It’s still too early for the 2016 campaign, but…

The first vote that counts in the 2016 presidential election is still four months away, so I remain committed to the belief that it is still too soon to be caring about this.  Of course, I’m vastly outnumbered by people in both the Democratic and Republican parties, in the news media, and of course in the political-industrial complex which makes its living off the perpetual campaign.  Nevertheless, I found something I want to share in case you haven’t already seen it.

I admit to being a little amused by the specter of Donald Trump leading the public opinion polls among Republican candidates, and bemused by the conceit of the Hillary Clinton camp that the nomination is hers because…well, because Hillary.  As a government contractor employee I’m far more interested right now in whether or not the do-nothing Congress can pass a simple budget resolution and keep the doors open, and at last report that seems a pretty good bet.  If it doesn’t happen, though, the most likely reason will be that some right-wing extremist will have decided that advocating lost causes is more important than good government…thank you, Sen. Cruz.

It’s those guys (and some gals, but mostly guys) who drove John Boehner to decide to give up his speakership rather than try to further advance his career herding cats.  It’s almost heroic when you think about it: Boehner decided to fall on his sword rather than let the loud-mouthed minority of his party seriously damage the overall operation by keeping up their effort to drive him out of the chair.  I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about his courage and selflessness…and nearly giddy when I read the suggestion that this could be a step on the road to the self-destruction of the party that the extremists grudgingly call their home.

In today’s New York Times (“Anarchy in the House”), Geoffrey Kabaservice argues that the Boehner resignation drama can be seen as a symptom of the kind of conservatism led by Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots. They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare…Goldwater’s followers viewed any Republicans who wanted to govern as traitors to be stamped out. They accused their own leadership of conspiring with Democrats to thwart conservatives…They had no strategy other than taking over the party and nominating Goldwater. He would win the 1964 election, they believed, because a hidden majority would flock to the polls when presented with a candidate who wasn’t what we would now call “politically correct.”


The present resurgence of anti-governing conservatism is also likely to end badly for Republicans. The extremists have the ability to disrupt the Congress, but not to lead it. Their belief that shutdowns will secure real concessions is magical thinking, not legislative realism. And the more power they gain, the less likely it becomes that a Republican-controlled Congress can pass conservative legislation, or indeed any legislation at all.

It’s true that sometimes no legislation is better than bad legislation. But the United States faces real problems, including stagnant wages, family instability, infrastructure collapse and long-term indebtedness. If Republicans can’t advance their own solutions, they’ll have to deal with what Democrats — or harsh realities — impose on them. Paralysis is not a plan.

The rebranding of Republicanism as a force for anarchy has spilled into the presidential contest and threatens the general election chances of the eventual nominee.

Does the Republican Party have time to turn that around before the general election?  I think so.  Do the people who run the party these days want to turn that around?  If so they better get started proving it, because soon enough even I’ll be paying attention to the campaign.

The only “real” reality show is just too depressing to watch

Americans today “are turned off and tuned out of the sequestration mess in Washington. To a person, they are sick of the antics of those to whom they have entrusted enormous power.”  So begins David Gergen in his column today, and I can’t find anything in his argument with which to disagree.

The clowns we elected to represent us in Washington—and in many many cases, re-elected…shame on us—have failed to take care of one of the most fundamental things we send them to Washington to do: set a budget for the operation of our government.  Actually, as Gergen correctly notes, they have failed to do that one thing for four years running—so far.  Back in the summer of 2011 they set a trap to force themselves to act, promising across the board budget cuts at the end of 2012 at such a severe level that it was inconceivable they wouldn’t act to stop them from going into effect; when they still couldn’t beat that deadline they passed a law giving themselves two more months to wrap it up.  Well, here we are, two months later, but this time there doesn’t even seem to be the possibility that they can get together to give themselves more time.  The ineptitude is astounding!

It’s not unusual to have the legislative and executive branches of government  disagree about taxes or spending or any other policy issue; historically, someone on one side or the other finds a way to force a resolution.  But as Gergen points out, “we have a rare moment when both Congress and the president are retreating from their responsibilities. It’s hard to recall a time when we were so leaderless.”  The Republicans and the Democrats, the president and Congress, everyone is busy running from microphone to microphone insisting that there’s nothing they can do about it.  And the whole argument has become so tiresome that even in the face of budget cuts that threaten basic services, things we can all pretty much agree that government should be taking care of, a lot of Americans are just yawning and looking the other way.  How many times can the boy cry “wolf” before the villagers ignore the call?

Let’s hope we haven’t thrown in the towel yet, because this sequestration circle jerk isn’t the end of the line: whether these cuts go into effect this Friday or not, there’s a potential government shutdown only four weeks down the road if there’s no agreement on new spending authorization.  If we don’t dig up some leadership somewhere, what’s been going around for the last few years is going to come around again and again and again.  No winners here, America, not if we aren’t willing to find a compromise that keeps the whole thing from crashing down on our heads.

Time to take the long view

In less than a day we’ll either know which candidate has won the election for president or we’ll be standing by at the starting gate to cheer the lawyers as they rush for the courthouse to file suits protesting the election of 2012.  Either way: good times.  If you’re like me and have subscribed to the mantra “please, for the love of God, make it stop,” you haven’t been thinking about the elections that come after this one; here’s a little food for thought when you do.

The demographics of the American electorate are in the midst of an historic shift that bodes ill for the future of today’s Republican Party and Tea Party and any other angry-old-white-people’s party, whether they win this election or not.  The findings of the Pew Research Center include that:

  • We are steadily moving toward the day when minorities will be the majority. In 1950, the country was 87 percent white. [Paul] Taylor says that number will dip below 50 percent by 2050.
  • “The people leaving are predominantly white. The people coming in are heavily nonwhite.”
  • The growing percentage of the population that is minority comes thanks to a fast-growing Hispanic population as well as a steady increase in the number of Americans of Asian descent.
  • “Republicans are 90 percent white. Democrats are only about 60 percent white,” says Pew Research’s Andy Kohut. “The Republicans have a white problem — or a lack of diversity problem. It’s not apparent in this election so far, but over time, the changing face of America is going to represent more of a challenge to the GOP than to the Democrats.”
  • Minorities overwhelmingly favor Democrats. That trend is likely enhanced by President Obama’s status as the nation’s first black president. In this election, African-American support for Obama tops 90 percent. Polls show Hispanics supporting the president by better than 2 to 1.
  • As for white voters, polls show they prefer Republicans. They went 55 percent for John McCain four years ago, and this year Mitt Romney is doing just as well or even better among whites.

(Surely is it just coincidence that the 90%-white party is proudly in the lead on issues of “immigration reform” and “securing our borders” and “preventing voter fraud.”)

Add to that calculus the fact that a growing number of people—now more than 40% of Americans—say they are not Republicans or Democrats, and that younger voters, the ones filling in the voter rolls as the older voters die off, are also more liberal in their attitudes on the GOP’s favorite social issue shibboleths.

When I cast my first vote in a presidential election and my guy lost, I was very worried that society was going to unravel.  It didn’t, of course, but I was only 18 and didn’t have the virtue of the long view.  The country has powered along in greased grooves for a few generations since then, just as it did for 200 years before that.  I don’t mean that everything has been perfect or that we can take national success and longevity for granted and lay back sipping daiquiris by the pool, but I don’t believe that today’s situation or the outlook for the future are as bad as the partisan zealots and the political-industrial complex make them out to be.  Not if we can finally get our leaders to take responsible action to pull the federal budget back from the cliff while there’s still time…that should become our focus between now and New Year’s; then we can worry about the cable news noise stations and their crises du jour.

In the spring a young man’s fancy also turns to baseball and cars; politics is getting in the way

Yep, another great day: sunny skies and highs in the low 80s in southeast Texas, got a ticket for my first game of the new baseball season tonight, made some good progress with a new swing thought out on the driving range yesterday, and I’m about a week away from trading in a serviceable but boxy and uninspiring VW for a very low mileage Honda two-seater—just the kind I’ve always loved and used to drive—while lowering my costs in the process!  With Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP presidential primary, I’m hoping we can all enjoy a period of relative campaign quiet, too, but here’s something to roll around in your head before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and the permanent political class, use up all the oxygen.

It has looked like, from the vantage point of today, that come November we voters would face a choice between the radicalism that defines today’s Republican Party or another four years of divided government and damn little constructive effort on crucial economic issues.  Even the most moderate-seeming Republican candidate, Romney, was disavowing anything in own past that smelled of reasonableness and compromise, to appeal to the extremists who make up most of the GOP primary voters.  But the need for that should be over now, absent a mind-boggling resurgence from Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or a last gasp charge to the convention from Sarah Palin or someone of that ilk to rally the “true conservatives.”

But even as Romney starts to redefine himself to appeal to the less ideological among us, Republicans will have a quite a slog in front of them if they wish to broaden their appeal beyond those who’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid.  Former White House speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson says it’s not just a matter of trying to counter the Democrats’ “war on women” meme: “The GOP’s main problem is not the contraceptive issue; it is the perception that it has become too ideological on many issues.”

Women and independent voters have seen a party enthusiastically confirming its most damaging stereotypes. The composite Republican candidate—reflecting the party’s ideological mean—has been harsh on immigration, confrontational on social issues, simplistic in condemning government and silent on the struggles of the poor. How many women would find this profile appealing on eHarmony?

This is the hidden curse of the Republican congressional triumph of 2010. Republican activists came to believe that purity is all that is necessary for victory. But a presidential candidate, it turns out, requires a broader ideological attraction than your average tea party House freshman.

From an academic standpoint it will be interesting to see if and how Romney and the more traditional Republican elements work to sand the scary edges off of their primary campaign messages, to widen their appeal and entice the plurality of American voters who don’t ritualistically identify with the Republican or Democratic parties; those are the people who will decide this election.  (The Obama campaign isn’t going to make it easy, already working to reinforce Romney’s “severe” conservatism and other primary campaign highlights.)  Gerson argues that “Mainly, women and independents want some reassurance that Republicans give a damn about someone other than Republican primary voters. It is not a high bar. But Romney needs to start somewhere…”.  I’ll check back in after Memorial Day to see how he’s doing.

A tour de farce plays on!

Step by step, inch by inch, the passionless play proceeds: the House speaker proposes a new combination budget-cutting and debt ceiling-raising plan, then stands back when independent analysis shows it won’t generate the savings he promised, before the Congressional Budget Office gives good grades to the Senate majority leader’s plan (which saves little more than the speaker’s proposal).  Democrats are offering more than anyone would have expected, while some Republicans are revolting against their leadership for even thinking about going along with them, for not demanding more and more.  Who will be standing when the music stops next?

While I still expect that sanity will prevail and an agreement will be reached to prevent a crisis, nobody in Washington is doing anything about anything else and we look like a bunch of doofuses to the rest of the world as our nation moves closer to default.  So what, you ask—what the hell happens to you and me if they don’t raise the debt ceiling?

Q: Won’t refusing to raise the debt limit cut the deficit?

A. No.

Q: Do you mean that Congress can pass a budget that requires borrowing, and then argue later about whether to approve that borrowing?

A. That’s right.

Q. So, what happens to government spending if the debt limit is not raised? Will the United States default?

A. The United States will not have enough money to pay all of its bills… The possibilities range from “prioritizing” some payments and paying them first to paying bills in the order in which they were received.

The Bipartisan Policy Center analysis notes that if the government were to choose to pay the interest on its debt, Social Security benefits, Medicaid and Medicare payments, defense contractors and unemployment benefits, it could not have enough left to pay for the salaries of federal workers and members of the military, Pell grants for college, highway construction or tax refunds, among other things.

It doesn’t stop there: a default means some combination of government bondholders don’t get paid, government contractors and vendors don’t get paid, government employees don’t get paid, government benefits recipients don’t get paid, and people who don’t get paid have less money to spend so the economy slows down; government creditors demand higher interest rates on future loans and that leads to higher interest rates for we consumers on credit cards and mortgages; cities and states don’t get federal program payments and their own cash flow problems become worse.  Just the threat of default is starting to make the markets nervous.

Our country’s government spends way more than it takes in, and that needs to be corrected.  But as hard as it seems right now to make the choices that will lead to a stronger economy in the long term—and this isn’t going to be all fixed in your first six months in Washington, Mr. and Mrs. first-term Congressmember—it will only be harder if all the problems caused by a default are dumped on top of the ones we already face.  And even if there’s no default, the political playacting that both parties are consumed with right now may make financial markets skittish enough about the future that the credit rating of our country’s debt might be lowered anyway, leading to higher interest rates, etc., etc.

I’ve said this before: first, Congress needs to live up to its responsibility to prevent this totally preventable problem of potential default, then it and the administration can turn full focus on the screwed up federal budget mess that threatens our long-term financial health and security.  By the way, there’s a special tactical unit now on its way to the Capitol to help with that.

Places, please, for the big finish!