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“Say It Ain’t Ted, Wisconsin”: The Badger State Should Know Better Than To Go For The Texas Senator

I am taking Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary personally. That’s the progressive state with the capital P, the home of the Progressive Party founded by the LaFollettes about a century ago. Sen. Bob LaFollette is considered one of the very best senators in history. Scenic blue Madison is the city where the university anti-Vietnam War movement caught on fire and tear gas.

An irony that gives no pleasure: the Republican candidate favored to win, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, reminds people of Wisconsin’s own shameful demagogue. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who went on witch hunts for Communists at home, was a national disgrace. His tear was not stopped before he wrecked hundreds of lives – maybe more.

The radical demonization of others is what Cruz and McCarthy share in common. In one campaign debate, Cruz insulted the island of Manhattan for its views on reproductive rights. The Texan even looks like McCarthy, I’ve heard people say. Yes, there is a resemblance. Is Wisconsin going to vote for Cruz, for old times sake?

Please say it’s not so.

Here’s one more irony. The Republican party elders and regulars are so adamantly against mogul Donald Trump winning the nomination that they are openly willing to settle for Cruz, the most hostile antagonist to other Republican senators. He’s a freshman, about as rude as Trump, without a drop of the milk of human kindness. He has very few friends in the Senate, making a practice of insulting senior senators, both Republican and Democratic. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no idea what to do with him. Most senators like to be liked and put up a good front.

The Republican establishment and the arch-conservative Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, are egging on the only Republican in Trump’s league for arrogance. It’s rare to have a politician who loves to be hated. Cruz thrives on it. If he becomes the nominee, it will be hard to have the party rally round him.

In a normal political season, the governor of Ohio would be elected Republican party darling. Gov. John Kasich comes across as an experienced and reasonable candidate. He speaks well, inflected with Midwestern earnestness. Beware. His political rise took place in Speaker Newt Gingrich’s House. And he is no moderate friend to women’s rights and health. He is scary on that score.

The truth is, I feel about Trump what Winston Churchill declared about democracy as a system of government: that he’s a deeply flawed contender, but better than all the others. Better than Cruz and shallow Sen. Marco Rubio. Better than the prince of privilege, Jeb Bush. Better than the self-serving, acid Gov. Chris Christie. Better than the clueless Dr. Ben Carson.

Let me explain. Trump’s the only candidate to speak out strongly against the ill-fated Iraq War, which shattered our well-being as a nation. He told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post that our presidents could have “gone to the beach” and the Middle East would be in better shape. Thank you, that’s true. The Middle East with the Islamic State group is a hot mess, thanks to us.

The brash New Yorker gets no credit for that forceful fresh analysis, because the media always sees Trump in black and white. First, he was a clownish figure in a freak show. Now he’s a danger to all the liberties we hold dear. National security experts, many of whom beat the drum for war in Iraq, wrote a letter stating that Trump is a threat to national security. What does that make them?

On the issue of choice, Trump was clearly chastened by outrage at a careless remark about women getting “punished” for exercising their constitutional right to privacy in personal medical matters. He learned from this mistake. Very soon after, he became the only Republican to admit the laws on legal abortion are clear and set since 1973. He said the law should stay as is. Unlike the rigid Cruz, Kasich, Rubio and the rest, Trump gets Planned Parenthood as a women’s health organization. No small thing.

As for accusations of misogyny, I’ll be the judge of that. Too many male pundits toss that word out there like a pitch on Opening Day. Many don’t grasp it’s a heavy, ancient Greek word that should be saved for the real thing.

Wisconsin is America’s dairyland, but much more than that. Madison, the state capital, was a paradise to me, set by the shore of Lake Mendota. The country will be watching Wisconsin closely Tuesday night for clues to our state of mind, nobody more than me.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, April 4, 2016

April 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Progressives, Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Primary | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Global Whining”: In This World, You Can’t Break An Appointment With Disappointment

New York Times columnist Charles Blow didn’t go far enough: frankly, anybody who subscribes to the “Bernie or Bust” mentality needs to have his or her head examined. I’m sure such scans are covered by Obamacare (i.e., the shameful corporate compromise by that closet Republican in the White House!).

It is unfathomable that so-called committed progressives would selfishly sit out the 2016 general election because they can’t get over the fact that their preferred candidate did not win the Democratic nomination. It is unconscionable that those who claim to want to move America forward would allow the country to race backward over the next four to eight years. It is unbelievable that anyone with a halfway-rational mind thinks “Bernie or Bust” is a good idea.

The hatred that the “Bernie or Bust” camp holds for Hillary Clinton defies logic: how can one love Sanders and loathe Clinton? Both candidates are among the most accomplished public servants of the past half-century: despite their differences, they are united in their compassion for America’s shunned, stigmatized and suffering.

Sanders clearly respects Clinton, but for some reason, a critical mass of his supporters have nothing but disrespect for the former Secretary of State. These supporters have fallen for the false narrative that Clinton worships the wealthy and pleases the powerful–and that Sanders is the only morally sound candidate in the race. The Hillary-as-corporate-sellout meme is just as jaw-droppingly dopey as the argument that there was no substantive difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush sixteen years ago. What did Santayana say about those who don’t learn from history?

By the way, what exactly do the “Bernie or Bust” folks mean when they call Clinton a “corporatist”? Isn’t “corporatist” an inscrutable insult, not unlike the use of the term “politically correct” by right-wingers? I doubt any member of the “Bernie or Bust” crowd can provide a non-convoluted explanation of the term “corporatist.” The term is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

What will these holier-than-Hillary folks say if Donald Trump is elected President–and his hate-filled rhetoric leads to more Mexicans being mauled by the malevolent? “Oops”? “My bad”? “I wasn’t thinking”?

Neither Clinton or Sanders are saints: Clinton is as imperfect on fracking as Sanders is on firearms. Yet I don’t see Clinton’s supporters threatening to stay home if the Vermonter is victorious in the Democratic primary.

The “Bernie or Bust” folks are just as irrational in their quest for ideological purity as the Tea Partiers who went after Dede Scozzafava, Bob Inglis, Mike Castle and Richard Lugar were. By choosing to stay home in the general election in the event Sanders loses the Democratic primary, these folks could effectively rig the game against the middle class for good.

In addition to harboring a heightened hostility towards Hillary Clinton, the “Bernie or Bust” crowd is notorious for its obnoxious opprobrium towards President Obama.

How many times have you heard the #NeverHillary types lambaste the 44th President as a compromising “corporatist” who stabbed progressives in the back at every turn and genuflected to the 1 percent? (Even Sanders himself bought into this odd narrative: why else would he have called for Obama to be primaried in 2012, knowing full well that such a primary would have weakened Obama in the general election, just as Ted Kennedy’s 1980 primary challenge to President Carter made the incumbent easy prey for Ronald Reagan?)

I’m not exactly sure where the “Bernie or Bust” crowd got the idea that Obama was supposed to be the ultimate progressive warrior: his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention made it clear, to everyone who actually paid attention, that Obama was a pragmatist at heart, someone who believed that reaching across the aisle was a moral duty, someone who was committed to the idea that the red, white and blue, involved, well, red and blue.

That speech–an insight into Barack Obama’s soul–was not a particularly progressive address, and anyone who expected Obama to govern from a perspective of progressive purity apparently failed to grasp the true tenor of that speech. Having said that, progressives made gains during the Obama administration, as Paul Krugman has noted. Too bad some of those progressives don’t seem to appreciate it.

I argued last year that “a compelling case can be made that Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents of all-time.” Sadly, it appears that Obama will not get the historical props he deserves for his accomplishments–not only because of the revisionist history of the reactionary right, but also because of the revisionist history of the self-righteous “Bernie or Bust”-ers on the left, the Union of the Ungrateful that fails to acknowledge Obama’s victories on economic reform, equality, climate change and health care, among other issues. This time, the cliche is appropriate: if Obama walked on water, progressive purists would say he couldn’t swim.

Like Prince’s parents in “When Doves Cry,” the “Bernie or Bust” crowd is too bold and never satisfied–and they will find new reasons to be disgruntled if Sanders upsets Clinton in the Democratic primary and becomes the 45th president. They won’t be happy once President Sanders compromises with Republicans and conservative Democrats, as he must in order to govern. They won’t be happy if President Sanders authorizes drone strikes and sanctions the strengthening of the surveillance state in an effort to incapacitate ISIS. They won’t be happy when President Sanders makes it clear that he cannot fully, or even partially, implement his economic vision.

Presumably, they will then turn on Sanders and denounce him as another traitor to the cause, another sellout to the “Democratic establishment” (cue the horror music). They will never acknowledge the truth: that governing is hard work and requires compromise. Bill Clinton understood this. Barack Obama understands this. If he succeeds Obama as President, Bernie Sanders will understand this. However, his most fervent supporters won’t–because, at bottom, they do not understand that in this world, you can’t break an appointment with disappointment.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Bros, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Their Own Call For Reflection”: It’s Not Just Republicans; Progressives Also Have A Crisis On Their Hands

Obama Derangement Syndrome is striking Republicans once again.

To avoid having to answer for the rise of Donald Trump, they want to hold the man in the White House responsible for the emergence of a demagogic showman who has been the loudest voice challenging the legal right of the winner of two elections to be there.

Obama picked his words carefully but with some quiet glee when he was asked about this at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. “I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things,” Obama said, “but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is” — here he paused, enjoying the moment — “novel.”

On the contrary, Obama insisted, it was Republicans who had created “an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive” and allowed “the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire.” He urged his opponents to “do some introspection.”

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I should acknowledge a stake in this fight, having published a book in January called “Why the Right Went Wrong” arguing that the emergence of Trump was the logical consequence of a half-century of conservative history and of the steady legitimation of extremist ideas within the GOP. The nation, not just the Republican Party, desperately needs a different and more constructive brand of conservatism.

But if progressives are to beat back an increasingly virulent right and encourage the emergence of a more temperate form of conservatism, they have to ponder the crisis on their own side that is visible in this campaign and in most of the European democracies as well.

The strength of Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left, like the radicalization of American conservatism, is a symptom of the decay of a moderate brand of progressivism that rose in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president and Tony Blair was Britain’s prime minister. Its ideology was rooted in a belief that capitalism would deliver the economic goods and could be balanced by a “competent public sector, providing services of quality to the citizen and social protection for those who are vulnerable.”

Those last words are Blair’s from a collection of essays by 11 center-left politicians from around the world released on Friday by the Center for American Progress and Canada 2020 to coincide with Trudeau’s visit to the United States. The title of their effort, “Global Progress,” is optimistic, and Bill Clinton, for one, continued to express confidence that government could “empower people with the tools to make the most of their own lives and to create the institutions and conditions for them to succeed.”

This never stopped being a good idea, but the sober reflections of Ricardo Lagos, Chile’s former president, pointed to the “significant challenge to progressive politics” created by the economic crisis of 2008. It raised “profound questions” about policies “that favored deregulation of the economy and allowed the financial system to self-regulate.” The moderate left, it turns out, had more confidence in a loosely governed capitalism than was merited by the facts.

And in the post-crash period, progressives largely lost the argument against austerity policies. A significant exception was the United States during the first two years of Obama’s term: Keynesian policies helped lead to a revival of the U.S. economy that was faster and more robust than in other places. But continued economic sluggishness, Lagos argued, feeds “the anger and alienation of a dangerous populism on the extreme left and right.” Trudeau himself said Friday that the economically excluded “don’t feel like this idea of progress holds.”

Lodewijk Asscher, the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote of the challenge to national identity created by immigration and the fear of terrorism. He called for “building a society based on solidarity in which people are seen as individuals instead of members of their group and someone’s background remains just a background.” Well, yes, but, as Asscher no doubt knows, this is easier said than done.

If Republicans delude themselves that Obama is responsible for Trump, there’s little hope for the soul-searching their party requires — all the more so after the violence and threats at Trump’s rallies.

But progressives of moderate inclinations can’t use the right’s shortcomings to blind them to their own call for reflection. Those who believe in gradual, steady progress need to provide plausible responses to a world both less secure and less orderly than it was in the 1990s. Otherwise, the alternatives, as Trump is showing us, will be both irrational and grim.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 14, 2016

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Progressives, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Varieties Of Voodoo”: Undermining The Credibility Of The Progressive Economic Agenda

America’s two big political parties are very different from each other, and one difference involves the willingness to indulge economic fantasies.

Republicans routinely engage in deep voodoo, making outlandish claims about the positive effects of tax cuts for the rich. Democrats tend to be cautious and careful about promising too much, as illustrated most recently by the way Obamacare, which conservatives insisted would be a budget-buster, actually ended up being significantly cheaper than projected.

But is all that about to change?

On Wednesday four former Democratic chairmen and chairwomen of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — three who served under Barack Obama, one who served under Bill Clinton — released a stinging open letter to Bernie Sanders and Gerald Friedman, a University of Massachusetts professor who has been a major source of the Sanders campaign’s numbers. The economists called out the campaign for citing “extreme claims” by Mr. Friedman that “exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans” and could “undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda.”

That’s harsh. But it’s harsh for a reason.

The claims the economists are talking about come from Mr. Friedman’s analysis of the Sanders economic program. The good news is that this isn’t the campaign’s official assessment; the bad news is that the Friedman analysis has been highly praised by campaign officials.

And the analysis is really something. The Republican candidates have been widely and rightly mocked for their escalating claims that they can achieve incredible economic growth, starting with Jeb Bush’s promise to double growth to 4 percent and heading up from there. But Mr. Friedman outdoes the G.O.P. by claiming that the Sanders plan would produce 5.3 percent growth a year over the next decade.

Even more telling, I’d argue, is Mr. Friedman’s jobs projection, which has the employed share of American adults soaring all the way back to what it was in 2000. That may sound possible — until you remember that by 2026 more than a quarter of U.S. adults over 20 will be 65 and older, compared with 17 percent in 2000.

Sorry, but there’s just no way to justify this stuff. For wonks like me, it is, frankly, horrifying.

Still, these are numbers on a program that Mr. Sanders, even if he made it to the White House, would have little chance of enacting. So do they matter?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, for several reasons.

One is that, as the economists warn, fuzzy math from the left would make it impossible to effectively criticize conservative voodoo.

Beyond that, this controversy is an indication of a campaign, and perhaps a candidate, not ready for prime time. These claims for the Sanders program aren’t just implausible, they’re embarrassing to anyone remotely familiar with economic history (which says that raising long-run growth is very hard) and changing demography. They should have set alarm bells ringing, but obviously didn’t.

Mr. Sanders is calling for a large expansion of the U.S. social safety net, which is something I would like to see, too. But the problem with such a move is that it would probably create many losers as well as winners — a substantial number of Americans, mainly in the upper middle class, who would end up paying more in additional taxes than they would gain in enhanced benefits.

By endorsing outlandish economic claims, the Sanders campaign is basically signaling that it doesn’t believe its program can be sold on the merits, that it has to invoke a growth miracle to minimize the downsides of its vision. It is, in effect, confirming its critics’ worst suspicions.

What happens now? In the past, the Sanders campaign has responded to critiques by impugning the motives of the critics. But the authors of the critical letter that came out on Wednesday aren’t just important economists, they’re important figures in the progressive movement.

For example, Alan Krueger is one of the founders of modern research on minimum wages, which shows that moderate increases in the minimum don’t cause major job loss. Christina Romer was a strong advocate for stimulus during her time in the White House, and a major figure in the pushback against austerity in the years that followed.

The point is that if you dismiss the likes of Mr. Krueger or Ms. Romer as Hillary shills or compromised members of the “establishment,” you’re excommunicating most of the policy experts who should be your allies.

So Mr. Sanders really needs to crack down on his campaign’s instinct to lash out. More than that, he needs to disassociate himself from voodoo of the left — not just because of the political risks, but because getting real is or ought to be a core progressive value.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 19, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Economic Policy, Gerald Friedman, Progressives | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Uncertain Record In Three Major Policy Areas”: Bernie Sanders Is Not Nearly As Progressive As You Think He Is

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been doing some serious sub-tweeting about Hillary Clinton.

Following her ever-so-narrow win in Iowa, Clinton touted her bona fides as a “progressive who gets things done,” much to Sanders’ distaste. “Most progressives I know were against the war in Iraq,” Sanders tweeted, without specifically naming Clinton. “One of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States.”

Indeed, measured against Clinton, Sanders is right to claim the mantle of progressivism. The former secretary of state is (and should be) dogged by her close and profitable ties to Wall Street and big business, and her foreign policy is consistently hawkish in a style Dick Cheney would admire.

But evaluated on the basis of his own lengthy record, Sanders is not as progressive as he makes himself out to be on at least three big issues: guns, criminal justice reform, and — despite the Iraq vote — foreign policy.

Sanders’ mixed history on guns is a chink in his progressive armor that Clinton aims at whenever she has the chance. “If we’re going to go into labels, I don’t think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times,” she said at the latest debate. “I don’t think it was progressive to vote to give gun makers and sellers immunity.”

Sanders often sounds like a gun control hardliner. “The president is right: Condolences are not enough,” he said after a shooting this past fall. “We’ve got to do something … We need sensible gun control legislation.” But Clinton’s claims are still basically accurate. Per this Politifact tally of Sanders’ significant gun votes in Congress, he backs additional control about half the time, albeit with a trend toward more gun regulation in recent years. Sanders’ staff has tried to explain his comparative conservatism here as part and parcel of representing Vermont, a left-wing but gun-friendly state, but either way, his is hardly a super-progressive record on guns.

Then there’s criminal justice reform, an issue which has netted Sanders the endorsement of several well-known figures in the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking in New Hampshire the same day as the subtweets, Sanders vowed, “There will be no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism” than he will.

“We have got to reform a very, very broken criminal justice system,” he added. “It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks the hearts of millions of people in this country, to see videos on television of unarmed people, often African-Americans, shot by police. That has got to end.”

The rhetoric is right. But Sanders’ record says otherwise.

For instance, Sanders sounded a similar note back in April 1994, decrying America’s ballooning prison population and its ties to poverty. But just one week later, he voted to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a centerpiece of Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” shtick, which, among other things, mandated a life sentence for anyone convicted of three drug crimes; expanded the list of death penalty crimes; lowered the age at which a juvenile could be tried as an adult to just 13; and appropriated billions to expand the prison system and hire 100,000 new police officers.

That’s the biggest blot on Sanders’ criminal justice record, but it’s not the only one. In 1995, he voted against a measure which would have prohibited police acquisition of tanks and armored vehicles like those he critiqued in Ferguson. Likewise, in 1998, Sanders prioritized gun control over prison reform and voted for mandatory minimum sentences for crimes where the offender carried, brandished, and/or fired a gun. The gun in question doesn’t have to be used for the criminal act, so, for example, a nonviolent crime like smoking pot while carrying a legally owned weapon would trigger the mandatory minimum.

Now that criminal justice reform is en vogue, Sanders has shifted — but it’s an uncomfortable fit. His responses to Ferguson highlighted poverty more than police brutality; and the bill to ban private federal prisons he introduced this past fall had a clearer connection to his socialist economic policies than anything else. Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center, whom Sanders consulted in crafting the proposal, says, “It appears to be more for political purposes than to actually address the many problems in our criminal justice system.”

Finally, foreign policy. Sanders regularly touts his vote against invading Iraq in 2003, and that is unquestionably to his credit. But then there’s the rest of his record on matters of war and peace, which figures heavily into the wariness many actual socialists maintain toward Sanders’ campaign.

As Stephen M. Walt writes at Foreign Policy, Sanders is hardly “a reflexive dove.” He intends to retain President Obama’s drone program if elected. He voted in favor of Clinton’s pet intervention in Libya, in favor of the interminable war in Afghanistan, and even in favor of multiple funding measures to maintain the war in Iraq — a repeated “yes” to bankrolling the very conflict he so often boasts of opposing.

Sanders also speaks enthusiastically of coalition-based wars. “I would say that the key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be no, we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition,” he said at the last debate. In practice, though, that doesn’t mean no more wars; it means non-Americans fighting and dying in pursuit of American goals.

Writing at the socialist Jacobin Magazine, Paul Heideman contends that though “Sanders is willing to criticize many of the most egregious over-extensions of American empire” — like the invasion of Iraq — “it seems he has no interest in contesting the American suppression of democracy across the globe.” The candidate cheered King Abdullah II of Jordan for his opposition to ISIS, of which Heideman snarks, “It is never a good look for a socialist to praise a monarch.”

More broadly, it is never a good look for a progressive to have such an uncertain record in three major policy areas. Running against Clinton, Sanders can rightfully lay claim to progressive voters’ support. But they could be forgiven for suspecting he is less one of their own than his tweeting suggests.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, February 9, 2016

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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