The vitriol is worse is worse than I ever recall. Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004. Worse, even, than the anything-goes craziness of 2000 and its ensuing bitterness.
It’s almost a civil war. I know families in which close relatives are no longer speaking. A dating service says Democrats won’t even consider going out with Republicans, and vice-versa. My email and twitter feeds contain messages from strangers I wouldn’t share with my granddaughter.
What’s going on? Yes, we’re divided over issues like the size of government and whether women should have control over their bodies. But these aren’t exactly new debates. We’ve been disagreeing over the size and role of government since Thomas Jefferson squared off with Alexander Hamilton, and over abortion rights since before Roe v. Wade, almost forty years ago.
And we’ve had bigger disagreements in the past – over the Vietnam War, civil rights, communist witch hunts – that didn’t rip us apart like this.
Maybe it’s that we’re more separated now, geographically and online.
The town where I grew up in the 1950s was a GOP stronghold, but Henry Wallace, FDR’s left-wing vice president, had retired there quite happily. Our political disagreements then and there didn’t get in the way of our friendships. Or even our families — my father voted Republican and my mother was a Democrat. And we all watched Edward R. Murrow deliver the news, and then, later, Walter Cronkite. Both men were the ultimate arbiters of truth.
But now most of us exist in our own political bubbles, left and right. I live in Berkeley, California – a blue city in a blue state – and rarely stumble across anyone who isn’t a liberal Democrat (the biggest battles here are between the moderate left and the far-left). The TV has hundreds of channels so I can pick what I want to watch and who I want to hear. And everything I read online confirms everything I believe, thanks in part to Google’s convenient algorithms.
So when Americans get upset about politics these days we tend to stew in our own juices, without benefit of anyone we know well and with whom we disagree — and this makes it almost impossible for us to understand the other side.
That geographic split also means more Americans are represented in Congress by people whose political competition comes from primary challengers – right-wing Republicans in red states and districts, left-wing Democrats in blue states and districts. And this drives those who represent us even further apart.
But I think the degree of venom we’re experiencing has deeper roots.
The nation is becoming browner and blacker. Most children born in California are now minorities. In a few years America as a whole will be a majority of minorities. Meanwhile, women have been gaining economic power. Their median wage hasn’t yet caught up with men, but it’s getting close. And with more women getting college degrees than men, their pay will surely exceed male pay in a few years. At the same time, men without college degrees continue to lose economic ground. Adjusted for inflation, their median wage is lower than it was three decades ago.
In other words, white working-class men have been on the losing end of a huge demographic and economic shift. That’s made them a tinder-box of frustration and anger – eagerly ignited by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and other pedlars of petulance, including an increasing number of Republicans who have gained political power by fanning the flames.
That hate-mongering and attendant scapegoating – of immigrants, blacks, gays, women seeking abortions, our government itself – has legitimized some vitriol and scapegoating on the left as well. I detest what the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Rupert Murdock, and Paul Ryan are doing, and I hate their politics. But in this heated environment I sometimes have to remind myself I don’t hate them personally.
Not even this degree of divisiveness would have taken root had America preserved the social solidarity we had two generations ago. The Great Depression and World War II reminded us we were all in it together. We had to depend on each other in order to survive. That sense of mutual dependence transcended our disagreements. My father, a “Rockefeller” Republican, strongly supported civil rights and voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid. I remember him saying “we’re all Americans, aren’t we?”
To be sure, we endured 9/11, we’ve gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we suffered the Great Recession. But these did not not bind us as we were bound together in the Great Depression and World War II. The horror of 9/11 did not touch all of us, and the only sacrifice George W. Bush asked was that we kept shopping. Today’s wars are fought by hired guns – young people who are paid to do the work most of the rest of us don’t want our own children to do. And the Great Recession split us rather than connected us; the rich grew richer, the rest of us, poorer and less secure.
So we come to the end of a bitter election feeling as if we’re two nations rather than one. The challenge – not only for our president and representatives in Washington but for all of us – is to rediscover the public good.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, November 5, 2012
The House speaker, John Boehner, suggests that the Republican threat of letting the United States default on its debts is driven by concern for jobs for ordinary Americans.
“We cannot miss this opportunity,” he told Fox News. “If we want jobs to come to America, we’ve got to give American businesspeople the confidence to invest in our economy.”
So take a look at one of the tax loopholes that Congressional Republicans are refusing to close — even if the cost is that America’s credit rating blows up. This loophole has nothing to do with creating jobs and everything to do with protecting some of America’s wealthiest financiers.
If there were an award for Most Unconscionable Tax Loophole, this one would win grand prize.
Wait, wake up! I know that “tax policy” makes one’s eyes glaze over, but that’s how financiers have gotten away with paying a lower tax rate than their chauffeurs or personal trainers. Tycoons have bet for years that the public is too stupid or distracted to note that in many cases they’re paying just a 15 percent tax rate.
What’s at stake is the “carried interest” loophole, and President Obama is pushing to close it. The White House estimates that this would raise $20 billion over a decade. But Congressional Republicans walked out of budget talks rather than discuss raising revenues from measures such as this one.
The biggest threat to the United States this summer probably doesn’t come from Iran or Libya but from the home-grown risk that the nation will default on its debts. We don’t know the economic consequences for America or the world, and some of the hand-wringing may be overblown — or maybe not — but it’s reckless of Republicans even to toy with such a threat.
This carried interest loophole benefits managers of financial partnerships such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds — who are among the highest-paid people in the world. John Paulson, a hedge fund manager in New York City, made $4.9 billion last year, top of the chart for hedge fund managers, according to AR Magazine, which follows hedge funds. That’s equivalent to the average per capita income of 184,000 Americans, according to my back-of-envelope calculations based on Census Bureau figures.
Mr. Paulson declined to comment on this tax break, but here’s how it works. These fund managers are compensated mostly with a performance bonus of 20 percent or more of the profits they make. Under this carried interest loophole, that 20 percent is eligible to be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate (if the fund’s underlying assets are held long enough) of just 15 percent rather than the regular personal income rate of 35 percent.
This tax loophole is also intellectually vacuous. The performance fee is a return on the manager’s labor, not his or her capital, so there’s no reason to give it preferential capital gains treatment.
“The carried interest loophole represents everyone’s worst fear about the tax system — that the rich and powerful get away with murder,” says Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has written about the issue. “Closing the loophole won’t fix the budget by itself, but it gets us one step closer to justice.”
At a time when the richest 1 percent of Americans have a greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, there are other ways we could raise money while also making tax policy more equitable. The White House is backing some of them in its negotiations with Congress, but others aren’t even in play.
One important proposal has to do with founder’s stock, the shares people own in companies they found. Professor Fleischer has written an interesting paper persuasively arguing that founder’s stock is hugely undertaxed. It, too, is essentially a return on labor, not capital, and shouldn’t benefit from the low capital gains rate.
Likewise, Europe is moving toward a financial transactions tax on trades made in financial markets. That is something long championed by some economists — especially James Tobin, who won a Nobel Prize for his work — and it would also raise tens of billions of dollars at a time when it is desperately needed. It makes sense.
The larger question is this: Do we try to balance budget deficits just by cutting antipoverty initiatives, college scholarships and other investments in young people and our future? Or do we also seek tax increases from those best able to afford them?
And when Congressional Republicans claim that the reason for their recalcitrance in budget negotiations is concern for the welfare of ordinary Americans, look more closely. Do we really want to close down the American government and risk another global financial crisis to protect the tax bills of billionaires?
By: Nicholas Kristoff, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 6, 2011
Mike Huckabee’s defenders have made much of the fact that he’s never endorsed the idea that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Therefore, he’s not a “birther” and his comments on a conservative radio show earlier this week are those of a man who either “didn’t mean it” and “clearly misspoke” or who is guilty of an “odd” but relatively benign ignorance about Obama’s biography.
As I’ve noted, these defenses fall flat on several levels. Even if you put the birther issue aside, It should be obvious that Huckabee didn’t just misspeak when he claimed that Obama grew up in Kenya; after all, he went into detail about the effect that a Kenyan upbringing filled with stories from relatives about the horrors of British colonial rule and the glory of the Mau Mau uprising would have had on Obama’s worldview and his actions as president today. Nor is this benign ignorance akin to (as Dave Weigel suggested) Obama being fuzzy on the details of Huckabee’s life story. Obama, to my knowledge, is not promoting an inflammatory indictment of Huckabee’s basic worldview and policy instincts that is based on an entirely and laughably false understanding of the circumstances of his upbringing.
Then there’s the matter of birtherism. Yes, it’s true, Huckabee is not claiming that Obama was born in Kenya — or in Indonesia or in any country other than the United States. But, as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out earlier this week:
This is where birtherism gets tricky. In its wildest forms, birtherism is about a massive conspiracy to install a conscious, deliberate enemy of the United States in the White House. It’s nice that Mike Huckabee doesn’t subscribe to that. But in its more plausible, and presumably more popular forms, it’s really just a way of saying that Barack Obama isn’t a “real” American.
Which brings me to the e-mails we’ve been receiving in response to our coverage of Huckabee, which (as you might have noticed) has been on the critical side. Plenty of readers are upset with Huckabee’s comments, to be sure, but I’ve also noticed an unusually large number of virulently anti-Obama e-mails written in Huckabee’s defense. I’ll readily admit that I don’t know any of the people who are sending these individually; for all I know, some or all of them are fake. But I’ve gotten so many expressing the same basic sentiments that I think it’s worth running one in its entirety:
Where were you when Obama had to think so hard that it hurt-his-brain when he stated he went to 57 states in his campaign?
You continued supporting Obama and covering up his mistakes because of his skin color.
Because you are white, You are So Racist and bigoted and can’t help it.
So why should you worry when someone thinks Obama was born in Kenya—especially when the Kenyan official government states he was born there.
Instead, Obama claims to be born in the last state to enter the Union, so how could Obama claim 57 states?
Is it because he is stupid?
Since you never brought it up, you must agree with someone that ignorant and stupid.
And why does Indonesia have a school enrollment certificate that categorically states Obama is a Muslim? And why can Obama recite the muslim evening call to prayer from memory if he is a Christian, but he is a member of the “God Damn America” church of the most reverend Wright.
You can deny facts all you want, just like the hide the decline global warmest conspirators but that does not make you right.
Smug maybe, because you like attacking selected people because you are bigoted and racist.
Again, I don’t know the person who sent this to me. Who knows — it could be a mischievous liberal having some fun by assuming the voice of a right-winger. But the points this e-mailer makes are representative of the points that many, many others have expressed to me this week. In that sense, I think this e-mail demonstrates how Huckabee’s comments — even though they didn’t endorse birtherism in any literal sense — encourage the exact kind of attitude that has led a majority of Republicans likely to participate in next year’s primaries to express doubt over whether their president was even born in this country.
Note that the e-mailer didn’t get the part where Huckabee resisted endorsing full-on birtherism. “[W]hy should you worry when someone thinks Obama was born in Kenya?” he/she asks. And note how quick the e-mailer is to latch onto the false equivalency that Huckabee has been promoting since the interview blew up — that he committed a “slip of the tongue” no different from the slip of the tongue Obama committed as a candidate in 2008 when he said he’d visited 57 states. The difference between these episodes, as I noted yesterday, ought to be blindingly obvious.
Not all of the anti-Obama e-mails I received this week were as specific and detailed as this one. But almost all of them seemed to be written with the conviction that the president of the United States is a fundamentally un-/anti-American figure. Yes, the slice of the Republican Party base that actually bothers to send e-mails to Salon writers is very, very small. But the basic feelings expressed to me this week are more widespread. What Huckabee has done is to reinforce those feelings.
By: Steve Kornacki-News Editor, Salon, March 3, 2011
Like many people who have come forward to speak or write about the Tucson massacre, I know and adore Gabby Giffords. It is virtually impossible not to adore her. She has a presence and graciousness that light up a room.
That she survived a shot from a semi-automatic at close range is remarkable. Yet the trauma she has endured — psychologically and neurologically — is not one that ever leaves a person untouched. The only question at this point is how much of that radiant light anyone who knows her has seen in her eyes and her smile will return. And for that, we can only hope, pray, and wait for her brain to heal itself.
We know little about the events that led to her shooting, to the deaths of at least six people, and to the massacre that left 14 others injured on the ground. But we do know three things.
The first is that the man witnesses have identified as the shooter, who did everything he could to destroy the brains of his victims, was likely himself the victim of a damaged brain. Even before reporters started to interview his professors and college classmates who were frightened by his erratic behavior in class last fall, the three YouTube videos he left as testimony to his mental state left no doubt that he is delusional and probably in the midst of a psychotic episode (a fancy way of saying that his brain is no longer functioning so that he can tell reality from unreality — even by Tea Party standards).
We know a great deal more about illnesses such as schizophrenia than we knew when our laws on “insanity” evolved. Perhaps most importantly, we now know that the kind of conceptual and linguistic incoherence in Jared Loughner’s YouTube videos is the result of a broken brain — more “madness” than “badness,” although we do not yet know enough about him to know how clear the line between them is, in his case.
Allowing someone who is clearly paranoid, delusional and incoherent — in the midst of a psychotic episode — to have a semi-automatic weapon in his hands is like putting a car in the hands of someone in the midst of an epileptic seizure during rush-hour traffic. Should Loughner turn out to be psychotic and brain-diseased, as appears to be the case, he will be no more genuinely culpable for the acts he has committed, regardless of what the law says, than a person who had his first seizure while driving through a crowded Tucson intersection. Less can be said for our political leaders — a point to which we shall shortly return.
Second, the fact that the shooter is mentally ill does not mean that his mind and brain exist in a vacuum. When Bill O’Reilly and his ilk on Fox began their attacks on “Tiller the Killer” — George Tiller, the physician who provided legal abortions until he was gunned down in his church in the name of Jesus — they fired the first shots in the uncivil war that has just claimed six more lives. To make the claim that the constant propagandizing against Tiller by a television network — including the publicizing of his whereabouts — played no role in the events that led an assassin to choose him as his target would be as psychotic as Loughner’s YouTube diatribes. Surely a deranged killer could have found someone else to target among the over 300 million people who call this country home.
But the fact that the causal link between Fox’s jihad against an American citizen and his ultimate assassination at the hands of a religiously motivated terrorist never became a topic of widespread discussion except on a couple of evening shows on MSNBC, that it prompted no change in the way the right-wing propaganda machine has vilified American citizens, and that it prompted little more than one or two brief written statements from our top elected officials, is a profound indictment of both our media and our political system.
And now we have seen the same thing play out again.
The quasi-delusional rantings of media personalities such as Glenn Beck and the cognitively impaired candidates and elected officials we have come to accept as part of the American political landscape in the 21st century, like the hate-mongering of Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, are part of the political and psychological air a psychotic shooter like Jared Loughner breathes.
Did prominent personalities like Brewer (or Sarah Palin, who literally put Gabby Giffords in her “crosshairs”) cause this attack? No, any more than Bill O’Reilly and Rupert Murdoch caused the jihadist attack on a physician who had violated a terrorist’s religious sensibilities — or, for that matter, any more than jihadist Web sites that publicize the “blasphemies” perpetrated by the United States cause alienated young men to become suicide bombers against us or our allies.
Did Beck, Brewer and crew contribute to the conditions that created the latest assassinations, irrespective of the prayers and pieties they and Republican politicians like John Boehner are now lavishing on the people they have encouraged their fellow citizens to hate (those with their “job-killing” and “baby-killing” agendas — which they apparently pursue when they aren’t setting up “death panels”)? Try reading alleged shooter Loughner’s rants about government, the terrorists who have seized control over it, and what they are doing to our Constitution and argue that he was not breathing in Foxified fumes and Brewer’s bigotry.
Third, although the political context was different, we have seen this movie before in yet another sense. Columbine, Virginia Tech, countless shootings in schools and churches — what do they share in common? Deafening silence from those who call themselves our leaders.
Since the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in that terrible summer of 1968, over a million Americans have died at the wrong end of a firearm.
This was not the first time Gabby Giffords — or countless other lawmakers, candidates and elected officials, including President Obama — was confronted at a campaign rally or town-hall meeting by gun-toting bullies, whose primary goal — at least until this time — was intimidation. That bringing a weapon (in Arizona, concealed) within that proximity to an elected official could be legal in the world’s longest-lasting democracy is both surreal and shameful — and now it threatens that democracy.
Whether they are owned and operated by the NRA, too cowardly to take on the NRA for fear of being defeated in the next election, or misled into believing that the average American is as psychotic as the man who opened fire in Tucson (i.e., that most Americans can’t tell the difference between hunting deer and hunting people, or between a hunting rifle and a semi-automatic), our leaders have either faithfully served the interest of Smith and Wesson and the gun lobby or failed to oppose them. The result is that the country has shifted to the right on gun safety, which is what naturally happens when the right is vocal and the left is frightened and silent.
But even today, if you simply speak to ordinary Americans in plain English, they do not believe in the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. Americans are, if nothing else, strong believers in common sense, and the same people who willingly walk through metal detectors at airports and other settings understand the importance of metal detectors for protecting their elected officials — just as they support them for protecting their kids if there’s any chance they could be harmed at school.
Consider a message colleagues and I tested with two large national samples of registered voters, which beat a tough conservative anti-regulation message on guns by 20 points with both the general electorate and swing voters:
Every law-abiding citizen has the right to bear arms to hunt and protect his family. But that right doesn’t extend to criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill… We need to use some common sense in deciding what kind of weapons we want on the streets. I don’t know any hunters who keep stockpiles of munitions in their basements, and I don’t think the Founding Fathers had AK-47s in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.
Another message beat the conservative message by 40 points with Independent voters, by beginning with a simple statement of principle with which voters across the political spectrum agree if they simply hear it enunciated:
My view on guns reflects one simple principle: that our gun laws should guarantee the rights and freedoms of all law-abiding Americans. That’s why I stand with the majority who believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns to hunt and protect their families. And that’s why I also stand with the majority who believe they have the right to send their kids to school in the morning and have them come home safely.
Or consider yet another message, which began as follows:
“Every law-abiding American has the right to own a gun to hunt and protect his family… But you don’t need an assault weapon to hunt deer, and if you do, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a gun.”
Americans get it, if you just speak to them like adults.
None of these messages is a “hard left” message on guns — a message that might better fit the sensibilities of (and be more appropriate for) New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or much of the West Coast. But these are messages that win all over the heartland — and even win in some unlikely places, like the Deep South and the West — because they aren’t about taking away the rights of law-abiding gun owners. They are about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, whether they own a gun or not.
We used to be the arsenal of democracy. With the events of this weekend, our arsenal has been turned against our democracy.
If our elected officials are in the pockets of those who would allow the shooting of their colleagues with semi-automatic weapons with no legitimate civilian uses — while mouthing platitudes about their concern for their colleagues — it’s time to call their bluff.
Guns don’t kill people. Cowards and lobbyists do.
By: Drew Westen, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University-AlterNet, January 10, 2011
When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?
Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.
Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.
It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.
Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.
And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.
It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.
The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.
And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.
And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.
Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.
But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening: the purveyors of hate have been treated with respect, even deference, by the G.O.P. establishment. As David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”
So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?
If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.
By: Paul Krugman: Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times-January 10,2011