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“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

“Pretending To Care About Inequality”: Indisputable Proof That Republicans Are Warriors For The Aristocracy

It’s been quite interesting to see Republicans embrace the notion that wealth inequality (or any inequality) is something to worry their pretty little heads about. Over the winter we heard numerous reports of various GOP luminaries expressing serious concern that average Americans were getting the short end of the stick while the wealthy few reaped all the rewards. Ted Cruz might as well have put on a blond wig and called himself “Elizabeth” when he railed against it after the State of the Union:

“We’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy. It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,”

And here we thought that was supposed to be a good thing. Aren’t they the “job producers”? That’s how weird the GOP’s messaging has gotten lately. Mitt “47 Percent” Romney clutched his very expensive opera-length pearls, wailing that “under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.” Rand Paul channeled his heretofore unknown inner Bernie Sanders, proclaiming that “income inequality has worsened under this administration. And tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.” It seemed to many observers at the time that this was a very odd choice of issue for potential Republican presidential aspirants to take up, since every item in the domestic GOP agenda would make wealth inequality even worse. This certainly wasn’t something they lost any sleep over before now.

As Brendan Nyhan at the New York Times explained in February, this sort of thing is called “issue-trespassing,” where one party attempts to co-opt an advantage of the other by pretending to care about something nobody thinks they care about. In this case, the GOP seemed to be admitting that their reputation as the party of the 1 percent wasn’t helpful to their cause, so they decided to try to shift the blame to President Obama. Nyhan points out that data suggests this rarely ever works, because people rely on party stereotypes no matter how hard those parties try to co-opt the rhetoric of the other side for their own use.

Certainly, it’s hard to see how anyone can possibly believe that the Republican Party, which fetishizes low taxes for the rich above all other priorities, truly cares about wealth inequality; but perhaps this is one of those times when the mere pretense of caring signals that they understand how badly their reputation of callous disregard for everyday Americans’ economic security has hurt them.

In any case, this shallow attempt at appearing to give a damn was short-lived. This week the GOP is voting, as they always do, to ensure that the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune won’t be faced with the terrible responsibility of having to pay taxes on their inheritances. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post pointed out just how successful these protectors of the progeny of the one percenters have been in recent years:

It had long been a conservative ideal, and the essence of the American Dream, to believe that everybody should have an equal shot at success. But in their current bid to end the estate tax, Republicans could create a permanent elite of trust-fund babies. The estate tax was a meaningful check on a permanent aristocracy as recently as 2001, when there were taxes on the portion of estates above $675,000; even then there were plenty of ways for the rich to shelter money for their heirs. As the son of a schoolteacher and a cabinetmaker, I’d like to see the estate tax exemptions lowered — so that taxes encourage enterprise and entre­pre­neur­ship while keeping to a minimum the number of Americans born who will never have to work a day in their lives. The current exemption of $5.4 million (the current estate tax has an effective rate averaging under 17 percent, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center) does little to prevent a permanent aristocracy from growing — and abolishing it entirely turns democracy into kleptocracy.

No, that wasn’t a mistaken cut and paste from the World Socialist Website. That really was Dana Milbank writing in the Washington Post, which is a testament to just how outlandish these Republicans have become. When mainstream columnists start using words like aristocracy and kleptocracy you know that something’s in the air.

This is nothing new, of course. The conservative project has always been fundamentally about aristocracy. Sure, they love to wax on about freedom and liberty but the freedom and liberty they care about is the freedom to attain property and pass it on to their heirs. Everything else is secondary. What’s more interesting is the way they are able to make ordinary people who will never benefit from this scheme — in fact, they will suffer  – agitate for it as if it meant the bread on their own table and the roof over their own heads.

Paul Waldman tackled this phenomenon in a piece for the American Prospect a while back. He concluded that voters didn’t understand that the tax only kicks in for very high amounts, and that most people instinctively think it should be okay to bequeath your fortune to your kids — regardless that the consequences of vastly wealthy people doing this are fundamentally un-American.

Waldman mentioned this silly notion as well:

Americans tend to think that no matter what their current situation, eventually, they’re going to be rich. Most of us are wrong about that, but that’s what we think. It’s practically our patriotic duty to believe it. So most everyone thinks that this tax will apply to their estate upon their death, no matter how modest that estate might be at the moment.

I will never forget hearing a caller tell Rush Limbaugh one day that he was happy for his CEO to make a lot of money because that meant the company was doing well and would probably give him a raise someday. Rush, needless to say, sagely agreed with his assessment, although he sounded a bit distracted. (I believe it was around the time he had negotiated his several-hundred-million dollar contract, so he was likely engaged in counting his fortune.)

This is one of the main keys to the perpetuation of the aristocratic project: Convincing average people to support “their betters” with the promise that they will themselves benefit. In the old aristocracy, this used to be a simple pledge of fealty to ones noble house, but American conservatives have “democratized” it to make the serfs and peasants believe that they too will be nobles one day if only they agree to allow the rich to keep every last penny of their wealth. It’s a very sweet scam.

Unfortunately for the conservatives, inequality is becoming impossible to ignore and the people are starting to wake up to what is happening. The confusion on the right about how to handle it is a sign that it’s verging out of their control. And again, as Nyhan pointed out in his NYT piece, simply paying lip service to a democratic, egalitarian concern is probably not going to be enough to give them cover when the Republican stereotype of being servants of the rich is so deeply embedded in our political culture. (Thanks Mitt!) Voting for the Paris Hilton tax exemption bill certainly won’t help.

On the other hand, it could be worse. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now saying outright that democracy isn’t working and is calling for benevolent dictatorships. It’s convenient that the United Kingdom maintained their monarchy isn’t it? It will be so much easier than building one from the ground up.

 

By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Aristocracy, Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Reagan Has Left The Premises”: The Republican Party Needs A Reality Check

In the summer of 1999, George W. Bush chose the first major policy speech of his presidential campaign to pick a fight with Grover Norquist. Bush flatly rejected the “destructive” view “that if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved” — a vision the Texas governor dismissed as having “no higher goal, no nobler purpose, than leave us alone.”

Norquist had proposed to define conservatism as the “leave us alone” coalition — a movement united by a desire to get government off our backs. Bush countered that “the American government is not the enemy of the American people.”

Ed Crane, then the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said the speech sounded as if it had been written by someone “moonlighting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I can formally deny that charge. But the Bush campaign was purposely attempting to alter the image of the Republican Party. And the party — rendered more open to change by eight years in the presidential wilderness — gave Bush the leeway to make necessary ideological adjustments.

It is the nature of resilient institutions to take stock of new realities and adjust accordingly. In a new cover essay for Commentary magazine, Peter Wehner and I detail the examples of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Clinton broke a long Democratic presidential losing streak by emphasizing middle-class values, advocating the end of “welfare as we know it” and standing up to extreme elements within his coalition (thereby creating the “Sister Souljah moment”). In Britain, Blair went after the “moral chaos” that led to youth crime, abandoned his party’s official commitment to public ownership of the means of production and launched New Labor.

The Republican Party now needs similar transformation. Out of the past six presidential elections, four have gone to the Democratic nominee, at an average yield of 327 electoral votes to 211 for the Republican. During the preceding two decades, from 1968 to 1988, Republicans won five out of six elections, averaging 417 electoral votes to Democrats’ 113.

This stunning reversal of electoral fortunes has taken place for a variety of reasons: changing demographics; the end of a GOP foreign policy advantage during the Cold War; a serious gap in candidate quality; the declining relevance of economic policies that seem better suited to the 1980s; and an occasionally deserved reputation for being judgmental and censorious.

A full Republican appreciation of these disturbing fundamentals was delayed by the 2010 midterms, in which an unreconstructed anti-government message seemed to be riding a wave. Just two years later came that wave’s withdrawing roar. The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, lost by 5 million votes to a beatable incumbent presiding over an anemic economy. The explanation is not purely technical or personality oriented. At the national level, Republicans have a winning message for a nation that no longer exists.

In retrospect, last year’s Republican primary process was entirely disconnected from the actual needs of the party. One candidate pledged to build a 20-foot-high electrical fence at the border crowned with the sign, in English and Spanish, “It will kill you — Warning.” Another promised, as president, to speak out against the damage done to American society by contraception. Another warned that vaccinations may cause “mental retardation.” In the course of 20 debates and in tens of millions of dollars of ads, issues such as upward mobility, education, poverty, safer communities and the environment were rarely mentioned.

A Republican recovery in presidential politics will depend on two factors. First, candidates will need to do more than rebrand existing policy approaches or translate them into Spanish. Some serious rethinking is necessary, particularly on economic matters. In our Commentary essay, we raise ideas such as ending corporate welfare, breaking up the mega-banks, improving the treatment of families in the tax code, and encouraging economic mobility through education reform and improved job training. Whatever form Republican proposals eventually take, they must move beyond Reagan-era nostalgia.

Second, Republican primary voters, party activists and party leaders have a choice to make, ruthlessly clarified by recent events. They can take the path of Democrats in 1988, doubling down on a faltering ideology. Or they can follow the model of Democrats in 1992 and their own party in 2000, giving their nominee the leeway needed to oppose outworn or extreme ideas and to produce an agenda relevant to our time.

 

By: Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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