Tag Archives: Democrats

The Downgrade of Detroit

Walter Russell Mead has a great essay on why Detroit is in such bad shape and it has very little to do with the auto industry. As many know Michigan Governor Rick Snyder finally called for an emergency financial manager to come in to stabilize the city’s finances. While many are seeing this state takeover as a power grab by a white, Republican governor who will steal democracy from a majority African American city, Mead places the blame where I think it duly belongs:

It’s true that the emergency manager law is taking power away from Detroiters and other Michigan urbanites, and we certainly hope that the state can return control to the people as soon as possible. But despite the fears of a hostile outside takeover, most of Detroit’s problems come from the corrupt political machine that has been looting the city for decades — and from the indifferent state and national prosecutors and politicians who failed to address the lawless state of city government and left the city’s poor to the mercies of heartless thugs.

Following in the footsteps of cheap foreign demagogues like Robert Mugabe, Kwame Kilpatrick and others of his ilk have played relentlessly on identity politics to earn support from poor, minority communities while using the power of their office to funnel money out of these same communities and into their own pockets. And while Kilpatrick—who was just convicted of 24 charges of corruption—may be the worst of the lot, he was far from alone.

What they have left behind is a city where taxes are among the highest in the nation, yet which can’t afford to pay its pensions, provide adequate police service, or keep the lights on.


There are a lot of factors that fed into the rapid decline of Detroit.  Yes, the auto industry had an effect, as did white flight.  But even more than these factors, it was the decades of corrupt leadership that did the city in.  What’s a shame is that most of the leaders that are to blame are African American.  We should have received better from these leaders and now the city and the state of Michigan are left having to clean up the wreckage.

What ‘Tax the Rich’ Gets You

Mike at the Big Stick points to a blog post by Iowahawk on the fallacy that taxing only the rich will solve anything.  It’s pretty tounge-in-cheek but the point is made: raising taxes soley on upper incomes won’t solve our fiscal problems.  Mike says it best:

The point is that while the rich are a convenient target for the Left it’s a fantasy to believe that raising taxes on them will create financial solvency. What is necessary, in my opinion, is raising taxes on all but the poorest Americans and cutting spending deeply. Anything else is pointless.

Indeed. Much has been said about the conservative fantasy that all fiscal problems can be solved by cutting the budget. But it is equally silly to think that “the rich can pay for it all.”

There is saying that Americans want Swedish-style government at Mississippi-style prices. If we want to make sure that government is well funded and sustainable, then both sides will have to give up their fantasies and come up with some mixture of spending cuts and increased taxes accross the board.  Anything else is a pipe dream.

Or Is It the Democrat’s Waterloo?

A few days ago, Walter Russell Mead wrote about liberalism and unions that wonders aloud if the Democrats can wrap their minds around the massive change taking place in society.  He takes Paul Krugman and the New York Times to task for being stuck in and old way of thinking:

Krugman and the Times editorial board are both examples of something important in American life today: left-liberal intellectuals are increasingly able to understand that individual supports of the blue social model are crumbling.  But they are still so captivated by the blue model, so profoundly convinced that the Progressive movement’s solutions to America’s social ills in 1910 are still valid today, that they cannot yet look beyond the blue model to imagine a different and brighter future for the United States.

Mead considers himself a liberal, but wants Democrats to see the hand-writing is on the wall and come up with a new social contract.

The drama taking place in Wisconsin makes me think that Scott Walker and the Republicans are on the right track, but not totally.  The Republicans are correct that “big government” in the way it has existed over the last few decades no longer works.

But man cannot live on budget cuts alone.  As Mead notes government is going to have to become leaner, but that doesn’t mean it has to become meaner.  So far, Republicans don’t have an idea of what government should look like in this new era other than “smaller.”

I think the Democrats have a chance to envision that new way of governing, but right now they are too caught up in shoring up what worked so well circa 1967 to think about new ideas.

The Center Cannot Hold

Solomon Kleinsmith links to an article by Major Garrett about the decline of centrists in Washington.  It’s actually the summation of a longer article in the National Journal about how the two political parties in Congress have grown more and more apart.

Not that long ago, Washington used to be a place full of individual, and individualistic, lawmakers who were both capable and willing to defy party labels and the party orthodoxy to make things happen. That was also a world, paradoxically, where party infrastructure mattered more; a place and time when local, state, and national party machinery exerted at least some influence over candidate selection, fundraising, endorsements, and field operations. The irony is that in that era of greater party influence, lawmakers acted less predictably and with less partisan zeal.

National Journal‘s vote ratings in 1982 found, to cite just one example, 60 senators who could credibly be described as operating in the ideological middle. Back then, 36 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted in ways that put them between the most liberal Senate Republican, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, and the most conservative Democrat, Edward Zorinsky of Nebraska. The number of those in the broad middle in the House was 344. The ideological poles were defined by liberal Republican Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island and conservative Democrat Larry McDonald of Georgia.

Garrett goes on to explain that political parties don’t have the power they once had.  This in turn has led to lawmakers becoming independent contractors that tend to be more robotically partisan.

Garrett is right to a point, but where I disagree is the rise of outside groups that have basically taken over the process that political parties once had.  Last year in Delaware, it was the GOP establishment that thought that moderate Republican Mike Castle would have the best shot at gaining the Senate seat that had been occupied by Vice President Joe Biden.  But the Tea Party was able to put forth Christine O’Donnell and through legwork and fundraising was able to beat Castle.

What has changed is that party bosses knew they lay of the land and was able to pick candidates that fit the locale.  The outside groups are not as concerned with what candidate can win in Massachusetts as opposed to Texas.  They want more ideological conformity and will pay good money for it.

Political parties of decades past were designed more for the masses.  In the days when there were only three major networks, the political parties had to welcome people from various walks of life.  This meant that there had to be more cooperation and compromise.  But in an age of Facebook, where people can tailor their experiences so that they only hear what they want to hear, cooperation becomes more impossible.

As we look at the ongoing mess in Wisconsin, I have to wonder if such a scene would have existed 30 years ago.  Listening to all the rhetoric on both sides, you get the sense that neither side listens to the other.  Both sides see the other as a threat to all that is good and true about America, instead someone to talk to and maybe come to a compromise.

So, how are we going to solve some of the major problems coming down the pike when we can’t talk to each other?  And can organizations like No Labels turn things around?

Pre-judging Mitch Daniels

Alex Knapp is not so impressed with Mitch Daniels:

Looking at the Republican field for 2012, I’m more than a little disheartened that the most prudent and fiscally conservative contender for the Republican nomination is Mitch Daniels.

The same Mitch Daniels who, as director of OMB, oversaw a federal budget that went from a $236 billion suprlus to a $400 billion deficit.

The same Mitch Daniels who stated that the cost of the Iraq War would be “only about $50-60 billion.” (Actual cost to date — over $800 billion and climbing.)


Now, I’ll be fair. I’m only now starting to look at Mitch Daniels. I haven’t had a chance to review his record as Governor. Maybe it’s an improvement.

But in the past few weeks I’ve heard him bandied about as the “fiscally conservative” candidate, and I have to say the first time I heard that, I laughed.

I find his criticism mean-spirited and ignorant.  He never bothered to check Daniel’s record as governor, something Daniels has been doing for about seven years, he bases his opinion on the few years he was OMB Director for President Bush.  I mean, all he had to do was look up Daniels via Google to get some more info.

If you want to judge Daniels on his fiscal conservatism, fine.  But at least have the decency to judge his whole record and not just selective bits.

What an idiot.

Assault on the Middle Class?

E.D. Kain thinks that the current mess in Wisconsin is proof a sustained assault on the Middle Class by conservatives and libertarians:

So why does Wisconsin matter? Because this is a pivotal battle in that fight. What happens in Wisconsin could be a bellwether for things to come. If Walker wins, expect other like-minded governors to attempt the same thing, and many of them will likely win. If he loses, organized labor may have bought itself a bit more time. But the new class war will continue. Unless the public narrative can be recaptured from the Tea Party and the austerity now crowd we won’t see it end. Unless Democrats wake up to this threat, the party itself could be undone.

Now Erik has clearly picked a side in this debate.  I think personally, he is missing the larger picture that people like Chris Ladd are picking up on; that we changing from a society where there was something like “labor” to a society of entrepenuers.

That doesn’t mean that I think folks like the Tea Party have the answer, but does it mean that they want to weaken the Middle Class to favor the rich?

I’m interested in everyone’s ideas and opinions on this matter.

Stop Making Sense

The fallout from the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others on Saturday has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch. 

It’s been fascinating because the gun barrels had yet to grow cold when people starting pointing fingers and assigning blame.  It’s frustrating because we seem to be more interested in blame than in stopping for a moment and simply mourning the loss of life.

Since Saturday, everyone has been trying to offer some explaination about what happened.  The one issue that keeps coming up again and again is the tone of political rhetoric in our daily disc0urse.  The more nakedly partisan among us dig up maps used by Sarah Palin and point to the former governor and the larger conservative movement as the problem.  The less partisan bring up calls for more civility.  More than one fellow pastor has called for our political speech to be more charitable.

All of the folks in question swear up and down that such speech is not what killed six people and injured 13 others, but in reality, that is exactly what they are saying.  They are saying inflamed speech, such as the use of crosshairs on an ad by a certain former Alsakan governor, is what lead to the massacre in Tuscon.

But the reality is, we really don’t know why Jared Loughner decided to open fire at a Safeway.  We have a lot of odd writings that don’t seem to make sense.  On Saturday, James Fallows admitted that many an assasin has shot someone for motives that really had nothing to do with anything:

– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

And Ross Douthat’s  Monday column shows that the assisnation of John F. Kennedy was not due to the anti-Democratic climate in Dallas at the time:

When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

I think part of the reason there has been all this talk about cooling our political speech is because we want to find some answer for this tragedy.  We want to make sense of the horror.  What better way to make sense of this all than to pin the blame on something or someone else?

But can we really blame it on inflammatory speech?  Crosshairs aside, was anybody really calling for the assasination of Representative Giffords?  And if the culprit is speech, then how in the world do you “cool down” down the rhetoric?  Is this simply a moral problem that can be solved by faith communities or is it something that requires the state to take part?

People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like.  It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts.  But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on.  We want to, but  we don’t.  There is no easy answer to this situation. 

And that scares us.  Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason.  We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.

There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so. 

What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did.  Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds.  Many people think he might have saved her life.

Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting.  As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.   

The book of Job is a biblical account of a man who goes through immense suffering.  He loses everything- including his children and is visited by his three friends.  Later on, the three friends try to offer reasons for Job’s sufferings, which were never much helpful.  At the beginning, though, they met with Job and just sat with him. 

Sometimes, in times of tragedy, nothing needs to be said.  We just need to sit, mourn and pray for those lost.  We don’t have to make sense of everything.

Wishing for a New Politics

I want to write this long post about how politics in the United States is  broken and how a new politics needs to emerge- but the words not coming to me right now.  In the meantime, Walter Russell Mead’s latest essay on what he calls “Liberalism 5.0” will have to do.  The blog post made me think that the American center and center-right is in some ways still operating in the old Liberalism 4.0 framework.  (I tend to think the No Labels effort is a longing for post-war consensus politics.)  If there is going to be any way to make the GOP a “Grand New Party” and one that counters the Sarah Palin/Tea Party narrative, then it has to come from a new politics, not a rehashing of the old.

Read the essay and tell me what you think.

Happy Holidays.

Governing In A Partisan World

Christine Todd Whitman has a good op-ed in the latest Ripon Forum on bipartisanship.  Here is what I think is the take away:

One challenge that demands Congress’s full attention, for example, is energy. The United States has not had a national energy plan in decades, and the need for one has never been greater. With the U.S. Department of Energy estimating a 28% increase in electricity demand by 2035, energy companies have to start making decisions now that will affect ratepayers down the line – and even now is bordering on “too late.”

For the environment and energy, it’s clear that societies cannot thrive if the people don’t have clean air to breath, clean water to drink and open space to access. Similarly, the environment needs a thriving economy to fund the next round of clean technologies or to preserve precious open space. And both the environment and the economy need reliable, affordable energy to thrive. Yet, over the course of the past 20 years, Congress has passed into law only one piece of major environmental legislation: the Brownfields Revitalization Act in 2002.

If we look back 40 years, to the early days of the modern environmental movement, we see that Republicans and Democrats came together to enact the environmental laws America so badly needed. It wasn’t easy – many Republicans were wary of too much regulation while some Democrats thought there couldn’t be enough. But recognizing the urgent need for national action, the parties worked out their differences and put into place the foundation of what still largely defines environmental policy in America today.

Indeed, the vast majority of those laws were passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats and signed into law by Republican presidents. The votes on these measures were rarely close. And our economy experienced robust growth. Today, opposing every environmental regulation seems to have become an article of faith with Republicans. Many have forgotten that the EPA was created by President Richard Nixon in response to rivers that were spontaneously combusting due to the dumping of pollutants into our waterways and people were dying every summer from bad air quality.

Now political polarization infects too much of public policymaking. We live in a time where political compromise has become a source of ridicule. We have forgotten the lessons of our Founding Fathers; men of great principle who – while disagreeing on a host of issues, including even whether or not to secede from Great Britain – realized that they were being called upon to act and, so, came together to forge the compromises that gave us our Declaration of Independence, our Confederation of States and, ultimately, our Constitution.

The highwater mark time of bipartisanship that Whitman is referring to in the above paragraphs took place in 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Most skeptics on the loss of bipartisanship say that it was during this era that the parties were still somewhat mixed ideologically, with liberals and conservatives found in both parties.  If we look at environmental issues, we would say that liberals in both parties basically got together and passed legislation that they liked.

While there is some truth to this, such analysis is all to easy.  I have done some reading by what would be called Liberal Republicans of that day, and I can tell you they didn’t always care much for the ways Democrats governed.  They supported (or at least, accepted) the welfare state the came about as a result of the New Deal, but they tended to be more pro-business than their liberal counterparts in the Democratic Party. The long and the short of it is that life was not all hunky-dory as some centrists like to remember it and as some on the left and right want to deride it as.  Bipartisanship was hard work.

Partisanship has been around forever and it’s not a bad thing.  What has been bad lately is the unwillingness to never compromise with others and work together.  It’s easy to stand and make speeches about never surrendering to the other side; it’s a lot harder to sit down and hammer out policy.  No one ever said democracy was easy.

Politics, War, Civility and No Labels

I’ve said before that I have my doubts with the new centrist group called No Labels.  There has been a lot of talk about the orgainzation in the blogosphere and most of it is predictably negative.  Conservatives tend to think this is nothing more than liberals in drag, while some liberals want to remind people that labels are important.  Christopher Beam’s article in Slate is able to mix my concerns about the groups with some of the same criticism about the name and the need for partisanship in American society.

I agree with a lot of what Beam said.  There have been lots of attempts by well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned according to some) people who want to foster a more gentler politics and most of those efforts have amounted to nothing.  Beam is also correct in stating partisanship, or at least having beliefs is important and he is spot on in stating that part of the reason liberals and conservatives can’t cooperate is because they have less and less in common:

No Labels sounds noble in theory. But the group misunderstands what bipartisanship is. It’s not two parties deciding to be nice to each other. It’s a moment when their self-interests happen to align—moments that are increasingly rare. Washington does not have a “civility problem.” It has a polarization problem. Politicians aren’t any meaner now than they were 30 years ago. It’s just that over the last few decades, the two parties have become more ideologically coherent. Back in the 1950s, some Southern Democrats opposed racial integration, and some Republicans in the North favored a robust social safety net. Opposition to abortion was a bipartisan affair. There was a Christian right, but there was a Christian left as well. (The first Catholic president was a Democrat, after all.)

All of that changed in the ’60s and ’70s. Small-government libertarians aligned themselves with social conservatives under the Republican umbrella. Social liberals and economic interventionists joined the Democrats. In the 1980s, there was still enough overlap between the parties to beget phrases like “Reagan Democrats.” But every year the parties drift further apart. In a conversation with NPR about “No Labels,” Charlie Crist trotted out the old saw about Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. Those men “probably didn’t agree on a whole lot of things … yet were able to get along and at the end of the day, go out and have a cold one and understand that it’s important for them to be civil.” Sure. But by today’s partisan standards, O’Neill and Reagan had a lot in common. What stops Barack Obama and John Boehner from taking smoking breaks together isn’t that they’re jerks. It’s that they don’t agree on as much.

The parties have become more ideologically coherent, which has led to the current problem.

But where Beam and other detractors of No Labels fall short is on how to solve this issue.  It’s as if they don’t seem to care that important issues are not being discussed.  Of course partisan wrangling is part of the deal in a democracy.  An open society is not supposed to be a nice society.  I have no doubt that Democrats and Republicans were arguing back during the halcyon bipartisan days of the 1960s and 70s on the issues of the day.  Continue reading