A Not-So-Brave New World

So Trump took New Hampshire. A man who could hardly be more unfit for public office won a primary election held by one of America’s major parties.

This paragraph from a recent post on Political Animal pretty much sums up the situation–and the inability or unwillingness of the media to cover it accurately:

To make better predictions about electoral politics, traditional pundits need to look in the mirror and revise their assumptions about the electorate. Americans in both parties are afraid for their futures and fed with up the current system, the Republican Party has become far more extreme on the right than the Democratic Party on the left, and the GOP electorate specifically is far more demographically isolated and less interested in small-government conservatism and far more driven by racial animus, authoritarianism and cultural backlash than most centrist pundits care to admit.

Despite all the abuse aimed at the “lame stream media” and its perceived bias, most traditional media reporters and pundits have a deep-seated urge to be seen as “playing fair”—to focus on conflict, yes, but to avoid any impression that they are playing favorites. That determination leads to what has been called false equivalence: party A does something truly awful, and when party B does something wrong that most of us would consider far less troubling, the reporter paints them as equally wrongheaded. “They both do it.”

But they aren’t equivalent.

The truth is that today’s GOP bears virtually no resemblance to the party I worked for for 35 years.In 1980, I won a Republican Congressional primary; I was pro-choice, pro separation of church and state, pro public education. That would never happen today. Today’s Republican party is dominated by inflexible ideologues and proud know-nothings; it has become home to unashamed racists and would-be theocrats. The flaws of the Democrats—and there are many—pale in comparison.

There have been other times in America’s history when one or another party has “gone off the rails.” We can only hope that we are seeing the crest of this particular wave of paranoia and anti-intellectualism. (Kasich–arguably the only sane Republican candidate– did come in second.) But we can’t defeat the forces of fear and reaction unless we name them for what they are—unless we stop pretending that this is just another instance of “politics as usual.”

It isn’t. It’s ugly and it’s very, very dangerous.

Slightly Better Than Herpes….

Today is the New Hampshire primary. Before Marco Rubio’s robotic debate performance, he was expected to do well in New Hampshire, thanks to the perception that he is one of the more “moderate” candidates.

As John Favreau points out in some interesting observations about Rubio in the Daily Beast, that perception is erroneous.

It’s silly to pretend otherwise: As a Democrat, I’d rather run against Ted Cruz than Marco Rubio.

But that’s like saying I’d rather run against herpes than Marco Rubio. Of course I would. I don’t care that Ted Cruz may be smart and strategic. He’s also creepy and cruel, according to just about everyone who’s ever had the misfortune of knowing him for longer than 10 minutes.

Favreau notes the reasons that most Americans–at least, those who haven’t paid close attention to the train wreck which has been the Republican Presidential primary season–consider Rubio the candidate who could give Hillary (or Bernie) a genuine run for the office. He lists Rubio’s “positives,” including his youth, an appealing personal story and, given his background, a possible/theoretical  appeal to Latino voters.

Mostly, however, pundits attribute Rubio’s greater “electability” to a widespread perception that he falls into the “moderate” category. But as Favreau points out, that’s sort of like saying that next to Hitler, Mussolini was a moderate.

Because Trump and Cruz have moved the goalposts on what it means to be bat-shit crazy in a primary, the press will confuse Rubio’s moderate temperament with moderate policies, of which he has none. Rubio was once described as the “crown prince” of the Tea Party. He has a 100 percent rating from the NRA. He’ll appoint justices who will overturn the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. He opposes abortion with no exception for rape or incest. He opposes stem cell research and doesn’t believe in climate change. He’d send ground troops to Syria and trillions in tax cuts to the rich.

It is extremely unlikely that anyone championing those policies can be elected President. Voter ID laws and SuperPacs can only do so much. Gerrymandering can insure control of the House of Representatives, but not the Presidency.

How has the party of Eisenhower, Nixon (who despite his flaws understood governance and foreign policy) and even Reagan (who would be far too liberal for the current party base) come to this? And what will the outcome be?

The real problem for all of us— Democrats, Independents and those rational Republicans who haven’t yet thrown in the towel— is that the implosion of a once-responsible, genuinely conservative political party is a body blow to effective government. This country desperately needs adult conversations, thoughtful consideration of different policy approaches to the actual, real-world problems we face and a nuanced understanding of the systems within which those problems must be addressed.

These people want to be important. They want to rule; they don’t want to govern.

 

 

 

What a Surprise! NOT.

In response to the most recent attack of the culture warriors, Texas (of course it would be Texas!) defunded Planned Parenthood. So how is that working out?

According to a recent report in the Guardian, not well.

Texas’s aggressive campaign to defund Planned Parenthood has led to a steep drop-off in access to popular forms of contraceptions for poor women, and, for some women, a 27% increase in births, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found.

In the wake of the doctored videos fiasco, anti-choice activists have renewed efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. In response to concerns about healthcare for low-income women (by far the most significant part of Planned Parenthood’s activities), they have insisted that there are other publicly funded providers who could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients.

This study suggests those claims are bogus.

In order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood, Texas officials in 2013 drew up a list of alternative providers. But women’s health advocates found that the list included radiologists and anesthesiologists – not providers who routinely prescribe contraceptives. Likewise, officials in Louisiana and abortion opponents in Ohio have suggested food banks and dentist offices as alternatives to Planned Parenthood.

Texas’ experience demonstrates once again that fanaticism is expensive. The spike in births to Medicaid-eligible women was costly, and in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state-funded women’s health program, the state had to completely forfeit the $9-to-$1 match in federal Medicaid dollars for women’s health.

Planned Parenthood had been providing 40% of state-funded family planning services.

The new women’s health program enrolled about 20,000 fewer women after it excluded Planned Parenthood, according to an April 2015 report by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The study I would be interested in seeing would compare abortion rates before and after Planned Parenthood was defunded. How many women who lost access to reliable contraception and found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy decided to terminate those pregnancies?

The only way to reduce the incidence of abortion is to make reliable birth control easily available, but anti-choice activists are increasingly trying to restrict access to contraception.

It’s hard to escape the conviction that what anti-Planned Parenthood zealots really want is a return to the days when women had no control over their own reproduction—when we were “barefoot and pregnant”— and properly submissive.

 

The Rich and the Rest

Recently, Paul Krugman considered the disconnect between Republican candidates who continue to attack Social Security and the overwhelming majorities of American citizens who support the program.

His explanation? It’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut.

The study Krugman references is fascinating–and deeply troubling.

Titled “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” it confirms the old adage that “the rich are different from the rest of us.” A few sentences from the abstract are instructive.

We report the results of a pilot study of the political views and activities of the top 1 percent or so of US wealth-holders. We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation,and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealth-holders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct
from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of US citizens wants the government to do. If this is so, it raises serious issues for democratic theory.
Cliff’s Notes version: the minuscule number of obscenely rich donors who are financing Americans elections are intent upon “buying” their preferred policies. It doesn’t matter what American voters want or think. (And thanks to gerrymandering, in most districts, those voters cannot show their displeasure by “throwing the bums out.”)
And that is, indeed, a “serious issue” for democracy.

Our Third-World Country

It has come to this: the Mexican government has issued a statement to its citizens planning to travel in the United States, warning them to avoid drinking tap water.

I think it was Eric Hoffer who said the measure of a civilization is not what it builds, but what it maintains. We look back at the Romans with considerable awe, not just because they built roads and aqueducts, but because they kept those elements of their infrastructure operational for such a long period of time.

America could take some pointers.

In the wake of Flint’s water crisis, there has been a renewed attention to the country’s scandalous neglect of our aging infrastructure. A recent article from the Brookings Institution points to the magnitude of the problem:

A combination of factors, of course, have contributed to Flint’s crisis—including lapses in state monitoring—but the aging and deteriorating condition of the city’s water infrastructure plays an enormous role.

Similar to many older industrial cities in the Midwest, Flint has struggled to pay for needed maintenance on pipes and other facilities, which not only buckle under time and pressure in the form of widespread leaks, but also result in higher costs and declining water quality. Typically out of sight and out of mind, many pipes are more than a century old and are expected to need $1 trillion in repairs nationally over the next 25 years alone. With more than 51,000 community water systems scattered across the country and the federal government responsible for under one-quarter of all public spending on water infrastructure, states and localities must coordinate and cover most of these costs.

Infrastructure isn’t sexy. But it is essential; when you cannot flush your toilet, when clean, safe drinking water doesn’t come out of your tap, the effects on the economy and the quality of life are immediate and dire.

One of the great missed opportunities of the past decade was Congressional refusal to address the Great Recession with a program to repair America’s infrastructure. As the President pointed out at the time, such an initiative would not only have put millions of people to work, the depressed interest rates would have allowed us to do the work at a considerable savings.

Evidently, opposing anything and everything Obama proposed was more important than safe water and bridges.

The rest of the world has noticed.