Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pres Obama's 100 Days: Everyone Agrees... Good Start, Needs To Be More Liberal

I could sit here and discuss all of the things that President has accomplished in this (very) early stretch of his presidency... passing a stimulus bill, expanding children's health insurance coverage, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (the latter being holdovers from the last Congress), beginning the process of closing Guantanamo and ending the Iraq war, reversing some bad Bush-era policies on stem cells and carbon emissions and other issues, diplomatic overtures. Or the things he has yet to accomplish... an exit strategy for Afghanistan, figuring out what the hell to do with TARP, health-care reform, real climate change action (beyond cap-and-trade proposals), taking a real stand on controversial issues like gay marriage or the war on drugs, other big issues. But I won't because, a) those issues have been exhausted elsewhere (one example), and b) I think that the tradition of grading a President based on the arbitrary 100-day mark is kind of stupid.

So instead I'll write about the topic that is endlessly fascinating me lately... the slow mental unraveling of the conservative base in America. As the tea parties showed, they are mad as hell and they are not gonna take it any more!! Except they're still trying to figure out what "it" is. They know they hate Obama and that he's destroying America, but they're unable to explain why without going on insane rants about forged birth certificates and secret Muslims and socialism and FEMA concentration camps. (And let's not even get into the Republicans in Congress who are voting against Obama on everything so they can run against him as a do-nothing President in 4 years.)

They no longer have consistent positions on anything of consequence. For instance, ask them these basic questions and watch them dissemble like crazy.

(Give 'em time... they'll figure it out-- ??-- eventually)

One interesting side aspect of that has been that so many of their complaints about Obama seem to be that he hasn't changed enough from the Bush-era policies... despite their endless defending of Bush, if they even acknowledge his presidency existed at all. The first time I noticed this phenomenon was months ago when Rush Limbaugh-- who's been the ringleader of this circus-- cited the bank bailouts as a reason why he disapproved of Obama. This was said not only before Obama was even sworn in, but also with no acknowledgment that the bailouts were the design of President Bush and Henry Paulson. And you would not believe how pissed Limbaugh is at Obama for lying about why we went to war, or the housing bubble, or his failure to save New Orleans! Fascist!

I've been spending (way too much) time debating conservatives on LJ communities and keep seeing this time and time again. Here's one guy (when he's not arming himself to defend America from the socialists) giving President Obama faux-shit over his maintaining of some of Bush-era CIA programs... when, in theory, he should be praising Obama for that. Or this guy who stated that "it's obama who wants to do away with civil lilberties." When pressed for an example, he cited a news story noting that 'President Barack Obama has already provoked controversy by backing the continued imprisonment without trial of enemy combatants in Afghanistan and by limiting the rights of prisoners to challenge evidence used to convict them.' So, once again, the anger is that Obama is failing to fully end all of the horrible, destructive policies that Bush set in motion years ago. Now I completely agree that is the biggest failure thus far of his presidency... but do they? Again, asking them to answer that will elicit no rational response.

Still, it's nice to know that, in theory, all of America agrees that to become a stronger President, Obama needs to become more progressive and to move even further away from the excesses of his Republican predecessor.

As Paul Krugman said of the Specter move, the political schizophrenia on the right "is not good for American democracy– we really do need two major parties in competition. But I’ll settle for getting that back after we get universal health care and cap-and-trade."

Blueduck Shrugged

A guy on my LJ friends list, Jim Smith, just wrote an entry puzzled at the recent surge of interest in libertarian hero Ayn Rand's classic novel, 'Atlas Shrugged'. Jim writes-
I don't know a lot about the book, but the article says it "concerns a group of corporate chieftains and individualists who go on strike in protest of government intervention in business." This would seem to be of great interest to, y'know, corporate chieftains, but are there enough of them to create a sales spike? I would think you'd need to bring the masses on board, and lately the masses are all upset about their perception that the government is intervening on behalf of corporate chieftains.

I have to admit the article piqued my curiosity about the book, since I don't really get libertarianism and I'd be interested to read an argument in favor of it. Just within the article Rand's Objectivism seems to be completely undercut, when it cites Alan Greenspan's subscription to the philosophy and then quotes his statement to Congress about the failure of laissez-faire economics to self-regulate:
"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders' equity -- myself, especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief," Greenspan told a congressional hearing in October.

This is the sort of statement that makes promoting libertarianism an uphill climb--Greenspan doesn't seem to have a plan on how free markets can now turn around and fix the problem free markets failed to prevent. I'm not one to suggest the government will fix everything or that we'll be better off permanently nationalizing shit, but at this point I would think increased government intervention can accomplish more than Alan Greenspan standing around being shocked.

Because this type of thing frustrates me as well, I felt compelled to respond. Here goes...

The great success of modern conservatism (Reagan conservatism, as opposed to say, classic Eisenhower conservatism) is convincing average Joes-- middle class, working class, or worse-- that protecting corporate chieftains from government regulation or intervention is their cause too.

It's no coincidence that the tea party movement originated from a rant by CNBC pundit Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago stock market, in which he not only called for the tea parties, but also insisted that those facing foreclosure were "losers". Or that the taxes that the teabaggers were ranting about affect only those making over $250,000 while most of America (including, I'm sure, 98% of the teabaggers) got a tax break from Obama. They've taken corporatism and repackaged it as a populist movement.

And it's a mix too... people scared by the current economy that they're attempting to find solace in that, but it's also a lot of conservatives angry at being in the minority after many years of political ascendancy using this for solace too (I've read lots of rants on conservative LJs that they fear the government will soon enslave us all).

The good news, I suppose, if polls can be believed, is that these people are increasingly a minority. It's hard to convince people that the free-market is infallible and that government is evil when right now the government is the only thing keeping the mess caused by the free-market gods from completely imploding our economy.

That's not to say we go all the way in the other direction, but it's clear that, despite a small surge in book sales, Americans are way opposed to the Rand worldview.

[PS- Jim also writes in that entry about how Rand's worldview connects with what Bernie Madoff did, and failed to get away with. Good stuff there too. I responded to that as well, which can be read here.]

Sen. Specter: Principled Defender of his Right to be a Senator

Democrats are jumping with joy over Sen. Specter's decision to leave the GOP and become a Democrat. But at least nobody, even the Senator himself, is pretending that this was a principled decision.

Faced with a likely primary defeat next year from far-right candidate Pat Toomey (who would then have gotten his ass kicked in the general election by the Democratic candidate), Specter decided to just bypass all that unpleasantness and become the Democratic candidate himself. Seat = safe!

Democrats, of course, are just happy to have a new Senator who will, after Norm Coleman runs out legal last resorts in MN, bring their number up to magical 60. But this isn't like 2001, when Sen. Jeffords' leaving the GOP changed control of the Senate... we already have the majority in the Senate, and by a good margin. The 60 number is just the votes needed to prevent filibusters. Therefore, Specter is only useful to Democrats in so much as he will vote with them on cloture on the key issues we need (labor issues, health-care, etc). But every indication so far is that he cannot be counted on and the GOP filibusters may well continue.

Let's hope that Democratic leaders in DC are not too busy splooging themselves to realize that important fact. Specter shouldn't be allowed to enjoy the benefits of being in the majority party-- committee assignments, a safe seat-- without giving the Democrats back in return what they need the most... that 60th vote. If Specter refuses, then give him in 2010 what he tried to run away from in the first place- a serious primary fight.

Tortured Logic

Last night on 'The Daily Show', Jon Stewart had another classic interview... this time with conservative pundit Cliff May. The issue was torture. The interview ran long again, and was edited for TV. The full, unedited interview is available for viewing online: Parts 1, 2, and 3. Worth watching.

PS- I'll have another post up later with some quick thoughts on general matters.