Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Liberal Argues with Her Conservative Brother

by sunspark says

I have a very, very conservative brother.  (Actually--full disclosure--I have two.  And a father.  I don't know what is wrong with the men in my family.)  :-)  The brother in question owns his own business down in Florida, and my son, in his mid-twenties, has been having difficulties finding a job (like everyone).  I had never asked before, but I decided to impose upon my brother to see if he might be able to help, though I doubted if, in today's economy, he would.

In his response (negative, of course), he took the opportunity to make some pretty blunt statements about "the mess that your president has made of the country’s economics."  He went on to say,
I only wish that someone in the administration at sometime had enrolled in a college course of Economics 101…  Apparently,  they all studied “Greek Economics” instead…
He closed by inviting me to "vote conservative please" in the midterms.  I do not usually engage any of these men in political discussions because it is usually the verbal equivalent of repeatedly hitting my head into a granite wall, but this time I just couldn't help it.  Follow me below the fold to see my response.

Hi, Greg,

I seem to recall that the current economic disaster began and in fact grew to its monstrous size under your President, whose policies were so short-sighted and reckless that he managed to turn a several billion dollar surplus into a near total economic collapse in eight years.  The TARP was his program, a last minute bailout of his buds on the Street who had treated the money entrusted to them by the middle class as their own private casino funds, bet it all again and again in speculative endeavors that even they admit were absurd, and--gee whillikers!--ultimately collapsed under their own artificially propped up weight.

You may certainly disagree with Obama's Keynesian approach to resolving the problem, but if you examine what is happening in the economy today there is little doubt that it is working.  Not as quickly as everyone would like it to work, certainly, but then it took a very long time to create this mess, so fixing it in a little more than a year is and always was highly unlikely.

Still, let's see what Obama has presided over thus far, shall we?

When he came in, the stock market was in free fall.

Today, it has completely recovered and is setting records.

When he came in, the American auto business was in danger of becoming extinct.

Today, Detroit may not be thriving, but the Big 3 are alive and well and looking to the future.

When he came in, Bush had allocated $700B in TARP money, more than $400B of which was given to "too big to fail" corporations.

Today, half of that has already been repaid.
When he came in, the nation was bleeding jobs, losing them at a pace that seemed assured to land us in another Great Depression.

Almost immediately, after passing the Recovery Act, the bleeding lessened.  Every month of his administration, it has continued to lessen.  Then, in December, the economy began producing jobs.  Every month since then it has produced more jobs than the month before, with over 200K produced in April alone.

He has managed to accomplish something that Presidents have been trying to do since Teddy Roosevelt: get Congress to adopt a national health care policy that regulates the insurance industry and guarantees coverage without recision.  It is not enough, but it is a start.

He has removed the banks as middle men in the student loan industry for the first time since Reagan put them there.  Do you know when college education costs started skyrocketing?  I'll tell you: the Reagan administration.  Hmmm...  Again, it's not nearly enough, but it's a step.

Despite being fought tooth and nail by opposition whose only cohesive policy appears to be "say no to everything Obama wants," he seems to be making headway against most of the big issues that faced him when he came into office.  If the GOP would stop playing politics and start (oh, I don't know) trying to govern, we could be well on our way not only to recovery but to a truly remarkable time in America.  But the GOP would rather foster unrest and encourage anger and hatred and doubt than do anything positive at this point in their existence.

Truly, that's too bad.  When I look at the sorry state of the Republican Party right now, I just feel sad.  It has been taken over by its worst elements.  You ask me to "vote conservative"?  I don't think I could if I even wanted to.  True conservatives are hard to come by in this charade of "tea party" extremists.  When Bob Bennett gets kicked out of the Senate by his constituents in Utah for not being "conservative" enough, the world is out of whack.  When Charlie Crist and Arlen Spector can't find a place any longer within the GOP, something is seriously wrong with the party of Lincoln.  When John McCain has to stoop to picking Sarah Freaking Palin as a running mate to appease the ultra right wing knuckle-draggers in his own party and then agree to allow her to foment vitriol in rally after rally to the extent that things got so out of control that even he had to step in at one rally and set his voters straight, someone has lost all sense of propriety.  When the party becomes the home of bigots and birthers and men who show up to Presidential rallies wearing weapons, sanity has left the building.  When the State of Maine, which usually remains somewhat above the lunacy and which has (to its credit) the only two moderate Republicans still allowed to roam free, loses its collective mind and issues a political platform that is so utterly (as one writer put it) "batshit crazy" that at one point it actually demands that the State of Maine officially oppose any attempt to create a one-world government, the whole party has officially come unhinged.  Talk about giving in to the conspiracy theorists.  Why don't they just mandate tin-foil hats?

The thing is that conservatism, true conservatism, is needed in this country.  Just as yin needs yang, as dark needs light, as up needs down, so liberal needs conservative.  Everything requires balance.  Bush proved that.  When the Dems were rolling over and playing dead, acquiescing to everything he asked for in his first term instead of using the fact that his majorities were slim to negotiate better bills, Bush rode roughshod over the Constitution, deceived us into an immoral and very costly war, became the king of the unfunded mandate, and spent years rewarding the richest people in the land and ignoring everyone else so that, just before everything went to hell, the gap between executive and worker pay was by far the largest it had ever been in history.  The rich got richer and richer and the middle class and the poor could not make ends meet.

These were his legacies, Greg.  His legacies, not Obama's.  Because he was a neocon, not a true conservative.  I do not agree with conservatism, as you are well aware.  But I respect it.  It is honorable and sincere and those who believe in its philosophies truly have the best interests of America in mind when they run for offices under conservative banners.  But the neocons?  Uh uh.  History will record--if they have not started us on an irreparable path to our own national destruction--that they were one of the greediest and most self-righteous groups of leaders ever, that their hypocrisy was matched only by their amorality, and that they presided over the systematic and intentional undermining of a system of checks and balances that had been in place since the Great Depression which, once gone, unleashed a torrent of cash into their coffers and aggressively destroyed the economy for everyone else.

Sadly, there would be no place in today's GOP for any GOP President in American history save Bush and (maybe) Reagan.  Pappy Bush would never make it.  Nixon?  He's practically a liberal.  Ford?  Forget it.  Ike?  No way in hell.  Do you what the taxes were like under Ike?  The highest progressive tax rate was 90% for the income in the highest margins.  90%.  Imagine that!  And what did the poorest pay?  Nothing.


Where is the party of these Presidents?  Where is the party of William F. Buckley?  Where is the party of Russell Kirk?  Hell, Barry Goldwater, who was considered so outrageously conservative in 1964 that Lyndon Johnson's voters actually believed the "daisy ad," would be in the Democratic Party today.  William Safire defined himself as a "libertarian conservative"; is there even room for that in today's GOP?

This GOP has earned its "Party of No" moniker.  When Obama got his first chance at a SCOTUS nominee, the GOP began torching the selection long before they knew who it would be,  proclaiming (basically) the downfall of civilization as we know it if this nominee (whoever it happened to be apparently was unimportant) got through.  They played pretty much the same game with his second selection, though many of them--to their credit--actually like Elana Kagan.  (We'll see if they actually support her.  The two don't necessarily equate.  They filibustered one of Obama's appointees for six months before finally approving her 98-0.)  Despite the fact--the fact--that Obama has, from the outset, reached out to them time after time after time, angering his own constituents in the process by (in the opinion of many on the left) giving away the store before negotiations even start just to show his good faith, the GOP insists on maintaining the lie that he refuses to include them in anything.  The health care bill is chock full of Republican ideas, but all you heard from them was "he's shoving it down our throats."  The first thing Obama did in the Recovery bill was to agree to tax cuts despite the fact that Keynesian economics tells us that they are utterly counterproductive because it would, he thought, bring the GOP to the table.  In the final Stim Bill, there were I think almost $200B in cuts.  My taxes were lower this year; were yours?  A study just today says that we are being taxed at the lowest rate since Truman.  Do you understand that?  We are paying a smaller percentage of overall income in taxes than at any time since 1950 (and a significantly smaller percentage than during the Bush years).  Good Lord!  What does anyone have to complain about the job the government is doing with the little we are still giving them?

Don't get me wrong.  I don't want to give them more.  I can't afford to.  But I'll tell you what: unlike the idiots who took the Washington Metro to anti-government rallies to chant against all taxes and government interference in their daily lives ("but keep your hands off our Medicare!") and then bitch about the long waits to get back home on the (government-run) trains, saying that someone should have put more cars on duty for the rallies, I understand what I am paying for.  I am paying for the infrastructure of this nation.  Much of it is old and crumbling and in desperate need of repair, and, yes, in need of our tax dollars to make those repairs happen.  But I wouldn't be driving on interstate highways with excellent police protection to places that won't burn down because fire codes are strictly enforced where I can eat healthy food that I know won't kill me because health codes too are enforced (and I could go on) if it were not for those tax dollars.  That's just the truth.  And I for one would not wish to do without any of these things.  And, seeing the excellent job that the banks and the insurance industries have done of keeping college and health costs down through good old fashioned capitalistic free enterprise, and watching the way Wall Street has consistently screwed the middle class while padding its pockets, even during the current crisis--even while taking taxpayer handouts!--I think I'd rather have the government in charge and take my chances.

(Oh, and before you say "but Medicare is a shambles," just stop.  It's not.  It's just underfunded.  Thank you, Bush tax cuts.  There is a reason those tea partiers are holding those "hands off my medicare" signs, and it isn't because they like crappy health care.)

I don't usually bother trying to get you to see "my" side of the political argument, Greg.  Frankly, it's not worth it.  You are an amazingly smart guy, but you've spent too many hours watching Fox News and believing that you are seeing something that actually is true.  Heck, I think Rush Limbaugh has even begun to believe the garbage he spews into the ether, and he was perfectly willing to admit several years ago that he is, first and foremost, an entertainer.  (FWIW, I don't think that Ann Coulter believes a word she says.  I think she is a huge hypocrite saying whatever she thinks will sell books, and she's found a ready audience on Fox.  She's become such a caricature of herself that she simply cannot be taken seriously and, unlike Rush, she never was an entertainer, so there's no excuse.)

But anyway, for whatever reason, I just thought I'd give this a shot, even if it falls on the deaf ears I suspect it will.  You think I have swallowed Obama's Kool-Aid and I'm just echoing the party line, but I'm not.  It's the Fox News types, the Tea Partiers, who have swallowed the Kool-Aid, and it really is poison.  As for me, well, I question Obama all the time.  I'm very unhappy with the fact that Guantanamo is still open, for instance. And I am deeply disturbed by the fact that he has not issued an Executive Order--as would be within his authority--halting execution of DADT until Congress can eliminate it.  I think that at least one of these SCOTUS nominees should have been a flaming liberal; Bush did not hesitate to appoint ardent conservatives.  I also think he appeases the GOP too much, especially when they have shown again and again that they are utterly unwilling to compromise in any way.  My feeling is that he should just say "screw it" and use his Democratic majorities to forge powerful left-leaning legislation, just as Bush did on the other side with far smaller majorities (and even with a Senate tie): if the GOP doesn't want a part in things, the heck with them.  But he continues to be a statesman despite everything. And you know what?  After eight years of having a class clown as President, I sort of like that.

I do hope that you have read this thoughtfully and recognize that I am, though unabashedly liberal, ardently in favor of a strong, thoughtful, rational opposition party.  At this moment in time, the GOP is not that party.  I fear that it is heading down a road from which it may not be able to recover for a very long time, if ever.  When the Democrats were in a similar position--hijacked by their fringes--in the early 70's, they turned inward, re-examined their priorities, and ended up nominating Jimmy Carter.  You'll argue that he was a disastrous President.  I have two responses: first, it was circumstances, not policy, that caused the problems of the late 70's, and anyone in the White House at that time would have been in the same boat.  He was tremendously unlucky and, distrusted by the still very active fringes of the party, received little support in Congress.

(Of course, it can be argued that it was Carter himself, an outsider governor distrusted by the Establishment Democrats, who constituted the "fringe" at the time, and certainly his opposition included many of the major Democratic leaders as well as the outliers.  I would argue, however, that after the debacle of the McGovern candidacy, history had already begun moving the party away from its farthest left wing--unfortunate though that was, since at its heart that left wing was absolutely  correct about almost everything, and McGovern himself, though he never stood a chance at election, would have made a fine President.  The problem is that the party had moved as a whole way too much toward its left wing, and that left wing was too far out of the mainstream to be electable on a national level.  Thus it is reasonable to categorize Carter as more in the center.)

My second argument is simple: because of the above, he lost in 1980, setting in motion both the ensuing twelve years of Republican rule and the rise of the neocons, which ultimately led to Bush and the near-destruction of the American economy.  A party hijacked by its fringes fails.  Even winning the Presidency in 1976 became a failure for the Democrats because those fringes within their party refused to let Carter govern, aligning themselves again and again with the GOP across the aisle.  So the fringes caused what amounted to two decades of disaster for the party.

And I hate to say this, but the Democrats on the fringe, though clearly outside of the realm of political reality, stood for something morally good.  They stood for basic human dignity and welfare, for equal rights for everyone, for helping those in need. What does the fringe of the right today stand for?  Hatred and distrust.  Hatred of Obama, hatred of gays, bigotry, anger, distrust of government, lack of faith in even the evidence right before their eyes that Obama is in fact a US citizen.   I am worried that a party that gives in to this kind of fringe will implode, never to return.  A new second party will emerge, perhaps the Libertarians, who are in a good position, but it would be a shame.

Abraham Lincoln is often cited as the standard bearer of the GOP.  They like Teddy Roosevelt too.  And Ike.  But these guys would not recognize the party of today.  And they sure as heck would not want to be a part of it.

But that's OK: they wouldn't be welcome if they did.


And then...he said:
Unfortunately – you are wrong on just about everything.   But – I have the solace in knowing that the vast majority of Americans finally are starting to get it…  liberalism (progressivism) simply doesn’t work..  as Margaret Thatcher so eloquently stated:  “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money”…   She couldn’t have been more prophetic as every social democracy in Europe is imploding under their own insane “good intentions”…
His closing cited "the views of the Founders," and he closed with love.

I don't think I'll continue this.  I doubt that there really is a point.  But it was fun for once to engage fully.

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