Posts Tagged ‘My Conservative Uncle’

The Tea Party Takeover of the Republican Party

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Since the advent of the Tea Party, my conservative uncle has consistently been sending me info on how the only way for Republicans to regain and maintain power is to embrace the movement’s agenda wholeheartedly.

Based on the events of the past year, we may see that idea tested. Over the past months, Tea Party candidates have forced out an increasing number of  “establishment” GOP candidates (many of whom were nationally known) in favor of candidates whose support came in large part from the Tea Party.

The list is impressive: Robert Bennet in Utah, Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Sue Lowden in Nevada, Jane Norton in Colorado, both Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum in Florida, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania (who was pushed out of the Republican party by Pat Toomey and the Club for Growth and then kicked out of the Democratic party by Sestak and the voters of PA),  and finally and most dramatically, Rick Lazio in New York and Mike Castle in Delaware (the only Republican that could have taken the Senate seat for the Republicans).

In other cases politicians have completely revamped their personalities, becoming more rigid and dogmatic to save themselves from Tea Party challengers. John McCain, who faced a Tea Party influenced J.D. Hayworth is the most egregious example of this. Faced with losing his seat, this American hero who prided himself on being independent and putting “Country First” is almost totally unrecognizable from the John McCain that the country knew and loved three years ago.

While McCain’s rightward shift looked like overkill, the defeat of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska by Joe Miller, shows the perils of complacency. Murkowski’s defeat by Joe Miller in Alaska seemed to come out of nowhere. While polls has shown the race tightening, not a single poll  had shown Miller even within striking distance of Murkowski and she overspent him by a 10 to 1 margin. Miller’s win was propelled by a number of influences, but what made the difference on election day was a huge increase in turnout by social conservatives who were motivated in part by a ballot measure on parental consent for abortion. These kind of unpredictable results are the kind of things that keep politicians up at night, and while it’s tempting to say that keeping politicians feet to the fire is a good thing, that’s more difficult to claim when we’re talking about the beliefs of a small minority of increasingly paranoid people (which is what Republican  primary voters have become in many states). 

There’s a debate raging around the country about whether the Tea Party Tumult will be good or bad for the Republican party’s electoral fortunes this year and going forward. It’s somewhat of a mixed bag this year, but the Tea Party has been able to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Democrats to field a slate of candidates (especially in Senate races) who seem to be faring well despite their extreme views. In other cases, the Tea Party has taken seats that were almost guaranteed Republican pickups and turned them into either dead heats (in the case of Nevada) or heavily favored Democratic seats (like Delaware).

In House races, the Tea Party should also help the Republicans since an influx of new (or newly energized) voters can swing a close election in House Districts (especially when the opposition party is as dispirited as Democratic voters have been this year).

Long term, I would be concerned about the Tea Party takeover of the party if I were a  Republican.  The country is generally center right, but there is strong support for a safety net. The Tea Party people are hard free market libertarians and many have spoken out in favor of dismantling the safety net. The country is becoming increasingly diverse and more open minded. The Tea Party led Republicans are becoming whiter, more nativist and idealize the 1950′s (a time that wasn’t always great if you were a minority or a woman).

Scapegoating immigrants and Muslims might be good short term politics in a midterm year, but if you want to see the fruits of that kind of effort, just go talk to President Pete Wilson, who rode to the presidency on his scapegoating of immigrants in the early 90′s… Oh wait, the actual results were that he is now reviled in the state and his party has almost ceased to compete statewide and struggles to elect 1/3 of the legislature each year.

While it’s interesting to talk about how this helps the fortunes of the Democratic and Republican parties, I believe that the more corrosive effect of the Tea Party will be felt when it comes to governing. As we all know from Government 101, The American political system is built around trying to limit the things that government can do. In order for something to pass, the House, Senate and President have to agree on it, and Senators have added yet another hurdle by mandating 60 votes for any significant legislation. Since it is rare for any party to control 60 votes in the Senate, this means that almost nothing can pass unless it has at least some support from both sides of the aisle.

Almost all of the great programs of the past that Americans take for granted passed in bi-partisan ways: Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, Environmental Protection. The passage of Health Care Reform this year is a large anomaly, and as has been pointed out by Republican David Frum, was greatly impacted (in a negative way) by Republicans refusal to lend their votes to improve the bill. The legislative deal-making that the Democrats had to go through to pass this bill without a vote to spare was a disgrace and harmed the initial popularity of the reform significantly.

More importantly, America is at a crossroads right now. We face massive debt that is a result of a combination of runaway spending and 3o years of tax cuts. As has been noted previously, taxes are now at the lowest level they have been in 5 years and spending is at it’s highest. Politicians from both sides agree that this is unsustainable. What they disagree about (or more candidly, just refuse to talk about) is how to make the changes to get us closer to balancing the budget.   In two separate articles  written this year by right-leaning economist Robert Samuleson and Obama’s former Director of OMB, Peter Orzag, both look at the consequences of trying to cut deficits by focusing solely on tax increases or by focusing solely on cutting government.    They both reach the similar conclusions: any plan that focuses solely on either revenues or spending would entail either massive tax increases or massive cuts in popular programs such as Medicare, Social Security and national defense, none of which the American people will accept.

With a deficit commission soon to report its recommendations for meaningful deficit reductions, we need pragmatic centrists that are willing to compromise and do what is good for the country more than ever. The last thing we need is a bunch of Tea Partiers who will dig their heels in and refuse to compromise, either because they want tax cuts more than they want deficit reduction, or because they have to constantly look over their shoulder at the possibility that a Tea Party challenger will defeat them in the primary election because they weren’t dogmatic enough. The Tea Party has brought energy to the Republican party, but their lasting legacy may be to bring even more gridlock to our political system.

It’s Way Too Early To Write This President Off

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The Republicans have been positively giddy about President Obama’s falling poll numbers and probably every week and half my conservative uncle sends me a screed about how Obama is a failed president and America has irreversibly lost faith in him. This week it was this Op-ed from a columnist for Britian’s Telegraph.

We’ve been hearing this from the Right since a few months after Obama took office and it always reminds me of the parallels to the early 80′s when the shoe was on the other foot: the previous president had presided over a terrible economic time that the opposition party would end up using against him and his party for decades to come and a foreign policy that included some high profile blunders that shook Americans’ image of themselves.  Against this backdrop, a historic president took power with strong approval ratings, gave the country new hope and inspiration and successfully began the process of reorienting the country in a sharp departure from the previous president’s policies.

However, in the second year of his presidency the economy was slow to recover, the country began to lose faith in the president and voters seemed poised to hand his party a major defeat in the midterm elections. In polling, the president was ranked lower than his Democratic rivals for the presidency and the opposition increasingly saw him as a failed president. Desperate to stave off an embarrassing showing in the midterms, the president hit the campaign trail to explain that it was the previous president’s fault, while the opposition party shook their heads and asked how long the president was going to try to avoid responsibility for the state of the economy. 

The president, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who eventually cruised to a 19% point victory over Walter Mondale in an Electoral College landslide where he won all states with the exception of Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Last week, while reading Steve Kornacki’s post about the parallels (and futility) of Obama blaming Bush and Reagan blaming Jimmy Carter in order to stave off defeat in the midterms, I stumbled across a good thread that sheds even more light on the parallels. As Kornacki noted at the beginning of this year, in October 1982 the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent–and rising, 2.9 points higher than when Reagan took office. Currently, the unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent, a rise of 2.3 points from when Obama took office.

He quotes the LA Times’ analysis of their November 1982 poll:

The survey, published in the paper’s Saturday edition, found a large number of moderate Democrats who supported Reagan in 1980 are turning against him because they are losing faith in his economic program and oppose his cuts in social programs. The poll found that if a presidential election were held today between Reagan and Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, Mondale would win by six percentage points.

…The survey found 58 percent of those interviewed believe the economy is in “bad” shape, with 20 percent terming the situation a “major depression.” By a 2-1 ratio, those polled said they feel they are worse off personally because of Reagan’s economic policies.

In fact, looking at graphs of Obama and Reagan’s approval ratings for their first two years is like looking at a mirror image.

To be sure, the situation isn’t completely analogous. As many have pointed out, corporations are actually doing quite well in this economy and by some estimates are sitting on a pile of cash as big as $1.8 billion, but hiring has lagged. While some have pointed to the perception in the business community that Obama is “anti-business,” Ezra Klein points out that economic downturns that include financial crises have historically taken longer to recover from than those that don’t and that this problem is not so much the regulatory environment, but what he calls “the catch-22 of the recovery: businesses will start hiring when the economy recovers. And the economy will start to recover when businesses start hiring.”  Matthew Iglesias also points out the tougher row that Obama has to hoe based on economists’ growth projections. I would add to this the fact that the ability to run long term structural deficits that stimulate the economy is no longer an option given the pile of debt that the Reagan and Bush II era’s left us. 

The point of all this is not to make a prediction of how much economic growth we will have in two years, or where the unemployment rate will be at that time, but only to point out that it is too early to write the President off and all of the Republican fulminating about how Americans now see that President Obama is “a failure,” is overblown. 

As a smart man once said, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” If jobs come back, the decisions that Obama made to insure an additional 30 million people, to work with Bernake to stop the bleeding on jobs and return us back to economic growth,  to make the largest investments in clean energy in our nation’s history with the stimulus plan, to save the American auto industry, to continue to stabilize the banking industry by adding Geithner’s “stress tests” to George Bush’s bank bailout, to pass the most wide ranging financial reform to mitigate the possibility of another financial crash imperiling the economy… all of these issues will be seen as important steps in our economic recovery and the total lack of Republican help on any of those efforts will be held against them. On the other hand, if jobs don’t come back, then all of those things will be used by Republicans to explain why they didn’t…and we may be looking at President Romney in 2012 (Of course, if the Republican’s are dumb enough to nominate Palin or Newt Gingrich all bets are off).

The point is that there’s a lot of water that’ll pass under that bridge before this president can be called a “failed president.” As I noted previously, a Republican takeover of the House could turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to Obama, as it would allow Obama to tack back to the center, both parties would be forced to take responsibility for the tough decisions that lie ahead and there would be a shared sense of blame that comes with the new Republican responsibility.

In the meantime, Republicans will no doubt continue to twist the facts to make Obama’s falling poll numbers fit their preexisting narrative. More discerning people will know that Obama’s presidency is not going to turn on whether he “believes in American exceptionalism,” whether he bowed to the Japanese Prime Minister, whether he wants to let Muslims have the same religious freedom under our Constitution that Christians have or whether almost half of the Republican party is too ignorant to know that he was born in the United States. It’s pretty simple. If the economy recovers and the country feels safe, the president will be in good shape in 2012. If not, then he won’t.   

Again, no predictions yet, but the Republicans might want to hold off on popping any champagne corks over the failure of Obama (and thus the country). One thing I can say with confidence is that two years is an eternity in politics and the last chapters of this book are not even close to being written.

A Grand Unified Theory of Palinisms

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Laugh Out Loud!

Jacob Weisberg on why Sarah Palin says all those stupid and ridiculous things.

Spoiler Alert: I now know what I’m going to get my conservative uncle for Christmas.

Milazz On Politics Blog Launch

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

About ten years ago (right around the time of the 2000 elections), I started an e-mail dialogue with my uber-conservative uncle about national politics.

When it began, it was just the two of us. Soon we increased to an audience of one or two immediate family members and then to an audience of more relatives. As the years went on, we added more family members, friends, and acquaintances. As it expanded, it turned into a forum for many people to express various opinions from all corners.

In 10 years, there was a lot of water under that bridge: Bush v. Gore, 9-11, two wars, lots of tax cuts, Hurricane Katrina, Tom Delay, Nancy Pelosi, Obama vs. Clinton, Obama vs. McCain, Sarah Palin, a Great Recession, the stimulus, Health Care Reform, the Rise of the Tea Parties… and we debated it all.

This space is a natural outgrowth of that 10 year conversation. But since there’s probably a number of our audience members who don’t want to be constantly barraged by my e-mails, some people might want to avoid the requisite pitched battle that inevitably ensues from the exchanges that I have with my uncle, and many of you may just want to tune in whenever you feel like it, I am pleased to present to you

For those of you that don’t know me, let me give you a little info about me and what you might expect to find on my site.

I am a long time San Francisco resident and a political junkie who has been writing about politics for years. My politics are left of center, but I’m skeptical of extremism on both ends of the spectrum.

I support a basic social safety net, but I think that we need to pay for the benefits that we receive and that continually running structural deficits is a recipe for disaster.  

I’m passionate about preserving and expanding civil liberties and defending against efforts to rollback those liberties, but I also understand that a war against non-state actors necessitates adjustments in the way we view those liberties.

While I support a strong military, I’m skeptical that we need to spend 12 times more than our closest rival to ensure our security.

I believe in negotiation and diplomacy as a first option, but as Neil Young said, 

 ”…I believe in love… but I believe in action, when push comes to shove.”

It’s clear to me that the past few years have shown us just how broken our political system is, whether you look at the drive-by-media, the polarization that exists between the two parties, or the structure of the institutions that are designed to make sure that nothing gets done. What has resulted is a complete failure of the political system to deal with the many real challenges that we face as a country.   

I watch my fair share of MSNBC and the Daily Show, but I also force myself to read opinions and hear the ideas of people with whom I wouldn’t usually agree because I believe that no side has a monopoly on the truth. 

I do have a Master’s in Political Science, but as Bob Dylan said,

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Anyway, welcome to the site.

If you take a look around, you’ll find some personal reporting, some personal opinion pieces, some links to other people’s opinions, links to things that I think people should also be looking at, or things that just make me laugh or smile. I hope to also incorporate some of my continuing debates with my conservative uncle, so stay tuned for that as well.

In the meantime, take a look, see if there’s anything that interests you and feel free to comment on anything that you agree with, anything that outrages you, makes you laugh, nod your head or roll your eyes.

If you like what you see, bookmark me or forward to a friend.




Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A few weeks ago, NBC debuted SNL’s Best of the 2000′s. Included was the now classic skit where Al Gore and George W. Bush are asked to sum up their campaign in one word. Gore (Darrel Hammond) thinks a while and then replies in his thick-as-honey Tennessee accent “…Lockbox.” Bush (Will Ferrell), looks straight at the camera and says with Bushlike certainty “Strategery.”

That skit has become iconic, but when I saw it, I was reminded that at least one politician did see the oncoming crisis and had a plan to deal with at least part of it. For the past year and a half (ever since Barack Obama was elected and the Republican’s discovered that deficits were bad), I have wondered many times how we could have gotten into this situation. For years it was clear to anyone who took a look at budget projections that Baby Boomers were going to start retiring and becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security soon. Entitlement spending would increase at the same time that the number of people paying into the system was going to decrease. This system resembled a ponzi scheme more than a funding mechanism.  Who, I thought to myself, is responsible for the fact that we now are facing this situation and everyone seems to be acting as though it is a surprise to them?

Well, the answer is that we all are. For years, we elected politicians who said that they were going to balance budgets, but when the rubber hit the road, didn’t. Not only did we not kick these people out of office, we encouraged them to act irresponsibly by punishing any politician who promised to increase taxes or actually did increase taxes in order to balance the budget, and we punished any politician that tried to cut benefits by kicking them out of office (Think Walter Mondale in 1984, Gorge HW Bush in 1992, or Congressional Democrats in 1994).

Being good at their profession (getting elected), it didn’t take the politicians long to figure out this game. Anyone who acted responsibly and asked for sacrifice from individuals for the good of the nation was punished, so politicians just gave the voters what they were requesting through their votes: big government and low taxes.

On each side of the aisle, you can see the cynical calculations taking place over the past decades. The Republican strategy was called “Starve the Beast.” The idea was that you would continue to cut taxes so much that there would be no money for social programs. Then when a crisis hit, the “Permanent Majority” that Karl Rove was carving out would cut social programs and say that they had no choice.

The longstanding pattern was pushed to its most outrageous lengths under the Administration of George W. Bush. Bush and Congressional Republicans pushed through close to $1.8 trillion in tax cuts, while at the same time increasing both domestic discretionary spending and fighting two wars. For the first time in American history, taxes were decreased while America was at war. Included among Bush’s increased domestic spending was a ($500 billion over 10 years) Prescription Drug Entitlement Bill. This bill was passed with absolutely no funding.

Think about that for a second. For all of the Republican fulminating about the gimmicky accounting for the funding of the health care bill, at least it has funding. This prescription drug benefit’s costs were tacked on directly to the deficit. Imagine if Obama had tried to do this in 2010. The Republican’s would have tried to gouge his eyes out. In 2003, they barely batted an eyelash.

Republican’s have made stimulus a bad word over the past year and a half, but looking back, the entire Bush presidency looks like a giant stimulus plan, with trillions of dollars being pumped into the economy through tax cuts and increases in government spending.

Like most politicians, Barack Obama learned his lessons from this history. Not to be outdone by Republican’s, Obama ran on a platform of rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the top income tax bracket, but leaving in place all other Bush tax cuts. In addition, he also proposed an additional tax cut of $500 for individuals and $1000 for families not among the top 5% of earners, even if those families or individuals only paid payroll taxes for the year.

The Democrats in Congress and President Obama followed up their tax cuts (slightly cut down and lasting for only two years) with a long awaited plan to move the country toward providing the benefit of health care that every other industrialized country has. But instead of having a real debate about the coming deficit avalanche, they pushed through Health Care Reform with a budget that was narrow enough to fund the specific plan, while ignoring the fixes that will be needed for the coming crisis. In fact, as funding for half of their plan, they used $500 billion of cuts in Medicare services over a 10 year period. While this technically qualifies as funding, it basically cuts an existing “entitlement” program that is in crisis to fund a new entitlement. The tactics here are different, but the strategy is the same: put a popular status quo (near universal health care) on the table as the starting point for negotiations.

The cumulative result of this recklessness is dramatic. In 2010, tax rates were the lowest that they have been in 50 years (47% of people paid no federal income tax) and federal spending was the highest it has ever been. Not coincidentally, deficits were also at record highs.

To be fair, much of this is an artifact of the unprecedented steps the government has made to keep us out of a Great Depression and I support many of them. In the short term deficits are appropriate and necessary. But for the long term, we need a plan to get our accounts back in balance.

In a recent debate with my conservative uncle, he tagged me for always referring to Bush Tax cuts as “Tax Cuts for the Rich” and pointed out that everyone got a tax cut under Bush (although, to be fair, the rich got hell of a lot more). “Do you support rescinding the Bush Tax cuts for the other 95% of the population,” he asked (assuming that he knew the answer). I thought about it for a second and then responded: Yes. Yes, of course. Because this is a huge crisis and what’s at stake is the future of America.

Look, I know what it feels like to get a check that barely pays your bills and then have the government take more out of it. And I’m sure that if I was lucky enough to be making over $200K, it wouldn’t be fun to have 40% taken out of my paycheck from that point forward. But as conservatives like to say, “Freedom Aint Free.” You can’t maintain a military that polices the globe and provide even the lamest social safety net for 300 million people without raising a lot of revenue.

So I’m open to ideas on how to solve this mess, but I think we need to level with ourselves and accept that it can’t be done without cuts in spending as well as tax increases. If anyone tells you something different, they’re either lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The bottom line here is that, for years, politicians acted irresponsibly and voters allowed them to or even encouraged them to continue those policies. For the past few decades, the question shouldn’t have been “how big of a deficit should we be running,” but “how much of a surplus do we need to be saving so that we don’t have to face a massive fiscal crisis once the Baby Boomers retire?”

Unfortunately, for the past decades we didn’t ask those questions, our politicians didn’t encourage us to ask those questions and the media was (as always) asleep at the switch. Now we face the worst of both worlds. Just as we are recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are going to be forced to make tough choices that will necessitate sacrifice from all of us.

I don’t expect any progress to be made on this in the months ahead. Requests for sacrifice will not be on the minds of too many congressmen in the months before the election. But the months after the election will be key. Whether the Democrats maintain control of the House is an open question. But certainly, the House will be more conservative in 2011. Soon after their election, the new Congress will be splashed in the face with a cold bucket of water called the Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015. The debate that follows should highlight the crisis that we are in…as well as the stakes of failure. It will allow us to take real measure of the seriousness that our elected leaders bring to their job. As we watch the debate unfold, we are going to see whether each party can finally live up to the rhetoric it has espoused for years. We will finally see if Republicans are really concerned about deficits, or if they just want tax cuts. We will finally see if Democrats are willing to ask Americans to sacrifice for the benefits that they have supported for years through borrowing.

The results should be illuminating.

Say What Again!!

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Last week, Bill Maher said on Real Time:

“I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt where you can see the gun in his pants. That’s — we’ve got a ‘motherfuckin problem here?’ Shoot somebody in the foot.”

A typically outrageous  Bill Maher comment which prompted my conservative uncle to send me this ”how come it’s okay for him to say it but not for me” response from Grumpy Old Man Arnold Ahlert.

But it did get me thinking: maybe Obama might want to consider getting a little Medieval on Tony Hayward.

I gotta think the new attitude would give him at least a temporary bounce in the polls.