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“The Way Institutions Work Is Irrelevant”: The Simple-Minded Populism That Controls The GOP

I’ve often been critical of “outsider” candidates who claim that their lack of experience in politics and government is precisely what will enable them to succeed in politics and government. Business-people seem particularly prone to believe that they can bring solutions that no one has ever contemplated before, and now Carly Fiorina is showing that she has some truly innovative policy ideas, after hearing from a veteran having trouble navigating the VA health system:

“Listen to that story,” Fiorina said. “How long has [VA] been a problem? Decades. How long have politicians been talking about it? Decades.”

Fiorina said she would gather 10 or 12 veterans in a room, including the gentleman from the third row, and ask what they want. Fiorina would then vet this plan via telephone poll, asking Americans to “press one for yes on your smartphone, two for no.”

“You know how to solve these problems,” she said, “so I’m going to ask you.”

I guess it took someone with Fiorina’s business savvy to come up with the idea to address complex policy challenges with a focus group followed by an “American Idol”-style telephone vote. If only we had thought of that before.

Seriously, this episode tells us a lot about the state of Republican populism these days.

It’s obviously important to understand the experience veterans have with the system if you’re going to determine where its biggest problems are. But the inane idea that that would be all you need to solve the problems of an enormous agency that spends billions of dollars and has thousands of employees is characteristic of a particular kind of conservative populism, one that seems to be expanding now that Donald Trump has taken control of the entire presidential race.

Both parties are drawn to populist appeals, but they come in different variants. The Democratic version tends to be both performative and substantive — they’ll rail against the top one percent, but also offer policy ideas like upper-income tax increases and minimum wage hikes that are intended to serve the interests of regular people. Democratic populism says that the problem is largely about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and on whose behalf it’s wielded.

Republican populism, on the other hand, is aimed against “elites” that are decidedly not economic. It’s the egghead professors, the Hollywood liberals, the government bureaucrats whom they tell their voters to resent and despise. And part of that argument is that despite what those know-it-all experts would have you believe, all our problems have simple and easy solutions. All you need is “common sense” to know how we should reform our health care system, fix the VA, or control undocumented immigration. Understanding how government works isn’t just unnecessary, it’s actually a hindrance to getting things done.

There may be no candidate who has ever sung this tune with quite the verve Trump does, but he’s following in a long tradition. Ronald Reagan used to say, “there are no easy answers, but there are simple answers” — all it takes is the courage to embrace them. George W. Bush trusted his gut more than his head, and saw a world where there are only good guys and bad guys; once you know who’s who, the path forward is clear and only a wuss would worry about the unintended consequences that might arise from things like invading foreign countries.

In its somewhat less extreme version, this belief in the simple truths that only regular folks can see is what drives the common belief that whatever’s wrong in Washington can be solved by bringing in someone from outside Washington. So Ted Cruz proudly trumpets the fact that all of his colleagues in the Senate think he’s a jerk. And Scott Walker criticizes his own party’s congressional leaders, saying, “We were told if Republicans got the majority there’d be a bill on the president’s desk to repeal ObamaCare. It is August. Where is that bill? Where was that vote?”

Well, the answer is that there’s this thing called a filibuster, which Democrats used to stop that bill from getting to the president’s desk, where it would have been vetoed anyway (the real problem is that those leaders promised their constituents something they knew they could never deliver). But in this particular populist critique, the way institutions work is irrelevant, and a straight-talking, straight-shooting Washington outsider can come in and clean the whole place up wielding nothing more than the force of his will, some common sense, and good old fashioned American gumption.

The real mystery is why voters would fall for this kind of claptrap again and again. If the Obama years have taught us anything, it’s that policy problems are — guess what — complicated. Understanding policy doesn’t get you all the way to solutions — you need a set of values that guides you and creativity in imagining change, among other things — but you can’t do without that understanding, at a minimum. Yet a significant chunk of voters continues to believe that everything is simple and easy, no matter how many times reality tells them otherwise.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, GOP, Populism | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Propelling His Long-Shot Bid”: The Real Reasons Bernie Sanders Is Transforming The Election; Here’s Why He Galvanizes The Left

CNN dubbed this “the summer of Sanders” as media outlets finally picked up on the large crowds Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has attracted during campaign stops. His rocketing poll numbers in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire led to countless stories heralding a Sanders surge — but the story is as much about the issues as it is about the man.

Even Republican candidates have taken notice of Sanders’ rise. Ahead of a recent stop in Madison, Wisconsin, likely 2016 contender and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker welcomed Sanders to the state with a series of tweets attacking the democratic socialist once dismissed as too fringe. Walker may not have taken too fondly to Sanders attracting a record 10,000 people in his home state.

But Sanders’ campaign, surely more so than that of any of the Republican candidates, seems to be gaining traction more for the ideas he espouses than because of a cult of personality.

Granted, many supporters have pointed to Sanders’ straightforward manner and willingness to call out bad actors as refreshingly appealing, but unlike with Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Chris Christie, it isn’t just a brash style that’s being sold. Sanders makes a direct effort to address many of the issues that have arisen since the Hope & Change campaign of 2008 and it appears as though he is tapping into very real and long-simmering sentiments in the Democratic base.

More than a protest vote against Hillary Clinton, as some have suggested, Sanders’ support appears to be support for issues Clinton’s yet to fully address. Here are some of the ways that Sanders is gaining support by leading on issues or movements that other candidates ignore:

VA Scandal

Sanders was chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee when Democrats last controlled the chamber, and following the VA scandal, Sanders worked with Republicans in the House to pass legislation that expands health care access for veterans and makes it easier to fire underperforming officials.

His record and work on veterans’ affairs issues has earned Sanders top awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Military Officers Association of America, and now it appears as though that recognition is translating to support for his campaign.

The Boston Globe writes that Sanders’ “surge is partly fueled by veterans,” citing “entire Reddit threads [that] are dedicated to how veterans can best pitch Sanders to other veterans” and “a Facebook page promoting Sanders to veterans.” As the Globe notes, in the early voting state of South Carolina veterans make up about 11 percent of the electorate.

Occupy Wall Street

The short-lived global protest movement suddenly shifted the national debate in the aftermath of the recession from talk of austerity to a focus on growing income inequality by introducing terms like the 1 Percent to national prominence in time for the 2012 campaign. But the Occupy Wall Street movement achieved no great legislative win, and after the encampments were broken down many of the grievances remained unacknowledged, let alone addressed.

Sanders’ 2016 campaign embodies much of the demands of the OWS movement. Speaking to the largest campaign crowd of this cycle in Wisconsin this week, Sanders said, “The big money interests — Wall Street, corporate America, all of these guys — have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse.” For activists who organized, protested and camped out in Zuccotti Park and squares across America, this message of unfinished business is powerful. The acknowledgement of a continued struggle and willingness to put up a fight is what was galvanized the Draft Warren movement and it has now seemingly shifted to Sanders.

Student Debt Movement

Some Occupy Wall Street activists joined a movement against student debt, which has now surpassed $1 trillion in the U.S. The activists, some of whom had refused to make any more payments on their federal student loans, achieved a major victory this year when Corinthian colleges (you know them by their annoying commercials hawking their schools like Everest, Heald and WyoTech) shuttered the last of their remaining U.S. campuses, and the erasure of $13 million in debt. The movement has successfully overseen the closure of campuses in Canada the year before.

Sanders has proposed the College for All Act, a plan to provide tuition-free education at public colleges funded by a small tax on Wall Street transactions.

Citizens United

Since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions saw the rise of the Super PAC in electoral campaigns, Americans are shockingly united in their opposition to such obscene levels of money in politics. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including Republicans, support limits on campaign contributions.

Sanders is the only candidate to have completely sworn off all Super PAC funds, although a couple of independent political action committees have formed in support of his candidacy.

But Sanders has objected to their existence, saying, “A major problem of our campaign finance system is that anybody can start a super PAC on behalf of anybody and can say anything. And this is what makes our current campaign finance situation totally absurd.”

Obamacare

The Supreme Court may have upheld the Affordable Care Act twice, but the political battle over the health care law promises to rage on five years after its passage. With health care costs rising only marginally more slowly than they did before the law’s passage and a continuation of premium increases, even Democrats who support the law have called for marked improvements as millions of Americans are left uninsured because Republican lawmakers refuse to expand Medicaid.

Sanders has promised to return the debate to early 2007, when during the Democratic presidential primary the public option was on the table. Sanders has long called for a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health care plan similar to what was tossed aside as too radical shortly after the talks began on health care reform once Obama took office.

 

By: Sophia Tesfaye, Salon, July 3, 2015

July 6, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Populism | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Even If It Worked, I Would Oppose It”: Republicans Too Often Prioritize Partisan And Ideological Goals Over Practical Ones

As hard as it may be to perceive right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson as a credible presidential candidate, he received a very warm welcome at Steve King’s “Iowa Freedom Summit” over the weekend, and Carson arguably delivered one of the more polished presentations of the gathering.

But on the substance of Carson’s remarks, one thing jumped out at me.

On the Affordable Care Act – which Carson has on several occasions compared to slavery – the famous former surgeon said he opposed any government intrusion in health care. “Even if it worked, I would oppose it,” Carson said of Obamacare. “It doesn’t.”

“I don’t believe in taking the most important thing a person has, which is their health and their health care, and putting it in the hands of the government,” he later added….

For a brief argument in a speech, there’s quite a bit to this. We know, for example, that Carson’s mistaken when he says the Affordable Care Act isn’t working; the evidence to the contrary is simply overwhelming. We also know that when it comes to his preferred model, Carson used to believe largely the opposite of what he’s arguing now.

What’s more, when Carson argues that government shouldn’t have a hand in matters related to health care, it would seem to suggest the Republican candidate is against the VA health care system for active-duty and retired military personnel, Medicare, and Medicaid. That’s not too surprising – a guy who draws a parallel between modern American life and Nazis isn’t going to be a moderate – but it’s a pretty extreme position for even today’s GOP.

But the true gem is, in reference to the ACA, “Even if it worked, I would oppose it.”

Regular readers know that I’ve referenced the Republicans’ “post-policy” problem on several occasions, and Carson’s eight-word line seems to summarize the larger issue nicely. While Democrats focus heavily on policy outcomes and the efficacy of policy proposals – as one might expect from a governing party – Republicans too often prioritize partisan and ideological goals over practical ones.

Whether or not tax cuts work, for example, isn’t especially important. Whether the evidence supports climate change doesn’t matter, either. Pick the issue – national security, education, immigration, et al – and for much of today’s GOP, empiricism and efficacy just isn’t that important. What matters instead is an ideological drive to shrink government, regardless of policy outcomes.

I rather doubt Carson intended his comments to be so revealing, but the fact that he’d oppose a Democratic health care reform package built on a Republican model, regardless of whether or not it works, says a great deal.

What’s the basis for a serious policy debate when one side of the argument doesn’t care if policies are effective or not?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2015

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“24 Health-Care Scandals”: Legislators Who Block Medicaid Expansion Are Stiffing Veterans Out Of Health Care, And Stiffing Workers Out Of Jobs

The scandal over long wait times for veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has grabbed a lot of headlines and elicited a lot of righteous anger — as it should. America’s veterans deserve so much better.

But as Ezra Klein pointed out in a piece in Vox, there’s another health care scandal that also deserves its share of righteous anger, and it also has a big impact on veterans with health care needs: the self-destructive refusal of lawmakers in 20-plus states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.

Klein cataloged “24 health-care scandals that critics of the VA should also be furious about” (that is, the 24 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion). Thanks to lawmakers’ knee-jerk opposition to expanding health coverage in those states, there are huge numbers of uninsured veterans who should be eligible for coverage, but aren’t: 41,200 veterans in Florida, 24,900 in Georgia, 48,900 in Texas… and the list goes on.

All in all, about 250,000 uninsured veterans are getting stiffed out of eligibility for health coverage by lawmakers who have blocked Medicaid expansion, according to Pew’s Stateline. As it turns out, those lawmakers are also stiffing their own states out of economy-boosting jobs — health care jobs that are overwhelmingly good-paying jobs. Medicaid expansion would create thousands more of these jobs.

Virginia, where Medicaid expansion still hangs in limbo, is a perfect example. According to a report from Chmura Economics & Analytics, Medicaid expansion would create an average of over 30,000 jobs annually in Virginia, including more than 15,000 jobs in the state’s health care sector. An analysis of data on projected job openings and wage levels underscores that these will be good-paying, economy-boosting jobs.

For a single adult in Virginia, less than half of all projected job openings statewide pay above a living wage ($18.59/hour, according to the 2013 Virginia Job Gap Study). However, three out of five health care job openings and close to nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.

For a household with two working adults and two children, while less than two out of five projected job openings in Virginia pay median wages above a living wage ($21.99/hour per worker), half of health care job openings and more than seven out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do.

Or look at Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan passed by the Maine Legislature earlier this year, and too few Republican legislators were willing to break ranks with the Governor to override his veto. There, Medicaid expansion would create over 4,000 jobs by 2016, including more than 2,000 jobs in Maine’s health care sector. As with Virginia, health care jobs beat statewide wage levels in Maine by wide margins.

For a single adult, less than half of all projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($15.18/hour, according to the 2013 Maine Job Gap Study). But two-thirds of health care job openings and almost nine out of 10 health practitioner and technical job openings do. For a household with two working adults and two children, while barely one-third of projected job openings in Maine pay above a living wage ($18.87/hour per worker), almost three-fifths of health care job openings and more than four out of five health practitioner and technical job openings do.

Health care jobs are also overwhelmingly higher-wage jobs in states like Montana and Idaho. But all these states, along with 20 others, have been missing out on these economy-boosting jobs because their legislatures or governors have rejected Medicaid expansion.

State lawmakers who continue to block Medicaid expansion do so at their own peril — both morally and electorally. Because you can only stiff your own constituents — including low-income, uninsured veterans — out of both access to health care and good-paying, economy-boosting jobs for so long before it catches up with you.

Want to really do something to help veterans get access to the health care they need and create good-paying jobs for your constituents at the same time? Two words: expand Medicaid.

 

By: LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director, The Alliance For A Just Society; The Huffington Post Blog, August 6, 2014

August 7, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Paul LePage, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Vets We Reject And Ignore”: Leave No Fallen Comrade Behind Applies At Home And To All Veterans, Regardless Of “Bad Paper”

Today, we honor the nation’s 22 million veterans, including more than 2.5 million who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against Al Qaeda. But we are turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of veterans who were discharged “under conditions other than honorable” and so do not qualify as veterans under federal law.

Their discharges, which include overly broad categories encompassing everything from administrative discharges for minor misconduct to dishonorable discharges following a court-martial, nevertheless make them ineligible for the health care, employment, housing and education benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of the “bad paper” they carry in the form of their discharge certificates, many of these veterans struggle upon leaving the military. And when they falter, the burden for supporting them falls heavily on their local communities because federal agencies cannot, by law, help them.

No federal agency publishes the numbers of bad paper discharges. But historical studies suggest that at least several hundred thousand veterans fall into this category. Approximately 260,000 of the 8.7 million Vietnam-era veterans were pushed out of the service with bad paper. More recently, according to documents separately obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Army discharged 76,165 soldiers between 2006 and 2012 with bad paper. Of these recent Army discharges, only one in seven were kicked out following a criminal conviction for a serious offense. The rest were discharged for smaller breaches of military discipline like missing duty or abusing alcohol or drugs. For many of them, their misconduct was likely related to the stresses of war.

Instead of showing compassion for these troops who were carrying the invisible wounds of war, their commanders kicked them out. These troops’ getting pushed out under such circumstances would be enough of a blow, but these commanders compounded the injury by giving them bad paper, instead of merely administratively separating them from the service.

While assessing the needs of veterans in the Western United States, my research team met with community leaders and nonprofit agency staff members in seven cities with the largest populations of veterans, and interviewed others in outlying cities and rural areas as well. Across these communities, veterans with bad paper were believed to be significantly overrepresented in the at-risk veterans populations. All too frequently these veterans become part of the nation’s chronically homeless or incarcerated populations.

When they end up in distress or on the streets, their communities must bear this burden alone.

We have a moral obligation to those who serve, especially those who serve us in combat. At times, the military must discharge those who can’t perform or conform. However, commanders should exercise far greater discretion and compassion in trimming the ranks. Bad discharges indelibly mark veterans as damaged goods and cost society a great deal too.

Congress should also allow the V.A. to more broadly provide mental health care, homelessness support and other forms of crisis intervention to veterans with bad paper. The V.A. has case-by-case authority to do so now, but that does not help veterans with bad paper who have acute needs. A more compassionate policy would not diminish the military’s ability to maintain discipline, nor would it cheapen the valor of those who have served honorably.

The military has a process to fix bad paper, but that process takes too much time, and veterans often need legal help to prevail in an incredibly bureaucratic and difficult process.

The story of John Shepherd Jr., who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam but was kicked out after disobeying an order to return to combat after developing severe post-traumatic stress disorder, shows how difficult these cases can be. Mr. Shepherd went without V.A. support for 40 years until a team of students and lawyers at Yale Law School helped him correct his record this month.

Excellent programs exist to help veterans in such cases, but they deserve more resources. Small investments in pro bono legal services can help unlock a lifetime of access to the V.A. and help the neediest veterans with bad paper move on with their lives.

Finally, the veterans community should do more to lift up those veterans who have been discharged with bad paper, particularly in those cases where combat experience lies at the heart of the bad discharge. The American military ethos calls on all of us to leave no fallen comrade behind. That applies at home, too, and to all veterans, regardless of whether they carry bad paper.

By: Phillip Carter, Op-Ed Contributor, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, November 10, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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