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A Lost Generation? November 4, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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 John Judis is pessimistic:

What this election suggests to me is that the United States may have finally lost its ability to adapt politically to the systemic crises that it has periodically faced. America emerged from the Civil War, the depression of the 1890s, World War I, and the Great Depression and World War II stronger than ever—with a more buoyant economy and greater international standing. A large part of the reason was the political system’s ability to provide the leadership the country needed. But what this election suggests to me is that this may no longer be the case.

[…] The Republicans may not have a mandate to repeal health care, but they do have one to cut spending. Many voters have concluded that Obama’s stimulus program actually contributed to the rise in unemployment and that cutting public spending will speed a recovery. It’s complete nonsense, as the experience of the United States in 1937 or of Japan in the 1990s demonstrated, but it will guide Republican thinking in Congress, and prevent Obama and the Democrats from passing a new stimulus program. Republicans will accede to tax cuts, especially if they are skewed toward the wealthy, but tax cuts can be saved rather than spent. They won’t halt the slowdown. Which leads me to expect that the slowdown will continue—with disastrous results for the country.

And that is not the whole of it. As Judis points out, new industries, the only exit strategy from economic stagnation, will require government seed money  that the Republicans will block. Legislation to mitigate global warming will not pass. Budget deficits will skyrocket because tax cuts will be the only legislation that will get through Congress.

The most telling story was the contrast between Obama’s speech yesterday and the remarks of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell today.

While a contrite Obama extended a cooperative hand to the GOP, and suggested a willingness to compromise on everything from tax cuts to energy policy to health care, McConnell simply asserted that the aim of the GOP over the next two years is to make Obama a one-term President. From Steve Benen:

At President Obama’s press conference yesterday, he used the word “compromise” three times. The phrase “common ground” came up an additional three times. The president referenced working “together” 11 times. When ABC’s Jake Tapper, in the context of the debate over tax policy, asked, “So you’re willing to negotiate?” the president replied, “Absolutely.”

All of this sounded quite reasonable. But what I can only hope is that Obama and his team realize that Republican leaders have plans for the next Congress, and “reasonable” isn’t on the menu.

There’s been some talk lately about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceding that the “single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Let’s not forget, though, he keeps saying it.

The only objective the GOP has is political, to regain the White House in 2012. They have no plans to help anyone but their financial supporters.

The U.S. is a very large and dynamic country with tremendous wealth and human resources. But no amount of wealth or resources will be sufficient if we ignore reality. Politics in a democracy is not a game of winners and losers but a mechanism for developing strategies to confront problems. A country that ignores facts, ignores history, and fails to grasp the scope and nature of its challenges will never meet them; decline is inevitable.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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So What Happened On Tuesday? November 4, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, ethics of care, politics.
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The short answer is that lots of people lost their homes, their jobs, and their security for the future. The Democrats promised to give them some relief and they didn’t deliver—the public resents that. Since there is only one other party on offer, they chose Republicans.

People who feel resentful are not inclined to coolly assimilate the fact that Democrats made things less worse or that Republican free market radicalism cost them their well-being in the first place. The attention span of American voters can be measured in minutes. If nothing else, the GOP has proven that if you are going to fail, fail so spectacularly that the other team can’t fix it in the short run.

Here are a few facts that the majority of the voting public apparently don’t know:

We now have a health care system that insures thirty million more Americans than were insured before Obama took office, substantial tax cuts for middle-class Americans, a bailout of Wall St. from which the public will make a profit, a massive economic stimulus that saved millions of jobs, and an economy that has grown for the past four quarters. The calamitous job losses that characterized the end of the Bush Administration have ended and corporate profits are again on the rise.

But a recent poll shows that by a margin of two-to-one, those most likely to vote believe taxes have increased, the economy has shrunk, and the billions of dollars of bailout money will never be recovered.

As usual, Democrats made the mistake of thinking that if they play fair and do a competent job of managing the bureaucracy and the policy apparatus of government, the public will reward them with approval. But the voting public looks at politics as a morality play, not a policy seminar. The optics of bailing out Wall St. and Detroit while ignoring homeowners, small business owners, and construction workers cannot be changed by earnest management. Especially when Democrats themselves have a reputation for being handmaidens of casino capitalism and corporate welfare. Passing much needed health care reform is laudable but its benefits are too long term to affect this burgeoning resentment in the short term.

The GOP are masters at manipulating resentful, myopic, low-information voters; the Democrats wouldn’t know resentment if it bit them in the ass. (Oh. It did. We will see what they have learned)

At the close of the Bush Administration I published a book, Reviving the Left, in which I argued four claims: (1) Voters respond to underlying value systems, not policy proposals; (2) conservatism despite its superficial moral appeal is a form of nihilism, (3) managerial, interest group liberalism, because it refuses to articulate a competing value system, is ineffective as a political ideology; and (4) liberalism can be revived only by adopting a grassroots-fueled ethic of care that emphasizes our moral obligations to each other.

This election season tends to confirm all four propositions. Obama had to bail out the banks to maintain some semblance of a financial system. Had he shown the same care for homeowners and workers I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Although his campaign was vague enough to raise doubts, I had some hope that Obama understood (1), would fight to make (2) clear to the public, recognized the limits of managerial liberalism, and would begin the process of transforming liberalism into a viable political force with a powerful moral appeal. None of this has come to pass. My biggest disappointment is the utter collapse of the grassroots, youth-fueled organization that played such a role in his election. Democratic indifference toward that movement was obvious this election season. According to Ed Kilgore, “As Voters under 30 dropped from 18% of the electorate to 11%; African-Americans from 13% to 10%, and Hispanics from 9% to 8%. Meanwhile, voters over 65, the one age category carried by John McCain, increased from 16% of the electorate to 23%.”

Can we turn this around? I suppose hope springs eternal. Hope is by nature resistant to evidence but susceptible to vanity.

But without hope one has nothing.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

The Big Lie August 29, 2010

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“The Big Lie” is an expression coined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf that refers to a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. In 1984 George Orwell explains how it works. “The key-word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”

And as a propaganda technique it is working very well for Republicans.

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alder:

Our maddening times demand that the truth be forthrightly stated at the outset, and not just that the president has nothing in common with the führer beyond the possession of a dog. The outlandish stories about Barack Hussein Obama are simply false: he wasn’t born outside the United States (the tabloid “proof” has been debunked as a crude forgery); he has never been a Muslim (he was raised by an atheist and became a practicing Christian in his 20s); his policies are not “socialist” (he explicitly rejected advice to nationalize the banks and wants the government out of General Motors and Chrysler as quickly as possible); he is not a “warmonger” (he promised in 2008 to withdraw from Iraq and escalate in Afghanistan and has done so); he is neither a coddler of terrorists (he has already ordered the killing of more “high value” Qaeda targets in 18 months than his predecessor did in eight years), nor a coddler of Wall Street (his financial-reform package, while watered down, was the most vigorous since the New Deal), nor an enemy of American business (he and the Chamber of Commerce favor tax credits for small business that were stymied by the GOP to deprive him of a victory). And that’s just the short list of lies.

Polls measure just how effective it is:

In 2008, 13 percent of Americans were under the misimpression that he was a Muslim. Now the figure is 24 percent. One explanation may be that Obama’s connection to his Chicago church was fresher in the public mind then. But the deeper problem is a growing number of people who think the president is not just disappointing or wrongheaded but dangerous. More than half of Republicans surveyed (52 percent) think it’s “definitely true” or “probably true” that Obama “sympathizes with the goals of fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” This says more about the mindset of the GOP than about Obama. It reflects not just the usual personal and partisan animus of the age (George W. Bush was subjected to exceptionally nasty attacks from the left) but a flight from facts—a startling disconnect between a quarter of the country and what some of Bush’s aides once disparagingly called “the reality-based community.”

Part of the difference between the use of the Big Lie by today’s conservatives and ordinary partisan bickering is that the Big Lie is being promoted by mainstream political figures:

Meanwhile, the right-wing and left-wing backbenchers who once sharply attacked each other in Congress, then walked off the floor arm-in-arm as colleagues, now barely speak. And the congressional leadership is getting into the venom game. When the racist Gerald L.K. Smith charged in 1937 that FDR was a secret Jew (he later called Dwight Eisenhower a “Swedish Jew”), no one could have imagined that the Senate minority leader would be asked about it, much less tacitly endorse the claim. But there was Mitch McConnell last week saying that “I take the president at his word” when he says he’s not a Muslim. That’s what’s known in politics as a “dog whistle”—a coded message to followers. Many conservatives don’t accept Obama’s “word” on anything. McConnell was thus giving them permission to consider the president’s faith an open question, even as he said it wasn’t in dispute.

Why would a “responsible” politician like McConnell engage in Big Lie propaganda? As usual in Republican politics, just follow the money. Via Frank Rich in the NY Times:

ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.

Vive la révolution!

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are. […]

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

The other major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which, like Americans for Prosperity, is promoting events in Washington this weekend. Under its original name, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks received $12 million of its own from Koch family foundations. Using tax records, Mayer found that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions. That figure doesn’t include $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying and $4.8 million in campaign contributions by its political action committee, putting it first among energy company peers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Since tax law permits anonymous personal donations to nonprofit political groups, these figures may understate the case. The Kochs surely match the in-kind donations the Tea Party receives in free promotion 24/7 from Murdoch’s Fox News, where both Beck and Palin are on the payroll.

And we should be under no illusions about these benign public-spirited businessmen trying to make our country a better place to live.

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is).

So when can we expect the Democrats to fight back against the Big Lie? Frank Rich is not holding his breath.

When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their “crusades of suspicion.”

And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself.

Obama is too busy burnishing his bi-partisan credentials trying to win the votes of people who think he eats babies for breakfast.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Confronting Hatred and Ignorance August 15, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in politics.
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President Obama is being justly praised for his political courage in standing up for religious liberty in the face of the ugly and shameful anti-mosque campaign waged by conservatives. (It is really an Islamic community center, not a mosque)

“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.

But, he continued: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are” . . . .

There was no political upside to his stand and a good deal of political risk since polls show overwhelming nationwide opposition to the mosque.

This is just another example of conservatives lining up with majorities in the American public to treat an unpopular minority as an enemy. This is not only Anti-American; it is stupid given the fact that we need the cooperation of Muslims in the fight against terrorism. Obama stood by American principles and articulated what is best about us in contrast to the bigotry and ignorance we usually hear from the right (and from the public).

The issue has implications outside of New York. In Tennessee:    

Residents demand construction on Mosque be halted

  Several county residents spoke at Thursday night’s monthly Rutherford County Commission meeting in opposition to a proposed Islamic Center on Veals Road.

   Most demanded construction be halted and stopped short of demanding the buried body of a Muslim on their property be exhumed.

   The 52,000-square foot Islamic Center of Murfreesboro was approved earlier this year by the Regional Planning Commission under a new state law that allows religious institutions to build whatever they want in residential neighborhoods as a “use of right.”

   Residents who spoke want the county commission to reconsider their approval claiming Islam is not a religion and expressing fear that Islamic Sharia law will be imposed on Murfreesboro citizens.

Islam is not a religion? Building a mosque is equivalent to imposing Sharia law? It not hard to detect the ignorance and bigotry here.

Unfortunately, many Democrats have not been so willing to step up. Via the NY Times:

Few national Democrats rushed to Mr. Obama’s defense; party leaders, who would much prefer Mr. Obama to talk about jobs, were mostly silent. Two New York Democrats, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Representative Jerrold Nadler, however, did back Mr. Obama. But Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor here, distanced herself, while Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, defended the president.

“I think he’s right,” Mr. Crist told reporters during an appearance with the president at a Coast Guard station here.

This is just another example of Democratic politicians lacking the stomach to defend American values. They should do the right thing and support their leader.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Obama Derangement Syndrome (academic edition) July 12, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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This is what happens when you are so enamored of an ideology that all reason is suspended. Even well-trained, intelligent economists can succumb to ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome.)

Economist Mark Thoma asks:

What has happened to Ed Prescott?:

Stephen Williamson: …Ed Prescott did pathbreaking work in the economics profession, and his Nobel prize is well-deserved. His work with Finn Kydland made macroeonomists more quantitatively disciplined, and serves as a benchmark for most of the work done in macro in the last 30 years, including New Keynesian economics, models with financial frictions, and incomplete markets models. However, I doubt that there were any people in the room yesterday who took Ed seriously. Ed’s key points were: 1. Monetary policy does not matter. 2. Financial factors are the symptoms, not the causes, of the recent downturn. 3. The recession was due to an Obama shock, i.e. labor supply fell because US workers anticipate higher future taxes. Bob Hall suggested that this would require a Frisch labor supply elasticity of about 27, which seems ridiculous. However, Ed stuck to his guns and thus seemed – well, ridiculous. As a basic framework, the real business cycle model is obviously useful – you can’t argue with a basic framework of preferences, endowments, technology, and optimal choice. I think we know by now, though, that financial factors have a lot to do with what we are measuring as TFP (total factor productivity). We certainly should not be listening to suggestions that central banks are irrelevant – these institutions can clearly reallocate resources in a big way when they want to.

Prescott isn’t alone in pushing the “Obama shock” idea. The claim is that the recession is due to a labor supply shock where workers collective decide to work less due to one government program or another, or some type of technology shock.

So let me get this straight. There are professional economists who think that, beginning in late 2007 when Obama was still a U.S. Senator, substantial numbers of people decided to stop working because they were afraid that in 2009he would become President and their taxes would increase?

I would guess a third-grader would know that is ridiculous.

First of all, I don’t know anyone who makes a decision about whether to work or not based on future tax rates. Secondly, if I did make my decisions to work based on future taxes and I thought taxes would go up, wouldn’t I work harder now to take advantage of the lower present rates and protect myself against future losses? Finally, one of the first things Obama did upon taking office was lower taxes. So wouldn’t these workers be scrambling to find jobs now to take advantage of the low tax rates while they last?

What is going on here is that right-wing economists have a lot invested in the “efficient markets hypothesis”—the view that free markets always get the allocation of resources and hence prices right. When the market doesn’t get it right they have to invent some ad hoc explanation of the anomaly that protects their pet theory.

Obama sends right-wing ideologues over the edge. Their brains are so addled they cannot come up with even a remotely plausible hypothesis.

Their intellectual dishonesty is mind-boggling.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com