Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What is a Republican?

I suppose this is an unsophisticated question.  After all, we all know country club Republicans and we know what they think about most things: They are rich and want to stay that way and want to pass all they have on to their children. But then there are the Joe Sixpack Republicans who drive trucks or maybe they own a gas station/garage or maybe they put on siding or do HVAC.  These people are more interesting. These are people who have not made enough money to join a country club and never will, but what are they thinking?

Well, for one thing they think "government" is essentially just another incarnation of the vice principle in charge of discipline they hated in high school. They may like their friend, the cop, but in general they don't like police. They certainly do not like the IRS or the federal government, although they love the Armed Forces and they cross their hearts and take off their hats when the national anthem is played at ball games. They own guns, or at least they like shooting them at gun ranges and it makes them feel as powerful as any black man who might happen to be President. They may harbor the dream of someday moving to Idaho and living off the grid, where no government can find them.  On the other hand, they love the idea of government agents stopping a car of Hispanic looking men and demanding "their papers" and dragging off these criminal invaders to some jail for the crime of   wanting to pick crops or build homes or bus dishes for minimum wages.

They agree with Ron Paul that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, although they make no provision for their own retirement or health insurance and their parents are dependent on both federal programs and if their parents didn't have these programs, then their parents would become dependent on them.

They hate the idea they are not lone gunslingers riding across the endless grassy plains, dependent on no one. They live in fact in a technicolor fantasy world which is deeply contradictory in its beliefs and unconnected to reality.

But they like it. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


Mitch McConnell is a name few of my neighbors here in New Hampshire know.  They know the names of the Boston Red Sox players, but that's about as far from New Hampshire as many of them extend their interests.

Mitch McConnell is a Washington creature. Voters from Kentucky send him to the Senate because he's Southern slick. He can stab you in the back and you think he's just patting you on the back. 

One thing about Mitch though, he occasionally is disarmingly honest: When speaking of some legislation designed to pump federal government money back into the economy, to stimulate, resuscitate and invest he examined the proposal and concluded it might just actually be good for the economy and balked. If he allowed this bill to get through the Senate the economy might recover and he said, "Why would I want to help elect Obama to another term? My first priority is defeating him."

So there you have it, put about as plainly as you will ever get from anyone in Washington. The Republican leadership frankly acknowledges they perceive their job to make the citizens of this country so miserable they will blame the President and throw him out.

Implicit in all this is the conviction the voters are stupid enough to not realize or to not care if they do realize the responsibility for the failure in the "Obama economy" lies with the Republican party and it's refusal to act for the benefit of the country.

I suppose, what they are really saying is: Having Obama is such an evil outcome, it is better to make the people, the economy, the children, the patients, all the nation's  institutions suffer  than it is to keep this horrible person in office. 

I am told this is not a new concept in American history--I am told that opposition parties of the past have thought it their primary job to defeat the devil incarnate in the White House at all costs. I will look into this.  I suppose you might say the election of Lincoln was such a time, but in his case it wasn't just the opposition party hated him--they hated him for a reason, They thought he would end slavery. 

In Obama's case, it's a little like the question we were all asking after the Twin Towers attack--Why do they hate us so?

Of course, the Republicans call him names--a socialist, a radical--but he's a pretty mild mannered guy with a very centrist agenda and he's been willing to compromise more than his own supporters feel comfortable with.  The "reasons" spewing forth from Rush Limbaugh and company are, it must be admitted, pretty lame. It is clear Rush and company are in fact genuinely apoplectic about the simple fact Obama is living in the White House. They do not like the man, or they do not like what he is. 

Looking at President Obama on television, I don't get it. He strikes me as so inoffensive. That's the maddening thing about him, from my point of view: I wish he were more offensive, more like Barney Frank, for example. Someone who can throw a punch, someone who will reply to some Tea Party loonie who calls Obama a Nazi, "On what planet do you spend the majority of your time?"  

So why do they hate this man so? Why would they be willing to bring down World Trade, National Trade, The Entire Economy just to rid the country of this ostensibly inoffensive president? What has been his offense?

You will have to draw your own conclusions. 

My own is GWB, or attempting to.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On the Eve of The Supreme Court Decision

While we await the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, the New Yorker appears with an article by Ezra Klein, "Unpopular Mandate,"  which expands understanding: It begins by summarizing the history of how this law came into existence, and ends with a study of belief systems. 

As for the history of this law, it, oddly enough, originated in ideas which had their gestation in Republican think tank, The Heritage Foundation, in 1989, the idea of a mandate to buy something appealing to conservative thinkers and it was served up as an alternative to what conservatives really feared, the single payer. Years later, Democrats, realizing they could never get a single payer (read government) system like Medicare-for-all through the narrowly divided Congress, picked up this idea. Democrats like Ron Wyden managed to get some Republicans to support the principle and through various iterations it emerged as a compromise from the Democrats. 

But, of course, when the Republicans saw a Democratic success gathering force, they reacted in a great panicked howl and the day after the law passed, Republicans launched their lawsuits to bring it down.  All the authorities said there was absolutely no way this law, this mandate,  could be unconstitutional--all the authorities but the unschooled ignoramuses like Mad Dog, who knows very little, but he does know one big thing--This Supreme Court will always vote for those in power and against those trying to disrupt the status quo. 

Klein ends by reviewing a set of studies in which people who identified themselves as either very liberal or very conservative were presented with two sets of proposals for a welfare policy, one which proposed  more generous welfare benefits than have ever been enacted, but it was labeled as emanating from a very conservative Republican source; the other was a proposal for a meager, scaled back program,  labeled as embraced by Democrats. 

Intriguingly, the conservative readers embraced the generous ultra welfare program, presumably because the label "Republican program" over rode the effect of the actual content of the program. The readers really did not care about the specific content, all they cared about was the "reference group" or, I would argue, they started with the idea of where they wanted to go, and they circled back to that no matter what the "facts" of the program were. (The liberals did the same thing, choosing the decimated program for the poor because it was labeled the Democratic alternative.)

This is sort of the "Only Nixon Could Go to China" syndrome. Well, if Nixon says it's okay to make nice with the Chinese, it must be. We can trust him on this. He's the ultimate cold warrior. If Kennedy had tried to do this, or Clinton, or certainly Obama, well then, it would have been treason.

And that is clearly the way the five member majority of the Supreme Court functions: It considers the source and circles back to where it wants to be. The details, the substance, all principle is over ridden by the ultimate goal--in the case of the court, to thwart the liberal, the Democrat and to support the conservative.

By this reading, had this very same law had been presented to the Court as a Republican  law, challenged by the Democrats, Antonin Scalia would have risen up in righteous indignation over the attack, asking why the Democrats objected to the operation of a market place solution in a capitalist society?

If this election were about something really substantive, for my money, it would be about electing a Democratic president with enough of a Democratic majority in both houses, to push through a reform of the Supreme Court, with three new justices and only the most recent 9 being able to vote on new cases.  Remember the Constitution does not specify how many justices, and no amendment would be necessary.

I would love to see Obama re elected, but truth be told, if he is not given a Congress to support him it would be like pushing the man out of the plane without a parachute--there's no way he can bring you anything if you don't provide him with the means. He'll just wind up flattened on the ground.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It Don't Bother Me

There is a wonderful song which ends a wonderful movie called "Nashville," directed by Robert Altman.  A waif, who has been trying to sing a song through the entire movie, but never gets the stage, or when she does, it's at a motor speedway and her voice is drowned out, finally gets to belt out her song, "It don't bother me." And what she sings is, "You may say, I'm not free, but it don't bother me."
And you realize, having watched the film, having watched the forces of wealth and power, having watched the cynical manipulation of public opinion by the upper 1%, by the smarmy, by the unctuous, by the winners, you realize how un free all those strivers in the seething hoi polloi, all those dreamers, who think they will hit it big some day, who believe they will make it, you realize, it don't bother them to not be free.
My father was very disappointed visiting Spain when Franco was still in power, looking about at all the cafe life on the streets and seeing all the ostensibly happy people living in this dictatorship. "They were all so...happy."   It didn't bother them they were not "free." They could not complain in public about their government. 
So what? 
Are we really any more in control of our society than those Spaniards?
Or, more to the point, are we any more in control of our individual fates in the Live Free or Die state than those Spaniards?
Big money is in control. The Supreme Court is determined to keep it that way. Congress is bought and paid for. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity like it that way. 
Why should you or I care?
Maybe Barack Obama, much as I love him, or the idea of him, is really just another Jimmy Carter--a decent man, but not a strong leader. And maybe, worse yet, his followers really are effete, weak kneed, insufficiently aroused or insufficiently arousable, nice people but, in the end, losers. 
And maybe the future does not belong to losers. Maybe it belongs to the one percenters.
Maybe that's cosmic justice. The way America is supposed to work. Those who want wealth and power go after it,  and the rest of us are content to live our lives without it, because, well, it don't bother me.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

As Wisconsin Goes...

During a players' strike against the National Football League, my father remarked, "I'm all for the workers, but these guys are not workers." By which he meant, they were millionaires squabbling with billionaires.

Some of the same lack of sympathy was apparent in Wisconsin, and I hear it right here in New Hampshire. People quote newspaper stories about the lavish pensions retiring police officers in Boston get. They complain about the heavy burden on town budgets for pensions for retired police and firemen. They point out these men and women are getting these pensions at age 50 and going out and getting other jobs. They became police at age 20, retired at 50 and never went to college. 

These same citizens complain about public school teachers who are burnt out, recycling lessons for years, incompetent and destructive to children, and these  public employees in schools cannot be fired because of union contracts. And that particularly burns because non union citizens live with the knowledge that they themselves go to work every day and are just one back talk away, one angry outburst away from being escorted off the premises, carrying  all their stuff in a cardboard box,  escorted by security. The average citizen is non unionized, especially in New Hampshire, and lives at the pleasure not of some royal monarch but at the pleasure of some financial monarch.

And so the average citizen resents the protected job and the security of the unionized public employee. He resents the union worker who works for a non public, private employer, too, because money from the Koch brothers has been used to "educate" him that unions are what have made General Motors unable to compete with Toyota and Volkswagen.  

So unions are bad for the country, and bad for the economy  and only good for the few unionized workers. The sweet deals they've negotiated for themselves show how greedy these workers are. The workers don't deserve these good things. Somehow, the owners and managers and bosses, who also benefit from the profits of the company are not seen to be greedy or to be benefiting unjustly.

The average citizen resents the power the government has over him, but he accepts the power the financial monarchs have over him.  If his boss fires his coworker, well, we all know we have to please the boss. Doesn't matter if the firing was fair or made sense or not. That's the way it is.

You really have to hand it to the Republicans: They have "educated" American citizens to internalize the point of view of the bosses, and to believe what is good for the bosses, and what is bad for the worker is good for the nation. 

Take your hat off to them.  (Just the way you do for the Queen.)