While Buddy and I were doing his morning smell walk earlier today, pausing at every tree, bush, light post or wall so that he could sniff out all the leg-lifting news and information that his four-legged brethren had left there for him, he revealed that, in attempt to update their image in this high tech age, the Canine Caucus had recently decreed that ages-old messaging system is not longer to be called P-mail. The terminology these days is Twiddle, a mash-up of “Twitter” and “piddle.” Your dog undoubtedly already knows this but hardly expects you to, so drop “Twiddle” casually into the conversation and perhaps he or she will begin to think you are at least a tiny bit cool, although, of course, you are not.
That’s the title of an article in The Economist yesterday which beings by pointing out that, while China is laughing at us, the rest of the world is in despair about us and Washington better get its act together, there is more to the story…
[T]here is also another America, where things work. One hint comes from what those bosses like to call the real economy. Recent numbers from the jobs market and the housing sector have been quite healthy. Consumer balance-sheets are being repaired. The stockmarket has just hit a record high. Some of this is cyclical: the private sector is rebounding from the crunch. But it also reflects the fact that, beyond the District of Columbia, the rest of the country is starting to tackle some of its deeper competitive problems. Businesses and politicians are not waiting for the federal government to ride to their rescue. Instead, as our special report this week shows, they are getting to grips with the failings Congress is ignoring.
Over the weekend, the BBC provided more background on this story.
If this excerpt doesn’t get your attention, nothing I can add here will. Go read the whole damned–and damning–thing
Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968.In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.
The disruption of Johnson’s peace talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969 to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate it. But they couldn’t find the file.
We now know that was because President Johnson, who privately had called Nixon’s Vietnam actions “treason,” had ordered the file removed from the White House by his national security aide Walt Rostow.
This comment by a reader of the Talking Points Memo site seems to me to be spot on re: the developing Chris Christie, GOP Savior” meme among the political press (and, yes, I am _appalled_ by my contributing to the ridiculous discussion of the 2016 election at this point but it’s cold and snowy out there and a guy’s gotta do something to fill the time, so what the hell):
I think that Chris Christie can be related to another Republican politician whose presidential ambitions, once seen as highly realistic, faded because his personality became too apparent–Rudy Giuliani.
Like Christie, Giuliani was a bombastic executive who rose to prominence as a tough-as-nails prosecutor in bare-knuckles US Attorneys’ offices. They both tended to “wear their emotions on their sleeve” as you very generously put it. Or put another way, Christie and Giuliani are both assholes.
Giuliani’s personality was both the key to his political success, as well as the surest reason for its failure. He beat an unpopular incumbent, his tough love for a tough city was seen as the key in turning New York City around. But by the summer of 2001 he had become somewhat unpopular. His style of leadership was once again effective on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath. Giuliani’s presidential campaign started off with him as the far-and-away front-runner, but suffered because he lost support as people got to know him. Ultimately, the asshole attitude did not play.
Christie similarly beat an unpopular opponent and his “no nonsense” approach earned praise in tough times. But he was facing a tough re-election (at best a 50-50 chance) until Sandy gave him an opportunity to once again showcase his tough (and possibly by necessity bi-partisan) approach, winning him plaudits in a time of emergency, and scaring off his most serious Democratic challengers.
I suspect that like Giuliani, Christie’s personality is likely to grate on the public once the emergency has passed. It’s not a surprise that both are from the New York/New Jersey area. Let’s face it; other “heart on the sleeve” politicians (with attitudes often less pronounced than Christie and Giuliani) from the area who are popular in their home state–Anthony Weiner (before Weiner-gate), Chuck Schumer, Peter King–don’t play as well on the national stage. For whatever reasons (and, there are good and many bad reasons), what is endearing in the New York metro area is not endearing at Iowa Fairs and New Hampshire Town Meetings.
True, Giuliani had more pronounced problems from a policy standpoint–being a thrice married pro-choice, pro gay rights, pro gun control urban mayor is probably the exact opposite of the profile of a Republican presidential candidate. But some–or at least enough–of Christie’s appeal has been a willingness to take moderate positions, and that may play even worse in a 2016 Republican Primary than it did in 2008.
(A last note–Christie’s public blow-up is remarkably uncalled for. The apparent health of a President or presidential candidate is a matter of public interest. Certainly whether Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, or John McCain were central issues in their campaigns–and whether Joe Biden might would certainly be, if that campaign comes to pass–a pretty obvious health risk like Christie’s is fair game. It may well gnaw on him personally, and I have sympathy for that, but telling her in a press conference to “shut up” is just plain wrong from a political standpoint–putting aside the bizarre personal call to her afterwards.)
NOTE: This post originally appeared in my Facebook feed in a slightly different form.
The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.
This is the politics of nullification, the doctrine, nearly as old as the republic itself, which holds that the states, singly or in concert, can defy federal actions by declaring them invalid or simply ignoring them. We hear the echoes of nullification in the venting of anti-government passions and also in campaigns to “starve government,” curtail voter registration, repeal legislation, delegitimize presidents. There is a strong sectionalist bias in these efforts. They flourish in just the places Kevin Phillips identified as Republican strongholds—Plains, Mountain, but mainly Southern states, where change invites suspicion, especially when it seems invasive, and government is seen as an intrusive force. Yet those same resisters—most glaringly, Tea Partiers—cherish the entitlements and benefits provided by “Big Government.” Their objections come when outsider groups ask for consideration, too. Even recent immigrants to this country sense the “hidden hand” of Calhoun’s style of dissent, the extended lineage of rearguard politics, with its aggrieved call, heard so often today, “to take back America”—that is, to take America back to the “better” place it used to be. Today’s conservatives have fully embraced this tradition, enshrining it as their own “Lost cause,” redolent with the moral consolations of noble defeat.
NOTE: This post first appeared on Facebook in slightly different form. See the post which will appear above this one when I get around to posting it for an explanation.
That’s the title of the lead item in the “Talk of the Town” introductory section by David Remnick in the issue of The New Yorker released this past week. This is the long opening paragraph:
Brothers and sisters: Before we open our hymnals and sing the many grim verses of “Now Cometh the Hard Part,” the quadrennial post-Election Day dirge, the congregation is kindly requested to indulge in a brief interlude of soul-replenishing joy. Go ahead. Relax those shoulders. Breathe. Linger a while over the night of Tuesday, November 6th. Congratulate the President on his reëlection. Play a clip of his stirring acceptance speech. Watch his handsome family waving to the jubilant crowd. Wave back. Replay in your mind, just for fun, the moment when Fox News’s Megyn Kelly rebuked Karl Rove for his refusal to accept the verdict in Ohio (“Is this just the math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?”), before making her long trek to the reality-based precincts of the Decision Desk. Send a thank-you note to Bill Clinton, to the determined, foot-sore voters of south Florida, and—what the hell—to Chris Christie. Finally, bid a fond farewell to some of the gargoyles who have haunted your sleep in these many months of incessant cable-gazing, Web-cruising, and poll-checking. See ya later, Brothers Koch! Shalom, Sheldon Adelson! Get a new slide rule, George Gallup and Scott Rasmussen! Hasta la vista, Tea Party! Ciao for now, Donald Trump! Feel better? Good, because the celebration is officially over.
The remainder of the piece is about the need for the Obama Administration to walk the walk after all the talk about Global Warming, and that’s that part you need to read.
You really should read the “Obama and the Road Ahead,” the Rolling Stone interview. It’s available here. It’s conducted by historian Douglas Brinkley and this excerpt is from his long introduction the piece. It provides an excellent historical perspective to this election and explains why it is so important.
Viewed through the lens of history, Obama represents a new type of 21st-century politician: the Progressive Firewall. Obama, simply put, is the curator-in-chief of the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society. When he talks about continued subsidies for Big Bird or contraceptives for Sandra Fluke, he is the inheritor of the Progressive movement’s agenda, the last line of defense that prevents America’s hard-won social contract from being defunded into oblivion.
Ever since Theodore Roosevelt used executive orders to save the Grand Canyon from the zinc-copper lobbies and declared that unsanitary factories were grotesque perversions propagated by Big Money interests, the federal government has aimed to improve the daily lives of average Americans. Woodrow Wilson followed up T.R.’s acts by creating the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission and re-establishing a federal income tax. Then, before the stock market crash in 1929, the GOP Big Three of Harding-Coolidge-Hoover made “business” the business of America, once more allowing profiteers to flourish at the expense of the vulnerable.
Enter Franklin Roosevelt, a polio victim confined to a wheelchair and leg braces. His alphabet soup of New Deal programs – the CCC and TVA and WPA – brought hope to the financially distraught, making them believe that the government was on their side. Determined to end the Great Depression, Roosevelt was a magnificent experimenter. Credit him with Social Security, legislation to protect workers, labor’s right to collective bargaining, Wall Street regulation, rural electrification projects, farm-price supports, unemployment compensation and federally guaranteed bank deposits. The America we know and love today sprung directly from the New Deal.
For the next three decades, the vast majority of voters benefited from Roosevelt’s revolution. And every president from FDR to Jimmy Carter, regardless of political affiliation, grabbed America by the scruff of the neck and did huge, imaginative things with tax revenues. Think Truman (the Marshall Plan), Eisenhower (the Interstate Highway System), Kennedy (the space program), Johnson (Medicaid and Medicare), Nixon (the EPA) and Carter (the departments of Energy and Education). Whether it was Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy going after the Mob or LBJ laying the groundwork for PBS, citizens took comfort in the knowledge that the executive branch was a caring iron fist with watchdog instincts that got things done.
It was the election of Ronald Reagan that started the Grand Reversal. Reagan had voted four times for FDR, but by 1980 he saw the federal government – with the notable exception of our armed forces – as a bloated, black-hatted villain straight out of one of his B movies. His revolution – and make no mistake that it was one – aimed to undo everything from Medicare to Roe v. Wade. Ever since Reagan, both the New Deal and the Great Society have been under continuous siege by the American right. Bill Clinton survived two terms only by co-opting traditional GOP issues like welfare reform and balanced budgets. Unlike Clinton, Obama must hold tighter to the Progressive movement’s reins. There are no more moderate Republicans left in Congress to do business with; today’s GOP conservatives want to roll back, not reform. Having brought Obamacare this far, the president must find a way to close the deal in his second term.
Paul Nitze, the foreign-policy guru of the Truman administration, once told me that the problem with historians like myself is that we’re always hunting for a cache of documents to analyze. What our ilk tends to forget, he chided, is that inaction is also policy. Under this criterion, Obama must also be judged by the things he won’t allow to happen on his watch: Wall Street thieving, Bush-style fiscal irresponsibility, a new war in the Middle East, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the dismantling of Medicare into a voucher program – the list is long. The offense-driven, Yes-We-Can candidate of 2008 has become the No-You-Won’t defensive champion of 2012. Obama has less a grand plan to get America working than a NO TRESPASSING sign to prevent 100 years of progressive accomplishments from being swept away, courtesy of Team Romney, in a Katrina-like deluge of anti-regulatory measures.
No wonder the right has such a gleam of hatred for Obama – he is the roadblock to their revolution. The conservative movement, however, has a crippling problem: If they can’t beat Obama with a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, then how can they hope to derail Hillary Clinton in 2016 when presumably that number will be substantially lower?
If Obama wins re-election, his domestic agenda will be anchored around a guarantee to all Americans that civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, affordable health care, public education, clean air and water, and a woman’s right to choose will be protected, no matter how poorly the economy performs. Obama has grappled with two of the last puzzle pieces of the Progressive agenda – health care and gay rights – with success. If he is re-elected in November and makes his health care program permanent, it will take root in the history books as a seminal achievement. If he loses, Romney and Ryan will crush his initiatives without remorse.
There is another valuable piece in this Rolling Stone, a brief opinion piece by Matt Taibbi entitled “The End of Reality,” not yet available online. It, as the title might suggest, makes a pertinent and disturbing point about our shattered national psyche:
America is becoming like an untreatable paranoiac narcissist–you can’t tell us anything, because we only hear the parts we like.
Some pertinent excerpts:
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.
[ … ]
In the poisonous atmosphere of this campaign, it may be easy to overlook Mr. Obama’s many important achievements, including carrying out the economic stimulus, saving the auto industry, improving fuel efficiency standards, and making two very fine Supreme Court appointments.
[ … ]
Mr. Obama has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The reform law takes a big step toward universal health coverage, a final piece in the social contract.
[ … ]
Mr. Obama prevented another Great Depression. The economy was cratering when he took office in January 2009. By that June it was growing, and it has been ever since (although at a rate that disappoints everyone), thanks in large part to interventions Mr. Obama championed, like the $840 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say it failed, but it created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.
Last year, Mr. Obama introduced a jobs plan that included spending on school renovations, repair projects for roads and bridges, aid to states, and more. It was stymied by Republicans. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s claims, Mr. Obama has done good things for small businesses — like pushing through more tax write-offs for new equipment and temporary tax cuts for hiring the unemployed.
[ … ]
The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues. Whoever is president after the election will make at least one appointment to the court, and many more to federal appeals courts and district courts.
Mr. Obama, who appointed the impressive Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, understands how severely damaging conservative activism has been in areas like campaign spending. He would appoint justices and judges who understand that landmarks of equality like the Voting Rights Act must be defended against the steady attack from the right.
Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says he will “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito,” among the most conservative justices in the past 75 years. There is no doubt that he would appoint justices who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.
[ … ]
For these and many other reasons, we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term, and express the hope that his victory will be accompanied by a new Congress willing to work for policies that Americans need.
You can read the entire endorsement editorial here.
I also highly recommend the endorsement from The New Yorker.
Obama succeeded George W. Bush, a two-term President whose misbegotten legacy, measured in the money it squandered and the misery it inflicted, has become only more evident with time. Bush left behind an America in dire condition and with a degraded reputation. On Inauguration Day, the United States was in a downward financial spiral brought on by predatory lending, legally sanctioned greed and pyramid schemes, an economic policy geared to the priorities and the comforts of what soon came to be called “the one per cent,” and deregulation that began before the Bush Presidency. In 2008 alone, more than two and a half million jobs were lost—up to three-quarters of a million jobs a month. The gross domestic product was shrinking at a rate of nine per cent. Housing prices collapsed. Credit markets collapsed. The stock market collapsed—and, with it, the retirement prospects of millions. Foreclosures and evictions were ubiquitous; whole neighborhoods and towns emptied. The automobile industry appeared to be headed for bankruptcy. Banks as large as Lehman Brothers were dead, and other banks were foundering. It was a crisis of historic dimensions and global ramifications. However skillful the management in Washington, the slump was bound to last longer than any since the Great Depression.
At the same time, the United States was in the midst of the grinding and unnecessary war in Iraq, which killed a hundred thousand Iraqis and four thousand Americans, and depleted the federal coffers. The political and moral damage of Bush’s duplicitous rush to war rivalled the conflict’s price in blood and treasure. America’s standing in the world was further compromised by the torture of prisoners and by illegal surveillance at home. Al Qaeda, which, on September 11, 2001, killed three thousand people on American soil, was still strong. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, was, despite a global manhunt, living securely in Abbottabad, a verdant retreat near Islamabad.
As if to intensify the sense of crisis, on Inauguration Day the national-security apparatus informed the President-elect that Al Shabaab, a Somali affiliate of the Al Qaeda network, had sent terrorists across the Canadian border and was planning an attack on the Mall, possibly on Obama himself. That danger proved illusory; the others proved to be more onerous than anyone had imagined. The satirical paper The Onion came up with a painfully apt inaugural headline: “BLACK MAN GIVEN NATION’S WORST JOB.