Congratulations, America

We did some good things out there in those little voting booths yesterday…most of us…but a hearty “good on ya” to everyone who took the trouble to participate in the process beyond just running their mouths (or their typing fingers).  And as my old high school biology teacher (and football coach) used to say each Monday morning in the fall, “I’d like to say jest a few words about the happ’nins of last week.”

Light bulbThis morning McClatchy ran a pretty good early analysis of why a president who seemed to be in a neck and neck race for re-election ended up winning so decisively.

…Democrats say [President Barack] Obama was able, despite the sluggish economy, to point to achievements. He trumpeted success at preventing the economy from hitting bottom with a stimulus plan that plowed government dollars into hiring. He achieved long-sought health care legislation, enacted a firewall to prevent a relapse of the Wall Street fiasco, backed a federal bailout to save auto industry jobs, ended the war in Iraq and oversaw the raid that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Vice President Joe Biden suggested as an Obama campaign bumper sticker. “That about sums it up, man.”

At the close of the election, Obama was boosted by a crisis beyond any candidate’s control. As the massive storm Sandy barreled up the East Coast, Obama suspended his campaign appearances to tend to the emergency response, projecting an air of confidence and compassion and avoiding the criticism that plagued former President George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Light bulbOh, and on that neck and neck thing: Nate Silver of The New York Times 538 Blog, the target of a lot of conservative venting over his analysis of state by state polls which predicted that Obama had a way better than 50-50 chance of winning, is the smartest man on the planet today: if by now we know that Obama won Florida, Silver picked every. state’s. outcome. correctly.

“Journalists who professed to be political experts were shown to be well connected, well-informed perhaps, but – on the thing that ultimately decided the result: how people were planning to vote – not well educated. They were left reporting opinions, while Nate Silver and others reported research.”

Light bulbPolitico has a list of the dozen things we learned yesterday.

7. The Bush problem lingers

Romney’s refusal to triangulate away from President George W. Bush is one of the stranger decisions he made in this political climate.

Exit polls from Tuesday night show that a majority of voters still blame Bush for the weak economy.

This could be cause for concern for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely viewed as a potential 2016 hopeful and is a middle-of-the-road voice on immigration reform. It’s also an issue in terms of some of the Republicans’ top figures, such as Crossroads co-founder and former Bush political strategist Karl Rove.

How the Republicans deal with this in the next two years will be telling as their chances of reclaiming the White House next time around.

Light bulbOne more thing I learned is that Mitt Romney, though clearly in emotional pain when he took the stage in Boston, was incredibly gracious in defeat, setting a terrific example when he said “This is a time of great challenge for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”  Compare that to the creepily gleeful declaration from Republican leaders four years ago that their highest priority was to make Obama a one-term president, a priority they pursued with no discernible concern for the impact of their actions on the nation they claimed to love and swore to serve.  Those among them who don’t try to live up to Romney’s “come together” example are giving us a glimpse of their true motivations.

Light bulbSpeaking of their motivations, LZ Granderson thinks the president has won some vindication from those who’ve been clamoring to “take our country back” and have never seemed to have been able to give Obama credit for anything he’s done.

So when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his critics spent more time discrediting the importance of the award than congratulating him for winning it.

When unemployment fell under 8%, they accused the Obama administration of fixing the numbers.

When the president opted to campaign instead of surveying the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac sooner, he was called selfish. When Obama left the campaign trail to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, former FEMA Director Michael Brown criticized him for responding too quickly.

Nothing he did was good enough for them.

But on Tuesday, it was good enough for the majority of real Americans.

Light bulbThe drive to extend equal protection of the law to homosexual citizens and give them the right to marry under civil law cleared another hurdle: for the first time, voters have said yes to same-sex marriageLots of them, in fact.

Light bulbThe extremists who shanghaied the once-proud Republican Party must consider if they will moderate their views on many issues to broaden their appeal or if they’d rather defend those cherished beliefs…and lose election after election because, inconvenient though it may be to admit, most Americans just don’t agree with what they seem to stand for.

Light bulbMeanwhile, the president and the current Congress must pick up the can they kicked down the road a year ago and find an answer to correcting our government’s budget deficit: if they take no action at all, there will be massive cuts to discretionary spending at the first of the year that may well push the economy into another recession.  Swell.

OK then…let’s talk about something else for awhile, OK?

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Separating the symptoms from the syndrome

Had enough already of the economy, jobs, and Medicare as political issues?  Are you ready for some good, old-fashioned, divisive social issues, guaranteed to split Americans along religious lines?  That’s what evangelical Christians do, and with the election getting closer there should be no surprise that a new round is erupting.

The Republican National Convention is next week; this week the platform committee approved a plank regarding abortion that pretty much falls in line with the party’s position on that issue over the last few platforms: no abortion, no way, no how…and no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” said the draft platform language approved Tuesday, which was first reported by CNN. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

I’ll give them this: that’s the only intellectually consistent anti-abortion position possible—if an unborn child has a fundamental right to life, there can be no exception that would permit that right to be “infringed.”  But that’s a hard line to take, and those exceptions have been included in many laws outlawing abortions because, to most people, it doesn’t seem fair for the government to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term when she didn’t choose to become pregnant, or when the pregnancy itself threatens her life and health.  Unless you don’t believe that women deserve the same treatment under law as men, in which case, well, that’s tough luck for the little lady.

Is it just coincidence that this comes up as a Missouri congressman stuns us with the concept of “legitimate rape”?  Probably; more’s the pity.

Let me give Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the benefit of the doubt.  When he answered a question about permitting abortion in the case of rape (KTVI-TV’s complete report is here), and said that he understood pregnancy as a result of rape was rare because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” I think he was trying to say that he believes that most of the pregnant women who claim they were raped are lying about having been raped, not trying to suggest that there is such a thing as “legitimate rape” as opposed to “illegitimate rape.”

In other words, he was demonstrating his ignorance.  That’s what’s driving a large part of the reaction, but what’s driving the rest—the portion from within the Republican Party—is that Akin looked stupid on a national stage, thereby threatening the GOP’s takeover of the U.S. Senate in this election, and opened up a crack in the extremist positions of the Republican Party for all the rest of us to take a peek.

We should not be fooled that Akin’s statement, merely because it is so offensive and quickly retracted or clarified, is a mere slip. It actually represents the worldview of Akin and many like-minded Republican colleagues. His comments are part and parcel of a view of civil rights, women’s rights, and science that should be antithetical to a modern society. It reflects a worldview that has held up progress on too many serious issues, a form of know-nothingism for the modern era, a rejection of the very notion of learning.

There’s little doubt that the “conservative” forces that have taken control of the GOP have a wide-ranging agenda driven by their adherence to the belief that America is a Christian nation that needs to be evangelized, to be “taken back” from the forces advocating the constitutional principles of a secular, inclusive, civil society.  What was once the party of Lincoln, of Roosevelt, even of Reagan, has moved so far to the extreme that it’s left a lot of its old membership behind.  (Let’s make posting examples of that a new parlor game, shall we—who wants to go next?)

Republicans…conservatives…evangelical extremists…organizing themselves to support and promote their beliefs, is absolutely their right, without question; speaking out against that myopic vision of our country is a right, too.  A right LZ Granderson exercised today…

Some social conservatives talk of protecting religious freedom, but what they are really seeking is a theocracy that places limits on freedom based on a version of Judeo-Christianity that fits their liking.That language is also being considered for the GOP’s national platform.

And John Avlon, also

So the real scandal is not just the sincere stupidity of Akin’s statement — it is the policy that undergirds it, enshrined in the Republican National Platform. The problem is bigger than politics, and that’s why it is worth discussing in this election, even when Akin is off the front pages.

…just to name two; I’ll be looking for the slightest excuse to post more.

Today Akin apologized for his comment and confessed he does understand that, yes, rape can cause pregnancy.  He also defied his party (from a safe perch behind Mike Huckabee’s microphone) and said he will not resign from the Senate race against Missouri’s Democratic incumbent senator; the applause and the apoplexy resume.  But Akin is not the issue…he’s only a symptom, and one to which an attentive citizenry needs to pay attention.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

The “supercommittee” admitted defeat; it won’t have a blueprint for reducing the nation’s deficit (stories here, here and here).  Is this a bad thing?

Some have argued, no: the first direct result of getting no plan from this committee is that the law which authorized it will now automatically cut $1.2 trillion from defense and non-defense spending over ten years starting in 2013, and that may end up giving us more deficit reduction than we’d have gotten otherwise.  No way to know for sure, of course, but it makes sense.

I mean, there’s no reason to believe that the same members of Congress who thought nothing of threatening government default for political gain this past summer were likely to come to any agreement now, not when the party that controls the House (and virtually controls the Senate with the threat of filibuster) is still holding its breath threatening to turn blue rather than be responsible and discuss the best ways to increase revenue as part of the answer (along with spending cuts and overall economic growth) to getting the federal budget on a healthy path.  None at all.

To believe otherwise would mean, first of all, believing that the sheep people lined up behind Speakers Boehner and Limbaugh have any goal more important that the defeat of President Obama.  They don’t, unless it is the personal destruction of Obama, and anyone unlike themselves.  Second, it means they would have to have the backbone to say no to the no-tax extremists and the campaign contributors.

I read an interesting article making the point that we’re foolish to think that our elected representatives will do anything that makes sense for us, because they’re in place to serve their bosses: namely, the minority of the population who actually vote in the primaries, and the even smaller percentage of the people who pay the bills through campaign contributions both above and below board.  (By the way, read Michael Moran’s piece setting the stage for his blog The Reckoning.)

The other thing to watch out for right now, though, is the cowardly Congress finding a way to back out of the deal it made with itself!  No Congress can pass a law that would prevent a future Congress from unpassing that law; just because it set itself this deadline and mandated future budget cuts as a penalty for failing to meet that deadline can’t prevent the next Congress from overriding all or some part of the threatened budget reductions, and that’s entirely possible for a group that already can’t say no to anyone (which is a big part of what got our budget in this mess to begin with).

Give some thought to Moran’s suggestion: in times of crisis, what if we take control away from politicians and give it to people who know what they’re doing?

A real super-committee – a real committee not only empowered to take the steps necessary to right the American economy, but competent to do so – would include 12 serious thinkers. They might include policymakers like former Fed Chairmen Paul Volker or (the suitably contrite) Alan Greenspan, economists of left and right like Stanford’s John B. Taylor, Yale’s Robert Schiller, NYU-Stern’s Nouriel Roubini, plus a few representatives of labor, small business and capital – let’s say Robert Reich, Joseph Schneider of Lacrosse Footwear, and Warren Buffett, just for kicks. No investment bank chairman, please, and no one facing reelection.

Can you imagine this group failing to come up with a solution? Can you imagine any of them worrying more about the next election than the future of the world’s largest economy? Certainly, they would clash – perhaps over the same tax v. spending cut issues. The difference: they would understand better than any member of Congress that no solution is far worse than a less-than-perfect solution.