Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender

NEW SLAUGHTERSo, it has come to this. A complete, unconditional, unequivocal faceplant surrender by John Boehner. I should feel more Schadenfreude and vindication than I do.

A few thoughts on the truly ridiculous debacle we’ve just lived through (and may have to live through again in January).

1:  Can a major political party get any closer to the life-or-death decision of whether to self-amputate a body part than the Republicans are today? I keep thinking about Utah hiker Aaron Ralston, sawing off his own arm from under an immovable boulder in order to live to hike another day. The Tea Party has made the Republican party an object of ridicule and contempt with truly perilous consequences for even “moderate”-but-enabling characters like John Kline and Eric Paulsen here in Minnesota.

Continue reading “Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender”

Romney? Really?

This is not — really — a joke. So Mitt Romney walks into a the offices of a GOP phone bank. To rally the troops, you see. The place is crowded with volunteers furiously dialing up voters to prevent what appears to be the certain overturn of the Wisconsin-like anti-collective bargaining legislation rammed into law by Ohio’s new and now deeply unpopular (54% disapproval) governor.

The standard move in these situations is for the candidate to make — at least one — call himself. For the cameras. “Hi, Mrs. Lebowski? This is Mitt Romney. No, really, Mitt Romney. Yes, yes, ‘the guy who looks like he turned your dad down for a loan’, that Mitt Romney’. But no. Not only doesn’t Romney dial-up an Ohio citizen and urge them to support their Republican governor and his aggressive, 21st century union-busting, anti-middle class Republican legislation … Romney doesn’t even endorse what everyone in the room is working so hard to save.

From the CNN story:

Romney expressed generic support for Kasich’s efforts to curtail union rights, but he would not say whether he supports or opposes the specific measures.

“I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said, only after repeated questions from reporters. “Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to reign in the scale of government. I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.”

If you’re like me you say, “Well, that’s classic Romney. The guy gives shameless, naked pandering another even worse name. He’s been on five sides of every issue you can think of.” Democrats love the guy for precisely this kind of completely craven and predictable waffling. In addition to the deliciously ripe story of his career as essentially a corporate raider, many times eviscerating American companies and requiring hundreds of middle-class lay-offs in exchange for his own fast profit, Romney is the kind of competition that manufacturers his own oppo-research and attack ads. And, more to my point here, the modern conservative “intelligentsia”, a crowd heavily self-invested in rigid-sounding, ersatz-populist dogmas and total victory-without-compromise is well aware of it. Hence his 25% polling … behind … Herman Cain, a guy who hasn’t even bothered to assemble a full function campaign apparatus.

And ladies and gentlemen, Mitt Romney is where he is today, among the leaders for the Republican nomination, because he is regarded as “the most electable of those running”. Of all of the cartoonish characters on the GOP candidate menu, Romney is the default candidate because he seems the guy with the best chance of beating Barack Obama …. which could still happen. Even the heretofore commonly accepted icons of conservative thought — people like George Will and John Podhoretz — have gone public with very serious doubts about Romney and the rest of the cast.

Said Will Sunday: “Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable; he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the Tea Party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming.”

Earlier last week Podhoretz, in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post wrote of the entire GOP field, “Memo to the Republican field: You’re running for president. Of the United States. Of America. Start acting like it. Stop proposing nonsense tax plans that won’t work. Stop making ridiculous attention-getting ads that might be minimally acceptable if you were running for county supervisor in Oklahoma. Stop saying you’re going to build a US-Mexico border fence you know perfectly well you’re not going to build. Give the GOP electorate and the American people some credit. This country is in terrible shape. They know it. You know it. They want solutions. You’re providing comedy.”

Podhoretz may have been referring less to Romney and more to completely bogus, ego-acts like we’ve seen from Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, “candidates” in name only with, in many cases, not even the pretense of hiring staff and operating a legitimate campaign, but Mitt comes awfully close to comedy.

But, without ascribing any undo legitimacy to the Tea Party’s intellectual foundation, what fascinates me most at this moment is watching to see how that crowd, so pleased with their moral/intellectual purity, and the more mainstream Republican faction that has enabled the obstructionist mayhem the Tea Party has leveled on this economy rationalizes Mitt Romney as their standard-bearer. True, he is not Obama. But for every time Romney has said something supportive of the Tea Party’s take-no-prisoners jihad against common sense and social decency he is also on record saying precisely the opposite.

Were the Tea Party truly rooted in the “principles” they’re constantly professing to fight to their (and our) death for, Mitt Romney would be an absolute anathema, exactly the untrustworthy, self-aggrandizing empty suit they couldn’t possibly trust in good conscience.

More to the point, true Tea Party revolutionaries would have no honorable course of action other than to launch a third party candidacy behind a bona fide flag bearing warrior spirit like … Ron Paul or Bachmann?

As I’ve said before, the Tea Party movement is rooted far more in long-standing cultural and social issue grudges than middle-class economic “populism”. But that makes support for an on-again-off-again whenever-opportune social liberal like Mitt Romney all the more preposterous … and comical.

As for Our Confederacy of Louts …

After roughly a month of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and week or so of OccupyMinnesota, there is one thing we can conclude with certainty. And that is that the Tea Party movement truly has nothing … whatsoever … to do with correcting economic malfeasance. Judging by the reactions of Tea Party Express spokes people and the stable/ward of GOP candidates cravenly pandering to the Republican party’s new core, the Tea Party movement has fully acknowledged that the “populist” Tea Party movement is exactly what we always assumed it was — namely, the conservative fringe’s latest manifestation of the Culture Wars with no focused, much less any sincere interest in attacking or addressing the root causes of American middle class frustration.

Frankly, I’m astonished it took until September of 2011, three entire years after the Great Derivatives Meltdown of September 2008 to see people in the streets demanding legal action against Wall Street, which of course is shorthand for the calculated, heavily-lobbied, institutional system wherein middle class assets are legally looted by those with full and unimpeded access to political power. Given the spectacular nature of the collapse, with very little confusion over the “who”, “why” and “how”, I would have expected riots on Wall Street in the spring of ’09. But no. Instead, the Tea Party, ostensibly outraged over taxpayer bail-outs of too big to fail giant banks (and the possibility of bail outs of other homeowners) bought in — wholly and utterly — to the counter theory sold by establishment Republican politicians and media leaders that the Crash of ’08 was the consequence of liberal meddling with free markets (the Barney Frank/Fannie Mae canard) and pandering to no-goods (most of them minorities) who had no business owning property.

Here’s Bryan Shroyer of theteaparty.net: “The motivation between Occupy Wall Street and the motivation from the tea party are completely different. From their signs, speeches, and websites, they want to continue this push of America down this road of increased government involvement and increased socialism. The tea party is simply a collection of patriots from across the nation who want to get our country back to its capitalist roots.”

And this from the Tea Party Patriots website: ” ‘For two years now, tea partiers have stood firmly on principle and helped shape the political debate in this country. They believe in time-honored American values, principles and systems including the freedom to innovate and employ people to implement and distribute one’s ideas to the public. They believe freedom from government allows entrepreneurs to try new things, see what works and discard what doesn’t. By contrast, those occupying Wall Street and other cities, when they are intelligible, want less of what made America great and more of what is damaging to America: a bigger, more powerful government to come in and take care of them so they don’t have to work like the rest of us who pay our bills.”

And this from Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express via a piece in The Guardian: “Kremer, who lives in Atlanta Georgia but spends much of her time travelling across America with the Tea Party Express battle bus, accepts that there is a shared anger at the core of both phenomenon: disapproval of the way the banks were allowed to get away with it after the 2008 financial melt-down. But she thinks the OWS organisers are going after the wrong target. ‘This isn’t Wall Street’s fault. It’s Washington’s fault – and that’s where they should focus their efforts’.

She is also scathing about the loose political aims of the protesters. ‘You’ve got to be realistic in your demands and efficient in how you set about achieving them. Holding rallies doesn’t do anything other than attract people to the movement. “The question is what do you do then? How do direct all that support and energy towards action, towards influencing legislation’?

Or .. opposing legislation … in the case of Tea Party leaders and politicians, as they continue to obstruct and dilute any form of serious financial regulation and oversight.

It strikes me as a monumental waste of time trying to figure out how anyone, much less someone capable enough to lead a national protest movement looks at the Crash of ’08 and absolves the giant banks, hedge funds and AIG from complicity, and instead focuses the full force of their fury on … a guy who wasn’t even in office at the time. But then the allure of a sinecure and status — underwritten by personalities integral to Wall St. function — always has away of re-directing antipathies.

The real question that continues to fascinate me is this: What is the best tactical response to what I prefer to call our Confederacy of Louts? This latest outbreak, the Tea Party, is more virulent than the John Birchers of the 1960s and the mega-church evangelicals of the late ’90s. Their demographics (largely white, aged, dis-enfranchised) and underlying antipathies are nearly identical. But today’s “movement” is a far more serious threat to middle-class retrenchment than ever before. Left unchallenged they have the clear and present potential to deliver the fate of the American middle class into the hands of our corrupt system of mega-finance and political cronyism for decades to come.

The Merriam Webster definition of “lout” is “an awkward, brutish person”. And for my purposes here, that’s close. But in terms of rhetoric the messaging, while brutish is often slick and compelling. “Awkward” in terms of factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, to be sure. But “compelling” in terms of eliciting the intended response. Which usually involves an appeal to the more loutish aspects of human nature. By example, I give you most any cities’ most popular morning drive radio show: A carnival of loutishness banking a small fortune for a one of a handful of major media conglomerates by routinely pilloring anything too “nuancy”, sensitive to minority interests, and “liberal”. Then you move on to the usual suspects of
political talk radio, FoxNews and on and on.

“Loutish” pretty well describes it, and liberals don’t do “loutish” very well. They/we don’t have much of a stomach for aggressive, middle-class, middle-brow messaging. It all seems so … boorish.

In Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt’s classic essay, “On Bullshit”, he makes the point that out-right liars, because they respect the truth enough not to speak it, are actually less dangerous than bullshitters, who may or may not speak the truth but really don’t care one way or another, since their only intention is to, in effect, close the sale. I don’t doubt for a second that there are some diabolically clever minds pushing and nudging and encouraging the Tea Party movement. They would be the liars. The face of it though, the crowd allegedly inspired to action by the Wall St. meltdown of ’08 and now throwing up a protective cordon around our “entrepreneurs” and “job creators” is, we can now say with complete certainty, a portrait of vaporous, loutish bullshit. It is raw say-anything know nothing-ism in pursuit of personal gain (media personalities, Sarah Palin, etc.) and settling age-old social grudges against … well, uppity minorities and “elites” however they define them.

The point being the liberal counter message — which now has a viable vehicle in the Occupy Wall St. demonstrations — has to convince the middle class, in middle class language and imagery, that the refortification of the middle class is its primary concern, and that the Republican party of 2011 is the Tea Party and the Tea Party is nothing but a collection of credulous chumps, loutish bullshitters, playing foot soldiers for the same forces that corrupted our financial and gridlocked our political systems.

We’ve lived through The Attack of the Louts. It’s way past time to attack back.

Willard in Wonderland

Source: Mike Luckovic, Atlanta Journal Constitution
Willard Mitt Romney’s biggest political vulnerability as a presidential candidate is that he passed Obamacare before President Obama did. After Romney passed the basic equivalent of Obamacare, the Republicans made a seismic shift to the right, making Romney’s golden child look like a shameful bastard child.

As a result, the Father of Romneycare and Grandfather of Obamacare has essentially three choices for managing the angry paternity claims:

MAN UP AND EMBRACE THE KID. Romney could explain why he and other Republicans were right to embrace the private sector health insurance reform model, which, by the way, is dramatically outperforming Rick Parry’s model (Massachusets has 4% uninsured, Texas is six times higher, with 24%).

CONFESS AND REPENT FOR FATHERING A BASTARD. Romney could admit the kid is his, and confess to the Tea Party that he made an unforgiveable error in fathering the reform model that is producing the best health coverage rate in the nation. (The shame!)

GO DEADBEAT AND MAKE SHIT UP. Or Romney could fabricate DNA evidence in an attempt to disprove any common lineage between Obamacare and Romneycare.

Romney has decided to go the fabrication route. In the debates this week and last, he trotted out a series of ridiculous Obamacare-Romneycare differentiators, such as:
Continue reading “Willard in Wonderland”

Third Parties: 2012 Election’s Critical Missing Piece

In the wake of the Iowa straw poll – a particularly charming incarnation of the poll tax– and the late entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the news media is telling us that that the 2012 presidential field is starting to congeal.

Except that it’s not. Not even close. Because we don’t yet know what will happen with third parties. In the end, third parties might very well impact the selection of the next President more than the outcome of the GOP primaries and caucuses that are dominating the news.

At a time when the American electrate is about evenly divided between the two major political parties, and huge numbers are turned off by both parties, this 2012 presidential election could hinge on which third party, or parties, emerges to relative prominence. If it’s a liberal-friendly third party ticket that dominates the third party space in 2012, Obama will almost certainly lose. If it’s a conservative-friendly third party dominating, Obama could still pull it out, despite the environmental mega-trends – lack of peace or prosperity — working against his reelection.

A third party ticket led by Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump or their ilk looms on the right, and a ticket led by Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders or their ilk looms on the left. I’m as interested in those melodramas as I am about the more high profile Perry, Bachmann, Romney scrum.

And beyond the third party machinations on the left and right fringes, keep your eyes on a new third party wild card this year – Americans Elect. Americans Elect looks like it will be a centrist party, and is being promoted by center-left voices like syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman. Here is how they explain themselves.
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The Ground Zero of Gridlock

Founding Dads, gasp, "compromising."
Representative democracy is designed to produce compromise. All of those inefficient checks and balances the Founding Fathers built into their Rube Goldberg policymaking machinery means that no single political party or branch of government has autocratic power. That forces branch and party leaders to negotiate and find mutually disagreeable middle ground.

In other words, to the Founding Fathers, compromise wasn’t considered a disease. It was a cure.

Admittedly, compromise isn’t very cathartic for zealots. In sports they say “a tie is like kissing your sister,” and a compromise is a tie of sorts. House Speaker Kurt Zellers would probably rather be kissing his sister right now than compromising with Governor Dayton, and vice versa.

But as frustrating as compromise can be, we have done well with our maddening compromise model. The Constitution – the document the compromise-hating Tea Partiers love to nag us about — was a negotiated compromise that left many of its endorsers disappointed. Almost all major legislative achievements in the nation’s history – the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the creation of Medicare, the creation of the Interstate Highway system, the “Minnesota Miracle” — were the product of bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

But compromise we did, and it helped us move the country forward and avoid the kind of violent upheaval experienced by others around the world. How remarkably grown up of us.

So what happened? If Minnesotans and Americans have successfully compromised through gritted teeth throughout our history, why does it now seem almost impossible to achieve now?

Whatever the reason, “compromise” has become a bad, bad word, especially among conservatives. According to a Pew Research Survey, 71% of Liberal Democrats agree that “lawmakers should be more willing to compromise, even if that results in a budget they disagree with.” At the same time, only 26% of Republicans who support the Tea Party agree with the need to compromise and be disappointed. The more conservative Americans are, the less willing they are to compromise.
Continue reading “The Ground Zero of Gridlock”

“Completely unreasonable”.

Moments of truth are at hand. And while I don’t foresee the kind of “clarifying moments of truth” we need so badly, the sort of Hollywood-only moments where the unscrupulous villains are revealed for what they truly are, we are heading for some serious course corrections in modern American (and Minnesotan) political misguidance and psychosis.

First, here. The Minnesota legislature is supposed to conclude its business next Monday. But as you may have heard, the new GOP majority, all of whom are bound by interest group lobbyist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge, steadfastly refuse to compromise … in any way … with Gov. Dayton on applying new revenue to that pesky $5.2 billion deficit. That would be the same GOP that made the unprecedented move of turning to an outside, pro-large business consulting firm for some customized budget formulas, is still noticeably light on specifics of who gets gored. Educators, social service directors and others have run the surreally fuzzy numbers they’ve seen and are shrieking, “Wolf!”. But the GOP leadership — best embodied by party chairman Tony Sutton, of the absurdist gambling conflicts of interest and comically mismanaged Baja Sol fast food chain, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a careerist walking talking point who I’ve never heard say anything more deeply informed or detailed than “Minnesotans have spoken” and small-town police chief Tony Cornish who sees a critical void in our rights to open fire on anyone — paperboy, neighbor’s dog or cop in pursuit who crosses our yard — sees only value and upside to our state’s “jobs providers”.

Then, in D.C. we have the long-anticipated and now very soon to erupt cataclysm between what’s left of the Republican old guard — in this case Speaker John Boehner — and the party’s new heart and soul, the Tea Party freshmen, over lifting the U.S. debt ceiling. Again, while Boehner is regarded as having “blundered” by telling an Ohio group in late April that “we” will have to increase the country’s debt limit, “and we’ll have to do it again”, the revolutionary masses the party eagerly welcomed to its bed are adamant no such thing will ever be allowed to happen. They are so completely committed to this view that talk of voting Boehner out of his Speakers job (and replacing him with Kurt Zellers-like robo-rhetorician Eric Cantor) is reaching a boiling point.

If you need further proof of the GOP’s soon-to-be-self-destructive, lockstep zealotry at work, consider Newt Gingrich. I’m no fan of Gingrich’s, other than to say one time out of twenty he has a good idea and makes sense. Like he did on “Meet the Press” last week when he said he’s not in favor of “radical change” from either the left or the right. Personally, I’m down with radical change on health insurance reform. But the point here is that Gingrich was at least arguing from some kind of coherent position. Too coherent for the modern GOP’s “group think or die” mentality. As a consequence his presidential ambitions are dead-in-an-instant and he is being forced to both apologize for saying something contrary to the party’s (sole) anointed “big thinker” guru, Paul Ryan, and ask/beg Democrats not to use his line about “social engineering from the right” in attack ads. The spectacle of so utterly rigid a party orthodoxy is so stark and absurd you know for certain that the S.S. GOP has struck a tri-corner shaped iceberg and is heading bow-first into the briny deep (or “shallows” if you prefer analogies to the quality of their economic thinking.)

I’ve had several recent conversations with people about Mark Dayton’s performance as Governor. Most professing surprise that a guy who was an utter failure as U. S. Senator seems to have found his place as a chief executive. While I couldn’t in good conscience vote for the guy, based on his appalling performances in previous elected offices (and because he achieved this latest high office largely through writing himself large checks only one other candidate was capable of writing), I have to agree that Dayton has conducted himself in an all but entirely reasonable way. (The exception being the lack of sharp screws to the Wilfs over who pays how much for a Vikings stadium).

My only equivocation on Dayton is that he has never demonstrated that tenacity, especially end game/crunch time tenacity is his strong suit, and we are only now arriving at that point. Now is when he has to deliver a “win”, and by definition that will require a serious increase in revenues. And by “serious” i mean no less than the 50/50 split he is offering now. He has public support for exactly that. Now he has to use it to force a victory.

Much of Dayton’s stature and standing in the polls can be credited to the contrast with the cartoonish buffoonery of the state’s GOP, which has doubled down on guns, gays, God and gambling, after allegedly being elected to office to create “jobs, jobs, jobs”. The local GOP brain trust — Sutton, Zellers, Cornish and the new uber-zealot Steve Drazkowski — are required to say (as though they believed it) that Minnesotans fully support them. To which I say, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, TCF bank’s Bill Cooper and The Taxpayer’s League, yes. Everyday citizens, not so much.

On MPR the other day, after offering up his 50/50 plan, which would still require $1.8 billion in new taxes from the state’s upper end/Chamber of Commerce, Bill Cooper/Taxpayer’s League crowd, Dayton sounded exasperated, referring to his GOP negotiating mates as “completely unreasonable”.

In normal times “completely unreasonable” would be garden variety political hyperbole. Today it is not. The modern GOP, after achieving off-year election victories on the vague, plan-free, detail-free cry to “stop the spending” has set a course for a national come to Jesus moment. They’ve presumed that moment will only see the U.S. debt ceiling locked down and the country slashing hundreds of billions in spending (with no realistic plan about God knows where). Likewise, here in Minnesota, with a minority DFL and a “weak”, easily-rolled Governor, they see the enemy fully … fully … capitulating to their demands.

Neither is going to happen. Because it isn’t we are then presented with the alternate scenario. The one all those who have taken the Norquist pledge and suckled at the teat of easy Tea Party votes haven’t fully considered. The one where public reaction — even among the only generally-informed public — to the popular image of the new GOP, a party lacking any semblance of seriousness and constantly self-lampooning itself with intellectual silliness whips back and slaps them to the ground.

The natural response to “completely unreasonable” is nigh, I say unto ye!