Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In saecula saeculorum

I know my dozens of readers depend and eagerly look forward to my razor sharp political analysis, but today I'm afraid I must disappoint. As my own disappointment with the Democrats has developed into malaise, I've been reaching for something hopeful to read, so I turned to an old friend: George Orwell.

I recently finished his short essay, The English Revolution. I'm not sure I would favor the level of socialism for which he argues, but he makes several interesting points.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two words: one term

Last Friday a liberal friend of mine made a post to his Facebook that I was shocked to see, but I found it emblematic of larger issue, so I thought I'd share:
I just removed all my "Barak Obama" links. I know no one will run against him in the 2012 primary, but if anyone does, I will vote for that person. He's proven that he has absolutely no backbone. I regret ever having voted for him.
My response was the following:
I agree that he's a wimp, but I don't regret voting for him. Hindsight is 20/20. I think we should reelect Teddy Roosevelt. That guy knew how to get his agenda passed.
There's two points I like to make right away. First, my friend is not suggesting that we would have been better off with McCain/Palin. Instead, he's arguing we would have been better off with a different Democrat winning in 2008. Second, I'm only half joking when I say we could use another Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy made the choices he thought were best for the people as a whole and fought tooth and nail with every political tool he had to see his policies passed. I find it incredibly ironic that the great "trust buster" was a Republican, and they hated him for it. But many people think he made the right decision not only for workers but for business as well.

Other TR decisions -- particularly concerning the Panama Canal -- are historically less popular, but he acted with conviction and thought and made a choice without regret or remorse. Say what you want about the Canal, but Teddy never lost sleep over it; I doubt Obama will have the same luxury upon his presidency's end.

Given the picture I've painted of Teddy, he might remind readers of another president we've had recently: George W. Bush. I don't like Bush because I feel his policy decisions were terrible, but they were his and he clearly owns them, and there's something to be said for that.

Do I want another Bush? No. I don't really want another presidency like Bush's because in principle I don't approve of the "bully pulpit" legislative process that his presidency represented. I believe in collaboration and compromise, but the current debate over the Bush tax cuts spurs two interesting caveats to such an approach.

First, you cannot compromise with those who have no interest in comprising with you. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the Republican strategy is tax-cut blackmail, which is essentially the opposite of compromise. Krugman argues that the best Democratic strategy is to refuse engagement now before the blackmailing continues further, and I agree.

Second, there is no reason to assume that a compromised position is better than the position for which you currently advocate. Making such an assumption universally places process above principle. Based on the consequences that follow, there are times when compromise is warranted and times when it is not, and wise men know the difference.

Democrats, whether they admit it or not, are attempting to create greater equality of wealth by taxing the rich. Republicans ran in 2010 on reducing the deficit. Extending tax cuts will lead to greater wealth inequality and cost approximately $4 trillion over the next decade, which is anything but deficit neutral.

If Democrats fail to compromise, they actually achieve what they desire while at the same time holding Republicans true to their own campaign promises, so why compromise? Obama needs to understand -- like TR and W did -- that the role of the president is two-fold: making decisions shaped by public opinion and making decisions that shape public opinion. Voting down the tax cuts for the wealthy actually achieves both.

In any case, you have to make a damn decision, and Obama lets others make decisions for him, which makes him appear weak, it leaves Democrats searching desperately for a true leader, and it leaves progressives -- ironically enough -- hopeless. It's decision time for Obama, and the decision is this: "Do I want a second term?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This pisses me off

A vague title I know, but there's no other way to describe it. I read in The New York Times today that all 42 Republic senators signed an agreement stating that they would block all legislation for the remainder of the legislative session until a deal is reached to extend the Bush tax cuts.

I am vehemently against extending these tax cuts, but I'm more enraged by the bullying tactics employed here. When you toe the party line, you run the risk of serving only the interests of your constituents, not the interests of the people as a whole. This instance is particularly egregious because all of the Republicans are in lockstep, as though they are of one mind and not 42. Think for yourselves, and more importantly for those you serve.

What's worse is the accusation from Senator Mitch McConnell, who said, "Last month, the American people issued their verdict on the Democrats’ priorities." The implication here is that Democrats are ignoring the will of the people, which is blatantly untrue regarding the tax cut issue. Only 29% of Americans favor extending the Bush tax cuts in their entirety, which is the current Republican position. It appears that the reverse of McConnell's accusation is true: at least on this issue, Republicans are ignoring the people's will.

Regardless, we have some serious problems to deal with both domestically and abroad, and blackmailing the opposition to achieve a single victory at the expense of shutting down the legislative branch of the government is flat out irresponsible. You represent the people. You look out for their interests. You legislate. It's your damn job, so do it. Don't take your ball and go home like a whiny 4 year old. Whether you support the tax cuts or not, this move by the Senate Republicans is essentially a giant "fuck you" to the American people, and that just pisses me off.