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?

The discovery of pro-life women

The Washington Post’s Lisa Miller discovered something that really seems to have surprised her, that the leaders of today’s pro-life movement are actually women, and young well-educated women at that.  She seems to have assumed that only men would be against abortion, that all women were surely on the pro-choice side of this “women’s issue.”   She gets her head around the issue:

Recent news stories about the new vitality of the antiabortion movement and its legislative achievements — more than a dozen states enacting record numbers of abortion restrictions this year — have glossed over one crucial fact. The most visible, entrepreneurial and passionate advocates for the rights of the unborn (as they would put it) are women. More to the point: They are youngish Christian working mothers with children at home.

There’s Dannenfelser. There’s her friend Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, who also has five children. There’s Penny Nance, chief executive of Concerned Women for America, with two. (“I feel like an underachiever compared to Marjorie,” she says.)

Shannon Royce, president of Chosen Families, and Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, each have two. Lots of working women have children, of course. But these crusaders make their personal experience of motherhood part of their public lives. Sarah Palin drew attention to her strong antiabortion stance by gathering her children — including Trig, who has Down syndrome — around her on the stump. Now these leaders are taking the word “choice” away from the left. Their choice, they’re saying through example, is to have the children and work it out.

Abortion rights activists, take note. These women represent a major strategic shift in the abortion war, and not just because they are generally more likable than the old, white fathers of the antiabortion movement: Jerry Falwell, Henry Hyde, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, who in 1991 accused Planned Parenthood of “teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism — everything that the Bible condemns.” Their approach to working and mothering — “I’m just doing the best I can, like you” — also reverses decades of harsh judgments from such female leaders on the right as Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly.

Most important, they are revising the terms of engagement. Antiabortion activists have traditionally focused their energies on the rights of the fetus. But on the question of women’s rights and women’s health, the old-school warriors have been more vulnerable. What is a poor woman with no support system and a bunch of kids at home to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy? The old white men couldn’t give an answer. They came across not just as unsympathetic. They were uncomprehending. Simply put, they could not relate.

What these women offer is relatability. They converse frankly and easily about the travails of working mothers: Sometimes you’re full time, sometimes you’re part time; sometimes you’re on a deadline as kids squabble in the background. You ask husbands and mothers-in-law for help and you hire a babysitter when you have to. “I do all the things that every other mom does,” says Nance. “Soccer games and birthday parties and teacher meetings. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s difficult.”

They are well-educated women. Dannenfelser received her undergraduate degree from Duke University; her first job out of college was in the Reagan White House. Yoest received a PhD from the University of Virginia. Religious faith undergirds their political convictions in all cases. Dannenfelser describes her conversion from the Episcopal Church to Roman Catholicism as being motivated in part by the Catholic emphasis on Mary and the “feminine genius” she represents. “The reality,” she says, “is that we are all called to serve each other.”

This is strong stuff, and it touches the abortion question at its most sensitive core: Most Americans see abortion as morally wrong, yet most also want it to be legal some of the time. And that’s because Americans see what these women’s lives don’t show — that there are imaginable occasions when a pregnancy is not, in fact, a blessing. And that we might serve the world equally well by supporting policies that care for the children who live here already.

via A feminine face for the antiabortion movement – The Washington Post.

HT:  Jackie

Parents vs. peer-ents & the new style of protest

The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, explains the Millennial generation’s way of protesting, as evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  That’s interesting in itself, but what struck me was the concept of “peer-ents” as opposed to “parents.”

What many believe to be OWS’s greatest weakness may be its greatest strength. At MTV, we consider it our job to understand the millennial audience. And a refusal to limit itself to a list of demands may be part of the protesters’ generational DNA.

Millennials’ relationship to authority differs from that of previous generations. Millennials weren’t raised with hierarchical, top-down parenting. They’ve grown up with peer-ents; they’re used to seeing authority figures as equals. Add to that what it means to be born and live within the swarm-power of social media, and you have a potent mix.

Millennials don’t think of themselves as outside the system. They believe they are the system. The fact that there’s no definitive leadership in New York’s Zuccotti Park speaks to this generation’s complex understanding of power.

Young people in the 1960s had a mandate and a message. The boomers stood outside the gate and issued their list of demands.

Millennials are trying to remake existing structures to reflect what they expect from business and government. Consider the protests’ General Assembly — a transparent, open, fair and participatory government. The protesters have shaped from the ground up what it means to have a civil society. Or consider how inclusive the protesters are. The young people at the heart of things have welcomed parents, teachers, administrators, union members and others from across generations.

Where their parents engaged in civil disobedience, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are participating in civilized disobedience. Zuccotti Park is the opposite of anarchy. There’s a lending library and a mulch deposit. When the city wanted to clean up, the protesters refused, preferring to clean the park themselves. OWS’s famed human microphone is a metaphor for the movement: By working together, we can amplify our voices.

Millennials realize that there aren’t always clear answers to their concerns. They know that the multitude of societal problems needs to be attacked in a multiplicity of ways.

It’s that open-door policy that has let the protests grow so rapidly. By providing a blank slate on which an entire society can project its grievances, OWS has spread across the United States and into almost 100 countries in little more than a month. It is also highly inclusive. In the small confines of of Zuccotti Park, environmentalism, anti-sexism, spirituality and more are represented.

via Occupying the millenial way – The Washington Post.

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.


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