Archive for the ‘Election’ Category
In the New Yorker Amy Davidson tries to make sense of Ted Cruz. Emphasis added:
“President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America—it is nothing less than lunacy,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.”
The next day, at a middle school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Cruz spoke even more openly about those whom he considers to be the good people in the world. He told reporters that we should accept Christians from Syria, and only Christians, because “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” [He did say that. Amazing ignorance. – LG] This will come as a profound surprise to the people of Oklahoma City and Charleston, to all parties in Ireland, and to the families of the teen-agers whom Anders Breivik killed in Norway, among many others. The Washington Post noted that Cruz “did not say how he would determine that refugees were Christian or Muslim.” Would he accept baptismal certificates, or notes from pastors? Does he just want to hear the refugees pray?
On Monday, President Barack Obama reacted to this suggestion with some anger. “When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said. (That last bit, about “families who’ve benefited” when fleeing persecution, was an unmistakable reference to Cruz and Marco Rubio.) Obama continued, “That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.” The question is whether Obama can put that compassion to use, in this precipitous moment after Paris, when so many bad choices will seem appealing, including attacks on our fellow citizens. (On Monday, Donald Trump said that, though he’d “hate to do it,” as President he would “seriously consider” closing mosques that were viewed as centers of radicalism.) The real criticism is that the United States has taken so few Syrian refugees of any religion—just about fifteen thousand, all of whom have been screened by a process that can take up to two years.
Cruz is cruder than some, but he is not alone among Republicans. On Sunday, Jeb Bush also said that, although he isn’t entirely opposed to helping refugees who’d been screened, “I think our focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore.” (Christians were ten per cent of Syria’s population when the civil war broke out.) . . .
Ben Carson cannot sink out of sight too soon for me. The guy seems to have as little integrity as knowledge. Kevin Drum notes in Mother Jones:
Ben Carson really, really hates medical fraud. Seriously: “There would be some very stiff penalties for this kind of fraud,” he wrote a few years ago, “such as loss of one’s medical license for life, no less than ten years in prison, and loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”
Unless, that is, the fraudster happens to be Carson’s best and oldest friend. In that case, you write a letter to the judge saying, “there is no one on this planet that I trust more than Al Costa.” And it worked. Costa was a dentist who pleaded guilty to billing insurance companies for procedures he didn’t perform, but in the end the judge sentenced him only to a year of house arrest in his 8,300-square-foot mansion.
AP has the story here. But if you want some serious details about this whole case, Russ Choma has them right here at MoJo. Carson, needless to say, insists that Costa was innocent all along and was railroaded by the justice system. That’s how things work in Carsonworld. There’s the good guys and the bad guys, and Carson knows in his heart exactly who they are. As for facts, I guess they’re just chaff thrown out by secular progressives to destroy good Christians.
Worth reading: short post plus a chart.
Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:
Steve Benen on the Rubio-Lee tax plan:
At first blush, it’s tempting to see Marco Rubio’s economic plan as a dog-bites-man story: Republican presidential campaign proposes massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, even while saying the opposite.
Benen goes on to manfully make the case that Rubio’s tax crankery actually doesdeserve extra special attention, but I’m not sure he does the job. Sure, Rubio’s deficit would be humongous, but so would everyone else’s. And Rubio has a helluva mountain to climb to take the top spot in the tax craziness derby. Let’s roll the tape:
- The “sensible” candidate says his tax plan will boost growth to 4 percent a year. His advisors have basically admitted that this number was pulled out of thin air.
- A second candidate, not to be outdone on the absurd growth front, says his plan will cause the economy to take off like a rocket, producing growth as high as 6 percent. How will he manage this? “I just will.”
- Another candidate suggests we adopt a tax plan based on the Biblical practice of tithing.
- Yet another candidate, apparently thinking that tithing isn’t quite crazy enough, proposes an even lower flat tax.
This is all fantasyland stuff. So why doesn’t the media hammer them more on it? . . .
I alluded to George Packer’s analysis of what’s going on in the GOP in an earlier post. Take a look at this passage from his article:
In 2012, Wehner co-authored an essay in National Affairs, titled “How to Think About Inequality.” He concludes:
The problem in America today is therefore not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. This means not simply strengthening the bonds of trust and mutual respect among citizens, but also equipping Americans—especially the poor—with the skills, values, and habits that will allow them to succeed.
In other words, the way to think about inequality is by looking down, not up. It’s not the wealth amassed at the top but, rather, the lack of “skills, values, and habits” at the bottom that accounts for the widening income gap. Oddly, Wehner’s essay barely mentions the economic struggles of the middle class. A close look at the three middle quintiles of income, where Americans with an education, a job, and a spouse can be found treading water or sinking, would have forced him to reconsider the notion that a lack of “social capital”—as opposed to just capital—explains the entire problem.
Even though the reformocons recognize the difficulties of the middle class, they prefer to focus not on income disparities but on “mobility,” which describes how individuals fare across their own life span and in comparison with past generations. Levin told me that the word “growth”—the unconvincing mantra of supply-siders—was losing its hold on conservatives. When Jeb Bush predicted that his economic policies would lead to four-per-cent economic growth, a level not seen since the late nineties, the claim was either ignored or derided. “ ‘Mobility’ is much healthier,” Levin said. “It’s the right lens to talk about the economy.”
But there’s a reason to look up as well as down the economic ladder, and it has nothing to do with envy or with punishing the rich. Economic stratification, and the rise of a super-wealthy class, threatens our democracy. Americans are growing increasingly separated from one another along lines of class, in every aspect of life: where they’re born and grow up, where they go to school, what they eat, how they travel, whom they marry, what their children do, how long they live, how they die. What kind of “national community” built on “mutual obligation” is possible when Americans have so little shared experience? The Princeton economist Alan Krueger has demonstrated that societies with higher levels of income inequality are societies with lower levels of social mobility. As America has grown less economically equal, a citizen’s ability to move upward has fallen behind that of citizens in other Western democracies. We are no longer the country where anyone can become anything.
Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the over-all economy. (Critics call this the “financialization” of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession.
Inequality is also warping America’s political system. Greatly concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands of the few—even in a democracy with free and fair elections—which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It’s no accident that we’re in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged. Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it’s one of those insights that only an élite could miss. And it’s backed up by evidence as well as by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S. government unless they’re favored by corporations and the wealthy—even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers is simply the most unseemly example.
The reformocons like to quote Lincoln, but not this memorable sentence: “Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar.”
George Packer has written a long and thoughtful article in the New Yorker about the struggles within the Republican Party as it tries to get itself ready for the 2016 election. It’s well worth reading. It begins:
One recent morning at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, D.C., Peter Wehner, a conservative writer who served as an adviser for the past three Republican Presidents, described his party’s problems over a bowl of oatmeal. He said, “We got clobbered in 2012”—the fifth Presidential election out of the past six in which the Republican candidate lost the popular vote. “There’s a demographic problem. White votes are going down two points every year. We’re out of touch with the middle class.” Mitt Romney—whose very hair embodies wealthy privilege—was nominated at a national convention, in Tampa, that became an Ayn Rand-style celebration of business executives, the heroic “makers.” During the campaign, Romney wrote off forty-seven per cent of the country—the “takers”—as government parasites. He went on to lose badly to President Barack Obama, whom Republicans had regarded as an obvious failure, a target as vulnerable as Jimmy Carter. In the shock of that defeat, Wehner said, some conservatives realized that “there was a need for a policy agenda that reaches the middle class.” He added, “This was not a blinding insight.”
A generation ago, Democrats lost five of six Presidential elections; in 1992, Bill Clinton, calling himself a New Democrat, ended the streak. Clinton didn’t repudiate the whole Democratic platform—government activism on behalf of ordinary Americans remained the Party’s core idea—but he adopted positions on issues like crime and welfare that were more closely aligned with the views of the majority, including some rank-and-file Democrats. The message, Wehner said, was as much symbolic as substantive: “ ‘We’re not a radical party; we’ve sanded off our rougher edges, and you can trust me.’ ” He went on, “The hope for some of us was that our candidate in 2016 would be the Republican version of Clinton”—a conservative reformer who, having learned from past defeats, championed economic policies that placed Republicans on the side of the hard-pressed, including non-white Americans, the soon-to-be majority.
For fresh ideas, such a candidate had only to turn to a group of Republican thinkers who call themselves “reformocons,” of whom Wehner is a leader. Last year, the reformocons published a pamphlet of policy proposals called “Room to Grow,” on health care, education, taxes, entitlements, and other topics. In an introduction, Wehner writes, “Americans do not have a sense that conservatives offer them a better shot at success and security than liberals. For that to change, conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns, speak to those aspirations and worries, and help people see how applying conservative principles and deploying conservative policies could help make their lives better.”
The essays don’t upend Republican orthodoxy. They argue that government should intervene on behalf of poor and middle-income Americans, but in ways that apply market principles to public policy, taking power away from Washington and giving individuals more options. Some proposals are familiar: school choice, health-care savings accounts. Others are more daring—for example, having college education underwritten by private investors, then repaid over the next decade as a predetermined percentage of graduates’ earnings. A few ideas, such as a wage subsidy that would increase the pay of workers making less than forty thousand dollars a year, building on the Earned Income Tax Credit, could easily garner bipartisan support.
“Room to Grow” contains a striking description of the American economic landscape: children born into poverty with little chance of escaping it, and middle-class families overwhelmed by the rising costs of health care and education while their incomes stay flat. It’s not that different from the story that Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Massachusetts senator, tells. After years of ignoring these stark realities—or of blaming big government, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan—some Republicans have begun to sound more like Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt.
The reformocon project shows how extreme mainstream conservatism has become in its opposition to anything involving the state. The reformocons court right-wing censure simply by acknowledging that the middle class is under pressure, and that government has a role to play beyond cutting taxes. The reckless, and ultimately doomed, shutdown of the federal government by congressional Republicans, in October, 2013, precipitated the first conference of reformocons, in Middleburg, Virginia, and that led to “Room to Grow.”
When the 2016 Presidential campaign began, an organizer of the conference, April Ponnuru, became a policy adviser to Jeb Bush. Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, read an essay by Wehner and Michael Gerson, a speechwriter in the Bush White House, titled “A Conservative Vision of Government,” and expressed approval to an aide. Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, sought policy advice from several reformocons, including Yuval Levin, who, as editor of the quarterlyNational Affairs, is the group’s foremost intellectual. Earlier this year, Rubio published a book, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” interwoven with the personal stories of struggling Floridians. Most of the policy ideas came directly from “Room to Grow,” a debt that Rubio acknowledged effusively.
To the reformocons, the Republican Presidential race appeared to be stocked with candidates who were eager to take the Party into the twenty-first century. “I thought it was a group of people who would make that case,” Wehner said. He looked up from his oatmeal with a wan smile. “But then came Mr. Trump.” . . .