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“The Social Justice Majority”: We Are Far More United Than Our Politics Permit Us To Be

Why are we arguing about issues that were settled decades ago? Why, for example, is it so hard to extend unemployment insurance at a time when the jobless rate nationally is still at 7 percent and higher than that in 21 states ?

As the Senate votes this week on help for the unemployed, Democrats will be scrambling to win support from the handful of Republicans they’ll need to get the required 60 votes. The GOP-led House, in the meantime, shows no signs of moving on the matter.

It hasn’t always been like this. It was not some socialist but a president named George W. Bush who declared: “These Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for the mortgage or rent, food and other critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down.”

Bush spoke those words, as Jason Sattler of the National Memo noted, in December 2002, when the unemployment rate was a full point lower than it is today.

Similarly, raising the minimum wage wasn’t always so complicated. The parties had their differences, but a solid block of Republicans once saw regular increases as a just way of spreading the benefits of economic growth.

The contention over unemployment insurance and the minimum wage reflects the larger problem in American politics. Rather than discussing what we need to do to secure our future, we are spending most of our energy re-litigating the past.

A substantial part of the conservative movement is now determined to blow up the national consensus that has prevailed since the Progressive and New Deal eras. The consensus envisions a capitalist economy tempered by government intervention to reduce inequities and soften the cruelties that the normal workings of the market can sometimes inflict.

This bipartisan understanding meant that conservatives such as Bush fully accepted that it was shameful to allow fellow citizens who had done nothing wrong to suffer because they had been temporarily overwhelmed by economic forces beyond their control.

The current debate is flawed for another reason: It persistently exaggerates how divided we are. Of course there are vast cultural differences across our nation. It’s not just a cliche that the worldview of a white evangelical Christian in Mississippi is quite distant from the outlook of a secularist on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and whites can offer rather diverse interpretations of the meaning of our national story.

But on core questions involving social justice, we are far more united than our politics permit us to be. A survey released at the end of December by Hart Research, a Democratic polling firm, found that Americans supported extending unemployment insurance by a margin of 55 percent to 34 percent. Several recent surveys, including a Fox News poll, found that about two-thirds of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage.

This leads to two conclusions. The first is that most Americans broadly accept the New Deal consensus. We may disagree about this or that regulation or spending program. We may squabble over exactly how our approaches to policy should be updated for a new century. But there is far more agreement among the American people than there is among Washington lobbies, members of Congress or political commentators on the core proposition that government should help us through rough patches and guarantee a certain level of economic fairness.

The second conclusion is that we have to stop letting the politics of culture wars so dominate our thinking that we forget how much we share when it comes to life’s day-to-day struggles and what we can do to ease them. Disputes over personal morals and lifestyle choices may get more page views or rating points, but they do little to improve anyone’s standard of living.

The minimum-wage increase is typically labeled a “liberal” idea. Yet many grass-roots Republicans see respect for those who work hard as rooted in sound conservative principles demanding decent compensation for a day’s labor. An evangelical might see fair pay as a biblical imperative while a secularist might view the question through a more worldly philosophical prism. Nonetheless, their distinctive reasoning processes lead them to the same place.

President Obama’s old line challenging the idea of red and blue Americas unalterably opposed to each other seems terribly outdated or naive. Electorally, at least, those divisions are still painfully obvious. But on matters of economic justice, we shouldn’t let a defective political system distract us from what we have in common.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Outside Commission Here”: Lara Logan Won’t Lose Her Job Because CBS Doesn’t Fear Liberals The Way It Fears Conservatives

In case you haven’t heard, CBS News is in a bit (but only a bit) of hot water over a story 60 Minutes recently aired about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. It centered on a breathless account from a security contractor, who just happened to have written a book about it being published by a conservative imprint of a publishing house owned by CBS (that’s synergy, baby). He told of the harrowing events of that night, including his own heroism and the spinelessness of the big shots who sit in their cushy offices while men of action like him do what must be done and get hung out to dry. The only problem was, he appears to be a liar who fabricated much of what 60 Minutes relayed in the story, which was reported by Lara Logan.

After insisting for weeks that everything in its story checked out, CBS finally conceded that the contractor, one Dylan Davies, was lying to them and through them to their audience. On Sunday night, Logan delivered an extraordinarily half-assed on-air apology, full of passive verbs and obfuscations plainly intended to minimize the whole thing; most critically, it gave no indication that CBS is going to make any effort to figure out why it happened. So who’s going to be punished for this enormous screw-up? I’ll tell you who: Nobody.

We’ll get to why in a moment. This incident has been compared to the one that occurred back in 2004, when Dan Rather aired a report on 60 Minutes II relying on documents purporting to show the steps taken by George W. Bush and his family to get him into the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air Guard so that he wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam, and documenting what he did and didn’t do once he got in. The documents proved to be forgeries (essentially an effort to frame a guilty man, but that’s a topic for another day), and the fallout was severe. 60 Minutes II was canceled, four producers were fired, and Rather himself, despite a storied decades-long career at CBS, was pushed out as well; he gave his last broadcast as anchor of the CBS Evening News in the spring of 2005 (here’s the whole story).

A lot of people thought it happened because Dan Rather was a liberal who was out to get Bush. There’s no doubt where Lara Logan stood on Benghazi; here’s a speech she gave in 2012, making clear her belief that investigations are for pussies and what the U.S. needed to do was start killing some people posthaste: “The last time we were attacked like this was the USS Cole, which was a prelude to the 1998 embassy bombings, which was a prelude to 9/11,” she said. “And you’re sending in FBI to investigate? I hope to God that you’re sending in your best clandestine warriors who are going to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil, that its ambassadors will not be murdered, and the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.” With the talk of “exact[ing] revenge,” Logan sounded less like a journalist who values the perception of fairness and objectivity and more like a right-wing radio host. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she was incapable of subsequently producing careful, accurate reporting on the topic. The problem is, she didn’t.

But Logan won’t get pushed out like Rather did. The first reason is that Rather was heading toward the end of his career; folks at CBS were already looking past him. Logan, on the other hand, is young, beautiful (this is television we’re talking about, after all), and perceived as a rising star. But much more important is that there was an organized campaign to get Rather, and there isn’t an organized campaign to get Logan, at least not one that CBS fears.

It’s true that Media Matters has been criticizing this story from the beginning, though it hasn’t actually called for Logan or anyone else to get fired (full disclosure: I worked at Media Matters from 2005 to 2009). But it’s basically alone. There aren’t Democratic senators holding hearings, there aren’t a hundred left-wing radio hosts drumming up outrage, and there’s little visible pressure coming from the White House to encourage heads to roll. In the case of the National Guard report, the conservative movement put on a top-to-bottom, full-court press to make sure Dan Rather was punished. They had hated him for years, and when they got their chance they did everything in their power to crush him.

The plain fact of it is that news organizations like CBS are afraid of the right, but they aren’t afraid of the left. Big media outlets like CBS are terrified of right-wing pressure campaigns, precisely because most journalists are, in fact, liberals. That doesn’t mean the news has a liberal bias (there are lots of biases in the news, and reporters injecting their ideological beliefs about policy into their stories is about the 20th most consequential), but it does mean that they’re overly sensitive about being called liberal. The way they usually handle that fear is to bend over backward to be contemptuous of Democrats and to take every opportunity they can to prove that they aren’t what conservatives say they are.

If Logan got fired for this—or if anybody got fired for this—well that would only be taken by the right as evidence that those liberals at CBS will do Barack Obama’s bidding. And that’s the last thing they want to be seen as doing. After the National Guard story, CBS went so far as to hire an outside commission to investigate; it produced a 224-page report on the matter, and all those people got fired, including the news division’s biggest star. Is it going to do anything similar with the Benghazi story debacle? I wouldn’t bet on it. More likely CBS is just going to say, we made some mistakes but it’s all in the past now, and we have full confidence in Lara Logan’s journalistic integrity and professionalism. Move along, nothing to see here.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 12, 2013

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s It Going To Be?”: The GOP Needs To Make Up Its Mind On Immigration Reform

Yet another member of the Bush family has demonstrated an uncanny ability to flinch on immigration.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has long advocated a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, roughly in line with current thinking of a bipartisan group in Congress. Yet in a new book he has written with Clint Bolick, Immigration Wars, Bush has flip-flopped on the question of the path to citizenship.

“Those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship,” Bush and Bolick wrote.

That’s disappointing, much like the failure of Jeb’s brother George W. to push the bipartisan immigration reform bill his administration favored through Congress in 2007.

In interviews since the book’s release, Jeb Bush has retraced and gone back to supporting avenues to citizenship.

To CNN, he had this to say: “Today the only path to come to this country other than family reunification is to come illegally. We need to create another category of legal immigration where there is actually a line. So if you could create that through a path to citizenship, I would support that.”

Well, what’s it going to be? It’s important to know; Bush might be the next Republican nominee for president.

With Congress set to take up comprehensive immigration reform, there simply isn’t time to waste on waffling. The Republican Party and its leading figures must decide: Are they going to join the movement for reform or are they going to keep up their long-standing campaign to demean undocumented immigrants?

For the last couple of decades, the conservative demagogues opposed to sensible immigration reform have worked hard to brand this issue as one of law and order. They have made an epithet out of an adjective — “illegals” — as a way to characterize undocumented immigrants as by nature criminal and, as such, unfit for U.S. citizenship.

Most Americans know better. Bush knows better too. A good portion of the book shows how deeply he understands the nuances of immigration law and policy. He discusses the fact that it is nearly impossible for many of the people who wind up illegally in the country to arrive legally.

He advocates clearing up the backlogs on visa requests based on family relationships by changing those systems and creating new avenues for legal immigration. He knows that many immigrants are seeking work and calls for doubling the number of work-based visas for both highly skilled and guest workers.

Let’s recognize that most undocumented immigrants live among us to work; let’s also acknowledge that American employers and consumers have benefitted greatly from the low-wage labor these people provide.

OK, now we can talk about legal status.

Some Americans worry about the message it would send if we were to extend the possibility of citizenship to people who have broken the law to live in our country. One way to allay these fears is to reserve this chance for those immigrants with no criminal convictions, who don’t have problems with domestic abuse or substance abuse, who have a work record, who are able and willing to support themselves and their families.

In recent days, Bush has stressed that he doesn’t want to create incentives that might cause more people to come to this country illegally. But this too reveals a sleight of hand about what he clearly understands about the current immigration system.

If the U.S. truly wanted to eliminate the possibility of too many people illegally in the country it would fix the system, making it responsive to the needs of the economy. Allow those workers a legal way in.

The vast majority of people who are illegally in the country didn’t chose that route because criminality is their natural disposition. They end up in that category because there wasn’t a viable way for them to arrive legally. Congress can address this by reordering how and why visas are granted and holding businesses accountable for monitoring the immigrants they hire.

If there were a better route, a legal way, most people would have taken it. Bush admits this throughout his book. And endless individual stories of immigrants underscore that truth.

It’s ridiculous and self-defeating that the policy debate about immigration is sidetracked by the question of who among the “illegal” people is worthy of citizenship.

Congress needs to act wisely, and sidestep this silly argument once and for all.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, March 11, 2013

March 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do Republicans Really Want To Compare?”: America Is Definitely Better Off Under Obama

Republicans seem to have hit on a question that has Team Obama fumbling, or at least squirming: Are you better off now than four years ago? Judging by my E-mail inbox yesterday, it’s a question Republicans seem genuinely interested in pursuing. Please do, GOP. It’s a trap.

I say this for two reasons. The first is factual, the second political.

On the matter of facts, when President Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was shedding 800,000 jobs per month. Stop for a second and read that again: 800,000 jobs lost per month. The economy has now added private sector jobs for 29 months running.

Does that mean that things are good? Not at all. The topline unemployment figure has worsened even as the overall economy has improved, and we still haven’t emerged from the jobs crater wrought by the Great Recession. But middling job growth is indisputably better than economic free fall.

More: As Time’s Michael Grunwald points out the economy shrank by an annual rate of 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. At that rate, Grunwald writes, “we would have shed the entire Canadian economy in 2009.” Grunwald, who has written a book on Obama’s stimulus, goes on to make a pretty good thumbnail case about why that jobs plan did in fact work, as well as generally why Obama and his advocates have a lot to be proud of—the post is worth a read.

But it brings me to my second point—why the GOP is walking into a trap if they pursue the “better off” question. Look back at the figures quoted above: 800,000 jobs lost per month; an 8.9 percent annual contraction rate. Is that really the point of comparison to which Mitt Romney and the Republicans want to draw Americans’ attention? Please. Please!
Republicans constantly whine about President Obama pointing to the dreadful circumstances of his ascension to the Oval Office—but now they want to invite the comparison? Really? Really!

I understand that the president and his team have to toe this line carefully—we’re still digging out from George W. Bush’s recession. But Jon Favreau and the presidential speechwriting staff, are you paying attention? If the GOP wants to ask whether the country is better off than it was four years ago, then the answer is a no-brainer yes, and I can’t think of a better person or place to give that answer than Barack Obama on Thursday night.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, Washington Whispers, September 3, 2012

 

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“But For The Rest Of The Story”: Romney “Etches” Out History Of The Bush Wall Street Bailout

Answering critics who are gleefully calling him the the Etch A Sketch candidate, Mitt Romney stood fast on one of his long-held positions Wednesday, defending George W. Bush’s financial bailout of Wall Street in 2008. That might be considered a rather gutsy stand, considering that Bush has been persona non grata among Republicans in this campaign, the conservative base despises the policy and Romney’s chief rival for the presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, has condemned the bailout as unnecessary and “injurious to capitalism.”

And what Romney said is at least partly true: almost every mainstream economist agrees that had there not been a bailout, the entire U.S. financial system would have collapsed and the nation would very likely be in the middle of a second Great Depression right now.

But in his remarks in Maryland, Romney also ignored–or etched out–much of the financial history that led to the bailout. “I keep hearing the president say that he’s responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression,” Romney said. “No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and [then Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening.”

Umm, yeah, they did, but only after Paulson, as head of Goldman Sachs, lobbied to raise leverage limits that fueled Wall Street’s untrammeled risk-taking machine and after Bush, for eight years, sponsored low-income housing and deregulatory policies that promoted the illusory idea of a self-stabilizing Wall Street, gutted the financial regulatory system and set the stage for the disaster.

It is little remembered today that President Bush was so completely flummoxed by the financial collapse that, according to his own former speechwriter, Matt Latimer, he didn’t seem to comprehend at first what had happened, nor that the Treasury was planning to pay more for Wall Street’s toxic securities than they were really worth in order to sustain the reckless banks. “Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he told Latimer plaintively. Just before the crash, Bush had hoped to deliver a series of “legacy speeches” touting his accomplishments, including a robust economy.

Romney, in his remarks, may have been just sketching out how he plans to run in the fall–as well as conveniently reminding voters of the story he hoped would dominate the news yesterday, that George W. Bush’s prominent brother, Jeb, had just endorsed him. But that’s no excuse for etching out the real story of what happened.

 

By: Michael Hirsh, National Journal, March 22, 2012

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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