“Situational Patriotism”: If You Only Love America When It Agrees With You, It Says More About You Than Fidelity To Your Country
Remember when conservatives used to say, “America, love it or leave it”? When just about any protest coming from somewhere else along the ideological spectrum was cause to question that person’s loyalty and love of country? Ah yes. Those were the days.
But now, after decades of positioning government as the enemy, the more recent rise of Tea Party populism, and the prospects of a two-term Democratic president, some on the right find themselves in rather a different place. Instead of impugning the loyalties of others for their perceived lack of patriotism, they are left to employ a sort of situational patriotism all their own.
Take, for example, Ben Shapiro. You may not know who Shapiro is. I certainly didn’t (apparently he’s an “Editor-at-Large” for Breitbart.com). But then he went on CNN and offered this little chestnut: Average citizens are entitled to semi-automatic weapons because the U.S. government may follow the path of Nazi Germany (his analogy, not mine) and descend into tyranny.
That may sound intemperate to you, but Shapiro is hardly alone among those tramping about the outer limits these days. On his radio program, Sean Hannity said he could well understand why “more conservative states” might say, “I don’t want to be a part of this union anymore,” and secede from the United States. The justification: Taxes on the very wealthy had been raised to levels not seen since (gasp) the 1990s.
There’s more. The now infamous freak-out of one Alex Jones on Piers Morgan’s show; Texas Rep. Steven Stockman’s pronouncement that executive branch efforts to reduce gun violence are an “existential threat to the nation”; Mark Levin’s claim to a “fury” about the “imperial presidency ” of Barack Obama that he can “barely contain.” And much more is sure to come on the heels of the president’s announcement yesterday.
Now to be clear, not every conservative is marching to the beat of the same drum. See what David Frum’s been doing on Twitter (and elsewhere), for example. But the rumblings from some quarters are sufficient that it’s hard not to wonder: What’s really going on here? Authentic anger, or something more tactical? I think the answer is…yes.
Consider Shapiro’s statement on a gun control debate that centers on an horrific massacre and whether there are any sensible measures we can take—like banning the semi-automatic weapon the shooter used—to help ensure something like that never happens again. A debate on the merits might be: Are there productive uses for semi-automatic firearms when put in the hands of average citizens that we can weigh against the damage they cause when employed with malicious intent? For some of us at least, it’s hard to think of any productive uses that outweigh the nefarious ones.
But what if you expand the playing field so much that ideas like defending ourselves from the U.S. military is treated like a rational justification? If that’s the kind of thing that average Americans should be preparing for in the ordinary course of business then hell, semi-automatics aren’t going to do the trick. Keeping a herd of angry dinosaurs in the backyard is more like it.
And how about Hannity. Congress just raised taxes on the very wealthy to a rate higher than under President George W. Bush, but the same as under President Bill Clinton, and much, much lower than under a whole host of other presidents. In other words, we might not like higher taxes, but the current tax rate on the very wealthy is well within range of the rates they’ve historically been asked to pay.
But Hannity’s casual suggestion that all those folks signing secession petitions are making a reasonable case serves the same purpose as Shapiro’s, if about a different issue: If slightly higher taxes on a small sliver of the wealthiest Americans during a time of troubling deficits really is cause for secession, then God forbid considering any other tax increases on anyone else for any reason.
In other words, Shapiro and Hannity (and Stockman and Levin, etc.) are less interested in convincing you that they are right than they are in expanding the range of conservative ideas that can be deemed reasonable, while at the same time narrowing the space left for ideas of a more moderate or liberal persuasion. It’s an attempt to affect a rightward shift of what we think of as the mainstream, something conservative pundits have proven pretty good at.
And maybe it will work. But you gotta wonder at what point all of this comes back to bite them. The fact is, Shapiro’s remarks betray a deep suspicion of the United States, and Hannity’s casual indifference to the essential nature of this country and the strength we derive from its ideological and geographic breadth, is fairly breathtaking.
Here’s something worth remembering: Tax rates go up and tax rates go down. We spend more and we spend less. Sometimes what you believe is in vogue and sometimes it isn’t. That’s part of the democratic process at the heart of our country, the evolutions the country goes through with each succeeding generation.
If you only love America when it agrees with you, that isn’t love at all. It’s a kind of situational patriotism that says more about you than fidelity to your country. Makes one yearn for a time when patriotism was made of sterner stuff.
By: Anson Kaye, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 17, 2013
The Republicans, we’re told, are going to have to start making some big changes if they want to start winning elections again. (Besides all the congressional elections they handily win.) Americans are tired of their stale rhetoric and old, white standard-bearers. The party needs fresh blood and bold ideas. It needs people like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a GOP rising star and highly regarded “ideas” guy.
After the election, Jindal told Politico that the Republicans had to totally rebrand themselves to escape being known as “the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything.” And so Bobby Jindal’s big new idea for Louisiana is … eliminating all income taxes. And shifting the tax burden onto poor and working people.
NEW ORLEANS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said on Thursday he wants to eliminate all Louisiana personal and corporate income taxes to simplify the state’s tax code and make it more friendly to business.
Bold! Fresh! New! But how will Louisiana get money to pay for stuff? Easy!
Political analyst John Maginnis, who on Thursday reported in his email newsletter LaPolitics Weekly that Jindal will propose balancing the tax loss by raising the sales tax, now at 4 percent, said the strategy fits with the governor’s interest in keeping a high national profile.
While we don’t yet know the sales tax rate Jindal will propose, any hike would make Louisiana’s sales tax technically higher than New York state’s, which is also 4 percent. The tax will be still greater in many Louisiana parishes, including New Orleans, where the combined sales tax rate is currently 10 percent, making it already higher than New York City’s 8.875 percent.
The thing about sales taxes is that they are inherently and extremely regressive, hitting poorer people much harder than richer people, because the poor spend a greater proportion of their income on goods subject to the sales tax than rich people do.
The Institute on Taxation and Public Policy has already whipped up a little report, and, surprise, eliminating Louisiana’s income tax and replacing it with higher sales taxes means taxing rich people much less and poor people much, much more. According to ITEP, while Louisiana millionaires would receive a tax cut of around a quarter of a million dollars, “[the] poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, those with an average income of $12,000, would see an average tax increase of $395, or 3.4 percent of their income, if no low income tax relief mechanism is offered.” (And if a low income tax relief mechanism is offered, it will have to be paid for, almost definitely on the backs of the middle 20 percent, with average incomes around $43,000.)
This is the fresh new plan from a guy regularly touted as the future of the party: A massive tax cut for rich people, in an already low-service state, paid for with a tax hike on poor people. Remember this the next time you read a story about how a major conservative figure — like Jindal or Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan — has announced that his party has to get serious about helping the poor or at least not actively hurting them: The movement these guys are products of is incapable of generating “new ideas” to help poor people, and is still dedicated to a policy agenda developed mostly before Reagan was president.
Jim DeMint is not a fresh face, but he’s the new head of the Heritage Foundation, the most influential and powerful of the conservative think tanks. Heritage’s mission is to decide the policy agenda of the conservative movement. If “new ideas” on poverty or anything else are going to gain acceptance on the right, they will likely have to come from the Heritage Foundation. And so DeMint published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post last week, laying out his agenda as the new face of the intellectual arm of the movement. It is atrocious. It is so lacking in anything resembling substance or argument that I can’t figure out why the Post published it. This is the closest it gets to an attempt at persuasion:
Conservative ideas work. Numerous states are demonstrating that low taxes, right-to-work laws, school choice, energy development and other common-sense policies improve the lives of everyone. Conversely, progressive central planning has failed throughout history and is still failing today.
OK, sure. “Conservative ideas work and liberal ideas don’t” is a very compelling message. Remember what I said about the policy agenda not changing for 30 years? The rest of the piece is mostly about welfare reform and missile defense. DeMint says Heritage will work very hard on convincing Americans that ideas like welfare reform and missile defense are good ideas. And then we’ll defeat the commies and show the Ayatollah who’s boss. Maybe we can fight a War on Drugs, too?
How’s that welfare reform working out for people, exactly? In the state of Georgia, where 300,000 families survive below the poverty line, 4,000 people are on welfare. The goal is zero people on welfare. Not “zero poor people,” but zero recipients of government benefits. Welfare reformers, whose goal is the shrinking of welfare rolls, not the aiding of impoverished people, would consider this a success story. Conservative ideas work!
The Republican Party will not “get serious” about poverty, or foreign policy or climate change or anything else, until it extracts itself from the conservative movement that rescued it after the collapse of the New Deal coalition. But there’s not a single GOP “leader” or rising star who isn’t a product of that movement through and through. They may fix their electoral problems with fresh rhetoric or new faces, but once in office they’ll govern as if nothing has changed since 1980, with disastrous results for every non-wealthy American.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 14, 2013
“Blatantly Undemocratic”: Republican Thugs In The House Hope To Derail President Obama’s Tax-Hike Bill
As you ponder whether the Obama tax hike can pass the House, I bet you think something like, “All he needs is a few Republicans.” Right? I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it. Obama himself said last week: “If we can just get a few House Republicans on board, we can pass the bill in the House, it will land on my desk, and I am ready—I have got a bunch of pens ready—to sign this bill.” That’s how it works, right—218 votes? Friends, you’re hopelessly behind the times. The Republicans won’t allow measures to pass with just any 218 votes. It has to be mostly Republicans. Welcome to the little-discussed but possibly pivotal concept of the “majority of the majority.”
What does this mean? Pretty much just what it says: For Speaker John Boehner to bring any measure to the House floor, he has to see that a majority of the majority—that is, a majority of his GOP caucus—will support it. You might have in theory a bill that could pass with the support of 109 Democrats and 109 Republicans to reach the needed 218. You couldn’t ask for more bipartisanship than that. But 109 is not a majority of 241, so if Boehner and his whips were counting noses accurately in the run-up, this perfectly balanced measure would never see the light of day for a vote.
Sounds like madness? Yes, it does, and it is. But surely this is something, you say, that goes back a ways, and something both sides have done. Well, not really. It goes back, says congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, only to Denny Hastert, the GOP speaker during the Bush years who was the first to use the phrase. “It was a Hastert original,” Ornstein explained to me Monday. “In earlier eras, it would never have worked—too much heterogeneity in caucuses, to start. Hastert was a different Speaker, in another sense, seeing himself as more a field general in the president’s army than as first and foremost leader of the independent House, but to him that meant creating a majority party machine. More than anything, it formed the parliamentary party mindset.”
Sarah Binder, the congressional scholar at Brookings, notes that in fairness, the pseudo-parliamentary mindset began to develop in the 1970s and 1980s. “I think its parliamentary roots actually stem from liberal Democrats’ effort to challenge the power of conservative committee chairs who dominated the House agenda for a good portion of the 20th century,” Binder says. The Democrats started using the powerful House Rules Committee more aggressively to control the flow of what could and could not get to the floor.
So the Democrats certainly managed the action, but all we have to do is look at history and see that the Democrats didn’t follow this majority of the majority nonsense. Exhibit A: NAFTA. It passed with a minority of the Democratic majority but an overwhelming majority of Republicans.
Nope—it was Republicans who instituted this noxious rule, during the Bush era, probably at Karl Rove’s behest, to ram through every wedge issue they could. Just another manifestation of turning legislating into warfare by other means and making compromise impossible. In spirit, it’s like a House version of the filibuster. A minority of the body gets to block the potential will of a majority, and on a purely and unashamedly partisan basis.
So what does it have to do with the fiscal cliff? It means that you can forget the idea of 20 or so non-wild-eyed Republicans joining the Democrats in passing the higher tax rates. As Republican Tom Cole said last week—and Cole, remember, is one of the reasonable ones here, one of the few GOPers who has declared that he’d vote with the Democrats on such a measure: “You’re not going to come up here and be able to put together a deal with 170 Democrats and 40 Republicans—that’s just not in the cards.” The number, for the record, would have to be at least 26 Republicans in December. If they wait until the next session starts in January, the required number would go down to 18, since the GOP lost eight seats in the election.
But all that is academic because under GOP rules—and this by the way is an unwritten rule; no American political party could ever get away with putting such a thing in print and making it official—the tax-hike proposal would need to have the support of the majority of the House Republican caucus even to reach the floor. It’s blatantly undemocratic, and not enough people know that this is how the Republican Party operates, and I suspect a lot of them wouldn’t even believe it if you told them. It doesn’t help matters when even the president misrepresents the actual facts when he’s out on the stump.
There’s one possible way out of this, a wrinkle reported on Monday by ABC News. It seems that some Republicans are now talking about a scenario whereby they would allow a bill to come to the floor—the bill the Senate already passed, keeping the Bush tax rates on all dollars earned except above $250,000, but raising the rates at that end—and simply vote “present,” allowing it to pass on entirely Democratic votes.
I think that if they vote “present” on something 60-plus percent of the people support, they’ll look like complete idiots to your average American. Voting “present” on the biggest fiscal vote in years, to keep Grover Norquist happy and their caucus united? Hey, if that’s how they want to play it, fine by me. It’ll be nice to see their foolishness outweigh their malevolence.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 4, 2012
“Seriously? You’re Going To Block A Tax Cut?”: The Only One Relevant Question For Republicans To Ask
The Republicans are trying hard to make it look like they’re the ones driving the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, but Wall Street isn’t buying it.
No matter how many times House Speaker John Boehner says the Democrats’ opening offer is ridiculous, for example, the more clued-in pundits (Politico’s Ben White, for example) and investors stick to their guns:
The Democrats have won. Taxes on the highest earning Americans are going up.
Given the reality of the situation, in fact, the only real question for Republicans is this:
Seriously? You’re going to block a tax cut?
Because if the Republicans really do refuse to come to the table in the next month, that’s exactly what they will be doing.
On January 1, by law, tax rates are going to go up and government spending is going to get cut.
The Republicans can’t stop that from happening by being obstructionist. They can only stop it by compromising.
If the Republicans “just say no” to that proposal, they will be rejecting a tax cut.
Given that the main economic plank of the Republican party is still cutting taxes, there’s no way they’re going to do that.
So you can go ahead and tune out the many media appearances of John Boehner, et al. This one’s over. There’s no way the Republicans are going to block a tax cut.
By: Henry Blodgett, Business Insider, December 2, 2012
Hearing so much chatter about “change” in the Republican Party, the innocent voter might believe that the Republicans had learned important lessons from their stinging electoral defeat. On closer examination, however, the likelihood of real change appears nil, because the party’s leaders and thinkers can cite so many excuses to remain utterly the same.
At the Republican Governors Association conference last week, for instance, the favored explanation for the voting public’s emphatic rejection of Mitt Romney had nothing to do with issues or ideology, but only with more effective Democratic Party organizing and communicating. According to Wade Goodwyn, the National Public Radio reporter who covered the GOP governors’ meeting, their post-election mood was not one of shock, but complacency.
“It was widely agreed that nothing needed to be changed except perhaps the tone,” he found. “For example, the idea that more than 70 percent of Hispanics voted for the president because of Republican positions on illegal immigration was rejected by the Republican governors.”
That would be hard to believe if Goodwyn were not such an excellent and experienced journalist, because it is so stupid, so insulting, and makes so little sense. Could it really be true that the nation’s Republican governors — one of whom is quite likely to be the party’s next presidential nominee — are so obtuse and so obstinate that they would reject change even on immigration?
Republican leaders also seem inclined to ignore voter sentiment on the issue of taxes, despite majorities of 70 percent or better that agree the rich should pay more (including many voters who identify with the GOP). Rep. Mike Pence, who will become the governor of Indiana next January, told the Republican governors that he remains firmly opposed to any tax increase, especially on “those in the best position to put hurting Americans back to work,” which is GOP code for mega-millionaires and above.
Clearly the Republicans in Congress too feel free to ignore public opinion on this question, since Speaker John Boehner and his caucus have offered a “compromise” on fiscal policy that represents no change whatsoever from their earlier positions and the Romney platform. Government can accrue fresh revenues from growth, they say; nothing new or even meaningful there. And government can close unspecified loopholes and deductions to increase revenues, too. Where have we heard that before?
Meanwhile, the consulting geniuses who predicted a Romney victory — a landslide, even! — are peddling alibis about why their party lost despite billions spent. Fox News expert Dick Morris says it is because their voter machinery failed, the Romney campaign didn’t fight back, and Hurricane Sandy persuaded all of the undecided voters to back Barack Obama.
By the way, Morris now predicts that the economy will suffer a ruinous decline over the coming year or two, so Republicans can just sit back and watch the Democrats sink with it. Which is another way of saying no need for change on any front. Given his record as an oracle, both Democrats and Americans more generally now have great reasons for optimism.
Karl Rove, who squandered vast sums of his generous donors’ money, has lots of explaining to do. But he always has lots of explanations. This time, having reluctantly acknowledged electoral reality, Rove agrees with Morris that the Romney campaign’s failures were mostly to blame. He is full of advice for the party leaders, urging them to change the date of the convention, try to avoid “sounding judgmental and callous” on social issues, and “do better — much better” with Hispanics, younger voters, women, and middle-class families.
How should Republicans “do better” with those voter groups? On that question, Rove resorts to clichés about “reframing” messages and “re-engineering” voter turnout efforts, as though issues and policies have nothing to do with motivating actual voters.
Finally, Rove insists that his donors will continue to pour good money after bad into the coffers of American Crossroads, his SuperPAC. His current bleating sounds nothing like his confident bluster a decade ago, when he looked forward to a Republican realignment and unchecked power for decades to come.
Reality has changed, but Republicans won’t. They insist on creating their own reality, like Rove and his friends at Fox News always did — but fewer and fewer Americans will still pretend to live there.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, November 18, 2012