Cliff diving

On New Year’s Day, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire and mandatory cuts in government spending will go into effect, a double-whammy to the economy that is being called “the fiscal cliff.”  Republicans do not want the tax increases and Democrats do not want the spending cuts.  So Congress is negotiating with the President about compromises, reforms, and trade-offs, all in an effort to avoid what nobody wants, the country going off the cliff.

But might falling off the fiscal cliff, in the long run, be the best solution, despite the horrible short-term consequences?  Under that scenario, taxes would rise dramatically (giving the government more revenue, the Democrats’ dream) but also government expenditures would be cut dramatically (resulting in a smaller government, the Republicans’ dream).  The combination of higher revenues plus lower expenditures would solve the deficit.

Isn’t this a true bi-partisan solution?  Don’t we as a nation need to take our bitter medicine before we can get better?  Other countries, such as Great Britain, have gone through austerity programs as a necessary step to fiscal health.  Could we Americans handle austerity?

(I am not necessarily advocating this, simply proposing for now a mental experiment.  Some of you suggested this in yesterday’s discussion of “Breaking Pledges,” but it’s worth discussing in its own right.)

Breaking pledges

Republican lawmakers are bailing on the formal pledge they made not to vote for a tax increase.

Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has been a sacred and unchallenged keystone of the Republican platform for more than two decades, playing a central role in almost every budget battle in Congress since 1986. But Norquist and his pledge, signed by 95 percent of congressional Republicans, are now in danger of becoming Washington relics as more and more defectors inch toward accepting tax increases to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) became the latest in a handful of prominent Republican lawmakers to take to the airwaves in recent days and say they are willing to break their pledge to oppose all tax increases.

“I’m not obligated on the pledge,” Corker told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I’m sworn in this January.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also suggested Monday that Norquist’s anti-tax pledge would not dictate the GOP’s strategy on the fiscal cliff, raising questions across Washington about whether Norquist’s ironclad hold on the Republican Party has loosened. . . .

Even House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed dismay with Norquist’s pledge and his role in the GOP at the time. . . .

Last November, 100 House members, 40 of them Republicans, wrote a letter to Congress’s deficit-reduction “supercommittee” urging it to consider all options — a vague pronouncement that, at least in theory, endorsed tax increases forbidden by Norquist. A number of House members, including freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), said openly that they no longer felt bound by the pledge they had signed when running for office. Rigell was reelected this month. . . .

And now, with severe cuts in line if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, coming to an agreement is paramount. Analysts have a hard time forecasting a deal that doesn’t include tax increases — especially after President Obama won reelection, having run in large part on letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

Some Republicans are bowing to that version of reality. Over the weekend and on Monday, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Corker (Tenn.), along with Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), said they would be willing to violate the pledge under the right circumstances.

via Will the fiscal cliff break Grover Norquist’s hold on Republicans? – The Washington Post.

Now I can agree that it is foolish to bind oneself in a pledge like this.  There may well be a time when it is in the republic’s interest to raise taxes.  Perhaps this is such a time.  But it is still highly unethical to violate one’s word.  (And how about Scott Rigell not feeling bound by the pledge because he made it while running for office?  As if campaign promises, by definition, don’t need to be kept!)

But if lawmakers no longer believe in what they once pledged, they still are obliged to keep that pledge.   The honorable course of action would be to resign their office so that their governor can appoint someone who has not made the pledge.

Evangelicals vs. ‘Country Club’ Republicans

The Republican party and “conservatives” in general are far from monolithic.  There are different kinds of Republicans and different kinds of conservatives (social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, evangelicals, libertarians, neo-cons, paleo-cons, crunchy-cons, etc., etc.).  The main division in the Grand Old Party is between Republicans motivated by their faith and concerned with issues such as abortion–a group that is more populist and varied in income–and the so-called “Country Club Republicans” motivated by business interests, as in the Democrats’ stereotype of Republicans as being the party of the wealthy.  The Country Clubbers are blaming “evangelicals” for giving the party a bad image, but the “evangelicals” are blaming the Country Clubbers.  From Paul Stanley:

Leading evangelicals are pushing back hard against charges that social issues are weakening the GOP brand, asserting that the nation is rejecting the rich GOP “country club” image more than retreating on moral issues.

Over the past several decades, the Republican Party has primarily been formed along two major philosophical lines. The first are conservatives who not only want government to live within its means, but care deeply about social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage. The second group is more moderate in its views. Often referred to as “country-club” Republicans, they are mainly business types who care more about fiscal issues and try to avoid social issues at all costs.

Of course there are many that fall in between the two groups, and the distance between the two seems to grow farther by the day.

Bob Vander Plaats heads up The Family Leader, a pro-family group in Iowa that plays a key role in screening presidential wannabes when they come calling on the Hawkeye State.

“The moderates have had their candidate in 2008 and they had their candidate in 2012. And they got crushed in both elections,” Vander Plaats told The Washington Post. “Now they tell us we have to keep moderating. If we do that, we will win?”

Yet somehow the moderates look to their socially conscious brethren and blame them for the abortion gaffes of Senate candidates Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock. . . .

And lest we forget, the Tea Party members fall into both camps but may tend to take an even harder stance on fiscal issues.Pam Wohlschlegel is the Florida State Coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots and describes herself as a fiscally conservative socially moderate. She is a Christian and Hispanic.

“Most tea partiers do not want to touch social issues,” Wohlschlegel told The Christian Post. “It’s not a topic we embrace because that is not what brought us together. When we get on social issues we allow liberals to define us. They turn a religious freedom issue into an issue by saying Republicans don’t like contraceptives. We should have been more forthright by saying that contraceptives weren’t the issue. Instead, it was about chemical abortions.”

via Evangelicals to ‘Country Club’ GOPers: Social Issues Aren’t Problem, You Are.

Did Mitt Romney fail to attract a majority of voters because he was was too militant in opposing abortion and gay marriage or because he represented “big money”?  Didn’t he downplay those social issues?  Before the Republicans lost with Romney, they lost with John McCain.   The point about tea partiers playing down social issues is also important, despite the way Democrats caricature this movement.

So should the Republicans emphasize social issues next time, or would that just be yet another way to lose?

Hispanics as a conservative constituency

One reason for President Obama’s big re-election victory is that Hispanics turned out for him in record numbers.  71% voted for him, with Mitt Romney  getting only 27% of the Hispanic vote.  George W. Bush got 44%, so it’s not impossible for Republicans to get Hispanic votes.  Unlike Bush, Romney came across as anti-Hispanic, due to his tough stance and characteristically tone-deaf comments about immigration.  But, in fact, Hispanic voters May have the potential of becoming part of the conservative base.  From Jonathan Capehart:

Every month for the next two decades, 50,000 Hispanics will turn 18.

Just to be clear, that’s 50,000 U.S.-born people every month for the next 20 years who become eligible to vote. [Whit] Ayres cited this stunning statistic that was highlighted in a study of the Hispanic electorate by Resurgent Republic, a conservative nonprofit research group on whose board he sits. That report also highlights the promise and the peril for the Republican Party in reaching Latino voters.

Of the 10.9 million Latinos registered to vote, 51 percent of them are Democrats and 18 percent are Republicans. But when you view them through an ideological prism, 54 percent of Hispanics identify as “conservative” while 39 percent say they are “liberal.”

via 50,000 shades of dismay for the GOP – PostPartisan – The Washington Post.

After all, most Hispanics are conservative Catholics, are extremely family-oriented, and are hard workers.  They would be a natural conservative constituency, if the whole immigration issue could be solved.

Democrats have a file on you

One of the reasons President Obama was re-elected, according to observers, is the way his campaign made use of data-mining and other on-line resources.  This article by Craig Timberg and Amy Gardner in the Washington Post details what the campaign did and says how other Democrats are trying to get their hands on the database that was compiled.

But when you read the article, do red flags about privacy keep coming up?  I wonder if people who are worried about the information Google collects on each one of us has a similar concern about the information the Democratic party collects on each one of us.  And if the commercial use of this kind of information is problematic, isn’t the political use even worse?

If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters’ magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.

And although the election is over, Obama’s database is just getting started. . . .

The database consists of voting records and political donation histories bolstered by vast amounts of personal but publicly available consumer data, say campaign officials and others familiar with the operation. It could record hundreds of pieces of information for each voter.

Campaign workers added far more detail through a broad range of voter contacts — in person, on the phone, via e-mail or through visits to the campaign’s Web site. Those who used its Facebook app, for example, had their files updated with lists of their Facebook friends, along with scores measuring the intensity of those relationships and whether they lived in swing states. If their last names sounded Hispanic, a key target group for the campaign, the database recorded that, too. . . .

All Democratic candidates have access to the party’s lists, which include voting and donation histories along with some consumer data. What Obama’s database adds are the more fine-grained analyses of what issues matter most to voters and how best to motivate them to donate, volunteer and vote. . . .

The database powered nearly everything about Obama’s campaign, including fundraising, identifying likely supporters and urging them to vote. This resulted in an operational edge that helped a candidate with a slim margin in the overall national vote to trounce Romney in the state-by-state electoral college contests.

Obama was able to collect and use personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission has jurisdiction over how campaigns use such information, officials at those agencies say.

Privacy advocates say the opportunity for abuse — by Obama, Romney or any other politician’s campaign — is serious, as is the danger of hackers stealing the data. Voters who willingly gave campaigns such information may not have understood that it would be passed on to the party or other candidates, even though disclosures on Web sites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Chris Soghoian, an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FTC technologist, said voters should worry that the interests of politicians and commercial data brokers have aligned, making legal restrictions of data collection less likely.

“They’re going to be loath to regulate those companies if they are relying on them to target voters,” he said.

via Democrats push to redeploy Obama’s voter database – The Washington Post.

Spiritualizing the election

I am astonished to hear how so many Christians are talking about the election.  They are interpreting the Obama victory as a sign that America is no longer a Christian nation, struggling to understand how Christians could have been denied the victory, questioning God’s will and raising questions of theodicy, and on and on.  May I remind everyone that Christians were not defeated, even in the most literal level.  The candidate evangelicals became so spiritually invested in is not a Christian.

Perhaps the real spiritual significance of the election is that Mormons were denied their Constantinian moment.


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