Tag Archives: GOP

The Ugly American

A friend just asked me an interesting question: why do you suppose no one has interviewed Dick Lugar about the merits/demerits of the agreement with Iran?

A good question, to which I have no good response. But it does raise another question: when and how did the party of Dick Lugar, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller–among many, many others–become the party of Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?

I have resisted writing about Trump, because really…why waste the digital ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is wrong with my country; he’s like the “ugly American” tourists who used to roam Europe routinely embarrassing the rest of us.

  • Start with the narcissism: the belief that he is “exceptional.” The insistence that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, unable to appreciate his superiority.
  • The glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: I’m rich so I’m better, and it’s all due to my brilliance; I don’t owe my (exaggerated) fortune to my inherited wealth, or my ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.
  • The substitution of witless name-calling for discourse: if I disagree with you, you’re a dummy or a clown. I don’t have to explain why you’re wrong, or what I would do instead, or why my idea is better. Just playground-level epithets.
  • The full-throated bigotry and racism: Obama is black, so he couldn’t possibly have been born in the U.S.; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers and rapists.
  • The chutzpah. Denigrating John McCain’s service while Trump was taking advantage of deferments available to the pampered and privileged.
  • The confusion of tasteless and tacky with quality.

There is more, but what I don’t understand is how a significant part of the Republican base can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the party and the country. Granted, the rest of the field ranges from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying, but Trump’s antics are so outsized as to make even Rick Perry (“oops!”) look sentient by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need leadership that understands those complexities and can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them–not purveyors of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent bullshit.

The party of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut is long gone.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Abortion..

Yesterday’s blog ended with a question about the motives of the anti-abortion culture warriors. Although there are obviously many sincere people who have moral or religious objections to reproductive choice, the punitive measures advanced by many others (together with their utter lack of concern about what happens to the babies so “saved” once they are born) raises legitimate questions about their real agenda.

I’m not much for conspiracy theories; I tend to agree with a colleague from my days in city government who often remarked that incompetence explains so much more than conspiracies. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a fair number of the men who have staked out anti-abortion positions (and yes, they’re disproportionately male) aren’t as opposed to abortion as they are to women’s full equality. (Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant, like God intended…).

After all, if you are truly anti-abortion, you’d support programs that reduce the need for and incidence of abortion.

The New York Times recently reported on the GOP’s war on contraception and Planned Parenthood:

One would imagine that congressional Republicans, almost all of whom are on record as adamantly opposing abortion, would be eager to fund programs that help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

That would be the common sense approach, anyway.

And yet since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have been trying to obliterate the highly effective federal family-planning program known as Title X, which gives millions of lower-income and rural women access to contraception, counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

A House subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services has proposed to eliminate all Title X funding — about $300 million — from a 2016 spending bill.

The bill would also slash funding by up to 90 percent for sex education, specifically President Obama’s teen-pregnancy prevention initiative. The only winner was abstinence-only education, whose funding the subcommittee voted to double, despite the fact that it has basically no effect on abstinence and has been associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.

Federal law prohibits the use of any federal dollars for abortion or abortion-related services, and has for many years. That inconvenient fact hasn’t prevented the “pro-life” posers from insisting that their efforts to eviscerate reproductive health programs serving poor women–programs that save the lives of many of those women–are “pro life.” Of course, they aren’t “pro” anything. They are anti-woman–and fiscally irresponsible.

What Title X grants actually do is help prevent unwanted pregnancies — more than one million in 2012, which translates to about 363,000 abortions avoided. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization, every public dollar spent on family planning services saved about $7 in costs related to pregnancy, birth and infant care, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. So the proposal to slash the program’s funding is not just inhumane, it’s also fiscally dumb.

A genuine opposition to abortion would require support for family planning programs that reduce abortions. A genuine concern for “life” would include concern for the lives of poor women. A genuine commitment to fiscal conservatism would mandate support for programs that demonstrably save tax dollars.

The operative word is “genuine.”

 

A Consensus that Doesn’t Seem to Matter

I don’t recall which American humorist first delivered the line, “I’m not a member of an organized political party; I’m a Democrat” but for many years, “disorganized” was one of the kinder descriptions of the Democratic party.

Contemporary Democrats remain ideologically diverse, but these days, the divisions are far deeper in the Republican party, where extremists elected to Congress from some 80 deep-red (often gerrymandered) districts are far, far to the Right of most Republican voters.

Just how much does this fringe depart from the policy preferences of the Republican rank-and-file?  If we are talking about issues of campaign finance reform, a recent poll strongly suggests the answer is “pretty far.

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

The findings reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by “super PACs” and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question.

The poll confirms that most Americans–Republican and Democrat alike–reject the Court’s sunny conclusion that money does not corrupt the process or allow the wealthy to “buy” policies favorable to their interests.

The broader public appears to see things differently: More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.

Those concerns — and the divide between Washington elites and the rest of the country — extend to Republicans.

Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors.

Republicans in the poll were almost as likely as Democrats to favor further restrictions on campaign donations, even as some prominent Republicans call for legislation to eliminate existing caps on contributions.

Perhaps if the more extreme partisans sent to Washington from safe, deep-red districts had to answer to more moderate–and more representative–Republican voters, their legislative behavior would be different.

Perhaps if a couple of the eminent scholars on the Court had ever run for or held political office, their lofty abstractions might be tempered with, and informed by, real-world experience.

And perhaps, if pigs could fly…..

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…..