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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Where do we go from here?

For the past 16 years the United States has been in a bloodless civil war, parallel in many ways to the shorter, far more violent one during the 1860s. Millions of Americans have questioned the legitimacy of each of our last three Presidents. The Republicans have helped create a vast media establishment that daily trumpets the idea that Democrats are not real Americans. They have also adopted the idea that the federal government has become the enemy of the American people. During the last few years they have begun to propagate a new view of American history--new at least in the mainstream--which attempts to repudiate all the major developments in American government since the presidency of William McKinley. The Republicans have purged nearly all the moderates from their ranks, while the voters, last Tuesday, purged a great many moderates from those of the Democrats. Very few wars run smoothly from beginning to end, and in 2006-8, the Republicans lost the initiative and suffered significant setbacks. This in no way altered their campaign plan, however, and they have now regained the initiative and have a significant chance of coming back into power throughout the government in 2012. And all the while, they have become more and more detached from reality--and that, more than anything else, makes it very difficult to predict what is going to happen during the next two years.

Rush Limbaugh--one of the real victors last Tuesday--raised some eyebrows early in 2009 when he announced that he wanted President Obama to fail, but given his priorities, he could hardly have done otherwise. The modern Republican Party of which he is a critical part cares about one thing and one thing only: winning elections. To do so it will shut its eyes to any unpleasant reality and take advantage of any popular resentment. Since Newt Gingrich's famous memo back in the early 1990s, it has shamelessly used its own form of Newspeak to characterize everything the Democrats try to do. Republicans now routinely reform to Obama's watered-down, insurance-industry approved health care plan as "a government takeover of health care." Obama, they say, launched his political career in Bill Ayres's home. From there it is a small step to the tacit approval of the idea that Obama is a Muslim or a non-citizen. And of course, the Republicans never stop railing about the deficits that their own tax cuts have been creating at every opportunity since 1981. The biggest reason why I simply cannot believe in the sincerity of the Tea Party is this: if they truly cared about balanced budgets, Bill Clinton would be their favorite President. He is not.

The Republican strategy has worked brilliantly, on the whole, by redefining our political agenda and skewing our debate. When one spends so much time reporting or debating fantasies, there's no time left to focus on reality. I suspect the number of Americans who could identify Monica Lewinsky is far higher than the number who could accurately remember the state of the federal budget in 2000. The media, including the few outlets that can fairly be described as liberal, spend the most space on extreme Tea Party candidates. Who got more ink this fall, Christine O'Donnell, who never had a chance to be elected, or Russ Feingold, a long-time Senator? Why does Sarah Palin get more attention than all the rest of the Republican hopefuls combined? Because she is obviously unqualified to sit in the White House.

Republican enthusiasm has several sources. I pointed out six years ago that the Republican coalition includes the losers in the two previous crises in our national life: white southerners and corporate interests. (It is interesting that the corporate interests continue to prefer Republicans even though their control over Democratic officeholders is nearly as absolute.) Sadly, whole generations of white southerners have grown up since the civil rights movement who still seem to resent the ignominy it cast on their region--all the more so, of course, because they deserved it. A bad conscience remains one of the most powerful historical forces in human life. Meanwhile, the corporate elite has benefited almost unbelievably from the tax cuts and deregulation that began under Reagan, and seems to want even more. Their huge fortunes, combined with the Citizens United decision, have given them unprecedented power over political campaigns. Their money was used this fall to arouse resentment, above all against Barack Obama, our first black President, and Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in American political history. And it worked. The Republicans have also drawn, of course, on the revival of religious faith, although that part of the coalition seems to be declining somewhat in importance at the moment. And the Republicans have made substantial gains among my own Boom generation, which seems to be worried about its entitlements and unable to grasp that the Democrats not only put those entitlements in place but have a far better record of standing up for them.

The Democratic response to the Republican onslaught has been disappointing in the extreme. Democratic politicians have criticized Republicans--especially President Bush and Vice President Cheney--but have made no parallel, systematic attempt to demonize them. More seriously, from their point of view, they have offered no serious alternatives on the policy front, with the sole exception, for which they get no credit, of fiscal responsibility. (The deficit has, of course, increased under Barack Obama, but that is because of the economic crisis he inherited. Those wishing to understand the actual source of the deficit should go back a couple of posts.) As I wrote last week, they are just as much under the control, effectively, of the financial services industry, the communications giants, the food industry, and the health care industry as the Republicans. Because their coalition still contains a few genuine New Dealers like myself and because they theoretically believe in government reform, they spent the last two years passing bills claiming to reform health care and the financial services industry, but they were completely unable (and in the latter case unwilling) to do anything serious. Obama and his closest advisers also accepted free-market orthodoxy with respect to their response to the great recession, eschewing serious efforts to reduce mortgage foreclosures or raise employment, and thus incurred the wrath of the electorate, as they will again in critical states in 2012 if nothing much has improved. The Democrats are the party of the establishment, and establishment solutions are not working. Last Sunday I heard Curtis Roosevelt, FDR's grandson and a good amateur historian, confirm that FDR never trusted establishment wisdom and insisted on results. Obama, alas, is a different matter.

The best data I have found to illustrate what actually happened last Tuesday is a summary of exit poll data on House races provided by the New York Times. I urge all readers to look at it, and in particular, to check "Size bars according to population of groups" in the box at the left. The graph breaks down Republican and Democratic votes along various demographic lines, including race, gender, and income. To begin with, Republicans made large gains, usually 10-20%, this fall in every single category. They wiped out the gender gap among women, leaving the Democrats just 1% ahead in female votes, while increasing their share of the male vote 36% relative to what it was in the 2008 Congressional elections. (To be clear, a 36% increase in their vote meant about an 18% increase in their share of those voters.) They even increased their black vote by 7% their hispanic vote by 8%, and their Asian by 18%, and won 60% of the whites, where they enjoyed a narrow majority last time. They increased their vote in every income category, although the Democrats held on to narrow leads in voters from households making $50,000 or less. Even more stunning was the actual makeup of the electorate. Two thirds of the voters were at least 45 years of age, and these older voters went heavily Republican. As measured by these polls the electorate was about 80% white--that's right, 80%. The combination of relentless Republican propaganda and Administration failure on the economic front has turned significant numbers of every demographic against the White House. Those who felt their economic situation had improved or stayed the same voted The handwriting is on the wall for 2012. A plurality of those polls counted themselves as tea party supporters.

We have every reason to believe that Republican strategy will remain the same for the next two years. Mitch McConnell has already stated that his first priority is to make Obama a one-term President. Hannity and Limbaugh are trumpeting the need to continue the fight (and Limbaugh, interestingly enough, spent much of the Wednesday broadcasts complaining that establishment Republicans hadn't done enough to help Sharon Angle in Nevada or O'Donnell in Delaware.) I would not be surprised to see a House committee begin an investigation of President Obama's early life and career, complete with subpoenas to the state of Hawaii asking for his birth certificate and to Bill Ayres and Jeremiah Wright to explain their views and their nefarious influence upon him. Such tactics would be no less frivolous than those they applied against the Clintons. And the media, enthralled by such spectacles, never bothers to point out that they make the actual government of the United States impossible.

Meanwhile, the United States has real problems which only the government can solve. We shall have no more stimulus packages for at least the next two years, which will mean that unemployment will remain high (quite possibly contributing to more Republican electoral success next time) and that our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Any chance of actually reducing dependence upon fossil fuels, as the entire rest of the industrialized world has been doing for decades, is gone for the foreseeable future--a catastrophe whether one believes in global warming or not. Health care reform will either be cut back or, quite possibly, struck down by the Supreme Court, where Republican ideology is now in the ascendancy. That means health care will drain more and more money from the economy.

The question right now is whether the Tea Party freshmen and their allies like Senator Jim DeMint, the new John C. Calhoun, will actually be able to bring the federal government to a halt. This is not at all impossible. No money can be spent henceforth without the consent of the Republican House, which will have to authorize large increases in the debt limit. Perhaps the House leadership will be able to appease them by finding token programs to cut, but that is unlikely to work very long. We face a crisis, as Germany and the United States did in 1931-2, because we have effectively ruled out the only possible solutions to very real problems. Popular rage will increase without any evident hope of drawing any effective response to those problems.

Perhaps the best hope, at least from the standpoint of the stability of the United States, is for a coalition of some establishment Republicans and Democrats to agree on absolutely essential measures like increasing the debt limit, just as they did, eventually, on the TARP program in 2008. But as I read those words myself, it is clear that such an approach is exactly what McConnell and DeMint, at least--and probably John Boehner as well--want to avoid. They remember that that is what Newt Gingrich did in 1995-6, leading to the re-election of Bill Clinton. They do not want Barack Obama to become known as a successful bipartisan President; they want to keep the image of him as a proto-totalitarian alive. The establishment media will tend to assume that they will work with the President because it seems so eminently sensible--but that is not what drives these Republicans. While they have nothing to offer at a policy level, they are totally serious about validating their propaganda and winning it all. They will also receive all the personal reinforcement they need from their own constituencies and their own media outlets.

Democratic strategists believed after 2008 that demographic trends would keep them in power for a long time. That prediction looks rather shaky today. The youth vote did not turn out in force. Hispanics apparently saved Harry Reid and Michael Bennet in Colorado, but not several Democratic Congressmen in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. Meanwhile, the coming redistribution of House seats will put at least ten more in the Sun Belt. The President's chances of once again carrying Indiana, Ohio, or even Pennsylvania appear to have taken a big hit, and his prospects in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina look even worse.

I have followed the trend of the campaign and totally ignored foreign policy, but it is, if not an elephant, at least a camel lurking in the living room corner. The President will undoubtedly be tempted to put more of his energy into it, even though he can no longer travel outside the country without the Drudge Report headlining outrageous estimates of the hourly cost of his trips. Already, however, the Israeli press is predicting that the Republican revival will make the Administration more pro-Israel. And what will happen when a Times Square bomber succeeds, which only seems to be a matter of time? Then the President will face an unpleasant choice between reacting appropriately and being blasted as weak or pro-terrorist, reacting with large-scale strikes against Pakistan and bringing the threat of nuclear terrorism infinitely closer. That, however, will be the subject for another post.

Lastly July I speculated that our great crisis had actually begun in 2000 with the stolen election, and that President Bush, not President Obama, had shaped the new America. At this point I think the Republican Party could easily make that prediction come true by adopting the even more centrist positions, especially on deficit reduction, that the President also seems ready for. With liberalism's favorite projects already dead (financial regulation) or dying (health care reform), we could have a new consensus on small government and high unemployment, and our politics might calm down. Yet the Republicans, like their radical counterparts after 1866, do not seem ready for this. They want to continue trampling Democrats and their ideas into the dust. And since we have had no great war, this time there is no General Grant or General Eisenhower on the horizon to provide at least the appearance of consensus. These will be testing times indeed for American democracy.


Bozon said...


Great encapsulation of the status. Many thanks for this frank appraisal.

To paraphrase it in my idiom of the moment, say, in the language of marketing, the Republicans and also certain higher elements of the Democratic Party, intend to keep on bilking a political 'cash cow', aping the popular bipartisan view that government should be put on a more 'private sector' basis, (product life-cycle speak), until the inevitable end comes.

They are not in a mode to script the next step, after this political product is 'spent'.

I particularly appreciated the remarks about the apparent media attitude to the current and recent political spectacles.

I have gotten a copy of Nevins Ordeal... Volume 1, at your site's instance, absorbing reading re the eg your Calhoun reference here.

many thanks,

Debra said...

I believe that conservatives have been waking up and realizing the need for conservatives to get educated and involved in saving our nation. While we are learning, we are getting the word out to others and trying to bring our country back inline with the U.S. Constitution. We are not making up a new history. We are simply stating the truth of what really happened and the truth of what really is and is not in the U.S. Constitution.

Conservatives (on a whole) have come to realize that many news sources cannot be trusted. Sadly, though, a lot of conservatives have simply shifted their blind trust to anyone claiming to be on their side.

It is clear to see that you still get your news from the old news sources. You make a lot of claims, but show no proof to back such claims up. For instance, neither major insurance company in our part of New York approved of the health care plan. They've been fighting it. And it seems so logical to me, that if the power is not given to congress to do something, that should be that, end of story. But you follow those who speak, just like you speak. Sorry, but if someone breaks into my house, I am not going to debate with them about what they can take from me. I am going to call the police to get them out of there.

People who speak as you speak, also imply that Bill Clinton did something of worth concerning our national debt. What he lowered, was the increase in the national deficit, which is simply the amount that we are short in any given year. We were still short, every year that Clinton was in office, and that shortage added to the national debt, each year. It is true that Bill Clinton added less to the national debt, but he still added to it.

Your writing makes light of what Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky. Sir, there is nothing light about defiling the oval office. And while Clinton was playing, "Mr. President," he passed up taking Bin Laden, which would have prevented 9/11. Then Bush would not have gone into Afghanistan and far less would have been added to the national debt under Bush, and all of those lives would have been saved. (Daddy Bush should have finished the job in Operation Desert Storm and never allowed Saddam Hussein to continue in power, then Bush would never have gone into Iraq.) --Talk about inheriting problems...

And speaking of inheriting a problem: Yes, the recession began at the end of Bush's presidency, but wasn't Obama who said "Yes we can! Yes we can!" Maybe he should have sat things out and watched and learned a bit more before making such claims?

It is so tiring hearing people who really believe that Bush was wrong for the bailouts (that have all been paid back, with interest) and his stimulus package (that actually put money directly back into the hands of the citizens, instead of to local projects that were mainly used to get many of democrats reelected last Tuesday) claim that such is reason to allow for Obama putting us trillions more in debt with the stimulus package that did not help the whole of the economy in the least. Why are some people of the mentality that each side gets so many turns at messing things up? And why is it so hard for some people to comprehend who was behind the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiasco? This is not hard stuff, ya know!

I am not a Bush-did-everything-right conservative. Actually, I have come to realize that though Bush did well in many ways and loves our country, that Bush used the right wing conservative Christians and really didn't like us much. And sadly, he followed his daddy's lead in not defending our borders and harming the sovereignty of our great nation. But, he was far better than those who ran against him.

Obama, on the other hand, is a man who fits right in with Bill Ayers for a reason. And on that topic, I have nothing further to say.

Informing Christians (Journalist)

Patricia Mathews said...

New Mexico? Martin Heinrich, a Democratic activist incumbent, was re-elected in District 1. Ben Lujan, an Establishment Democrat, was elected in District 3. And nobody ever expects a Democrat to win in District 2, which includes the Eastern edge of the state, aka "Little Texas." Not unless they've been smoking a sample of the New Mexico mountains' biggest cash crop.

Y Not said...

Thank you Debra... Professor, it appears to me that you are just as guilty of siding with 'your team' and not looking at FACTS as you claim the Republicans do. I agree, neither side is even ATTEMPTING to be objective and accomplish anything worthy, there is so much effort put into turf wars that the whole point has been lost. It's pathetic.

One thing that REALLY bugged me was your comment of losing voters to the republicans "among my own Boom generation, which seems to be worried about its entitlements and unable to grasp that the Democrats not only put those entitlements in place but have a far better record of standing up for them. " which PERFECTLY illustrates why so many of us have turned against the Democrats. ENTITLEMENTS - as defined by whom? ENTITLEMENTS seem to have turned into the clear redistribution of wealth and ultimately have caused the financial issues that this country has today. Ultimately it is supposed to be the behavior of the people that determines what happens in our economy, not the government’s attempts to manipulate our financial (and other) behavior. But the mentality of people being entitled to that which they HAVE NOT EARNED IMHO is our greatest downfall.

If personal responsibility down to the quality of our daily lives were accepted by EACH OF US and that is what we were teaching our children, maybe tomorrow would look a bit brighter. Instead we are modeling this lousy 'us vs. them' model instead of WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. We redistribute wealth from those that are excelling and give it to people who REFUSE to improve themselves and their lot in life for a long list of reasons that has become so pathetic that I cannot believe it. And I am explicitly excluding those who CANNOT provide for themselves or improve their own life. But, under our ENTITLEMENT mentality of government, it has become totally acceptable for people to raise children on welfare and not feel at all compelled to better themselves, or feel responsible to provide for themselves, but we actually fiscally reward them for having more children!! This is CRAZY. I SEE IT in front of my face! If I suggest to any of these ‘welfare’ mothers that perhaps they should refrain from having more children, which I actually had the nerve to do so – I am met with hatred and disgust that I would suggest that they have no right to bear more children and expect ME AND THE REST OF US to support them! REALLY!?!?!

Where has the common sense gone? And how did Democrat vs. Republican become more important that these types of issues? And since when is being ‘politically correct’ supposed to translate to not offending anyone? I’m offended that this great country has come down to this and that somehow I’M THE BAD GUY for expecting more of my fellow countrymen.

IT IS THESE ISSUES that need to be solved. These are HUMAN issues, these are moral issues and some of us have come to believe that there is only one group of people willing to stand firm and CUT SPENDING of every program on earth except for those critical to the governance of a country. Judicial and Infrastructure functions as established clearly by the founding fathers. The Constitution is the document that clearly states that government control is to be LIMITED, not pass laws about the properness of McDonald's Happy Meals for example! (and don’t get me going about the FDA – who has turned from a government watch dog to our worst enemy! The poster child for keeping government OUT. )

Just another self employed, middle aged, Christian Mom.

Thomas Ebed said...

I always "bristle" a bit when people refer to the great accomplishment of Clinton being responsible for a surplus in our budget. Correct me if I'm wrong, but... wasn't that based on the inflated bubble of the .com era when the apparent prosperity of the economy was just that... only apparent, and not real? When in fact the wealth was based on "virtual assets" (wealth only on paper) that disappeared when reality set in and the bubble burst? It's difficult to credit a president for a budget surplus based on a virtual economy of smoke and mirrors.

David Kaiser said...

To Thomas Ebed:

Yes, we had a dotcom bubble, followed by a real estate bubble. Thanks to Clinton tax policy, at the end of the dotcom bubble we had a surplus of over $100 billion. Much, perhaps all, of that surplus might have disappeared in the subsequent recession even had there been no tax cuts, but when prosperity returned, so would the surplus. Instead, Bush cut taxes three times, and EVEN WHEN PROSPERITY RETURNED UNDER THE REAL ESTATE BUBBLE, we had a $400 billion deficit. So now, after a crash, it's over a trillion. Democrats believe in tax and spend. Republicans believe in don't tax and spend, which is totally irresponsible. "If it feels good, do it" is the Republican motto for fiscal policy.

Charlie said...

I always enjoy these screeds, for they supply a longer historical perspective than most comments on contemporary affairs. More and more, though, I have had a question for the historian as I watch the current administration in action.

Obama was said to admire Lincoln immensely and to have studied him intensely. As I recall, he even wanted to take his oath of office on Lincoln's Bible. And yet, his actions in office so far seem anything but Lincolnesque.

One correspondent on Huffington Post has summarized Obama's mode of operation: "his ability to endorse nearly every side of an issue, his inability or unwillingness to articulate (whether to the American people or perhaps, more importantly, to himself) any governing philosophy or core set of principles that inform his decisions (e.g., a progressive alternative to the Reagan mantra of "government is the problem, not the solution"), and his allergy to leadership, particularly if it means dealing with conflict or aggression from his political opponents."

Can you contrast this state of mind and mode of operation with Lincoln's in 1860-62?


David said...

One of your better analysis. It seems the two post from our Christian conservatives posters proves your point about difficulty perceiving historical reality

your work is appreciated

Anonymous said...

here's a tip to winning back a majority: stop blaming the Republicans for your mistakes.

Obama threw down the gauntlet when he declared back during the Health Care debate that "that's why we have elections". I strongly applauded him then - That IS why we have elections. Now, not so much ownership. Now, people are just "frustrated".

It would be nice to have that vote option on abortion, vouchers, affirmative action, racial gerrymandering/redistricting, and a whole slew of other issues that the Democratic party works very hard to keep from coming to a public vote. Could be why those issues seem to not be getting resolved. Could be why the 'civil war' continues.

Try this, and I know it will be hard, but try saying this: "Bill Clinton did not get impeached for getting a blow-job. He got impeached for lying to a Federal investigator."

See, some of us are not part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, and some of us are smart enough to think that what goes on between a husband and wife is none of our business, but some of us also think that what goes on in a court room is our business. Until you grasp that, this is all going to remain a mystery, and you will simply be "frustrated".

By the way, one of the reasons the white middle-class is not supporting the Obama administration is the Obama administration is not supporting them

to wit:

The Root: In the past, the Obama administration has operated under the belief that "a rising tide lifts all boats." But with so much evidence showing that African Americans are being hurt disproportionately by the recession, is it time to focus directly on black poverty?

Valerie Jarrett: The way the president has described it to me is more along the lines of focusing on a new foundation for our country. And if you look at the major pieces of legislation that have moved through Congress in the last 21 months, they disproportionately do help the African-American community.


Now why would I not trust the Democrats...

Jeffrey Gaul said...

Since you do not even know what "democratic" means, you obviously have no business writing about these topics. YOU ARE CLUELESS, AFTER ALL.

B Popma said...

Well thought. Well stated.

As for a number of the comments, I see that people are no longer just entitled to their own opinions. We now allow their own choice of facts.

Anonymous said...

From Wash Post:

"By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 7:30 PM

After nearly two weeks of introspection, President Obama's top advisers have concluded that the "shellacking" Democrats took on Election Day was caused in large part by their own failure to live up to expectations set during the 2008 campaign, not merely the typical political cycles and poor messaging they pointed to at first."

Daayyam, and here I thought it was all Fox News.