“The Big Freaking Deal”: Progressives Might Want To Take A Brief Break From Anxiety And Savor Their Real Victories
On the day President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, an exuberant Vice President Biden famously pronounced the reform a “big something deal” — except that he didn’t use the word “something.” And he was right.
In fact, I’d suggest using this phrase to describe the Obama administration as a whole. F.D.R. had his New Deal; well, Mr. Obama has his Big Deal. He hasn’t delivered everything his supporters wanted, and at times the survival of his achievements seemed very much in doubt. But if progressives look at where we are as the second term begins, they’ll find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction.
Consider, in particular, three areas: health care, inequality and financial reform.
Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.
True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.
But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.
What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.
That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.
Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.
Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).
All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal. But will its achievements last?
Mr. Obama overcame the biggest threat to his legacy simply by winning re-election. But George W. Bush also won re-election, a victory widely heralded as signaling the coming of a permanent conservative majority. So will Mr. Obama’s moment of glory prove equally fleeting? I don’t think so.
For one thing, the Big Deal’s main policy initiatives are already law. This is a contrast with Mr. Bush, who didn’t try to privatize Social Security until his second term — and it turned out that a “khaki” election won by posing as the nation’s defender against terrorists didn’t give him a mandate to dismantle a highly popular program.
And there’s another contrast: the Big Deal agenda is, in fact, fairly popular — and will become more popular once Obamacare goes into effect and people see both its real benefits and the fact that it won’t send Grandma to the death panels.
Finally, progressives have the demographic and cultural wind at their backs. Right-wingers flourished for decades by exploiting racial and social divisions — but that strategy has now turned against them as we become an increasingly diverse, socially liberal nation.
Now, none of what I’ve just said should be taken as grounds for progressive complacency. The plutocrats may have lost a round, but their wealth and the influence it gives them in a money-driven political system remain. Meanwhile, the deficit scolds (largely financed by those same plutocrats) are still trying to bully Mr. Obama into slashing social programs.
So the story is far from over. Still, maybe progressives — an ever-worried group — might want to take a brief break from anxiety and savor their real, if limited, victories.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columist, The New York Times, January 20, 2013
Asked to explain his support for Rick Santorum in Michigan’s primary, voter Sandy Munro said, “Now what we need is a strong political leader to do something to get us out of the moral slump that we’re in.”
Mr Santorum would agree, having noted that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America.” As would Mitt Romney, who has attacked the decay caused by Barack Obama’s “secular agenda”. Newt Gingrich has gone the furthest, stating, “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have.”
But what are these problems? When considering America’s moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he’s probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America’s moral decline.
So let’s look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There’s just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.
Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, “the nation’s graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades.” So where is the evidence of this moral decline?
Here’s one for the declinists: the number of Americans not affiliated with any religion has increased, while the number of those attending worship services has declined. And here’s another: out-of-wedlock births have increased in America so that now at least four in ten children are born to unmarried women. This is something Mr Santorum has focused on during the campaign, and he is right in pointing out that the children of unwed mothers in America tend to do worse in terms of health, schooling and income later in life.
But here’s where the real debate over America’s moral position comes into focus. As the New York Times notes, out-of-wedlock births are increasing in much of the developed world—for example, over half of babies in Iceland and Sweden are born to unwed mothers. But according to Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, “In Sweden, you see very little variation in the outcome of children based on marital status. Everybody does fairly well… In the US, there’s much more disparity.”
So out-of-wedlock birth need not correspond to worse outcomes for children. And if it didn’t in America, should we still consider out-of-wedlock births a moral problem? One could ask a similar question about religion. While rates of religious participation may be declining in America, young people today have similar moral beliefs as their parents and grandparents. So is the decline in religious observance a moral problem?
When it comes to out-of-wedlock births, the issue is complicated because discouraging these types of the births may be a more efficient way of securing children than the type of nanny-state intervention that can be found in a country like Sweden. But in general, I think the debate over America’s moral position comes down to this: Republicans want the best outcomes based on solutions that fit into preconceived notions of what society should look like. So even if there are few tangible harms that point to our moral decay, any move away from their vision of society is evidence of declining virtue. Democrats, on the other hand, are more concerned with outcomes, even if that means upending the way things were (or accepting that they have been upended and cannot be restored).
So in the case of out-of-wedlock births, Republicans would probably see the increase as a moral problem regardless of the outcome. Whereas Democrats might feel more comfortable with, say, promoting a corresponding increase in stable familial relationships outside of marriage. It is a dynamic we’ve seen elsewhere recently, in regard to issues like gay marriage and contraception. And it leads to a debate over what “moral” really means. If “immoral” means “causing avoidable harm to other people” then gay marriage, pornography, sex, reality TV, soft-drug use and euthanasia are hardly immoral, even if distasteful to some.
But as we grind through the Republican primary process, it seems like the debate over morality in America has less to do with moral outcomes and more to do with a vision of how society should look based on idealistic remembrances of how things were. So people like Mr Munro and the Republican candidates believe America is in a moral slump. The odd thing is, people on the left might actually agree, though for very different reasons. They are upset by the perceived greed of the 1%, and the broad acceptance of torture and war as foreign-policy tools. In the end, the debate over morality more closely resembles two distinct monologues.
By: Democracy in America Blog, The Economist, March 2, 2012
Even Republicans have to be laughing at the circus sideshow the GOP presidential candidates are putting on. The Mitt-Rick-Herman act was so comical this week it looks concerted, almost like they collaborated with the Democratic National Committee. Team Obama is grinning so hard its ears are hurting, because 10 weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, the Republican Party is divided, the candidates are undisciplined and the voters don’t love any of them. Just in time for the real ugliness to begin a few weeks from now.
The marquee moment belongs to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, of course, indulging in birtherism on Monday night so that he could step on Tuesday’s rollout of his flat-tax plan. Sure, Perry tried to discount the birth-certificate controversy — sort of — while throwing some greasy scraps to the Trumpsters who still believe a U.S. president has actually released a fake certificate.
“I’m not really worried about the president’s birth certificate,” Perry said in an interview with CNBC. “It’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.’ ” Perry made sure to mention that Donald Trump recently said he didn’t think the birth certificate was real. And he said it’s “a good issue to keep alive.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could have jumped all over that — if he hadn’t been busy shooting himself in the foot in the battleground state of Ohio. Yes, Romney decided a fresh flip-flop was in order, despite the fact that his critics are happy to savor his many others. While at a Republican call center in Ohio, he refused to comment on an Ohio law limiting collective bargaining that he had expressed support for months ago. After being pummeled by conservatives, Romney reiterated his, um, previous support.
Herman Cain, who tops the GOP field in a new CBS/New York Times poll, spent the last few days telling reporters who asked tough policy questions that he needed a little more time to think of an answer. He learned the hard way by saying on CNN that abortion is a family’s choice. Whoops — better to leave details out of this whole thing. Cain still can’t really be found on the campaign trail. No, the motivational speaker was in Texas selling books and giving a speech. And despite Perry’s attempt to beat Cain at his 9-9-9 game with a flat-tax plan, Cain-world still scored much buzz with a weirdo Web ad featuring his campaign manager Mark Block smoking into the camera. It already has more than 387,000 hits on YouTube.
With that kind of juice, who needs to endure the icy winds of the door-to-door campaigning Iowans demand of their caucus winners? If Cain continues to surge without leaving the book tour, then we will know that talking to voters in town-hall meetings and asking for their support is no longer necessary. In fact, perhaps televised debates aren’t, either. Perry told Bill O’Reilly in an interview on Fox News on Tuesday that while his debate performances have been disappointing, the debates themselves are a mistake. “If there was a mistake, it was probably ever doing one of the campaign [debates] when all they’re interested in is stirring up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.” His campaign said Perry will attend one more in Michigan, but beyond that he might be a no-show.
That’s understandable. Questions at debates about serious policy matters — like what his response would be to the Taliban gaining control of Pakistani’s nuclear weapons — just aren’t Rick Perry’s idea of “fun.”
By: A. B. Stoddard, Associate Editor, The Hill, October 26, 2011
I imagine everyone has seen the bumper sticker that says, “Lord, protect us from your followers.” I have an idea for a related sticker that reads, “Republicans, protect us from your elected officials.”
In the existing political landscape, the real problem is not with GOP voters; it’s with GOP policymakers. This isn’t to let the party’s supporters off the hook entirely — they’re the ones who supported and elected the officeholders — but it’s hard to overstate how much more constructive the political process would be if Republican lawmakers in any way reflected the priorities of their own supporters.
Last week, a national poll found that Republican voters broadly support the Democratic jobs agenda — a payroll tax cut, jobs for teachers/first responders, infrastructure investments, and increased taxes on millionaires and billionaires — in some cases by wide margins. This week, Tim Noah noticed this observation can be applied even further.
I’m liking rank-and-file Republicans better and better. Earlier this month we learned that they favor Obama’s plan to tax the rich. Now we learn that a 55 percent majority of them think Wall Street bankers and brokers are “dishonest,” 69 percent think they’re “overpaid,” and 72 percent think they’re “greedy.” Fewer than half (47 percent) have an unfavorable view of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Thirty-three percent either favor them or have no opinion, and 20 percent haven’t heard of them. Also, a majority favor getting rid of the Electoral College and replacing it with a popular vote. After the 2000 election only 41 percent did. Now 53 percent do. How cool is that?
Every one of these positions puts the GOP rank-and-file at odds with their congressional leadership and field of presidential candidates.
I don’t want to exaggerate this too much. The fact remains that the Republican Party is dominated by conservative voters, especially those who participate in primaries and caucuses. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the party’s rank-and-file members are moving to the left.
But the recent poll results are also hard to miss — many if not most GOP voters are perfectly comfortable with plenty of progressive ideas, including tax increases on millionaires and billionaires. It’s starting to look like the party’s rank and file is made up of mainstream conservatives who want their party to help move the country forward.
And yet, when we look to Republican officials in Washington, how many GOP members of Congress are willing to endorse any of these popular measures? Zero. Literally, not even one Republican lawmaker has offered even tacit support for ideas that most GOP voters actually like. In the Senate, a united Republican caucus won’t even allow a vote — won’t even allow a debate — on popular job-creation ideas during a jobs crisis.
If the actions of GOP lawmakers in any way resembled the wishes of GOP voters, our political system wouldn’t be nearly as dysfunctional as it is now.
Congratulations, congressional Republicans. You’re far more extreme than your own supporters.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011