Friday, October 25, 2013

The public role of academics

About 36 years ago, when my career as a historian was just getting going, I remember thinking what a privilege it was to be able to spend my time thinking about great events of the past, present, and future.  The best professors I had had had a way of linking the past and the present, and I have tried to do the same thing ever since--particularly here on this site.  Historians in particular, it seems to me, should be able to help the country face its problems by pointing out similarities and differences with those of the past.  In those days political scientists tried to do the same thing, especially with respect to foreign policy. So did economists.  The men who taught economics at Harvard when I arrived 48 years ago had grown up during the depression, and they thought they now understood how to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.  While microeconomics was not particularly interesting, macroeconomists like Paul Samuelson, Otto Eckstein and John Kenneth Galbraith were important  public figures.  All this has changed as academia has increasingly become its own closed intellectual world.

I thought of all this early last week, when I read an op-ed by a young Harvard economist in the New York Times commenting on the controversial award of the latest Nobel Prize in economics.  I am going to reproduce the column in full, for non-commercial use only of course.

Yes, Economics Is a Science

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — THERE’S an old lament about my profession: if you ask three economists a question, you’ll get three different answers.
This saying came to mind last week, when the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science was awarded to three economists, two of whom, Robert J. Shiller of Yale and Eugene F. Fama of the University of Chicago, might be seen as having conflicting views about the workings of financial markets. At first blush, Mr. Shiller’s thinking about the role of “irrational exuberance” in stock markets and housing markets appears to contradict Mr. Fama’s work showing that such markets efficiently incorporate news into prices.
What kind of science, people wondered, bestows its most distinguished honor on scholars with opposing ideas? “They should make these politically balanced awards in physics, chemistry and medicine, too,” the Duke sociologist Kieran Healy wrote sardonically on Twitter.
But the headline-grabbing differences between the findings of these Nobel laureates are less significant than the profound agreement in their scientific approach to economic questions, which is characterized by formulating and testing precise hypotheses. I’m troubled by the sense among skeptics that disagreements about the answers to certain questions suggest that economics is a confused discipline, a fake science whose findings cannot be a useful basis for making policy decisions.
That view is unfair and uninformed. It makes demands on economics that are not made of other empirical disciplines, like medicine, and it ignores an emerging body of work, building on the scientific approach of last week’s winners, that is transforming economics into a field firmly grounded in fact.
It is true that the answers to many “big picture” macroeconomic questions — like the causes of recessions or the determinants of growth — remain elusive. But in this respect, the challenges faced by economists are no different from those encountered in medicine and public health. Health researchers have worked for more than a century to understand the “big picture” questions of how diet and lifestyle affect health and aging, yet they still do not have a full scientific understanding of these connections. Some studies tell us to consume more coffee, wine and chocolate; others recommend the opposite. But few people would argue that medicine should not be approached as a science or that doctors should not make decisions based on the best available evidence.
As is the case with epidemiologists, the fundamental challenge faced by economists — and a root cause of many disagreements in the field — is our limited ability to run experiments. If we could randomize policy decisions and then observe what happens to the economy and people’s lives, we would be able to get a precise understanding of how the economy works and how to improve policy. But the practical and ethical costs of such experiments preclude this sort of approach. (Surely we don’t want to create more financial crises just to understand how they work.)
Nonetheless, economists have recently begun to overcome these challenges by developing tools that approximate scientific experiments to obtain compelling answers to specific policy questions. In previous decades the most prominent economists were typically theorists like Paul Krugman and Janet L. Yellen, whose models continue to guide economic thinking. Today, the most prominent economists are often empiricists like David Card of the University of California, Berkeley, and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who focus on testing old theories and formulating new ones that fit the evidence.
This kind of empirical work in economics might be compared to the “micro” advances in medicine (like research on therapies for heart disease) that have contributed enormously to increasing longevity and quality of life, even as the “macro” questions of the determinants of health remain contested.
Consider the politically charged question of whether extending unemployment benefits increases unemployment rates by reducing workers’ incentives to return to work. Nearly a dozen economic studies have analyzed this question by comparing unemployment rates in states that have extended unemployment benefits with those in states that do not. These studies approximate medical experiments in which some groups receive a treatment — in this case, extended unemployment benefits — while “control” groups don’t.
These studies have uniformly found that a 10-week extension in unemployment benefits raises the average amount of time people spend out of work by at most one week. This simple, unassailable finding implies that policy makers can extend unemployment benefits to provide assistance to those out of work without substantially increasing unemployment rates.
Other economic studies have taken advantage of the constraints inherent in a particular policy to obtain scientific evidence. An excellent recent example concerned health insurance in Oregon. In 2008, the state of Oregon decided to expand its state health insurance program to cover additional low-income individuals, but it had funding to cover only a small fraction of the eligible families. In collaboration with economics researchers, the state designed a lottery procedure by which individuals who received the insurance could be compared with those who did not, creating in effect a first-rate randomized experiment.
The study found that getting insurance coverage increased the use of health care, reduced financial strain and improved well-being — results that now provide invaluable guidance in understanding what we should expect from the Affordable Care Act.
Even when such experiments are unfeasible, there are ways to use “big data” to help answer policy questions. In a study that I conducted with two colleagues, we analyzed the impacts of high-quality elementary school teachers on their students’ outcomes as adults. You might think that it would be nearly impossible to isolate the causal effect of a third-grade teacher while accounting for all the other factors that affect a child’s life outcomes. Yet we were able to develop methods to identify the causal effect of teachers by comparing students in consecutive cohorts within a school. Suppose, for example, that an excellent teacher taught third grade in a given school in 1995 but then went on maternity leave in 1996. Since the teacher’s maternity leave is essentially a random event, by comparing the outcomes of students who happened to reach third grade in 1995 versus 1996, we are able to isolate the causal effect of teacher quality on students’ outcomes.
Using a data set with anonymous records on 2.5 million students, we found that high-quality teachers significantly improved their students’ performance on standardized tests and, more important, increased their earnings and college attendance rates, and reduced their risk of teenage pregnancy. These findings — which have since been replicated in other school districts — provide policy makers with guidance on how to measure and improve teacher quality.
These examples are not anomalous. And as the availability of data increases, economics will continue to become a more empirical, scientific field. In the meantime, it is simplistic and irresponsible to use disagreements among economists on a handful of difficult questions as an excuse to ignore the field’s many topics of consensus and its ability to inform policy decisions on the basis of evidence instead of ideology.
Raj Chetty is a professor of economics at Harvard. 

There are few people whose email addresses are more readily accessible than academics, and I sat down and wrote the following message to Prof. Chetty.


Dear Professor Chetty,
       I am not an economist, but I'm a historian and a veteran of nearly half a century in academia.   During that period I have seen both the intellectual approach and the social role of academics in the humanities and social sciences change a great deal.  Your op-ed, and the controversy which it addresses, seem to me to illustrate this.
       I certainly would not dispute the points you make in the latter part of your piece.  Studies such as the ones you describe certainly can tell us important things about the impact of one particular economic policy change upon the general welfare.  They can, of course, be good or bad depending on who is doing them and how many questions they ask about their data.  I must say I have trouble believing the results of the absent teacher study, even though I can still remember my outstanding elementary school teachers myself, but I will take your word for them.  The problem is that the controversy between Shiller and Fama is on a completely different level.
        During my adult lifetime the United States has been transformed economically, thanks in large part to the idolatry of the free market.  It so happens that I am just finishing a book on Franklin Roosevelt,. and although the book isn't about economic policy specifically, I have become very familiar with the spirit of that period.  The men who led the nation at that time had gotten an unforgettable lesson in the failure of free and unregulated markets to serve the public good, and neither they nor their children (the so-called "greatest generation") ever forgot it.  They levied 90% marginal tax rates and took legislative steps drastically to curb the power of the financial community. Those steps worked.  The financial community ceased for several decades to be a place where a young man could go to become fabulously wealthy, we had no stock market panics for quite a few decades, and the country grew at a steady and high rate of economic growth.  Beginning in the 1980s, however, certain dissenters from the established  orthodoxy became popular among a younger generation (my own) and found new ways to promote greed.  Tax rates went down and down, regulations were tossed out, Glass-Steagall was repealed, and the financial community now enjoys unprecedented power once again.  As a result we had another stock market crash with devastating consequences--because we had learned to trust the free market above all else.  And to date, the free market orthodoxy has largely survived this new threat.
        Now to me, the message the Nobel committee sent was roughly as follows: no matter whether Shiller or Farma is right, they are both distinguished economists, they will remain so, their students will get jobs, etc., etc., etc.  That is the way current academia works.  But in fact, they cannot both be right, and the question of which one is right is crucial to the future of the country and the world economy.  It isn't just part of an academic game that rewards its players very lavishly whether their arguments have much relation to reality or not.  Perhaps some microeconomic arguments can help us here: economists at leading universities have suffered very little from the economic collapse of 2007-9.  Thus they can treat it merely as more intellectual fodder.  In the long run, by the way, I think they will be affected, because the economic model that higher education now runs upon is not sustainable, because it relies too much on borrowed money.  (Student loans are another example of the w y the power of the financial community has grown.)
 
        If economists are not willing to take the great questions before us seriously, they will not be able to solve them. By suggesting that it didn't matter who was right,. the Nobel Committee did the whole world a disservice.
                                       Sincerely yours,
                              
                                      David Kaiser
 
I then mentioned my intention to post this letter and asked him to let me know if he didn't want to post his reply.  The reply arrived the same day--and he did not. Here it is.
 
Dear Professor Kaiser,

I appreciate your thoughtfully reasoned perspective and willingness to
engage in these issues.  It is true that the answers matter a great
deal, but my view is that these are incredibly tough questions and
people are making genuine progress, even if it may not appear that way
to those outside the field.

On the teachers study, see
http://obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/value_added.html.  I shared your
skepticism going into this, but the evidence turns out to be quite
convincing, largely due to the amount of data here.

Best regards,

Raj

        I wish him--and us--well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

How Much of a Victory?

At the last minute the Tea Party shutdown went down in flames, violently splitting the Republican Party and perhaps sparing us any similar episodes for the next year--although I would not count on that.  This video, which is going viral, is the best illustration of exactly what tactics the House Republicans used to make the shutdown happen at all. But as I try to fit the week's events into some long-term historical pattern, I see at least two possibilities.

I have tentatively decided, after much thought, that perhaps the best historical analogy for the Tea Party are the Radical Republicans of the post-civil war era.   I must apologize for the analogy insofar as I admire the goals of those Republicans, namely, the full enfranchisement of freed slaves, while I feel the Tea Party is trying to undo all the good that the US government has accomplished over the last century.  But they are alike in this respect: the Republicans, led by Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Thad Stevens of Pennsylvania, were trying to impose more change upon the country than they could.  For several years during the Administration of Andrew Johnson they had essentially absolute power in the Congress and they used it to pass the 14th and 15th Amendments.  The Grant Administration continued their policies, partly to ensure that black voters kept the South in the Republican column, but the white South turned to terrorism in response, and the Supreme Court began to rule against the use of federal power to enforce civil rights.  In 1874, during Grant's second term, the country was sufficiently weary of corruption, economic panic and reconstruction to elect a large Democratic majority in Congress.  By 1876 the Democrats had regained enough popularity and power in the South to elect Samuel J. Tilden of New York as President, but the Republicans managed to steal the election for Rutherford B. Hayes--in exchange for a promise to end Reconstruction at once.  In subsequent years more court decisions undid all the good work that had been done in the South.

Now the Tea Party, building on previous Republican policies over the last 20 years, has been trying to destroy government as we have known it at both the state and local level, and to safeguard its political power by gerrymandering in key states and making it harder for poor people and minorities to vote.  They have now shut down the federal government and threatened a government default in an attempt to stop Obamacare.  They forced the idea of the sequester upon the Administration two years ago and it is likely to do much more harm.  But the country is wearying with their radicalism as it did of the radical Republicans 140 years ago.  They have split their own party and that split will now get worse.  The critical question, of course, is whether it is possible that they might actually cost the Republicans the House of Representatives next year.  Redistricting has made that very unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

At the same time, however, the Tea Party has already left a profound mark on the country and it isn't done yet.  It, and the Republican Party of which it is a part, may not be able to undo government much further, but they can effectively stand in the way of rebuilding it.  An anti-government trend has dominated our politics for many years now.  Worse, disastrous long-term trends continue without any clear path to a solution.  Too many millions of Americans work for wages that are too low to live on and to contribute to the tax base, except for payroll taxes.  A substantial portion of our working class is composed of illegal aliens who cannot vote.  Public services continue to decline and infrastructure continues to decay.  The financial community remains much too powerful.  The roll-out of Obamacare highlights the lack of organizational skills within our society and the failure of the Democratic political establishment to impress the nation very much.  And thus, to use another analogy from another crisis, the Tea Party might eventually look like Henry Wallace's Progressive Party--a 1948 coalition of the most left-wing elements of the Roosevelt coalition which failed to win a single state.  Wallace's defeat did signal the end of New Deal-style reforms, but the basic New Deal structure remained in place.   In the same way, the Tea Party's Waterloo does not mean a great victory for old-style liberalism.  We are still fighting as hard as we can to keep things in the not inspiring condition that they are--which is the fruit of three decades of determined, relentless Republican struggle.

Immigration reform will be the next big fight in the House of Representatives, but the Republicans, it seems to me, will have less incentive to cooperate than ever.  Several of them have already said frankly that they are not interested in creating several million more Democratic votes.  For the first time since the end of Reconstruction, we are shrinking the percentage of the permanent adult population that can vote.  The presence of so many illegals will obviously continue to weaken attempts to revive organized labor. Eventually the Hispanic vote will make itself felt even in some very red states like Texas--but it may take a very long time, and the economy needs basic restructuring now.

This month's crisis provoked a blunt call from China's official news agency to give up the idea of the US as the leader of the world.  Our European friends cannot understand what is happening to us.  Meanwhile, our educated elite, in my opinion, knows and cares less about Europe and the rest of the industrialized world than at any time since the mid-19th century.   We may indeed be adding political and diplomatic weakness abroad to economic and social weakness at home.  The events of the last two weeks proved that things would not immediately get much worse. They didn't hold out much promise that they will get much better.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The second civil war?

A comment on last week's post linked an article from Slate arguing that we are in the midst of a second civil war.  Last weekend in Washington, an old friend of mine pointed me to a Washington Post column by Colbert King arguing the same thing.  There is obviously something to this, and it sets me thinking, once again, about what has happened to the South in the course of my lifetime.  I am convinced they are indeed fighting the civil war over again, but I'm not certain who the real enemy is.

The Progressive era and the New Deal, in retrospect, did a great deal to bring the South and the North back together.  They did so, to be sure, because until relatively late in the New Deal the North did not challenge the white South where it was most sensitive, on race.  Yet the South, in many ways a third world country in the first half of the century, desperately needed infrastructure and, in the Depression, federal help.  Recent scholarship emphasizes that black southerners were excluded from some New Deal programs, but they benefited from the New Deal nonetheless, as did poor whites.  Progressivism and the New Deal rallied every section of the country, with the partial exception, ironically, of New England, some of which never voted for FDR.  But things began to change in 1937, when the Democrats for the first time had a majority in Congress even without the votes of white southerners.  Many southern legislators joined with Republicans to form a new conservative coalition.  Still, well within my memory, as I have remarked many times, states including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina sent a number of Senators and Representatives to Washington who were liberal on everything but race.  A few, such as Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, even crossed that barrier. 

There can be no question, it seems to me, that the civil rights movement and the court decisions and legislation to which it gave rise did the most to turn the white south against the Democratic Party.  1944 was the last year that the South as a whole voted Democratic, and after 1964 the Republicans were firmly established in the region.  And thus, commentators even today blame "residual racism" for the South's extraordinary hostility to liberalism in general and Barack Obama in particular.  While there may be some truth in that, I think it's an oversimplification.  Outside of some urban areas, the white south has since the civil rights movement been able to keep local political power firmly within its own hands.  Southern states have cut back on public services, including education, now that they go equally to black citizens, but the white folks don't seem to mind very much.  What has happened is broader and deeper: the construction, to use a trendy word, in the last 40 years of a new southern identity based upon religious, intellectual and cultural differences from the bicoastal elite.

In recent years, a number of transplanted southerners have confirmed a friend's insight to me.  The rise of political Christianity beginning in the 1970s was in a sense a substitute for overt racism, a new glue to hold the region together on behalf of the Republican Party.  It occurs to me as I write that it fitted the needs of whites fleeing the integrated public schools as well, since Christian schools became the alternative in many areas.  (My son taught elementary school in the Mississippi Delta for two years without having a single white student.)  I still do not understand why the right to life movement has become so strong and so rabid in the South, but it is part of the same mix.  I am tempted to suggest, then, that while integration led to a new political culture in the South, the enemy was not so much the black population as the Yankees who had forced integration upon them.  The political leadership of the region now hates everything they stand for, including the danger of global warming and the theory of evolution.  Emotion, as so often happens, has trumped reason.

It looks this evening as though the shutdown will indeed end with a government defeat, but I suspect we will have more budget and debt crises over the next year.  Another comment last week reminded me of my posts about Republican dau tranh, which new readers might like to search for. Dau tranh was the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strategy of chaos, which the Tea Party has been following now for three years.  Pushing things all the way to a default would be part of that strategy.  Some Republican leaders have even admitted that they are terrified that Obamacare will be invulnerable as soon as a few million people have signed up for it--a terrible commentary on where we are.  I just checked Redstate.com, a very popular right-wing blog, and it is now pushing for a primary opponent for John Boehner.  Limbaugh is ranting that the people are being taken in by phoney polls blaming the Republicans.  The Tea Partiers may have lost this battle, but they will not give up the war.

In the long run, the Democratic position, I think, will remain vulnerable because of the weaknesses in our economy, weaknesses explored at some length in the new film starring Robert Reich, Inequality for All.  Obamacare, with its subsidies for poor workers and Medicaid expansion, illustrates the problem.  The American economy is in terrible trouble because so many jobs do not pay enough to allow workers to pay income taxes or buy medical insurance.  While pundits like Niall Ferguson blame the situation on Obama and the Democrats, it is the relentless downward pressure of corporate America that has brought us to this place.  Obama has no recipe for fixing it.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, the federal government has done more and more to help Americans in low paying jobs.  That in turn has created more of them.  Reich obviously doesn't know how we will get out of this mess, and neither do I.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The US, 2011-13, and Germany, 1930-33

 wice in the last three years, on January 15, 2010 and July 16, 2011, I have explored the analogy between what happened to the Weimar Republic from 1930 until Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and what has happened to the United States during the Obama Administration. (Typing "Weimar" in the search box above will bring up both posts.) In both cases I made clear that I was not accusing the Tea Party of totalitarianism or Fascism.  In many ways they could not be ore different from the Nazis: Hitler wanted (and created) a strong state that could mobilize the entire country, while the Tea Party wants to return government to the size and status it enjoyed during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.  I also said, however, that the Nazis' short-term goals before they seized power were the same as the Tea Party's: to make it impossible for the government to function.  That prediction has now been borne out by the government shut-down, but I am inclined to believe that this will mark the high tide of Tea Party influence and the beginning of a return to a modicum of sanity in American politics.  Here is why.

On the one hand, the Tea Party remains every bit as committed to its version of America and its world view as the Nazis were to theirs.  They, like the Nazis, divide the national community into worthy and unworthy elements.  For the Tea Party the worthy elements are mostly white, well-to-do, and possessed of what they see as a good work ethic, as demonstrated by their long-term economic success.  (In real life the correlation between work ethic and economic success is nowhere near as strong as they think.)  For the Nazis they were supposedly pure-blooded Aryans who put the interests of the German nation first.  The unhealthy elements, for the Tea Party, include liberals, President Obama, the Clintons, immigrants, and the "47%" who supposedly live on the government dole.  For the Nazis they included Marxists and above all Jews.  When one looks at other aspects of the two movements, however, the similarity disappears.

The Achilles' heel of the Tea Party, as everyone understands, is their demographic base: whites from the Silent and Boom generations, now dying at an ever-increasing rate.  Because these people vote in greater numbers than younger Americans and because of gerrymandering, the Tea Party has controlled the House of Representatives for several years and will probably control it for more years to come.  In addition, because so few people vote in primaries, the Tea Party presents a mortal threat to nearly any Republican Congressman or Senator who defies them--the real reason we are having a government shutdown at all.  We shall return to this point more specifically later.  To be sure, not all Tea Party office holders are old--many of them come from Generation X, now 32 to 52 years old--but their generation has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections.  The Nazis, on the other hand, made their appeal to unemployed youth.  More importantly, they did a better job than any other contemporary German party of appealing to the whole nation, regardless of class or region or religion (although not, of course, regardless of ideology.)  The strength of their appeal varied from group to group, but they behaved more like an American national party than any of their rivals, and that undoubtedly enabled them to reach 40% of the national vote.  The Tea Party, obviously, is appealing to a far narrower base than the Democrats.  It is fair to say, however, that both the Democratic and Republican parties have lost the knack of appealing to the country as a whole, and that is why we face the terrible mess that we do.

The Tea Party also lacked the patience of the Nazis.  Hitler understood that nothing less than total power and his own presence at the head of the government would allow him to achieve his goals.  The Tea Party Congressmen are so convinced of their own righteousness and of the evil of anyone who stands in their way that they thought a majority in the House should allow them immediately to undo the last century of American legislative history.   It was inevitable that they would insist on using the two levers available to them, the federal budget and the debt ceiling, to try to get everything they wanted.  No generation in American history has shown the arrogance of American Boomers from whom their leadership is largely drawn.  Because Tea Party organizations and contributors threaten any Republican who opposes them, only a tiny number of Republicans, led by John McCain, have been willing to stand up even to their worst excesses.  John Boehner as  Speaker has cut a pathetic figure.

Boehner has now demonstrated a species of failed leadership similar to what happened to the German government during the First World War.  By late 1916 should have been clear that Germany had no means of defeating the enormous coalition of Russia, Britain and France arrayed against it, and that peace was the only option.  To secure peace the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, could have turned to President Woodrow Wilson, who made the most dramatic of  a series of offers to help the warring nations bring about a "peace without victory." But instead, Bethmann yielded to the Army and Navy and undertook unrestricted submarine warfare, a step that was almost certain to bring the US into the war.  Wilson sent the German Ambassador Count Bernstorff home at once, and Bernstorff told Bethmann he could have had peace within a couple of months had submarine warfare not begun.  Bethmann explained that that was impossible. Because the German people believed that submarine warfare could win the war, the government had no choice but to undertake it rather than offer peace.  The result was the complete defeat of Germany, the fall of the Empire, and eventually, the rise of Nazism.

Boehner is so in thrall to the Tea Party that he will not allow a House vote on a continuing resolution that does not defund Obamacare--a resolution that would pass easily, albeit with a mostly Democratic majority.  On Wednesday he reportedly assured some of his moderate members that he would allow such a vote on the debt ceiling and that he would never allow the government to default.  Other reports, however, suggest that that is making him hang even tougher on the budget, because he cannot bear to force them to give in twice in a row, and perhaps lose his speakership.  In other words, he evidently has to wait until the government shutdown causes so much hardship--and make no mistake, it is causing hardship for ordinary citizens as well as federal workers--that the Tea Party realizes they have to open up the government again on any terms. 

Boehner's dilemma, however, may be even worse than that.  I do not know as much as I would like about the composition of the House Rules Committee, which actually has the power to determine what votes are taken on the floor. Its chairman, Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, already has a Tea Party opponent in the next primary.  If the Tea Party controls all or nearly all the members of the Rules Committee, then Boehner may not be able to bend them to his will.  In any event he may lose his speakership. Boehner is not a strong man.  Hints have appeared from time to time that he is an alcoholic.  He is no Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, or Everett Dirksen--Congressional leaders who in a distant age worked with Presidents of the opposite party for the good of the United States.

The Republicans are obviously terrified that Obamacare will be impossible to eliminate once people have signed up for it, as they are now doing.  This may be the turning point for the Tea Party insurgency.  On the other hand, if Boehner really can't control the House, the US may default on its debt and force the President to assert some emergency powers.  Much depends on the younger Congressional leaders like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, who are extreme right wingers but who can't help but worry about the long-term political future of the party.  Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has established himself as the most popular demagogue among Republicans.  Never has the United States faced a crisis with such pathetic leadership.  President Obama is, once again, counting on the Republican frenzy to burn itself out.  Let us all hope that it does.