Posts Tagged ‘Liberals’

Progressives play on a field tilted against them

October 31, 2018

Progressives face unfair handicaps in American politics today.  The playing field is tilted against them.  Their opponents are dealing from a stacked deck.  Their path to victory is narrow and perilous.

There’s nothing to be gained by complaining about this.  Instead progressives have to figure on ways to win against the odds—which has been done before and can be done again.  Here’s what they are up against:

>The Supreme Court has an anti-progressive majority.  Given the ages of the incumbent justices, this is likely to be locked in for a generation or more.

But this was also true during the Progressive era of the early 20th century and the New Deal era of the 1930s.  Progressives in 1913 pushed through the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, which allowed Congress to enact an income tax (previously declared unconstitutional) and requiring direct election of Senators, previously elected by state legislatures.

President Franklin Roosevelt failed in his proposal to change the makeup of the Supreme Court by enlarging it, but Congress does have the power to change the structure of the judicial system and the jurisdiction of the various courts.  I personally wouldn’t want it to come to that, but this would be a “nuclear option” if all else failed.

>The Electoral College and the Senate give over-representation to thinly-populated states, where anti-progressive forces rule.  The provision that each state has two Senators is the one provision of the U..S. Constitution that is un-amendable and it makes reform of the Electoral College a practical impossibility.

There’s nothing to be gained in complaining about this.  Progressives will have to carry their message to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.  The people of these states suffer at the hands of agribusiness monopolies and exploitative mining companies.  Progressives ought to have ideas to change this.

>Gerrymandering and voter registration purges block the democratic process.  This was part of a strategy called RedMap, implemented in 2010, to diminish voting by African-Americans, young people and others likely to vote Democratic.

So far federal judges have overruled some of the more blatant attempts to rig elections, but this will become less likely to happen now that there is a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans push through appointments of right-wing judges.

The consolation here is that these tactics only work to tilt the balance in close elections.  The task of Progressives will be to get majorities too large to counteract, then to use their new power to reverse vote-rigging.

>Voting machines may be tampered with.  The solution to this is paper ballots, hand-counted in public.

>Progressives are fighting the power of big money.  Wall Street and Silicon Valley money flows mostly toward establishment Democrats, oil company and defense contractor money flows mostly toward establishment Republicans.  The Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on campaign spending, and is unlikely to change back.


The big thing that Thomas Frank overlooks

July 31, 2018

Thomas Frank is one of my favorite writers.  I like his books.  I like his magazine articles.  I enjoy watching videos of his speeches and interviews.  But there is one thing he doesn’t quite get.

His basic idea is that the Democratic Party is losing because it has abandoned the American working class and the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.   The leaves them vulnerable to the fake populism of Donald Trump and the right wing of the Republican Party.

Democrats rely on African-Americans, Hispanics and educated professionals of all races reacting against President Trump’s appeal to prejudice against African-Americans and immigrants.

That’s not enough, Frank writes.  Democrats need to stand up for working people of all races—provide free college tuition and Medicare for all, enforce the anti-trust laws and renegotiate NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.

All this is true and important.

Frank’s mistake is to think that the reason top Democrats are pro-corporate is that they fail to understand their situation.

Shortly after the 36th minute in the video above. he says that the reason the Clintons and their allies have abandoned American labor is that the signature achievement of their generation was to their successful revolt against the New Deal, and nobody will disavow their generation’s signature achievement.

If they really don’t understand, it is because, as Upton Sinclair once put it, “it is hard to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The wealth and power of the Clintons, like that of the Obamas, is based on their allegiance to Wall Street and the corporate elite.  If they had advocated breaking up the “too big to fail” banks or prosecuting financial fraud, they wouldn’t get six-figure lecture fees from bankers and hedge fund managers.

On a lower levels of government, there is the revolving door between Congress and regulatory agencies on the one hand and Washington lobbyists, law firms and regulated industries on the others.  Neil Barofsky, whose job was oversight of the TARP bailout program, was warned that if he did his job too zealously, he would lose the chance of a good post-government job.  He’s not the only one.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee supports a whole ecology of fund-raisers, pollsters, media specialists and campaign consultants who depend on a system whereby candidates concentrate on raising money and spending it on designated funds.

So it’s not just a matter of waking up to what’s really going on.  It’s a matter of people knowing which side their bread is buttered on.  Or, as the Japanese might say, nobody willingly lets their rice bowl be broken.


Why liberals no longer believe Seymour Hersh

May 13, 2015

Bush liberals conservatives militarism

When George W. Bush was President, most liberals believed the exposes of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.  Now that Barack Obama is President, they are more skeptical.

As Espeth Reeve pointed out in The New Republic, liberals and Hersh are no longer on the same page.

militarism Obama liberals conservativesLINKS

The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh in the London Review of Books.

The Loneliness of Sy Hersh by Elspeth Reeve for The New Republic.

The election was a protest, not a mandate

November 6, 2014

Voters across the nation gave the Republican Party numerous and unexpected victories for state and national office, while approving liberal and progressive ballot referendums.  If the election was a mandate, what exactly was it a mandate for?

For an answer, I strongly recommend Lambert Strether’s comprehensive, analysis of the election on the Naked Capitalism web site, and, if you have time, the articles to which he links.

1619934320_Democrat_Donkey_DonkeyHotey_CC_Flickr_answer_3_xlargeAlaskans voted in favor of raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana and regulating mining companies.  Arkansans, Arizonans, Nebraskans and South Dakotans also voted in favor of raising the minimum wage.  Denton, Texas, voted to ban fracking.  Yet all these places voted Republican in the midterm election.

I don’t think it is because voters in these states misunderstand their true interests.  Most people have a clear and accurate idea of what they want and need.  And I don’t think it is a result of failure of communication of Democratic leaders.  It is because a majority of the population lost ground economically during the past six years.

You don’t have to be an expert on national politics to know whether you are better off or not.  As John Dewey said, you do not have to have knowledge of shoe-making to know whether your shoes fit or not.

Exit polls showed that 53% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, while 56% have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party.  So for voters, it wasn’t even a vote against the perceived lesser evil.  It was a vote against the incumbent evil.


The political scene: November 3, 2014

November 3, 2014

It is better to vote for what you want and not get it,

than vote for what you don’t want and get it.

==Eugene V. Debs


Nothing Left: The long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed for Harper’s.

We are all right-wingers now: How Fox News, ineffective liberals, corporate Dems and GOP money captured everything, an interview of Adolph Reed by Thomas Frank for Salon.  Highly recommended.  (Hat tip to Steve Badrich)

Political scientist Adolph Reed expounded in his essay and in Thomas Frank’s interview on the learned helplessness of liberals, and their willingness to settle for the lesser evil.

Voting in itself will not change things, he said, and neither will protest demonstrations or blogging (ouch!).  Only a sustained political workers’ movement, not beholden to either political party, can bring about necessary social change.

Obama Is a Republican by Bruce Bartlett for The American Conservative.

Bruce Bartlett wrote that Barack Obama is guided by the philosophy of Richard M. Nixon, not Saul Alinsky.  In time, conservatives will come to appreciate that Obama was one of them, he said, just as they have come to appreciate Bill Clinton.

There’s One Thing at Stake in the Senate Race by Jonathan Chait for New York magazine.

If Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate, they will block President Obama’s nominations of federal judges and government administrators.  With all of the faults of the Democrats cited by Adolph Reed, they at least allow the government to function.

Nothing in Moderation by Thomas B. Edsall for the New York Times.

A recent study indicates that voters are more extreme in their views than politicians.  The reason this doesn’t necessarily show up on public opinion surveys is that many individuals are at the extreme “left” of the imaginary political spectrum on some issues, and the extreme “right” on other issues.   It doesn’t mean they’re inconsistent.  It means the left|right and red|blue divisions are arbitrary.

Righteous rage, impotent fury: Thomas Frank returns to Kansas to hunt the last days of Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts for Slate.

Governor Sam Brownback and Senator Pat Roberts have failed to do anything to benefit ordinary Kansans.  Will waging the culture war be enough to keep them in office one more time?  We’ll see.

US midterm elections – The Guardian briefing.


Blood and treasure: Links & comments 9/10/14

September 10, 2014

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

Tonight President Obama will outline his policy for dealing with the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), the murderous jihadists who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

There are many questions to answer.

Is ISIS is the USA’s top enemy, does that change U.S. policy toward the governments of Syria and Iraq?

Can the U.S. intervene once again in the Middle East without positioning ISIS as the defender of Arab and Muslim freedom from foreign invaders?

Can the United States wage war by means of special operations teams, flying killer robots and arms aid to selected foreign proxies?

I can’t see any good answers to any of these questions, and I doubt if the President can, either.

Pentagon Can’t Pay For Itself Amid Budget Woes, Increased World Conflicts by Paul D. Shinkman for U.S. News and World Report.  (via Rochester Business Journal)

The USA spends a greater part of its national income, by far, than any other country on our military.  Yet a Washington think tank called the Center for Strategic and Budget Analysis says that the Department of Defense cannot carry out all its missions, including protecting Ukraine, fighting the Islamic State and counterbalancing China, within its existing budget.  Either the budget must grow or the missions must shrink.

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report by Ryan Gallagher for The Intercept.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has spent billions of dollars on contractors to support killer drones, surveillance technology and psychological warfare.   The more the U.S. government outsources war-making, the more vested interests there will be in waging war.

U.S. treads on Islamic State minefield by Ehsan Ahrari for Asia Times.

Why Does the U.S. Support Saudi Arabia, Sponsor of Islamic Terrorism? on Washington’s Blog.

Obama strategy to beat Islamic State likely to draw U.S. into years of conflict by Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay for McClatchy newspapers.

Defeating the Islamic State Is Going to be Kind of a Pain by Ryan Faith of Vice News.

To repeat: Getting into is easier than getting out of.


A Senate nominee I wish I could vote for

April 12, 2014

 Shenna Bellows, the Democratic nominee for Senator from Maine, is outstanding on the most important issues of our time.  She wants to break up the big banks, bring the National Security Agency under control and end the so-called war on drugs, which has resulted in so many poor young black men going to prison for actions that are tolerated among the elite.

SBellowsphotoI thank my friend Bill Elwell, for calling her interview with Salon, the first of the links below, to my attention.  Based on that, I think she would be at least as good a Senator as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom I admire.  Bellows hesitates to support gun control legislation, but as far as I’m concerned, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Having another dissenting voice in the Senate would be important, even though an overwhelming majority (in the Senate, I mean) is against her.   She has the power to raise important questions and to raise public awareness.

It is interesting how things change.  Eighty years ago, Maine and Vermont were the most conservative states in the union.  They were the only two states that opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936.  But now Vermont is represented by Bernie Sanders, an independent who is the Senate’s only avowed socialist, and there is a good chance that Maine will be represented by Bellows.


Liberals still losing: Links & comments 10/28/13

October 28, 2013

Liberals in Washington can’t win for losing.   While President Obama and the congressional Democrats did stand firm against the blackmail threat of a government shutdown and debt default, merely keeping the government functioning is not a great triumph.  While the Democrats control the White House and the Senate and the Republicans only control the House of Representatives, it is the Democrats who act as if they are a defeated minority.

The Glorious, Futile Progressive Policy Agenda by Molly Ball for The Atlantic.

butwewon'tThe writer mocked the “fever dream bizzaro world” of a conference convened last Thursday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.  Among the “irrelevant pipe dreams” were a higher minimum wage, investing more money in education, infrastructure and scientific research and doing something about climate change.  She did not advance any arguments as to why these are bad ideas.  She merely took for granted that they are politically unrealistic.

Washington is still stuck in the wrong conversation by Ryan Cooper for the Washington Post.

Obama’s Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They’ll Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts by Joshua Green for Boomberg Businessweek.

Sell-Out Alert: 9 Democrats Already Caving to GOP on Social Security Cuts by Steven Rosenfeld for AlterNet.

Maybe they are.  The default baseline position is the budget sequester, which locks in reductions in government spending across the board, which means less for scientific research, less for repairs of roads and bridges, less for school lunches and food stamps.  It’s hard to see how the Democrats can get out of this without giving up even more on historic liberal programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

And they may not see this as a dilemma.  President Obama has long hinted at his willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare.  This may have been a factor in the Republican resurgence in 2010.

President Obama’s top economic adviser appears to think that the economic recovery depends on restoring business “confidence” and confidence can be restored only by cutting social safety net programs.  And a significant number of Democrats in the Senate are willing to go along with this.

So the Democratic program consists of Obamacare, reductions in other social programs and a moderate increase in taxes for rich people.  I think most voters are looking for a program that will address falling wages and long-term unemployment, even though that may seem like an “irrelevant pipe dream” to Washington insiders.

Let’s Get This Class War Started by Chris Hedges for Common Dreams.   Hat tip to Mike Connelly.

President Obama early in his term of office told a group of Wall Street bankers that he was the only one standing between them and the people with pitchforks.  I think it is time to join the people with pitchforks.

There is a deeply entrenched financial and corporate oligarchy who for the most part do contribute anything anywhere near equal to what they take, whose interests do not coincide with the public interest and who do not feel any responsibility for the common good.  It is time to break their lock on government and end their special privileges.

Wall Street protests then and now

November 14, 2011

In May, 1970, about 1,000 high school and college students conducted a protest demonstration in the Wall Street area against the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia and shooting of student protesters by National Guardsmen at Kent State in Ohio.  In a show of sympathy, Mayor John Lindsay ordered flags on municipal buildings to fly at half-staff in memory of the Kent State students.

Peter J. Brennan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, organized a counter-demonstration in support of President Nixon’s Vietnam policy.  The pro-war demonstrators, joined by many nearby construction workers on their lunch break, broke through police lines separating the demonstrations and attacked the students with fists, crowbars and their hard hats.  They then marched on to City Hall and forcibly raised the American flag to its full height.  More than 70 people, including four policemen, were seriously injured.  Only six people were arrested.

Later Brennan led a delegation of 22 union leaders who presented a hard hat to President Nixon.  This was a signal of the breakup of the New Deal coalition between working people and liberal idealists, which led to the marginalization of both.

In the New Deal era liberal idealists considered themselves the champions of blue-collar workers.   In 1970, many liberal idealists saw white working people and their prejudices as a source of society’s problems.  Some Wall Street brokers had more sympathy for the anti-Vietnam protests than the leaders of organized labor.  In fact, a couple of stockbrokers were hurt when they tried to defend the protesters.

The AFL-CIO was committed to its alliance with Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party and (rightly) to the anti-Communist struggle.  Many union members saw the protesters as a bunch of dirty, irresponsible hippies who were ungrateful for the privilege of a college education.  Many liberal idealists despised what they saw as the complacency, prejudices and lack of vision of ordinary working people.

The chief liberal causes in those days were opposition to war, environmentalism, equal opportunity for minorities and women’s reproductive rights – all good things in my opinion, but all of them causes that the upper 1 percent could and did support as much or more than the great mass of the public.  Few liberal idealists were concerned about marginal people, the ones George Wallace called “the exotics,” and not the struggles of the broad mass of working people and the middle class.

The American cultural divide was symbolized by the TV characters Archie Bunker, the bigoted blue collar worker, and his hypocritically liberal son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic.

Today the broad-based prosperity of the early 1970s has gone away. Wages in inflation-adjusted terms have declined and workers’ benefits have been eroded.  Labor unions have been under unrelenting attack, and millions of Americans who would like to join unions are afraid to do so.  At the same time there has been a strong backlash against the liberal causes of the 1970s.

Archie Bunker and “Meathead” have come to realize that they are in the same boat.  Liberal idealists supported organized labor’s protests in Wisconsin.  Organized labor is supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Maybe the New Deal coalition can be reconstituted for our times.

Click on Hard Hat Riot wiki for a Wikipedia article on the 1970 attack on Wall Street protesters.

Click on Forty Years After the Hard Hat Riot, a Different Response from Organized Labor to Wall Street Protests for an article in Dissent magazine.

Click on At Southeby’s And Beyond, ‘Occupy’ Movement Boosts Union for a report on Occupy Wall Street’s support for locked-out Teamsters. [Added 11/15/11]

Click on Occupy Wall Street Regroups, as Union Allies Mobilize for a report on New York City labor unions joining forces with Occupy Wall Street. [Added 11/15/11]

The best thing that could come out of the Occupy Wall Street protests would be a powerful nationwide version of New York’s not-too-powerful Working Families Party—a third party strong enough hold the Democratic Party accountable to working people, and to run credible candidates of its own if the Democrats don’t support the interests of working people.

Click on Working Families for the home page of New York’s Working Families Party.

[11/19/11]  One reason why the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s could never join forces with the labor union movement was organized labor’s commitment to the Democratic Party.  That’s still a problem.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is a protest against the leadership of both parties, and the leaders of the AFL-CIO are still aligned with President Obama.  That’s not to say Occupy Wall Street shouldn’t join forces with organized labor to support candidates or legislation that are good for the majority of Americans, just that it shouldn’t become a Democratic Party auxiliary.

President Obama has kept himself at arm’s length from Occupy Wall Street.  He said he understands why people are angry, whether in the OWS or Tea Party movement, which is what an adult might say about an angry child.  It doesn’t mean that he has disconnected from the elite 1 percent.

Click on Here’s what attempted co-option of OWS looks like for a statement of the problem by Glenn Greenwald.

Can liberals and libertarians join forces?

September 26, 2011

This video shows a conversation between Paul Jay, CEO and editor-in-chief of the left-liberal Real News Network, and Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason, a libertarian magazine whose motto is “free minds and free markets,” on what liberals and libertarians have in common.

Liberals and libertarians both oppose the United States drift toward militarism and a police state.  They agree in upholding basic human rights under the Constitution.  They both are appalled by the idea that a President can issue death warrants, order someone locked up without a criminal charge or trial, or make it a crime to reveal the government’s crimes.  They both want to scale back the open-ended so-called “war on terror” and bring the Defense and Homeland Security budgets under control.

So why don’t liberals support the libertarian Republican Ron Paul?   The problem for liberals is Ron Paul is opposed to civil rights laws, to health, safety and environmental laws, to the social safety net and to laws to protect labor’s rights to organize – virtually all the accomplishments of the Progressive era and the New Deal.

Matt Welch argues that if your first loyalty is to the Constitution, this should be an acceptable tradeoff, and that a Democrat should vote for Ron Paul rather than Barack Obama.  One might ask Matt Welch whether he would vote for the liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich if hypothetically Kucinich were to run against Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.   Kucinich is just as strong an opponent of militarism and the emerging U.S. police state as Ron Paul.


The learned helplessness of the Democrats

June 2, 2011

Martin Seligman is the psychologist who coined the phrase “learned helplessness.”  It is based on work he did with dogs as a young graduate student in 1964.  In the experiment, the dogs were trained to associate a musical tone with mild electric shock.  They would then be given a chance to learn they could escape the shock if they could jump over a small barrier, and then the psychologists would see if they responded the same way to the musical tone without the shock.  Seligman described the result in his book Learned Optimism:

Martin Seligman

These dogs … had just lain down whimpering.  They hadn’t even tried to get away from the shocks. … Accidentally, during some part of the experiment, the dogs must have been trained to be helpless.  That’s why they had given up. … During Pavlovian conditioning, they felt the shocks go on and off, regardless of whether they struggled or jumped or barked or did nothing at all.  They had concluded, or “learned,” that nothing they did mattered. So why try? ……

It would take the next ten years of my life to prove to the scientific community that what afflicted those dogs was helplessness, and that helplessness could be learned, and therefore unlearned.

Democratic liberal leaders manifest learned helplessness.  Since 1980, they have  become so accustomed to defeat that they think in terms not of how to win, but of what terms they can get from their opponents.

Most of us liberals think that a single-payer health insurance plan or, at the very least, a public option would be the best way to provide universal health care while controlling costs.  But it is unpopular, so the Democratic liberal leaders settle for the Affordable Care Act, which hardly anyone understands or defends.

We are indignant that the abuse of cloture by Republicans means that a 60-vote Senate majority is needed for any significant action.  But President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid don’t even make an issue of it, so the majority of Americans are not informed that this is even a problem.

We favor the card-check system to enable unions to organize without intimidation, but there is opposition, so this is not even proposed.  The “cramdown” plan, to allow federal bankruptcy judges to deal with mortgage foreclosures, is not on the agenda.  Likewise any serious proposal to break up the “too big to fail” banks.  Likewise any serious proposal to keep Americans at work by maintaining essential public services and rebuilding deteriorating infrastructure.

No doubt some of these things are unpopular.  They always will be unpopular if Americans never hear any arguments in favor.

Republican “movement conservatives” are not like this.  They stick by their agenda, even when they pay a political price.  Each time they propose privatizing Social Security or voucherizing Medicare, they fall in the public opinion polls, but they also make a dent in the consensus, and increase the chances of getting their way the next time around.

Democratic leaders, in contrast, weaken their case every time they accept debate on Republican conservative terms.  President Obama has already lost when he accepts the premise that dealing with Medicare deficits projected for 20 years from now is more important than the current unemployment crisis.

Martin Seligman in his experiments found that there were some dogs who did not learn to be helpless.  They kept trying, no matter what.  Liberals need to learn the same dogged determination.


When do we believe the experts?

March 17, 2011

Belief in anthropogenic global warming is a sort of political signifier for American liberals – if you don’t think human activity is changing the Earth’s climate, they’re probably not going to take you very seriously. This is not because every leftist has independently verified the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s findings and concluded that people who disagree are blinkered or stupid. Instead, liberals quite sensibly think that when a critical mass of scientists arrive at a certain conclusion, we should take that conclusion as a given and proceed accordingly. … …

Barring real evidence of systematic bias or incompetence, I’m willing to accept the consensus view of specialists in most fields. … … So here’s my question … : Why don’t we accord the same level of deference to economists? Shouldn’t the pro-free trade consensus within the field of economics be as bullet-proof as belief in global warming?

It’s not a partisan issue – in my opinion, the best introduction to the benefits of international trade was written by Paul Krugman. And the strength of the pro-free trade consensus in economics is at least as robust as the consensus view among climatologists. There are a few high profile dissenters, but those exist in every field, including climatology.

via The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

Some 20 years ago, I had doubts as to whether global warming was real, and I thought the North American Free Trade Agreement was a good idea.  I changed my mind in both cases because of the evidence.  All of the predictions in regard to global warming have come true.  None of the predictions of the benefits of the free trade agreements have come true.

I write “free trade agreements” instead of “free trade” to sidestep the question of whether the pure theory of free trade has ever been implemented in practice.

Why I call myself a liberal

March 10, 2011

A century and a half ago, there were three main political philosophies – the liberals, who said the most important thing was individual liberty; the socialists, which said the most important thing was equality; and the conservatives, which said the most important thing was to preserve the social order.

A century ago, there were progressives, who thought the most important thing is to create new good things, as distinguished from conservatives, who thought the most important thing is to preserve existing good things.

These distinctions were pretty clear until Franklin D. Roosevelt called himself a liberal, in order to distinguish himself from the progressives of an earlier era.  But Herbert Hoover and Robert A. Taft called themselves liberals, too.

By the standards of European countries, the vast majority of Americans are liberals.  Our self-described liberals are socialistic liberals and our self-described conservatives are conservative liberals.

My political philosophy is to strive for as much equality as is consistent with essential individual freedom, and as much individual freedom as is consistent with preserving the moral foundations of society.  I want to preserve existing good things and restore previous good things, most of which were the progressive goals of an earlier generation.


A very bad wizard

November 16, 2010

In L. Frank Baum’s story, the Wizard of Oz promises Dorothy and her friends, the scarecrow, the tin woodman and the cowardly lion that if they succeed in their quest, he will grant the scarecrow’s wish for a brain, the tin woodman’s wish for a heart, the cowardly lion’s wish for a lion’s courage and Dorothy’s wish for a way back to Kansas.

When they succeed, however, the Wizard is unable to grant their wishes. Instead he gives them other things he says are just as good. The scarecrow gets a college diploma, the tin woodman a flowery valentine card and the cowardly lion a military medal.  Only Dorothy can’t be helped because the way back to Kansas is something real.

President Obama promised his followers that, if they succeeded in putting him in office, he would make an all-out effort to achieve certain goals – a public option for health care as an alternative to private health insurance, a “cramdown” allowing federal bankruptcy judges to reset mortgages, the preservation of Social Security.  But when they achieved their quest, they were given other things that President Obama says are just as good – the Affordable Care Act, the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Deficit Reduction Commission.

In the story, the scarecrow manifested brains, the tin woodman heart and the lion courage in their actions, not as a gift from a wizard.  And Dorothy was able to browbeat the wizard into taking her along in his balloon ride back to our world.

The lesson is that we the people should not depend on the gift of a charismatic political figure.  If we want a full employment economy, if we want to curb the power of Wall Street over the government, if we want affordable health insurance, if we want to stop the erosion of labor rights and the social safety net, we need to create a political force that has to be reckoned with no matter who is in office, as the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the labor movement and the civil rights movement did in earlier eras.

Because President Obama may well be a very good man, but he certainly is a very bad Wizard.

Abusive conservatives and battered liberals

October 1, 2010

It is bad enough when 41 Senators block action supported by the other 59, but there is something worse – a single Senator blocking action supported by the other 99.

Senate procedures allow for up to 30 hours of debate on bill or appointment that comes before it, even with cloture.  Currently the Senate has before it more than 100 appointments and more than 350 bills passed by the House, most of them noncontroversial.  There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to debate all of these.  So routine, noncontroversial business requires “unanimous consent” to waive the rules.

In the past, Senators have sometimes refused unanimous consent – put a “hold” on a bill – when they have some objection to it.  But in the current Senate, the “hold” and other procedural technicalities are being used not because of specific objections, but for the purposes of obstruction and blackmail.

What surprises me is not so much that these abuses take place as that there is no outcry against them by the Democratic leadership.  The whole thing reminds me of the relationship of an abusive husband and a battered wife.  It takes two to maintain such a relationship, an abuser and an enabler who tolerates the abuse.  The battered wife keeps deluding herself that if she just finds the right approach, the abuse will stop.  But in fact it won’t until she finds a way to walk away from the relationship.

I have great sympathy for actual battered wives who are trapped in abusive relationships and see no way out, I agree there is a need for battered women’s shelters and other services, and I certainly do not blame the victim in such circumstances.   I do, however, blame the battered liberal Democrats who accept the abusive relationship.


Conservatives and liberals: the difference (3)

August 27, 2010

Liberal men pride themselves on being nice guys.

Conservative men pride themselves on being tough guys.

The trouble with us liberals

August 11, 2010

Robert Gibbs

Evidently we liberals are like a bunch of whining little children.  No matter how much President Obama does for us, we’re never satisfied.  That’s what I hear from pundits on TV and what I read in off-the-record comments by White House staffers, and now on the record as well.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as health care reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”


Let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that we liberals are a bad lot, and that I myself am the worst of the bunch, and that it is a waste of time to consider what people like me think.  This doesn’t really matter.

What matters is whether President Obama’s program is enough to make a difference to Americans who are out of work, worried about their savings or unable to pay medical bills.  Was the stimulus bill enough to jump-start the economy?  Will the financial reform bill avert another financial meltdown?  Will the health reform bill actually make medical care more affordable and available?

The answers to these questions, as it seems to me, are (1) clearly not, (2) clearly not and (3) it’s hard to tell.  I could be wrong, and, for the sake of my fellow Americans, I hope I am wrong.  In a few years the facts will show, one way or another, who was right.