Tag Archives: GOP

Magic Astericks

Paul Krugman shines a light on the antics of the not-ready-for-prime-time party:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

Krugman details the spending cuts that are specified–“savage” cuts in food stamps, Medicare and other programs upon which millions of Americans have come to rely. And of course, repeal of the hated “Obamacare.” Read through his column, and you have a picture of the priorities of people who have lost touch not just with reality, but with decency.

And that brings Krugman to his most important point, and one we should all ponder–especially those of us who called the GOP home before the party became a collection of radicalized, resentful inhabitants of an alternate reality.

It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.

O.K., I can already hear the snickering, but it’s the simple truth. Remember all the ridicule heaped on the spending projections in the Affordable Care Act? Actual spending is coming in well below expectations, and the Congressional Budget Office has marked its forecast for the next decade down by 20 percent. Remember the jeering when President Obama declared that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Well, a sluggish economy delayed things, but only by a year. The deficit in calendar 2013 was less than half its 2009 level, and it has continued to fall.

Krugman can be fact-checked; his numbers are accurate. But as a scroll through Facebook or the comments section of your favorite news source will confirm, facts don’t matter. Evidence doesn’t matter.

Crazy rules. And it’s terrifying, because you can’t talk to crazy.

 

 

 

Maybe We Aren’t Evolving After All

All I want for Christmas is a little science literacy.

This is the season for lists, and Mother Jones recently ran a list of the dumbest science deniers of 2014.

Topping that list was Donald Trump, who may well be the most ludicrous and least self-aware person on the planet. Trump (who regularly takes to Twitter to embarrass himself) responded to freezing temperatures in parts of the country as evidence that “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop.”

Umm…Donald, there is a difference between weather and climate. Look it up.

The Donald also joined the anti-vaxxers, pointing to the thoroughly debunked link between autism and vaccination, and–to top it off– insisted that we shouldn’t allow those doctors and nurses who had been selflessly tending to Ebola patients back in the country. The tweet:”People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”

We can laugh at Trump (most people do), but far more portentous than the nattering of an ignorant, narcissistic billionaire is the ongoing attack on sound science from Congress. That attack is genuine cause for concern.

Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas took his opposition to basic science straight to the source: The grant-writing archives of the National Science Foundation. In an unprecedented violation of the historic firewall between the lawmakers who set the NSF’s budget and the top scientists who decide where to direct it, Smith’s researchers pulled the files on at least 47 grants that they believed were not in the “public interest.” Some of the biggest-ticket projects they took issue with related to climate change research; the committee apparently intended to single out these projects as examples of the NSF frittering money away on research that won’t come back to benefit taxpayers. The investigation is ongoing, and the precedent it sets—that scientific research projects are only worthwhile if they directly benefit the American economy—is unsettling….

Science denial on Capitol Hill is set to get even crazier next year. When Democrats (and environmentalists) got a sound whooping in the midterm elections, a new caucus of climate change-denying senators swept in. Almost every new Republican senator has taken a position against mainstream climate science, ranging from hardline denial to cautious skepticism. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming majority leader, has vowed to make forcing through an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline his top agenda item in the new year; he also wants to block the Obama administration’s efforts to reign in carbon pollution from coal plants. And the incoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is none other than James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who actually believes that global warming is a hoax orchestrated by Barbra Streisand. You can’t make this stuff up.

Maybe evolution is more selective than we thought…..

Short-Term, Long-Term

A post-election article from the Houston Chronicle begins with a provocative projection that will comfort people depressed about the midterms:

Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.

What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.(emphasis mine)

The article follows this declaration with a matter-of-fact rundown of the electoral college votes–where they are and what a winner will need. His bottom line:

The next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House. What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat? You do the math.

The key to understanding that paragraph (not to mention our toxic political environment),  is “What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with GOP primary voters”….

As the article convincingly demonstrates, the crazies who appeal to the GOP’s current base  are winning in bright red, frequently gerrymandered, mostly rural districts. The problem is, those crazies have now become the (embarrassing) face of the Republican party nationally–making it impossible for the party to win national elections.

We ought not take too much comfort from that.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again–this country needs two adult, sane political parties. Right now, the GOP is controlled by a base that is neither adult nor sane. Unless the remaining Republican grown-ups (whose ranks are thinning) can reassert control, there will be no rational “loyal opposition” to keep Democrats focused and honest, no healthy competition to ensure that all ideas get thoroughly vetted, and no place to go–no alternative to vote for– for the disaffected.

America needs a rational GOP. We had one once, and I miss it.

 

 

 

 

Watch Out for the Backlash

When people talk about “backlash,” they are generally referring to a reaction to something–an effort to undo or reverse a previous change.

Backlash is thus the proper term to apply to the movement that began in the mid-1960s, in reaction to social disruption caused by anti-war activism, feminism and the civil rights movement. Middle-class whites, especially but not exclusively in the South, resented the erosion of their social dominance and banded together to fight what they saw as the increasing secularization and liberalism of American society.

Paranoid fringe groups like the John Birch Society and similar “patriot” and  “Christian” groups gradually took over the national GOP. Political scientists tell us that Reagan’s election in 1980 solidified right-wing conservative efforts to transform the political landscape of America. Since 1980, the GOP has become less and less genuinely conservative—and more and more radically reactionary.

African-Americans understand the implications of this takeover (much more on that in tomorrow’s blog). I’m not so sure that LGBT folks do.

After all, although the racism at the heart of the backlash has become impossible to ignore,the  LGBT community is celebrating years of increasing acceptance. Same-sex marriages are widely if not universally recognized, and a majority of Americans support them. Popular culture is inclusive and affirming. Civil rights are being extended, albeit slowly.

As a recent post from The Daily Beast noted, “Today, unlike ever before, most Americans have openly gay friends, colleagues, and family members, and most approve of same-sex relationships. Young people are overwhelmingly gay-friendly, leaving little doubt which way the trends are going.”

So, as Alfred E. Neumann (Google it) used to say, “What—Me Worry?”

As the Daily Beast and other sources have reported, however, this rosy picture has plenty of thorns:

  • The Texas Republican Party has officially endorsed so-called “reparative therapy,” a quack regimen that reputable psychiatry roundly condemns. (How considerate! The Texas GOP wants to ensure the availability of “therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”)
  • In Oklahoma, a conservative candidate for the state House of Representatives, has quoted Biblical passages that (he says) prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals. On a Facebook post, he wrote “I think we would be totally in the right to do it.”
  • Mississippi just passed a measure being considered in several other states that would “protect religious liberty” by allowing people to act on their “sincere religious convictions” by refusing to do business with gay clients or customers.

More disturbing, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently broke what had been a string of pro-equality federal appellate rulings and upheld state bans on same-sex marriage, giving hope to those who want to roll back the clock on LGBT rights.

As I look out at our increasingly contentious, toxic political environment, I see a distressing number of frightened, old, furious, deeply threatened white heterosexual males. On my good days, I interpret their hysterical reaction to social change—their racism, their homophobia, their sexism—as the “last throes” of the old order of things. A backlash with unfortunate but ultimately temporary effects.

On my bad days, I worry that the vast amounts of money they are spending, the religious “authority” they are wielding/perverting, and their fanatic persistence will carry the day.

Progress is not a given.

 

Trust, City Life–and a Meditation on Branding

One blog I follow is CityScope–an ongoing conversation about urban life and innovation around the globe. A recent post there focused on one of my preoccupations, the importance of trust in building social capital and facilitating city life, from a fresh perspective.

Obviously, trust has always been a social dynamic in cities. (So has mistrust. See Ferguson, Missouri.)  Today, some combination of technology, austerity and social transformation seems to be changing the conversation. The rise of mobile apps, social media and other web-enabled forms of communication are a big part of what’s going on. These platforms don’t create trust, but they do create new ways for us to discover trust and put it to work in cities.

The author of the post quoted Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, who described how his service, which lets people rent out their homes or spare bedrooms to strangers, had expanded to more than 34,000 cities in 190 countries in a mere six years.

“At its core, the thing that we invented wasn’t the ability to book someone’s home,” Chesky said. “What we invented was a very streamlined mechanism for trust.”

“Before us, essentially everyone was a stranger,” Chesky continued. “The only thing you could buy was from companies — those companies had brands, and those brands said the companies could be trusted. A person — you couldn’t trust. The moment identity got attached to people, suddenly the playing field was level. People could act as businesses. They could act as microentrepreneurs.”

I hadn’t really thought about the role of branding in creating trust, and reading this gave me one of those “aha” moments. Of course! That’s why people stop at a Wendy’s or McDonalds when they’re on a road trip–they “trust” what they’ll get; they’ll know what to expect. That’s why my husband orders his khakis from LL Bean when he buys on the internet; he knows what he will get in both quality and fit.  Creating and then fulfilling expectations is what “branding” is mostly about. (I do recognize that a large part of the preference for upscale appliances and identifiable designer clothing among those who can afford such things is not reliance on the inherent quality of the goods, but the message sent by flaunting the brand.)

Keeping one’s brand trustworthy is incredibly important to commercial enterprises. Public relations professionals sometimes specialize in “crisis management”–handling events that might reduce brand trust and thus loyalty. (NFL, anyone?) Companies that cannot manage these PR disasters find themselves in deep trouble.

Politically, we are about to see what happens when a political party’s brand becomes toxic to the nation as a whole, but the dynamics of the organization prevent cooler heads from “managing” the problem.

Recently, a Republican high in the party hierarchy admitted to a friend of mine that there is no way today’s GOP can win the Presidency; absent residential sorting, gerrymandering and voter “ID” laws, the party would not be able to win House seats. It may take another couple of election cycles, but the “brand” is increasingly toxic to younger voters, who “trust” it to take positions that are anathema to most of them.

When the old white guys who can be relied upon to support the brand no matter how repellent it has become die off, the Grand Old Party will face a choice: abandon its current radicalism and return to the center-right brand that sold well, or become irrelevant.