Saturday, October 25, 2014

Decoding the Dollar Bill

Just when I thought it was safe to watch the History Channel, along comes a special on "decoding" the dollar bill with the theory that the Illuminati not only influenced the design of the dollar bill but have a secret hand in our politics ever since they were first formed in 1776.  It reminds me of those old "In Search Of" television programs hosted by Leonard Nimoy that lent credibility to every half-baked theory imaginable.  Now it seems, we have the History Channel.

Decoding the Past ran from 2005-2011, but remains in syndication.  This episode dates from 2006.  The producers seem mostly interested in the paranormal, but also have an obsession for "secret societies."  I thought one of the most amusing aspects of "The Secret of the Dollar Bill" was the attempt to link the Illuminati with the Founding Fathers by inferring that there was correspondence between Adam Weishaupt, the founder of this group, and Benjamin Franklin.  Weishaupt apparently wrote to Franklin but there was no record of Franklin ever responding.

Benjamin Franklin was a freemason, as were many of the leading American politicians of the time.  The Illuminati adopted much of the imagery of the freemasons, including the eye of providence, which is featured on the one dollar bill, but this all seeing eye dates back to Medieval Christianity, but by the 18th century had come to be a symbol of the Enlightenment and didn't necessarily refer to God in a Christian sense, but rather as benevolent guidance.  The Eye of Providence over an unfinished pyramid was designed in 1792, with thirteen steps and the date 1776 to represent the original states and the Declaration of Independence, suggesting the influence of the Enlightenment, not the Illuminati.

The dollar bill in question didn't first appear until 1935,  not 1862 as suggested in the television show.  Salmon P. Chase appeared on the first dollar bill.  In fact, Chase was featured on all the currency at the time.  One of the perks of being the Secretary of the Treasury.  The back was rather prosaic.  George first appeared in 1929, but it was a silver note and the back looked like this.  The US Mint kind of went overboard with the idea of "13," on the 1935 dollar bill, which has fed conspiracy theories ever since, including those who see Satan in the dollar bill.  I guess the stamping of "In God We Trust"  in 1964 on the bill was supposed to eliminate this suggestion, but sadly this theory still persists.

I understand that these conspiracy theories are great fun, but when packaged as "history," these theories become incredibly misleading.  Best to file it under fiction.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Run, Democrats, Run

It's either going to be a huge victory for the Republicans are a major disappointment, as predictions now have the GOP with as many as 55 seats in the Senate.  It is hard to imagine a 10-seat turnover, but the Democrats left big openings with so many retirements, including Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Max Baucus in Montana.  States not exactly friendly to Democrats.  All though, I will be glad to see Baucus go, as he was no friend to Democrats either, having tried to kill the Affordable Care Act in committee back in 2009, and was rewarded for his efforts by being named Ambassador to China.

This was apparently an attempt to give the Democrats a better chance of holding onto the Montana seat by having the Democratic governor appoint a replacement prior to the scheduled election.  Unfortunately, the little slight-of-hand gesture failed when John Walsh, the Democrat who took Baucus's seat, was run out of the election over plagiarism charges.  I see he also had his Master's degree rescinded. You can thank the New York Times, not Fox News, for breaking the story.

With so many Democratic seats on the line, it was going to be hard to hold onto the Senate, but it still seems that the Democrats can do so if they get out the vote between now and November 4, thanks to highly contentious governors' races.  In very few races does the leading Congressional candidate have more than 50 per cent of the projected vote, which leaves the seat still open as far as I'm concerned.  Real Clear Politics has 9 seats still considered toss-ups, and two "leaning GOP." To get to 55 the GOP would have to win all nine of those toss-ups.  As it is, they have to win 5 out of 9 to gain a clear majority.  However, controversial Republican governors appear to be dragging the GOP down in key states like North Carolina and Kansas.

The Democrats dug this hole for themselves by once again failing to set the narrative in these midterm elections.  They had the perfect opening late last year, when the GOP engineered a shutdown of government and failed to get any of their conditions met in a Senate compromise bill.  Then came the Spring numbers on the health insurance exchanges, which clearly favored the Democrats, but for some odd reason the Democrats haven't made the Affordable Care Act an issue in these midterms.  Nor did Dems stress that premium rate increases have been lower than expected.  Economic figures also favor the Democrats, but once again you see the GOP pushing tax cuts and deeper austerity measures, with Democrats doing little to defend the current numbers.  As a result, misinformed John Q. Public is leaning Republican.

Obama is at his lowest approval rating, largely because of the media over-inflating ISIS and Ebola, which the Republicans have seized on down the stretch, trying to get voters to forget about the positive job numbers, the success of "Obamacare" and the ever-decreasing annual budget deficit, all issues they were initially going to stress in these midterms.

Democrats haven't done themselves any favors by playing right into the hands of the Republicans by criticizing their own President.  Mark Udall appears headed for defeat in Colorado after all his bluster about how he is "the last person [the White House] wants to see coming."  He made a complete ass of himself on CNN.

While GOP candidates stick to the party's talking points, the Democratic candidates wander all over the place, often sticking their feet in their mouths.  Alison Lundergan Grimes has been a prime example of this, but the dissatisfaction with McConnell is so great in Kentucky that surprisingly she still has a chance to win.

Rather than making themselves prey to questions like whether they voted for Obama, they should be stressing the accomplishments during his administration, all of which the Republicans fought tooth and nail to defeat but failed, notably "Obamacare."  Sadly, the Democrats have let the Republicans off the hook, particularly in Red States, where Democrats seem to feel more comfortable running away from the President, despite Congress being far more unpopular than Obama in the minds of voters.

Obama isn't making it easy for beleaguered Democratic candidates, stressing his accomplishments where he is invited to join campaigns, but even here the press points to all those who left early, and not all those who were waiting outside to get a glimpse of the President, as it was standing room only inside.  Obama also made a nice little retort to Udall's claim, by noting that Democrats voted with him on all the major legislation that was passed these last 6 years.

The Democrats had the chance to set the narrative not once, not twice, but three times, yet failed each time.  Now they have to pay the consequences.  It is too bad for the President, as he has done all he can do defending his policies.  Alas, he has faced a very unfriendly media that simply refuses to acknowledge his accomplishments, and seems as giddy as the Republicans in the major turnover they have forecast for the Senate.  I can already see CNN's John King gloating over all those blue states turned red on his big screen, as he did in the 2010 midterm elections.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Human Drift

It's amazing how some things withstand the test of time like the safety razor.  Despite all the great technological improvement, many of which King Camp Gillette imagined himself in The Human Drift, the safety razor is as valued today as it was when Gillette patented it in 1880.

I came across a little biography of Gillette some years back and was amazed to learn of the man behind the razor, whose brand name still exists on safety blades today.  He had imagined a utopia, which he called Metropolis on the site of Niagara Falls designed to house millions and using the hydro-power to generate electricity.  It is very classical in inspiration, no doubt taken from the ideas of Etienne-Louis Boullee, who had imagined a similar structure a hundred years before in his Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton.

However, other instruments haven't fared so well, like the slide rule, which Newton would have used himself over 300 years ago.  It's an amazing device, which NPR pays homage to in this new series.  It remained in use into the early 70s before the calculator replaced it.

I remember having to learn how to use one for math class.  I still have my Dad's old slide rule, along with his Brunton compass, which is still made today, and a little mini sextant he used for survey maps of geological veins in Africa.  He would tell me stories as he taught me how to use his slide rule.  I still have all those instruments in their respective leather cases.

I still have my grandfather's silver-plated safety razor as well,  which I continue to use today.  My son was wanting a safety razor of his own, so I bought him a nice butterfly razor, which he is very happy with.  While technological breakthroughs have made slide rules, Brunton compasses and sextants obsolete (barring a zombie apocalypse), you still can't  beat the close shave of a safety razor.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

O Pioneers!

It is hard not to think of Nebraska without thinking of its greatest writer.  Here is a marvelous piece by Capote, Remembering Willa Cather.

I remember seeing a stage production of O Pioneers! and being deeply moved by its raw emotions.  I had read My Antonia before, and soon found myself hooked, like Capote was by the simple elegance of her prose and the way she was able to evoke so many feelings through her characters.  Much of it came from the fact that she had lived those experiences herself.

Her father dragged the family from Virginia to Nebraska in 1883, when it was still a young state, settling in the town of Red Cloud. named after one of the great Oglala chiefs.  Red Cloud was still alive at the time, living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in the aftermath of the "Great Sioux Wars" of 1876-77.  I don't know whether Cather took any interest in the famous chief, although it is hard to imagine not.  Upon his death in 1909, he was eulogized in newspapers across the country.

Nebraska had gained statehood in 1867, shortly after the Civil War.  It had been a flashpoint before the war when the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 split the western territory in two, resulting in a bloody border war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions.  John Brown came to Kansas in support of anti-slavery settlers.  This was the prelude to the Civil War.

Andrew Johnson attempted to block Nebraska statehood because it had become heavily Republican.  He favored the redemption of the Southern Democratic states first, but Congress managed to force the issue of statehood on him before his end of term.  Much of the same sentiments that had fueled the Civil War remained in Washington.

Cather chose to tell the tale of the pioneers, those who took advantage of the Homestead Act to form a new life on the prairie. For the most part, these were deeply religious people, Lutheran and Catholic, who originally came from Germany and other central European countries, like Willa's parents.   Many of these early homes were made of sod as there were few other materials at hand. Eventually, these pioneering settlers were able to build more substantial homes and establish towns like Red Cloud.  They also celebrated the first Arbor Day in 1872, an attempt to break the monotony of the plains.

For some Nebraska is a state of mind, which Alexander Payne captured in his latest movie.  I think this is the way most people picture the state, although the film starts out in Montana and works its way East.  You do get breaks in the prairie landscape like Chimney Rock and Chadron State Park.  You can even come across big horn rams.  It's not all cattle and corn fields.

I imagine Truman Capote would be happy to know there is a Willa Cather Foundation and that her childhood home in Red Cloud is a national historic site.  Hard to say how she would feel.  She had settled in New York, with her long time companion Edith Lewis,  when Capote came across her on a cold winter day in 1942.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Brownback v. State of Kansas

Probably the most repellent of the Republican governors elected in 2010 is Sam Brownback.  He rode the Tea Party wagon into Topeka and has literally split the state in two with his divisive policies that have even led to Republican defections, which Jessica Williams has fun skewering in this segment, The Kansas Experiment.

Brownback combines supply-side economics with religious social conservatism in a way only a teabagger could do, and not surprisingly remains a darling in the TP, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the economic experiment he undertook two years ago by slashing taxes in an effort to attract new businesses and encourage existing Kansas businesses to hire more employees.  The result has been a resounding failure.

Of course, none of us should be surprised.  Businesses typically pocket their tax cuts unless there is an impelling reason for them to take on new employees.  Brownback offered none.  Again, no surprise, because I doubt old Sam expected them to.

The large revenue shortfall has resulted in major domestic cuts in health, education and welfare, while the state government continues to operate in the red.  This is a pattern that has repeated itself in many other states, namely Wisconsin and Florida, where 2010 elected Republican governors tried the same formula and failed as well.  In unison, these douchebags all blame the federal government, notably the 2012 fiscal cliff deal Republicans engineered in Congress, for their woes.  But, of course it is Obama who becomes the target in the campaign ads that endlessly stream on television and the Internet.

Amazingly, Brownback finds himself in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, both polling about 45 per cent of the vote.  Brownback still has the religious social conservatives on his side who seem to believe that Jesus trumps economics.  For a short while there, it seemed Davis was going to blow this race wide open, but then the attack ads kicked in, including this one linking Davis to strip clubs 16 years ago.  Oh no, we can't have that in Kansas!  Once again this shows just how effective Republicans are at making everything into a moral issue, except of course their own moral conduct.  It's enough to make a preacher lay his Bible down.

Brownback has a horrible record.  Walker barely survived a 2012 recall in Wisconsin and Rick Scott is more concerned about fans than he is debating Charlie Crist on the issues.  Yet, all three remain neck and neck with their opponents in these gubernatorial races, and I imagine at least one of them will withstand his challenger.   It doesn't seem to matter what your record is these days, your party's rank and file will stand behind you come hell or high water for the other guy has to be worse.

This kind of cynicism is so deep in our political body now that it seems impossible to root it out anytime soon.  However, we have to get past this ridiculous notion that tax cuts and austerity measures are the answer to all our economic woes.  The guys peddling these policies, like Art Laffer, have been widely discredited, yet here they are still promoting these failed ideas 30 years later.  The Laffer Center would be better served as a Clown Academy.  The only persons these tax cuts benefit are the rich.

States which have raised taxes and pushed for increases in minimum wage have (gasp!) shown improvement in their economies, especially as they pump more money into their respective economies through domestic programs.  This is something these supply-side conservatives are unable to come to terms with.  They give all sorts of evil names like "shakedown socialism," where the government is coming at you with a pitchfork and demanding your hard earned money for their own personal largesse.  Fact is this redistribution of money is the only method we have of ensuring basic social services like health, education and welfare.

It's not like these businesses don't benefit either.  After all, they draw their employees from state-supported secondary schools and colleges, and take advantage of a number of other government programs and subsidies as well.  Many businesses draw a lot of their money through public contracts on everything from new roads to new municipal and state buildings to distributing welfare checks.

In the old days, state programs were a great cash cow, and kept states going through hard times.  Not anymore.  If guys like Brownback, Walker and Scott have their way, many of these domestic programs would be slashed forever and persons would be left to scrap it out in a new privatized society where you pay directly for everything, often at much greater cost.

As it is, we have some strange hybrid form of social services that is increasingly hard to pin down, as cities lease services like parking meters to private contractors to make up for revenue shortfall but then find themselves paying exorbitant rates if they want to have free days for city events. They also often underestimate the actual revenue of these services in these long term leases, content to have large lump sums up front to meet immediate budget needs.

So it goes.

Some Like It Hot

So now we have "Sizzle History," a term apparently coined by USA Today.  Karen Abbott is in search of the salacious side of American history, offering up such juicy morsels as Gypsy Rose Lee, the brothels of Chicago, and now transgender soldiers and undercover women spies during the Civil War.  Granted, these are all interesting subjects, but it seems Abbott is relying more on where your imagination takes you than what history uncovers in these tales of the seamy side of American history.

I've had my fill of journalists turned armchair historians.  It is rare that one of the books offers anything new in the way of history or interpretation.  What they seek out is the sensational and package it in a way to attract readers, more often using secondary sources.  We have Bill O'Reilly (although it is hard to think of him as a journalist, much less historian) pitching his latest "murder mystery" in Killing Patton, which should be filed under fantasy but instead occupies four places in Amazon's current Top Ten History List, in two audio book forms, kindle and hardback.  It doesn't matter that Papa Bear's books have been universally panned by historians, they sell.

Among other best sellers that pop up on my amazon front page are Tinseltown, described as "an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder and creation of the modern film industry," and The Lost Tribe of Coney Island, "the incredible true story of the Igorrotes, a group of 'headhunting, dog-eating' tribespeople brought to America from the Philippines by the opportunistic showman Truman K. Hunt."  You can easily see such tales made into lurid movies.

Reviews are genaerally mixed.  Jonathon Yardly was attacked for writing a "sexist" review of Abbott's Liar Temptress Soldier Spy for noting that "at its less-than-best it seems (dare I say it?) to have been borrowed from the pages of a woman's magazine," calling the many uncredited passages "poetic license."  Karen was none too happy about the review.

One assumes the publishers come up with these catchy titles to promote sales.  Abbott's title is a direct take on a John Le Carre novel.  It does seem as though the murder mystery has become the new way of exploring history, since many readers are most likely unaware of the subject matter presented in these nonfiction books beforehand.  However, being an investigative journalist or political pundit (especially in this day and age) doesn't automatically make you a historian.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nothing like a good plague to shake everyone up

The "Ebola Panic" is playing out like some bad made-for-television movie of the 70s.  A scare generated for no other purpose than to influence this year's midterms, as conservative pundits have been attracted to the outbreak like proverbial flies to shit, but mainstream pundits also hover around this faux pile of fears like fruit flies, fighting for their little piece of the action.

Of course, it doesn't help when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) starts questioning itself and rushes an infected nurse at the 11th hour to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, to be given special treatment she apparently couldn't get in Dallas.  The given was a lack of proper hazmat suits in Dallas.  Nina Pham is reportedly in good condition.

However, the sudden move was covered like O.J. Simpson's slow moving "getaway" on television, with commentary every step of the way, which makes you wonder if these news channels don't have anything else to talk about.  Coverage has been at times comical, with CNN inviting Robin Cook, best known for his medical thrillers, to comment on a possible pandemic in the wake of this latest "outbreak."  After all, he wrote the book on the subject.

Unlike AIDS, which did reach pandemic levels in the 1980s, Ebola has remained contained, but still firebrand ministers find ways to make this "plague" God's way of punishing someone.  Politicians have brazenly linked Ebola to immigration reform, and demanded visas and flights from stricken African countries be cancelled.  Of course, the news media quickly picks up on these rants, adding more fuel to the fire.

It seems like Americans love a good panic.  News ratings have soared, with Shep Smith surprisingly offering a "voice of reason"on the media-induced hysteria.  It seems Shep has become the go-to guy at Fox to let everyone know when enough is enough.  Still, Shep made sure to link Democrats to the panic.

Yes, it is another political-motivated panic meant to elicit fear in the unsuspecting public, with much of the blame being foisted on the Obama administration.  Who else?  However, Shep failed to mention that Obama has reacted to the "crisis" much faster than did Reagan, who virtually ignored the AIDS pandemic until it was too late.  I guess dear old Ronnie was trying to keep the public calm in the face of the most pervasive epidemic in modern history.

Ebola pales in comparison to AIDS, in large part because the world health community has stayed on top of the viral disease.  There have been several outbreaks since Ebola was first reported in 1976, including this case in the United States in 1990, but each time health officials contained the spread, and it is very likely they will do the same again despite the much higher number of cases in stricken West African countries.

The problem is that when you see health officials running around in hazmat suits it can't help but stir up panic, and any number of conspiracy theories are bound to ensue.  However, it would be nice if we could keep Ebola out of religion and politics.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The End of the Democratic Party as We Know It, Part V

A new pledge just like the old one, 2010
2010 played out like a repeat of 1994, replete with a "Pledge to America."  In fact, this pledge was such a pathetic rehashing of Newt's 1994 "Contract" that you couldn't possibly believe people would fall for it, but they did.  It seemed as if the origins of the 2008 banking crisis had been erased from voters' memories and they were holding the Democrats personally responsible for the horrible economy.

Once again, the Democrats had allowed the Republicans to set the narrative.  Add to that a seemingly new force in politics -- the Tea Party -- which had risen to the fore by questioning Obama's birth certificate, among other crazy things, and threatened to hold Republicans accountable to religious conservative values by challenging them in the primaries.  It was like some Fox comedy show from the 90s.  It was hard to imagine any of this was real, but real it was, and Tea Party candidates were winning Republican primaries, knocking out "old guard" figures like Richard Bennett of Utah.  This was an even more radicalized Republican Party that made a list of demands on the 112th US Congress and brooked no compromise.

Where were the Democrats?  They held onto the Senate, but by losing the House in stunning fashion, they allowed the Republicans once again to set the agenda for the next two years.  The Democrats listlessly responded to the Republican attack ads.  It was like they expected more positive job numbers to come through as they promised, but unemployment continued to hover around 10 per cent.  As Bill Clinton had said, "It's the economy, stupid!"

Obama signs the Stimulus Bill, 2009
The "Stimulus Bill," which the Democrats pushed through in 2009, had stemmed the massive loss of jobs, but wasn't enough to reverse the losses.  It was more like a tourniquet tied around the bleeding leg of the American economy, and was vilified as another one of the big liberal "give away" programs Democrats like so much.

Mostly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (as it was formally called) gave Americans another round of tax cuts, adding a payroll tax cut to the continuing Bush tax cuts.  It also provided home mortgage relief, small business relief and numerous other recovery-minded programs that did mitigate the damage caused by the banking collapse in 2008, but as Paul Krugman wrote, it didn't go far enough, as the economy needed much more money pumping through it to get it moving again.

Democrats expected that money to come from the refinanced banks, who were already reporting profits two short years later, thanks to the massive TARP bailout.  Instead, the banks held tight to their money, much more cautious to issue new loans and continued to foreclose on first time home owners at alarming rates.  So, the Federal Reserve was forced to make up for the shortfall by providing stimulus packages of its own.  This literally resulted in "tent cities," as many Americans found themselves homeless in the wake of the depressed housing market.

There was no "New Deal," not even a new language to evoke FDR's massive federal relief program of the 1930's.  Democrats ran away from any such talk.  They didn't want to be labeled as "progressive" or god forbid "socialist" by the Republicans.  What we now had was the pragmatic Democratic Party, looking like a first time home buyer or small business owner going to a bank for a loan, presenting his meager assets on the table only to be rejected by the loan officer.

The electorate demanded accountability, and the Republicans swept state legislatures and governor mansions once again, promising greater fiscal responsibility, ushering in austerity measures that did more to depress the economy than revive it.  You had the whole Herbert Hoover v. Franklin Roosevelt 1932 debate played out again, only this time Herbert Hoover won.

It was really hard to fathom how the Democrats lost this election, but it just shows what an effective media campaign will do for a political party as long as it sticks with its message.  The Republicans stuck with their message, the Democrats did not.  Democrats started apologizing for their shortcomings and promised to review the measures they passed, including the new Affordable Care Act (ACA), which made them look accountable for the crisis.  Politics is war.  Republicans understood this.  Democrats did not.

However, the Republicans didn't seem to know they had succeeded in pulling the Democratic Party to the right.  This was readily apparent when Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts in late 2010, after the Republicans had won the midterms.  This is what they had been fighting for most strenuously.  They also pushed the Obama administration to present major domestic cuts in a superficial effort to balance the budget, but now there was a major revenue shortfall due to the massive tax cuts over the last seven years, along with a bloated military budget that was considered off limits.  New taxes were off the table.

Since 2010, the Republicans have set the agenda in Washington.  Even when all the apocalyptic forecasts for the health insurance exchanges failed to materialize, Democrats still found themselves on the defensive and are expected to lose the Senate in this set of midterm elections.  Similarly, the economy has improved but the media narrative is that it hasn't improved fast enough.  What Americans want is a return to the fast-paced economy that led to the crisis in the first place, rather than slow and steady growth which had once been the hallmark of American society.

Democrats have failed to come up with a narrative to match the times.  Obama trenchantly observed in the 2008 primaries that Reagan changed the trajectory of America.  Democrats have done little to alter that trajectory.  In fact, one can argue that Bill Clinton accepted that shift in American politics, and made it his own to the point we now have persons who identify themselves as Clinton Democrats.

But, what we have are Reagan Democrats -- a new generation of Democratic political leaders who have grown up under the influence of Reagan, and don't have a leading Democratic figure to match the aura of this Republican demigod, who remains fresh in many Americans' minds.  So, to one extent or another these Democrats adopt the message of Reagan.  FDR's New Deal, Kennedy's New Frontier, Johnson's Great Society are all part of the Democratic past, no longer even mentioned in political circles.

The best this generation has come up with "Change You Can Believe In," but the slogans seemed to run out in 2012.  Maybe, "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same" would be appropriate, as Hillary Clinton is poised to be the Democratic nominee for President once again, unless someone emerges in the coming months to challenge her, like Obama did in 2008.

This is a political party that has done a very poor job of defending its legacy and it is for that reason that we see a very poor Democratic turnout in these midterm elections, with Obama reduced to a shadow of his former self.  You can argue that his presidency deserves more credit than he has gotten, but sadly Barack Obama failed to change the trajectory of America and we continue to live in the Age of Reagan.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The End of the Democratic Party as We Know It, Part IV

2007 looked much brighter with the Democrats back in control of Congress.  The big turnover in the House of Representatives showed that Democrats could still campaign on the local and regional level, but now we saw campaigns tailor made for the different regions of the country.  It was difficult to see how Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House, was going to hold this new majority together, but she seemed up for the challenge.

It was easy enough to rally around Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated the Gulf Coast.  The many deaths and slow recovery hurt the Bush administration, which appeared ill-equipped to handle the crisis.  Americans saw for the first time how badly federal domestic programs had been gutted.  The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) had been rolled into Homeland Security and didn't have the funding to deal with the crisis on the ground.  As a result, many New Orleans residents needlessly died, and horrible conditions lingered for months afterward.

One of the first acts of the new Congress was to address this crisis with a major appropriations bill, but the $6 billion for hurricane relief paled in comparison to the $95 billion for the ongoing war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which made you wonder where priorities lay.  However, the Democrats were able to attach a substantial increase in the federal minimum wage to the bill.

Unfortunately, the economy was in a tailspin with home foreclosures rising and a banking crisis looming.  Three years of a runaway economy had come back to haunt Republicans, who had pushed hard for deregulation and a lower prime lending rate to boost home sales, long seen as the primary mover in the American economy.  The deregulation actually stemmed back to the Clinton administration, who had freed up Fannie Mae, the largest home mortgage company in America.  Bank loan bundling was designed to lessen the burden of all the toxic loans, but now that lending practices were virtually unregulated, these bundled loans were bought and sold over and over again with the burden spread worldwide.

This kind of economic jerry-rigging had become the staple of both Democratic and Republican economic thinking.  We lived in a highly speculative market where you could make as much as 10 to 20 per cent on what were considered "safe" investments, resulting in one of the biggest economic booms since the 1920s.  But, like the 1920s it all came crashing down in September, 2008, with the worst banking collapse since Black Tuesday, 1929.  Blame was thrown everywhere, but the Republicans took the worst hit as they had presided in the White House and Congress during the boom.

Democrats were torn between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the primaries.  Neither offered any bold new ideas, but Obama seemd to represent the "clean slate" Americans were looking for.  Bill Clinton didn't do his wife any favors on the campaign trail, often looking like he was running for a third term.  Obama even quipped at one point, he wasn't sure who he was running against.

It seemed that Democrats badly wanted a return to the core values of the party in the fallout of the international crisis.  AIG, the world's largest banking insurance group, was particularly hard hit and required a  massive federal bailout.  The Bush administration engineered the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP, but many felt Democrats were better suited to impose the type of regulations necessary to hold these banks accountable for the huge federal subsidized loans they were getting.  As a result, Obama not only won the national election but Democrats took commanding control of Congress.

There was great reason to celebrate, but the euphoria was short lived, as Obama brought many of the same figures that had previously served Bill Clinton onto his financial team, notably Larry Summers, who had promoted deregulation in the first place.  Despite all the malfeasance in the banking and home mortgage industry, no CEO was held accountable, and these lending institutions were the first to recover, while many Americans still remained in unemployment lines.

Rather than deal with this issue head on, the White House and Congress essentially chose to kick the can down the road, offering a number of stop-gap solutions that eased the crisis but didn't present any long term solutions.  This was particularly astounding given that Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate when Arlen Specter switched parties in 2009 to support the health care bill being pushed through Congress.

Lieberman played both parties during the 2008 election
There was no unifying message in the Democratic Party, members began to splinter off and form "gangs" holding bills hostage in committee until they got perks for their representative states.  We needed someone like Lyndon Johnson, who knew how to cut through Congressional gridlock and get bills onto the floor for a vote.  Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, didn't appear to have the stomach to do it, and Obama was too new to know how to put the bills in order from least contentious to most contentious to better assuage rival interests.

Probably the worst example were the deals struck to assuage health care bill holdouts -- Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, and Mary Landrieu, among others.  Harry Reid had previously handed the bill to Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate finance committee, who sat on the bill for weeks, letting his good buddy Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, pour over it in an empty gesture of bipartisanship.   This infighting played out on national television, with the media jumping all over the "Nebraska compromise" that was reached to satisfy Nebraska senator Ben Nelson.  The end result was a health care bill that Obama had to squeeze down the throats of House Democrats, who had wanted a single payer system, to get the revised bill passed before the Republicans snatched away the Senate seat vacated in the wake of Ted Kennedy's death.

As a result of all this turmoil, Republicans seized the momentum in the 2010 midterms, overturning the House once again and making it all the more difficult to govern the country.  It seemed as if Democrats hadn't learned any lessons from the 1994 debacle.  They once again appeared rudderless, with Obama now forced into making compromises he was ill-advised to make, such as extending the Bush tax cuts for another two years to get a handful of Republican votes to overturn the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy in the military.  Once again, the Democratic Party was a political party in shambles.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The End of the Democratic Party as We Know It, Part III

Al Gore went into hibernation after conceding the 2000 election.  He reappeared several months later sporting a beard, as though he had been on a walkabout,  but it turned out he had hid away in Europe.  The beard became the subject of intense scrutiny in the media, seemingly more so than the first 6 months of George W. Bush's time in office.

The Democrats had prevailed in a fight over the leadership of the Senate, thanks to Jim Jeffords splitting from the Republican ranks to join the Democratic Senate caucus as an Independent.  The general election had left the Senate equally divided 50-50.  This nullified Vice-President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote, which would have given the leadership to the Republicans.  It was a tough day for Trent Lott, who had long groomed himself for the position.  Jeffords was recently eulogized for this bold move, passing away in August of this year.

It was hard to gauge which way the Democrats would turn.  They suffered a leadership crisis, made all the more apparent when they refused to stand against the PATRIOT and Homeland Security Acts, Republicans put forward in the wake of 911.  There appeared to be little resistance to the "police state" the Bush administration was creating in the wake of the worst terrorist strike on American soil in history.  Congress and the UN Security Council had approved a resolution to invade Afghanistan and root out al Qaeda, which was held responsible for the attack, along with its Taliban supporters.

However, nothing prepared the world for Bush's next bold gambit to attack Iraq, claiming in an infamous "white paper" that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to the World Trade Center bombings.  Hussein had essentially been under "house arrest" ever since the Persian Gulf War, as the United States continued to enforce no-fly zones, impose heavy sanctions and travel restrictions on Iraq throughout the Clinton administration.  But, apparently this policy of containment wasn't enough for the Bush administration, which felt it had to rid the world of Hussein once and for all.  The UN Security Council wasn't so amenable this time around.  Bush took to the "bully pulpit" in an effort to convince the American people that this was a "just war."

As it turned out, it wasn't such a hard sell.  It was rumored that the White House struck a deal with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to deliver the votes the Republicans needed to carry the resolution 77-23, which was fast-tracked in the month of October, 2002.  Twenty-nine Democrats had crossed over to vote for the Iraq war resolution, including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, John Edwards and Tom Daschle, despite the defiant stand of Robert Byrd, who had pleaded with his fellow Democrats to reject the war measure.

What made the matter worse was that the UN weapons inspection team had gone into Iraq and found nothing that suggested Hussein was hiding the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration claimed he did.  Hans Blix, who was then head of the IAEA, had filed a report that was available to US Congresspersons before the vote, but apparently no one took the time to read it.  He later spoke on that report in January, 2003.

Al Gore made a defiant reappearance at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, saying that the United States had squandered the good will of the World in the wake of 911 by going to war in Iraq.

Fear had trumped reason.  Not so much fear that Iraq represented any real threat to the United States, but that the emotional weight of 911 still lingered in the minds of American voters, and that Democrats would be voted out of the Senate in 2002.  It turned out these fears were justified, as Republicans retook the Senate in November.  Daschle remained as the Democratic Senate Minority Leader, but he was powerless in the aftermath of this electoral sweep that left Republicans firmly in control of all branches of federal government.

At this point, the Democratic Party was rudderless.  It seemed no one wanted to step forward to lead the party.  It wasn't until August 2003 that Howard Dean emerged as a leading candidate for President.  The Vermont Governor defiantly stood against the Iraq War, which had begun in March, and garnered much attention among Democratic voters.  However, it seems the Democratic National Committee wasn't ready to see such a maverick politician lead the party, and actively pushed more recognizable figures to run.  John Kerry announced his bid for President shortly before the New Hampshire primary.  Howard Dean had lost an Iowa caucus, where he had been expected to win.  He didn't make his case sound any better when he let out this infamous scream in an effort to rally supporters.  The media jumped on it, and essentially drove him out of the race, making it clear sailing for John Kerry through the remainder of the primaries.

Political campaigns had become media driven like never before.  Television could make or break a candidate.  While most news networks made a minimal effort to remain impartial, Fox News had become the organ of the Republican Party, actively promoting GOP candidates across the country.  The Democrats had to fight for air space on the other major television news networks, even on MSNBC, which was emerging as the "voice" of the Democratic Party.

I have to hand it to John Kerry.  He tried to unite the Democratic Party, extolling the virtues of the past, but he was going up against a revitalized Republican Party that would use whatever hook or crook to get George W. Bush re-elected, even if it meant besmirching Kerry's military record.  This time the election came down to Ohio.  Bush had surprisingly carried the state in 2000.  Ohio is a traditional union state, which had long supported Democratic candidates.  Clinton had carried the Buckeye state in 1992 and 1996.  The Kerry campaign felt it could regain what the Democrats had lost.  Such was not the case, and Bush secured a second term, to the disquiet of the world.

Never in modern history had a President been so reviled abroad yet win re-election.  It was like the United States had entered into a new era of isolationism, resolute in its stand against Islamicism, which had come to replace the former Soviet Union as the number one menace in the world.  The Democrats seemed powerless in the face of the Bush White House, which felt it had won a mandate from the American people, winning the popular as well as electoral vote.

Ohio voters
The oddest thing is how so many traditional union labor states were now Republican, with Republican governors and Republican legislatures.  It was hard to pin down the reason for this shift in the electorate, as this had been the base of the Democratic Party for decades.  Jesse Ventura, a former wrestler and now Independent Party candidate had won the governorship of Minnesota in 1999 and made a brief run as a presidential candidate in 2004.  The same state that had given us Hubert Humphrey.

Electoral maps now broke down the national election by counties, and it became clear that the base of the Republican party was in the rural and suburban regions of the country.  If elections were decided by land area, Republicans would dominate Congress and the state legislatures throughout the country.  The only place where Democrats polled well were urban areas and a handful of traditional Northeast Democratic states.

Part of the reason for the huge electoral shift is the politicization of religion, especially among the evangelical sects.  For the most part these Protestant groups had thrown their support behind the Republican Party, as its candidates had made religious values prominent in their campaigns, often conflating these values with government.  Bush himself had held Bible readings in the White House, and often punctuated his speeches with Biblical references.

Mike Huckabee, a Republican minister, and also from Hope,
served as governor of Arkansas from 1996-2007,
and ran for President in 2008
What the Republicans proved very good at doing in the 2000 and 2004 elections was mobilizing this religious base, shrouding its supply-side economics and pernicious foreign policy in the cloak of Christian values.  This had been the strategy of Reagan, which led to sweeping electoral wins in 1980 and 1984, and carried Bush's father to victory in 1988.  As it turned out, the Clinton administration had been little more than a bump in the road.  The Republicans saw themselves commanding Congress and state legislatures for decades to come.

The Democrats tried to remain secular in their idea of government, holding to the rules and protocols of the Constitution.  However, Democrats could no longer rely on their traditional base of support without blurring the lines, and as a result the party shifted to the right in its attempts to regain votes it had lost in previous elections.

Democrats win 2006 midterms,
thrusting Nancy Pelosi into the spotlight
The war didn't turn out very well for George Bush and the Republicans, and the economy that had been surviving thanks to shock treatments by the Federal Reserve, seemed on its last legs by 2006, when the GOP took a massive hit in the midterms.  The Democrats had retaken Congress.   This was an amazing reversal of fortune!

Al Gore had finally shaved his beard but showed no interest in running for President.  John Kerry likewise took a pass, setting the stage for Hillary Clinton, who had risen to prominence in the Senate, after winning re-election in 2006.  There was also a dark horse, a young Barack Obama, who had only recently come into the Senate in 2004, but was quickly making a name for himself.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The End of the Democratic Party as We Know It, Part II

By 1994, the party was over.  Facing an unprecedented defeat in Congress, Clinton also found himself mired in a real estate investment scandal known as Whitewater.  Republicans had scored a monumental turnover in Congress, gaining control of both chambers for the first time in 40 years.  George W. Bush had also scored a surprise victory over the popular Ann Richards in Texas.  Republicans had big wins in other traditionally Democratic states as well.  At the time it seemed like a repudiation of the Clinton administration, but in retrospect it was more likely the final stage of the Reagan Revolution, which saw many Dixiecrats turn Republican and take over the South and many of the Midwest states.

The election of Reagan in 1980 had accelerated the shift of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party that had started in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Bill.   Lyndon Johnson had foresaw this shift, but for him it was more important to pass the landmark legislation than it was to keep offering up weak compromise solutions to assuage the conservative wing of the Democratic Party.  Of course, he had Liberal Democrats pressing him to carry through on the Civil Rights legislation first presented before JFK's death.  Strom Thurmond, an ardent opponent of desegregation, was one of the first Democrats to turn Republican in 1964 and now served as Senate President Pro Temp.

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party seemed muted.  It had thrown its support behind Clinton, thinking they had a winner, but that feel-good vibration was gone.  Clinton seemed powerless in the wake of the electoral landslide in Congress.  Newt Gingrich, the new House Speaker, no longer considered Clinton relevant.  He felt the Republicans had secured a mandate to lead the country with their "Contract with America."

Gingrich underestimated the slippery Bill Clinton.  This was a guy who was perfectly comfortable with weak compromise solutions as long as he got the credit for them.  In the following years, Clinton would make the Contract with America his own, coming up with his own crime bill, engineering his own balanced budget, pushing through a welfare bill that echoed "The Personal Responsibility Act" that the Republicans had demanded in their "Contract," and even signing off on the Defense of Marriage bill, that allowed federal courts to annul same-sex marriages granted under laws of other states.  It seemed as if Clinton had switched parties too!

Many thought Clinton wouldn't survive another election, but the Republicans were torn between the new firebrands leading the party and the old guard that represented the former stability.  Ross Perot was still hanging around, creating the Reform Party, a forerunner to today's Tea Party.  Clinton won easily over doddering Bob Dole, gaining almost 50 per cent of the vote, losing Georgia but picking up Florida, which had barely eluded him in the previous election.

Clinton tried to evoke the same feel-good spirit as in '92, but it wasn't there.  He didn't face any challenge in the primaries, but about 10 million fewer persons voted in 1996.  What votes he did gain seemed to be from the independents that had previously voted for Perot.  As far as many were concerned, it was politics as usual.  Clinton didn't carry any coat tails with him.  Congress was still Republican, which meant more compromise bills.

Oddly enough, the Republicans didn't seem eager to work with Bill Clinton.  Gingrich and the new vanguard wanted a complete and total victory.  With Bill still hanging around, it meant they had to step back from some of their more outrageous legislation as they didn't have the votes to override a veto.  Still, Gingrich presented himself as if he ran the show, and Clinton was just an annoyance he had to deal with.

The two made for interesting adversaries.  They could have been brothers separated at birth, as they had pretty much the same biographies, having risen from relative obscurity to Washington power players in short time.   Unfortunately for Newt, Bill had inherited the charm and this is what carried him past Gingrich in the fierce political battles that ensued.  Even when the world seemed to fall in on Bill Clinton with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he still had enough support among the people and fellow Democrats in the Senate to survive an impeachment, led by Gingrich.  The House Speaker wasn't so lucky.  The failed coup attempt ruined him, and he was voted out of Congress by his own constituency in Georgia.

You get a pretty good idea where the material for "House of Cards" comes from.  Two good ol' Southern boys battling to be King of the Hill.  This was what Clinton was good at, not much else.  He had failed repeatedly to get any meaningful legislation through Congress.  He had gone back on most of the promises he made in the 1992 campaign, most overtly in the support he gave the Defense of Marriage Act, which was finally overturned last year.  He undercut welfare programs without offering anything in return.  He signed a Draconian crime bill with a federal death penalty, without addressing any of the serious concerns in the United States penal system, notably the disproportionate number of black inmates.  Despite Al Gore's environmental conviction, no meaningful environmental legislation was passed.  Eight lost years, as far as Democrats were concerned.

Still, as a Democrat, you hoped that Al Gore would win the election in 2000, because the alternative was bleak.  Democrats appeared to have momentum.  They were poised to take back the Senate.  There wasn't much enthusiasm for Gore's challenger, George W. Bush, but as it turned out Dubya had an ace in the hole, a brother serving as governor of Florida, who would decide the razor thin results coming in from the Sunshine State by stopping a recount and declaring Dubya the winner in one of the most contentious elections in American history.

The ever so thin silver lining was the Democrats had won the Senate, which appeared would block the Republicans from carrying out their agenda.  One of those new senators was Hillary Clinton, representing New York, thanks to the purchase of a home in Chappaqua, New York, in 1999.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The End of the Democratic Party as We Know It, Part I

Back in '92 I felt something was seriously amiss when Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President.  I didn't worry so much then as I didn't think he stood a chance in the general election against George H.W. Bush, who was still basking in the favorable light of the end of the Cold War.  But, enter Ross Perot and it became anyone's election, as the man who made himself a billionaire by distributing welfare checks, split conservatives in two, and Bill only needed 43 per cent of the popular vote to win.

Clinton's candidacy seemed like a long shot but the media picked up on him early.  He lost the first four Democratic primaries to Paul Tsongas, but cash started rolling in just in time for Florida, where Clinton scored a big victory on Super Tuesday, finally gaining the momentum he needed to carry him through the remainder of the primaries.  To that point, Clinton hadn't won a single state, but the media still considered him the front runner as many southern states would be voting that Fat Tuesday in March.

Tsongas had shot his wad in Florida, hoping to win this key state among the many primaries that day, and had few backers after this point, forcing him to withdraw from the primaries shortly afterward.  He made the sentient comment that Bill Clinton had ruined the Democratic Party, by going after conservative Cuban-American backers disgruntled with Bush's policy toward Cuba, which helped Clinton carry Florida.

Still there were reservations.  Jerry Brown was the only remaining threat to Clinton securing the Democratic nomination.  Brown ran a campaign based solely on individual campaign contributions, which would later serve as the model for Barack Obama.  Brown scored a surprise win in Connecticut, but didn't have the funding to carry him in the much larger state of New York, where Clinton secured the Democratic nomination, thanks to heavy Congressional Democratic support.

It hadn't been the greatest crop of candidates, but at least Tsongas and Brown represented traditional Democratic values.  Tsongas had hinged his campaign on small business, while Brown attempted to carry the mantel of Rev. Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition" in the election, promoting direct representation in government and greater social programs.  The Clinton campaign team clipped and pasted from the other campaigns to put together an agenda of sorts from whatever stuck in the minds of the electorate.

Democrats rallied around Bill at the convention.  Tsongas and Brown were pushed to the shadows of the big show, Clinton and Gore could bathe in all the media spotlight that would carry them in the general election.  The team of Linda Bloodworth and Harry Thomason produced the event, giving it the Southern charm of their highly popular television series, Designing Women.  Still, liberal Democrats should have known better, but they smelled a national victory for the first time in 12 long years.

Enter what may have been the best campaign team ever of James Carville, George Stephanopolous and Paul Begala, and they transformed an Arkansas governor into a national celebrity, billing him as "The Man from Hope."  Not that Bill had been simply "a face in the crowd" before that election.  He had served 11 years as governor of Arkansas and was an active voice in the National Governors Association.  But, it took quite a stretch of imagination to think this guy could rise all the way to the White House.

The national campaign was like no other.  Bill's political dream team managed to make his running mate, Al Gore, seem warm and almost human, with their strategically planned bus tour across America, perky young wives in tow.  Gore had even taken up the theme song of "You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon at the convention, while Bill co-opted Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."  They created an infectious feel-good vibration.  Two young Southern politicians criss-crossing the country together, igniting crowds who seemed desperate for dynamic new leadership. Clinton championed minorities, adopted women's rights issues as his own, and seized on the MTV generation.

The Magic Bus 1992
I was living in DC.  It was great fun to be a part of that inauguration spirit when the Clintons and Gores came to Washington in January 1993.  Quincy Jones produced the huge outdoor event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, laden with symbolic value, which saw Kathleen Battle doing her best to present herself as a latter-day Marion Anderson while Kenny G screeched behind her on soprano sax.  There had been concert tents earlier that day in the Mall, with an amazing array of musicians performing for free.   Maya Angelou presented a poem she wrote for the inauguration, On the Pulse of Morning, which captured the high expectations now incumbent on the new administration.  The private inaugural ball culminated in this rousing live performance by Fleetwood Mac.

The first sign that the Clinton administration wasn't all it was cracked up to be was when he threw Lani Guinier under the bus.  He had nominated her for the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, but dropped her the moment Congressional support seemed unlikely.  Guinier was a controversial choice but she was well suited for the job.  Unfortunately, Clinton didn't have the balls to stand behind his choice, which would become the pattern throughout his administration.

He had an opportunity to make up for it by pushing the Health Care Bill he promoted during his campaign.  Expanded health coverage had been batted around Congress for decades and here was a golden opportunity to finally get legislation passed.  Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and now had a Democrat in the White House.  This seemed like the ideal time to finally get this legislation passed.

Once again Clinton made what appeared as a daring move by placing his wife, Hillary, as head of the task force to draft a new federal health-care mandate.  All too quickly she became the target of the conservative attacks on the proposed bill.  Bill called in his campaign team to provide damage control, but their parodies on the "Harry and Louise" ads, the conservative groups had been running, fell flat and the bill became the rallying cry of Republicans in the 1994 midterms, which saw them overturn Congress in momentous fashion with their Contract with America.

Bill similarly botched his attempt to allow for gays to openly serve in the military.  He had made a big pitch to the gay community in his 1992 campaign, estimated at one time to be as much as 10 per cent of the electorate.  There was a lot of expectation that Clinton would deliver on legislation to finally rid the stigma of being gay in the military, but here too he let everyone down, settling for a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that didn't earn him any favors with conservative Congressmen either, who now saw him as an easy target.

He also struck a blow to minorities and many others living below the poverty line, when he presented his Welfare Bill in 1994.  Clinton had vowed to "end welfare as we know it," during his campaign, but Democrats didn't expect the Draconian cuts he projected in this bill.  Many naively thought that the "peace dividends" following the draw down from the end of the Cold War would result in long overdue money for domestic programs.  Instead, Clinton proposed his first round of tax cuts, leaving domestic programs as underfunded as ever before.  It took two years to get this notorious welfare bill through Congress, resulting in even more cuts to domestic programs.

Clinton also delivered on the promise  he made with Cuban-Americans in Miami, who had helped him win Florida in the 1992 primaries.  He refused to grant political asylum to Cuban refugees and allowed Cuban-American radio stations more transmission power to reach Cuba with their political air waves.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Nonexistent President

Poor Alison Grimes couldn't bring herself to say she voted for Barack Obama when pressed by the Louisville Courier-Journal, afraid she might lose a valuable endorsement in the Bluegrass state.  She made it known she is a Clinton Democrat, saying she voted for Hillary in the 2008 primaries.  She was too young to have voted for Bill back in 1992 and 1996, not turning 18 until after the November 1996 election.

It seems our dear president has become nonexistent in the eyes of his fellow Democrats.  Even his former cabinet members seem to view him in the past tense.  It must be pretty lonely for Barack Obama in the White House these days.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates want to remind voters that Obama is not only very real, but that he is still the greatest threat to their personal freedom.  They scramble to link the Ebola virus to his immigration reform, as if offering a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants (or amnesty as conservative pundits call it) would open the flood gates to this deadly virus.  All part of the "Zombie Apocalypse" they have been pitching for six years, which has failed to materialize.

Like Italo Calvino's Nonexistent Knight, Obama has tried to carry out his presidency within the rules and protocols of the Constitution, painfully so as he continues to press Congress to allow him to close Guantanamo, when he could have done it himself by executive order long ago.  But, Obama believes in the Constitution, and has exercised executive power on rare occasions, although you wouldn't know it by reading the conservative media, which has often accused him of being a Dictator.

Our cerebral president has played a chess game of sorts during his administration, often two or more steps ahead of his political opponents, which is why he won re-election even when the approval polls had him well below 50 per cent.  But, as Paul Krugman points out in this article for Rolling Stone maagazine, the polls are misleading as conservative voters have made no effort to embrace Obama, so this doesn't offer an accurate gauge of his Presidency.  

The nation is more polarized than ever before.  It isn't so much because of Obama himself, as it is what he represents, which should serve as a cautionary tale to persons like Alison Grimes, as any Democrat would face the same abuse in the White House.  Just ask Bill Clinton, her new buddy.

The Republicans have done a bang-up job of denigrating traditional Democratic values to the point many Democrats now run away from these values, like Alison herself, in an attempt to court so-called independent voters, who are by and large conservative in nature.  The GOP has pushed the country so far to the right, that Reagan would be considered "liberal" by most conservative voters today, as he had signed an immigration reform bill which was very much like the one we see mired in Congress today.

While Obama has paid deference to Reagan, he has opted for tighter regulations on the financial sector that have given us a more balanced economic recovery than that we saw under Reagan.   It may not be enough as far as the middle class is concerned, but given where we were six years ago, you would have to have your head completely up your ass to not see that a major improvement has taken place.

Obama has also made a big push for raising the national minimum wage, which Reagan refused to do during his administration.  For all this talk that a $10.10 per hour minimum wage would kill the recovery, which most Republicans refuse to admit is taking place, states and cities that offer this minimum wage, and higher, are enjoying far more rapid economic recovery than the mean average of the country.  In our consumer society, higher wages mean more buying power, so it doesn't take a Nobel-prize-winning economist to figure out that better paid employees are more likely to spend, not save, thereby fueling the economy.

It is the rich that has been hording its assets, finding every way it can to avoid paying taxes, to the point of renouncing their American citizenship to take fuller advantage of tax breaks abroad.  But, you hear little of this on the campaign trail, Democrat and Republican alike still pitch for more tax cuts, particularly corporate tax cuts, which now amount to less than one-tenth of the annual federal tax revenue, where before Reagan it was nearly one-third of the annual federal tax revenue.

Obama has had to operate on a much tighter budget than any previous president, and yet he still has managed to reduce spending as a percentage of the annual debt, despite all the protests from the political right and left.  Again, you hear none of this because it doesn't fit with the conservative narrative that dominates the mainstream media.

It is not surprising that so few persons understand what has been going on the past six years, since most Americans seem to rely on manufactured opinions rather than look at the numbers themselves.  The major newspapers, television and radio stations are all owned by large corporations and media syndicates that shape the narrative.  Even with all the sources available to us on the Internet, it seems most Americans still turn to their favorite faces on television to give them the latest poop, which is why news pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews remain so popular.

Comedy Channel provides some reprieve with the highly popular Daily Show and Colbert Report, mocking the way news is presented in the mainstream media, to the point that Stephen Colbert has become a big thorn in Bill O'Reilly's side.  But, Papa Bear continues to score in the ratings, commanding a multi-year contract with Fox News that would make most professional athletes jealous.

Obama has tried to make himself more visible by going on The Daily Show and allowing O'Reilly to interview him each year on Super Bowl Sunday, but the president still remains in the shadow of this year's Congressional elections, with few Democratic candidates willing to embrace him, particularly in Red States like Kentucky.

Maybe Americans will come to embrace Obama after he leaves office, the way they have done Carter and Clinton.  But, the President still has two more years in the White House, regardless of how these elections shake out.  It probably won't make him any more visible, as media attention will predictably turn to the 2016 elections.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Welcome Back, Clintons

Grimes showing the door to Obama
The most worrisome thing in these midterm elections is the way Democratic candidates have run away from traditionally Democratic issues.  I'm most disconcerted with Alison Lundergan Grimes, who seems to be running more as a Tea Party candidate in Kentucky, looking to unseat a Republican who grew too fat on Congressional largesse, as she seems to campaign to the right of Mitch on most issues.

Grimes is apparently against climate change policies, as she has championed the coal industry every step of the way in this election, even though coal is no longer the biggest industry in Kentucky, and employs less than one percent of the work force in the state.  That's right -- less than one percent!  Yet, to hear Alison tell it, the fate of Kentucky, and the nation for that matter, hinges on coal.

This isn't the only issue Grimes appears out of step on.  She touts her NRA membership and has spoken out against Obama on any form of gun control, although recently she has backtracked a bit on the "gun show loophole," which allows persons to buy their weapons at gun shows without background checks.  To show her conviction, Alison has been showing off her gun prowess any chance she gets, as in this political ad.  I'm surprised she didn't use White House plates as skeets to score additional points with Kentucky voters, who resoundingly rejected Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Alison is not alone.  It seems most Democratic candidates are keeping Obama at arm's length, as well as contentious issues like health care, even though the new Affordable Care Act has proven a resounding success.  Michelle Nunn is looking past the current president entirely, saying in a recent Georgia Senate debate that the state needs "someone who is going to work with and respect whoever is the president," looking beyond the 2016 election.

The GOP strategy during the midterms has been to link Democratic Congressional candidates to Obama.  Apparently, the President didn't do Democratic candidates any favors when he recently said his policies were on the ballot.  What he was principally referring to were his economic policies, which have resulted in unparalleled economic growth and an unemployment rate which is now below 6 per cent nationally.  

You would think this would embolden Democratic candidates.  Instead, Mark Udall chastises the President on Inside Politics for his slow reaction to ISIS to curry favor with disgruntled Colorado voters, when everyone knows it is "the economy, stupid."

Throughout the midterms, we have seen the ebullient face of Bill Clinton campaigning for Democrats across the country.  He seems to have sparked up a warm relationship with Alison Lundergan Grimes, which I would think would give Hillary pause.  It seems the Clintons are once again en vogue, and there is great anticipation in the media that we could see a return of the Arkansas couple to the White House in 2016, with Hillary now Commander-in-Chief.

I had hoped with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 that we had put not only George Bush but also the Clintons behind us.  Unfortunately, memory seems fleeting, as the Clintons are more popular than ever before.  If you recall, these are the same Clintons who failed to get a health care bill through Congress, and the same Bill Clinton who settled for a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy when it came to gays in the military, ducking landmark legislation which was passed during the Obama administration, no thanks to the Clintons.

It would really be something if we see Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush running for President in 2016, offering us two past, largely failed legacies for the future.  Yet, here we have Democratic Congressional candidates across the country embracing the Clintons.  Even George Bush has undergone a rehabilitation of sorts, which cracks open the door for another Bush in the White House.

As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.