Archives for category: U.S. Politics

The political expediency of stoking the paranoia of the far-right as well as generating powerful lobbies to satisfy their aims is well demonstrated, but one does grow suspicious when the justification for two of their core tenets is so antipodal.

I am referring to the voter-ID laws and the expansion of gun rights; two issues which have recently gained much political ground despite there being no apparent need for reform. Since the Obama presidency, it can be seen from the data below that many demographics have advocated for greater gun rights, particularly white men. And although it is unclear from the data whether the same people are building arsenals or if there are more gun owners or both,as the percentage of households with guns have gone down since the early ’70s, one thing is clear: the arguments in favor of less gun control have had quite some impact in just under three years.

Study from the Pew Research Center

Despite a crime rate that has fallen consistently since the early ’90s gun sales have risen steadily since 9/11 and made a considerable jump in late ’08 to early ’09. Perhaps many were bracing for the recession, many relied on the conventional wisdom that violent crimes rise in hard times, but crime has fallen just as steadily as it had been. After all, sales had fallen about half as much as they rose the year after the peak in the graph below, so perhaps many had misprognosticated the bedlam. The political insecurity concerning gun rights has been unusually high and many have defended them at times when the arguments would seem untenable. We all remember, that what had so stuck in Michael Moore’s craw in his documentary, Bowling for Columbine is that the NRA would blithely rally at a town that had recently experienced a tragedy related to gun violence and would ironically bring with them the message that gun-rights and gun tragedies are a non-sequitur. Despite Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the Arizona shootings, despite the Trayvon murder, and probably despite the Aurora shooting, these numbers will remain largely unchanged and that even modest measures of gun control will be spurned. Republicans, having changed the tone against gun control, are using these tragedies not to discourage gun ownership or tighten the screening process, but citing them as evidence of the need for greater guns–priming a fearful, rather than regulatory response.

The argument in defense of gun rights, especially after a tragedy is: you can’t use one incident of gun violence to frame the argument against gun rights. Which is true, but in plotting (x) protecting innocent lives against (y) more guns, they will find the trend is as useful to them as the “aberrant” incident of violence. As John Velloco incorrectly asserted “Guns save more lives annually than they take. They’re used more often by law-abiding citizens to stop crimes than by criminals to successfully commit crimes.” That is not to say that more criminals own guns than law-abiding citizens, but the data shows us that guns are more effective as a means to crime and violence than protection. As the number of gun shootings amass, it is clear the change in attitude among most Americans and the enduring conviction of the gun lobby: that more guns in more hands more of the time maximizes both freedom and safety, are more than ever running counter to the facts.

The other perversion of the cost-risk analysis in recent policy changes is the voter-ID laws. The striking incongruence is that recent gun laws are expansive, while voter-ID laws restrictive. Voter-ID laws attempt to weed out the very negligible portion of the votership that engages in fraud–which in and of itself is a good thing–but because it is expected to discourage hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters, it is clear that the policy is a subterfuge to make it needlessly expensive and difficult for traditionally Democratic voters from turning out. Therefore, in branding themselves as the champions of the legitimate vote, Republicans in favor of the law can mask their desire to see less voting taking place with pride in the democratic process and vigilance against corrupting influence, no matter how inconsequential.

Study from the New York Times

The need for reform, on both accounts, is not a social need but a partisan one. Republicans are losing the young and minority votes by large margins, and they are hoping that the inconvenience of the DMV will be enough to deter them, and I do think they will have some success. On the other hand, gun rights–even for non-gun owners–will contribute to the rally-cry for freedom that the right are laying claim to. These are manufactured crises which can hide behind the flimsy but intelligible arguments that “guns don’t kill people, people do” and that fighting voter fraud is worth it, no matter the cost. But the costs are high in either case and it is no offense to American freedom to say that it should be harder to get a gun than vote.


transcript here:

Romney’s speech at the NAACP convention Wednesday prompted heavy media coverage, and everyone (including me), has a take on it and it’s implications for Romney’s character.  Seeing as how Romney has given us so little to draw from, we sap such events for any insights into Mitt Romney we can.

The circumstance itself is somewhat unexpected, as Romney’s chances of drumming up any support among that demographic is little to none.  95% of African-Americans voted for President Obama in the 2008 election, and Obama still has great support from them.  African-Americans make up the most homogenous and consistently Democratic voting block.  President Bush turned down the offer to speak in front of the NAACP until five years into his presidency, and I would argue Romney’s ability to relate with African-Americans is little better.

Romney went in knowing the reception would be poor, relating that he had “expected to be booed,” but still insisted on the gesture.  Not surprisingly, his message remained essentially the same: his prescription for the economy is an unencumbered marketplace through smaller government.  Smaller government would mean for Romney, “eliminat[ing] every nonessential, expensive program I can find–include[ing] Obamacare.”

Jason Riley asks, “why use this sort of venue to reach out to black voters?”  Well, there are several reasons.  The first is political credibility; proposing a consistent argument, despite the crowd earns you some level of respect from both parties.  Economics is about the only thing which Mitt seems to express any real convictions, so he appears credible–even if not altogether trustworthy–to this particular crowd.

Scot Esaile, state president of the Connecticut NAACP expresses his mistrust, “We’re not falling for the health care bill is the reason why people don’t have jobs,” he said. “Prior to the health care bill being passed, there were no jobs, and a lot of those jobs were lost under the Republican administration.”

Nonetheless, the courtesy of showing up in campaign season was one greater than Bush extended.

This certainly gives those backing Romney an opportunity to buck up a little; Romney didn’t fudge up an uncomfortable situation and was rather adroit in keeping on message, apparently deviating from script several times.  Most importantly to his base, however is that he did not pander, and the few attempts at flattery  are gauche and come off as patronizing.

He did not pull a ‘Rick Perry’ but the speech was undoubtedly received quite poorly, ranging from unconvinced to insulted.

Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said Romney didn’t change any minds but “he opened minds to ask harder questions.”

Geraldine Alexis, said “I thought he would try to appease us. He didn’t. He insulted us, with some of the things he said.”

Similarly, Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman said, “He’s saying, ’Look here, I met with the Negroes. I talked to them. I argued my positions. I don’t think they took them, but at least I showed up.’ ”

Still, he received light applause throughout, and a standing ovation from some at the end.  Although, as Andrea Stone points out “the ovation that may have had more to do with the father than the son.”

The range of reaction, I think can be attributed to the varied nature of the speech itself.  He spoke with an odd mixture of humility and brashness.  He opened his speech with a guileless “[Republicans] sure don’t make a habit of assuming anybody’s support.  Support is asked for, and earned” and moved to “If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him.  Take a good look.”  Perhaps this is just some unexpected gusto from a typically tepid politician, but if not, I daresay he was broaching on arrogance with such a remark.

The perceived insensitivity the audience felt is certainly not unfounded, but something that I think has more to do with Romney himself and the argument he’s putting forward than the speech itself.  Romney was as diplomatic as we’ve seen him in the past and he lined his speech with an obligatory references to Frederick Douglass and reminded them, as Bush did in ’06, that the Republican party was first (or once) an advocate of civil rights in the 60’s–a point which amazes me they think is to their advantage.

A man whose net worth is 200 million dollars telling any audience that the problem is that–we, the super-rich–are having to pay too much in taxes is a bit incongruent, unless he’s talking to room of wealthy shareholders.  Blacks have the highest unemployment rate at the moment, and the opportunity for affordable healthcare likely strikes them (as it does most industrialized nations) as a civil right.  Romney went on at length  about how blacks face particularly high unemployment and poverty rates and that dropouts and lack of school reform is due to Obama’s failed policies, and that his policies will turn all that around.

Romney and the Republican Party are borrowing a thesis from Thomas Frank, claiming that Democrats and African-Americans particularly, are not voting in their economic interests.  He wants to do what, as he says, he did in Massachusetts, and win over staunch Democrats.  There is some level of condescension in such a proposition, but his hope is that some may respond to his show of strength, his persuasion, or his appeals to help him to help them.

The other hope is that this will help to galvanize his base.  Romney certainly had no illusions of sweeping any great number of people at the convention off their feet, but used this as an opportunity to reignite the resentment present in the conservative wing.  For those in that camp, this economy is dragging due, in large part, to bloated safety-net programs. Those who are overworked and underpaid–are propping up the growing class of layabouts and malingerers.  This is not without some truth, but it is a bit unusual that those in the ‘upper-lower-middle-class’ or any variation thereof are looking cross at those that are impoverished, whether deservingly or not, rather than the people with all the money.

Susan Brooks has jumped all over comments Romney made at a recent Montana fundraiser: that blacks were voting for Obama to get “free stuff.”  Brooks writes that this “is roughly equivalent, in its racial undertones, to Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” messaging from his 1976 presidential campaign.  Rachel Maddow points out the persistent role that argument has played in this race, relating it to students for federal school loans, and women for contraception.

John Dickerson wrote that this event has distracted from the real political argument of job outsourcing, so the post after next will be on the argument we missed out on.

Associated Press Archive

Political dissatisfaction is at an all time high and people do not feel their positions have been well articulated by either President Obama or candidate Mitt Romney.  This week, three nearly identical articles one in the Washington Post, one in the Washington Times, and another in the Opinion pages of the NYT are sternly reminding their candidates that time is of the essence, and if they have any bright ideas now is the time to unveil them.  Our go-to news sources have expounded on our respective economic philosophies by The Pauls (that is, Ryan and Krugman) and we are ready to see them translated into action.

Nobody is hoping for a nail-biter and wants their candidate to take the lead position and keep it.  Given the extra long election cycles we have come to endure, we are all getting antsy and waiting for the next stage of the political narrative.  Both candidates seem to be riding on their numbers and are, as the Washington Times headline suggests, ‘playing it safe’ while they seek new donors on an established message.  It is clear from these articles, that we are weary of being campaigned to and want to skip right to the debates.

Unfortunately the deciding issue–the economy–is one which both candidates have somewhat dubious records.

Obama has to contend with yet another dismal month for jobs, which although it is improving, shows no signs of leaping forward.  Obama’s case is that he is keeping the boat afloat; having saved America’s auto industry and waiting for these ‘job creators’ (who’ve enjoyed record profits since the 80’s) to make their move.  But as Jonathan Rauch points out, Obama needs to respond to this protracted-emergency with newfound leadership, at least just to remind liberals that he’s fighting the good fight.  Rauch recommends picking back up the plan for deficit reduction while insisting on infrastructure investment, as well as some plans for more immediate economic stimulation.

Without Simpson-Bowles or something like it, Obama will doubtfully get any fiscal conservatives still on the fence.  With the expansion of Medicaid underway and the recently signed Highway Bill (part of which keeps federal student loans from doubling), Obama must also emphasize his commitment to long-term solvency with his short-term plans for growth.

The other half of Obama’s struggle in creating jobs has been a failure of conciliation in between the president and Congress and the Senate.  Obama’s 1/2 trillion-dollar American Jobs Act fell flat in the Senate, getting 50 of the necessary 60 votes, and three months later, they were able to pass the bipartisan, but largely ineffectual Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which removed some of the more arcane investment regulations (lowering the time in which a company can register public offerings, increasing the threshold of shareholders before it can register as common stock with the SEC, etc.)

Congressional inaction and the lack of conciliation has forced Obama to pass little more than relief measures.  Extensions of unemployment, tax breaks (i.e. the extension of the Bush tax cuts) designed as stimulus packages, business incentives and energy tax breaks.  Although this was called “the most significant tax bill in nearly a decade,” due to the many budgetary tradeoffs it was expected to produce what it has produced, anemic growth.

The ability to fix the economy is touted as Romney’s greatest asset (if not his only one), and while he’s not enchanting the pants off most Republicans–having successfully implemented Obamacare at the state level, and contradicted himself on just about every issue which falls under the purview of Commander in Chief–he remains conservatives’ only viable vehicle for putting steep austerity measures and tax breaks in place.

Similarly, Romney’s own supporters are calling his plans for growth, “muddled at best.”  Even his 59 point plan leaves much to the imagination and hasn’t stood up well against the scrutiny of economists.

Obama has spared no air-time in characterizing Romney’s record as one of a ‘vulture capitalist’ who has created more foreign jobs than American ones.  It is hard to argue this point, and while Romney’s record of salvaging failing companies and maximizing top-end profits is impressive, in extrapolating it to a complex and diverse economy–it is difficult to see how Romney will change much for the middle class.

His argument is that lowering taxes will do two things, stimulate growth and pay down the deficit.  While those two things are potentially true, they are only true if you seriously plan on shrinking the government.

I believe Romney was the last Republican candidate standing because of his perceived pragmatism and business record.  He has backed off some of the more serious statements made by other candidates in the field and made the largest block of Republican voters–well-off suburban and exurbanites–feel reasonable about latching onto a Tea Party argument.  He said that Rick Perry calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme was taking it too far.  He also said “taking a trillion dollars out of a $15 trillion economy would cause our economy to shrink [and] would put a lot of people out of work.” to Ron Paul’s austerity proposals.  So his goals are a little more practicable, he seems a little more reasonable, more like a businessman than a revolutionary.  So, what is he going to cut?

Well, so far Romney has told us he’s striking down Obamacare for the tax imposition, but has promised voters that many of its popular elements are worth keeping (preventing insurance companies from denying people with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on their parents plan until 26, letting the fed help the states so more people have access, let people keep their own insurance).  Without keeping healthcare heavily privatized, I’m puzzled as to what fat Romney is going to trim, as what he’s suggesting would cost more than Medicare and Medicaid plans do now.  According to a CBS poll, 61% of Americans, and 41% of Tea Party members think Medicare is worth the money it costs, despite it being the biggest chunk of federal spending.

Mitt said in the GOP debate at Dartmouth that “we need to change the way we’re funding [Social Security]” and that if we: raise the age slightly, offer it sooner to those lower income, and adjust for inflation PRESTO, an almost 1 trillion dollar program paid for from sources other than taxes.  Forgive me if I’m not gushing over such fiscal wizardry.

The third chunk is defense, and although Obama hasn’t pledged to drastically reduce troops until 2014, Romney is calling for more troops and thus more spending.

So, we must be missing something right?  We know Mitt signed the Norquist pledge for the ’08 election, so he can’t raise taxes on the middle class, and we know he’s not going to raise corporate taxes, because that’s his jobs plan.  If he’s cutting taxes on all classes in the U.S., and planning only to perform some slight adjustments to the three areas which essentially account for our budget woes, it truly begs the question: how are all these programs going to be paid for?

It is my hope we get that answer, and many other answers from our party candidates.  We are all waiting to be galvanized with a cogent plan for economic growth and budgetary control.  As it is, we’ve seen neither from either in this campaign.  Your move fellas.