Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blame Romney?

The Republican Party has been good at setting narratives, some uplifting, some not. The last four years have been deeply negative because that is where the Party is headed, but also because they don't hold the presidency. Hence the unceasing narrative, successfully planted in the minds of many, that Barack Obama is not one of us; he's foreign, ineligible, out of touch, neo-colonial, Marxist, Muslim. The drumbeat never ends because Republicans understand their base and how it is motivated by fear and uncertainty, and they understand better than Dems that winning elections is about telling emotional stories.

The current presidential race has all of the standard Republican boilerplate, but we have  seen many Republicans stray off message in recent years, to put it mildly. One has to wonder why deeply conservative candidates believe attacking women, social security, medicare, Hispanics, teachers, a struggling working class, and more, could be a winning campaign strategy. Attacking everyone who is not like you is not a recommended approach to expanding the voter base. 

And now Mitt Romney, goaded by teabaggers everywhere, has taken the face of 21st century Republicanism much further to the right. It is hard to believe this is the same party that brought us fiery fighter Teddy Roosevelt, calm and fair Dwight Eisenhower,  and bland but sensible Gerald Ford. Even Dick Nixon looks positively moderate by comparison. Romney had an opportunity to bring sense to his party and denounce the worst and most radical elements, but for probably personal reasons, he has chosen to pander to them instead.

And now he appears trapped by their ideology. Weeks before the general election, it is obvious that Romney, and many other downticket candidates, not only have espoused unpopular and destructive policies, which are obvious to many of us, but that he has run a poor campaign, which is obvious to almost everyone. And it has come at a time in the election cycle when far more people are paying attention. To be sure, many Republicans warned long ago that Romney was not their guy. And now that it is too late, it has become obvious to many party bigwigs that Romney was a weak choice.

However, it is precisely Romney's weaknesses that are giving Republicans a new narrative to invent. The angle being developed is that if Obama is reelected, it will be Romney's fault; he is, after all, a weak campaigner. It is only Sept 30, and a Romney defeat is still far from certain, so manufacturing excuses in advance does not look like a winning strategy.

And yet we can see a subtle whisper campaign starting to build. The Republicans, they tell us, could have, should have, won the presidency, if only they had had a candidate who knew how to campaign. Republicans are now assuring themselves they have the right policies, the right prescriptions, the right everything; it's just that Romney put up a weak campaign. Who knew?

And Obama? Because he is all those terrible things Republicans say he is, there is no way he should be winning this thing. It is, you see, just more proof that Romney was a weak candidate. If you buy into right-wing critiques of Obama, then voters should have flocked to Romney. This was the expectation, even from Romney himself. Few are willing to admit they massively misconstrued the electorate.

If Romney loses, especially if he continues to offend voters, he will be crucified by his party. He was never especially popular anyway. He won the nomination because he was able to pander to the right, and because the other Republican candidates were even weaker and more risible than he. The election is weeks away and Republicans have to convince voters that it is not the Republican brand that is to blame, just that one guy at the top of the ticket. And if he does in fact lose, it is only because he was a crappy campaigner.

What other reasons could there be?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Road to Plutocracy

The United States once generally adhered to economic policies that were pretty common sense on their face: We believed in economic democracy, not oligarchy, we believed that severe maldistribution of wealth was not just fundamentally unfair, but unsustainable and dangerous. For generations we properly regulated banks and we had few banking issues as a result.

When the US fought wars, we paid for them in part with steeply progressive--and temporary--tax rates. It was obvious to us and to our trading partners that manufacturing and a modern infrastructure were the bases of economic strength; banks should only play a supportive role. Moreover the US generously supported public universities, which returned the favor by providing us with scientific and technological preeminence. Economic doctrine and history both informed mainstream policies.

We once understood that a strong middle class was essential to overall prosperity as well as the foundation of democracy and free elections. As part of the social contract, industry generally worked with labor, offering wages that were in line with ever-rising productivity. There was little vilification of labor unions at a time when membership was far higher. Corporate dividends and government interest were paid overwhelmingly to Americans and not to neo-mercantilists in Asia and shadowy investors in the Cayman Islands. While the wealthy have always benefited the most, dividends and interest payments in the past were mostly pumped back into local communities. In other words, debt and equities were held almost entirely by Americans. Recipients spent this unearned income within the US, largely in their own communities. That which they saved went into a local banks and credit unions, not Wall Street. This whole process helped grow the economy and stabilize neighborhoods.

We would have been aghast at the idea that massive, intractable trade deficits would arrive and be accepted with surprisingly alacrity. That banks would be allowed to once again trade in securities, take wild, highly-leveraged bets with other people's money, dominate the political process, and virtually insulate themselves from legal accountability. Because of compliant politicians who now have all the money they need to stay in office, the big banks and other stars of Wall Street have been able to maximize gains to themselves, and spread losses onto others, primarily tax payers. This includes companies that have been propped up by taxpayers. It's a sweet deal for the investor class; get the middle class to foot the bill, while dividends and capital gains go overwhelmingly to the investor class. It is, at its simplest, a rigged financial system that has privatized the gains and socialized the costs.

It is all coming undone, though not by the middle class, not by local banks, not by unions, and certainly not by gays, secularists, feminists, immigrants, or Democrats trying to rein in a bloated defense budget. But we have been assured repeatedly that minimal regulations are good because unfettered financial markets will make the best decisions, that they allocate capital most efficiently. Neo-liberalism fetishizes minimal regulations, free and unmonitored movement of capital, low taxes, and free trade.That same neo-liberalism has been a cheerleader for policies that have hollowed out our industrial base, turned the economy over to a rapacious financial system, have put us into deep debt to Japan, China, and elsewhere. In the process, dividends and interest payments that used to stimulate the American economy now stimulate theirs.

Now we are told to spend freely, with few admonishments to save more. Our economic system is now deeply dependent on middle class consumers willing to endlessly consume, a process that is far less beneficial than in decades past because so much of what we buy is imported. Part of the massive earnings enjoyed by our trading partners is now used to finance US debt. The Reagan administration set us on this course of indebtedness because it knew foreign governments had piles of US dollars, and because conservatives in our own government refused to allow a level of taxation that would pay the bills. The 1% are now able to avoid taxation on income that would have been taxed in the past; taxes that would have helped to pay for the Iraq war, which has gone unpaid, and such things as maintaining a modern infrastructure.

Most of the middle class is in serious debt. Families will not and should not spend freely if their job security is in question. Many have experienced wage reductions as they move from one employer to another. An ever-growing proportion of American families realize they cannot simultaneously save enough for retirement, pay for basics, including health care, rising food and energy prices--especially in the face of no commensurate wage increases-- and also set aside for their children's needs, including college tuition. This is not a sudden condition; it has been building for decades.

The right wing and other intellectual thugs want you to believe that it started with President Obama. They hope you don't notice the policies they are espousing are the same ones that have been largely in place for most of the last 30 plus years.

It is, in any event, a laughably ignorant concept to argue that Obama is even in a position to have anything more than a modest effect, for good or bad. The conditions that most people and the government are now in are far larger and intractable for any president to handle. It has taken America 30+ years to get here, it cannot be turned around in four years, not when Bush handed Obama a shit storm and two unpaid wars, not when Republicans oppose him on every substantive point, and not when those same Republicans are able to exploit what we now see are serious shortcomings in the structure of our system of government.

It has taken the US decades to drift into the present condition. During this time the wealthy have garnered ever more of the wealth, paid ever decreasing taxes for it, run corporations that have earned more, paid lower wages, have been taxed less, and have more freedom to move capital around the world, and fewer obligations to middle class families. This is as the wealthy have always wanted it, and it is what today's Republican Party wants. Their biggest concern is that President Obama would do something to stop this inexorable trend towards plutocracy.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

More Lying

I'm not sure which impresses me more: the breath-taking willingness of Paul Ryan to lie, or the fact that at least some in the media have, finally, remembered what their job means and are now willing to call Ryan what he is; a relentless and shameless liar.

Many bloggers and political junkies have been saying from the outset that Ryan was deeply flawed and so ideologically driven that he feels at ease in lying. And I don't mean making partisan speeches, or strident accusations. Nor do I mean stretching the truth, or making questionable interpretations, which all politicians have done. I mean Paul Ryan is making bald-face lies, in the strictest sense of the word. Intentional misrepresentation has become a rhetorical tool.

Ryan went so far over the top in his recent speech at the Republican National Convention that even the mainstream press could no longer play along with the "serious thinker" crap. The Washington Post said it was "Paul Ryan's breathtakingly dishonest speech."  Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic asked if it might just be The Most Dishonest Convention Speech...Ever?  The Huffington Post has a nice compilation from various sources, including ABC and CNN. And it turns out even Fox can't get past the lying, saying " anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech."

Ouch, that's gotta hurt.

So what was it that Ryan was lying about this time? By all means, click the links above for more complete discussion. The short answer that most seemed to agree upon would be as follows:
1) Ryan once again claimed that the GM plant in Ryan's district closed on Obama's watch, when it didn't. What makes Ryan especially contemptible to me is that he had been called out on this claim a few days before, and didn't bother to make any correction. The second time around, more of the media caught it.
2) Ryan is still claiming that Obama is "stealing" $700+ billion from medicare.
3) Ryan also took Obama to task on the now nearly forgotten Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission, noting that Obama created it, and then seemed to ignore it. Sure, Ryan, you called it an "urgent report," but you yourself voted against it.
4) Again, Ryan blamed Obama for the gaping federal budget deficit, ignoring the fact that the biggest single reason for it is the Bush tax cuts, which Ryan voted for. And this is coming from a man who wants to cut those taxes even more for the wealthy,including zero taxes on capital gains. This would mean Romney would effectively pay zero in taxes, without the need for offshore accounts.Yeah, Ryan, that will really balance the books.
5) Ryan even tried to blame Obama for the credit rating downgrade a while back when the US appeared to be inching towards default. As Jonathan Cohn notes: "And why did that possibility exist? Because Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling, playing chicken not just with the nations’ credit rating but the whole economy, unless Obama would cave into their budget demands."
Here's Stephen Colbert's take: love how he skewers those who still want to make light of Ryan's lying. I'm looking at you, Erin Burnett.