It’s not his fault, really. Maybe it was understandable nervousness—after all, here he was just a few days after being anointed “The Republican Savior” in a Time magazine cover, following the president, but without an applauding crowd to feed off. Or maybe it was that the room was hot and dry. Whatever the cause, after trying to wipe the sweat from his brow and face for 12 long minutes and repeatedly moving his tongue around his mouth to get some moisture going, Marco Rubio decided he just had no choice but to bend down and grab that tantalizing little bottle of water that lay just out of reach.
So don’t blame him for that, even though he’ll no doubt get plenty of mockery for it today. You can blame him, however, for the insipid speech he delivered, a combination of calumny and cliché that demonstrated just why Republicans are having such problems appealing to voters. Let’s start with this:
Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity.
But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough, and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.
OK, so that’s not what the President said in his speech, and hearing from a Republican that Barack Obama hates free enterprise ceased to surprise a long time ago. And though Obama has certainly placed part of the blame for the economic downturn on insufficient government oversight of capital markets, the idea that he ever once blamed it on insufficient spending and taxation is obviously, plainly, absurdly false, a lie by any definition of the term. But that doesn’t surprise, either. What is remarkable is that just a few paragraphs after falsely attacking the president’s motives, Rubio says this: “There are valid reasons to be concerned about the president’s plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the president’s agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives.”
Come to think of it, that mixture of dishonesty and self-pity may be just what Republican primary voters are looking for in 2016. And one thing they may also be looking for is the assurance that not only are we God’s favorite country, but life everywhere else is an unending nightmare of opportunities denied and dreams dashed. If so, Rubio is ready to oblige:
This dream – of a better life for their children – it’s the hope of parents everywhere. Politicians here and throughout the world have long promised that more government can make those dreams come true.
But we Americans have always known better. From our earliest days, we embraced economic liberty instead. And because we did, America remains one of the few places on earth where dreams like these even have a chance.
Really? America is one of the few places on earth where people can dream of a better life for their children? Oh, please. The truth is that economic mobility in America is lower than in many similar countries (the result of a decades-long trend, and not Barack Obama’s fault, for what it’s worth). The “only in America” canard is a longtime pet peeve of mine, so I have to ask: why is it necessary to extol our country’s virtues by claiming that those virtues are ours alone? Why is it so hard to say that we value hard work and opportunity, and so do many other societies?
Maybe Marco Rubio is the Republican savior. Lots of politicians have given one crappy speech and then gone on to great things, most notably Bill Clinton, whose speech nominating Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic convention was panned for being both dull and ponderously long. Before you know it, this one will be little more than the source of the occasional chuckle, and Rubio will rise or fall based on what he does in a hundred other settings. But it just goes to show that with a few rare exceptions (like this one), delivering the opposition’s response to the State of the Union is likely to do your career more harm than good. If Rubio thought he’d be the one to buck that history, he didn’t get much more for his trouble than a dry mouth.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 13, 2013
After the election, word was that we had just lived through another Year of the Woman. After all, a record twenty women will now be serving in the US Senate next term, representing a fifth of all seats. We had previously failed to breach the 18 percent mark in that legislative body.
But women’s progress has stalled out somewhere else: the top of the private sector. The research organization Catalyst released its 2012 Census today, which tracks the number of women in executive officer and board director positions. Women held just over 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies this year and 16.6 percent of board seats at the same. Adding insult to injury, an even smaller percent of those female executive officers are counted among the highest earners—less than 8 percent of the top earner positions were held by women. Meanwhile, a full quarter of these companies simply had no women executive officers at all and one-tenth had no women directors on their boards.
But as in the Senate, progress may be slow and even small percentages can be victories. Did this year represent a step forward? Not even close. Women’s share of these positions went up by a mere half of a percentage point or less last year. Even worse, 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which we haven’t seen any growth in board seats and the third year of stagnation in the C-suite. Meanwhile, women may hold the majority of the jobs in growing sectors such as retail, healthcare and food service, but of the executive officers in those industries they represent less than 18 percent, under 16 percent and just 15.5 percent, respectively.
If this is the sign of the end of men or the richer sex, I fail to see how. Reversing these numbers may take time. But we’re not even on a steady uptick—we’re stuck on a plateau. Fortune tellers who tell us women are on track to dominate the economy need to explain how that can be if we aren’t seeing any movement in these top indicators. Representing half the workforce can still mean inequality if we aren’t breaking through to the top jobs.
By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, December 11, 2012
Who is in charge here, anyway? That, more than sequestered spending or how much we raise in new taxes, will be the most important question resolved by this “fiscal cliff” stand-off between President Obama and the GOP.
More than Republicans and Democrats forging an elusive consensus on shrinking the nation’s deficit, the real question before the country in these debates over debt is whether the American Republic has within it the will and the means to make its most powerful elites pay “just a little bit more,” as the President likes to say, at a time when those elites are determined to resist. And as we sit here today, the jury on that question is still out.
The power to tax may be the power to destroy, as the old saying goes. But as historian Francis Fukuyama reminds us, the reverse is also true: “Scandalous as it may sound to the ears of Republicans schooled in Reaganomics,” he says, “one critical measure of the health of a modern democracy is its ability to legitimately extract taxes from its own elites.”
Those who have ever been to places like Jamaica and seen ramshackle shacks side-by-side with mansions behind their high, stone walls and iron-barred windows know Fukuyama is right when he says the most dysfunctional societies are those in which elites are able to either legally exempt themselves from taxation or evade it and thus shift the burden of public expenditure onto the rest of society.
There is another old saying among students of American politics: “The President proposes and Congress disposes.” Well, the new rule, as Bill Maher might say, seems to be that in America today the Plutocracy proposes and Congress – or at least that part of Congress that is Republican – does as it is told.
Listening to the supposedly sensible Republican Senator Tom Coburn on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program earlier today dodge and weave every time the show’s hosts tried to pin him down on whether Republicans could agree to increasing income tax rates on the rich, it quickly became apparent that when Republicans say we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich what they really mean is that Republicans can’t.
When Republicans say taxes on the rich cannot go up, that is not a bargaining position. It’s an admission of weakness that Republicans literally can’t make it happen — either because their rigid ideology won’t let them or because Republicans have lost control of their own party. Maybe both.
Republican heretic David Frum helps shine a light on why Republicans are so boxed in on tax rates and why they are reduced to vague talk about closing loopholes and deductions with no specifics or numbers attached.
According to Frum, it’s okay for Republican lawmakers to advocate raising “revenues” by closing unspecified loopholes because upper-income Republicans in red states, like Texas, don’t really have that many deductions to begin with.
Deductions for state and local taxes don’t interest wealthy Texans because Texas doesn’t have a state income tax at all, he says.
“Nor is the mortgage interest deduction a matter of life or death,” says Frum, since housing prices are comparatively cheap in the Lone Star State, unlike blue states like New York or California where housing is more expensive, as are taxes.
“What Texas does have, however, is a lot of very high incomes who care a great deal about tax rates,” says Frum. And so the GOP’s big donors are willing to throw loopholes over the side, says Frum, since in the battle between the “ordinary rich” and super-rich, deductions matter a lot more to people earning $400,000 than to people earning $4 million or $40 million.”
That is why the Republican Party’s billionaire backers have sent the word out that there will be hell to pay if Republicans let tax rates go up even a fraction of a point on those making more than $250,000.
Republicans do their best to disguise their emasculated feebleness by whining that raising tax rates 4% would only bring in about $50 billion a year – chump change, a drop in the bucket, they say – while promising to bring in lots more dough by closing unnamed loopholes or through that fog bank of imprecision known as “tax reform.”
But rates going up on the richest Americans is off the table as far as Republicans are concerned. It is a non-starter, with violators punished by no-nonsense warnings of a leadership coup or, even worse, an intra-party civil war as conservative secessionists carry out their threats to abandon the GOP, en masse, and form their own ultra-right party.
One manifestation of the dysfunction affecting American politics is that once the Republican Party has dug in its heels and decided not to do something, their obstruction sets the terms of debate and the starting assumptions for the rest of the Washington Establishment.
When Republican’s wealthy benefactors decide they will tolerate no compromise on rates – none – the rest of us are expected to accept that recalcitrance as a “given” and work around it.
To confront that presumption head-on and challenge it directly, as President Obama has done – to declare that America is a democracy not a plutocracy by insisting that no deficit-reduction package will be signed by him unless Republicans agree to increase tax rates on top income earners – that is what Republicans mean when they say the President is “politicizing” an issue or “failing to show leadership” by either capitulating to Republican demands or neutralizing the negative consequences of the Republican Party’s own intransigence.
“President Obama has an unbelievable opportunity to be a transformational president – that is, to bring the country together,” said Speaker Boehner lieutenant Pete Roskam of Illinois. “Or he can devolve into zero-sum-game politics, where he wins and other people lose.”
You can tell Charles Krauthammer understands the Republican’s inside game here because the master propagandist accuses President Obama of playing it.
The President’s insistence Republicans put their big donor’s money where their mouths and show they are serious about deficit reduction “has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform,” says Krauthammer. “It is entirely about politics.”
How true, about Republicans I mean. Likewise, in response to news the irreconcilable right intends to launch a leadership coup or third party challenge should Republican leaders go along with the 70% of Americans who say they want taxes raised on the top 2%, Krauthammer accuses the President of bargaining in bad faith by making offers “designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy.”
This is why, for example, Krauthammer says Obama sent Treasury Secretary Geithner to Republicans “to convey not a negotiating offer but a demand for unconditional surrender.”
Accusing ones opponents of that which you are most guilty of yourself is a well-traveled tactic on the right. And what’s obviously got Krauthammer most incensed is the dawning realization from the President’s less conciliatory posture since election day that two can play at the Republican’s give-no-quarter game.
The seeds for America’s political dysfunction were sown 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party made the fateful decision to favor Wall Street over Main Street, finance over manufacturing, as America’s signature industry.
The inevitable concentration of wealth this favoritism produced empowered a narrow economic elite with the financial resources to capture a political party and then use that party to capture the nation’s government.
It was just as those early Jeffersonians foretold more than 200 years ago when they worried about those “Anglomen” who stood to profit from Alexander Hamilton’s scheming over the National Bank and a Commercial Republic far more entranced by pecuniary promises of profit than the public-spirited virtues of civic republicanism.
And since 1980 all of these ancient fears have come to pass as a greater share of the nation’s wealth has fallen into fewer and fewer hands – 25% of income and 40% of assets controlled by 1% of the population – with the predicable distortions this concentration of economic power has had on the American political system.
A GOP that is the wholly-owned subsidiary of that super elite “may no longer be a normal party,” wrote David Brooks at the height of the debt ceiling crisis 18 months ago.
Brooks was outraged when Republicans passed on what he called the “mother of no brainers” by turning down a perfectly good deal with Democrats to resolve the impasse because, in Brooks’ view, Republicans a.) have been “infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative;” b.) do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms; c.) do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities; d.) have no sense of moral decency if they can talk so “blandly of default” and their willingness to “stain their nation’s honor”; and finally e.) have no economic theory worthy of the name since tax levels are all that matter to them.
There are sound economic arguments for reducing debts and deficits – maybe not now while unemployment is still high and interests rates low, but over the long term. But there is none – none – for taking upper income tax rates off the table as part of the final deficit-reduction agreement. And the only reason we are hung up on taxes for the top 2% is that this powerful special interest thinks it can flex its muscles and vacate the verdict of a national election by getting its demands met regardless of majority public opinion.
“The conservative insurgents of today argue that their anti-tax cost cutting agenda is designed to revive the economy, boost the job market and get America on the move again,” writes Thomas Edsall in The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics.
“There is, however, another equally probable motivation,” he says, “that this cashiering of moral restraint on the Right reflects its belief, conscious or unconscious, that we have reached the end of the American Century.”
In that event, says Edsell, the “adamant anti-tax posture of the Right” can be seen as “an implicit abandonment of the state and of the larger American experiment — a decision that the enterprise is failing and that it is time to jump ship.”
The real news on the American right, agrees professor Mark Lilla “is the mainstreaming of political apocalypticism” led by people he calls “redemptive reactionaries” who think the only way forward “is to destroy what history has given us and wait for a new order to emerge out of the chaos.”
Once there was a conservative Golden Age, these reactionaries believe, where the world was ruled by the “Best and Brightest,” the “job creators,” Ayn Rand’s “makers,” and the top 2% who now threaten punitive action against Republican leaders or civil war within the party if their non-negotiable demands against tax hikes are not met.
But then came the New Deal, the Great Society and the civil rights movements of the 1960s that emancipated heretofore marginalized minorities of all kinds – in other words “an apocalypse” so horrible in its consequences that the only sane response was “to provoke another in hopes of starting over,” says Lizza.
And ever since, these reactionaries have been working toward a counterrevolution “that would destroy the present state of affairs and transport the nation, or the faith, or the entire human race to some new Golden Age that would redeem aspects of the past without returning there.”
Grover Norquist’s “no tax pledge” perfectly captures the Judgment Day spirit of this reactionary mentality. So does the Senate filibuster. So does the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which itself is the apocalyptic can Democrats were forced to kick down the road to escape the calamitous consequences of the first Doomsday can Republicans constructed 18 months ago by refusing to raise the debt ceiling and allow the government to pay its overdue bills, thus pushing the nation to the brink of insolvency for the first time in US history.
And so, when Republicans assail President Obama for trying to make a political “statement” when he insists that taxes on the wealthy must go up as part of this deficit-cutting deal that Republicans demanded in the first place, it’s good to remember that this is a valuable statement to make, since every once in a while it’s important to remind these rich and powerful “redemptive reactionaries” just who’s boss.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, December 7, 2012
The Twinkie, it turns out, was introduced way back in 1930. In our memories, however, the iconic snack will forever be identified with the 1950s, when Hostess popularized the brand by sponsoring “The Howdy Doody Show.” And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.
Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.
Consider the question of tax rates on the wealthy. The modern American right, and much of the alleged center, is obsessed with the notion that low tax rates at the top are essential to growth. Remember that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, charged with producing a plan to curb deficits, nonetheless somehow ended up listing “lower tax rates” as a “guiding principle.”
Yet in the 1950s incomes in the top bracket faced a marginal tax rate of 91, that’s right, 91 percent, while taxes on corporate profits were twice as large, relative to national income, as in recent years. The best estimates suggest that circa 1960 the top 0.01 percent of Americans paid an effective federal tax rate of more than 70 percent, twice what they pay today.
Nor were high taxes the only burden wealthy businessmen had to bear. They also faced a labor force with a degree of bargaining power hard to imagine today. In 1955 roughly a third of American workers were union members. In the biggest companies, management and labor bargained as equals, so much so that it was common to talk about corporations serving an array of “stakeholders” as opposed to merely serving stockholders.
Squeezed between high taxes and empowered workers, executives were relatively impoverished by the standards of either earlier or later generations. In 1955 Fortune magazine published an essay, “How top executives live,” which emphasized how modest their lifestyles had become compared with days of yore. The vast mansions, armies of servants, and huge yachts of the 1920s were no more; by 1955 the typical executive, Fortune claimed, lived in a smallish suburban house, relied on part-time help and skippered his own relatively small boat.
The data confirm Fortune’s impressions. Between the 1920s and the 1950s real incomes for the richest Americans fell sharply, not just compared with the middle class but in absolute terms. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, in 1955 the real incomes of the top 0.01 percent of Americans were less than half what they had been in the late 1920s, and their share of total income was down by three-quarters.
Today, of course, the mansions, armies of servants and yachts are back, bigger than ever — and any hint of policies that might crimp plutocrats’ style is met with cries of “socialism.” Indeed, the whole Romney campaign was based on the premise that President Obama’s threat to modestly raise taxes on top incomes, plus his temerity in suggesting that some bankers had behaved badly, were crippling the economy. Surely, then, the far less plutocrat-friendly environment of the 1950s must have been an economic disaster, right?
Actually, some people thought so at the time. Paul Ryan and many other modern conservatives are devotees of Ayn Rand. Well, the collapsing, moocher-infested nation she portrayed in “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957, was basically Dwight Eisenhower’s America.
Strange to say, however, the oppressed executives Fortune portrayed in 1955 didn’t go Galt and deprive the nation of their talents. On the contrary, if Fortune is to be believed, they were working harder than ever. And the high-tax, strong-union decades after World War II were in fact marked by spectacular, widely shared economic growth: nothing before or since has matched the doubling of median family income between 1947 and 1973.
Which brings us back to the nostalgia thing.
There are, let’s face it, some people in our political life who pine for the days when minorities and women knew their place, gays stayed firmly in the closet and congressmen asked, “Are you now or have you ever been?” The rest of us, however, are very glad those days are gone. We are, morally, a much better nation than we were. Oh, and the food has improved a lot, too.
Along the way, however, we’ve forgotten something important — namely, that economic justice and economic growth aren’t incompatible. America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 19, 2012