Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whither Armageddon (Quick Hits)

Armageddon was originally slated for last Friday. Then Monday. Now Thursday.
Maybe those predicting Armageddon are wrong. I’m just sayin’.

I’m all for some kind of rescue plan. Is it too much to ask that the nature of the problem be explained to the voters so that the proposed solutions can be evaluated? If the $700 billion dollar checkbook for Hank P. is so unpopular but also so necessary, why isn’t the corrective educating the public? Might also work on some of the nay-sayers in Congress…

Debates are unlikely to have much impact. They’re the potato chips of political seasons – craved, savored, gone quickly and without much in the way of nutritional value. My guess is that Palin in fact does fine, Biden probably manages a gaffe or two so that the newspapers can have a “on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand” tone, and come next Monday we’ll have forgotten all about it.

I keep seeing real progress in the polls, but worry that McCain will mount a comeback on the next Obama gaffe. (Sen. Obama is only almost perfect.) Plus, as I’ve said numeous times, there’s no inbalance that I would find acceptable except 299,999,999 to 1. (You see, I want Cindy Lou to vote for out guy.) Perhaps I’ll start to feel more confident once Obama is north of 60%.

Commercial real estate is the next great crisis. In addition to the new slums of abandoned and half-built exurbs, we will soon face block after city block of empty retail as the explosion of retail bank branches becomes an implosion and the current lack of other credit-worthy tenants worsens. And then we will have yet another new class of asset owners – people who own buildings with retail spaces – desparate for help. Having spent years essentially hoarding valuable assets, these guys are next in line to learn the lesson that assets lose their value if not put to productive use.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How's Our Side Faring Now?

A good friend asks: Seriously, how do you think our side is faring now?

In the Presidential level, we’re faring really quite well, especially in light of the fact that about half of all Americans are dumb or ignorant or both and – dammit! – proud of it!

Barack Obama is the real deal. I don’t mean he is some messianic, once-in-a-lifetime fount of charisma and wisdom (although he surely has his moments.) When I say he’s the real deal I mean that the intelligence and wisdom, the compassion and empathy, the pragmatism and effectiveness, the competence and confidence that we see are not fake. Unlike say, Mr. “Reformer With Results” Bush or Mr. “Deregulator? Me? No Way” McCain, who don public personas that have very little to do with their actual personas.

Obama is running a close to flawless campaign for President. If he does not succeed and become President, there’s very little to look back on and wish for a do-over. (Though one does wish the Hillary Clinton supporters would have understood how primary elections work and that the idea of her running to the very last moment did not serve the party well.)

I first saw Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he made a speech that simply took my breath away. At the end of it, I could only say, “That man’s gonna be President one day – one day soon, if we’re lucky.” I have not wavered in my conviction since – to this day.

Barack is slowly reassuring undecided voters (and likely some who had thought of themselves as McCain supporters) that he is someone who can be trusted. Undecideds and likely McCain voters believe that McCain is someone who has been vetted by 25+ years of service of on the national stage. This belief supports many of their ideas about McCain – he’s “experienced,” he’s “a known quantity,” he’s “steady and reliable.” Simply by dint of his love of appearing on Meet the Press (he is one of the, if not the most, frequent guests in the venerable history of that program), and the cooperation of a majority of Arizona voters, he has become someone most Americans can imagine in the Presidency. Barack Obama is working hard to earn the same level of comfort, and has accomplished much, in a much shorter time period. And unlike McCain who has had an uniquely valuable activist base in the form of national political reporters and pundits, Obama has achieved much over this same base’s strong objections.

If the Republicans were running in a united fashion behind a traditional Republican – someone like Mitt Romney or Bob Dole, Barack Obama would have a fairly steep hill to climb, and if successful would like squeak by. But the Republicans are doing no such thing. Instead, they have chosen an outsider who has made a career of publicly bashing Republicans to burnish her image as a “maverick.” Of course, when it comes time to vote he votes the party line – his 2008 voting record (the shortest of any Senator), is 100% consistent with the Bush administration. This would include his vote IN FAVOR OF torture – a vote most reporters seem either unaware of or unable to understand.

John McCain is a deeply unserious person. I first heard him speak during his many appearances on the old Don Imus show on WFAN in New York. John would call in, the boys would fall all over themselves beating up on various liberal targets, John would tell a story about his glory days making Viet Nam safe from Communists, and finally the talk would turn to current events. McCain was (and is) an expert Senator. He is able to talk about current events in a way that makes it seem that he supports all reasonable sides, understands everyone’s legitimate concerns, and knows that we have to get the right outcome. Which is every case was the Republican Party position. His Senate record shows him to be what he in fact is: a deeply conservative Senator from what has been a fairly conservative state, pretending to be something else because it gets him invited on Meet the Press.

Sadly, I believe McCain has entered a new phase in his life. I think there are undeniable signs that he is struggling with either ordinary old-age dementia, early Alzheimers, or some other condition. He is never without a handler. He goes on The Tonight Show with his wife. He cancels on Dave Letterman and promises to return with Sarah Palin. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham take turns being attached to his side. (Even yesterday morning when McCain arrived at the Capitol for his, um, whatever it was he did (is it too strong to call it “killing the deal that would have staved off The Second Great Depression? Probably…), there was Joe Lieberman waiting at the curb to meet McCain’s limo and escort him up the stairs.

So we have a contest between youth and old age, vigor and decline, intelligence and ignorance, grass-roots enthusiasm and top-down party discipline, dedication and power-grabbing. The financial sector meltdown is clearly a wildcard in this process, and certainly has the potential to change to game in either direction. McCain could yet somehow yank victory from what looks by all indications to be defeat.

But in his long career, McCain has not shown the shrewdness or intelligence to do so, while his opponent has repeatedly shown that hard-work and talent can be used with discipline to accomplish great things. So I remain quite bullish on our chances, and can even imagine that this will yet become the landslide that has seemed pre-ordained for two years.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exsqueeze Me?

Evidently, World War III has broken out.

I wonder what McCain will suspend next?

The Largest Tax Break In History

We have been conditioned to think of “tax breaks” as something other than “welfare checks.” When the government wants rich people to do something, rather than simply require them to do it (which would be too presumptuous), it gives them the money to do it and asks them nicely to get on it. Which they generally never do.

Giving the richest Americans tax breaks for the past 8 years has been defended as necessary to ensure adequate job creation. Well, we taxpayers upheld our end of the bargain – we gave them the money. But then the rich people didn’t use it to create jobs. Businesses weren’t invested in, factories weren’t built, workers weren’t hired. Instead, the money sat around in various “safe” investment vehicles, accumulating. Until eventually, like any under-utilized asset, the money began to lose its value. Net result: rich people took our money and frittered it away. And like Ronald Reagan’s beloved and largely mythical welfare queens, they did in fact spend it on lavish lifestyles and not much else.

One might think that having watched this strategy fail again and again that at some point enough people would yell “stop” and bring this nonsense to a halt. But one would think wrong. The current “bail-out” could just as well be called a “tax-cut” for Wall St. And just like the previous trillions in tax-cuts, the money is to be handed over with no strings attached. Create jobs or don’t. Invest in businesses or don’t. Lend or don’t.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the money will not be used for any socially useful purpose. Not for creating jobs, not for investing in businesses and not for lending. And the reason is more than just that this has never worked yet and is therefore unlikely to work this time. There’s a deeper root cause that is one of the Things We All Know™ but don’t speak about.

VC’s, investment bankers, traditional banks, mortgage lenders and other hoarders of capital (even rich uncles, the so-called “angel investors”) are not investing and lending and have not been for some time. The reason is not because they don’t have the money. Money they’ve got (and will shortly have in some quantity). What they lack is credit-worthy borrowers.

The current crisis was originally billed as a “sub-prime lending” crisis. Then a “mortgage crisis,” and now a “credit crisis.” (Actually, the credit crisis was already well underway concurrently with the so-called mortgage crisis.) But these names all mask something I think deep down We All Know™: that the nation’s borrowers do not earn enough to pay any more loans back. In fact, they are already saddled with more debt than they can service.

The real crisis is a jobs crisis. We have arranged our society’s resources in a way that benefits too few people at the expense of too many. We need to re-direct resources toward activities that will create jobs. My man Obama wants to do this immediately I the energy sector, which is of course a good idea. But I think he’ll find when he gets his head around this that what he wants to do in energy we’ll need to do in sector after sector. From food to cars to education to healthcare to consumer goods to services. All of it needs to be re-structured so that Henry Ford’s old idea – that his workers need to make enough money to be his customers – in once again true. And once we’ve done that here, we need to export that reform across the world.

That ought to keep us busy for the next half-century.

There is no shortage of work that needs doing. There is no shortage of raw materials. There is no shortage of labor. What’s been lacking is the leadership to ensure that these inputs are organized and managed in a renewable and productive way for the benefit of the maximum number of people.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why Is This So Hard for John O’Brien To Grasp

I attack John O’Brien, I do. And I do baselessly, without any real justification other than he seems to be in charge of spouting nonsense on CNN in the mornings. So I attack – kid, really. And I kid with nothin’ but love, baby.

All news and public discourse has been cancelled and replaced with the words “$700 Billion Bail-Out.” Oh sure, sometimes one hears, “Wall St. CEOs” or “Wall Street to Main Street,” but the basic message is the same: Crisis! Panic! Need Trillions Now!

There seems a quite unexpected backlash forming and ready to strike back in the form of truly arch speeches, commentary and letters to the editor. (And if you think one Adolph Q. Hitler would have been able to stand up to invective like that, you’ve got another thing coming, buster.

Atrios is promoting a speech from a Congresswoman who clearly explains in terms most kindergartners could understand why the Bail-Out That Ate Cable TV News is a hoax. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D, OH (Toledo) was on the floor of the US House of Represenatives making sense. (It may be that a permit is required for this. I don’t really know.) Watch it:

This current crisis just the first of several. While it may the largest in terms of money, the others will consume overall the vast majority of our tax dollars. Requests for additional bail-outs are coming from the auto industry, the airline/travel industry, and likely the Land of Farming before long.

As Obama has said of our foreign policy thinking, it is well-past time for us to end the mindset that makes these bail-outs possible. If a private sector actor is in need of financial aid, why don’t we look at it as an investment. We should be willing to lend money, or guarantee money, or as here just give it away, only when the benefits are clearly defined in a hard, quantitative manner, with clear lines of responsibility for ensuring a meaningful degree of accountability for the promised results.

That doesn’t seem so hard, now does it? If the nice people at our nation’s banks (meaning of course any bank or sort-of bank with employees here, even if its shareholders are an ocean away) want some taxpayer money, what are they willing to offer? Can they promise a certain number of new jobs? Guarantees of maintaining existing levels of jobs? Increasing wages? Lower prices (and how much lower)?

I am obviously no expert in this area, but the older I get the more I am learning to trust my own judgment and common sense. And for the life of me I cannot understand why our leading politicians and other leaders (and Tom Brokaw, I’m looking at you) cannot summon the courage to call “BS” on a proposal as half-baked as this.

If an educational official showed up and day and said, “Quick, I need a half-trillion by next Tuesday, or else all of your children are gonna wind up dumber than rocks,” they’d be laughed right out of town. The request for an infusion of money into the financial sector may well have an element of actual need, perhaps even an element of urgency. But if either of these things are true, we’re gonna need more than President Paulson’s word on it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

George Carlin Was Right

Watch this, maybe more than once. I think it is 100% correct.

1.8 Trillion Dollars Is A Lot of Dollars

Most people don’t know what the government does with their money. A lot think that the money is used for pork (something like 3% of the annual deficit – we’re talking tens of billions, folks). Or for that matter, what a new bomber costs ($2 billion).

Here’s some detail from the always-interesting Chris in Paris at Americablog.org

For the US budget, here are a few examples from Bush's budget in 2007:

* Veterans' benefits at $73 billion

* Education was $90 billion

* Interest on US debt was $244 billion

* Medicare $395 billion

* Defense was $548 billion

* Social Security was $586

So all of a sudden, we can come up with $700 billion – no wait, that’s $1.8 trillion. If we don’t hurry up and give them what they want, it’ll probably be $2.6 trillion soon. (Go ahead, think I’m kidding.)

What does Obama’s health care plan cost? $50-60 billion a year for the first 10 years, which Republicans are certain is far too expensive.

On top of just the insane price tag, there’s the question of whether this will fix anything…(And this leaves aside the distrurbing parallels to the Iraq War run-up, where asking questions and tying the Executive's hands was thought to be Dangerous and Unpatriotic).

I keep coming back to the idea that we keep failing to speak about what is really important (i.e. Things We All Know ™). WHY aren’t banks lending to each other or to business or individual customers? Well, a huge infusion of cash would suggest that the reason is that the banks lack the funds to lend.

Wouldn’t that mean there was a lot of pent-up demand for loans that wasn’t being met?

I doubt many believe that the problems in our economy is not enough debt.

I’m keeping my eye on the ball. I believe that we have deeper and more serious economic problems than big financial institutions lacking adequate funds to lend. (I suspect they lack adequate funds to operate, for what it’s worth, and that the Big Scary Crisis is fueled by images of people having to take sacks of gold coins to the Pathmark. Likely as true of Mr. Hussein’s WMD’s and 45-minutes’ away drones.)

I think banks aren’t lending not because they lack funds but because they lack credit-worthy customers, both business and individual. I suspect that many companies will soon find that they too lack customers, as too many people simply have inadequate incomes.

We are on a decelerating downward spiral, the end point of which is surely not Goldman Sachs getting a trillion or two bucks. The end of this spiral comes when companies can’t meet their payrolls, workers drain all their funds and assets, and we end up at something very like a standstill.

And getting the great organ-grinder grinding again is 1000 (a trillion?) times more difficult than it would be to keep it going.

“Keeping it going” meaning that we should take that $700 billion (or $2.5 trillion) and use it for direct job creation: public works, loan guarantees to businesses using the money to create jobs, etc. We will also want some of that money available to pay for public relief – food stamps, short-term housing, rent assistance, etc.

Right now, only those who do not need credit can get it. There’s no use in making it even easier for them when there are tens of millions of Americans who need something even more pressing than a better rate on their car loans: jobs, groceries, gasoline, etc.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Things We All Know(tm) About the Liberal Media

For many years now it has seemed to me that there are unspoken premises underlying much of our political (and general for that matter) discourse. When it comes to the media, studies routinely show higher levels of Democratic Party registration, for example. Of course, this doesn’t translate to liberal coverage, and in fact may be part of the reason why the mainstream media bends over backwards to accommodate Republicans. But the presence of liberal bias amongst members of the media is well-documented.

Of course there are other groups who suffer from the same “liberal bias.” College faculties, for example. Or people with advanced degrees. The frame of “liberal bias” is of course a creation of the Right, foisted on our society by their, um, “assertiveness” (as recently confessed by cerebrally-challenged cable talker Joe Scarborough).

But there is an alternative frame which reveals a Thing We All Know™. Why do journalists, college professors, PhDs, etc., all appear to favor liberal policies? Are they craven? Corrupt? Unfair? The Right tells us it’s because they were indoctrinated by their liberal kindergarten teachers. (Yet another group with the dreaded “liberal bias.”)

Maybe the reason why all these elites prefer liberal policies has nothing whatsoever to do with these groups and a great deal to do with the policies. Why is there such a strong correlation between intelligence, education and liberalism, on the one hand, and ignorance, illiteracy and “conservative values” on the other?

Might not the answer be that modern Republican ideas are inferior? That they are – for want of a more polite term – stupid? In fact, for some decades now, they have been engineered specifically to delude the easily-deludable.

Modern Republicans committed a long time ago to a program of embracing hair-brained schemes if they could be used to manipulate enough dumb voters to come their way. Here’s a revealing list:

1. Trickle-down economics
2. The “Laffer Curve” (i.e., cutting taxes raises revenues)
3 Imminent Soviet/Communist take-over of the US/World
4. Sovereignty of the Panama Canal (US sovereignty)
5. School Prayer
6. Anti-Flag Burning
7. Bussing
8. Anti-Abortion
9. Anti-Gay marriage
10.Immigrant bashing
11.Anti-Stem cell research
12.Anti Heart-transplant surgery.
14.Protecting “Under God” in Pledge of Allegiance
15.Terry Schiavo
16. Defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment

I could go on, and I invite you, dear readers, to do so in the comments. But you get the point. These are dumb things. Let’s be plain. And the fact that many smart people reject them is not evidence that the smart people are being unfair, or are corrupt, or victims of previous “liberal” brainwashings.

The ultimate Thing We All Know™ here is the old saw that “reality has a liberal bias.” And in truth We All Know This. The culture warriors of the right know perfectly well that they are peddling, at best, a mild corrective to excesses of a mainstream consensus.

And right now, one Thing We All Know™ is that McCain is horribly unprepared to be President, as is his VP pick. And I think if we’re being really honest, We All Know that Barack Obama is the man we need and will make the nation proud.

At least those of us with enough on the ball to resist the silly games of the Right.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Welcome to the Soup, Rich Folks!

A Much Bigger Picture

The news of course is 100% dominated by “coverage” of the “Wall St. Crisis.” I’ve just given you as much useful information as you’d get from watching 100 hours of MSNBC and CNN simultaneously.

Our man Barack (he’ll always be “Barry” to me) seems to have Old Grumple-puss well in hand. I understand Sen. McCain dribbled some creamed corn down his chin while talking to NBC’s Anne Curry, which of course is very good news indeed for one Rudolph Giuliani. So let’s take a look at the economic “meltdown” that Brian Williams is suddenly a big expert on.

The economic mess seemed to me well reflected in a Margaret Warner piece last night on the Lehrer News Hour. The first thing that hit me was just what a thoughtful and articulate journalist Margaret Warner is. She’s the real deal. She hosted a segment with a bright and articulate economist from a Chicago investment firm as well as Jane Bryant Quinn, clueless commentator, columnist and all-around purveyor of Convention Wisdom. What these three very bright and well-paid women discussed for 10 or so minutes was how the Wall St. Crisis affects “you,” by which they meant, of course, themselves and each other.

Should I move money out of my 401(k)? Are my brokerage accounts at Merrill safe? Just how diversified should my portfolio be? And what about gold (goddammit)?

What struck me was that these rich people are scared. Scared because this Wall St. business may well affect them – rich people! Can you imagine! There is an outside chance that when the chips fall, EVEN PEOPLE WITH LARGE SUMS OF MONEY may get roughed up. For these guardians of the conventional wisdom, this was Serious Business Indeed.

Well rich folks, welcome to the soup! For the last 30 or 40 years, our society’s leaders have dithered while powerful interests (is “Lobbyists for the Rich” too crude?) have run rough-shod over the rest of us. Ordinary Joes (and Janes – and why can’t “Joe” be a universal signifier any way?) have had to take it on the chin as employers walked away from any obligations to them. First it was job security. Then pensions. Then physical facilities. (You know anyone with an office with, you know, “walls” and a “door”? Those things used to have “windows!” Amazing!) Then more and more “productivity” gains – more work, same pay. Then just less pay. Can 2000 people do what 3000 people were doing yesterday? Harvard MBAs assure us that they answer is a resounding “Y-E-S!”

In fact, the entire history of business in the United States over the last several decades has been a tale of shifting wealth away from workers, then customers, to senior managers and shareholders. Enormous pay is needed to motivate people to be CEOs. (It’s hard work!) (Can two CEOs do what three CEOs did yesterday? Harvard MBAs assure us, “Don’t be silly. Pass the caviar.”)

Republicans, and then most Democrats, came to believe that people respond to taxes because it hit their pocket book. (Never mind that most people don’t really know what percentage of their total revenue is paid in taxes, or how much that percentage has gone up and down over the years.) So if we want wind-power, just give people a tax break and soon windmills will be spouting up all over. (I had to swerve this morning to avoid one that had gone up overnight in the middle of the LIE. (I kid.))

But what is the one thing that the government has relentless taxed the most? Labor. The vast majority of tax revenue comes from taxes on labor, a k a “income taxes.” Capital musnt’t be taxed – that would be B-A-D! So we tax labor and as a completely foreseeable result, jobs are scarce and getting scarcer.

So capital accumulates. And accumulates. But, Harvard MBAs assure us, this is very good, since all that capital is available to be invested in things that create – wait for it – jobs! That’s right, give rich people enough money to satisfy their most craven wants, and then give them some more, and presto: jobs! Fantastic, no?

Fantastic, yes, I’m afraid. All that capital has done little to create jobs. It has just stood around and like any underused asset, it is wasting away. Banks are literally being handed checks for billions and billions of dollars in the hope that they will lend it. But they aren’t making loans, mostly because they can’t find borrowers they think will be able to repay.

And that, my friends-s-s-s, is the rub. The pot we’re in (and for those just joining in, “Welcome Rich People! Come on in!”) is a much more dangerous pot than all the Anne Currys and Brians Williams’s can ever hope to grasp.

We have more or less killed our ability to create jobs. We need to massively re-distribute resources so that more of us can earn a decent living, sadly, however, at the expense of hedge fund managers being able to hire Eric Clapton for their kid’s Bar Mitzvah. And we have spent the last 30 years convincing ourselves that the one mechanism that could actually accomplish this feat – the federal government – is not only horribly inept but actually downright evil. (That’s a fact, says Fox News.)

Business leaders will not suddenly wake up and say, “Hey, I know! Let’s violate our legal obligations to our shareholders and start maximizing value not for the shareholders but for the benefit of the most people, employees, customers, and so on. Yeah!”

It is the provenance of the government to lay down the law, even to businesses. (I know some of you are thinking, “No! Un-possible! How could that be? Doesn’t government work for business?” And I can see why you might think that.)

But the truth is the government is the only mechanism we have, and we have spent the last 10 years using it to saw tin cans in half so that it is now terribly useless as an instrument for reforming society.

We are in the midst of a perfect storm. The issue is not banks holding bad loans, or a mortgage crisis. Americans are not going to find getting a car loan or a mortgage “harder.” There’s a reason for the foreclosures. People aren’t earning enough money. Why don’t people just buy health insurance when their companies don’t provide it? Because like the companies themselves they can’t afford it! A spending spree fianced by easy credit is ending, and the results are as painful as they were predictiable.

But that’s not the half of it. American businesses have not embraced innovation, opting instead for lay-offs, outsourcing and all manner of cost-cutting. There is a price coming due on that front. We have massively under-invested in education, a foolishness for which we will be paying the price for decades to come. We have, more or less, been eating our seed corn, and now it’s gone.

It is one of the unspoken premises (which I like to call “Things We All Know™”) that things are so bad that we must look all the way back to the Depression for comparisons. And many Harvard MBAs are quite certain that this is nothing like that. Well, on this I agree with them. But their small-mindedness leads them to conclude that 1929 and the Great Depression is some kind of floor, below which it is not possible to fall.

Who says? Why should 1929 be the floor? Aren’t there the elements present for something much worse? I am sad to say that I believe they are. And even electing a great man like Barack Obama will not be enough to save us, any more than FDR was able to save our grandparents from the Great Depression.

Hang onto your hats, kids! We’re in for a wild ride!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


New experiment. I'm going to try to post something everyday, reflecting my views as of that moment.

And as of this moment, I have to say, "Whew!" The polling is back to where it was before the conventions, with Obama slightly ahead and moving into an electoral college lead. Which is of course very good news indeed.

Overnight, McCain seems to have messed up an interview with a Spanish radio or TV outlet. Evidently, after being asked seriatim about various Latin American leaders, he was asked about the Spanish president (not a PM?), and persisted in speaking as though he were a left-wing Latin American thug (i.e., in the "Chavez-Castro Club"). Even when the reporter tried to steer him back, he seemed not to get it, and continued on his platitudinous way. (As they do.)

Oh, and the global financial markets are melting down and will soon be naught but rubble where once great wealth had been. The ranks of the unemployed and poor will welcome the many ex "investment bankers" and even the occasional "former big law partner."

Which of course is good news for Rudy Giuliani.

The last few days seem like they have been rough on poor old John McCain, who seems increasingly out of it, as though he had yet to learn his new talking points.

I've also noticed that he seems to never be without a handler, and I don't mean in a political sense. I mean in the sense of a handler for someone who really can't be left by himself in public. While I wish the man no ill and nothing but love, baby, I'm concerned that there is an accumulating body of evidence that indicates that Senator McCain's mental acuity may be declining to the point where even the Republicans -- the Republicans who foisted an Alzheimers-struck Ronald Reagan on us and kept it a secret for more than a decade -- cannot cover up his unfitness for high office. (Of course, he could be bed-ridden, unable to feed, clothe or clean himself, and convinced that his nurses are all working for that damn Ho Chi Mihn, and still be in the middle of the Senatorial pack, mental acuity-wise).

All of this -- the way the markets seem to indict the Republicans' laissez-faire-ism, the increasing "losing it-ness" of the Republican candidate, the collapse of the media's short-lived love affair with Governor Palin, the continued exudence of competence by Obama, the developing main-stream-media narrative that McCain is lying -- should be reflected in the polls in the next few days. Barring the unexpected (and wouldn't that be a neat trick), I'm hoping to see Barack open up a decent lead and ride it all the way to what one can only pray will be a right-good thumping of Arizona's hard-core, dishonorable senior (and yes folks, I mean senior) Senator.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Apples to Apples, Part II

A Worrisome Turn Toward the Dark Side

It seems like the Republicans have been breaking through one moral boundary after another, from the preposterous witch-hunts of McCarthy to the outrageous use of government apparatus for political gains by Nixon, from Willie Horton to smearing Max Cleland. So a claim that the Republicans have made a platonic shift to evil has to be viewed with some skepticism. Nevertheless, I worry that such a claim may be valid.

Watching the Republican Hate Fest ’08 this week, I heard a line that really resonated: when did unplanned unwed teenage pregnancy become a good thing? Thinking about it, it occurred to me that nearly all of the Republican talking points were as divorced from reality as their claim that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was a joyous event. In fact, viewed through this prism, the entire Republican enterprise seems to be nothing more than political marketing run amok.

Even their biggest ideas are self-evidently false. Lowering taxes creates jobs. Life begins at conception. Liberals love to tax people. Democrats want high taxes and big government. Obama doesn’t know enough to keep us safe. Sarah Palin is terrific. People just want the government to get out of the way. Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

The issue is campaigning and governing by slogan. And not slogans that neatly summarize a complex thoughts into something memorable. In fact, it’s the opposite: slogans as a way to disguise something unpalatable as something palatable. We see it all the time. The “PATRIOT” Act. “Compassionate Conservative.” “The Ownership Society.” “Support the Troops.” In every case, the actual meaning is almost perfectly contradicted by the reality.

So far, it’s more or less business as usual, though far more so for the Republicans, whose actual beliefs are way outside the mainstream and who must therefore work harder to disguise those beliefs to try to get elected.

But there was something about watching Republican after Republican get in front of a camera and describe Palin as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Had Obama picked a comparable light-weight, there’s no doubt the choice would be greeted as prima facie evidence of his dangerously bad judgment. And I believe that on some level Republicans know perfectly well that McCain’s choice is wrong-headed, but are so committed to their cause that they are fine with denying what they know to be true.

And there’s the rub. A movement this large, even if unable to win national office, that is so dedicated, so zealous, so free of honor, is a danger. I am concerned that these people could convince themselves of anything. And I think we saw that this week in St. Paul when the party faithful embraced the idea that off-shore drilling was, virtually overnight, an urgent national priority. Six weeks ago none of them had even heard of it; three weeks ago their own leader was against it, and a week ago none of them cared a jot about it. And now they are ready to lead their party unto death in defense of it.

Very committed zealots who feel they are free from the constraints of reality are a dangerous threat to civilized society. Ask the Germans.