Posted tagged ‘progressive’

The Only True Conservative

March 14, 2012

Rick Santorum won the GOP primaries in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday.  A bit of a surprise but not totally unexpected.  Santorum promptly announced that the victory proves voters want the only person who can beat President Obama in November, a true conservative.

There are two issues locked into Santorum’s words, can he or anyone else beat President Obama, and if someone is to beat the President, must that person be a “true conservative”?

Given the voting history of most States, most pundits are looking for a close race. Depending on events between now and November, the President can be beaten.

The second part of the question is the one more in doubt.  Can a true conservative win?

President Obama, despite how Republicans try to characterize him, has governed as a centrists.  Progressives may be disappointed in Obama and may want someone more left leaning but President Obama is who they got and no “true conservative” is going to govern as Progressives would like.  The national math is tilted in President Obama’s favor.

Newt Gingrich will not get the nomination under any conditions.  He is simply too unpredictable to hold the reigns of government.

Rick Santorum is stuck in his “sex is bad” “family is good” ruts, and it is doubtful that approach will sell well in the fall.  If Santorum thinks those messages convery what a true conservative is, his national chances do not look bright.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has no shame.  He can look anyone in the eye and proclaim he is severely conservative (what ever that means).  His history is far more pragmatic.  Romney would have little difficulty in moderating his positions if he becomes the national GOP standard barer.  The question which would linger, as a moderate, would Romney be any more believable?

Lost in the discussions so far has been any real solid ideas on addressing the major issues facing the country.  It is going to be sort of like “walking and chewing gum” at the same time.  How can we get control of the deficit without sending the country into recession?

A $1.2 trillion deficit can only be eliminated by sharp reductions in Medicare and Medicaid expenditures, reductions in general government spending (including a significant reduction in defense spending), and a healthy increase in tax revenues (from both a more vibrant economy and from selected higher tax rates).

Do you think a “true conservative” can fix this?  God and sex have nothing to do with the US fiscal mess.  Special interests do, and so do Congress members who are more interested in retaining their seat than helping fix a systemic problem (without killing the patient in the process).

In November we need to elect the candidate who will govern for all Americans.  I would look more to the center to find such a person.

A Voice Still Missing

June 25, 2011

Crossroads GPS announced a new round of political ads this week.  With no election this year, what is Karl Rove thinking?

Rove is a long time proponent of the principle “say it long enough and loud enough” and people will hear it and believe it.  Rove has never worried about whether his messages were true or not.  In fact, most of his messages are carefully designed to spin events in a more favorable direction.  Truth, what is that?

The timing of this latest round of American voters edification begs the question, where is President Obama’s voice?

The President has largely lost or neglected the rhetorical mastery that marked his 2008 campaign.  He has sounded more as a professor at best or an almost disinterested arbiter at his worst.  His messages have lacked a thread of connectivity.  His voice has expressed a pent up frustration “why don’t Americans already know that?”

Looking at the George W Bush years, one can somewhat understand President Obama’s frustration.  In the beginning, Bush praised Enron’s entrepreneurial style, essentially finding ways to make money where others had not.  At the end, Bush turned white at the near total collapse of the world’s banking system resulting from the unregulated US derivative market.  This time American bankers and investment guru’s had found ways to “make” money that no one else had found before.

The most basic lesson in business is that if in the spirit of making things better you decide to put holes in the boat, just do not put any holes below the waterline.

President Obama has been a prudent and careful  leader.  His Administration has pursued sensible although conservative approaches to the nation’s problems.  Yet, hardly anyone has that impression.  In fact opinion polls while favorable to Obama himself, give him poor marks on his leadership and the overall direction of the country.

The President badly needs a progressive Karl Rove.  President Obama needs someone to write his narrative and for the next 18 months he’s got to stick to it.  A return to Republican leadership and the policies that did not work before (and will not work this time) would cement the course to second class status for our country.

The narrative, of course, is written to be understood by average Americans.  It is not a speech just for union workers or one just for bankers.  It is a story about how America can work for everyone.

This is not a pipe dream.  Those who write that America’s reign is over may be speaking prematurely.  Look around and tell me which country has the where with all to replace the US we remember?  Even China has so many severe problems that surpassing the US can only result from one thing.  That one thing is if the US implodes first.

Expanding the gap between the rich and the poor, rationing health care on the basis of who can afford it, discarding the sick and the elderly, abandoning the infrastructure, and ignoring the need to educate are all policies that will lead to self induced implosion.

Why can’t the Obama team write a narrative about that and put their actions and policies in perspective?

Why Vote?

November 2, 2010

This may be a question that many Americans are asking today.  “My vote will not make any difference”, voters reason.  And they may be correct, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Voting is only a part of the process that determines if any democracy gets the quality of leaders that it needs.  All too often the process of voting leads only to leaders we think we want.  Want and needs are two quite different conditions.  So what more is involved?

Most people agree that the role of government centers on security (national defense as well as local personal safety).  In addition, most will agree that those activities that aid commerce and the creation of general wealth, also, fits the role of government. But even with these generally agreed roles, there is wide disagreement on how much of a role government should play and how costly that role should be.  Progressives see things one way and conservatives generally see it quite differently.

So, again, why vote?

Each candidate comes with baggage and personality, as well as policy views.  If a candidate is progressive, he should be expected to vote for solutions that are “progressive” in nature (for example, with health care a progressive see basic health care a right of every citizen whereas a conservative would see health care as a free choice – if you can afford it, it should be available).

So, ones vote for a candidate ties together their personality and their views on issues. All this may make sense until one considers paying for these government services.  Taxes in one form or another must balance the choice of services.

The act of voting should make each of us consider these three aspects, candidate appeal, candidate policies, and candidate’s views on how to pay for government.

In elections there is a lot of smoke.  Political ads purposely attempt to take the voter’s eye off all three, and instead focus on one or two in hopes of keeping the voter from realizing the candidates policies are unfunded or their policies are unfair (or as in today’s election, both).

Without citizens choosing to vote, we have no chance of getting public opinion to address all three of these issues simultaneously.

 

The Hillary Rumor

October 8, 2010

This week Bob Woodward launched another round of rumors about Hillary Clinton. I really should say, “relaunched”, since the idea of her running as Vice President was floating around before.

Interesting as it is, it is hardly good timing to discuss this possibility. Secretary of State Clinton has been doing a superb job as Secretary of State. She has presented a statesmanlike image and handled tricky situations exceedingly well. She is principally responsible for having gotten the thankless Israeli-Palestinian talks to the verge of reaching some agreements (nothing is assured). Why switch out of that role to run as President Obama’s Vice President nominee?

The most obvious two reasons is that (1) this is the best way to test whether Hillary could win the Presidency by herself, and (2) it might be the only way that President Obama gets reelected to a second term. Two good reason, but what would be the cost?

Anyone with an ounce of common sense watching this years mid-terms must come to the conclusion that our election rules are broken. Faceless wealthy individuals can donate unlimited sums of money that in turn go into negative misleading advertisements. The public is served very poorly but no one seems to care. Democratic favorable ads, although not as numerous, are too often as one sided. There is not a single clue in any of the ads on how the serious problems facing the US might be solved. So much for good government.

Again, why Hillary? Hillary is a competent woman, and men have had enough chances to straighten things out and have come up short. A side, but meaningful, benefit for a Hillary elections (first as VP, then as President) is that during this period (ten years from now), there would be a steady hand on the Supreme Court nomination process. The current activist majority are totally out of touch with reality (unlimited guns and no restrictions on campaign financing) and must be tilted back to the progressive side as soon as practical.

The Wide Gap

July 20, 2010

There is a certain amount of all political discourse that is simply about keeping one’s job. Members of Congress claim X,Y, or Z in order win the votes of his constituents. It may be half the truth or entirely misleading, but X, Y, or Z, if believed, will serve the greater good in the Congress member’s mind. But is that what all political talk is about?

If one listens carefully, there are in fact sharp philosophical differences between Democratic and Republican positions. There are also serious gaps in the logic and consistency of both Parties’ positions.

Republicans do not believe that giving people money is an effective way to promote individual drive and productivity. They believe that individual drive and productivity are the tools to a person’s prosperity.  “Give a poor person a handout, they will remain poor forever is the conservative position”. The unanswered question is “how does not giving poor people assistance help end poverty? Where in the world is their a working model of denying poor people money (or other public assistance) that has reduced poverty?  Regardless, Republicans call for lower taxes and much less social spending, and of course, in return they ask for your vote.

Democrats believe that giving those in need money  (public assistance), is necessary and the “right” thing to do. Food stamps, medicaid, and public housing support are examples where Democrats have placed legislative bets. Has poverty decreased?  Never the less, Democrats seek votes on the basis of social outreach even though it is not working.

The political discussion might benefit from moving to a more pragmatic basis. The US has a large problem. It has a large and growing population of poor people. Public assistance might be a necessary band-aide but it is insufficient by itself to reduce poverty. Denying public assistance all together seems suicidal. Hungry people, cooped up in large cities, may resort to unpredictable reactions.

The issue is not public assistance, it is poverty levels and the concentration of poor people. We will continue to hear political debates that do not bridge the real gap, and we will continue to not have any basis to measure our politicians’ effectiveness. On one side, only abandoning our social promises will become a spreading cancer where more and more citizens will fall below the poverty level.  On the other side, continuing to providing public assistance as we currently do should not be expected to produce any better results, and we should expect a unchanged growing number of poor people. Heads we lose, tails we lose.

The poor are potential workers, tax payers, and contributors to society. The political discussion gap is that the poor are hiding in plain sight. Lets close this gap and talk about the real problem facing America.

Affordability

July 7, 2010

The Red-Blue, conservative-progressive, Republican-Democrat divide seems like it can be boiled down to “can the Country afford” whatever is in question. This is, for sure, an over simplification, but never the less, it does seem to fit.

The conservative side has framed the issues as a case of choosing the less costly approach. From their perspective, this means less government, less regulatory action, and no more sweeping social change (even better would be to roll it back). The justification the red side gives is simple. We cannot afford it.

The economy is perking along at only slightly above a comatose level. The US deficit is huge and there are no forecast of it closing. The main drivers for the deficits are well known (too little tax revenue, too rapidly growing Medicare and Medicaid, unfunded social security obligations, and far too high security costs (department of defense and homeland security). All of this could be addressed and workable solutions defined and implemented. That is, if the political parties would think “total” costs and longer term impact.

In 2009, 47% of tax payers paid no Federal income tax. These were not rich fat cats who avoided taxes. These were Americans earning too little to qualify for income tax (when all credits were considered). Our health care legislation was on a path for insolvency before the 2010 reform bill was passed. No serious efforts has been or is being made to reign in out of control costs. (At least now, the right of each American to access health care has been acknowledged in the reform bill, but the “can’t afford it” side would be very happy to see millions of Americans again denied coverage). Social Security is the easiest fix of all. As the population ages, we need to withhold more money before they retire. This is straight mathematics. Weighing in at close to $1 trillion, the combined defense department and homeland security budgets are grossly out of line with what’s in the best national interests. (The defense budget is 10x the next largest and greater than all other countries combined). Need more be said?

The naked truth here is that we cannot afford “not” to correct these four areas. For sure there are government programs that may not be necessary and should be eliminated. On top, it is safe to assume most government agencies and programs could and should be more efficient.  Avoiding a resolution will bring on unintended social costs far greater than any savings from “just saying no”.

American in the 21st century is no longer the wild west. America must move on and learn to deal with a large but only modestly growing economy. We need to consider far more the quality of life and less about the quantity of life.

The Virtue of the Center

May 23, 2010

President Obama continues to be criticized for being too liberal, some even say a socialist. Left leaning progressives say just the opposite and decry Obama’s avoidance of core progressive causes. Why is it that most people see the same thing so differently?

One answer is that is why there are horse races. It is human nature that each person has a favorite and can only see its virtues. Those who disagree are the opposition and are to be beaten.

Another answer is that people always act in what they perceive as their best interest. The old adage says people begin progressive and as they age (and presumably get wealthier), they grow more conservative. Youth see potential and can easily see the value of the “commonwealth”, and quite frankly want to use as much of the government provided services as possible. As people gain personal wealth, keeping things constant, protecting what they have, and disowning many of the other tax driven services, becomes the norm.

The “center” interestingly represents the conservative side of progressiveness, and represents the progressive side of conservativeness. It is the bridge that can link both ideologies. Once linked the “center” can provide the most valuable of services.  A recognition that is sorely missing.

Today, no one seems to care about whether the policy they promote has actually work, or whether the down sides outweigh the pluses. No one seems to care whether the policies are affordable and are paid for. No one seems to consider what other modern countries have done, or are doing, to resolve issues their proposed policies are intended to address.

From the center, one can see all this and more. One can see the corrupting influence of special interests. One can separate the information offered by special interests from the money they  shower upon politicians.

In short, the center is the “sweet spot” for today because for sure, tomorrow the center will be someplace else.

Progressive Delusions

April 28, 2010

Progressivism is a difficult term to pin down. Some call it a fancy name for being liberal. Others call it the code word for socialism. And the Tea Party, conservatives, and most republicans say it is about tax and spend. But in truth, it is about America and what America has stood for over the years.

When the founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, these documents were like no others in their time. These were progressive documents (relative to those found elsewhere) that recognize the rights of man. Over the 200 plus years of our Country’s existence, our laws (and out Constitution) has evolved to reflect the needs of citizens as the world also changed. With the exception of the Civil War, where regional differences split the Country and war resulted, the US has gradually evolved in a progressive direction when choice was presented. (Today, no one would say that slavery should have been allowed to continue, so the side that favored abolition was in fact progressive).

With the notion of “right is on our side”, progressive are ready to push hard and further to see the US adopt more progressive ideas. Health care reform is a recent example where some progressive measures were enacted but others remained unheeded. Congressional Democrats tell us that the reform passed was the best that could be agreed to by Congress. The additional unheeded progressive ideas will have to wait for another time.

Democrats and progressives need to take notice of the resistance that is building rapidly to their legislative agenda. The opposition speaks generally in irrational terms and often speaks of totally different issues when opposing progressive ideas. We hear about “government is too big” or “this is a states right issue” or some hysteria about “communism, socialism, or fascism”. Rationally, progressive proposals are none of these, of course, but never the less, opponents are mad as hell.

There are two issues, I believe, underlying this dialogue. First, the Country as a whole is not creating wealth as it once did and it is not distributing the wealth it does create in ways people have been lead to believe the American dream is supposed to deliver. Other than the very rich, incomes are stagnated and costs are increasing all around. People are feeling squeezed.

The second issue relates to existing government costs (including the debt) and the taxes we pay. Most people have no complete picture of what taxes are collected and where these taxes go. The suggestion that taxes must increase simply can not be understood.

Progressives must recognize that they cannot implement any further (and needed) reforms until citizens are comfortable that the amount of taxes they pay is fair for the services they receive. That demands that the Country fully explains its expenditures and its taxes. These explanations should cascade down to States, Counties, and local jurisdictions. This will be a massive study and by its shear complexity call loudly for a drastic reform of the tax code. Progressive should (but probably won’t) take the lead on tax reform. In doing so, they will take a giant step towards putting America on a fiscally sounder footing and demonstrate to the population that progressives can lead in a responsible manner.

Senate Rules

April 16, 2010

As President Obama nears his choice for the next Supreme Court nominee, a chorus of “no’s” arises from far and wide. While most of that comes from the general public, Republican Senators are seizing the moment to champion these opponents of a yet unnamed or identified nominee. These Republican leaders possess some really impressive skills, it seems to me.

Senator Mitch McConnell has already threatened a filibuster if the candidate is an activist or would not follow the law. (Apparently when the trio of Roberts, Alito, and Scalia hijacked the Court recently and reversed 100 years of precedent about whether a corporation has free speech, this does not count as activism.) Senator Orin Hatch has also hinted at a filibuster under extreme circumstances.

For sure, some of these utterances are pure pandering. Most Republicans, and certainly all who make these public pronouncements are running in very conservative districts. Objections to judges and justices proposed by a progressive President should be expected.

The Senate’s rule of 60 votes to break a filibuster is designed to protect the rights of minorities. Fair is fair.

Protecting the rights of a minority, however, does not mean that unless the nominee supports the minority position, there can be no nominee. If that were so, there would no longer be a Democracy here.

Should President Obama’s next nominee run into an ideological stalemate and the Senate process grind to a halt, I wonder whether Republicans will be able to list their objections clearly so that the average American can understand why the nominee is unfit? Or, will they rely on the old obscenity definition of “I know it when I see it”?

This nomination (as well as all the lower court judges that are currently held up) represent an important usurping of principles protecting our governance process. Like it or not, former President George W Bush got to name his choices and so should President Obama. While there is the chance there could be objection with merit, objections because someone is progressive or conservative are not meritorious.

Control of the courts is clearly important to conservatives and most likely because conservative judges and justices will interpret the law, and will do so in a way favorable to conservatives.

Being Average

January 18, 2010

There is an email circulating about an unnamed economics professor. He told his class that he would offer them a deal that involved his promise to fail no one and in return, each member of the class would receive an average grade. On the first test, the average grade was B, so everyone got a B. Those students who had studied were upset they did not get an A, so on the next test they studied less. The poorer students also concluded they had little to lose and also studied less. The professor gave everyone a C on for the test. This sequence continued until everyone received a D. The moral, I guess, is unless you allow for failure, the masses will not perform and everyone will be worse off.

At first I was taken aback at the simplicity of this argument. It easily explained why the Country should lower taxes and cut social spending to match. It made clear that changing our health care system to eliminate insurance companies’ option to deny coverage would be a mistake. In short, it clarified the libertarian and tea-baggers positions.

After a few days I began to realize that the Professor had a flawed argument. First, he assumed that testing is a true measure of learning. Testing is important but hardly a sufficient means to educate. Second, human nature is such that some people are always competitive and will try to be first even when there is no prize for doing so. I also remembered a management training story from 35 years ago. In this story, an insurance company district manager had 10 salesmen working for him. He had a rule that each year the one salesman with the lowest results (no matter how good they may have been) would be fired. He was proud of this protocol and bragged that was why his group out performed the rest of the company. He never ran the experiment where no one was fired so it is just as possible that other factors like the company’s products or the inherent skills of his salesmen could explain the groups success. A version of this model is running currently on Wall Street where obscene bonuses are there for the taking… providing the traders reach certain goals. We have seen that this approach is sub-optimum.

The principle of the American educational system has been to educate the “average” student and try to raise that person’s education as high as possible. Most European systems try instead to educate the brightest, as high as possible. In Europe an individual’s future is highly influenced by tests they take at 10 years of age. Keeping everyone in the game is the mark of the American education approach.

The Professor, with a “no failure, average grade” approach, would need to call on a wider range of skills and actually make the material interesting. His “life lesson” approach misses the mark. In the real world “D” would not represent the output of a class where the material was dynamically presented.

Those who smugly circulate these stories use them to justify their refusal to see the need for social fairness. For sure everyone needs to work and pay their way. By the same token, those who are born into money or favorable circumstances should not be exempted from progressively helping others to improve themselves.