Monday, June 29, 2009

The Epic Failure of Conservatism

Mike over at the Big Stick and I have had a little argument about the role of social conservatism (or social liberalism) in the current state of the Republican Party.

In a recent post he talks about how one camp within the GOP has not taken any blame: the national security conservatives. He then goes on to say that it is because of that national security conservatives and how the have prosecuted the war in Iraq that the GOP is in such a sad shape. He then adds that social liberals and fiscal conservatives should place their anger at the national security conservatives who basically got us into this mess.

I have to disagree. I do think that the misadventure in Iraq is a factor for why the party is in such a mess, but it is not the only reason. What has happened in 2006 and 2008 was an "epic fail" of conservatism in America. It failed on all accounts: socially and fiscally as well as in foreign policy.

I think sometimes each of the different parts of the conservative family wants to place all the fault on one area. I know that I tend to focus on social conservatism, and Mike focuses on national security. But what is needed is not just a little remodeling: conservatism needs a total teardown and rebuild.

Republicans need to build trust on fiscal matters again after 8 years of reckless spending. They also need to find a way to be more accepting of those who are more socially liberal and more willing to accept those who are gay, those who support gay marriage and abortion rights. Finally, they must find a way to not go on wild goose chases in foreign lands and ways to work with other nations in achieving objectives (kind of like what Bush the Senior did in the Gulf War).

Everyone's sacred cow will have to be sacrificed in rejuvinating the party and the philosophy. Scapegoats are not going to solve the problem.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Michael Jackson Videos

So I have two videos of Michael Jackson that I have really enjoyed over the years. Both highlight his dancing skills. The first is 1988's "Smooth Criminal:"

The second is from 1992, "Remember the Time." I loved that one especially, because it had every big name in the African American world at that time and it was directed by then up-and-coming director John Singleton:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remember the Time...

Being this is a political blog, I tend to not want to talk about celebrities.

Today, I'll make an exception.

The death of Michael Jackson has me thinking about how a piece of my childhood has slipped away. Echoing Ta-Nehisi Coates, I remember staying up late on Friday nights to catch Friday Night Videos, where I watched Michael singing Billy Jean and Thriller. I remember trying,emphasis on the word trying, to moonwalk, as was probably every kid in America circa 1984.

Even before his superstardom in the 80s, I remember hearing old Jackson 5 tunes and when I was very young, watching the old Jackson 5 cartoon show. In the early 70s to see a bunch of black kids on TV was groundbreaking.

In later years, the genius of Jackson would show a dark side; the allegations of child abuse, the bleaching of his skin and the many nose jobs, and other odd and sad things. Andrew Sullivan is probably correct in that in some ways he was abused; never able to be a normal person.

But he could sing. And dance. He gave African Americans a belief that anything really was possible.

I hope now he is able to find some peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

False Choices on Government

Shay over at Booker Rising, has this to say on my prior post:

I guess Mr. Sanders didn't see the recent Washington
Post-ABC News poll
showing that most American voters prefer 'smaller
government with fewer services' to 'larger government with more services'. This
Big Government moderate-liberal Republicanism ain't gonna cut it. Government
cannot lift poverty because it doesn't create wealth. Black Americans support
Big Government more than American society in general - I remember a poll a few
years ago showing almost 70% of black Americans supported a larger government,
and only 22% preferring a smaller government - and we see the results in too
many of our neighborhoods.

Hmmm...leaving aside the poll numbers for a moment, I have to wonder a few things:

First, what is meant by "smaller government?" Republicans have been tossing that phrase around for years, but we have never adequately defined it. Does it mean government has to do things more efficiently, or does it mean it only does a few things?

Second, I think Shay is guilty of putting forth a false choice that has bedeviled Republicans: either we have Big Government or Small Government. Arthur Larson, an aide to President Eisenhower and the author of the book, A Republican Looks at His Party said that the modern Republicanism espoused by Ike faced two schools of thought: the "1896 School" that believed government should do very little and business should be free to do as it pleases, and the "1936 School" which placed huge trust in government, but was generally anti-business. Larson wanted to put forth that Modern Republicanism was all about "balance" being pro-business and also seeing that government can and should do some things to create freedom among Americans.

For example, Shay notes that government can't lift people out of poverty because it doesn't create wealth. Well, I wasn't trying to say that government can create wealth. If the government comes in and just offers cash assistance to the poor, you have then made a population dependent on the dole. That isn't good for anyone.

However, government could finds ways to help people start small businesses which does create wealth. I'm not in favor of the typical liberal style of large programs that create more dependence than wealth, but the "small government" crowd doesn't even recognize poverty or what should be done help alleviate it. Government can't create wealth, but it can create spaces where wealth can happen. What government can do is create policies that spur freedom and independence, instead of depair or depenedence.

So, instead of doing too much or doing nothing, why don't we try to be smart in how we approach this and other issues?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Party of (No) Government

E.D. Kain from the League of Ordinary Gentleman has this to say about how conservatives view government: flaw that permeates modern conservatism which is this deep, deep distrust of all things having to do with the state. This, coupled with far too much faith in markets and corporations and so forth have led to a “shrinking” of government by essentially just contracting out government duties to private firms. In all fairness, this was also a central practice of Bill Clinton who famously claimed that the days of big government were over. Of course, when you shrink government by simply paying private firms to do government work you’re not really shrinking or limiting it at all. What you are doing is displaying a deep distrust of all things political. And this makes it very hard, I would argue, for conservatives to govern competently. Which, conversely, leads to growth of government in ways that simply don’t make sense.

This is why the last eight years were such a complete mess, and why by contrast I’d say that George Bush Sr. was such an effective president in comparison albeit a very under appreciated one. Conservatives have always believed in limited government, but lately it seems as though limited is not good enough. Government of any sort save perhaps defense is decried as evil or ineffective, and any move toward providing social services of any kind is demonized as statist or socialist or worse.

As I've indicated before, I am somewhat perplexed by the viewpoint of many Republicans towards government. One can be concerned about how big government is and if it is working effectively, but many on the right seem to go farther, viewing anything short of the military as setting us on the road to serfdom.

But the fact is, most people want a government that does things. It doesn't mean that government should run the whole show, but they do want government to DO something. Very few people are voting for politicians to do nothing. In my view, this a reason why the GOP has a hard time courting African Americans: most African Americans who might live in areas filled with harsh deprivation, are looking for the government to help rejuventate their cities. Does, this make African Americans Marxists? Of course not. But they are looking for ways that can help uplift millions of African Americans from poverty and bring economic vitality.

In the January 2009 issue of the Ripon Forum, author Kelly Pipes notes that the Republican party should look to former President Dwight Eisenhower as a model of govering, one that has a positive view of government, but isn't what one could consider "liberal." This is what Pipes has to say about how Ike viewed government:

For starters, Ike tried to run the government like a business. Many politicians say this; Ike lived it. He balanced the federal budget three times in his eight years. Yet he understood the difference between spending and investment. While he opposed frivolous programs, he invested heavily in national defense, education, space and transportation. These investments provided huge dividends for the country. The president saw all these programs as part of his Cold War strategy. For example, he had seen the need for better roads in a time of crisis as a young Army officer. The interstate highway system was designed not just to help move people around, but troops and equipment, too.

There is a wonderful pragmatism found in this view of government. Ike actually believed in balancing the budget and did it, but also invested in many government programs like the Interstate Highway System. Ike did not see government as the answer to everything, but he did see it as an effective tool to bring about a better society.

Here in Minnesota, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has made a name for himself in not raising taxes, at all. That has won the hearts of many on the right. But it also exposes the many contradictions of modern conservatism. On the one hand, Pawlenty rails against the Democrats and their taxing ways. Fair enough, but he also knows that the state government needs money and that people want good roads and schools. Even the most ardent anti-government conservative wants these things. So, if you are a Republican governor who wants to maintain his anti-tax street creds, but also wants to be seen doing something, what does one do?

Well, in the case of Pawlenty, a lot of odd stuff. He has done accounting shifts, spending cuts, using the "state credit card" in the form of borrowing and even trying to get a state-run casino off the ground. All this to prevent raising taxes.

It's not that the Dems in Minnesota have any good ideas, most of their plans are the same old, same old- tax the wealthy. What is needed is a better way of tax collection that doesn't impede the freedom of Minnesotans to grow their economy. In short it is not as much about smaller government but efficient or smarter government.

At the national level, Republicans are not much better. We rail against more taxes, but we know that Americans want their government to fix problems. So, we give the public some of the things they want, like perscription drug benefits, but then don't bother to find a way to pay for it.

It's way past time that Republicans grow up in their attitudes toward government. We have to see government not as a leviathan that will destroy us all, but as a tool to help get things done. Again, E.D. Kain:

I think there is much to be said for a conservatism that does not promote any and all deregulation but instead does a good job at weeding out bad regulations, ineffective or damaging taxes, and so forth, and communicates this effectively to the American people. At the same time, conservatives need to distinguish between limited government – the running, in other words, of a tight ship – and all government being bad and unwanted and oppressive. This is simply not true. Government is an extension of society, and while it is prone to abuse and overreach, nevertheless in our system it is also representative and we are all a part of it.

Once we get over our phobia of government, then we might be able to be a real governing party again.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

...But It Bends Towards Justice

I haven't said a lot about was has been going on in Iran, mostly because other folks are doing a better job of it than I am.

But in regards to how the President is handling the crisis...I do think Obama is doing the right things right now and playing it as carefully as one can. This has upset some on the right, but you won't get any criticism from me. The relationship between Iran and the United States has always been a delicate one, and if the President appears too strong, he could hurt the protest movement and empower the leadership. This crisis has to be settled by those on the streets. Justice has to come from them, not from Washington.

The President's words on the bloody events of today are important to hear:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.

The last paragraph is the most important. He quotes King and reminds the Iranian government that they can run, but in the end, they can't hide. Injustice will not last forever. As the prophet Amos said, justice will flow like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

The next few days and weeks could be very dark for the people of Iran. But in the end, the moral arc will bend towards justice for the people of Iran.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Empathy, Conservatives and Health Care Reform

There has been an interesting exchange between Freddie deBoer and Mark Thompson over at League of Ordinary Gentlemen on how conservatives approach health care reform. It's been fascinating because I think it explains why the conservative arguments against major change doesn't ring very true to the larger public.

I don't always agree with Freddie, but this has been on of the few times that he is very spot on. He notes:

...many conservative blogs, from all the various strata of the ideology, have been doing a very poor job of frankly acknowledging the enormous amount of human suffering our health care system causes.

There are very many people, in this country, who need health care and are unable to get it, because of their financial or employment situations. This is a fact, and it is unavoidable. The number of people so afflicted is a matter of great controversy. A great amount of virtual ink has flowed for the purpose of taking shots at the various quoted figures of the uninsured and the underinsured. And who can say, exactly. But it is a great many people. It is millions; even the most rabid partisan must acknowledge that millions of people in this country lack adequate health care coverage. Millions of people, in the country with the most powerful economy in the history of the world, cannot access desperately needed health care because they can’t afford to.

Our system leaves people suffering. Americans, today, don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford to, though they are in pain, often debilitating pain. Our system leaves people in financial ruin. Those who are uninsured or underinsured and face major medical conditions are often left with bills that leave them destitute, bankrupt, or both. The numbers, again, are controversial. Whatever they are, they are again real, and again large. Our system also kills people. Prevention and early diagnosis are the foundations of Western medicine. People don’t go to the doctor, when they can’t afford it, and they don’t get early diagnosis, they don’t get early intervention, and they don’t get help until it is too late to avoid permanent injury or death.

When conservatives talk about health care, we tend to focus on the free market and fears of government control. Now these concerns do have some legitamacy to them, but they also lack something...empathy.

Empathy has caused a lot of snickers among conservatives lately, ever since President Obama said he wanted a Supreme Court justice that exhibited empathy. Many conservatives attacked the statement saying that one doesn't need empathy to be a good justice. Maybe, but that's another issue.

When it comes to health care, conservatives also seem to not see the importance of empathy in the same way that liberals do. Mark Thompson gives an example:

For years, whenever you see a Dem or liberal discussing the health care issue, they almost always begin with an acknowledgement of the problem – the “57 million Americans are uninsured” refrain, or perhaps a story of someone who died as a result of lack of treatment or because they couldn’t get their insurance company to pay for treatment. These stories and statistics tug at the heart strings, but more importantly they make people care about the issue because they make the issue relatable to those people, making them think “that could be me,” or in many cases “that is me.” As importantly, they give the listener the impression that what follows is a good faith proposal to solve that problem, not some half-assed proposal that’s really intended to advance a broader ideological agenda.

When you hear a conservative or libertarian speaking about the issue, though, you rarely get an acknowledgement of the problem. Instead, you may get a set of objections to the Dem proposal (usually including a rant about “socialized medicine”) or a statement that the free market solution is the better solution or some discussion of the areas of our health care system that are not the problem and that must be preserved and defended.

The liberal argument for health care reform is based on emotion and it works. I'm hardly rooting for a single-payer system, but I know what it means to be without healthcare, and as I've stated earlier, I know what it is to be sick and without health care. Democrats may have the wrong perscription to solve the issue, but at least the seem to care.

That's not what I find when I listen to fellow conservatives. There is no talk about what it might mean to not have health care or to have your benefits cut, or to deal with the rising cost of perscription drugs. As Mark notes, there is some talk about "socialized medicine" and how the US has the best health care system in the world and how we should focus on free market solutions.There is no talk about people's fears or concerns about this issue.

My own concerns for health care reform stem from my own life. I was a sickly kid growing up. I had asthma attacks on a regular basis, and have many allergies. Luckily, my parents had health insurance to pay for all the problems I had. As I grew into a young adult, I then dealt with clinical depression, which has me on antidepressants and a recent diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism, which has me seeing a psychologist.

The long and the short of it, is that I've had some experience with the health care system. As an adult, I've gone through periods without health insurance. Just because I don't have health care doesn't mean those illnesses stop. I've gone though periods where I've had to decide to not take a certain drug because without insurance it was to damn expensive.

Health care reform for me isn't just an exercise in ideology; it is a real issue for me. Like any Republican, I have my druthers on having some kind of Canadian-style system, but that doesn't mean that I don't think this is an issue that the government has to have a role in. No parent should have to worry about whether they can take care of their kid who is having trouble breathing and wondering if they can pay for it.

What this comes down to is that conservatives and Republicans are going to have to let down their ideological blinders a bit and actually start to listen to people's concerns. Mind you, conservatives our not alone in allowing their ideology to cloud their vision. As Mark Thompson notes, liberals have similar blinders when it comes to public education, closing their eyes to charter schools and vouchers, even when schools are failing.

I don't know if conservatives are going to allow themselves a bit of empathy on this issue, but it might do them a bit of good.

My Other "Job"

I wanted to let people know that I may not be posting as much because I've taken on the task of getting the blog the Progressive Republican off the ground. Travis Johnson started the blog and he is busy with another project to help unite Progressive Republicans, so he asked me to oversee the day-to-operations of the Blog.

Don't worry, I will still blog here and will probably do crossposting to the Progressive Republican. I will hope people will give this blog some love since it is a venture trying to get the moderate to liberal wing to the GOP active again. BTW, if you are a blogger that would like to be part of the Progressive Republican, please drop me a line at dennis-dot-sanders-at-gmail-dot-com.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keeping Them Honest

One of the more controversial aspects of President Obama's health care plan is the inclusion of a "public option" run by the government. The reason to have such an option mixed in with private plans, is to keep the private insurers honest.

I've always found this an odd assertion: that the only way to keep the private plans running well and playing fair is to have a government-run plan. Isn't regulation a better way of keeping the private plans honest?

For Republicans and moderate or conservative Democrats, the mention of a public plan makes them nervous. There are fears that a public-plan will under cut private plans in price and effectively run those insurers out of business, leaving a defacto single-payer system in the United States.

Such a prospect is fine with liberal Democrats who have no love for the current system. The liberal base of the Democratic Party has long championed single-payer ala Canada, and Obama might be sneaking it in through the back door.

Clive Crook
has a good article in the Financial Times about the prospect of a single-payer system in the US. Even though I am not a fan of single-payer, Crook does a good job of showing its benefits which are appealing:

In my view, there are worse things than Medicare for all – and the present system might be one of them. Medicare for all would give the US truly universal coverage and better control of costs. It would preserve choice of doctor and hospital, and private insurance for supplementary services could co-exist for those who wanted it. The demise of employer-provided plans would make labour more mobile and relieve workers of the worry that losing their job means losing their health insurance.

So a health care system based on Medicare could control costs, provide choice, and make health care more portable. All good things.

So, what are the down sides? Crook continues:

A less obvious objection is that a healthy private insurance market is worth preserving. The seething hatred many Democrats – and many other Americans of no fixed ideology – feel for private health insurers ignores the value they bring – and the extra value they could add if their incentives were better designed and their customers had the information they needed to make intelligent choices.

If competition is a good thing, competition among insurance providers is a good thing too. Yes, abolishing it reduces one kind of lump-sum administrative overhead, which is all some Democrats seem to care about. But it also abolishes pressures for innovation and other kinds of cost reduction. In other industries, competition pays for itself in spite of the apparent waste of marketing and other forms of duplicated effort. Healthcare is different – but not that different. At the very least, one should pause before shutting competition down.

So, a single-payer system could impede innovation which could also slow cutting costs. Not so good. Crook goes on to note that the whole "keeping them honest" line would mean that the public plan would have to play hardball: using its might to force down payments and make the market less competative.

In the end, I think that if the President want to keep the private insurers honest, then he should as Crook argues, favor a regulated private system, something I support. If they really think the government should be running the show, they should just say so and give good reasons why such a route is better.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Outsourcing Gay Rights

A dear friend of mine who happens to also be a gay moderate Republican, thought that the upside of Obama would be that some social issues like gay rights would actually gain ground. As the past few months have passed, I have to wonder what my friend is thinking now.

The New York Times has a very strong editorial taking the President to task for not doing enough on the subject of gay rights. The Justice Department supported keeping the Defense of Marriage Act in place using reasoning that one would not expect to hear from a Democrat.

Because Democrats are all for gay rights, correct?

As a gay Republican who has had to withstand the many slings and arrows of gay Democrats, it would be easy for me to make fun of this development. But the fact that gay rights are being impeded, makes it hard to laugh. Actually, one wants to cry.

In some way though, the gay community has no one to blame for this than ourselves. For years the rhetoric has been to let the Democrats take care of securing gay rights. So, gays have voted for Democrats and the result has been...well not much.

I'm not saying that the Republicans would do a better job- I'd have to be on drugs to say that looking at the current state of the GOP. But I am saying that if gay Americans want to be treated as full and equal citizens, then we are going to fight for them ourselves and not outsource it to the Democrats.

If gay Democrats are upset at Obama's performance so far (and many are) then now is time to pressure the White House to stop acting like cowards. It's time for gay couples to be treated as equals by Uncle Sam and for men and women to be able to serve their country in our military without fear of being discharged for being honest. If a nation like Israel, hardly a wimpy nation, can have gays serving openly in their military, then so can we.

It's way past the time that the gay community starts hittin' the streets to demand equality and not simply be told to be patient.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Connecting the Dots, Ignoring the Logs

There has been a lot of talk in the press about how the conservative media was to blame for the the horrible shooting at the Holocaust museum this week in addition to the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller a few weeks ago.

Paul Krugman
, writing in today's New York Times says that the line between the mainstream right the extreme right has been erased:

Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

He then starts sharing a list of conservative media stars such as Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and even actor Jon Voight for stirring up the passions and laying the ground work for extremists.

Now, I really don't care about Rush Limbaugh and think he is symptom of a problem within the GOP. But even I can see that there isn't a straight line between Rush and James Von Brunn, the shooter at the Holocaust Museum.

From reading news reports about Von Brunn, it sounds like he didn't need Rush or Glen Beck to get him angry. He seems to have lived a life filled with hate long before Rush ever took the airwaves.

It's also not like the Left is innocent in talk that has been rather uncivil. As Cathy Young notes, there has been a fair amount of bad talk on the left as well.

In the end, such partisan bickering is really about the lack of civility in our society today. We have become warring political camps and we see the Other as not some that has differing views on politics, but someone that is capable of pure evil.

The other side of this is that each side thinks of themselves as pure and good, standing up to the rising hordes of evil.

It would be nice if folks on the Left and Right would look at the logs in their own eyes before pouncing on their sisters and brother's specks.

It would also be nice if both sides would stop using such tragedies as excuses to prove how evil the other side is. The killing of doctor in a church, and the shooting of guard just doing his job should be a time when the nation comes together, not come apart.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes, Michael, American Health Care Really Sucks.

Back in 2005, President Bush tried to reform Social Security. I don't know if his partial privatization plan was the best, but at least he was acknowledging there was a problem with Social Security. Democrats, opposed to privatization, fought back against any reform by saying "there was no crisis."

In the concern over health care reform this year, many Republicans and conservatives are basically saying the same thing about health care in the United States: there is no crisis.

Michael Barone
, a writer for US News comes to such a conclusion in his latest column. He throws out several statements that makes it seem that Democrats are crying wolf about health care. Here is his statement about health care in general:

An April tracking poll conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that voters rank changing health care below strengthening the economy, stabilizing Medicare and Social Security, and reducing the federal budget deficit on a list of eight possible priorities. Democrats rank it higher, Republicans rank it at the bottom, and independents, on this issue like many others this year, look more like Republicans than Democrats.

The blunt fact is that most Americans are satisfied with their health insurance and don't believe major legislation will improve things for them. This gives opponents of the Democrats' rush to legislate a strong talking point.

Barone gives people the illusion that the Democrats are just pushing reform when there is no crisis. But as the blogger named "Henry Clay" notes:

While certainly decent compared to the alternatives, objectively speaking our health care system is a mess. The government subsidizes the care of the elderly by stiffing doctors, who then pass along those costs to the privately insured. In a post-industrial national economy, individual insurance decisions are subject to the regulations of 50 state insurance commissioners, undermining portability. The government provides massive and regressive subsidies to employer-provided coverage, while providing practically meaningless tax breaks to those who seek care in the individual marketplace.

In other words, the system is pretty lousy and needs work. Conservatives helped to make this case, first in the think tanks, then in President Bush’s proposal for health care reform, and finally during Senator McCain’s campaign.

It may be that the vast majority of Americans with private health insurance are satisfied with their coverage. But they certainly worry, particularly in this economy, about a health insurance system that largely ties your opportunity for coverage to your employment. And they understand that their share of coverage is consuming an ever larger portion of their income.

In other words, they might be satisfied with the system, but they aren’t ecstatic about it.

They might have real concerns about who will wind up holding the bag for the Democrats’ reform. But there is no special place in their heart for America’s insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Americans do worry about health care. Maybe they aren't marching in the streets asking for a Canadian-style system, but they are worried what happens are health care costs rise and what happens if they lose their job.

But maybe the coup de grace of Barone's comments is this one about young adults:

the segment of the electorate that did most to produce the Obama victory and give the Democrats large majorities in Congress is the least concerned and least informed about health care. That segment is the 18 percent of voters under 30. Young voters preferred Obama to John McCain by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin, according to the exit poll. Voters 30 and over preferred Obama by only a 50 percent to 49 percent margin. Some 63 percent of the young voted Democratic for the House of Representatives. Only 51 percent of the rest of Americans did so. Without the young, the votes would clearly not be there for what the Democrats are trying to force through.

But what do the young know or care about health insurance? They have the fewest medical problems of the whole population. Their image of health care, at least until they become pregnant and have babies, is university health services. You come in if you feel like it, someone else pays, you get some pills or some counseling, or whatever. As for the downside of government insurance, pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that the young favor capitalism over socialism by only a 37 percent to 33 percent margin. The rest of us prefer capitalism by a 57 percent to 17 percent margin.

But while young voters may be open to government health insurance, they surely don't care very much about the issue.

So in Barone's mind, twentysomethings are basically carefree idiots.

Yeah, that's a way the GOP can get a share of the youth vote.

I can tell you that young people under 30 do know a thing or two about health care insurance or lack thereof. Most people in their 20s are in jobs after college. Since you don't normally end up in a corner office at 25, you might end up working in a very low paying job that may or may not have health care. And if health care is available, you might not be able to pay for it.

I should know, since it happened to me.

In my 20s, I went through periods where I didn't have health insurance. One of those experiences was 12 years ago, when I was 27. I had just moved to Minneapolis and was working at a coffeeshop. I was working full time and making $6 and hour. Health care was available, but when you make only $6/hour and have to pay for various things like food, health care becomes out of reach.

That fall, I got the flu, which then turned into pneumonia. I ended up in the hospital for two weeks. I didn't have to face a big medical bill (or at least not so much) because a wise nurse practioner at the clinic I was going to, was able to get me on to General Assistance health care, which is Minnesota's health care program for the poor.

The fact is, young people do face various illnesses. Twentysomethings are not fragile compared to the elderly, but they are not invincible. Right now, I know of a young woman who has health issues related to liver disease and her health care situation is perilous.

Republicans in my view are correct in opposing a public option for health care reform. But that doesn't mean that we should pretend there is no crisis, as Henry Clay says, that's the best way to ensure President Obama's public option is a reality.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Being Fiscally Conservative Means Having to Raise Taxes. Sometimes.

Republicans are upset about all the spending going on under President Obama. In someways, they should be concerned about all this.

But then, if GOP leaders are upset, then they need to look at themselves first before they start accusing the Democrats.

New York Times writer David Leonhardt, does a good job of showing how the rising tide of red ink flowing from Washington will harm the economy. But he is willing to show us that the red ink didn't start with Mr. Obama:

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

So, how did we get here? Leonhardt explains:

The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

If the analysis is extended further into the future, well beyond 2012, the Obama agenda accounts for only a slightly higher share of the projected deficits.

So before we start placing blame on Obama or the Dems, we Republicans need an intervention.

We caused this. We are responsible.

The thing is, after going on a bender for eight years, it's hard to turn around and pretend that we now are serious about keeping the deficit under control. Also, how serious are we if we want to keep the current Bush tax cuts alive?

This isn't to say that the Dems are innocent in this, it's just they've only been in power for five months. In someways, the Democrats are like the teen that finds out that his supposedly tea-totalling Dad is a royal lush- they've decided that if papa ain't gonna live up his words, then why should they?

The Republicans have to get their fiscal conservative mojo back, but not by saying "never again" and then going on a tax cutting and spending bender.

It will mean that the Republicans will have to go cold turkey and get back on the road of real fiscal conservatism and not the faux conservatism they've been on for a while.

Fiscal conservatism means that to keep the budget in line means learning to cut the budget when needed, live within our means, and to get the most of our the taxpayer's dollar.

Oh yeah, and it means that from time to time, we have to raise taxes.

I know that has become an anathema to Republicans over time. No Republican worth their salt likes raising taxes. The very thought kind of makes our stomach turn. But if we are going to regain the mantle of fiscal responsibility, then we need to find the narrow path.

Republicans used to believe in making government efficient and make sure that the feds can meet obligations without incurring more debt.

Bruce Bartlett, one of the minds behind supply-side economics, has become a bit of an apostate for his willingness to depart from what has become conservative dogma on fiscal issues. He believes that Republicans might want to "be like Ike:"

Historically, Republicans have come back from electoral losses by accepting the fact that Americans mostly like government spending. Rather than make a futile effort to take away something most voters want, Republicans have instead worked to make the welfare state function efficiently, target benefits to those that play by society’s rules and finance those benefits without additional debt.

Thus, when Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952 with solid Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, he explicitly rejected any attempt to repeal the New Deal. Instead, he pushed efficiency and economy in government and emphasized that its bills needed to be paid. Balancing the budget was Eisenhower’s main concern.

Similarly, Richard Nixon made no effort to roll back the Great Society after he was elected in 1968. Like Eisenhower, he emphasized proper ­management of government programs and the necessity of financing them even if it meant raising taxes.

Balancing the budget? Proper management? What odd words.

Okay, but Eisenhower and Nixon are even "real" Republicans, some conservative wags will say. Now Ronald Reagan, there's a man who wouldn't raise taxes to keep big government up and running!

Well, you're wrong:

Even Ronald Reagan accepted the permanence of the welfare state and the need to pay for what has been promised to our senior citizens. This is most apparent with the Social Security rescue in 1983, which left benefits virtually untouched but raised taxes sharply to keep the system solvent.

Of course, none of this is sexy and it doesn't energize the base. Tea parties won't be held in praise of higher taxes. But actually acting like we mean it when we talk about being good stewards of the public purse might attract independents who do care about these things. It worked in Europe this past weekend where conservative parties won in elections the Europarliament.

The current recession has woken the average American up. After years of living off credit cards, judgement day came to millions. It's high time for we Republicans to stop spending the nation's credit card and act like adults.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Why Do Republicans Hate Goverment?

Living as I do in Minneapolis, a very, very Democratic city, you tend appreciate the times when you can get together with fellow Republicans and chat.

We complain about specific Democratic policies and of course, believe that we have better answers.

But every so often, I am left with a sense of unease. What bothers me is that some of those gathered (not all, mind you) tend to not just have a healthy suspicion of government, but an outright distrust if not hate.

These chats have made me think a lot about how the GOP has viewed government over the last few decades and how that opinion is going have to change if we want to become a governing party again.

I've disagreed with my liberal friends who think that the government is the answer for everything that ills us as a society. The current President and is his mates in Congress seem to believe in the supremacy of the government in handling all of the nation's problem. From health care to financial aid for college, they see the government as the answer.

Being a Republican, I have tend to not see government as the answer. Let me rephrase that: I tend to not look at government as THE answer, but as AN answer. Government can help, but it is not the panacea for all our problems. I believe in an effective government, but not one that starts getting involved in areas where it should not, of it does, should have a light touch.

But the governing philosophy of many in the GOP is one where government is not simply an interloper, but a monster that will destroy all of society as we know it. The thing is, while such talk might make the base of the party soon with delight, it doesn't appeal to those worried about losing health care, trying to find work, or concerned about global warming. They might not want the Big Government that the Democrats are pushing, but they do want their government to address these issues.

The thing is, such an anti-government fevor is working to our detriment. Take for example, health care. The Obama plan might very well include a so-called "public plan" that would compete with private plans. Many conservatives right fear that such a plan would undercut the private plans. Also, businesses would drop their private plans in an instant and allow their workers to go on the public plan. The end result is a de facto "single payer" health care system, which is not an outcome most Republicans want.

But the opposition to the Obama plan is wrapped up in shooting down other options such as the plan in Massachusetts or the Swiss Health Plan which rely on a combination of the free market and government regulation. The simple fact that these plans still have some goverment involvement has led the GOP to ignore these plans and label them as "single payer" when they are nothing of the sort.

The thing is, when Republicans actually see government in a more positive light, they can come up with innovative ideas to run goverment. In a recent oped, Lou Zickar of the Ripon Society points out the fact that Republicans have long been against big government, but have supported better government:

Over the past 30 years, conservatives have successfully branded anyone who supports raising taxes as a liberal.

Now many on the right are trying to do the same with regard to government. In short, if a person supports a government program, that individual is not just a liberal but also a socialist.

The result is that many Republicans have become hesitant to acknowledge one of the most basic obligations of elective office: Lawmakers are hired to run the government, not run away from it.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course. Abraham Lincoln created the Agriculture Department. Teddy Roosevelt regulated the railroads. Dwight Eisenhower poured 45,000 miles of concrete and built the nation’s interstate highway system. No one in his right mind would believe any of them were socialists.

Zickar then goes on to talk about Mitch Daniels, the Republican Governor of Indiana who has a knack for innovation in government.

If Republicans want to compete effectively against the Democrats, they can't do it by saying they hate government and then ask to be elected to said hated government. Republicans can get elected by trying to make government innovative, to get more bang for the buck.

But that would require a party willing to think again, to devise new ideas for a new day. Are Republicans willing to do that? It remains to be seen.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Matter of Degrees

Atlantic Magazine coorespondent, Conor Clarke has a bit of fun at the expense of conservatives who are crying "socialism." He points to a pie chart that shows what industries have been nationalized and what still remains in private hands.

Bloggers Justin Gardner and Pete Abel have chimed in accounting about the silliness of such conservatives.

Now, I do think that Republicans have been too quick to use the word socialism to all things tied to the Democrats. (Of course, some liberals tend to tie the word fascist to all things Republican, but that's another story.) I also think that screaming "socialist" tends to discredit what I think are real issues, such as if it is a good idea for the federal government to nationalize a car company. (Chris Bowers at Open Left calls what happened at GM socialism.)

Now Clarke does say show that some on the right are having a serious discussion on Obama's take on the American economy, but it seems to be done with a short shrift.

I feel that is a shame. While nationalizing a few banks and a former auto giant doesn't mean we are becoming the new Soviets, such moves should be questioned. What does it mean that we now own a car company? How will that save General Motors and bolster the economy in the Midwest? Is there an "exit strategy" to get the government out after a certain time? Why was it necessary to become the majority shareholder of GM? Will all this money be put to good use, or will GM end up like British Leyland?

It's one thing to regulate an industry, or to give a company a loan, ala Chrysler in 1979. It's another to basically have Uncle Sam start making cars. This is new territory for the United States. No, it's not necessarily socialism, but it does harken to some of the tactics used by Western European democracies with varying success.

Clarke and other seem to believe we aren't on a slippery slope. I don't know if we are sliding towards a worker's paradise, but how can Clarke be so sure? What if the GM takeover sets a precedent? What happens if another company heads into trouble? Will the government know how to hold back?

I don't have the answers for this. I'm not saying we are becoming socialist, but I don't know where we are heading. What I do think is that we should have an honest discussion about it, without being viewed as crazies or without resorting to screaming "socialist" all the time. This is not something that should be trivialized.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Southern Strategies

So, is President Obama trying to sabotage the Republican Party? That's the question Politico is asking today in the wake of Obama's selection of Republican Congressman John McHugh to be secretary of the Army. Obama has been making a habit of getting moderates in the party to join his administration and Political Wire has made a lists of all the GOP appointments so far which includes former congressman Ray LaHood, Utah Governor John Huntsman and working to get Arlen Specter to switch parties.

According to Politico, the reason the President is doing this is to box in the GOP:

Between high-profile conversions from the Northeast to the Midwest to the Rocky Mountain West — not to mention Obama’s warm relations with the nation’s two most prominent moderate Republican governors, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida’s Charlie Crist — it’s beginning to look like a strategy that isolates conservatives, reinforces the impression that the GOP is defined by the borders of the Deep South and all the while underscores Obama’s stated goal of working across party lines.

“Boxing the Republicans into a South-dominated party is very good strategy, because the more you reduce the Republican Party, the more conservative and reactionary it will become, and thus less attractive to moderates,” said Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County professor and the author of “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South.” “The Midwest and the Northeast are the places where there are still remnants of old-line Rockefeller Republicans. And these are the places where the Democrats will build durable majorities.”

To me, this makes perfect sense: pick off some of the more vulnerable Republicans, eliminate potential threats, weaken the opposition party and do it all the in the name of bipartisanship. Brilliant.

Some might not want to believe that Obama could be that calculating ala Karl Rove, but face it, this is politics and any politician wants to optimize their political power. Karl Rove was roundly criticized for the tactics he employed, but in a way he was doing what any politico regardless of party tries to do: make sure the party wins. The only difference is that Obama might do it with more a smile.

That said, Obama is only taking advantage of an opportunity. The GOP has made it very hard for anyone who doesn't toe the rigid conservative line to want to stay in the GOP. When a far right candidate like Pat Toomey, who doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell to win in very blue Pennsylvania decides to challenge Arlen Specter, when a prominent blogger decides to stage a boycott of the National Republican Senatorial Committee because they decided to support the moderate Charlie Crist in the race for a Senate seat in Florida, when the head of the Republican National Committee muses about witholding funds from three Senators because they voted the "wrong way" on a bill and when a talk radio host dresses down a veteran and longstanding Republican like Colin Powell, it's pretty easy to see why some would want to jump ship.

It's been said before, but the biggest enablers of the Democrats have not been the so-called Republicans in Name Only or RINO's, but intolerant conservatives who say "my way or the highway."

Way to go, guys.

Monday, June 01, 2009

On George Tiller

When I first heard the news about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, two feelings came to the fore: one of shock and the other of dread.

I don't have explain the shock, but I feel I need to share the reason for the dread. My reasoning is that once the news of this spread, bloggers and columnists would start pointing fingers and using this shocking event for political ends. And of course, it has begun.

Now, I have to say that I am pro-choice. But I am always amazed at how some use this as a way to paint those who are pro-life as zealots waiting to lead the next crazy person to shoot a doctor. Or, that if they think abortion is murder, that they must support the killing of Dr. Tiller.

This is nonsense. I disagree with those on the pro-life side, but I have enough sense to know that most of them are good, decent folks. They would not hurt a fly.

So, what about the Bill O'Reilly's of the world who have used pretty strong rhetoric over the years? Well, let us remember that those who opposed President Bush also used pretty harsh language over the past eight years as well. If something had happened to the President at that point, would we hold those who used passionate speech responsible?

I'm not saying that people should say what they want about issues. I think we have become a very uncivil society in many ways. But I have a hard time seeing a direct link between those who call abortion doctors, "baby killers" and those who actually end up committing violence.

The sad fact is, whether it's the abortion, or war or any other push button issue, you are bound to find someone who uses over-the-top speech to stir up those in the crowds. But that doesn't mean that it will lead to someone getting a gun and it should not be used as an excuse to shut down the other side.

Maybe the unconfortable thing about this is that there might be no good answer. It could be a troubled mind that just decided to kill someone for no good reason, I don't know.

But I wish the finger pointing would stop. Unless O'Reilly and others told this person to kill someone, then we to not provide an answer as much as greive with those left behind after this tragedy.