Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 10:38 am

The idea that the American people are stupid sheep, fooled by Republicans into voting people into office who will do them harm really took off after the 2004 elections.

This contempt of the left for ordinary Americans may have reached its zenith with the victory of George Bush over John Kerry. The hue and cry from liberals was so bad, there was talk of secession from “Jesusland,” as well as serious discussions about leaving the country. There was even a popular website “Sorry Everybody” where angry liberals could apologize to the rest of the world for the actions of the majority in electing Bush. Many of the comments from that website blamed stupid Americans for being tricked into voting for the incumbent.

Of course, we didn’t hear much of this following the election of 2008. Apparently, Americans can be smart and vote for their interests sometimes - only when they elect Democrats.

The arrogant stupidity of this mindset among many on the left shows they don’t have a clue why people vote the way they do, nor do they have a clue about the psychology that motivates the majority of Americans.

Psephologists and psychologists have been examining this question since these scientific disciplines came into being. The answer, not surprisingly, is much more individualistic than is usually reported. Broadly speaking, It depends on class, race, ethnicity, religion, regional factors, and surprisingly, how your daddy and mommy voted.

But the book illuminates current politics and reveals some changes. For both the 2000 and 2004 elections, the analysis showed that negative perceptions of Democratic candidates Al Gore and John Kerry were more pivotal in putting a Republican in the White House than were positive perceptions of George Bush. Social groupings long identified with the two main political parties—such as labor with Democrats and business with Republicans—still exist, but are not as pronounced or clear-cut as they were. There are more independents than in the 1950s and more of them are politically active and informed. In addition, while the number of citizens who hold consistent ideological views is still small, it has increased from about 10 percent to almost 20 percent, chiefly due, Jacoby says, to “an unusually polarized period of American politics.”

Jacoby is eagerly anticipating the ANES data for the 2008 election. He predicts that the trend of ideological differentiation between the two parties will continue, showing up in stronger-than-usual policy orientations among voters. As for that voter in the booth and whether he or she will be capable of making an informed decision, Jacoby is quick to stress that “The American Voter” never said that voters are fools, and that both the original and the latest round of analysis allow for some optimism in that regard.

“Voters are not capricious,” he said. “Using the limited tools that voters employ, they vote correctly most of the time and make the vote that is relatively consistent with their interests.

There are a lot of false assumptions made about how people decide to vote for one candidate or another - not the least of which is that they make a decision based on which party or candidate promises them more goodies, or fewer for that matter. Especially when voting for president, the decision is really quite personal and making a statement like people elect Republicans by “voting against their interests” is, scientifically speaking, a crock.

That doesn’t stop the BBC from printing a story so laughably biased that it is a caricature of analysis:

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

But that would be a mistake.

Gee…that’s a relief. For a minute there I thought the Beeb was going to going to start with liberal talking points about Republicans.

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.

First, you have to believe that people who oppose Obamacare also oppose health care reform. This simply isn’t the case. Poll after poll shows Americans know there is something seriously wrong with the health care system and it needs fixing. There have even been recent polls showing that some elements of Obamacare enjoy majority support.

But what the Beeb says is resentment that the elites are trying to tell us what’s good for us leaves out a critical piece of evidence; the belief that Obamacare won’t do what the president and the liberals say it will do. It’s not resentment; it’s credibility. For the 90% of conservatives who oppose the bill, it is also an issue of individual liberty and questionable constitutionality. But it is the independents who are making Obamacare unsellable, not Republicans or conservatives. It is they who oppose the individual mandate, the Medicare cuts, and the price tag while resenting the deal making, the exemptions for special interests, and the general non-transparency of the process. It is independents that Blue Dogs are terrified of alienating and that’s why the bill is currently stalled.

But what about the ballot box? Does opposition to Obamacare really translate into people “voting against their interests” come election time?

Here’s the Beeb’s summary of the arguments in “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Franks:

He believes that the voters’ preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.

The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

“You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

It is evident that Frank never looked at the exit polls from 2004 or 2008. The poorest Americans support Democrats, the Middle Class is nominally Republican, while the richest Americans lean GOP. Obama’s victory was fueled by a shift in those making $30-50 thousand of about 6% from Republican to Democrat. The “poor” - those making less than %30,000 - vote Democrat by large majorities. It was those Americans who basically live paycheck to paycheck who switched to the Democratic side in 2008.

Did they “vote their interest?” If so, what gave them such clarity of mind to do so in 2008 while voting stupidly in 2004 when they gave Bush a bare majority?

Writing at Protein Wisdom, Sanity Inspector:

As someone said recently, in other countries, people demonstrate for the government to do more things for them. Only Americans would turn out in the streets for huge demos, demanding that the government leave them the hell alone.

Playing elitists off against ordinary voters is indeed, a political club the Republicans use to good effect. And why not when the elitists can’t fathom the above statement? It is as alien a language as Farsi to them, this idea that people actually enjoy individual liberty and won’t trade it for what the liberals believe to be “economic security.”

The whole idea that Americans aren’t smart enough to vote their interests, or even more insulting, are hoodwinked by evil Republicans into voting incorrectly reveals a state of mind among lefties that shows them to be out of touch with the vast majority of Americans who live in “fly-over country” (a term of derisiveness they invented). The fact that the majority of people aren’t motivated to vote the same way and for the same reasons as their supposed betters - and the subsequent puzzlement by many liberals that flows from this reality - will always give the GOP a chance no matter how bad their candidates or how loopy their ideas may be.



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:57 am

This is a fascinating analysis by Daniel Larison, comparing a poll in 2006 that showed a fierce, anti-Bush feeling among voters, and a similar poll taken earlier this week that showed a sizable, but less widespread anti-Obama feeling.

The NBC/WSJ poll that came out earlier this week has some interesting results. The midterms are just over nine months away, so it seemed worth checking the questions related to the elections. The generic ballot shows a Democratic edge of 2 points, 44-42, but we should bear in mind that the RCP average for the generic ballot continues to show the GOP ahead by 3. More interesting, only 27% of respondents said that they would be casting their votes to send a signal of opposition to Obama. 37% said they will be signalling support for him, and 38% said they will not be sending any signal about Obama. That does not exactly fit the picture of a public recoiling in horror from Obama.

Contrast this with a comparable question about Bush in ‘06. Throughout 2006, anti-Bush voters had the edge over pro-Bush voters by 15-18 points. Prior to the 2002 and 1998 midterms, when the presidential party gained seats in the House, pro-Bush and pro-Clinton voters edged out the opposition voters by 12 points in ‘02 and 5 points in ‘98. What distinguishes the ‘02 and ‘98 results from ‘06 and this year is that in the earlier elections there were far more neutral voters for whom the President was not a direct factor. Nonetheless, as the ‘02 and ‘98 results suggest, when there are more pro-presidential voters than anti-presidential voters the presidential party tends to have better-than-average midterm elections. Interestingly, Obama’s numbers here are almost a reverse of Bush’s ‘06 numbers: where 37% wanted to show opposition to Bush and just 22% wanted to express support, 37% want to show support for Obama and 27% want to express opposition. While this is just one result, it wouldn’t seem to herald the collapse of Democratic majorities caused by massive anti-Obama sentiment sweeping the land.

Larison points out that this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t lose lots of seats. But it does suggest that the wellspring of support for Obama probably means a flip of the House and Senate are out of the question.

Now that the euphoria surrounding Scot Brown’s senate upset win is dying down, time for a little realism to be injected into our discussions of mid-terms. There is little doubt that the prospect for huge gains by Republicans is still on the table - Obama or no Obama. With an approval rating in the low 20’s, the Democratic Congress can lose dozens of seats all on their own, thank you. Their base is discouraged, while the enthusiasm among Republicans nationwide is huge by contrast.

The GOP is emulating the Democratic success in 2006-08 by recruiting high quality, known commodities in competitive districts. Many of these candidates are self-funding, which is a definite plus in any race:

Republicans have suggested they already have about 80 quality candidates, and they continue to expand their scope. They said they plan to have a candidate in all 435 races, including in Illinois, where the filing period has passed and the party will have to maneuver to fill out the ballot.

Sessions wasn’t the only one talking but about recruiting.

Chairman of the moderate House Republican Tuesday Group caucus, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), told The Hill that candidates are going to “come out of the woodwork, across America, even in the Northeast and New England.”

“It’s a clarion call to everyone in Washington that the electorate is dissatisfied with this alarming agenda coming out of Washington,” Dent said.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), vice-chairman of the NRCC, went one step further: “Recruitment has not only gone well up until this point, but I think it will go on steroids, henceforth.”

Of course, it helps when it is perceived to be a GOP year. Some of these same folks who have thrown their hat in the ring, politely declined in 2008 when confronted with the prospect of a Democratic sweep.

And there are at least 20 former GOP members of Congress who lost their seats to Democrats who are trying to make a comeback:

The heavy dose of the past for Republicans was capped in recent days with the announced candidacies of former Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

The four of them give the Republicans’ 2010 recall effort a notable 2006 flavor.

All four lost their seats in 2006, and they join former Reps. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) from that class in trying to revive their party. That means seven of 22 GOP incumbents who lost four years ago are seeking some kind of comeback.

For Simmons, Hostettler and Hayworth (who announced a bid against Sen. John McCain this weekend), they will run for the Senate. The others are eyeing a return to the House, including Bass, who has an exploratory committee, and Pombo, who is running in a district neighboring his old one.

Six members of the 2008 losing class are either running again or are considering it, but the size of that class is still up in the air. Former Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) are already in, and former Reps. David Davis (R-Tenn.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and Virgil Goode (R-Va.) may run for their old seats.

They start out with a huge advantage in that they don’t have to spend a million dollars on building name recognition. That, and the fact that many of them lost by less than landslide margins to the Democratic incumbent and you have the makings for some real barnburners in November.

It takes more than attractive, well known, and well funded candidates to win a lot of seats. It takes an coherent platform for the candidates to run on. Brian Faughnan of RedState attended the GOP retreat yesterday and reports:

I’m also told to count on an updated version of the Contract With America (no surprise there). But I’m told to expect it later, rather than sooner. One staffer pointed out that a Contract which comes early will be forgotten by voters by election day. One that comes late is more likely to be remembered, and to feed some excitement about the coming agenda. Former Speaker Gingrich (I was told) had made this point in his comments.

I suppose there’s logic in that but an alternative take on this is that Republicans can’t come up with a positive agenda at the moment and have deferred work on it until they can come up with a something. Recycling the Ryan health care bill is probably not a good idea if Obamacare fails, but getting together on some deficit cutting measures is almost certainly in the offing as is some sort of tax cutting jobs measure.

As bad as it is for Democrats right now, the fact that Obama does not appear to be a game changing stone tied around their necks along with a singular lack of GOP policy alternatives at the moment, means that even their House majority seems safe for now, with the senate clearly out of reach.

Faughnan again:

While a session with pollsters Kellyanne Conway and David Livingston was not open to the press, Republican Members were delighted after the presentation. One told me that the pollsters stressed the importance of winning independent voters, rather than turning out the base. They said that a critical reason for the GOP landslide in 1994 was that independents favored the GOP by a 14 point margin. The latest polling - the GOP was told - puts Republicans ahead by 15 points.

Livingston and Conway also stressed that voters are not personally rejecting Barack Obama, and they cautioned against being seen as opposing the president personally. They said that it is his policies which are unpopular, and candidates should be careful to draw the distinction. They told the conference that simply opposing the Democrats will net 20 House seats or so; proposing a positive agenda of their own would net 20 more.

That sounds about right, although I think it is a little optimistic to expect another 20 seats will fall if the GOP can ever get their act together and come up with an agenda that will gain the support of indies without turning off the enthusiasm of the base. Other political pros are not as sanguine. Rothenberg gives the GOP a 28 seat pick up scenario. Cook has a possible 25-35 seat swing for the Republicans. Both gentlemen are saying that it could get worse for the Dems if the economy doesn’t improve.

It’s hard to be the opposition for two years and then turn around and try to be positive in proposing what should be done to make things better in the country. I think this will be the greatest challenge the GOP will face as they are forced to pivot from standing athwart history screaming “stop” to the Democrat’s far left agenda, to trying to address the concerns of ordinary Americans. Simply presenting themselves as an alternative to the Democrats will get them only so far. The test of leadership - and the resulting electoral popularity - comes in articulating a vision of how you would govern.

I was encouraged with what I saw at the televised retreat yesterday. For the first time in a long time, the Republicans actually presented viable alternatives to many of Obama’s prescriptions for the country. This is not to say they didn’t have them (the Ryan health care bill was introduced last May), it’s just that they didn’t promote these alternatives in a consistent, articulate manner.

Imagine rather than screaming “socialist” every day since Obamacare has been an issue, the GOP had calmly and repeatedly countered with Ryan’s common sense health care reforms. Every day getting in front of the cameras and daring the president to call them the “party of no” while exposing his lies about working toward a bi-partisan solution. I daresay if the American people had become as familiar with the Republican alternative as with Obamacare, they may very well have preferred the GOP’s solutions.

Or what would have been the result if, last February, the GOP had actually come up with a counter-stimulus - one without all the bells, whistles, political payoffs, and wasteful spending in Porkulus - and gone in front of the cameras every day touting it?

If they had, they wouldn’t have the credibility problem they have today. The GOP may very well come up with “Contract for America II” but how will voters respond to it if all the Republicans have been doing for two years is trying to get people to believe that the president is destroying America? Most people do not believe that, or anything close to it, and wonder about a political party that tries to make that case.

Thankfully, the Democrats have screwed up so badly that a couple of dozen seats are likely to fall into the GOP’s laps no matter what they propose. I just wonder that if the Republicans fall short of overturning Congress, they will recognize too late that a marvelous opportunity has passed them by thanks to their near-nihilistic antipathy to using government rationally, and conservatively, to make a difference in the lives of America’s citizens.



I’ve been wanting to write about this for two weeks but didn’t find the time to think it through until the last couple of days.

James Poulos at American Scene (formerly Political Editor at Culture 11), writes provocatively about taxes:

The forceful way in which the tea partiers are putting this conservative resistance at the center of our political debate today should remind us of what went wrong for Republicans during the two Bush presidencies. The Bush presidents, different in so many ways, both turned the GOP toward corporatism in a way that significantly limited their success as candidates and presidents. (Reagan had neither problem. This is the root of Reagan nostalgia.) The lesson is a simple one: first and foremost, the Republican party is supposed to deliver not economic nor cultural but political goods.

The tea partiers, in insisting that economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around, help make this clear. Take taxes. When taxes are too many and too high, the economy suffers. But, as this decade has brutally taught us, taxes do not necessarily enrich the state, but they always aggrandize it. The evil of taxes is not primarily economic but political. When a government learns how to use taxes to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens, a country is placed on a perilous road — not to serfdom, necessarily, but to tyranny, a tyranny that lords over even the rich and famous, even when they happen to profit from its favor. The GOP is supposed to keep this kind of tyranny at bay, and when it comes near, the GOP is supposed to ward it off.

It’s in this regard that, over the past ten years, the GOP has failed. The trouble with RINOs is that, in their liberalism, they are often either blind to the threat of tyranny or they do not really see it as a problem. This is not because they ‘fail to understand the nature’ of tyranny. Tyrannical regimes can rule over dynamic, exciting societies, over huge numbers of people full of promise and purpose. They can focus resources on big challenges and execute amazing feats of efficiency and publicity. Just ask the growing number of American commentators suffering from China envy.

How does government use the tax code to “to coerce, control, and manage the behavior of its citizens…?” Let me count the ways. The government has declared smoking to be a hazard to your health and taxes the beejeebees out of it to discourage you from taking it up and encouraging you to quit. Coming soon, a federal tax on sugary sodas, salty snacks, fast food - again, trying to control your eating habits to keep you trim, slim, and out of the doctor’s office where you will be a drain on the health care system like other obese people.

Of course, the code is replete with such examples of government encouraging or discouraging - i.e. trying to control - behavior and Poulos, in what I see as some very original thinking, makes a case that real conservatives should oppose such laboratory experiments:

Moreover, liberals of any party seeking primarily to foster or facilitate cultural change typically have little desire to focus their attention, much less their careers, on preventing the government from aggrandizing itself. A government that routinely manages economic behavior through its economic policy is well able to routinely manage social and personal behavior that way. In theory, there’s no reason why lots of Republicans can’t be ‘socially liberal but fiscally conservative.’ In practice, social liberals, of any party, have a vested interest in a government that rules not only by law but by economics.

In fact, tea partiers help everyone understand that ‘fiscal conservatism’ is a misleading phrase. A ‘fiscal conservative’ is for balanced budgets and well-calibrated taxes and against wasteful spending. A tyrannical government, if it has any brains, is for solvency and efficiency too. ‘Fiscal conservatism’ can license the aggrandizement and abuse of government power. It might be necessary to economic conservatism, but it isn’t sufficient. Alone, it isn’t conservatism at all, and under the right conditions, ‘fiscal conservatism’ can actually destroy its namesake.

By granting a homeowner the ability to write off interest paid on their home loan, isn’t the government encouraging a certain kind of economic behavior? Of course they are. And this is where I’m not sure Mr. Poulos’s thesis holds. The macro effect of lots of home buying is a net plus for society in that such a large chunk of the economy is related to the care and feeding of our domiciles. Buying a home helps create a demand for more homes - residences that need to be built, furnished, and maintained. Do the resulting economic benefits outweigh the clear desire of government to “control” our behavior? Or is this comparing apples and oranges - freedom and tyranny?

How about the old fashioned dependent deduction? When it was at $500 in the 1950’s, it could be argued that this sum, realized through savings on a parent’s income tax bill, was subsidizing the feeding, clothing, and education of children of that era because the amount paid for a significant portion of a child’s needs. Coming from a family of 10 kids, I can testify to its efficacy in encouraging child bearing.

I think Mr. Poulos is enough of a realist to see that some of these “targeted” tax schemes aren’t necessarily “tyrannical” in the sense that we trade liberty for security by embracing them. The net effect is that the community is served by writing exemptions and subsidies into the tax code that benefit almost everyone. If a desired end in promulgating this kind of behavior modification is a better community - and the examples above regarding home interest and child deductions would seem to fit that model - whatever danger there is that government is aggrandized is mitigated by the net gain for society.

The problem - and I think Mr. Poulos would agree - is that such beneficence comes from the central government, rather than local political authorities. In a more perfect world, this might matter more than it does. But I think it unrealistic to expect that the desired community improvements can be granted or realized by any political entity save the largest - that being the federal government. If that government aggrandizes power unto itself as a result of these incentivizing measures - and this is true given that the increased employment and business activity brings in additional tax revenue - it is the consequence of consensus within the community of the beneficial nature of these schemes and not a power grab by the feds.

But the president’s tax cut proposals for small business might be a different matter:

The proposal, similar to plans he pitched during the presidential campaign and last year in Washington, would give employers a $5,000 tax credit for every net new worker hired this year and reimburse businesses for the Social Security payroll taxes they pay when they increase payrolls faster than inflation.


Though all businesses will be eligible, the administration would keep the focus on small companies by limiting the total maximum credit to $500,000 per employer. The payroll tax credit would be based on Social Security payrolls, and wouldn’t apply to wage increases above the current taxable maximum of $106,800.

Start-up firms would be eligible for half the credit, which the White House calls the “Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut.”

Here is an example of the federal government artificially creating a demand for new workers by, in effect, attempting to influence the business decisions of individual firms. It’s not coercion, but is it tyranny? Given the $30 billion price tag, I can guarantee the measures will not enjoy the same level of support in the community as the home interest tax write off. And the chances that the the benefits will be as widespread as the child deduction are very small.

In this case, according to Mr. Poulos’s provocative thesis, you could say that the federal government is indeed aggrandizing power and influence at the expense of the community. In hard economic times, this may be accepted by the majority but that doesn’t make the power grab any less “tyrannical.”

The idea that the way our tax code is written can lead to a kind of tyranny is connected to the kind of society in which we have made for ourselves. Alexis de Tocqueville was quite enamored of our national mania to tinker with everything in order to make it more serviceable or valuable. It is only natural that this idea would find its way to government - that we can tinker with society through the tax code’s incentive/disincentive structure in order to improve the life of the citizen by modifying his behavior, and punishing poor choices.

But almost every time we “target” tax cuts, or incentivize certain behaviors at the federal level, we pay a price by ceding personal liberty and responsibility to government. And government becomes richer, and more controlling because of it. Some conservatives, as Poulos points out, are not immune to proposing these tax schemes. But his point that “economic policy derives from and reflects political principles, and not the other way around” is well taken.

Generally speaking, the tax code should be used for the purpose of raising revenue and not trying to modify human behavior. If Republicans keep that in mind the next time voters grant them the power to govern, we’ll all be better off for it.



Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 9:36 am

It should be said at the top that the constitutionally mandated State of the Union message (delivered in letter form until quite recently) does not lend itself to inspired rhetoric, soaring imagery, or pungent analogies. Indeed, reading a dictionary might seem gloriously rousing by comparison.

A great speechmaker like Obama then, is hog tied. Aside from the peroration, the president didn’t get much of a chance to stretch his rhetorical chops. It was like he went into battle with one hand tied behind his back and his effort suffered because of it.

I was more interested in how the president sees the problems he faces and what he proposed to do about them. As the speech droned on, I was struck time and time again with Obama’s curious detachment from the effects of his policies and, more importantly, the people’s perception of those policies.

It was surreal at times. Michael Gerson at WaPo felt pretty much the same way:

Obama’s problem is not primarily political — though he seems in complete denial about the political dangers he faces. (He amazingly blamed his health-care failure on “not explaining it more clearly.”) Obama’s problem is not a vice president behind his right shoulder who can’t stop his distracting, sycophantic nodding — though it was certainly annoying.

Obama has a reality problem.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that unemployment will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year, before declining at a slower pace than in past recoveries. On this economic path, Obama’s presidency will fail. Many Democrats in the House chamber tonight will lose their jobs. And the nation will enter a Carter-like period of stagnation and self-doubt.

Every element of the president’s speech tonight should be considered in this light.

I want to give the president his due here; in his heart, I really think he wants to change Washington, change government, and by doing so, change the country. That’s what he was elected to do. That is the broad mandate he possessed this time last year when he took the oath of office.

So what happened? Despite possessing the most lopsided majorities in the House and Senate in a generation, very little has been done. He has squandered most if not all of that mandate by appearing to be indecisive (Afghanistan), unable to lead effectively (health care), and by demonstrating a capability to be just as partisan as any other Washington insider.

The president has lost his mojo and his attempt to get it back last night revealed a man out of touch with the realities in the country, and unable to come to grips with ordinary people’s concerns about jobs and the economy.

Richard Grenell writing at Huffpo:

It is hard to believe a President that says “…I am not interested in re-litigating the past” after he just spent 60 minutes of his First State of the Union Address re-litigating the past and blaming Bush for his problems.

It is hard to take a President seriously when he speaks 116 words describing how he wants to get rid of nuclear weapons but only 38 words uttered on the biggest violator of those principles: Iran. It is hard to understand why Obama and his Administration have wasted this past year by not increasing the sanctions on Iran and building on the Bush Administration’s 3 UN resolutions sanctioning Iran for their continued illegal uranium enrichment.

It’s hard to take a President seriously when he says we will take the fight to al Qaeda but then brings al Qaeda to the U.S. to be tried in an American court. It’s hard to understand a President who sends the lawyers to a terrorist to tell him that he has the right to remain silent but then brags that he is tough on terrorists.

And if you thought Obama had learned a lesson from the recent Scott Brown election in Massachusetts, think again. From the moment he started his address to the Nation, Obama made it perfectly clear that all of his problems were Bush’s fault.

Let us, for the sake of argument, grant Obama and the Democrats their point that it is indeed, all Bush’s fault. The question I and most voters want answered is this; have the president’s policies made things better? Despite all the spin about “jobs saved,;” despite the nonsense about not explaining his health care plan better; despite the rhetoric about protecting America from terrorists; Barack Obama’s policies have not worked.

It’s easy to talk about “jobs saved” when there is no benchmark you can use to prove it. It’s easy to say that without acting, we would have had a depression when your only evidence is the musings of a few economists. And it’s extremely easy to talk tough about deficits when your own policies have contributed so much to them being out of control. All you have to do is ignore reality and substitute some whopping lies and a gimmicky spending “freeze” that doesn’t fool anybody and only adds to the perception that you are divorced from what real people think.

Peter Wehner’s take is a little harsh but underscores the president’s discombobulation:

If substance was the main take-away of this address, it would have been merely mediocre. But what made it downright harmful for Obama and Democrats was its tone. The speech was defensive and petulant, backward-looking and condescending, petty and graceless. He didn’t persuade people; he lectured them. What was on display last night was a man of unsurpassed self-righteousness engaged in constant self-justification. His first year in office has been, by almost every measure, a failure – and it is perceived as a failure by much of the public. Mr. Obama cannot stand this fact; it is clearly eating away at him. So he decided to use his first State of the Union to press his case. What he did was to set back his cause.

What made the speech a bit bizarre, and somewhat alarming, is how detached from reality the president is. After having spent much of his time blaming his predecessor for his own failures, he said he was “not interested in re-litigating the past.” Barack Obama lamented waging a “perpetual campaign” – even though that is what the president, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs and others in his employ do on a daily basis. He said, “Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game” – yet his White House has played that very game with zest and delight.

And here is the kicker:

The president criticized the “outsized influence of lobbyists in Washington” – as though he had no memory of the squalid backroom deals that were cut in order to try to secure passage of health care legislation but that helped lead to its demise. He spoke of the need to “do our work openly,” even though Obama broke his promise to allow health care negotiations to appear on C-SPAN and who worked with the House and Senate leadership behind closed doors. He called on Congress to “continue down the path of earmark reform” – even though he eagerly signed legislation that contained around 8,500 earmarks. He claimed he is ending American involvement in the Iraq war – even though the Status of Forces Agreement that will end American involvement in the Iraq war was signed by President Bush. He said the United States must “always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity” – even as he and his secretary of state have consciously downplayed our commitment to both, whether in our dealings with Iran or China or any of a number of other nations.

On and on this game went, late into the night.

Why the disconnect between rhetoric and reality? Some might say the president is so immersed in his own narcissistic, self-referential world that he actually believes that if he says something, it must be true. Those that try and make that point usually aren’t psychiatrists or mental health professionals, so while not dismissing the possibility entirely, I think we can tentatively conclude that such is not the case.

But the alternative explanation isn’t much better; that the president is a coldly calculating politician who knows that his sycophants in the press, and the millions who still believe in the Promise of Obama, can easily be taken in by such rhetorical tricks, not to mention the great bulk of the electorate who doesn’t pay close attention to what is happening in the country. For all of those, the president can talk “bi-partisanship” while confident that no one will recall, or has never heard of his brutal attacks on the opposition to his health care reform and other measures.

And what of the president’s unprecedented attack on the Supreme Court? There is an argument to be made against the Citizens United decision but this isn’t it:

Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

Pure, unadulterated demagoguery. Former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith:

The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making “a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election” under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any “expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication.”

This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demagoguery of the worst kind.

It’s not just Smith, of course. Dozens of blog posts from right and left point out the same thing. Whoever vetted that speech either was not on the ball, or the president simply didn’t care and wanted to have his straw man villain in order to buttress his credentials as a populist fighter for the little guy.

For someone who denigrated millions of little people by criticizing them for clinging to their guns and bibles, this “New, improved Obama (now with Average Voter Appeal)” can’t be taken very seriously. But if President Obama now sees that playing the class warrior card as his only option, he will continue to browbeat bankers, insurance companies, and other stock characters in the Karl Marx collection of one act plays. Eventually, he will run out of people to blame - perhaps even George Bush whose policies he continues to follow and promote - and then where will he be?

Our country is in a tough spot. Judging by what we heard last night, there is little hope that policies which have proven to be ineffective will be changed and leadership which has been shown to be non-existent will be found.

Earth to Obama…where are you?



Filed under: Decision 2010, Politics — Rick Moran @ 11:12 am

Tonight’s State of the Union speech comes at a good time for the president. He badly needs a boost and these set piece, state occasions tend to elevate the president from politician to statesman in people’s eyes.

The rituals and protocols associated with this speech are, in a way, comforting. I suspect as the Democrats did for George Bush, Republicans will rise when President Obama enters the chamber, they will applaud politely at appropriate times while noticeably sitting on their hands otherwise. The Democrats - as Republicans did when George Bush was president - will leap continuously to their feet, giving their party leader standing ovations for innocuous blather about how well he is doing, or when touting some minor accomplishment. Watching them as they perform this tiresome, ritualistic nonsense will convince you that the guy who invented the jack-in-the-box probably got the idea from watching State of the Union speeches.

The cold winds blowing across the country bringing evil economics to almost every village and hamlet are put at bay for a while as what passes for a large audience today will gather in front of their TV’s and listen to what the president has to say.

Forget the prepared remarks and all the spin about the speech and concentrate on what isn’t mentioned. That will tell you the true “State of the Union” for the overwhelming majority of citizens.

In truth, in times like these, no president would give a speech that reflected what was truly on our minds. Presidents don’t do fear and depression. They’re not about anxiety and worry. They may acknowledge such but to get at the root causes of why we feel the way we do at this moment in history is just not done. No one wants to hear how bad things are nor are the people anxious to be told that even worse times may be on the horizon. Cassandras are invariably tuned out while Pollyannas are embraced.

No, I don’t expect the president to sugar coat the fix we’re in - much. He may leave a few inconvenient facts on the editing room floor such as the stubborn refusal of the housing market to improve, thus imperiling the homes of millions, not to mention the entire economy.

We’ve poured nearly a trillion dollars into banks and mortgage companies in order to stabilize the market and it hasn’t worked. The delinquency rate is still at an all time high as is the default rate on home loans. Meanwhile, the value of real estate continues to fall, people are still in desperate trouble because their loan values exceed the worth of their houses, and the market is having a devil of a time wringing all this bad paper out of the system because of massive intervention by government.

Did I mention that if, as expected, the federal government retreats from propping up the housing market that the flood of defaults could trigger another bank crisis? I’m sure you remember TARP - the Toxic Asset Relief Program - that didn’t buy up much in the trillions in toxic assets being held by banks but came in handy when the administration wanted to save some union jobs and purchased a huge stake in Chrysler and GM. You may also recall that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was going to come up with a plan to take those toxic assets off the balance books of banks.

Well, Timmy got some flak from banks and growls of disapproval from hedge fund managers and dropped his plan, promising to come up with something else. Here we are a year later and Geithner has moved on to bigger things - like approving the astronomical bonuses of his Wall Street drinking buddies. Meanwhile, that great big hole in the financial industry has been papered over and is just waiting to meltdown again - waiting for another default crisis that appears to be a real possibility.

Or could a meltdown be triggered by what is happening overseas:

The Greek budget deficit ran more than four times the European Union limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product last year and Greece is one of 13 nations facing deadlines from the European Commission to cut its shortfall. The country’s debt is set to top 120 percent of GDP this year, the highest in the euro region and twice the limit for adopting the single currency.

Trichet on Jan. 14 dismissed as an “absurd hypothesis” the argument that Greece could be forced to exit the euro area. The country should remain in the union where its problems “will be unequivocally easier to solve,” central bank governor George Provopoulos said in the Financial Times on Jan. 22.

Roubini said for all the focus on Greece, Spain may eventually pose a bigger threat to the euro zone because it’s the region’s fourth-largest economy and has higher unemployment and weaker banks. Spain’s jobless rate is more than 19 percent, almost twice the EU average.

“If Greece goes under that’s a problem for the euro zone,” he said. “If Spain goes under it’s a disaster.”

What Professor Roubini is talking about is the risk of sovereign default - a real domino scenario where nations like Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal are barely treading water at the moment and countries like Greece and Spain already going under. The risk to the entire European economy is growing and one of the solutions may be to get China to take on even more foreign debt:

Of course the one entity which will benefit from this is the Squid: Goldman Sachs seems to be taking the lead in trying to orchestrate a desperate and expensive sale of Greek debt to China. Expect more such desperate moves as the southern European macroeconomy continues to deteriorate; anybody who watched the world’s investment bankers swarming all over Domingo Cavallo in the final weeks of Argentina’s currency board will remember just how vulturish they can be in such situations.

My feeling is that the US poses at least as much of a risk to the global economy as southern Europe does. There’s a good chance that 2010 could be the year of walking away from underwater mortgages; there’s no sign of the private sector releveraging; and the government has clearly reached its limit in terms of the degree it can step in and borrow on behalf of the rest of us. If the attempt to prop up the still-overvalued housing market fails and there’s another downwards lurch, there will be a whole new wave of bank insolvencies and much less fiscal space to bail them out than there was pre-crisis. And the fact that most delegates here at Davos seem blissfully unconcerned about the possibility of a second nasty lurch downwards doesn’t reassure me in the slightest.

This, along with the idea that we don’t need any outside help to send the economy into a double dip recession - a possibility many believe is growing - and you have a glimpse of economic hell that could be in store in the next year or two.

But most of us don’t follow this kind of news as a rule so the question may be asked why are we so anxious? Why has this recession affected us in ways that others haven’t?

Do you get the feeling talking to your friends and neighbors that cynicism is at a high point? Parties don’t matter. Leaders are inconsequential. It’s not Obama’s fault or Bush’s, or any one party or one man. In fact, many I talk to get impatient if you try to play the blame game. I don’t think people care so much about who’s to blame as much as they want someone to acknowledge their doubts, address their fear of the future, and instill some confidence that the people in charge can deal with all of these dizzying, systemic problems that are eating away at the one thing we’ve always had faith in; our ability to govern ourselves.

The view from Streator, IL should be enlightening for our president and the Congress. The county unemployment rate as of November was 13.6% and rising. It may be closer to 20% in Streator itself. Business creation is at a virtual standstill. Some might comfort themselves with the idea that they are not quite as bad off as my friends and neighbors, but people’s anxiety cannot be measured in raw statistics. Our fellow citizens may be told that the economy is improving but I guarantee you they don’t see it. That’s why fear is still rampant in much of the country - nobody believes anything anybody says coming out of Washington.

This may have been true in the past but not to this degree. People are not stupid. They see what’s happening in Washington - the deal making, the self aggrandizement at the expense of taxpayers, the constant drumbeat of name calling, accusations, hate filled criticism, and nastiness that is inexplicable to people who expect their political leaders to put aside such childishness and address this crisis. The “anti-incumbency mood” we are told by pollsters that runs through the voting public is but a symptom of this loss of faith. People are beginning to believe that it doesn’t matter who is in power, who goes to Washington, that nothing will change.

In short, no one thinks anyone in power is looking out for them. Hence, the tea party movement which is fueled by this feeling that something has to be done or we’ll go down the tubes. Incoherent at times, raging against what they do not know - at times. Deficits? Sure. Socialism? As they understand it, yes. Obama being a black man? A few, but if Democrats make the mistake in pegging this movement as a fringe element of the Republican party, they will be seriously shocked come November.

The tea party movement may be the last authentic expression of revolutionary spirit this country is granted before it disappears in a cloud of dependency and cynicism. I saw this spirit in my youth in rallies against racism, the war, and for women’s rights. Then too, the establishment dismissed the protestors as fringe elements - “communists” and “troublemakers” (which was a euphemism for n****r lovers). But they were expressing the best of the revolutionary spirit that makes America unique and exceptional. And they managed to change America for the better - mostly.

President Obama will not talk about the tea party movement tonight. He will not talk about what animated so many to get up off their couches, turn off their TV’s, and parade with their fellows in protest against cynicism and their own self doubts about America and where she is headed. Their numbers may be relatively few. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they are enraged about. It’s spending, but it isn’t. It’s the debt, but it isn’t. It’s their conception regarding the violation of tradition, and a disappearing familiarity with an America that is changing before their eyes in ways they don’t approve.

They, and the millions who feel the same way but don’t have the time, or the motivation, or the opportunity to join them, are looking for some acknowledgment from the president tonight that he has heard their concerns and is sympathetic to their plight. Perhaps many are looking for something that President Obama can’t give them; words that will wash away the gnawing doubt that America’s best days are behind it and that we can only look forward to managing our decline.

I don’t envy the president’s task. And I don’t have a clue what he can say that could even start the process of turning things around. Actions, more than words will be more important in the long run. So perhaps rather than concentrate on what the president will say tonight, we should look to what he does tomorrow.

One thing is certain; it’s hard to see how he could make things much worse.



Filed under: The Rick Moran Show — Rick Moran @ 5:10 pm

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Dan Riehl of Riehl World View and Fausta Wertz for a look at astroturfing, the arrest of James O’Keefe, and a preview of the president’s State of the Union speech.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio


Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 3:06 pm

James O’Keefe, the film maker who almost singlehandedly laid ACORN low, was lionized on the right for his efforts in revealing the nature of the far left advocacy group and their horrific ethics and standards.

O’Keefe has obviously allowed the fame to go to his head. He was arrested today for helping 3 others to bug Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office:

The FBI, alleging a plot to wiretap Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in downtown New Orleans, arrested four people Monday, including James O’Keefe, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group’s credibility.

FBI Special Agent Steven Rayes alleges that O’Keefe aided and abetted two others, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, who dressed up as employees of a telephone company and attempted to interfere with the office’s telephone system.

A fourth person, Stan Dai, was accused of aiding and abetting Basel and Flanagan. All four were charged with entering fedral property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

Time for the left to brush off all those Watergate analogies they’ve got stored away in their right wing attack closet. I expect the tsunami to hit right before dinner time and continue for days.

What O’Keefe was doing there we are not 100% sure…well, more like 95% sure:

A witness from Landrieu’s staff said O’Keefe was present in the office and claimed to be “waiting for someone to arrive.”

“Because the details of yesterday’s incident are part of an ongoing investigation by federal authorities, our office cannot comment at this time,” said Landrieu spokesman Aaron Saunders.

O’Keefe on Thursday gave a speech to Libertarian Pelican Institute for Public Policy in New Orleans. O’Keefe was hailed as a conservative hero for dressing as a pimp and taping ACORN employees offering advice on how he and a partner could get away with running an international under-age prostitution scheme.

It appears to me that all of this notoriety went to the kid’s head and he began to see himself as some kind of avenging angel for the right. He certainly was cashing in on his fame:

The New Orleans event was promoted with this glowing statement about O’Keefe by the Pelican Institute: “James has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting.

Prior to O’Keefe’s ACORN gig, the self described “progressive radical” also pulled a sting operation on Planned Parenthood, sending a young looking female into the clinics, claiming to be underage but wanting an abortion. The saleswomen at PP were only too glad to oblige.

But this guy is no journalist - conservative or otherwise. He’s a glory hound. And, if these charges pan out, prove the adage that you’re only as good as your next spectacular. The nature of modern celebrity demanded that O’Keefe try and top his ACORN show. Taping the private conversations of Landrieu and spilling them out all over YouTube would have kept him on top of the heap.

Fortunately, the FBI had other ideas and now O’Keefe faces the prospect of doing hard hitting exposes about prison food.

What a dope.


The FBI affidavit has the guy dead to rights. “…”O’Keefe positioned the cellular phone in his hand so as to record Flanagan and Basel…”

Not exactly an innocent bystander, eh?


Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 10:54 am

Don’t you just love politics? It was just a couple of months ago that many of my friends on the left were telling me that GOP had no chance in 2010, that even a modest improvement in the economy would allow the Democrats to sail through the mid terms relatively unscathed.

And they’ve been telling me for months that Obama has everything under control, that he’s got sure hand on the tiller of the Ship of State, and that any criticism of his performance was simply a “distraction.”

Times have changed. There is surprising agreement between the right and left on many aspects of Obama’s presidency - some of these criticisms coming from opposite directions but basically ending up in the same place; the president has yet to demonstrate leadership and competence in running the government.

It would seem that Obama’s trial balloon on a spending freeze to be announced at the State of the Union had a lot of lead in it for the left.

Nate Silver:

Every time the Democrats propose a jobs bill, or a big investment in alternative energy, you’re going to have Krauthammer and Kristol chomping at the bit to go on Fox News and proclaim Obama to be a hypocrite. Pity Robert Gibbs trying to parse his way out of that. This is not how one wins news cycles — or elections.

Edit / postscript: I’m fairly certain that the “spending freeze” will poll well in the near-term, and may even take Obama’s approval numbers up a point or so with it. But Obama’s not the one on the ballot in 2010; in the medium run, it’s most likely effect is to confuse voters, and in the long run, it’ll probably either be forgotten about or become Another Broken Promise™. The narrative about the “perpetual campaign” is generally kind of facile, but this whole thing has a weirdly campaign-trail quality to it.

Silver is hardly a take no prisoners lefty, but his observation about the spending freeze gimmick having a “weirdly campaign trail quality to it” echoes the criticism he deems “facile” that this administration has never settled down to govern and has instead, partaken of a perpetual campaign with set piece speeches, town halls, and rallies reminiscent of the campaign trail.

Missing in this is the indefinable “leadership” that a president should be providing. From giving minimal direction in drafting the stimulus bill to Obama’s curious detachment from the health care reform battles, there appears to me to be a solid case that can be made regarding the president’s lack of governing skills.

Here’s Brad DeLong:

As one deficit-hawk journalist of my acquaintance says this evening, this is a perfect example of fundamental unseriousness: rather than make proposals that will actually tackle the long-term deficit–either through future tax increases triggered by excessive deficits or through future entitlement spending caps triggered by excessive deficits–come up with a proposal that does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way.

The spending freeze is mostly for show. First, it won’t begin until 2011. Secondly, it will only cut around $250 billion by 2020 - a drop in the bucket when you take into account that the projected national debt at that point will be $20 trillion. The only way to truly tackle the deficit is to drink the hemlock and go after entitlements - specifically, Social Security and Medicare. Ending the wars would be a good idea too - as far as deficit reduction - but there are other reasons to keep spending money to prosecute those conflicts.

This leaves less than you might think to cut from defense. That’s because out of the $685 billion DoD budget, almost $160 billion is spent on the health, housing, feeding, and clothing of the soldiers. Pensions are another item, as are civilians at the Pentagon, and military contractors already performing functions the Pentagon can’t afford to handle in-house. All told, the best a deficit hawk could expect to cut from defense without hurting the soldiers (but with untold consequences to our readiness and logistics), is a percentage of about $260 billion in procurement, research, and construction.

How much of that can you cut without hurting our overall security posture? Depends on how badly you think we need to modernize some systems, maintain others, and keep our readiness up to specs. In short, cutting defense spending is not a panacea for reducing our deficits, although leaving it off the table is a mistake in my opinion. The danger is that politicians will go too far and start cutting muscle and sinew instead of fat. It’s happened before in the mid 1970’s, and again immediately after the cold war. It could certainly happen again.

Meanwhile, do you feel Paul Rosenberg’s pain?

Obama is now intentionally recreating FDR’s mistake of 1937, when he prematurely cut back spending to try to balance the budget, and sent the country into a new recession.

Specifically: He’s going to announce a spending freeze on domestic programs (but not, of course, on the military) that is “projected to save $250 billion.” The rationale is that he wants to appease folks worried about runaway deficits. Which is just what FDR was worried about in 1937.

This is Bush-style idiocy. There is no other word for it.

Adding insult to injury, at the same time, he’s also proposing more Ronald Reagan/GW Bush tax cuts… which will, of course, increase the runaway deficits.

And he’s also talking about privatizing NASA. Because privatizing the Pentagon turned out so great!

It’s time to seriously start talking about primarying Obama in 2012. He’s now officially the most conservative Democratic President since Grover Cleveland. And the dumbest one since James Buchanan.

Pretty strong stuff - and pretty stupid when you scan the Democratic firmament and try to find someone brainless enough to challenge a sitting president. No doubt Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich could be convinced to take up the progressive standard, but Hillary Clinton is far to smart to throw away her career in a quixotic attempt to unseat an incumbent chief executive.

Whither Paul Krugman on the freeze?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Krugman concedes, “Right now, this looks like pure disaster.” I think the case is being made by both right and left that “disaster” is too tame a term to describe the first year of Obama’s presidency.

Obama is a nice fellow, a good family man, a stirring communicator, a man not without smarts, but also someone in totally over his head in the oval office.

It turns out the criticisms many of us have leveled at the president over this first year have not been distractions but rather have pointed to disturbing patterns that are now recognized as serious faults by many on the left as well. The president has not been a total failure but on many big issues he simply hasn’t been there. Stim bill, health care reform, terrorism, even climate change - all these issues have shown a management style by the president lacking in leadership and focus.

His lack of leadership on health care reform has been a godsend for opponents. Talking about it, making speeches on it, being closely engaged on the issue are all well and good. But at crucial moments when his personal intervention and leadership would have put the measure over the top, he either dropped the ball or failed miserably. How many times did Democrats plead with the White House to give them strong direction?

The melodrama surrounding the public option is a good example of what happens when presidents drop the ball. The president is the leader of the government and his party. How recalcitrant would a Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln have been if he had cracked the whip on the public option? We’ll never know because for whatever reason, Obama failed to lead.

We are told that this is not his “style,” that he prefers building consensus rather than confrontation. I suggest he change his style before he becomes irrelevant. Sometimes, a leader has to knock some heads together. Obama not only hasn’t done this, he has shown no appetite to do so.

If Obama is going to substitute gimmicks like this spending freeze for serious policy, nothing will change. Sure, he’ll have a larger core of supporters than Bush had - probably close to the mid-40’s in support as opposed to the low 30’s for Bush. But serious people will stop paying attention to him.

And for a president, that is the kiss of death.



Filed under: Media, Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 1:51 pm

This will only be semi-snarky because Joe Klein raises a good question about the stim bill and people’s total lack of understanding of what it was for:

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it’s been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package–$288 billion–is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you’ve been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.

The next highest amount was $275 billion in grants and loans to states. This is why your child’s teacher wasn’t laid off…and why the fire station has remained open, and why you’re not paying even higher state and local taxes to close the local budget hole.

It turns out that what people are really upset about is all that wasteful money that has gone to political public works projects…except that the overwhelming portion of that money hasn’t been spent yet. Remember all those “shovel-ready” projects? Well, they didn’t exist. The big jobs-creating projects like the rebuilt “smart” electric grid, major highways and fast trains will come on line during the next year. (Although these projects might have gotten greater public support if they’d been chosen by a National Infrastructure Bank–a panel of experts, like the fed–that would have picked them according to their value added, rather than by the bozo appropriators in the Congress.)

So, two thoughts:

1. The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people…especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.

2. This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed…and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.

No sense in arguing about what was in the stim bill, although I think Klein hugely exaggerates the effects of the bill at the state level for most people who don’t live in California, New York, Illinois, and a few other states where budgets nearly doubled over the last decade. And, of course, no mention of the money the federal government won’t be sending to pay for increased mandates in unemployment insurance and health care.

But is one of the problems that the Obama administration hasn’t explained the package properly? I seem to recall that the impetus to pass this bill in the first place was to avoid unemployment rising above 8% and that it was desperately needed to create and “save” jobs. In fact, this bill was so desperately needed that Members of Congress were told to forget about reading the bill and just pass it already. It was a national emergency and that unless the bill was passed, we would be doomed - doomed I tell you!

Perhaps what Klein really means is that the American people paid too much attention to what the administration was saying and should have had the cynical sophistication to realize they were lying through their teeth spreading around that kind of bullsh*t. How stupid can we be to have taken Obama and the Democrats at their word?

And Klein’s childlike contention that “there have been very few documented cases of waste so far…” is so precious, don’t you just want to give the fellow a great big hug for being so cute? Kids and liberals say the darndest things, don’t they?

Income transfer payments did not belong in an economic stimulus bill. Education funds did not belong in a bill to stimulate the economy. Democrats just didn’t want to take those two spending programs up separately where they would have met resistance due to their price tag. I doubt, for instance, that Congress would have approved $6 billion for construction at universities and colleges - not when almost all of them had building funds to begin with and endowments the size of many African country GDP’s.

But let’s get to the thesis of Mr. Klein’s essay; that we Americans are too uninformed - “flagrantly” so - and that Fox News “misinforms.” (Nice that you can make a statement like that and not have to back it up with any concrete example - not like if we said the same thing about Time.)

Klein also calls us a bunch of extinct birds:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

First of all, the stim bill is a long way from being a “basic activity” of the federal government. That’s pretty much an idiotic and ill informed thing to say yourself, Joe. There probably aren’t more than a couple of thousand Americans who read the entire bill and fewer than that who understood it. Klein obviously didn’t understand what was in it or he wouldn’t have made an ass of himself saying there was very little waste in it.

There was a time 221 years ago when we were a coastal republic of 8 million people that any reasonably aware citizen could pick up a newspaper and follow along with what the government was doing, understanding what Congress was talking about in a way that is absolutely impossible today.

No one understands what our government is doing today. No one person can possibly be aware of what the hundreds of departments, agencies, boards, and panels that make decisions every single day that affect our lives, our economy, and our security are up to. It is a physical impossibility to keep up with it all. Even addicts like those reading this catch only glimpses, hints, and broad generalities of what is going on in Washington and all the satellite bureaucracies that dot the countryside.

As for Congress, there may be a couple of thousand lobbyists, lawyers, media, and C-Span addicts who are up to speed on what the people’s representatives are doing in the people’s name. And many fewer still can grasp the mind boggling complexity of much of the legislation that is crafted on Capitol Hill. Ever read a 50 page amendment to ERISA? No language course on earth could prepare you to grasp the reason for the legislation much less what it said.

How many citizens in the US understand the budget process? I can guarantee that Klein doesn’t, the dodo. Is he trying to tell us that he has been hired by Time, is paid an untold amount of money to tell us What It All Means, and he can’t even explain how the budget process is supposed to work? Not the cliffs notes version, but the way that Congress intended.

The way I see it is simple, logical, and elegant; the American people understand as much about government as they feel they need to - no more, no less. Some don’t want to know anything. In this country, they enjoy that freedom and shouldn’t have to worry about some snot nosed demi-reporter like Klein telling them otherwise. They also have the perfect freedom not to vote which, if you correlated knowledge about government with non-voting, the instances of both merging together would probably be fairly high.

For the great majority, there is interest in local issues much more than national ones. There are millions who couldn’t tell you the outline of the stim bill but who might be able to quote you chapter and verse on the latest school funding issue. This is the way it should be, even if Bozo’s like Klein wring their hands like old women that citizens don’t find important the same things they do.

Sure it would be great if everyone could intelligently discuss cap and trade or the latest Commerce Department regs dealing with sales of restricted items overseas. We could all sit down in Klein’s drawing room, good cigar smoke wreathing our heads, a glass of Courvoisier giving everything an agreeable blurriness around the edges, while Klein and his friends could tell us what we should be thinking.

Until then, Joe is just going to have to put up with people and their own, flawed perceptions of government and politics. After all, we can’t all be as astute and brilliant as Joe Klein. If that were the case, who would pay him too much money to write like an elitist pig?



Filed under: Blogging — Rick Moran @ 9:45 am

There was a time I feared for human civilization because of the rise in cell phone usage. The ubiquitousness of these gadgets - their effect on the manners of ordinary folk who thought nothing of bringing these infernal machines wherever they went, endlessly talking gibberish while impolitely ignoring the rest of the world - caused me a lot of angst until about 5 years ago. It was then I realized that very soon, some sort of nano-phone would eventually be injected into everyone and we would all be permanently plugged into one another, to the internet, and probably to the government agency authorized to regulate communication.

We already see cell phones permanently attached to many people’s ears. How soon before they simply sprout roots and glam on to humans, developing a symbiotic relationship with their host? We give them total control of our lives and in return, they make sure we are made instantly aware of Kayne West’s newest outrage. What could go wrong?

It’s the end of the world, I tell you.

Today, I have made a profound discovery about another threat to humanity; those annoying, cloying, unannounced, unwelcome companions to our internet surfing - the mouse over pop-up ad.

That may not be the geek term used to describe those ads, nor I’m sure is it the descriptive used by the marketing geniuses who employ them. Lacking the computer sophistication of your average three year old chimpanzee, I don’t know what the correct nomenclature might be - all I know is that I hate them.

I hate them like I hate a telephone solicitor calling me while I’m eating dinner, or a neighbor dropping by unannounced to borrow something. If I could slap them across the face as they pop up in the middle of my reading, thus destroying my concentration, I would. If I could destroy the little piece of code that allows these ads - wiping it off the face of the earth and driving it from living memory - I would. And what I would do to the evil genius who invented the damn thing in the first place would get me arrested if I put it to writing here.

You know of what I speak; those butt-ugly little green highlighted underlined bits of text that pepper the web pages of blogs large and small, as well as thousands of other sites. They are as unsightly as they are diabolical in their placement. There is one version of these mouse over pop-ups that is semi-functional; the kind that when you mouse over links, the pop up shows the web page linked to. Even then, if you want to read the damn thing without opening a new tab on your browser, you have to use the magnifying function on your mouse because the text is so small.

Those, I don’t mind so much. But why would I want to stop reading a piece on Obama’s latest headache to click on an ad that bears no relationship whatsoever with the content? Do they expect us to say, “Gee - this fascinating article isn’t half as interesting as an ad for Scottrade. I am going to stop reading, lose my place, and click on that ad right away!”

However, it is the search engine Bing that seems to have cornered the market on face contorting, spittle inducing anger when it comes to these pop-up ads. Throwing totally unconnected search queries in your face is not only annoying, but fantastically inappropriate as well. I really hope Google cleans their clock.

I have been approached three times by a company that promises large amounts of money if I make my site available for this kind of reader abuse. I have refused, not only because the ads are annoying but because it would destroy the aesthetic of my blog - such as it is. For my fellow bloggers who made the deal with the devil and accepted the ads, I understand the need for income but do you understand that your blog posts suffer because of them? There are some sites I won’t visit anymore because of these devilish annoyances. And I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

And how about those mouse overs that pop up on sidebars if you get within a couple of inches of the ad with the cursor? Some of them don’t even have a “close (X)” function you can click to get rid of them. Or if they do, you have to spend several seconds hunting for it because it’s so far distant from the ad itself. What’s with that, internet marketing people? It’s like turning the channel of your TV during a commercial only to have the same ad played on the station to which you’ve just clicked on. Outrageous!

I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge people a few extra dollars for the trouble they go to put content on their websites. But enough is enough. Reading with comprehension requires total concentration. These ads are designed to break your train of thought rudely, and without asking. They also destroy my enjoyment of reading as I am constantly on the lookout for these ad-traps, and can’t devote my complete attention to the matter at hand; reading in the pursuit of knowledge.

So I say, away with them! A pox on the ad houses that sell them. Boils and sores to those who employ them on their sites. May your web pages rot from lack of hits if you use these spawns of Satan in your copy.

Make the internet a happy place once again and join me in condemning these monstrosities. The sanity you save may be your own.

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