Friday, August 24, 2012

August 24, 2012
A new book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, by James Mann and Norman Ornstein, describes how polarized American politics has become. It identifies two problems; the first is that the major parties have become "more ideologically coherent, internally unified and adversarial." As to the Democrats, that is true only in an historical sense: years ago, the conservative southerners left and the party became rigid, although not unified, on certain social issues.74 The authors’ reference to both parties sounded like the introduction to an equal condemnation. That, however, is not what they have in mind, as they identify the second problem thusly: "[H]owever awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, the Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."75 To me, that is the problem, and it plus the dithering weakness of the Democrats describe the present situation.
As to the former, it’s not just that the daily attacks from the right are partisan and it isn’t just a matter of exaggeration or distortion; such tactics would be nothing new and Democrats hardly are above using them. It isn’t just the shameless hypocrisy, or the outright lying, or the disdain for the 99% while trying mislead them into thinking that their interests and those of the 1% coincide. It isn’t just an inability to learn from history, an ignorance of science or an or ideological warping of facts, although by here things are adding up to an extreme position. What is striking to me is that so many of the claims are not merely false; they are absurd: Obama is a communist, a fascist, a Muslim, a foreigner, the anti-Christ; he is planning detention camps; he’s going to hand over sovereignty to the United Nations; the administration staged the Aurora shooting in order to impose gun control.
And its not just the nutty fringe babbling nonsense; pundits, party officials and those elected to high office have joined in.
Michael Gerson decided — in April, 2009, three months after the inauguration — that Obama is the most polarizing President in recent history, not only a premature appraisal, but one reached by ignoring the source of the polarization. Following the election of 2010, conservative writers cheered a return from the brink. Charles Krauthammer claimed that the first two Obama years were an "experiment in hyper-liberalism.” To George Will, the election “was a nationwide recoil against Barack Obama's idea of unlimited government.” To Kathleen Parker, the election was "a fight over capitalism.” Obama the centrist became Obama the Marxist.
The Affordable Care Act generated some of the stranger comments. Sarah Palin claimed that the health care act created death panels. OK, she’s on the fringe, but Sen. Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, pushed that myth. While the health care bill was pending in Congress, Sen. Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, was asked, “will government-run health care . . . end up killing more people than it saves?” and answered, “absolutely.” Rep. Steve King,* Republican of Iowa, and Rep. Louie Gohmert,* Republican of Texas, made inane comments to the effect that people die waiting for treatment under "socialized medicine." According to Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, we had more to fear from the bill "than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.” John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, declared that the bill would "ruin our country."
Rep. Addison Graves (Joe) Wilson, Sr.,* Republican of South Carolina shouted "you lie" during President Obama’s speech on health care reform in 2009. Rep Paul Broun,* Republican of Georgia, during the 2011 State of the Union address, tweeted "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism." (This on an occasion when Republicans and Democrats "sat intermingled . . . in a show of civility intended to honor wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords . . . ."76) Sen. James DeMint,* Republican of South Carolina, described Obama as "the world's best salesman of socialism." Former Republican Governor Mike Huckabee, referring to projects like "health care rationing," said "The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be dead, but a Union of American Socialist Republics is being born. . . . Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff."77 Rep. Allen West, Republican of Florida, charged that there are at least 78 Democratic members of Congress who are also members of the Communist Party.
Rep. Pete Sessions,* Republican of Texas, thinks that Obama's program is to reduce employment and suppress stock prices in order to damage the free enterprise system, all this being part of a plan to consolidate power. Rep. Bobby Schilling, Republican of Illinois, thinks Democrats are "very anti-capitalist." When asked whether he thought Obama had a strategy to make America fail, he responded that "a lot of people" think that the slow recovery "is being done on purpose." The irony of that is the distinct possibility that Republicans have stymied recovery efforts not only out of ideology but in order to blame Mr. Obama for the continuing pain and to defeat him this year.
Rep. Todd Akin,* Republican of Missouri, now a candidate for the Senate, has become infamous for his remarks on rape. He also believes that “the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God,” that President Obama is a "flaming socialist," and that "America has got the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in." Medicare and school lunch programs apparently are part of that overreach.
Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, cited Genesis to prove that global warming is a hoax: "The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous." That’s the Rush Limbaugh theory. Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, cited the same passage in opposing cap-and-trade legislation. In an effort to show that they are up to date, each also cited the New Testament. Shimkus declared that there is a "theological debate" as to whether there is too much carbon in the atmosphere. Apparently the medieval quality of proving scientific issues by scripture doesn’t seem odd to them. (Inhofe claimed, several years ago, that he had "insisted all along that the climate change debate should be based on fundamental principles of science, not religion." Perhaps his "science" wasn’t holding up, and he needed help from another source).
Inhofe also relies on Genesis to establish that Israel should occupy the West Bank. In a speech to Congress, he referred to Genesis 13:14-17 in which land is promised to Abraham and added, "That is God talking." This of course simplifies the issue: "This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true."
Rep. Michele Bachmann,* Republican of Minnesota, denounced the compensation fund set up after the BP oil spill as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund." Rep. Joe Barton,* Republican of Texas, called it a shakedown by the government. Sen. Inhofe likened the EPA and OSHA to the Gestapo.
A former Republican staffer, referring to King, Bachman, Broun, West and Foxx, summed up the situation this way: "the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: . . . The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy."78
Reince Priebus, GOP Chairman, repeated the false charge, made by the Romney campaign, that the Affordable Care Act stole $700 billion from Medicare, and added this hysterical touch: "If any person in this entire debate has blood on their [sic] hands in regard to Medicare, it’s Barack Obama. He’s the one that’s destroying Medicare." This from the head of the party which wants to destroy Medicare.
John Sununu, Romney campaign chairman and former Republican governor of New Hampshire, blurted: "I wish this president would learn how to be an American." Did he really mean that ? Well, yes: Obama “has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, . . . and, frankly, when he came to the U.S. he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure . . . .79 Romney added that Obama’s "course is extraordinarily foreign.”
It may seem unfair or unrealistic to keep harping on the sins of one of the parties, which partially explains why the media are so reluctant to do so. However, the criticism not only is fair and realistic, it is necessary if anything is to change. Later in their book, Mann and Ornstein repeated the description of the GOP quoted above, adding that it has "all but declar[ed] war on the government."
This election matters. It can’t be a good idea to put people who think like that in a position to wage war from within.
* Members of the Tea Party Caucus.

74. Later, they offered a more accurate description of the contemporary Democratic Party: "while no paragon of civic virtue, [it] is more ideologically centered and diverse, protective of the government's role as it developed over the course of the last century, open to incremental changes in policy fashioned through bargaining with the Republicans, and less disposed to or adept at take-no-prisoners conflict between the parties." It’s Even Worse than It Looks , p.103.>
75. Id. at xiv. A similar quote was included in an article by the authors in The Washington Post on April 27, 2012. The article was more direct in placing blame, and was titled, "Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem."
77.  78. Mike Lofgren, on Truthout in September, 2011.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August 7, 2012

Harry Reid’s speculation about Mitt Romney’s taxes has prompted a surprising amount of criticism. Reid cited an unnamed investor in Bain Capital for the proposition that Romney is refusing to release tax returns because he hasn’t paid income taxes for ten years. Reid acted irresponsibly, relying on one source who may not know anything and pushing a claim which is unlikely on its face. However, his attack is no more out of bounds than daily assaults on Obama.
Also, his charge has been more or less translated into a statement of fact, which it wasn’t, quite. The erratic Fact Checker on the Washington Post awarded Reid four Pinocchios while admitting that,"[w]ithout seeing Romney’s taxes, we cannot definitively prove Reid incorrect."
The strangest response is Romney’s: "Harry Reid really has to put up or shut up." From someone whose failure to put up, to release his tax returns, is the underlying subject, that takes nerve, or something. Romney added that we’ll probably find out that Reid’s source was the White House.73 Fact check, anyone?

73. Interview by Sean Hannity, 8/2/12:

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