Over the weekend I was mulling both of our crises, the political one (dysfunction, paralysis) and the policy one (looming tax-mageddon, sequestration). Yep, I mull these things on Saturdays. How, I wondered for the 486th time, can Obama get the Republicans to dig their heels out of the mud and get the upper hand politically while also doing some good for the country? Here’s how.
Obama should go to Congress and say: “I offer you the following deal. I will extend all the Bush tax cuts for one year—yes, even for the wealthiest Americans. One year. In exchange, I’d like you to agree to fund the initial, start-up $10 billion for the Kerry-Hutchison infrastructure bank, and the $35 billion I asked of you last September in direct aid for states and localities to rehire laid-off teachers and first responders. Then, after I am reelected, my administration and I will take the first six months of 2013 to write comprehensive tax reform, and Congress will then have six months to pass it, and we’ll have a new tax structure that we’ve both agreed on.
“The business community complains about uncertainty? This is certainty. The Bush rates will stay in place for one more year. We will give corporations our word that the basic corporate rate will be lowered in our package from the current 35 percent. The top marginal rate on the very highest earners will go up—I will continue to insist on that. But not for a year. The rates on middle- and low-income payers will stay the same or go down slightly. We will look at tax expenditures and loopholes and so on and close the ones that aren’t justified. But businesses will now have no reason to doubt what the tax rates will be next January and will have confidence that we’re going to work something out, if you agree to this very reasonable compromise.”
Obama gives some ground, the Republicans give some ground. Nobody gets everything, but everybody gets something. Isn’t that what compromise is? And the “certainty” point is key—it takes away an argument against private-sector investment and job creation that some in the business world have been making, at this moment of record corporate profits.
I’m well aware that liberals may hate this. I’ll get to that. But the politics of this idea seem awfully sound to me. Obama would have the Republicans over a barrel. He will have offered a huge concession on the high-end tax rates, which the media will note. If the Republicans say no, which of course is likely because the infrastructure bank is socialism and no one wants teachers anyway, then it becomes manifestly clear to swing voters that Republicans are the true obstructionists. Voters will get that Obama will have made a major concession here. They’ll see that the GOP fail to respond in kind, and most of them will draw the logical conclusion.
And if the Republicans say yes, then even better: They will have made Obama, at this eleventh hour of his first term, into the bipartisan leader they’ve so successfully prevented him from being. And more important than that, there are the real-world upshots of public investment in infrastructure—a proposal that has the support, by the way, of the left-wing United States Chamber of Commerce—and the rehiring of hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers.
The Republicans will be boxed in. They’ll think up a clever response. They always do. They’ll try to bring in defense spending, perhaps, or insist on two years. They’ll obviously set out immediately on trying to figure out a way to box Obama in and make the Bush rates permanent. They’ll think of nine other things I’m not cynical enough to conjure up. They’ll dismiss it as a gimmick, but I’d wager that Obama can sell the idea that his giving ground on high-income tax rates is serious, not gimmicky. And if Obama stands firm, the lines are simple and clear: “I’m giving up something, and I’m asking you to give up something, for the sake of helping put Americans to work, and of doing the jobs we’re paid to do.”
My idea doesn’t deal directly with budget sequestration, and the huge cuts that are supposed to kick in January 1. Maybe Obama can propose that those be deferred for a while as well. Or maybe he is better off just leaving that to the senators who are allegedly working on it now. It might muddy things up.
Now, liberals. There will be outrage that Obama caved on his one heretofore firm condition on taxes. Under other circumstances, I might be outraged. But these strike me as pretty decent circumstances. Remember, Obama agreed to extend the Bush rates once before, in December 2010, and a fair number of liberals and independent analysts were basically fine with that deal. That time, what did Obama get? His own tax cuts, to the payroll tax, and some unemployment insurance extensions. This time, if the GOP actually agreed, he’d be getting far, far more—Republicans agreeing for the first time in the Obama era to real stimulative spending. Liberals should cheer this outcome—just as they should cheer the idea that, unlike during the December 2010 deal or the debt fiasco of last year, Obama would be looking like the guy who set the terms. He’d look strong, not weak, and he’d be very nicely teed up for reelection.
Which is why the Republicans will say no. Though it’ll be worse for the country, it would be great for Obama politically. Mitt Romney, of course, would dismiss Obama’s offer too, so my ploy would bring the added benefit of making Romney look extreme and unreasonable to centrist voters. Obama could then campaign saying that he tried repeatedly to reason with Republicans and was rebuffed at every turn, even when he offered to lower tax rates for millionaires. Romney and the GOP will campaign saying, “We’ll give you the tax cuts without all this spending.” Obama will then have to make the case that spending—investment—has value. But he has to make that case anyway. In my scenario, he can make it in a context in which he can prove to voters that the other party won’t budge one single inch. He’ll finally look like, to resuscitate a phrase we haven’t heard much of in the last two years, the adult in the room.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 12, 2012
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) pre-election voter purge hasn’t had much success lately, but that didn’t stop him from going to a Tea Party Express event yesterday, urging far-right activists to help rally support for his scheme.
Wearing khakis, a blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his signature custom-made cowboy boots, Scott defended the purge and enlisted their aid getting President Obama’s administration to cooperate by granting access to a federal immigration database.
“Okay so the latest is who should get to vote in our state and in our country. People that are citizens of our country. It’s very simple, right? Who comes up with the idea that you get to vote if you’re not a citizen?” Scott asked near the end of a 15-minute speech at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.
As straw-men arguments go, Scott’s is a doozy. “Who comes up with the idea that you get to vote if you’re not a citizen?” Well, no one; the governor is attacking a line that no one is defending. Rather, the problem is Scott’s plan, though ostensibly about purging non-citizens from the voter rolls, has ended up unjustly targeting tens of thousands of eligible citizens, making this more of a voter-suppression plan than anything else.
Indeed, given that 87% of Scott’s purge list is made up of minorities, minority voters tend to support Democrats, and the scheme is being executed five months before Election Day, the partisan motivations behind the governor’s agenda is rather transparent.
Nevertheless, Scott vowed yesterday that he would not back down from his suppression tactics, and was reportedly emboldened by last week’s recall election in Wisconsin. In an unintentionally-hilarious twist, Scott was introduced yesterday by Tea Party Express co-founder Amy Kremer, who told the crowd, without a hint of irony, that the voter purge is necessary because, “If the Democrats cannot win it fair and square, they will steal it.”
The next question, of course, is what will happen among those who have the most control over this process: the county elections supervisors.
As Rachel explained last week, Scott can send purge lists to the counties, but it’s up to the county officials “to actually do the purging … and lately the county officials in Florida are not much in a mood for what the state is telling them to do.” Indeed, as of Friday, these 67 county election chiefs said they would not move forward with Scott’s purge plan because they lack confidence in the integrity of the governor’s list.
One county elections supervisor said, “We’re just not going to do this. I’ve talked to many of the other supervisors and they agree. The list is bad. And this is illegal.”
However, Maddow Blog commenter Luckton noted this morning that the scheme “is still being carried out by a few of the county supervisors,” who are buckling to pressure from the governor.
Also keep an eye on Scott’s next move, which may include filing suit against the Obama administration for not helping him purge more voters from the state’s rolls.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 11. 2012
The Republicans’ 2012 election strategy is perversely brilliant: Sabotage President Obama’s job-creation efforts, then blame him for the wreckage.
This strategy was in action the other day, when Mitt Romney assailed Obama on the stump. Romney said that “with America in crisis, with 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work, he hasn’t put forth a plan to get us working again.”
Romney conveniently omitted the fact that Obama put forth such a plan last autumn. The American Jobs Act would have put as many as two million construction workers, cops, teachers, and firefighters back to work — so said economic forecasters — if only congressional Republicans hadn’t dynamited it.
Yes, sabotage was indeed required. Republicans knew their prospects for beating Obama would be damaged if they signed on to a plan that got more Americans working again. They’re far too invested in economic misery to let that happen. Working with Obama on job creation is not their top priority; as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell candidly remarked in 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Fortunately for the GOP, voters typically pay scant attention to the parliamentary play-by-play in Washington. Fortunately for the GOP, we are a nation of amnesiacs. What happened last autumn, when Senate Republicans successfully blocked debate on the jobs plan, is ancient history. That episode, yet another example of obstruction by filibuster, has vanished down the Orwellian memory hole — which allows Romney to pretend the bill never existed.
The 2012 election may be a cliff-hanger, much like 2000 and 2004, and the sabotage strategy just may be clever enough to work.
The GOP saboteurs deserve a share of the blame for our stalled economy, but politics is a shorthand business — and the shorthand is that presidents take the hit when times are tough. When the latest jobs report tallied only 69,000 new jobs during May and put the jobless rate at 8.2 percent, Obama got the brunt of the blame. People tend to believe the maxim that sat on Harry S. Truman’s desk — “The buck stops here” — even though power is widely dispersed in a system that cannot function without at least a modicum of bipartisan comity.
By: Dick Polman, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 10, 2012
This morning, Jeb Bush said some somewhat surprising things in a meeting with reporters, at least for a Republican. He noted that neither Ronald Reagan nor his father could be elected in today’s GOP, and said in essence that Mitt Romney had moved too far to the right on immigration. He also said some of the things you’d expect a Republican to say, like that the blame for the current partisan atmosphere lies with President Obama, because he didn’t seek common ground with Republicans enough. Anyone who has been watching politics for the last three and a half years knows how utterly insane this is, but in case you missed this tidbit, a bunch of influential congressional Republicans got together on the night of Obama’s inauguration to lay out a plan for how they would obstruct everything they could and sabotage his presidency.
The question of what Jeb is up to sheds some light on where his party is going to find itself this coming fall, should it lose the presidential election. The simplest explanation for his willingness to tenderly criticize other Republicans is that he is realistic about the country’s yearning for more Bushes in the White House, so he feels free to state the blindingly obvious about his party’s gallop to the right. The alternative answer, which Jonathan Chait suggests, is that Jeb “is clearly engaged in an effort to position himself as the next leader of the Republican Party.” Chait explains:
To understand what Bush is saying, you need to anticipate how the party might diagnose the causes of a loss in 2012, and then you can see how he is setting himself as the cure. Bush has been publicly urging Republicans to moderate their tone toward Latinos and to embrace immigration reform. Here is the one issue where Republicans, should they lose, will almost surely conclude that they need to moderate their party stance. The Latino vote is both growing in size and seems to be tilting ever more strongly toward the Democrats, a combination that will rapidly make the electoral map virtually unwinnable. Indeed, the body language of the Romney campaign suggests it already regrets the hard-line stances on immigration it adopted during the primary…
If you try to imagine the Republican consensus after a potential losing election, it will look like this [a moderation in tone, without a moderation in substance]. It will recognize that its harsh partisan rhetoric turned off voters, and will urgently want to woo Latinos, while holding on to as much as possible of the party’s domestic policy agenda. And oh, by the way, the party will be casting about for somebody to lead it.
Chait may indeed be right about what Jeb is thinking. But it’s important to remember that if Romney loses, there will be a vigorous debate within the GOP about why he lost, and the outcome of that debate is not completely certain. Many Republican leaders will certainly argue that the rhetoric got out of hand, and they’ll be right. But lots of other Republicans, including the remnants of the Tea Party and the people who represent them, will argue that there was only one reason Romney lost: he was too liberal. They will push for more hardline positions, more uncompromising obstruction, and more conservative candidates, at all levels but especially when it comes to the 2016 presidential race.
You might say, well, that happened in 2012, didn’t it? And the establishment’s candidate eventually prevailed. That’s true enough, but Mitt Romney had the good fortune to run against a remarkable collection of nutballs and buffoons. It isn’t as though defeating Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum makes you some kind of giant-killer. After a few months of those primaries, he came out looking like the closest thing the party had to a candidate who was in possession of all his faculties.
In every presidential election in the last half-century with the exception of 2000, Republicans have nominated the person who was “next in line,” almost always someone who had run for president before and come in second. But the closest thing to a next in line for 2016 will be Santorum, and the party couldn’t possibly be dumb enough to nominate him. There will likely be some candidates more acceptable to the establishment, and some who appeal more to the base. But the former group will still feel enormous pressure to move as far right as possible to placate those base voters. In other words, it’s possible Jeb Bush will wind up as the leader of the GOP. But if he does, it won’t be because he’s a moderate. It’ll be because, like Romney, he can give the base the wingnuttery it demands, while winking to the establishment that he’s not as crazy as he sounds.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 11, 2012
Why does the United States have two political parties that espouse such opposing philosophies? The Republicans fight for the conservative ideals of “individual rights — and the responsibilities that go with them,” from which flows the belief in limited government and few regulations. Democrats argue for the liberal notion that “we also rise or fall as one nation … I am my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper,” from which derives the support for social-assistance programs and universal access to health care. Why do these two parties — and the divided populations they represent — see “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” so differently? Is it cultural, or is there something innate in our biology that explains these differences?
Scientists have spent the last decade examining the physiology of political thought, but they have only succeeded in identifying the symptoms and not the root cause. So, forget about the MRI studies showing that Democrats and Republicans respond differently to fear, with greater or less blood flow to specific parts of the brain. Ignore the finding that conservatives have enlarged amygdalas, the part of the brain associated with anxiety and emotions, but that liberals have a larger anterior cingulate, which is associated with optimism. Skip over the research that says we inherit our politics from our parents. They all tell us the “how,” not the “why.”
The underlying reason for the eternal conflict between Republican “individual rights” and Democratic “we’re all in this together” is explained by a radical and magisterial theory of evolution outlined in Edward O. Wilson’s groundbreaking new book The Social Conquest of Earth. Wilson, who has dominated evolutionary thinking for the past 40 years, has synthesized a lifetime of work into a “theory of everything“. Greatly simplified, his argument is that two rival evolutionary forces drive human behavior: first, individual selection, which rewards the fittest individuals by passing along their genes; and second, group selection, in which the communities that work best together come to dominate the gene pool. Wilson argues that these two evolutionary forces are at work simultaneously, so that both self-serving and altruistic behaviors are constantly competing at the individual and at the group level. As he explains, “Members of the same group compete with one another in a manner that leads to self-serving behavior …. At the higher level, groups compete with groups, favoring cooperative social traits among members of the same group.” In other words, individuals with self-serving behaviors beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of individuals with self-serving behaviors.
Extending this evolutionary theory, two competing forces are at work within the political organism: the “Republican genotype,” which favors individualistic behaviors, and the “Democratic genotype,” which favors altruism. Both forces are simultaneously at work at the individual and group levels. Different individuals — and different groups — will respond more or less to each of these forces depending upon the political and economic environment. The physiological differences between Democrats and Republicans in fear response, anxiety, etc., are simply symptoms of these competing genetic influences, and not the root cause of their divergent political beliefs.
If this theory is correct, it should be applicable not simply to Democrats and Republicans but to political parties around the world — that is, the general political structure of nations should split roughly into the “individualistic” versus “altruistic” models. In fact, most liberal democracies (i.e., where the voting is actually free and fair) have either a two-party system or a multi-party system having a dominant and a minority coalition, the two sides of which tend to split along those themes. In Britain, the Conservative Party argues for “putting more power in people’s hands” while the Labour Party highlights “social justice and strong community.” In France, the right-wing UMP (Nicolas Sarkozy’s party) puts individual “liberty and responsibility” front and center, while the Socialist Party (of François Hollande) believes that social equality requires the “redistribution of resources and wealth.” In Japan, the right-wing Democratic Party “values people’s individuality and vitality,” while the left-wing Liberal Democratic Party begins its constitution with a call for the “prosperity of mankind.”
Wilson’s theory of group and individual selection also accounts for the fact that political parties wax and wane in strength and influence, but that neither faction ever achieves total dominance. As he states, “The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressure cannot move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies.”
In other words, Democrats and Republicans are not two sides of the same coin, but rather different parts of the same genome. One cannot dominate the other, nor can either live without the other. Like it or not, the two parties are condemned to coexist with one another.
By: Larrie D. Ferreiro, The Atlantic, June 11, 2012