Tag Archives: politics

The Debt Ceiling Debacle and the New Political Order

In debacles of this sort there is usually plenty of blame to go around, but, this time, the majority of the blame is uncharacteristically concentrated.

Since 1917, the debt ceiling has been raised 102 times.  From what I can tell, these raises have been more or less bipartisan and routine.  More recently, both sides have flirted with playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  Indeed, Reid’s, Durbin’s, and Obama’s voting records in the Senate were nearly perfectly partisan, as they voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans controlled the Senate, and for it when Democrats were in the majority.  Shame on them!

However, the Democrats as a whole never really came close to stopping a debt ceiling raise except for a couple times under Bush (under whom it was raised seven times) when the votes were close.  Overall though, it is fair to say that debt ceiling nay votes were cast on both sides of the aisle nearly exclusively to make a political point.

This changed in 2009.  Here’s some numbers: 55 republican senators in 1997 voted for a debt ceiling increase, then 31 in 2002, then 50 in 2003, then 50 in 2004, then 51 in 2006, then 26 in 2007, then 34 in 2008, then 33 again in 2008.  In 2009, 2 Republican Senators voted in favor of it.  For the second time in 2009, there was 1.  Finally, in 2010, there was 0.  This is how things stood when Republicans took back the house and a showdown was set.  Furthermore, the Republicans returned to power in large part because of the rise of the Tea Party, the majority of which, and please correct me if I am wrong here, see compromising as unprincipled behavior.  No longer were the days when a few errant politicians used the debt ceiling to make a point.  Now it was, “give us what we want or we’ll blow the country up.”  Certainly, both parties were headed in the direction of giving this ultimatum, but the Republicans got there first.

This put the Democrats in the position where they would have to choose between default or letting the Republicans take control of government.

What would you do?  The Democrats, from what I could tell, mostly gave in to Republicans, but they did it too late, so we still had a credit downgrade.   If I was President, maybe I would have fought crazy with more crazy and said, “The debt ceiling is sacred.  If you attach any conditions on raising the debt ceiling, even if it is one lousy $25 appropriation for free Fritos at a movie night for disabled children of veterans who also happen to be Hurricane Katrina survivors, I will veto it.  I do not care.  Don’t f#ck with me.”    But who knows if that would have worked.

What all of this does reveal is what I see as an ongoing fundamental shift in contemporary politics.  While Republicans are being monopolized by their extreme right wing, especially the Tea Party, the Democrats are not being monopolized to the same extent by the extreme left.  What this means is that every moderate in America is now left with a choice: Am I a Democrat or not?  Regardless of your answer, moderates will be Democrats practically, but will bolt as soon as the Republicans uncrazy themselves.  Indeed, I am proud to be one of these reluctant Democrats.  With this perspective, I start to feel sick watching a slew of “I told you so” grins on the faces of 2012 republican presidential candidates.  You get the sense that, after breaking the government, Republicans are claiming, “See, government doesn’t work, so we should make it smaller.”

Yet Obama seems to be getting most of the blame, even from Democrats.  Sometimes it makes me think I am taking crazy pills, “Why do people hate this guy so much?”  and it gets me thinking that maybe I should hate him too.  Why doesn’t he stick up for himself more?  Why isn’t he as disappointed with this process as I am?  Why is he so quick to compromise?

And as I lie here, asking those questions, and thinking about the 2012 election at 7AM, I found this video and I realized this: Obama is still the man.    Seriously, watching it was a spiritual experience.

My conclusion: I need to calm down.  Everyone needs to take a breath.  It’s going to be OK, and we all need to keep compromising.

“Compromise” shouldn’t be a dirty word.  Alicia and I compromise with each other when we disagree.  If we do not, we jeopardize our marriage.  If politicians do not compromise, they jeopardize the country.  But, if they do, for many of them, they jeopardize their job security too, and this gets back to my point about the new political alignment: Republican politicians are dependent on people who think compromise is villainous, and that’s why, right now, all moderates are Democrats.

Jon Huntsman

Huntsman was a Mormon missionary to Taiwan, where he learned fluent Mandarin and Taiwanese, so obviously he’s going to be of interest to me (I just found out that Bill Clinton also likes him).  After dropping out of high school to play keys in a band with his friends, he got his GED and went to the University of Pennsylvania where he got a BA in international politics, and he served as staff assistant in the Reagan administration.  Under Bush 1 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce focused on trade development in east asia and pacific regions, and then US Ambassador to Singapore.  Under Bush 2 he was the Deputy United States Trade rep.  He also worked in Daddy’s business, the Huntsman Corporation, which allows him to laud his business acumen, but it is also a liability, as he is the son of a billionaire (though first generation) and, like any big business, the corporation seemed to have been involved in some shady things at times.  Governor of Utah from 2005-2009, he won reelection with 77.7% of the vote and had approval ratings in the 80s and 90s.  However, this is Utah we are talking about.  Finally, Obama asked him to be US Ambassador to China, the post he resigned in 2011 to run for president.

His time working for Obama will also be an asset and a liability (see his note to Obama), but I think it will be more of an asset.  For one, in a general election, Obama can’t overly attack Huntsman’s competence or integrity, since he, after all, picked him to be his ambassador to an extremely important nation.  Also, the liability of working for Obama is only a big deal for the crazy wing of the Republican party (the 50% of the party who thought Obama was not born in the US) who aren’t going to be excited about his reasonable and calm demeanor in the first place.  He also is happy to answer when asked why he worked for Obama that he “served his country and would choose to do so again.”  He seems entirely unwilling to cater to the Tea Party element and that is why, of all the Republicans, I like him the most (though I’m still not a rabid fan).  In sum, he has substantial executive experience, kicks everyone’s butts at foreign policy (though a desire to distance himself from Obama is what I fear has affected his statements on Libya), wants to be the candidate of reasonableness and respect, and I love that he recently told Iowans that he’s not going to campaign there because he thinks ethanol subsidies don’t make sense.

So that is why I hope he does not get the nomination.  Though I would love to see some respectful and intelligent Huntsman/Obama debates, I don’t think he can beat Obama in 2012, though he or Romney would be the most likely to, and I don’t want the Republicans to nominate another moderate like John Mccain and lose.  Then the crazies in the Republican party will gain even more legitimacy in their narrative that we need even more ideologically entrenched politicos.

Instead, we need their standard bearer to win.  So, I declare, go Michele Bachman!  If she gets the nomination she’ll get creamed in the general.  Subsequently, that wing of the party will be demoralized and weakened.  Moreover, she is not articulate enough to create long term party transformation, as Goldwater did in the 1964 election in which he lost spectacularly but articulated a call to conservative principles that have lasted more than a generation.  Realistically, her nomination and loss will advance the American cause more than anything I see on the horizon at the moment (which is not saying as much as it sounds).  The national debate will become a little more thoughtful as the Republicans are forced to get a little less ideological.  Bachman, it seems to me, is just good medicine.  It might make you feel a bit nauseous going down, but ultimately it’s for the best.

Finally, what I am saying depends on Obama being quite likely to win.  Some of you have expressed disagreement.  I invite you to articulate how Obama could lose in 2012.  My two biggest reasons are as follows: I think Americans have gotten more negative in how they express opinions.  Therefore, lower than expected approval numbers do not necessarily translate into higher than expected approval numbers for somebody else.  In other words, everyone gets seen more as a cheap hack.  Our political economy is suffering a period of deflation. : )  Also, though Obama’s approval numbers stay hovering in the high 40s, I suspect (I have no evidence) those who are approving of him are centrist democrats and indpendents.  Those disapproving are mostly conservatives, but plenty of liberal democrats are as well.  In other words, the man is hogging the center, which means the only way for the Republicans to expand would be to beat Obama in the center or grab some liberal Democrats.  They could do the latter by being consistent with a libertarian platform by, for example, legalizing drugs.  That’ll get a few liberal democrats singing, but I don’t think it would work.  So, like always, it’s a fight for the center.  Ultimately however, what will likely tip the scale in the center is the state of the economy, which, though improving slowly, is improving.

In personal news, I’m starting to write again.  I miss Alicia.  Eric is in training.  I am housesitting at a friend’s.  Family will be visiting soon.

My Favorite Republican Hopeful

Now that I am done with my Habitat temp job, it’s time to get down to what’s really important: crudely assessing the Republican presidential field.  I tend to think it’s pretty weak, and, to be honest, a bit embarrassing for Republicans.   Three big heavyweights are sitting out this round: Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie.  I think the main reason is that they realize how little of a chance anyone stands of beating Obama in 2012.  Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are young, and despite what Christie recently said to my old pals on Fox & Friends, they both would make great VPs.  However, let’s look at who’s running.

In general, I think that there are three types of candidates.  For the first, it’s a publicity stunt, a way to sell books, raise your profile, and advance your career (think Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain).

In the second group are those that have very little or no chance of achieving the nomination, but they hope to shape the debate.  Ron Paul is the quintessence of this group.  Gary Johnson joins Paul in his love for most things libertarian, and I tend to like him.  He seems interested in solving problems and is refreshingly thoughtful on policy issues.  For example, in the June 13th CNN debate he proposed a kind of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants which centered around making it easy to achieve work VISAs.  I find it sad that it takes guts to suggest this in the Republican world of absolutist solutions (e.g. send everyone back!).  He’s also a fan of legalizing many types of drugs, which I agree with wholeheartedly.  Newt Gingrich has such high negatives that he really has little chance of being president, but he hopes to shape the discussion and be the Republican ideas man.  This hope betrays an intent that indicates a firm footing in the first group as well, as he hopes to sell more of the 21 books he’s published.  Really, the guy has very little chance, and you better believe that he knows it too.  Finally, Rick Santorum is in this group as well.  He wants to shape the debate by bringing the pet issues of the religious right to the forefront.  The problem is that he cannot distinguish himself as everyone seems on board.  There is no front runner like Rudy Guiliani who is pro-choice.  Nonetheless, I do believe that Santorum thinks Santorum has a shot at winning everything.

The third type of presidential candidate is actually running for president.  So far, only three people populate this group: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman.  Mitt is the frontrunner I suppose, but these early polls are extremely meaningless.  I think he’s the frontrunner in large part because he is the only one of these three with larger name recognition, a holdover from the last presidential contest.  However, I remember him primarily for conveniently flip-flopping on abortion, viciously attacking John McCain in the primary debates last time around, and spending a shit-ton of money in Iowa and losing to an insurgent, relatively poor, and likable Huckabee.  I am comforted by the fact that even Romney’s supporters don’t really seem to like him, and may easily defect.  These numbers won’t be replaced, because he can’t get much tea party support with his record on health care reform, which is so toxic to the extreme elements in his party.  Tim Pawlenty seems like a serious candidate, but he seems to be continually trying to feign outrage in order to grab some share of the Tea Party.  But he’s not an angry guy, and he’s not really that confrontational, as was shown by how he sidestepped his Obamneycare line at the June 13th debate.  Also, I just disagree with him about most things he says.  So that leaves us with Jon Huntsman, my current fav.  I’ll talk about why in my next post.

Birther Brilliance

I just want to mention some of the profound ways that not being born in the United States would have affected the quality of Obama’s presidency.  He clearly would not have been able to truly understand the country or be capable of talented, decisive leadership.

My confidence in this knowledge stems from observing my own inabilities brought on by not being born in the US.   It has rendered me an imbecile in regards to all things American.  For example, I sometimes get the words wrong when saying the pledge of allegiance.  Americans even think that I stutter, when really I am just talking like everyone not born in the United States.

I’ll miss the Birther movement.  I find crusades for meaningless truths amusing (or depressing, depending on my mood).  Who could have better publicized the idea that citizenship jus soli (by the soil) is an idiotic idea in the first place?  I remember in 8th grade Social Studies when I found out that an illegal immigrant can have a kid in the US and that kid is automatically a citizen.  I thought my teacher was joking, but apparently dirt has magical properties, at least in America.

At the same time, there is a myth in the missionary kid world that those like me who were not born in the US can’t be President.  From what I can tell this isn’t true.  I did some research for the sake of Obama and I.  Please, correct me if I am wrong.  Article 2 section 1 of the Constitution says this:

“No person except a natural born citizen…shall be eligible to the office of president.”

Ok.  What is a “natural born citizen”?  In the fourteenth amendment, section 1, it says this:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

That didn’t really help.  Finally, title 8 of the US Code fills in the gaps in section 1401. It says a couple of things but most importantly for our purposes it gives citizenship at birth to:

“a person born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person.”

Ok.  This means that I am good to go right?  My mom grew up in Ohio and my Dad in Virginia.  Yay!  I can be president.  What about Obama even if he was born outside the country?  Secion 1401 of title 8 goes on to say that someone is born a citizen if he or she is:

“a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.”

Shouldn’t this apply to Obama also?  His dad was from Kenya who came to America to study.  His mom was from Kansas where she lived, presumably, more than five years.  What am I missing?

I’ll miss the Birthers.  They were off-base technically (I think Obama would still have been eligible for president), meaningfully (Obama would still have been capable of being president), and factually (Obama was in fact born in the US).   Nonetheless, in March one quarter of all Americans believed Obama was not born in the states, the majority of Republican primary voters believed he was not, and 49% of all Republicans nationwide.  Obama and his advisors must have been wondering when to release the long-form birth certificate. This would have been the best opportunity ever to make your political opponents look dumb.

What do you think?  I think he blew it.  He played his ace prematurely.  If he would have waited, I think he could have painted an abysmal picture of the entire Republican party right before an election (BTW, 83%/12% of Republican birthers viewed Palin favorably compared to 41%/52% of republican non-birthers).  Some Republicans, Karl Rove for instance, did try to discourage this preposterousness, but most leaders, such as John Boehner, did not.  When asked about it on Meet the Press he said, “it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.”

That’s the sort of inspiring leadership that magic soil is capable of.

Weird Republicanism

In 1229, there was a fierce rivalry between two powerful Venetian families, both of whom were vying for the office of the Doge, the chief officer in the Venetian state.  The 40-man committee that was supposed to elect the Doge was split down the middle.  This factionalism caused problems, and a big fear was that one family would monopolize the Dogeship.  As Italian cities like Florence, Pisa, etc., turned to monarchy, the Venetians were worried that they might be next.  To ensure that didn’t happen, they made this system:

  1. The Great Council, with several hundred members, would cast lots that would choose 30 men from among them.
  2. Those 30 would be reduced by casting lots to 9.
  3. Those 9, as a unanimous group, would name 40 men.
  4. Those 40 would be reduced by lot to 12 men.
  5. Those 12 would name another 25 men.
  6. Those 25 would be reduced to 9 men.
  7. Those 9 would name 45 men.
  8. Those 45 would be reduced by lot to 11.
  9. Those 11 would choose 41 men.
  10. Then, those 41 would elect the next head of state.

This was not some strange system that some eccentric political scientist devised.  That in itself would be fascinating.  This was the way that the biggest Republic in the world at that time, and the longest lived, chose their head of state for centuries.

I wonder what would happen if we used this system today in electing our president.  I wonder if it would improve the quality of our leaders and the character our national dialogue.

History is fascinating.