Republicans in Congress need to understand that there will be a political price to them, not only to the president, if they force the United States into reneging on its contracted obligations. They need to hear that message from inside, from donors and supporters. That’s not a “pro-Obama” message as some hot-heads charge. It’s a pro “full faith and credit” message. The Obama program can (and in large measure should) be repealed. But default is not an acceptable tool of politics.
Brooks’ column is a manifesto for the times, it should be nailed to the Republican equivalent of the church door at Wittenberg.
Whenever I start talking about issues regarding the budget, I tend to get a few responses that go like this: the Democrats are pragmatic and the Republicans are crazy.
I tend to roll my eyes when I hear that because I tend to think it’s too simplistic and tends to look at any and all political issues in a black and white viewpoint. I like to believe life is a lot more complicated than that. That, and most of the folks that are saying this seem to be hard partisans that will always find the other side as crazy while they are rational and sane.
While I don’t think the entire GOP is nuts, there is always a bit of truth in everything. There are those in the GOP who I think are able to control the debate when it comes to the budget. They have turned tax policy into a religion and not in a good way.
David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for basically squandering a perfect opportunity to get control of federal spending. As Brooks notes in today’s column, the GOP has in many ways “won” the debate on spending and has forced the Democrats’ hand when it comes to the budget.
But instead of declaring victory and making a deal which would include closing tax expenditures and maybe even raising taxes, the party has not budged from its “no-taxes” stance, risking the federal government to default in a month’s time. Here’s what Brooks notes about the GOP.
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.
A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.
This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
Brooks pretty much tears the GOP a new one for not acting like a political party that makes deals and instead like a protest movement that doesn’t allow for any compromise.
And he’s correct in doing so.
Politics is and has always been a mix of compromise and principle. It’s one thing to talk use ideology as a governing framework to guide oneself in a democratic society. It’s is another thing to use ideology as something to hide behind, to keep yourself from governing and representing the people.
What the GOP is being asked to do is to accept closing some tax loopholes and subsidies. Yes, that would mean “taxes would rise.” But really, are we talking about raising rates back to the Eisenhower era of 9o some percent? No.
What this comes down to is what the GOP wants to be in the next few years. It can choose to be a governing political party that accepts compromise and takes into account that there is another political party that they have to deal with, or it can choose to be a protest movement that doesn’t care as much about governing than it does getting accross it’s ideological message. It can’t be both.
Republicans have an opportunity to make more inroads in 2012. They actually might have a chance to win the White House. But if the party chooses ideological conformity over responsible governing, they can expect to see those chances slip away. As David Brooks says at the end of his column:
The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.
If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.
And they will be right.
David Frum wonders why with a 9 percent unemployment rate, people in the States aren’t taking to the streets ala Egypt:
Jon Stewart has some fun with Fox News personalities like Glenn Beck who worry that “we might become Egypt.” Yes silly obviously. But behind the silliness is a serious question: Isn’t the most remarkable thing about the US in 2011 precisely the absence of protest by the unemployed and foreclosed? Here we’ve gone through the most protracted economic crisis since World War II – in many ways the most severe crisis – a crisis directly attributable to terrible business decisions supported by government policies bought-and-paid-for by powerful financial interests – a crisis out of which so many of the authors have escaped unscathed (unlike say 1929-33) and indeed richer than before. And yet … the only populist movement the country has seen is a movement of the right, in defense of the existing rules and arrangements? I can think of many explanations, and yet at a deeper level I remain baffled. I expected otherwise.
There are few things about this paragraph that interest me. I’m not an economist, but compared to the Great Depression, unemployment is not as bad. The figures that I keep hearing bandied about is that the unemployment rate was about 25 percent back then as opposed to nearly 10 today. Having one in ten people unemployed isn’t good, but it’s not one in four.
Several left-leaning and/or centrist blogs have talked about the fact that there is more income inequality in the United States than there is in Egypt, which again leads some to wonder why there aren’t demonstrations in our major cities. There is also a counterargument that has appeared on many right-leaning and or centrist blogs that state that the poorest American is richer than the poorest Indian.
All of this is to say that it’s hard to equate what is going in Egypt to what is going in the United States. They are two different nations with different systems. It might be that people here might have it bad in the wake of the Great Recession, but they know its not as bad as it could have been. When it comes to why people aren’t demanding blood from the bankers that helped us get into this mess, we forget that in 1929 there were few safeguards to protect average people. There was no FDIC for one thing. In this day and age, people aren’t losing their bank accounts and they have things like unemployment insurance when they are without work to keep them from utter poverty.
The thing is, while things are bad today, they are not as desparate economically as they are in Egypt or as they were in American circa 1932. Which might be why folks aren’t hitting the streets in protest.
What do you think?
The reading of the US Constitution on the House floor this week has brought about a lot of debate. As a child of the 70s, I am always reminded of the Schoolhouse Rock clip on the Preamble, which I remember to this day:
Of course, back then I didn’t really yet understand our nation’s internal battle concerning slavery and how it made its way into the Constitution. Years later as a young adult, the question came forth if we could put much faith in our founding documents since they were written by people who supported slavery.
David Frum wrote an article today which seems to put the congressional Republicans to task for ignoring those more offensive parts of the Constitution which talk about slavery:
The Constitution “as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries” had as one of its primary intentions the protection of slave property.
Article IV, Section 2 required free states to return runaway slaves to their owners.
Article I, Section 2 – the notorious “three-fifths clause” – conferred disproportionate power within the national government to slaveholding states. (Absent the 3/5 clause, for example, John Adams would have defeated Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election of 1800.)
That same three-fifths clause also effectively prohibited Congress from using its taxing power to suppress slavery.
Article I, Section 9, protected the slave trade for 20 years, also creating a 20 year window for slave states to bulk up their numbers under the 3/5 clause.
Slaves were among the most valuable forms of property protected by the Fifth Amendment: by some calculations, the cash value of the slave property of the South exceeded the value of all real estate in the South.
Slavery was not some minor dispensable detail. It was integral to the whole system of government as originally intended, and it took a terrible war to put an end to the consequences of that original intent.
On the one hand, I know what Frum is trying to get at: the festishzing of the Constitution by conservatives. (It’s interesting how the Constitution is invoked so fervently by the party out of power.) But Frum might be unintentionally be bringing up another issue: can the Constitution be trusted? Can a document that sought to legitimize slavery be something to praise and look up to?
I think the answer has to be yes. Despite its flaws, the Constitution can be trusted, and it is praiseworthy and a document that grounds Americans in who we are.
As an African American, I can only say that because like the nation it guides, the Constitution has changed over time. As we understood what freedom meant, we keep changing the document to fit the changed circumstances. So yes, it did have things pertaining to slavery, but in subsequent amendments it also sought to end slavery and grant rights to African Americans. Later on, the Constitution was amended to give women the right to vote (which reminds me of another Schoolhouse Rock video, but that’s for another time).
The fact is, the Constitution is an imperfect document for an imperfect nation. And yet, people still look to this document as a source of freedom. It may be lost on Frum, but as much as the Constitution impacted my ancestors who came here as slaves, it also made a difference in freeing their ancestors and in allowing me to have the freedoms I have today. The dark splotches of racism are there in the Constitution and try as we might, we can’t erase them. But there are also moments of sunshine, moments that remind us that’s it’s all about “We the People,” and that people means all of us.
I don’t worship the Constitution, but I do honor it as a document that reminds us of what our nation can be and what it is. I’ll take it warts and all.
One of the knocks against blogger Andrew Sullivan is his fascination with Sarah Palin, to point of wondering whether or not her youngest child is really hers or not. He has been pilloried on the right for this, but he has also recieved a few knocks from the center and the left as well for writing about the former governor day-in and day-out. I know personally, I’ve not read Sullivan the way I used to once, and part of the reason comes from his staying focused on Palin.
Now it seems that David Frum is heading down the same path. Frum is a smart-writer and thinker, and I’ve been pleased to have some of my writings show up at FrumForum. But lately he has also been focusing on Palin a bit too much.
It’s been puzzling enough to me to wonder why Palin has become such a fixation on the Left, but it is even moreso a mystery why some centrists and conservatives are also obessesed with her.
I’ve been wondering why Sullivan and Frum are so Palin-obessed. Why do we care about woman that didn’t even serve a term for governor? Why do folks who used to be or are on the right want to pore through every book she’s written and watch her reality TV series?
I asked this question to frequent commenter Bubbaquimby who replies:
I think they see in her the manifestation of everything they see that is wrong with the GOP (anti-elite, very socially conservative, uncompromisable, more rhetoric than substance, etc). So they see themselves as heroes off to slay the evil dragon.
For one they are just preaching to the choir and in someways go off the deep end with craziness (more so Sullivan). They have really convinced themselves that she has a chance of winning the nomination. I just don’t see it, granted I don’t even think she will run.
But what I find odd is, wouldn’t they want her to win? I mean her getting trounced by Obama in some ways would be the best thing to moderate GOP. It would be like what Mondale/Dukakis did for the Dems. It finally killed off the old left.
To which I say: yup. Sullivan and Frum are the only ones obessed with Palin, but for those who are worried about the direction the Republican Party is taking, Palin provides away to package all those fears into one person. She becomes the living embodiement of the modern GOP. Now that we have a known demon, we can hurl all our hate towards it and feel like something is getting done.
In a slightly more odd take, the blogger zomblog thinks there is a sexual thing going on with Palin- haters. I don’t know if I buy his take, his point that seeing her as some kind of sexy, evil bully gives the opponent a sort of moral superiority makes a whole lot of sense.
But while it might make the opponent feel good, I wonder if it also prevents said person from actually doing anything else. Palin obession reminds me of the Star Trek episode called “The Man Trap.” A creature that needs salt shapeshifts into attractive women to lure men. She then is able to extract the salt from the men leaving them dead.
So it is with Palin obession. People are drawn to her and start attacking her. They build her up as an unstoppable threat to GOP and to America. It drains the energy of fellow conservatives from focusing on how to reform conservatism. Why do you want to talk about tax policy or new ideas, when you can focus on what is seemingly the source of all your problems?
Sarah Palin isn’t the source of all that’s wrong in the GOP. The problems are pretty complex and the solutions even moreso. But the more we all focus on her every move the more power she draws from us.
As Bubba notes, focusing so much on what’s wrong with the GOP and/or conservatism is a dangerous game. Conservative critics start focusing so much on what’s wrong with conservatism, the stop focusing on what’s right. That’s what happened with Andrew Sullivan. He righly focused on some of the drawbacks of modern conservatism, but then started focusing on them so much that conservatism became nothing more than its weaknesses and not its strengths.
If there is one conservative writer that has learned not to focus on Palin, it would be David Brooks. He has written about the GOP and conservatism’s shortcomings, but he has also written about what is good with conservatism and has provided some ideas to boot.
In the end, if conservatism is to be reformed, we have to move forward and not get tied up in distractions like Sarah Palin. Don’t fall for her lures.
Commenter Bubbaquimby responds to my post on David Frum possibly leaving conservatism:
I guess instead of trying to reform conservative, I would rather have him reform the GOP. And there is a big difference between the two.
Conservatives know they can win the GOP and can also win in most non-presidential years by just being true to their rhetoric (small gov’t, fiscal responsibility, etc). Because they have such a large ID (41%).
However that won’t always be the case and Frum knows it, but instead of talking about why moderates and center-right people should become more active and start taking principled stands against right wingers, he says why conservatives should change.
I don’t think conservatives are going to change (well on social stuff I think they will but only because of time). I think the only way to help the GOP is to actually start working for moderates instead of continuing to just be a critic of the right. When you have valid conservative reasons for things, use them and if they are moderate than own that too. You need to tell why your vision is better than any Democratic vision.
For instance I tend to be a paleo when it comes to foreign policy, there is a long tradition of it in the party, I don’t have to take being called a liberal dove, their the ones that have used a Wilsonian foreign policy to get us in two unending wars and erosion of our civil liberties.
The moderates and moderate-conservatives need to man up as they all say these days, stop blaming conservatives for all the problems, stop being afraid of the RINO call. It’s conservatives that are RINO’s because they only care about the conservative movement and not the party. I guess I just tend to agree with the Douthat/Salem way (even if I don’t agree with their book) give reasons to change the party, not changing ideology.
I think Bubbaquimby is right on. I think the problem here is that people like Frum (and I have to count myself in this mix)tend take on too big of a task in reforming conservatism and not simply the party. Conservatism is made up a big institutions such as think tanks and media organizations which have been built up over the last four decades or so. It is a hard to task to try to change institutions that have in effect become ossified. Such tasks lead to disillusionment.
But maybe we need to focus on a smaller task and start looking at setting up new institutions that can provide an alternative vision. What if there were new think tanks and media sources that provided a new vision within the GOP? What if we stopped focusing on Sarah Palin for a moment and start working on getting credible people to run in the GOP for state and national offices.
Bubbaquimby is right: those of us who fashion ourselves as dissidents need to “man up” and stop whining about what conservatives are doing wrong. We aren’t going to change them, but we can change the party.
It’s time to quite complaining and start building.
So, I have this question that’s been buzzing around in my mind lately:
How long will it be until David Frum leaves conservatism?
This isn’t a joke or anything against Frum; he’s one of my favorite thinkers when it comes to reforming conservatism. But I’ve observed over the last few years that a lot of folks that claimed the conservative reformer mantle who end up leaving the movement in anger and frustration.
In recent years, folks like Michael Lind, Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett have basically given up on seeing a renewed conservatism. Most of them were loyal followers who started to see problems within conservatism and the GOP. They sounded the alarm in books and in blogs. They soon got challenged by folks who were once ideological brethren. They kept seeing the problems and sounding the alarm and kept getting hammered until at some point, they break with the movement, seeing it as nothing but problems.
I sometimes wonder if that’s the trajectory that Frum is following. He has bravely seen the faults in conservatism and tried to bring them to attention, only to get a lot of flack from old friends.
But at the end of the day, will he hang on to help fashion an alternative vision of conservatism, or will he give up and become a basher of American conservatism instead?
I think it’s hard to swim against the tide. At some point your arms fail you and you just think it’s better to get out of the water.
My hope is that will he will continue fighting the good fight. But history suggests that he will at some point leave conservatism.
I hope that I’m wrong.
A blog post from Dave Sessions over at The American Scene delves into the issue of the Tea Party and diversity…again. This time it deals with a conversation between a caller and conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh about the use of Spanish during an NBC football game. Sessions sums up that white fear (not racism) is a part of the Tea Party movement:
Anyone who insists the Tea Party is not animated by a distinctively white unrest should read that whole thing three times slowly. I’ve had several conversations lately with people who insist, as Glenn Beck and other Tea Party leaders have done, that the movement is not about racism or xenophobia. I believe them. I doubt than anyone outside a small fraction of the activists who have marched in Washington openly despise black people or have personal antipathy toward the Hispanic immigrants in their hometowns. (In mine, they work for virtually every local business, and Mexican flags fly uncontroversially alongside the U.S. and Texas flags at many auto dealerships.) But one cannot listen to the exchange above and miss the clear sentiment behind the expressed concern: distinctive American culture, which happens to be the way white middle-class people who speak English live, is “under assault from within.”
I think Sessions is correct that “white panic” is a major part of the Tea Party movement and he is also correct that this panic is not the same as pure racism. I don’t think white Tea Partiers somehow hate blacks and other folks who aren’t white.
But while Sessions doesn’t say that such folk are racists, he does at the same time seem to imply that these folks are not the norm:
People who dismiss the “white fear” interpretation of the Tea Party will no doubt accuse me of presenting anecdotal evidence, or say that Rush Limbaugh is not a Tea Party leader. That’s fair enough, and focusing on this undercurrent in no way suggests it is the only thing the Tea Party is about. But the ubiquity of the type of conversations like this “Fútbol Americano” exchange among the Tea Partiers I know, the reflexive undercurrent of hostility toward anything—Spanish, mosques, bike lanes—that is not distinctively American, gives something away. They are not just under assault from a Democratic president, but a host of vaguely-defined foreign invaders, just like Richard Hofstadter described in “The Psuedo-Conservative Revolt.” It just so happens that most of the defenders are white Christians and most of the invaders are something else. And the fact that these Americans can make wild connections between 20-second Spanish advertisements during NFL games and the “degradation” of American culture shows us something about what’s going on inside their heads.
A lot of African Americans as well as conservatives and liberals well versed in diversity will no doubt say that the Tea Party is racist or like Sessions say that its driving force is racial resentment and leave it at that. When such statements are made, we who have issues with the Tea Party movement can either look at them with fear or with contempt. But what we don’t do is figure out what is fueling that racial resentment. It is simple racism or is it something more complex?
There is no doubt that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Angelo Codevilla are adept in stirring the racial and ethnic pot. But I believe there is more going on than the tired old story of conservatives being racist.
I think this racial resentment and fear is more of symptom than it is the disease itself. A changing America, with the first African American president as its symbol, is a threat to those who feel left behind by this changing nation. While working African Americans have been hammered over the last 30 years, so have working class whites. Their story is less well known, but they tend to live lives of quiet desparation, seeing their way of life dissapear.
Back in July, Virginia Democratic Senator James Webb stirred things up in an op-ed where he talked about the economic concerns of working class whites. He makes a case that race-based affrimative action programs have done harm to poor whites and need to cease. He wrote:
In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt created a national commission to study what he termed “the long and ironic history of the despoiling of this truly American section.” At that time, most industries in the South were owned by companies outside the region. Of the South’s 1.8 million sharecroppers, 1.2 million were white (a mirror of the population, which was 71% white). The illiteracy rate was five times that of the North-Central states and more than twice that of New England and the Middle Atlantic (despite the waves of European immigrants then flowing to those regions). The total endowments of all the colleges and universities in the South were less than the endowments of Harvard and Yale alone. The average schoolchild in the South had $25 a year spent on his or her education, compared to $141 for children in New York.
Generations of such deficiencies do not disappear overnight, and they affect the momentum of a culture. In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks’ average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.
Policy makers ignored such disparities within America’s white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.
Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.
I don’t know if we should abandon Affirmative Action, but we should consider long and hard how are we to help poor whites get leg up in this swiftly changing environment.
Why should a black guy like me care? Because I grew up in a working class town where poor whites as well as poor blacks came to town to work in the auto plants. When those jobs went away, it hit both just as hard. They scrambled for work saw their ways of life dissappear. If you want to know why Michigan has so many white folks in the milita movement, you might want to look at the loss of auto jobs. Back in the 1980s, a group of white men killed an Asian man they thought was Japanese. Was it racist? Yes, but it was also fear of losing a decent way of life because the Detroit and the rest the auto industry was in the crapper.
In a recent column, Ross Douthat noted that being left behind in a changing America tends to fuel paranoia. He was talking about white Christians being underrepresented in elite colleges, but he could have been referring to the economy as well:
Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.
This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third- world immigrants, and so forth.
But Douthat also concludes that because white liberals have little contact with poor whites, they also have a jaundiced view of them:
Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland.
In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.
So, how do we solve this? Well, one way is listening to Tom Joad again. Using the lead character from the Grapes of Wrath, David Brooks says its time for a progressive, nonideological center to arise and work to spread middle class wealth again. He notes that affluent liberals and anti-tax conservatives have crowded out any concern for the standards of the middle class, even as jobs dissapear. I would add that unless there is a center that listens to the white working class as well as others, we will continue to have movements fueled by white panic.
It’s time that we give a damn about Tom Joad, instead of looking down at him.
Viriginia Governor Bob McDonnell is in the news for reviving the tradition of issuing a proclaimation declaring April as “Conferderate History Month.” His two Democratic predecessors did not issue such a proclaimation.
Not surprisingly, this is causing a bit of a stir among civil rights groups. David Frum, who has the proclaimation in full, thinks the document is “anodyne” not endorsing slavery.
Looking at the document, it does seem rather bland, and I doubt that McDonnell is trying to start some kind of culture war or as Frum said a lust for Confederate nostalgia.
But while it may be “inoffensive” on one level, it is still pretty bad and will hurt the GOP in the long run. As James Joyner notes, this will open up old racial wounds:
I agree with McDonnell and SCV spokesman Brandon Dorsey that the legacy of the Civil War is complicated and I understand the desire to honor the sacrifices of one’s ancestors and to remind people that the war was about more than slavery and that, in any case, the men who fought it — on both sides — were motivated by other issues. Even in the north, the war was about Union, not abolition.
But proclaiming Confederate History Month, much less after it had ceased being customary, reopens old wounds while doing next to nothing to heal them. The classic Simpsons answer, “Slavery it is, sir!” is what people will remember about the war. And flying the Confederate flag and otherwise glorifying the war is simply offensive to most black Americans and quite a few others. And, as Hardy Jackson, as ardent a lover of the South as any man alive, taught me, it’s simply bad manners to go around hurting people’s feelings for no good reason.
While this statement might be “meaningless” it does make it look like, yet again, Republicans don’t care about African Americans. I don’t think McDonnell did this to hurt the feelings of African American Virginians, but it does that just the same. While there might have been other causes that helped start the Civil War, we all know the main cause was slavery. Issuing a proclaimation for people who for the most part supported keep my ancestors in chains is a tad bit offensive and is hurtful. The proclaimation allows blacks to believe that the GOP does not care about them.
The best thing that McDonnell could have done is just not issue a proclaimation. Leave the history of the Civil War to the historians.
While California might be looked at as a liberal bastion, there was a time when the Golden State was a reliable Republican vote. Could become a red state again? Writing his weekly column for CNN, David Frum thinks there’s a good chance California could become a red state again.