Thursday, October 25. 2012
Been disconnected for the past week, so I'm catching up. Some links
that caught my eye follow. Probably many more that I'll save for Sunday --
e.g., haven't even looked at Krugman yet.
Mark Kleiman: A GOP Gaffe, and the Hack Gap: I don't think this is
the first time Graham said something like this, but it bears repeating:
"The demographics race we're losing badly," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham
(S.C.). "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business
for the long term."
It ran in the WaPo. It's a gaffe in Kinsley's sense: the inadvertent
statement of something true. The Republican Party is the party of angry
white guys (and their angry wives): not just angry in general, but angry
at people who aren't white (plus atheists, of course). And they are losing
the demographic race, both because there are more non-whites and because
under-30 whites are, on average, much less racially angry.
I wish I knew the source of a previous Graham outburst where (as best
I recall) he explained that the conservatives have to get their program
passed real soon because the long-term tide is against them. This was to
my mind one of the first honest admissions that the Republican agenda
was not just anti-Democratic but intended to destroy the principle of
democracy in this nation.
Ezra Klein: Mitt Romney's George W. Bush Problem: In the second debate,
Romney was asked how he'd differentiate himself from Bush. He didn't offer
much of an answer, and indeed his "five point plan" is nearly a carbon copy
of the Bush's own plan (also five points). Obama didn't help much by trying
to argue that Romney was worse than Bush -- Klein points out that Bush had
favored Romney's more extreme proposals, just hadn't pushed them as hard.
Romney's right about one thing: These are different times than when Bush
ran for president. But that's why his five-point plan is so depressing.
It's not just that there's nothing in it that Bush wouldn't have endorsed
in 2000. It's that most of it actually would have made more sense in 2000.
Take Romney's tax cuts. When Bush was proposing tax cuts without any
offsets, the budget was in surplus, and tax receipts were at record highs.
The policy made some sense. Romney's tax cuts come at a time of enormous
deficits and record low receipts. It's a different time, but Romney's
policy, save for a vague promise to pay for it later, is the same.
[ . . . ]
So let's go to the scoreboard: Romney offered
precisely . . . nothing that Bush wouldn't have
proposed in 2000. And Romney left out some of his more salient
agreements with Bush. For instance, both the Enron debacle and the
financial crisis happened on Bush's watch. As a result, Congress
passed the Sarbanes-Oxley and, later, Dodd-Frank laws to toughen
financial regulation. But Romney has proposed rolling back both.
[ . . . ]
This year, 2012, is not 2000. We have deficits rather than a balanced
budget. We have historically high unemployment rather than historically
low unemployment. We've seen what the financial system can do when left
unchecked. We've watched tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 fail to spark economic
growth and seen a rising stock market fail to lift middle-class wages.
We do need new thinking. But Romney isn't offering any. His problem isn't
that the public is unfairly judging him by Bush's policies. It's that
they're fairly judging him by Bush's policies.
I've said this many times before, but once more: one of Obama's
biggest mistakes was his failure to drive home just how much damage
Bush's eight years cost. Had he done so, we might have learned a few
things, instead of recapitulating mistakes so recent they aren't
even safely in the past yet.
Andrew Leonard: A Debate to Be Ashamed Of: Didn't watch the big
foreign policy debate, even indirectly -- I did pick up bits of the
second bash blaring in an adjacent room while I tried to piece together
a jigsaw puzzle, but this time I was navigating through east Oklahoma.
Still, I had predicted it would be hideous, with Obama proudly recounting
all the people he's had killed since becoming Free World Führer, and
Romney pathetically swearing his intent to kill even more. And that's
pretty much the actual debate Leonard reviewed:
And so on. I'm not sure if there's ever been a debate in which the two
candidates expressed so much fundamental agreement on major foreign
policy issues. But nothing underscores the dilemma that progressives
face on the lack of a meaningful foreign policy choice more than the
exchange on drones. Romney's endorsement of drone warfare laid out
with perfect clarity why President Obama has been free to pursue
policies -- extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, drone
warfare, detention without trial -- that appear to clearly violate
basic human rights, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.
He can do so because he is never going to be questioned from the
right on such tactics.
Quite the contrary; the main line of attack is to berate Obama
for being too soft. Ponder this: In the same debate in which Romney
applauded the president for using "any and all means necessary to
take out people who pose a threat to us," he also slammed Obama for
his "apology tour" throughout the Arab world. If you're perplexed
at how to reconcile Obama's drone war of terror in Waziristan with
the idea that he's been wandering the globe saying "I'm sorry" to
our enemies, well, join the crowd. It's not easy.
Actually, the lack of substantive debate on foreign policy goes
way back. I did watch the 2000 Bush-Gore debate that the only tiff
there was that Bush disapproved of "nation building" in Haiti. In
his subsequent administration, Bush did manage to end any semblance
of aid fo Haiti, even getting rid of the populist-leaning president
Clinton had restored to power. But Bush also did many more things
that he didn't forecast in the debate. Surely, one thinks, president
Gore would have done some things differently, but he gave no hint
he would in the debate, and damn little in subsequent years even
when he had the advantages of hindsight.
I also remember the 1984 debate where Mondale was much more
militantly anti-communist than Reagan. Early on, there was the 1960
debate where Kennedy blind-sided Nixon with his fanciful charges
of a "missile gap." I don't recall whether Carter and Clinton took
such pains to stress how they were the baddest mutherfuckas in the
campaign, but they ultimately proved to be: Carter's boycott of
the Soviet Olympics and his sponsorship of the Afghan mujahideen
kicked off the sabre rattling era Reagan takes much credit for,
much as Clinton's reflexive bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and
Iraq paved the way for Bush. It's not clear that either had a fully
formed foreign policy conception when they were elected, nor that
they had many options: ever since Truman there's been some sort of
unelected foreign policy establishment in Washington that has bent
politicians to its will, and Obama's just the most recent example.
Robert Wright claims to have discerned a significant difference
from the debate:
Why Romney Is the War Candidate. He makes much of the fact that
Obama is running for a lame duck second term, whereas a win would give
Romney a first term. He argues that first-term presidents are more
likely to pander to their war-loving sponsors -- the keys here are
Sheldon Adelson, Israel, and Iran -- whereas second-term presidents
look toward history. In itself, that doesn't strike me as convincing --
not that Sheldon Adelson isn't someone to be feared. Looking back at
historical comparisons, it's clear that both Bushes regarded getting
into wars as good politics. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson famously
campaigned for reëlection as the one who "kept us out of war," then
almost as soon as he won his "legacy" term plunged us in. And a big
part of Franklin Roosevelt's reasoning for running for a third term
was his desire to be remembered as a war president. But those were
big wars that had already been started, and they were long ago, back
before the US had a strong militarist and imperialist foreign policy
The one thing that strikes me as relevant about the first/second
term issue is that nowadays all presidents start up strongly hemmed
in by their staff choices (and by the more-or-less permanent power
bases, like the military and the Fed), but sooner or later they rise
to their office and take more direct control. Early on, Clinton was
hamstrung by Greenspan and Powell. Bush was so dominated by his VP
some pundits insisted on calling his regime the Cheney Admininistration.
Obama got scammed by Gates and Petraeus on Afghanistan, and by his own
picks of Geithner and Summers on the economy. I doubt that Romney is
intrinsically any more belligerent than Obama, but he's had to act
like it to snatch the Republican nomination, and he is certain to be
surrounded by a plethora of Israel-loving neocons, at a time when
blind allegiance to Israel is a sure recipe for a disastrous war.
Obama isn't immune to those forces, but he's less likely to be awed
and/or shamed into a war with Iran, if for no other reason than he
knows that the people who want that war have already overpromised
and underperformed in Afghanistan. Add to this Romney's "no apologies"
mantra, which translates to "no diplomacy," which means a foreign
policy out of control, freed from reason or intent, floudering in
a world where sheer military power has become useless, dangerous,
and more than a little psychotic. Romney's commitment to that
posture may be no deeper than his commitment to anything else,
but that offers scant comfort.
Back on the debate, also see Leonard's
No Debate on Climate Change:
Climate change may end up costing the most in the North America, but
it's a problem that can't be solved without the entire world working
together. That makes it a foreign policy issue -- perhaps the
preeminent foreign policy issue any U.S. president will ever face.
But for Obama and Romney, the most important fossil fuel issue in
the last debate was the question of which man supported the coal
industry most fervently. So don't hold your breath waiting for a
spirited discussion of the fate of the planet in the final debate.
I'm a bit less agitated about climate change, at least in part
because I figure the people with the most to lose are -- i.e., the
people who should be most concerned -- are property owners, whose
farms and resorts may lose their appeal, and whose seaside stakes
may wind up under water. Still, they haven't come close to standing
up to the threat, in large part taking their lead from the oil and
coal companies fiddling while the world burns. Four years ago Obama
at least raised the issue, but he got little for his concerns, so
it's not surprising that he's shelved them. It's not, after all,
like he has principles, let alone the courage to defend and
Digging back through Leonard's archive, I see he has a piece on
Citigroup CEO's Millions. Pandit has raked in $261 million since
2007. For a chart on how well Citigroup's stock has performed under
Pandit's leadership, see
Brad DeLong; what the hell, let's link it here:
Andrew Leonard: Romney's Magic Economy Plan: Forget the talk about
five point plans -- which, as Klein points out above, are no different
than the ones Bush and Romney ran on, and even less promising. Romney
doesn't need a plan: he's convinced that as soon as he's elected, the
Job Creators will instantly snap out of their Obama funk and it'll be
boom times for all. However, that raises a few questions, like why should
you believe him, and even if he's right -- meaning that the rich have
deliberately tanked the economy in a political snit fit -- you have to
wonder why we should give in to the extortion?
Here's something you are unlikely to hear during a Mitt Romney stump
speech. Business investment has actually recovered to its pre-recession
levels. During the Obama recovery, corporate spending on business
equipment and software has grown at a faster rate than during any of
the last four economic recoveries. (George Bush's economic recovery,
embarrassingly, registered zero net growth in business equipment and
What those companies haven't been doing is hiring. And there's a
very good reason for that: the economists who point to the problem of
demand are right. At least, they're right if you trust the reports of
actual business executives. For three years, the number one complaint
cited by small businesses about the current economic climate has been
poor sales. Not taxes, not regulation -- sales.
Matthew O'Brien: Mitt Romney's Economic Plan: Win, Then Do Nothing:
Quotes Romney as claiming that if get elected, the markets will be happy,
and "We'll see capital come back and we'll see -- without actually doing
anything -- we'll actually get a boost in the economy." Curious, then,
that the stock markets are already back to pre-recession levels, but
the economy, well, isn't.
Romney's magical thinking is the consequence of Republican obstruction.
From the beginning, Republicans have been quite candid that their number
one goal is making sure Obama is a one-term president. From the stimulus
to Fed appointments to the abortive American Jobs Act, they have tried
to block anything that might help the economy -- while decrying it all
as dangerously outside the mainstream. There's a problem. It's not. The
Obama administration has just followed textbook economics -- spending
more and cutting interest rates amidst a slump -- much as a hypothetical
McCain administration likely would have followed textbook economics.
After denouncing these policies for years, the Republicans can't very
well run on them. So they blame those policies for creating uncertainty,
evidence be damned.
As for doing nothing, that's exactly what we've tried for the past
two years. It hasn't worked. Now, eventually it will "work" -- in other
words, housing will come back at some point, no matter what we do or do
not do. It already might -- with the Fed giving it a kick as well. But
believing that our problem is we have the wrong person doing nothing
I'll add that the political debate over economic policy has always
had less to do with how to restore economic growth than who gets helped
and who gets hurt by whatever short- and long-term policies are to be
implemented. The banks get bailed out because the banks matter to both
parties. The stock market recovers for the same reason. Employment is
more contentious, because the Republicans actually like weaking the
labor market -- cheap labor, reduced benefits, etc. The balance of
political power was different in the New Deal, resulting in a massive
unionization movement. Try that now and you'll hear how that leads to
even more unemployment, but in history it led to broad middle class
economic growth -- something 30 years of conservative politics have
done their best to wreck.