David Brooks’ dreaming gives me nightmares.

In the shadows of good news and bad coming fast and furious in the waning days of election season, we are now starting to see both liberal and conservative commentators contemplating each other’s doomsday scenarios, and presenting hopeful assertions to how things could just be better the next time around.  I’m already bracing for Obama to be blamed for Hurricane Sandy’s closing the NYSE for two days, and to be accused of cooking the numbers in what might be a positive jobs report coming out this Friday, just 2 business days before E-day, and already am getting riled up for when I might hear a President Romney take credit for a continuing positive economic direction that started over a year ago.  Unfortunately, history doesn’t write itself, and can’t be written at all until the game is well over.  I’m hoping the actual true successes of the current administration don’t just become an “if we only knew” footnote in the minds of a narrow minded electorate re-evaluating from the future.

David Brooks’ column in the NYT today is one of these attempts at looking at the good side of a result and pretend its an actual analysis of a potential scenario.  He tries to imagine a world in which Obama is reelected, and then a world in which Romney is elected.  In his Obama world, Obama tries to capture the momentum of the election to put forward in his words “a moderate and sensible agenda.”  But he will run up against a recalcitrant House that will be much more concerned with the mid-term elections and appealing to their base than in actually working in a bi-partisan fashion to get things done.  This is a continuation of the conundrum in the US where though Congress can have 11% approval ratings, approval of individual Congressmen/women by their constituents is often quite the opposite.  As I wrote in a previous post, there is often a disconnect between being lauded for sticking to your guns and actually doing the professional job you were elected to do – that is, pass workable legislation.  When it comes to individual representation, people somehow forget that we’re all in this thing together.  It’s ironic that often these single issue voters, and their single issue Reps, are the first to trumpet the Constitution and their defense of American ideals.  This Republican Congress worked quite contrary to what the plan originally was.

In Brooks’ dream, a Romney victory will actually have the better chance of getting big things done because a Democratic Senate will force him to embrace his inner moderate.  He writes, To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.

Romney, the shape-shifter (his words) – er, I mean, the pragmatist, would be more effective than Obama the pragmatist because a Democratic Senate and unprincipled Republican President will be able to team up against a hyper-principled Conservative House, as opposed to a principled centrist Democrat re-defining the definition of insanity by banging his head repeatedly against a brick wall.  In his scenario, the brick wall will have no choice but to crumble for a President Romney, over the Right’s  loud objections, because to work against a President from their own party would be counterproductive.

Ok, so we as a country are supposed to listen to this analysis and enact a rear-guard action.  What does any of this have to do with actual governing?  Brooks’ whole analysis is extremely condescending of the electorate because it’s all about playing the margins to see how the government can be tricked into actually doing something.  The funny thing about the electorate is that they never, as a whole, really want to swing one way or the other.  They like it just down the middle.  I expect that some of this self correction is going to happen this election, irrespective of who’s elected.  “The Tea Party Monolith” might just go the way of Michelle Bachmann, former top-of-the-heat Presidential candidate, now in trouble in her home district.  This might make the extreme right “patriots” even more extreme, as their fair-weather allies return to a more moderate path in self correction.  But their loud voices will return to gnatty annoyances to a larger middle tired of nothing getting done.  In that scenario, the extreme gets tempered, and with an Obama re-election the message being sent is time to get back to the work of actually governing.  Make it happen.

So goes my own dreaming.

There’s an alternate scenario.  When Bill Clinton was first elected, I remember being elated that we were finally going to get some traction – a big ideas, smart, political President working in concert with a House and Senate of his own party.  Only thing was, it didn’t work out that way.  Instead, the leaders in the House and Senate decided that this young Governor of a podunk small Southern state was easy to steamroll over.  They were gonna tell him how it was in Washington, and that if he wanted to survive, he was going to have to do things their way.  Hell, he wouldn’t even be the occupant of the White House if it weren’t for them getting him there, and now it was payback time.  We all saw how that worked out.  The Dems lost in the midterms to Gingrich and the “Contract for America,” the “Tea Party” of ’94, and Clinton started to have to play small ball.  It was a lesson well learned, by Democrats that is, as witnessed by the cooperation between the Obama White House and Congress in the first 2 years of the administration of a neophyte President in the midst of an inherited economic collapse.  But back when Bill Clinton was re-elected in ’96, all of a sudden there was more impetus for Congress and the President to work together, even as the draconian Republican nature was trying any means to derail the President personally – as opposed to  legislatively.  And we saw how that worked too.  $79 million spent by the Republican Congress to investigate a personal moral lapse by a sitting President.  Again, what did any of that have to do with governing.  But for good, or ill, legislation got passed (eg. welfare reform).

Fast forward to our own times now, and I can see a nightmare where Brooks sees a dream.  Mitt Romney, a former moderate sounding Governor shape-shifting to a heavily Democratic state in order to be elected, is “supported” by the Republican be-it-alls while holding their noses, and gets to fulfill his giant ambition and take possession of yet another mansion.  His own dream fulfilled, he is then dictated to by the very people who reluctantly got him there.  Like Clinton in ’92, he has to pay the piper.  A deal with the devil is still a deal, and as the consummate businessman, Mitt honors a deal.  Sometime’s that’s the price of business.  If there was any indication that Romney actually led as Governor, instead of following the paths of a Democratic legislature (one of the other reasons he couldn’t really run on Health Care – it was already working it’s way though the Democratic legislature before he arrived at that mansion), one might have cause to think that now with the top job on his resume he could really step up with conviction.  But there hasn’t been, rhetoric aside.  And so dreaming up a scenario where Romney leads by compromising with Senate Democrats, and the “mad-as-hell Republicans” continue to hold their noses out of party discipline is all a very nice dream if you’re David Brooks.  It would be a dream I would want to have if Romney does win.  Instead, I dream of a shape-shifter who takes over my house, while a piper spins a tune that forces him to dance on my dream.  I’m scared, Mommy.

 

Ryan, specifics and the ultimate quest to dream the impossible dream

I was originally going to write about how campaign discussion harping on super-specific minutae obfuscates the real broad issues of ideology but after the GOP Convention and after reading a terrific piece on The Huffington Post today (ref below) I think I can expand the scope a bit.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the political discussion hinges on something like the specifics of a more than 700 mil cut to Medicare, whether those cuts in The Affordable Care Act come from service providers and insurance companies and not the actual services provided to make those corporate entities more efficient, or only telling half the story conveniently as the Republicans are doing in order to scare seniors while not admitting their own budget calls for much the same number without any of the service safeguards.   It doesn’t matter to discuss the specifics of whether Planned Parenthood funding goes to support abortion providers among the vast majority of women’s health services that PP does provide.  And it doesn’t matter to discuss reverting more power to States and Localities by cutting taxes on the Federal level.  None of this matters because the big issue is actually more important.  The big issue is that the overarching strict ideology of the current GOP as embodied in a Paul Ryan is that a seemingly beneficial adherence to tax cutting to stimulate the economy is merely the first piece of a strategy to pare down the Federal Government to some falsely nostalgic level as prescripted by a so-called conservative reading of he Constitution.

All of the half-truth bending and counterproposals of the GOP are only designed to create a situation where the Federal Government is so starved of funding that it has no choice but to shrink irrespective of how that shrinkage would affect the population as a whole.  Most people are unaware that the current Federal system reapportions national tax revenues among the 50 states in the same way that Major League Baseball shares revenues among big and small market teams in order to keep the League competitive and healthy, and therefore financially healthy.  Revenue sharing has only lead to ever increasing profits for the MLB.  On a governmental level, this inter-state welfare helps balance the playing field across the country as a whole since to think that what happens in a state stays in a state is to discount how each state affects any other.  I would think that infrastructure, education and health deficiencies in one part of the country somehow affect us all in higher medical costs, increasing crime, and ultimately disaffection that leads to the all encroaching cancer of prejudice and hate.

If the States were left to really think about the services they individually should provide relative to their own tax revenue, the shrinkage of the Federal Revenue because of tax cuts and thus the income redistribution that goes along with it – eg. California and New York and net providers while Mississippi and Alabama are net acceptors of Federal revenue – would ultimately have to be made up on the State and Local levels.  The total amount of money required for the running of necessary services we all take for granted doesn’t really change regardless of where the money comes from.  We want to pay ever decreasing taxes, but the GOP never really spells out what the ultimate ramifications of their idea of true Federalism would be.  The money has to come from somewhere.

Let’s imagine the result of the current GOP scenario, where Federal revenue shrinks to ONLY provide for the Common Defence and to Promote the General Welfare (whatever that really means to today’s GOP), where lower revenue States are forced to drastically cut even basic services or significantly raise taxes to make up for the shortfall of declining or eliminated redistribution (why would California or New York want to help out these other States unless they had to under this formula?).  There might be increased tax revolt, or there might be a mass migration to more solvent States, further shrinking local tax bases, or there might be a sudden pulling together in an ideological GOP Kumbaya where localities decide to really shoulder the burden.  I don’t really see the last bit happening.  Instead, I see a lot of people complaining to their State, Local and Federal governments about how they got into the mess without ever realizing they forced a large part of it by never seeing or ignoring the big picture down into the future.  I don’t really see how this scenario really helps make us stronger as one country.  Didn’t we draft a Constitution, a National Constitution, and fight a Civil War, to declare the primacy of one country and not, now, 50?

Would that the GOP would actually spell out the big picture.  They had just that opportunity during their convention. We can certainly debate whether reducing Federal power and reach resulting from a starvation diet in order to provide more opportunities for State and local governments to control their own priorities is as good a plan for the 21st Century as it might have seemed in the 18th or 19th or 20th to some.  But should it seem odd to me that as we continually struggled to be ONE large country, the Federal Government became ever more important (and growing) to provide consistency of law and policy throughout the many States?  This is not to say that there shouldn’t be government that is better left to localities.  But lets have a real discussion about the costs and benefits of altering that system without resorting to some false notion of patriotism, or an arrogant ideology that makes claim to understand original intent of a document that was purposefully vague enough to grow with the population.  Even Jefferson himself, one of the beloved Framers, suggested that the country should rewrite the Constitution in every each generation to better reflect the development an ever modernizing of the country.  The Framers knew their place in History, and couldn’t dare to imagine the specifics of the future – their goal being merely a good push off the dock.  And Jefferson, the most famous of the early advocates of de-centralizing power made as much use of Federal power as any other President once he sat behind that desk. Republican Abraham Lincoln led the country through a Civil War to assert the primacy of a single country over individual states.  The actual practicality of governing nearly always trumps blind adherence to ideology.  Except for the current GOP.

Their big policy wonk and ideologue, Paul Ryan, ran away from ANY specifics during his speech, not to mention the pervasive half-truths if not outright lying, despite the fact that he’s consistantly praised for telling the hard truths.  The actual following of the overarching blind ideology to lower Federal taxes and more power to States and Localities, in this case the starving of the Federal Government in order to have no recourse but to shrink it, is never coupled by an equally powerful vision of how real services are to be paid for on the State and Local level.  If something costs $20, it doesn’t really matter if you’re getting the whole 20 from your dad, or 5 from each of 4 uncles, it still costs $20.  If Mississippi decides to massively cut education spending, health spending and infrastructure spending because of a derision to paying taxes, you’re going to see a lot of people migrating to states where the citizens have a different vision.  And coming back from the dead is much harder the second time around.  If one calls themselves a true Patriot, tell me how this vision really provides sacrifice for the greatest good for the country as a whole.

It is this last point which is the most important.  If one thinks that government of any kind is the problem, what is that person patriotic toward?  There have been times of great ideological divide throughout our history, but for the most part both sides of the aisle have worked from their respective positions to move the country forward.  This obviously involved compromise and the understanding of the art of politics.  We can complain about how corporate money drowns out the little voice of the individual, unless of course the individual takes just a little more time to learn about the issues.  Yes, this might be a big thing to ask, so tremendously unrealistic, that it borders on the utopian.  That is just too depressing for me to consider as an absolute.  In this day, we have more access to more information than ever before.  If the big lie will be told and believed, it’s not for want of accessible refutation.  It’s just that in the past (let’s say Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia) people could get a pass for ignorance because there were no other sources of information (look at the effect of increased information flow on the politics of the Middle East).  But here, today, some of our citizenry just don’t want to hear the other side because it just increases their own responsibility.  They don’t want to be responsible.  It’s easier to blame the people who they elect to look out for their best interests once they realize what those best interests are after it’s too late – like when anti-Federalists will complain about the sorry state of their low tax based States and look with envy at states that, from their point of view, now seem greedy, or, for some, nirvana.  Then they’ll get really angry!  Or angrier!  Really!

What if we just realized once and for all that we’re all in this together?  This is not a call for bigger government, but a call for smarter, more realistic government in this day and age.  I really doubt that the Framers thought the country was going to stay in a state of ossification from 1789.  That would be like admitting that many of them didn’t anticipate the coming of a Civil War, even then.  For them, the Constitution was an initial compromise to get things going, not a bible for time immemorial.  I think they would be less perplexed by the complexity of the current world than one might think.  And more flexible too.

The Center and Left should not get bogged down discussing or answering specific charges, but should really go big and articulate the broader vision of how government can and should function in a complex world in opposition to the broader vision articulated by the Right now and what the ramifications of that vision would be. Obama needs to counter this small potatoes tiddly-wink debate with laying out just what the hard truth of the GOP idea would bring, not just on the middle class, but on the country as a whole and how the Democratic vision is different, that Government can and does make a difference all the time, in daily lives of the rich, middle class, and poor.  Let’s not get bogged down on answering the sloganeering of who built what, and instead articulate clearly that Federal protections and infrastructure building we’re always uniquely responsible for creating the playing field for wealth creation.  If that requires scaring the other side by articulating a doomsday scenario of their ultimate ideological goal, then so be it.   They waste no time in doing the same.   And part of this vision should be about empowering the population to educate themselves and participate.  For every super-specific that’s brought up, the President should go really big and brush those off like gnats at a humid Southern sunset.

Which brings me to recommend a great piece in the Huffington Post today by Ryan Grim.  It’s an excellent analysis of the governing strategies of the Obama Administration for the first term, playing the inside game and outside game with regard to the GOP, and a complete refutation of the claim by Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech that the President went back on his promise to reach across the aisle.  No half-truth here.  Just lies from the Right– and potential disappointment for the Left, with a President who perhaps believed too much in One Country to play an outside game, going directly to the people, and shame the GOP into working, from their end, on the project that is the United States of America – emphasis on United.

 

 

Again, the facts don’t support the rhetoric

When since Roosevelt, on average, twice as many jobs have been created under Democratic administrations than under Republican ones, one might also extrapolate that on average Republican economic policies have, on average, dampened economic expansion, creating a situation where Democratic administrations could oversee a restoration.

Check out this piece in today’s New York Times.

 

http://nyti.ms/NfQshn

Like Fredo, the Republicans are smart…and they want respect…

“With energy and vision, Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party. He understands the fiscal challenges facing America, our exploding deficits and crushing debt and the fiscal catastrophe that awaits us if we don’t change course.” – Mitt Romney, in introducing his VP choice

Well, it didn’t take long for the Republican Party to distance itself from the anti-intellectual fervor of the race-to-the-bottom primary season once the nomination was locked up in the corpus of Mitt Romney – a twice-advanced-degree educated member of the Eastern business establishment.  In just a few months, we’ve gone from a shameful  and irresponsible free-for-all where the value of higher education was not only questioned but where the lack of it was triumphed.  See Santorum’s cheap digs at Obama’s desire to promote access to higher education for all Americans into a faux- populist critcism against intellectual elitism in the White House.

–In a speech at the Americans for Prosperity forum in Michigan, Santorum said “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” He went on to talk about “liberal college professors” trying to “indoctrinate” students and said that the reason Obama wants everyone to go to college is that he “wants to remake you in his image.” The audience’s response? Applause.  We have now reached the once unthinkable point in this presidential race where even higher education has come up for debate–

Now, suddenly Romney, and therefore the Republican political establishment, are touting Paul Ryan as an intellectual leader.  Paul Ryan, also college educated, with dual undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Economics from Miami University of Ohio, has been consistently lauded for his intellectual acumen and rigorous analytical skills with regard to Conservative fiscal theory – hardly the candidate that is going to provoke a criticism of the Eastern Intellectual Elite.  He’s a devotee of Milton Friedman for God’s sake – no friend of liberals but certainly an egghead in his own right.  In fact, Ryan is being characterized as such, a policy-wonk (same description by the way as given Bill Clinton and Al Gore) obsessed with tables, numbers, and statistics…in short math, a subject Mitt Romney is also obsessed with.

So, okay.  Math is a hard subject.  It’s hard even for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, since independent analyses of their respective plans show that they can’t add, or can only add when “x = some indeterminate economic boost factor” that will make the math work.  But they are now happy to talk about how much they like math.  And we know only eggheads like math.  And eggheads are not the rest of us who don’t.

Are the Republicans really now going to journey down the road where they are finally admitting to the Independent center that they might actually want people they feel are smarter than they are to be running the country?  Republicans keep invoking Reagan like a god because their candidates lack what Reagan had, an effervescent personality combined with a distinct point-of-view wrapped by a healthy, and, yes, sophisticated understanding of the political process.  He was also able to sling digs in a way that didn’t make him look like a complete asshole – and that was probably the only quality for which I could admire him.  They distance themselves from the qualities of a George W. now because they see how far Rick Perry got.  Against Obama, do they recognize that the broad electorate doesn’t want to have their beer buddy running the country.

As I pointed out in the last post, the Texas Republicans nominated Ted Cruz, happy to tout his education (Harvard and Princeton Eastern Elite again) and his conservative intellect.  It’s almost as if now the Republicans are acquiescing to the probability that they’re going to have their asses handed to them in the debates if they continue munching only on sound bites and emotion.  Reagan could sell his product without any intellectual weight because he carried enough weight by his personality and real conviction.  But Romney is no Reagan, first because he probably doesn’t really believe in anything more than his own ambition and ego, and second, because of that, he can’t mask any intellectual deficiencies in his argument.  He’s actually too smart to set those deficiencies aside and just go with the dogma (and if he does win that’s the only quality that might give me hope though I will remain suspect as to who he would be having advising him).

So they go whole hog and become the Republican intellectual standard bearers.  With Paul Ryan’s selection, the Republicans are abandoning the red meat populism that dragged an even reluctant Romney into the scrum.  I remember, not so long ago, when he was happy to sit back and watch all the “real conservatives” tear each other apart while setting new lows for rhetoric.  But that all changed once he had a real fight with Rick Santorum, who conveniently criticized the educated elitism of it all by never mentioning his own educational background – another 2 advanced degrees – MBA from Pitt and LLD from Dickenson Law School.  What’s good for the goose…

I bet we start hearing a lot less criticism of the intellectual elite in the Obama administration from here on out, since that would open themselves up to the same, finally.  And this is probably a good thing for the election process as a whole.  At least there might be a real discussion of the economic issues Ryan’s selection generates.  But Mitt Romney already is trying to run away from his gaffe “join me…join me in welcoming the next President of the United States” in introducing his VP nominee by distancing his own policies from that of Ryan’s – as if to say, you’ll be electing me and my programs gosh-darnit!  And, of course, the Freudian slip might be that Romney was really saying that by selecting Ryan as the VP, they were all setting up the nexter President of the United States, who is also, like Romney, a serious, smart, man.  And that’s okay!  Embrace it Tea Party…We’ve come a long way when the new Republican VP nominee can be compared to John Kennedy by the Republican Speaker of the House.  But now, if touting smarts is on the table, everything is on the table.

Perhaps Romney chose Ryan because in doing so he can now also feel free to talk to people seriously, and therefore, say what he actually might think (whatever that is).  I don’t believe he’ll actually do this for a minute, but it could be what he secretly might wish for every night ruminating over his latest lackluster performance while nursing a tonic water in his hotel suite (probably the Presidential suite just to get in the mood).  I think he knows how awful he is as a good or convincing panderer.  At least he might now be free to show that he really can “believe” in something specific and different from his upcoming opponent, though I bet instead that they have Ryan tone his dogma down as Romney remains non-specific.

So, will the conversation actually change now?  Given that they have nothing to lose, I think it will, and has to – one last gasp before a potential crushing by a President already acknowledged to be smart.  The dumbing down might have brought a base, who will reluctantly vote for them anyway because they’d rather vote for a smart Irish guy than a smart black guy.  And in trying to get the scraps of the more discriminating center, they throw caution to the wind and now embrace their own educated elitism to go for the hard sell.  But it can’t possibly seem genuine.  Romney will again be nursing his tonic, failing to break the conviction and arguments of a smart guy who embraces being smart.

 

Deals Are Worth Fighting For

So in reading the news this week, a number of events occurred that seem to have no real connection to each other but for some reason struck a common chord for me. Rep. Steven LaTourette, (Rep. of Ohio) announced his retirement.  Tea Party and Sarah Palin-backed candidate Ted Cruz won the Republican Senate Primary in Texas.  Rep. Mike Kelly, (Rep. of Pa) compared the implementation of the women’s health portion of the Affordable Care Act to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, saying the provision of contraception without co-pay for the disadvantaged was an equivalent attack on religious freedom here.  And finally, ta-da! Some Democratic mayors have proclaimed Chick-Fil A not welcome in their cities in an unprecedented exercise of Federalism from the left.

Like Olympia Snowe before him, LaTourette made his decision to retire public, but unlike her, he did not try to couch his decision in any specific piece of legislation.  Snowe was probably the most centrist of all Republican Senators (perhaps along with her Maine colleague Susan Collins who for now has not been blown away by her party’s winds of change).  But amidst her thoughtful condemnations of obstructive and debilitating partisanship in the Senate that now threatens to make the Senate function more like a Parliament – exactly what the beloved Framers did not want – she also couldn’t resist taking a few parting pot shots at the method of passing the Affordable Care Act, and the non-passing of a Grand Bargain before Republican stalling led to a reduction in the country’s credit worthiness.  At the time she claimed that the President wasn’t reaching out enough to the other side of the aisle, which was a pretty specious claim from her since she, as a centrist Republican, got more personal face time with the President than perhaps any other member of Congress Democrat or Republican.  At least she’ll be going out a proven partisan having pandered a little to those cold winds of change.

LaTourette, no-one’s centrist, came though from the mold of legislator where compromise was part of the Democratic process.  He was there to have his voice heard, and bend a few elbows.   “A deal isn’t a horrible thing if you get 55, 60, 70 percent of what you’re looking for, and you have to find your way forward,” he said.   At least that’s a statement from someone who understands that even though he represents his Ohio constituency, he has a national responsibility to participate in Government, and thus understands his constitutional role as the Framers conceived it.  I’m only invoking the Framers because the extreme right self-rightously lays claim to protecting the Framers meaning of the Constitution as if it were equivalent of the ultra-religious laying claim to understanding God’s true meaning as dictated in the Bible.  Given the fact that most of the Framers were Deists, and products of the Enlightenment, I would think that the idea of turning The Constitution into a religious document would have them turning over in their graves.

As for Steven LaTourette, he seems to be feeling that its his own party that’s driving him to an early grave politically.  His own party is now not enabling him to do what he considers his Constitutional responsibility.  So he’s leaving.  I never thought that I’d be lamenting someone with as conservative a record leaving, and perhaps he will be replaced by a representative more in line with my own views.   But even John Boehner, his good friend, is not happy about his leaving.   Very soon Washington will be a very lonely place for Boehner without  ANY voices of reason from his side of the aisle.  If only Boehner were more of the kind of leader the Speaker of the House should be and has been in the past on both sides, more of the Republican newbies would have a healthier respect for how this country was intended to be governed.  Instead, Boehner came into his position pledging to reform how the Speaker acted, pledging to reflect rather than lead his caucus.  So, now, the man in the most powerful position in our government after the President becomes a follower rather than a leader of his branch.  Oh, well,  old-fashioned strong-arming is just not his style.

Funny how nothing at all gets done without any real leadership from both branches of government at the same time.  The President might try to lead,  but without any leadership in the Congress – that is, from both houses simultaneously – progress of any kind will be on hold.   Many on the left complained often enough that this President, early on in the name of “reaching out” that he was slow on the uptake and could have employed some strong-arming himself.  But to what avail?   For a Republican caucus that want to make sure that this President has no forward momentum, this is the perfect state of affairs.  Unfortunately, we better change our system of government to a parliamentary one if we want anything at all to be done at this point.  With “the other side” just in opposition, all we can hope is that we always have the Executive and Legislative branches be from the same party (a de-facto Parliamentary system) if we want anything serious to be done.  Our Constitution set up a different system, one that reflected deliberate government that took all sides into consideration, in short, by endorsing the idea of compromise.  Would that all the sanctimonious proclamations of original intent took this original intent into account.

Which brings me to Mike Kelly.  Dismissing a Constitutionally passed law because of a single issue objection, in this case the fact that contraception is merely covered without a co-pay (but not mandated) as part of The Affordable Care Act, he is willing to compare the law to an assault on freedom the likes of which we haven’t seen since 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, foreign attacks on our soil that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.  The comparison is not only histrionic, but deeply irresponsible for someone who is serving in the government of the entire United States and not just from the Principality of Erie, PA.

Yes, House representatives are there to represent their constituents, but such a red-meat statement is either only the personal opinion of someone who feels un-beholden to his/her job, or is only a ruse to keep his name in the news and thus seemingly important to those not really paying attention.  Never mind that in totality the law he is decrying will provide health care and services that potentially save a lot of women’s lives in cancer screenings and the like.  He might take issue with the law on its merits, or even that small portion of the law.  But dealing with the merits would require some reasonable, thought-out alternative.  It’s so much easier to pick on a personal, emotional issue because it deflects from actually having to think about any real world problem.  In the end, he just doesn’t want any of his taxes subsidizing some girl from the bottom 30% to get the pill because he personally doesn’t believe in contraception.  I might not personally believe that we should fund the salary of legislators like Mike Kelly any more, not because I disagree with his views but because I don’t really think he fully grasps the responsibility of his job, but I live in a representative Democracy and there are a lot of positions I don’t agree with. This idea that we should be parsing out taxes based on our own personal beliefs and couching that in the mantle of freedom and liberty is basically to deny that we live in a complex society with a myriad of views that somehow needs to be organized.  That’s why we have government in the first place and not anarchy.

Again, “A deal isn’t a horrible thing if you get 55, 60, 70 percent of what you’re looking for, and you have to find your way forward,”  Compromise is part of governing.  If you’re not into it, quit, like Sarah Palin did and become a media talking head.  I’m sure it’s an easier job.  It’s no wonder that LaTourette  feels he can’t deal with people like Mike Kelly because Mike Kelly is not interested in hearing, let alone listening to anyone but himself.  Irrespective of whether I agreed with Kelly’s analogy to Pearl Harbor, or 9/11 or not, I’d be very suspect of his ability to engage in the whole shebang of governmental issues.

And it is in this comprehensive aspect to governing where Ted Cruz’s winning the Republican Senate primary comes into play.  Coming out of eek gads Nowhere! – according to the media – because a Tea-Party endorsed candidate won against the Republican establishment of Texas (namely Rick Perry) itself held to high esteem by the Tea Party, Ted Cruz has hardly been coming out of nowhere.  As a Harvard/Princeton educated Solicitor General for Texas who clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist and has argued many a case before the Supreme Court, Ted Cruz was a well established presence in Texas.  He is considered a conservative intellect, was a professor of law at UT.  This in itself is interesting since all of his background puts him at odds with the Citizen/Patriot underpinnings of a Tea Party that has, at least during the bruising Republican Presidential nomination process has been racing to the bottom intellectually – witness Tea Party favorite Rick Santorum’s comments about higher education.

With his background, Ted Cruz seems hardly part of the anti-intellectual crowd, and, in fact, seems more part of the hated East Coast Educated Elite (liberal or conservative).  Though he was backed by no less an intellect than Sarah Palin, I wonder what someone with his background would actually do once he would be elected to National office in the Senate.  He might now be claiming that his primary goal will be a wholesale repeal of Obamacare, and might also be able to back his position up with reason (that’s the scary part!), but the educational tradition from which he comes points to dealing with the issues more from an intellectual rather than an emotional point of view.  Plus, I would find it difficult for someone of his background not to consider the issues seriously.  He might still come up with solutions I abhor, but at least I might be able to understand where he’s coming from.  At least he might be interested in engaging.  Yes, we don’t know anything about him really, but neither do any of the people who might feel he is one of them.  My suspicion, in the end, is that he’s a lot smarter than what they want.  They might be supporting  on a single issue – Obamacare – but I doubt that is all he would have in his back pocket  if he did get to the Senate.  I also wouldn’t doubt if he might find himself after 6 years going the way of LaTourette, retiring because he found the discussion less than stimulating in the world’s greatest deliberative body. It’s the deliberative part that we, and they, are all forgetting about.

And so finally, and ignominiously, we come to the end of our pattern-finding with John Stewart’s skewering of the Democratic mayors going all High Noon against Chick-fil-A.  There’s nothing more annoying when you see people from your own side making colossal fools of themselves and joining the noisy, sanctimonious crowd we’d rather make fun of.  These Mayors, making pronouncements for their cities that a company is not welcome because of the personal views of it’s chief executive – not an elected official but a civilian like the rest of us – does what exactly?  Are they trying to say they will fight the establishment of additional stores?  Or will they try to run them out of town?  Or will they sick the cops on them to shake them down so annoyingly that they’ll just pack up and leave because it won’t be worth the effort?  In fact, none of these things will happen.  There are a whole host of companies run by people who might personally disagree with Democratic Party positions, like Dominoes Pizza, or Carl’s Jr., or dare I say it, In-and-Out Burger – all anti-choice, but I don’t see anyone trying to run them out of town.  So why Chick-fil- A?  Why indeed?  Better to concentrate on the amount of salt and fat in the sandwich, and claiming that the local hospitals can’t afford to cover the results of eating one.  At least there are real consequences there.  In the meantime, let Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy dig his own grave – in the American Way.  People will vote with their feet.  If Chick-fil-A is truly not the Boston way, for example, lack of business will cause them to close up shop, or in a long shot, cause Cathy to rethink going public with his personal feelings.  Instead, these Mayors, in their zeal, created an issue for the right where non before existed.  Suddenly a protest lead to the biggest sales day in Chick-fil-A history, fueled by fanatics who would stuff fast food down their gullets as an expression of personal freedom while being completely disconnected to how they will be paying the health care price for their protestations in the future.  I can imagine a scenario when one of these folks suddenly finds himself without health care, finds himself suffering from high blood pressure, and waiting in a state supported emergency room all in the name of freedom.

Can we all just acknowledge we are part of society?  Personal feelings have no business running business…or in running government.  And I hate to have to say that about Dems as well as the Mike Kellys of the world.

 

Proving Love by Sowing Hate

Much has been made recently in this election cycle about the question of President Obama’s relationship to Israel. Edgar Bronfman’s recent article in the Jewish Journal, Obama Has Helped Make Israel Safer, and Ben Cohen’s Obama and Israel: Degrees of Separation, are two thoughtful and well reasoned analyses backed up by the record. Mr. Bronfman’s piece is certainly coming from the position of being a supporter of the President’s actions while Mr. Cohen’s is more critical of the lack of emotional connection the President displays toward Israel than has been felt by Presidents in the past. One can certainly not agree with Mr. Bronfman’s conclusions, but one cannot dispute the facts of this Administration with regard to Israel. What is not at issue is any relevance of an emotional connection one might or might not perceive in President Obama. While I do not agree with the underlying tenor of Mr. Cohen’s piece, I can respect his position. What I would like to address here has more to do with the reaction in reader comments to these articles.

Ultimately what is always at issue to supporters of Israel, myself
included, is the commitment of the current administration to Israel’s
security, to the objective of peace and how peace fits into the long
term security concerns of the Untied States. But irrespective of any
emotional attachment I, or anyone might have to Israel, as both a
country and an idea, it is the latter issue that is, and should be, of
utmost concern to the Chief Executive of this country. And I say
that as a Jewish American who enjoys the maximum amount of
freedom in an open society committed to pluralism—at least in the
ideal.

The fact of the matter is that any politician in national office in the
United States is going to be “pro-Israel.” This was true in 1948, and
is even more true today. The race to produce pro-Israel bonifides in an
election cycle should always be considered just what it is, pandering.
Both sides of the aisle can be found to act in this way, the specifics of
which are rarely followed through to the letter once the candidates
have to make real world decisions. Often these commitments are,
unfortunately, made without any attention to facts – the same facts
these people will consider when in office – and are more concerned
with telling people what they want to hear, stoking the fires of fear
and anxiety, and being strangely vague on specific solutions. In
short, they play it safe by acting as a mirror to their audience. I,
however, would rather hear specific approaches and points of view
from the candidates I might, or might not, elect.

With regard to President Obama, the denigration of the current
administration is nothing more than an albatross to scare a public
into a position for which they have a tough time sorting through the
facts. As soon as President Obama was elected, he put the peace
process front and center and thus became the only President to
actually make good on his campaign promises on this issue. Both the
Clinton and Bush administrations put the peace process, and thus the
relationship between the US and long term Israeli security on the
back burner well into their 2nd terms when the political price was
significantly lower. And yet the perception is that both Presidents
were avid, unquestioned friends to Israel – emotionally true, yes, but their de-prioritizing attention to the long term issues points away from emotion being of paramount importance.  What is important is action.

But as Mr. Bronfman points out, this current administration has
supported Israel more fully and more immediately than any other. If
one wants to look at the facts, I would suggest an easy Google search
or a visit to Factcheck.org. An easy search of Barack Obama and Israel
will show that today, July 31, 2012, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud
Barak has said

“I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are
extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years [and]
administrations of both sides of [the] political aisle deeply supporting the state of
Israeli [sic] and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American
people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President
Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can
remember in the past.”

I would think that Ehud Barak would have unquestioned bonafides
with regard to Israel. However, why listen to the Defense Minister of
Israel when one can keep harping on the fact that the President
hasn’t made an official visit?  Here the criticism is fully emotionally
based, without regard to the actual effects in the real world. A visit
to Arab countries, as President Obama did to Egypt, to engage them
in the peace process in a new world of democratic awakening, and
after the diplomatic damage caused by the previous administration
(again, only engaging in the peace process at the very end of the
term), was certainly more urgent and potentially productive than a
photo op in Israel, where support is actually unquestioned. This is
just the reality. And with fully engaged visits by Mr. Biden and Mrs.
Clinton, this administration has been active on the ground, where it
matters, at the highest levels with both the Israeli government under
Mr. Netanyahu and with the Palestinian Authority.

And yet, despite this immediate, high-level attention, and despite
claims of willingness to engage this attention, Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s behavior while in the United States, said otherwise. His
agreeing to an invitation by the Republican leadership to address the Republican controlled House, automatically integrates him and his administration into the partisan politics of this country, while building up his own political credibility at home.  Despite the general failure to produce any meaningful results from his visit here, there was a wealth of political benefit for both himself to his constituency and the Republicans in the House whose primary goal, by their own admission, is to see the President defeated.

Among all of this noise, one must remember that PM Netanyahu’s is
but one government in a series of Israeli governments, a short-term
snapshot of a particular time. Previous governments have had
different relationships to both the peace process and the
administrations of the United States. And their differing views didn’t
make them less pro-Israel or less patriotic. It is a testament to the
workings of Democracy that we can always “vote the bums out” if
we disagree with them, but with regard to international relations,
democratic countries usually, and rightly, defer to the long-term view.
And with regard to Israel, we must also maintain a long-term view.
It is therefore perfectly okay to have a difference of opinion with an
Israeli administration without having one’s Pro-Israelness questioned.
We must maintain a long-term view.

President Obama’s, and any President’s, first responsibility is to the
security of The United States. A Democratic Israel is certainly
in the best interest of the security of the US. But the long term view
is the one that needs to be applied. And a two state solution is the
only one that will guarantee that Israel remains demographically
Jewish and therefore truly Democratic. To throw the hysterical
moniker of being “anti-Israel” because one believes in the two-state
solution – the defacto policy of the United States since 1967, and has been the
basis of every single comprehensive peace negotiation since then – simply is to
ignore the fact that we as Jews, the Israelis and the Palestinians
ultimately will have to make painful decisions. As any therapist, or
conflict manager, will tell you, it is far better to confront pain early
than let it fester. Change is truly frightening. There are never
guarantees of success and never will be up front.

But calling President Obama no friend to Israel, singling out George
Soros, a Holocaust survivor, or all the people working on behalf of
the Pro-Israel/pro-peace organization J Street as being anti-Israel
because they are critical of the decisions being made by the current
government of Israel, (not the same thing) is no way of getting to a
solution. By that criterion, one would also have to say Yitzhak Rabin,
Ehud Barak and even with extrapolation, Ariel Sharon, would be
called to task with regard to their emotional connection to Israel.
Please disagree if you want, but don’t question my or anyone’s love
because you disagree with our solutions to a complex problem.
I try my best to be an avid reader of all points of view and really
strive to understand the positions I don’t personally agree with. In
fact, understanding these positions makes me able to argue against
them all the more effectively. I invite everyone who has the
inclination to lambast J Street to take a look at their website, who
wants to check the facts to go to Factcheck.org, or maybe, just do a
little homework. Digest the information, understand the point of
view of being both Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace all in the effort for
expanding knowledge. Throwing emotional canards and spreading
uninformed invective only serves to lower the level of discourse,
actions that only lead to hatred and never to a solution.

There’s nothing scarier than to learn something that might change
your mind. But if we, as Jews, are supposed to work to heal the
world, let’s treat all points of view with respect, and learn as much
about our neighbors as we can before forming an opinion. And if
one wants to criticize the President, let’s have that criticism be backed up by real facts and not by sound bites, invective, and…well…hate.