all. Far fewer believe in gay marriage than the country at large.

A higher number of teabaggers than the public as a whole believe that abortion should be illegal and more of them than the rest of us think it should be more strictly proscribed. Only 20% think it should be generally available.

They like guns quite a bit more than most people.

25% of them think that violent action against the government is justified.

Among the public at large, 58% think Roe vs Wade is a good thing and only 34% think it was a bad thing. Only 40% of teabaggers think it was a good thing while 53% think it was a bad thing.

In other words, it is a similar bunch of right wing extremists who go berserk and spread conspiracy theories whenever a Democrat is in the White House. This phenomenon is hardly new, and probably would not even be receiving all that much attention if not for Fox. The degree to which people at Fox such as Sean Hannity are simultaneously promoting the movement while pretending to cover it as news has gotten so out of hand that even Fox executives have become embarrassed by it. This comes soon after a recent Fox story which debunked some of the same conspiracy theories which others at Fox have been spreading.

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