A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The New Atmosphere

So, over two weeks have passed since the election and where do we stand? The Republican victory was decisive, but not overwhelming and, I think, its most important result was to radicalize the Republican majority in Congress even further than it has been in the past.

What comes of this we will see, but for the last two years of Republican majority there has been an underwhelming amount of skill in passing laws, and in parliamentary maneuvering, on the Republican side of the aisle, due in large part, I think to an insistence of ideological purity over compromise.

This insistence is likely to continue, if the Arlen Specter situation is any indication, and without compromise, Republican legislation will need every member of that majority plus the President to work in lockstep, and to work considerably harder and smarter than they have so far, to force their agenda on the half of the country that is adamantly opposed to it.

The President has chosen to tighten his control on the Executive by replacing the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the head of the CIA with people more noteworthy for personal closeness to the Commander in Chief and commitment to the White House message than for any other qualifications. The intra-departmental purging that this implies has already started and will likely continue.

So the President will be able to do even more of what he pleases (if that is possible) in the country and the world, with less dissent from inside his own government. This will surely make his work more comfortable, though I can see little else it will accomplish. Fundamentally, the President has already gotten out of the government what he has put into it, and if he is to get any more out of it, he and his people will have to put more work into it.

His biggest opportunity has come with the death of Yasser Arafat. Will he take it? Unknown. He committed himself to a Palestinian state, but the problem is larger than a mere Sharon-style "disengagement", and it has both an Israeli third, and a Palestinian diaspora third which the President seems disposed to ignore.

So how about his "democracy building" abroad? The situation in Falluhja made the strategic problem clear. The insurgents are in far more places than the Americans can be at once and their immediate goal is to sufficiently disrupt the coming elections that the legitimacy of the result is destroyed. Our democratic Iraqi allies will have to perform far better than they have so far to prevent such disruption.

And the other problems? I see little more that the President will do that he is not already doing. His reach around the world ended with the fall of Saddam Hussein and the failure to pacify Iraq quickly. He is now no longer in a position to act, but rather, must react. In such circumstances, much depends upon what the other players on the world scene do. We will have to hope that Colin Powell left a good private legacy around the world and that Condi Rice has enough discretion to expand upon it. The fact that the world has to get used to Four More Years at least gives her some room to maneuver.

Terrorism? The problem parallels Iraq. The invasion of Afghanistan without the capture of Osama Bin Laden has resulted in a diaspora of individuals with the knowledge and skills to act independently of central coordination. This has resulted in a net increase in terrorism world-wide, though fewer major incidents of it against America directly. Will the CIA be able to send rat-terriers into all the holes? Unknown. The new agency head apparently wants to try with the reorganization and reorientation of the clandestine service. He might succeed. If he doesn't, the relative peace we Americans have had from terrorism will probably end sooner or later. Beyond this, I see no new ideas coming out of Washington to deal with it. The Rumsfeld fantasy of mobile military strike forces handling the problem will remain, I think, a fantasy.

And the domestic agenda? Probably some form of revision of the tax code which will be quite regressive in its impact on the lower and middle private incomes in this country. This is something the President cares about enough to really make an effort at, and the Republican votes are in place, so this will come, I think. How permanent it will be depends ultimately on it's impact on Government revenue. The ballooning deficit, rising quantity of personal debt, and the free-falling dollar can't go on indefinitely. This means that the Government has to find more revenue to buy all the toys the Party In Power wants and all the pork the Red States need to be given in order to stay Red. Social Security reform? Possibly. But only with more consensus than ideologically driven wing of the GOP can muster on its own. And the President, once again, will have to really work at it.

A spirited constitutional Defense of Marriage? Or a Governator Amendment for 2008? Unlikely, unless the Republicans want to sacrifice much other public business to it. Constitutional Amendments are far harder and take more time and effort than any other legislative chore, with good reason given the frivolousness of the ones usually proposed.

The Supreme Court? Probably more conservative, but not without a fight, the major fight certainly of the next four years.

And the good news. The President and his old attorney general have generally lost on the civil liberties issues in the courts. I think this will continue and I think that what was by far the most dangerous program to unbalance the checks and balances will be halted.

If that much is accomplished, under the circumstances, I certainly will give two cheers. Two cheers, not three.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Blue State Values

In the interval since the Democratic defeat I have kept a close eye on those favorite blogs of mine which were George W. Bush's stauchest partisans, particularly those who style themselves truly "liberal" or "moderate" and, supposedly, rejected the Democratic Party, and its candidate, with reluctance.

What I note in reading them is that while there may have been a Democratic defeat, there certainly has not been a Republican victory. True victors should care much less about the opinions of the vanquished than these do. I make no bones about it, I think these "victors" rank fools. They have given electoral endorsement to objective and massive failures of public policy.

But I will remark in addition that they seem awfully thin-skinned about what I think. Could it be a hint of Buyer's Remorse? Maybe they should ask Arlen Specter for his opinion.

I think that most of we "vanquished" are in agreement on this, that the "moderates" who flocked to George W. Bush from the Pied Piper call of "Who's YOUR DADDY that keeps you safe from terrorism, abortion, and homosexuality?" are utter fools.

And, save for, perhaps, a few professional, or ex-profesional politicians who never think of anything but winning elections, most of us are willing to be quite blunt about what we think of the 51% who re-elected this President.

By 2006, of course, all our venting will be done and it will be time to close ranks with the professionals and start working on the Buyer's Remorse. But, for now, our venting is very healthy. I think we should be getting under the very thin skins of the "victors", preparing them for the message that the government which they re-elected is STILL massively incompetent, even when matters concern their own cherished principles.

They cannot fight wars intelligently, they have not stopped the spread of weapons of mass destruction effectively, they cannot find terrorists and put them in jail, they cannot legislate effectively even about their own pet issues, and their "leader" cannot pay attention to any single thing (except tax cuts) longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch.

By continuing to tell the foolish 51% of the country so for a while, and trying to tell them so intelligently, we are beginning, finally, to come to terms with our Blue State Values.

For we do really have them, and we should cleave to them, for they are REAL values and not mere moods. These values constitute a philosophy of government which is widely PROACTIVE in securing "the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity" rather than merely being reactive to the most gross and obvious of external threats.

The justifying concepts for such proactive, progressive, results oriented, government live in the Preamble of our Constitution: ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare.

We Blue Stater's also have two rock-solid standards for securing the proper and just relation of government to the individual: "due process of law" and "the equal protection of the law".

From all of these, as a Liberal, I infer that there really does exist a broad "public interest", a commonweal that often requires setting legal limits to the private interests of specific individuals, parties, or factions. I also infer that these primary concepts justify limits to the license of any actions of private interest which interfere with the maintenance of a "level playing field" where the private interests of ALL of us compete in relative liberty. And I finally infer that proactive government is necessary to establish such a level playing field where it does not exist.

Those are my Blue State Values and this is the Blue State credo:

Proactive legal regulation, in the public interest, with end of fundamental fairness and justice, but restrained by the standards of due process of law and the equal protection of the law.

As a Liberal I believe that government has an obligation to be PROACTIVE to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

I further believe that the way to govern justly, fairly, and effectively is to consider ALL the relevant facts relating to “promoting the general welfare” and not just the ones to which I am emotionally attached due to my beliefs about religion.

I also believe that we need to do so without “establishing” the Nicene Creed and its followers as the official religion of this country, either in law (which the First Amendment explicitly prohibits), or in fact by an officially promoted blurring of the distinction between the Christian Church and the United States Government or between "Christian moral values" and civil and criminal law.

I, finally, believe that no one should be “deprived of life, liberty, without due process of law” nor should anyone be denied “the equal protection of the law", that arrest and seizure shall ONLY take place “upon probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed, that the right of “haebus corpus” shall not be abridged, and the government shall not be permitted to hold anyone indefinitely without fair trial for genuine crimes.

I believe in all this. And you can distill what I believe into the following formula:

Liberty, Justice, Tolerance, Freedom of Thought, and Respect for Fact.

The tragedy of this last election centers around the last “Blue State Value” I just defined:

Respect for Fact.

I once watched Bill O’Riley tell an opponent on his program--who was presenting the facts to support his views--to shut up because what he was presenting were “liberal facts".

That is the best summary of the Conservative position on the real world that I have ever heard: no facts are relevant or material unless they curry my religous views, support my ideological stance, scratch my back, or make money for me and my friends.

Conservatives certainly have many strongly held beliefs, and they will usually deny categorically as “liberal facts” any real world consideration which contradicts them.

That’s why we folks on the other side, who have Blue State Values, call ourselves the “reality based community". The facts are what we wish our beliefs to address, whether they support those beliefs or not. And, we just might “flip-flop", now and then, to accomodate what the real world is actually doing.

The current Republican “mandate” will not be destroyed by what we Liberals do or don’t do. It will not be destroyed by what we Liberals say or don’t say. It will be destroyed by confrontation with the facts that just won't go away.

Like global warming, like growing poverty, like ballooning health insurance costs, like the inevitable downturn of the business cycle (look for it in 2006-7), and, yes, like Iranian nuclear weapons and Osama Bin Laden, both of which we had a chance to make go away and flubbed because of our government’s chronic Conservative disrespect for facts.

From a Liberal vantage point, the key thing for Democrats to do is to be patient. The massive budget deficits are not going to go away and everything (except judges) on the Republican menu is going to bring more revenue loss, or more expenditures, to the Government, and, therefore, more borrowing. Except for the judges, none of it should be fillabustered but all of it should be fought procedurally, and voted against, for the record.

The official "recovery" began in 2001. It will have to last as long as the Clinton recovery (eight years, the longest in American history) to cushion a candidate in 2008. There will be no slack in the money markets, and no relative quietude in fuel prices, which extended the Clinton recovery for so long.

The pressure on the dollar from the borrowing, both governmental and private, is likely to become intolerable and the Republicans will be forced to devalue, sending prices spiralling, and forcing the Fed to tighten rates against the inflation despite the downturn.

The crash, when it comes (not if, when) will be brutal. We will see then how many good Red State folks like eating their "moral values" for breakfast or watching the "privatized" portion of their Social Security vanish into thin air.

Moreover, the military mess is NOT going to go away. The Neocon international agenda will force the reliance on conscription to "democratize" the Middle East. This is a mere matter of arithmatic. Eighty percent of our active combat forces are already committed to this task as it stands. To do any more of it, we need more troops. No smoke and mirrors and predator drones of the Rumsfeld Pentagon will make the multiplication table vanish.

Nor will casualties diminish wherever the "WOT" is being fought. Five hundred killed and 4000 maimed a year is the probable baseline. It has already begun to make the Red States run red with blood (they do tend to produce more military volunteers--its part, and an admirable part by the way, of Red State Values). By 2008 it will be 3000 dead and 24,000 maimed.

Health care will not get fixed. Nobody on the Republican side is interested enough in it--when it reaches 30% of an average person's income and 100 million of us have no insurance, you'll see some notice taken of it in the Red States. Nor will illegal immigration be solved--the Spanish speaking immigrant underclass working for criminally low wages will be officially sanctioned and registered as "guest workers" with no corresponding attention to the well-being of the English speaking middle classes.

Everything George W. Bush has done and everything he wants to do will place ever increasing strain on the fundamental sources of wealth and well being in this country. Sooner or later they will crack. This will not be pleasant, nor is it to be applauded. But if 51% insist that the sugar bowl be filled with arsenic in the subline belief that any white crystals will sweeten tea, all that 48% of us can do is say, "No sugar, thank you." and "Cheers!"

When the facts finally accumulate to the point that they MUST be acknowledged, only those that respect them will be left standing.

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Final Summary

John Kerry has conceded. I also must concede. In America we keep our freedom by the politics of persuasion rather than force. George W. Bush persuaded a clear and unequivocal majority of Americans to support him, and, for once, enough of us voted to make that completely plain--which is by far the best news of this election. I personally was very proud to be a part of this resurgence of political participation.

Now that I no longer am constrained to electioneer over the Internet, however, and no longer need to give a damn whom I persuade, I can finally be wholly frank.

The people who wish everybody to "make nice" and "pull together" in this country are febrile fools. It has been thirty years of "pulling together" and "making nice" that gave us 40% voter turnout or less.

I, personally, love more voters at the polls and hate the smarmy cant of American "unity" worse than cold boiled meat for breakfast.

In my considered opinion, the last four years of American government have been a total disaster. It was my opinion on November 1 and it remains my opinion on November 4.

In politics we must persuade, but age and maturity will teach anyone who is NOT a febrile fool that clever, sentimental, and sanctimonious lies are often more persuasive than hard truths.

That is what happened the day before yesterday.

I sharply slowed down my posting on this blog over the past two weeks because it seemed that all the issues which could be reasonably discussed had been discussed to death. I still think this is the case and that we must wait for George W. Bush and the Republican Party to try to do something new that is worth writing about. So this post is something in the nature of a final summary.

For now, I have to adjust my personal life to an America--and a world--of continued irrelevant, pointless, and militarily useless violent death; diminished personal opportunities; and nuclear armed Islamic fundamentalists. An America, and a world, largely, though not solely, the creation of George W. Bush.

So I'll be busy for the next four years.

I will repeat what I said before: enough of us voted to make the state of our country completely plain--which is by far the best news of this election. Enough people voted to finally know where we stand.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter to a majority of Americans how many soldiers die, or for what reasons, as long as we are shooting at somebody, any somebody, whether its the right somebody or not, and whether it accomplishes anything or not. And we needed to know that the mere stuffy fact that the man who planned the attack on us is free to make videotapes taunting us doesn't really matter as long as we are shooting at someone else.

We needed to know that it doesn't really matter how we treat anybody who is not "one of us" or any other country anywhere. And that all norms of treaty, law, mutual agreement, or even common courtesy toward those not "one of us" are revocable by us with no notice.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter how much money the government borrows and spends. Or what countries we owe that money to.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter how many jobs we outsource from this country, how many jobs we destroy within it, or what the ultimate consequences are for the health, happiness, and future of our people.

And we needed to know that the CEO's driving the outsourcing are worth the millions they are being paid to turn such reliably immediate cost-cutting profits to sell their stock options, quarterly, for millions more.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter how many hard-working people we let across the border to do our minimum wage grunt work without putting up a fuss in English--even when no single individual can eat, drive, and keep a roof over his head on full time at minimum wage alone.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter if medical costs rise five times faster than anybody's salaries (except the CEO's, of course) and that it doesn't matter how many of us lose medical coverage or watch our own coverage erode yearly as companies file off benefits from their plans.

We needed to know that it doesn't matter when gasoline and fuel prices skyrocket and airlines crunch in as a result. Not to mention the curbs on our own freedom to travel or the costs to live and heat our homes which this implies.

We needed to know that the only thing that really matters is that gays don't get married, that Roe v. Wade is finally overturned, and that, to quote the platform of the Texas Republican Party, "The United States is a Christian Nation".

We needed to know that the only things that really matter are God, guns, gay bashing, and shooting at some foreign nationals somewhere.

This is about what my friends in the opposite party call "values".

Not my "values", thank you.

We needed to know all this. And now we do. We finally got enough people on record that this IS how a majority of American voters view things.


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