Friday, February 24, 2012

GOP Lunacy

My interest in political news declined recently with of the preponderance of reporting on the selection of a Republican presidential candidate. Apart from unintended humor, sort of a folk ritual unique to this tribe of flat earthers, the show was not entertaining, except to people interested in Herman Cain’s social life.

What made the affair even duller to me was the certainty that the process would end in a Romney candidacy. The party is run by and for the benefit of Wall Street, not the Tea Party. These people control enough votes to impact Republican presidential politics as John McCain found out in 2000 running against Bush. They pull a lot of strings and they don’t knowingly pull them for lost causes, such as the Santorum candidacy.

The Tea Party connection hasn’t been all gravy for Republicans. The price paid for their support has a Faustian touch to it. In order to win the party’s nomination candidates have to spout this dogma in the primaries and hide from it in the general election.  After trying to convince primary voters that they are crazier than the competition, the winner has until the November election to establish the appearance of sanity. 

Romney has been the only logical candidate. He may have said the same terrible things as the other guys. But hopeful independent voters could reasonably conclude that he didn’t really mean them. His core beliefs are something of a mystery. But this scenario has changed since he began his journey of self destruction. I felt kind of sorry for him telling Michigan voters that their trees were “the right height.” This has the makings of a Bobby Jindal moment that would make “none of the above” the clear winner.

This situation is ripe for a brokered convention and the selection of a yet unannounced candidate. The powers that be are stubborn about fighting for lost causes. The current aspirants have spent months saying things detrimental to their prospects in a general election and, worse yet, having awful things said about them by the competition. A Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie would enter the battle with a relatively clean slate.

This is only a possibility. The 1952 Democratic Convention was the last at which the winner was not a foregone conclusion. There was no candidate of Romney’s prominence in a field which consisted of Vice President Alben Barkley, Senators Estes Kefauver* and Richard Russell and Averill Harriman. The convention was in Chicago and the welcoming speech by first term Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson was such a hit that, with a bit of help from President Truman, he was selected on the third ballot for a nomination he hadn’t sought.

To change horses this far into the stream would be by itself a negative development. “We looked at the people who wanted the job and decided to keep looking” is not good news. It’s reminiscent of George McGovern’s problems in choosing a running mate. But unless the big guys write this one off, which is not out of the question, it may be their only port in the storm.

*Truman called him “Cowfever.” 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top Half of the First

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing free exercise thereof….. These opening words of the First Amendment are the basis of the phrase “freedom of religion,” a concept to which almost everybody subscribes, but often in different ways. The wording breaks down to two related edicts separated by the word “or.” It’s the latter, “free exercise thereof” with which the amendment is most widely associated.

We’ve been hearing a lot on this subject lately from politicians sympathetic to the concerns of the Catholic Church regarding contraceptive material being included in medical facilities it runs. Opposition to anything remotely resembling birth control in general has always been at the top of its agenda, particularly abortion. On balance I’m “pro choice.” But not without ambivalence or equivocation, take your pick. Of course I’m not a woman.

Regarding the current bone of contention there’s no denying the right of believers, or non believers for that matter, to engage in sexual intercourse as they choose. But it’s asking too much in this country for people of any faith to expect the general population, which includes non Catholics who use these facilities, to adhere to its orthodoxies, particularly on such a personal matter.  

Religion aside, this position is inequitable from a financial perspective. The facilities in question receive help from the federal government to serve the public. It wouldn’t work if even the entire nation were Catholic. 98% of those polled here acknowledged using contraceptives. As Gail Collins wrote in the N.Y. Times “they’ve [the Church] lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.”

Politicians supporting the Church are claiming that its Constitutional rights are being violated. As I see it the shoe is on the other foot. Let’s get back to the first part of the First Amendment preceding the “or.” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This sounds as much or more like freedom from religion. Using logic as loose at that to which the right wing avails itself, this could be taken by strict Constitutionalists as time to begin recruiting Atheist missionaries.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Halftime in America

Clint Eastwood is a man who speaks his right wing convictions freely.  As recently as last November he was quoted as being opposed to the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler. That’s why his two minute Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler, “Halftime in America,” came as such a surprise. Of course he was offered good money that I understand went to charities. Given what’s publicly known about him it seems unlikely that his convictions are for sale, certainly not at that price. His reversal on the bailout may have been a message from God, a bolt of lightning from Zeus or, more likely in my opinion, reason.
The two minute narrative, which cost a pretty penny, concerned a struggling city, Detroit, and the importance to that city of the survival of its major industry. Apart from the unannounced display of Chrysler logo only a few seconds from the end there was no mention of a sponsor. Until then it could have been Studebaker. As issue TV commercials go, this one had more than its share of class.
Make no mistake, this was an issue ad!  As a true believer, I went for it hook, line and sinker. Karl Rove sees it differently. He and his party have been proclaiming fiscal austerity the cure for our current ailments, as opposed to increased government investment, favored by Democrats. Here comes living breathing evidence of a case in which he and his crowd were completely wrong.
What happened in Detroit is a microcosm of what Obama has been attempting nationally. It was one of the few things he was able to get past the parliamentary obstructionism of Senate Republicans, who opposed the auto bailout, but with less than their usual efficacy. My guess is that they still oppose it nominally, but that it’s a subject they’d prefer discussing as little as possible. It seems common sense that Democrats and the left in general should be shouting “Detroit” from the rooftops between now and November.
It can be argued that the success of this rescue is pertinent only in Detroit. As closing evidence I present America in the 1930s and the relative success of Hoover’s and FDR’s response to circumstances similar to today. One might even conclude that there are times when it’s better to have spendthrifts running the show than misers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tale of Two Disasters

There’s no shortage of opinions on the causes of our current financial dilemma which fall clearly on separate sides of the political divide. The left, generally inhabited by Democrats cites, among other things, two wars, the Bush tax cuts, and subsidies of select industries.  On the right Republicans complain of high taxes, entitlements, and  the bailout of the financial community, the first part of which was requested and administered  by one of their guys named Bush.

The crux of the answer as I see it was spelled out simply for us by the Great Depression. The melody notes may differ slightly, but the harmony is identical. Loans were made with insufficient collateral. When the value of securities falls close to that of the loans they are meant to secure, a lot of people start wanting their money yesterday. To meet this demand these securities, in the recent case houses, are put on the market and good old supply and demand does its usual work on the price. The inescapable conclusion is that more supervision of these loans is in order, OK regulations. This is the official position of the Democratic Party and antithetical to that of Republicans, who respond to this reality with obfuscation reminiscent of Iran Contra.

One wrinkle in use is blaming new home owners for “living beyond their means” by agreeing to the unsound mortgages that created the home loan catastrophe. This reasoning assumes that a blue collar worker from Brooklyn, whose formal education ended with a high school diploma from Erasmus, is as knowledgeable on these matters as a bank loan official with a master’s degree in business and, most important, experience in the field of home loans. To put it another way, which party is supposed to know the territory? Regardless of who’s to blame regulation is still necessary. I guess some Republicans just have this thing about people poorer than them.

There are differences between the two depression/recessions. The Great Depression was the result of an insanity that swept much of the nation, even the fellow shining Joe Kennedy’s shoes. This time the nation didn’t lose its head. The public simply was not aware of what was happening while the culprits were, and are doing very well, thanks to the United States Treasury. In the 1930s many of their predecessors jumped out of tall buildings.

I never questioned the urgency of the TARP bailout. I believe it probably saved us from much worse than we’ve experienced. But I despair for the system that made it necessary. This not the system that kept us fiscally stable for nearly a century. It’s the product of a change effectively promoted by a president, sainted by many, who told us that the enemy is government, which includes the folks hired to keep our credit system on the up and up. With enemies like this, who needs friends?