Saturday, June 26, 2010

Obama Takes a Hit in the Gulf, The Insubordination of Stanley McChrystal, Weak Wall St Reform, Kagan Hearings Monday, Rock Star Haley

I have been somewhat derelict in my duties (such as they are) as a blogger the past couple of weeks. I've had a lot going on in my real life, having transitioned to a new job that has been consuming a large percentage of my time. To make up for my lack of coverage recently, this will be a long post to try to get caught up on the recent news. And there has been a lot.

Presidential Approval: Heading Into the Deep Sea
Gains that the President had made last month have been completely erased and he is at or near all-time lows in his Presidency. The past month has seen some interesting trending. The big one-day dip on June 14th likely has more to do with the timing of poll releases than with anything substantial (as his numbers recovered the next day), but the overall trend for the month is unmistakably down. Anger over the spill in the gulf, the White House's seeming slow response and the continued malaise in the U.S. economy is likely to blame.

After posting his first substantial monthly gain in his entire Presidency in May, President Obama is on pace to hit an all-time low in June, with an approve minus disapprove of +1.5%. One positive note for the President is that his numbers are still positive, a considerable feat given all the hits he has taken. Internals of the polls show that Democrats largely still approve of him (80% in the latest Gallup poll) and he is still holding on to about 4 in 10 Independents, while Republicans (85% in Gallup) almost universally disapprove. Obviously the Independents tend to be the ones that drive poll trends, given that the Democratic and Republican numbers seem fairly entrenched.

Good Riddance, General McChrystal
President Obama made the right call this week when he fired General Stanley McChrystal over a Rolling Stone interview where the General and his staffers mocked the Vice President, implied that the President didn't know what he was doing and mocked other civilian authority figures. The General's actions are an utter disgrace.

Let me be clear...I have no issue with criticism of the administration. Anybody who has read this space the past year and a half know that I'm not shy at criticizing President Obama and other Democrats when they are out of line, just as I took shots at President Bush and the Republicans when they were in power. I am a civilian. I am not in the government. In our great, free country, I'm free to say whatever I want about these politicians.

The military is different. Our constitution was designed with civilian leadership of the military for a very important reason: the preservation of Democracy demands that our elected, civilian officials control the machine of war, not un-elected military leaders. As such, we have created a clear divide...civilian leaders are elected to make the strategy calls, military leaders are there to execute the strategy. General McChrystal is entitled to his opinions. But he has two choices: keep his opinions to himself or leave the military and become a civilian commentator. He has no right to sit from a military office and take shots at his civilian bosses. And he did, unambiguously. He had to go.

President Obama clearly made a poor decision putting McChrystal in charge of the effort in Afghanistan. Lost in all the coverage was that McChrystal was the President's hand-picked leader. The President and Defense Secretary Gates should have done a far better job betting the General to ensure alignment, loyalty and judgement.

Kudos to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) for immediately and clearly speaking out against McChrystal and in support of the President's authority. Support from the minority for the established chain of command is important and the bi-partisan support for this constitutional principle was crucial in establishing the credibility of McChrystal's firing. Their statements were principled and correct. Nice to see that for a change.

Financial Reform That Does Something, But Not Enough
I feel like a broken record. Every time a reform bill passes recently, I have the same view: there are some good things in it, but it does not go far enough. This pattern repeats with the conference report on financial reform that was released this week and will head to the House and the Senate for final votes in the coming weeks.

It places limit on banks owning hedge funds (limiting ownership to 3% of assets), establishes processes for orderly management of crises such as the financial meltdown of 2008 and establishes a consumer protection agency.

What it doesn't do is force the break-up of institutions that are "too big to fail". This situation reinforces backward incentives around risk-taking. It also does not separate commercial from investment banking, meaning that your banks deposits can still be invested in risky assets. It does not solve the implicit government backing of almost all mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and, in fact, leaves in place those sinkholes more or less as is.

Feels to me like we will be back to the table discussing this issue again the next time that there is a financial crisis. And there will be another. Asset bubbles happen and most recessions deal with their popping....Savings and Loans in the 90s, Technology in 2000 and Housing in 2008...we seem to have an asset bubble every 10 years or so. And since the reforms of the 30s and 40s we haven't made much progress in stopping them.

Let's hope this is a first step and not the final solution.

Kagan Confirmation Hearings to Begin Monday
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for nominee Elena Kagan begin on Monday. Kagan has been recently vetted by the Senate, and, barring any unforeseen new revelations, I expect relatively smooth sailing for Kagan. The days of Supreme Court nominees receiving 90+ votes in the Senate are long gone, to be sure....judicial ideology seems to be the primary source of votes these days versus qualification (this trend was started by Democrats in the 1990s and has no permeated both parties), but Kagan should easily get 65 votes or so on her final vote in the Senate. And no Republicans thus far have talked of even mounting a filibuster, although if new revelations put her ability to get 60 votes in doubt, there would undoubtedly be one.

Nikki Haley in 2012? 2016?
She came out of nowhere. A few months ago she was fourth in the polls, now she is the probable next Governor of South Carolina. Nikki Haley this week easily won the run-off for the Republican nomination for Governor in South Carolina, clearing a path for what should be a relatively easy general election victory in the heavily Republican state.

Haley's victory marks several firsts. She would be the first female governor of South Carolina. She would be the first Indian governor in the state (she is half Indian). And she is a potential rock star in the GOP.

She is female. She is attractive. She is well spoken. And she is an ethnic minority in a party that is short on minority stars (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is the only other one that I can even name.)

She faced all kinds of opposition from the good old boy network in South Carolina. She faced ugly racism from within the party. She faced ugly accusations of infidelity (none proven, many clearly motivated by opposition to her candidacy and frankly, totally irrelevant to her qualifications as Governor.) She handled the heat with class.

There are already those talking about her as a potential national candidate in 2012 or 2016. While it is VERY early to make such predictions....she hasn't even won the election yet and we have no idea how effective she will be in governing, she quickly has joined a short list of potential new GOP stars that includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who has stated he is not interested in national office), Florida Senate Candidate Mark Rubio (who may well lose to now-Independent Charlie Crist) and ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Keep an eye on this gal....she may just be the real deal.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What President Does Obama Remind You Of?, The Curious Case of the South Carolina Primary

Carter? W.? Try H-W.
Presidents are always compared to their predecessors. Republicans have been searching for the next Ronald Reagan since Reagan left office in January of 1989. Democrats have been searching for the next John F. Kennedy since Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

President Obama has been compared to a lot of former Presidents. During the campaign, he was widely compared to Kennedy in admiring circles, given his penchant (how soon we forget) for making inspiring, sweeping speeches on the campaign, his relative youth in seeking an office that has often been a home to old men and his ability to inspire young people, as none had done since Kennedy.

Since taking office, President Obama has been subject to some far less flattering comparisons. Republicans have compared him to Jimmy Carter, for his perceived weakness on the foreign stage, his perceived lack of support for the state of Israel and his relative inexperience in foreign policy matters. On both the left and the right, various commentators have likened him to George W. Bush, his immediate predecessor, for his policies in the still-unresolved conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So which of these comparisons make the most sense?

In my opinion, the President's style and approach does closely resemble one President of my lifetime, but none of the ones that are frequently mentioned. He reminds me greatly of President George Herbert-Walker Bush.

Their resumes could hardly be more different. The first President Bush was a fight pilot in World War 2 and an experienced executive, having run the CIA and served 8 years as President. President Obama is one of the least experienced Presidents in modern history, having a mere 4 years in Washington, and that time in a legislative capacity in the Senate, not in an executive position. His origins as a community organizer were the antithesis of the blue blood background of the Bush family. He had no military experience. He was a product of the eclectic blend of Indonesia, Hawaii, Kansas and Chicago versus the ritzy Maine backdrop that H.W. grew up in.

But on substance, they are far more similar than you would think.

H.W. was the most accomplished President since at least Lyndon Johnson in terms of breakthrough policy. Don't believe me? Consider this: the Civil Rights Act of 1991, The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act and the current structure of the tax brackets all came to fruition under the first President Bush. A pragmatic moderate, Bush worked with the Democratically controlled congress to craft the legislation that created the original cap and trade system in this country (for sulfur emissions to eliminate acid rain, a massive success that is widely underreported), drafted our current affirmative action system and signed the legislation that provides the government with the teeth to force BP to pay the costs of the spill clean-up. His deal with the Democrats on a tax package to reduce the deficit, which many believe lead to his undoing in 1992 (I happen to disagree, but more on that later) in many ways set the stage of the balanced budgets in the 1990s. Carter, Reagan, Clinton, W., none can claim such a record of accomplishment.

Bush was also a pragmatist on foreign policy, surgically beating Iraq back from its invasion of Kuwait, but quickly exiting U.S. troops. He was also moderate in his appointments...although he appointed conservative hero Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, he also nominated the moderate-to-liberal David Souter.

What Bush lacked was something that he one referred to as "the vision thing". He was not an inspirer. He did not come off well one-on-one. He struggled to express emotion, be it empathy or anger. When the economy headed south in 1990 and 1991, he was unable to connect with ordinary people or show, in a phrase that Bill Clinton made famous, that he "felt their pain". He was the snobby intellectual that couldn't connect with the unemployed truck driver. He famously ended a speech with the words "message: I care", a painful statement in part because it clarified to everybody that nobody could have discerned from the rest of his speech that he did.

President Obama has a similar record of legislative accomplishment. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the single biggest shift in our economic policy since the Great Society, with huge investments in infrastructure and tax incentives over three years. Health care reform, while far more limited in scope than many (including myself) would have liked, is the biggest fundamental change in how we manage the health care sector since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. He has also signed the biggest expansion of the SCHIP (children's health insurance) program in history, legislation which massively increases legal remedies for women who were victims of employment discrimination and legislation which fundamentally changes how the credit card industry operates.

On the foreign policy front, Obama has also been more H-W. than W. He is executing a slow, pragmatic exit from Iraq, taking the middle road in that country as H.W. did. He has ramped up presence in Afghanistan, but again with the promise of a definitive timeline and exit strategy, far from the all-in policies of W.

On the Supreme Court, President Obama has appointed on undoubted liberal (Sonia Sotomayor) and one probable moderate (Elena Kagan). He has moved slowly on social change, as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remains in effect today, almost a year and a half into his Presidency. While theoretically supportive, he has made zero push for pro-union legislation such as the "Card Check" law.

And he has H-W's flaws as well. He has a big empathy gap. The pathetic assurance of Robert Gibbs that he had seen President Obama get angry was equally as sad as "message: I care" in that it was only necessary because we weren't sure he ever got angry, even when an oil rig was spewing thousands of gallons of oil every hour into our oceans. His statement that "I need to consult the experts so I know whose ass to kick" came off far more as geek playing tough guy than genuine angry man standing up for the people. He doesn't have that Clinton-thing in him.

So what does this mean electorally? Non-empathetic, accomplished intellectuals have a mixed record. LBJ was run out of office. Nixon won re-election in one of the biggest landslides in history. And, most recently, President Bush went down in flames, winning a sad 38% of the vote in his re-election bid. What I suspect will determine Obama's fate is the perceived state of the economy in 2012. When people are down and out, they need an empathizer, a fighter, a man that is not Obama. When people feel good about things, they want a smart guy to steer the ship, as they did in 1988 when they first elected H.W.

Unemployed Broke Charged-Felon Wins SC Democratic Primary
Every election cycle has its share of interesting stories. The strange rise of Ross Perot shocked the political establishment. Jesse Ventura's victory in Minnesota was an amazing story. The Florida recount captivated all of us and angered people of every political stripe at one point or another. The epic Obama v. Clinton Democratic fight in 2008 was a heck of a story. But this one might just take the cake.

The South Carolina Senate Democratic primary had received virtually no media coverage. First of all, incumbent Sen. Jim Demint (R) is believed by virtually everyone (myself included) to be at almost no risk of losing in November. South Carolina is probably the most conservative state in the south, it is not a favorable year to the Democrats and Demint is well-resourced. Secondly, there was no real race. Former State Assemblyman Vic Rawl was the appointed sacrificial lamb and had a modest but sufficient budget. He had signs up around the state, he knocked on some doors, he ran a few ads. And he had no real opponent. The only other Democrat who filed for the office was a guy named Alvin Greene, a man who was completely unknown in the state, ran no campaign, put up no signs, didn't even have a website.

Last Tuesday, by the official tally, Greene trounced Rawl with over 100,000 votes to Rawl's less than 70,000. And nobody knows how.

As I mentioned, Greene ran no campaign of any sort and was unknown. Since he won, it has been discovered that he is an accused felon that has taken the court-appointed lawyer for lack of funds. Nobody can even understand how he came up with the over $10,000 needed to file for his candidacy or how he got the requisite signatures to be on the ballot. He has had no press conferences, granted no interviews and has not even shown up for hearings about the issue.

And yet he won.

Theories about, from the mundane to the conspiratorial. Simple theories include the fact that Greene was at the top of the ballot and virtually no one was aware the race existed. Answer honestly, have you ever cast a ballot in a race in which you didn't know either candidate? I'm sure I've done that for the local water board or something. A second theory centers around the fact that Greene has a clearly African-American name in a Democratic Primary that was likely dominated by African-American voters (far more than half of Democrats in South Carolina are African-American.) Either of these theories seems to have some plausibility.

A third theory, that there was broad GOP cross-over (South Carolina has an open primary system) to support Greene does not appear plausible to me. First of all, the turnout numbers don't demonstrate a big GOP crossover with only 170,000 ballots cast and the GOP had lots of competitive down ballot races, with over 420,000 ballots case in the GOP contest (you can only get 1 of the 2 ballots in an open primary.) Secondly, how would you get the word out about a giant conspiracy like that given that nobody had heard about the race? Third, why would the GOP care enough to invest so many resources in the race, given that Demint is a likely shoo-in?

A fourth theory is the one that is most concerning...that voting machines failed either accidentally or intentionally to produce a result different from what the voters intended. Intentional fraud seems pretty far-fetched to me. As I said, the GOP had no reason to be concerned and risk such a dangerous and illegal activity. And Greene hardly seems like a character capable of pulling this off. If you are going to steal an election, you would at least put up a basic website for your campaign.

But accidental failure could happen. There is no evidence it did. But that is exactly the problem...South Carolina utilizes electronic voting machines that keep no paper record. So there is no way to verify if votes were properly recorded. Do I think the machines failed? It is less likely than the first two theories above. But it is not impossible.

This race should be a wake-up call for national voting reform, an issue that we were all suddenly made aware of after the Florida debacle in 2000. But little has been done around standards. An obvious national standard would be to get electronic machines in 100% of precincts to avoid the errors of a hand count, but for those machines to print a paper record of the vote, visible to the voter, prior to vote recording. This would give a paper trail against which electronic machines could be cross-checked in the event of any controversy, but would spare us the pain of detailed and imprecise hand counts. It is so simply and so expensive. We just spent almost $800B to stimulate the economy. Isn't our democracy worth the small fraction of that that it would cost to equip all precincts with the systems I described, which are broadly available.

How about some national leadership on this issue, President Obama?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Latest on 2010

So, Sharron Angle has prevailed, Blanche Lincoln has survived (the primary at least) and the field continues to get set for 2010. Surprisingly, there have been only modest movements in the polls the past couple of weeks, despite all of the primary activity. Only two ratings changes to report.

Florida -- the last 3 polls show as follows: Crist and Rubio even, Crist +3 and Crist +4. Based on this, and earlier polls showing Crist with a small lead, I'm moving this race from Toss-Up to Lean Independent Pick-Up. It may not make a difference in terms of the make-up of the Senate, as Crist appears likely to caucus with the GOP, but it is a fascinating race to watch. Likely Democrat Meeks is still polling around 12 to 15%, far out of the running and is actually starting to lose traction in primary polling.

Kentucky -- moves from Likely GOP Hold to Lean GOP Hold. Rand Paul's controversial statements have dented his poll numbers, although he still leads. Three new polls have him up by 3, 6 and 8 points respectively, far off the double digit leads that the GOP was showing prior to the national media attention Paul received for his statements about civil rights laws.

Other races with new polling:
Illinois -- one new poll has Republican Mark Kirk up by 3 points, confirming the earlier rating of Lean GOP Pick-Up.

Nevada -- erratic polling in this one with freshly nominated GOPer Sharron Angle showing at -6, +3 and +11 in three polls taken since the nomination. I'm leaving it a Lean GOP Pick-Up for now, but will obviously continue to watch for a trend.

California -- one new poll shows incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer leading businesswoman Carly Fiorina by 5 points, confirming the earlier rating of Lean DEM Hold.

Washington -- incumbent Patty Murry is up by a mere 2 points in a new Rasmussen poll. The race stays a Lean DEM Hold.

Connecticut -- controversy over deceptive statements made by AG Blumenthal have apparently only modestly dented his lead. He shows leads of 20 and 23 points in two new polls. It stays a Likely DEM Hold for now because of the controversy, although the numbers would technically justify moving the race back to "Safe" territory.

Colorado -- GOP candidates lead by 1 to 6 points in a variety of match-ups in a new Rasmussen poll. I'm leaving the race a Toss-Up for now, as the race are tight and other polls have shown DEMs leading recently, but this race obviously deserves a lot of attention.

Pennsylvania -- 2 new polls have DEM Sestak up by 2 and GOP Toomey up by 7. This race has polled erratically from the get go. I'm leaving it a Toss-Up for now.

Ohio -- a new Rasmussen poll shows the race a tie, with two prior polls showing DEM Fisher up by 1 and 3 points respectively. This race will stay a Lean DEM Pick-Up for now, but is close to toss-up territory.

North Carolina -- incumbent GOPer Burr leads by 7 and 14 points in two new polls. This stays a Likely GOP Hold for now, although it is getting closer to shifting back to "lean" territory.

Iowa -- incumbent Republican Grassley is up by 23 in a new Public Policy Polling poll. I don't generally consider partisan-affiliated polls (PPP is a Democratic polling house), but there is no other recent polling and it confirms our existing rating of Safe GOP Hold.

Alabama -- incumbent Republican Shelby is up by 27 in a new Rasmussen poll. The race remains a Safe GOP Hold.

This gives us:
Projected Democratic Holds (10)
Safe Holds (3)
Maryland, New York (Schumer), Vermont

Likely Holds (5)
Hawaii, Oregon, Wisconsin, Connecticut, New York (Gillebrand)

Lean Holds (2)
California, Washington

Potential GOP Pick-Ups (8)
Safe Pick-Up (1)
North Dakota

Likely Pick-Ups (3)
Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana

Lean Pick-Up (2)
Illinois, Nevada

Toss-Up (2)
Colorado, Pennsylvania

Projected GOP Holds (16)
Safe Holds (8)
Louisiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah

Likely Holds (6)
Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Alaska, Kansas, Hew Hampshire

Lean Holds (2)
Kentucky, Missouri

Potential DEM Pick-Ups (1)
Lean Pick-Up (1)

Potential Independent Pick-Up (1)
Lean Pick-Up (1)

Current Senate: 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independents
Projected Senate: 49 to 51 Democrats, 46 to 48 Republicans, 3 Independents
Central Projection: 50 Democrats, 47 Republicans, 3 Independents
Likely Caucus Organization: 52 Democrats, 48 Republicans

In the House, our average of averages for generic polling has the GOP at +2.3%, although we have a wide variability in the numbers. Along with our other panel of expert websites, here is where things net out:

Current House: Democrats 252, Republicans 183
My Projection: Democrats 215, Republicans 220
Realclearpolitics (splitting the toss-ups): Democrats 219, Republicans 216
The Cook Political Report (splitting the toss-ups): Democrats 235, Republicans 200

Clearly, there will be a closer, more divided House when the House returns in January, regardless of which party controls the House. Expect a lot more swings to come.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Tea Party Victory in NV Primary, The Geopolitics of BP, EPA Carbon Regulation

Another Tea Party Nomination
The tea party gained its second significant candidate for statewide office this past Tuesday, when tea party loyalist Sharron Angle absolutely obliterated far better known and presumed front runners Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden, garnering 40% of the vote in the three-way primary. Angle had been picking up steam the past two weeks after being virtually off the map for most of the campaign season.

This sets up a fascinating showdown, with a weakened and battered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid facing off in the general election against a little-known former state assemblywoman in what will surely be the most-watched race of the 2010 campaign.

With Rand Paul's earlier victory in Kentucky, this gives the Tea Party two of its own running for statewide office going into the general election. It also shows an interesting schism in the Republican Party, with some state parties, such as Illinois and Delaware opting for old-school moderates, some states, such as Indiana, going with establishment conservatives, some states, such as Florida, going with upstart conservatives not affiliated wit the Tea Party, and at least two states going with outright Tea Party members. Assembling all of these factions into a united, winning combination in November is no small task, even running against an unpopular incumbent and a Democratic Party that seems to be in a fair amount of disarray going into the mid-terms.

My personal view is that every Tea Party candidate that wins a Republican primary in a competitive race helps the Democrats retain control of the Senate. Kentucky shouldn't have been a competitive race, but certainly now will be with Rand Paul in the mix, although it is still probably more likely than not that he will win in November. Nevada is another case...the early polling is split to slightly favoring Angle, but my gut is that this race will probably settle down as a pure toss-up.

The sub-plots in November are getting more and more fascinating. What are the core principles of the GOP? What is the agenda of the Democratic Party? Is President Obama going to help or hurt the DEMs? Will the jobs picture look any better by November? Lots of questions to answer and a lot of campaigning to cover.

Remember, It Is BRITISH Petroleum
The chum has been almost as plentiful in the water and the oil gushing from the rig in the Gulf of Mexico for the past week, with every politician and talking head, including the President, taking shots at BP. Around their liability, around their response, their safety practices, their dividend. It has caused a huge plummet in the share price of BP, destroying almost $80 billion in value in the company, at least in the near term.

Yesterday, newly elected British Prime Minister David Cameroon appeared to jump to the defense of BP, communicating through aids his view of the importance of BP to the British economy and suggesting that the British government could, perhaps, be willing to shoulder some of the bill. Cameroon is slated to speak with President Obama this weekend and it would be safe to assume that talk of BP will consume the discussion.

BP appears slated to announce the suspension of its dividend next week, a move that may partially pacify the circling sharks, but which is very bad news for British pension funds, where BP dividend represent over 1/7th of all dividends earned in those funds.

Two thoughts from my perspective. First, I think a fair amount of the criticism against BP is quite unwarranted at this stage. It is not at all clear to me at this point how to apportion blame for the incident between BP, the construction company that built the well, the company that built the relief valve (our old friends Halliburton) and government regulators. The actual facts of the case seem to be secondary to finding someone to string up and that is a shame if we are going to learn from this incident and prevent another incident from happening in the future.

My second thought is that BP will survive and will not go bankrupt. A bankruptcy would be a disaster for the British economy, British retirees and investors and world relations. It won't happen. BP has a business that spits off tons of cash and billions will be available for clean-up. This will calm down in a few months, although the lawsuits will go on for years. But expect BP to live on, just as Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds survived the massive lawsuits of the 1990s. Full disclosure -- I purchased a stock position in BP this week.

EPA Carbon Regulation Lives On
An attempt by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to eliminate the capability of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions failed this week on a procedural vote with 53-47 voting against consideration of her proposal. All the 41 Senate Republicans voted for the proposal along with 6 moderate Democrats, including both Democrats from Arkansas (Pryor and Linclon), Nelson of Nebraska, Landrieu of Louisiana and Bayh of Indiana.

This vote essentially means that the EPA, under President Obama's guidance, will continue to have the authority to regulate carbon at its discretion. The President has said that he would prefer to have Congress act on a comprehensive bill including Cap and Trade but that the EPA would act under existing law, if needed.

Next up....latest updates on the 2010 ratings including Nevada.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

How About Some Common Sense Middle Ground?

It's a calm before a storm in politics, with Congress out of session this week and a momentary lull in campaign activity as people have been more concerned with the Memorial Day holiday than with the pending elections. Given that lull, I thought it might be a good time to look at some of the big political issues of the day and the potential for common ground, if both sides would just concede some things that are pretty obviously true. I'm going to do this by proposing a few deals.

On the Courts:
How about liberals concede that judges substituting their judgement for the voters is a very dangerous thing to do if Republicans concede that Bush vs. Gore was probably the most activist decision of all time?

On the Deficit:
How about liberals concede that we are going to need spending cuts and entitlement reform if conservatives concede that we will also need to raise taxes?

How about liberals concede that the stimulus and the jobs bills are adding greatly to the deficit if conservatives concede that defense spending is contributing even more?

On Health Care:
How about conservatives concede that the bill enacted won't ruin our free market health care system if liberals concede that it doesn't solve the fundamental issue of cost?

How about conservatives concede that Medicare is an example of a government-run health care system that largely works if liberals concede that having a private health care industry leads to more innovation?

On the Environment:
How about conservatives concede that environmental reform is a good idea if for no other reason than to get us off foreign oil if liberals concede that there are some legitimate scientists that question the science behind global warming?

How about conservatives concede that Cap and Trade systems are a market solution that worked wonderfully for sulfur emissions in the 1990s if liberals concede that building nuclear power plants, as France has done, is the only viable way to significantly reduce carbon in the near term?

On Financial Reform:
How about conservatives concede that the free market didn't work in managing systemic risk if liberals concede that irresponsible borrowers were as responsible for the financial crisis as irresponsible lenders?

How about liberals stop pretending that corporations are the "enemy" if conservatives concede that their interests are not necessarily in the nation's interest?

On the Filibuster:
How about conservatives concede that 60 votes in the Senate being a requirement on every bill is bad for democracy if liberals concede that they started a lot of the problem in the 2000s?

On Immigration:
How about liberals concede that there is a massive problem with illegal immigration that drives down the wages and employment of our most vulnerable if conservatives concede that it can't be solved without addressing employers and it can't be solved simply by rounding up those presently here illegally?

On Iraq:
How about conservatives concede our reasons for going in were wrong if liberals concede that pulling out in 2007 would have been worse than not going in?

On Race:
How about whites concede that there are still big gaps in employment equality (just look at CEOs of the Fortune 500) if blacks concede that a large portion of income disparity is due to poor educational attainment?

How about conservatives concede that there is a lot of racist fury in their party right now if liberals concede that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are just as racist as whites on the right?

Most of all....can't we talk about these issues rationally rather than having emotional partisanship in every discussion? President Barack Obama is not an evil Muslim terrorist or a communist, but Mitch Mcconnell isn't a nazi or a racist either. Can't we disagree on intellectual conclusions without thinking of the other side as bad people?

I know we are entering an election season, so I don't expect the tone to improve in Washington. But how about we, as voters, withhold our vote to those who personally demonize their opponents? How about if we demand that they work together for solutions that actually do things for the people? Anybody remember the Americans with Disability Act? The Clean Air Act of 1991? The Civil Rights Act of 1991? The deficit reduction bill of 1991? All bills passed through a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President. Where is the cooperation for the greater good?

President Obama should set the tone. How about some common ground on education reform, where he largely agrees with the GOP? How about giving some ground on Cap and Trade to get moderates like Lindsey Graham on board? How about some leadership?

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