Local Election Day blues

Where I live, we are just voting today for local elections.  We just have a state senator to pick and a number of county offices.  But for the last several months we have been subject to getting multiple automated phone calls a day conducting polls, demonizing opponents, and scaring us into voting for particular candidates.  Opposition research, negative campaigning, and hyperbolic rhetoric have trickled down into local elections.   (The last robocall I answered insinuated that one candidate’s support of the 2nd Amendment made him liable for the shootings at Virginia Tech.)  Apparently, local candidates are hiring out of state firms to provide these political services.   (I answered an automated call from Olympia, Washington, telling us who to vote for in a race for county sheriff!)

The theory is that local government is closer and more responsive to individual citizens, who elect their neighbors to represent them in public office.  National government, by contrast, is more remote.   Reformers are calling for a smaller central government with more power devolving to state and local governments.

But what if state and local governments are likewise dysfunctional, bound just as much to special interests and oblivious to the civic virtues?

It is true that local issues often finesse the liberal/conservative polarization that has paralyzed the national government.  The divisions in many local governments are on the order of “pro-development” (uniting free-market pro-business conservatives and pro-jobs liberals) vs. “anti-development” (uniting conservatives who want to preserve the pristine character of the community and anti-capitalist environmentalists).  Although I don’t see a civic consensus being possible with that kind of polarization either.

Perhaps this kind of political strife is intrinsic to democracy.  Still, having lived in a number of communities not all that different from where I live today, I don’t remember local elections being like this.

Both sides are wrong

Robert Samuelson is an economics columnist who has tended to be sensible over the years.  (The Washington Post classifies its columnists online as either “tending left” or “tending right.”  Samuelson shows up on neither list.)  He makes the case that both liberals and conservatives are wrong on the economy:

Let’s banish the budget fictions of left and right.

The supercommittee — the 12 members of Congress charged with devising a plan to close mammoth deficits — cannot succeed without public support for its proposals. And public opinion won’t come along if it embraces fairy tales.

The conservatives’ fiction is: We can reduce deficits and cut taxes by eliminating “wasteful spending.”

The liberals’ fiction is: We can subdue deficits and raise social spending by taxing “the rich” and shrinking the bloated Pentagon.

You will notice one similarity. Both suggest that reducing deficits involves little real pain. No one, after all, favors “wasteful spending.” Similarly, taxing “the rich” doesn’t threaten most people who aren’t rich. Liberals and conservatives alike can reconcile all good things: fiscal rectitude (for both), tax cuts (for conservatives) and high social spending (for liberals). I wish it were so.

It isn’t.

Before explaining why, here’s a caveat. Liberal and conservative budget experts generally don’t endorse these myths. No one who studies the budget could. Still, politicians and partisan propagandists popularize them.

Start with conservatives. Where exactly is all the waste?

True, many government programs deserve the ax. I’ve railed against some for years: farm subsidies (food would be produced without them); Amtrak (it is non-essential transportation); public broadcasting and culture subsidies (these are unaffordable frills); community development block grants (they generally don’t enrich poor communities).

Entitlements — mainly Social Security and Medicare — should be trimmed. I’ve also made that a crusade. We need higher eligibility ages to reflect longer life expectancies. Wealthier retirees should receive less Social Security and pay more for Medicare.

But plausible savings don’t match conservative rhetoric. All the suspect “discretionary” programs come to tens of billions, not hundreds of billions. Culture subsidies total about $1 billion annually; community block grants in 2010 were $4 billion. Meanwhile, total federal spending was $3.5 trillion. Do conservatives really want to eliminate the national parks? The FBI? Highways? Food inspections?

Social Security and Medicare savings could be greater. In 2010, these programs cost $1.2 trillion. But there’s a catch. Savings from lower individual benefits will be offset by more beneficiaries: retiring baby boomers. By 2025, Medicare and Social Security enrollment will rise 50 percent from 2010.

Next, the liberal fiction. Contrary to liberal dogma, the rich already pay plenty of taxes. Indeed, they pay for government. In 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans paid 28 percent of all federal taxes; the richest 10 percent (including the 1 percent) paid 55 percent.

For most millionaires, federal tax rates — the share of income taxed — exceed 30 percent. Some rich have lower rates. Raising these rates is justified but wouldn’t balance the budget. The plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a 5.6 percentage point surtax on incomes exceeding $1 million would raise an estimated $453 billion over 10 years. Deficits over the decade are realistically projected at $8.5 trillion.

As for the Pentagon, the military was cut sharply after the Cold War. Combat forces are half to two-thirds of 1990 levels. Defense spending as a share of national income is headed toward its lowest level since 1940.

What liberals don’t say is this: Unless Social Security and Medicare benefits — the bulk of the budget — are reduced, we face three dismal choices. Huge, unsustainable deficits. Massive tax increases on the middle class, as high as 50 percent over 10 to 15 years. Or draconian cuts in the discretionary programs that liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to gut.

Since 1971, federal spending has averaged 21 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Even with aggressive cuts, spending may never again fall this low. The reason: the surge in retirees. Meanwhile, taxes averaged 18 percent of GDP over those years, leaving average annual deficits of 3 percent. The take-away for both liberals and conservatives is repugnant: They need to identify the most justifiable spending cuts — lots of them — and the least damaging tax increases, which will still be sizable.

They need to come clean with reality. For years, they’ve exuded self-serving platitudes. Conservatives should acknowledge that Big Government is a permanent part of the social fabric and that much of what it does is popular. It needs to be financed. Liberals should concede that Big Government can become so big that its crushing taxes weaken the middle class and economic growth. Government then promotes conflict and degrades social justice.

via Busting the budget myths – The Washington Post.

What if he is right?  Would a program of cutting government AND raising taxes be politically possible?   If not and assuming he is right, what does that mean for our capacity to solve our problems through self-government?

The fall of Citizen Cain?

A woman, Sharon Bialek, has come forward with details about how  Herman Cain, currently running for president, groped her.  She is not even one of the three women who filed sexual harassment claims against him and won settlements from the National Restaurant Association that he headed at the time. Here are the sordid details.

Some conservatives are skeptical about the charges, while others think they ring true.  Here is what the conservative blogger the Ace of Spades had to say:

Sorry, I’m now kind of convinced of his guilt. He’s trying to change the subject.

Not reassuring.

While he attempts to hoodwink you into thinking this is some principled stance, what I see is a guy who does not want to deny specific details (did he meet with Bialek? Did he upgrade her hotel room? Did the meeting end on a positive note or a negative one and if negative, why? ), because I see a guy who is worried that his specific denials will be proven false in turn.

So he keeps to the general. The vague. Even while he says he will not refer to his accusers’ “vague” or “nonspecific” allegations, he ignores the specific and very un-vague ones, and will only offer “vague” and “nonspecific” demurrals in turn.

And what he’s counting on is that the conservative movement is so dumb that it will elect him as a nominee without every figuring out what the damage and downside here will be, and you know what? There’s a good chance he’s right.

We have become pretty dumb. We’re so damned eager to believe we seem to have forgotten that skepticism is pretty useful.

And yes, skepticism on both sides, not skepticism only towards his four accusers, while taking a completely unskeptical, believer-ish posture to whatever Cain says.

Guy can’t even bother to tell me what Bialek said was false. He won’t even say that. He writes a general slam of the media and expects the reader to conveniently read a denial in between the lines, despite it never actually being offered up.

We have a live, on-the-record accuser, who says Cain groped her vagina.

On the other hand, we have Cain, who… refuses to say whether he touched her inappropriately or not. . . .

So, it’s not a he said/she said anymore; it’s a she said/he refuses to say and changes the topic.

via Ace of Spades HQ.

Is Cain finished?

Isn’t it at least encouraging that for all of our culture’s sexual permissiveness that charges like this one are still damaging?

From hope & change to fear & loathing

Ruth Marcus (classified as a “left-leaning” columnist on the Washington Post opinion page) looks at the Democratic strategy for re-electing President Obama:

Forget hope and change. President Obama’s reelection campaign is going to be based on fear and loathing: fear of what a Republican takeover would mean, and loathing of whomever the Republican nominee turns out to be.

Of course the Obama campaign will attempt to present the affirmative case for his reelection, citing legislative achievements, foreign policy successes and the current flurry of executive actions. But his strategists have clearly concluded that selling the president will not be enough, and the contours of the ugly months ahead are becoming increasingly apparent. . . .

David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and now a senior White House adviser, made the reelection campaign’s two-step, fear-and-loathing approach clear in an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

First, fear: “This country cannot afford to go back to the same policies,” Plouffe said, “that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and all of these presidential candidates are offering: Let Wall Street write its own rules, make it easier for polluters to foul our air and water, and give millionaires and billionaires more tax cuts paid for by asking the middle class and seniors to do more.”

No matter who wins the Republican nomination, Plouffe said, “they’re offering the same economic policies that led to the Great Recession, that led to destruction of middle-class security in incomes.” Obama advisers plan to paint the eventual GOP nominee as a dangerous rubber stamp for a Congress controlled all, or in part, by Republicans.

Next, loathing. Obama advisers believe that Romney is the most likely nominee, and they have prepared a two-pronged attack on the former Massachusetts governor — as unprincipled and uncaring.

“He has no core,” Plouffe said in an unusually sharp attack for a White House official. “You get the sense with Mitt Romney that, you know, if he thought . . . it was good to say the sky was green and the grass is blue to win an election, he’d say it.”

Next, although Plouffe didn’t get around to it Sunday, is the planned depiction of Romney as the fat cat from Bain Capital, the heartless management consultant who bought companies, stripped their assets and sent their jobs to China.

via Campaign 2012: Welcome to the slugfest – The Washington Post.

Romney keeping his promise to the left?

According to the Washington Post, when Mitt Romney was governor, he reassured pro-abortionists, gay rights activists, and environmentalists that as he rose through the ranks, he would change the Republican party’s hard-line stance on these issues:

Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.

Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion.

He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.

Romney made similar assurances to activists for gay rights and the environment, according to people familiar with the discussions, both as a candidate for governor and then in the early days of his term.

The encounters with liberal advocates offer some revealing insights into the ever-evolving ideology of Romney, who as a presidential candidate now espouses the hard-line opposition to abortion that he seemed to disparage less than a decade ago.

via As governor, Romney worked to reassure liberals – The Washington Post.


Cain’s sexual harrassment charges

A third woman accuses Herman Cain of sexual harrassment:

A third former employee considered filing a workplace complaint against Herman Cain over what she considered aggressive and unwanted behavior when she and Cain, now a Republican presidential candidate, worked together during the late 1990s, the woman told The Associated Press on Wednesday. She said the behavior including a private invitation to his corporate apartment.

The woman said he made sexually suggestive remarks or gestures about the same time that two co-workers had settled separate harassment complaints against Cain, who was then the head of the National Restaurant Association.

She did not file a formal complaint because she began having fewer interactions with Cain, she said. Afterward, she learned that a co-worker — one of the two women whose accusations have rocked Cain’s campaign this week — had already done so. She said she would have had to file if they hadn’t.

The woman spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying she feared retaliation. She was located and approached by the AP as part of its investigation into harassment complaints against Cain that were disclosed in recent days and have thrown his presidential campaign into turmoil. She said she was reluctant to describe the encounters she had with Cain when they worked together at the Washington-based restaurant trade group.

via Third Former Cain Employee Claims She Was Harassed by GOP Candidate « CBS Washington.

Keeping in mind that we don’t really know what happened, do you think these charges will–and should–sink Cain’s campaign for president?  Does the fact that this information was not made public until Cain attained front-runner status constitute “high tech lynching” or “the politics of personal destruction”?  Or do you believe that voters need to know this kind of information before casting their vote?

At any rate, here is a lesson for would-be candidates, including ambitious young people with a FaceBook page used to chronicling their every transgression and posting pictures about it:   With today’s “opposition research” as part of virtually every modern political campaign, candidates need to realize that any skeleton in their closet–anything they did wrong in public or anything they did that would be embarrassing–is going to come out.