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.

Upon further review, we’ve determined that the deal isn’t really much of a deal

Well, everything turned out just swell after all the drama over the debt ceiling debate, didn’t it?  I mean, so long as you don’t mind that:

–the sorry spectacle of the political fight led one rating agency to drop America’s debt rating a notch below AAA anyway: it doesn’t doubt that the U.S. can pay its debts, but feels the political stalemate raised questions about the government’s willingness to pay its debts, and so lowered the rating as a warning to investors;

–the deal doesn’t actually reduce the nation’s debt, it just lowers the rate at which it is rising; and

–taking the nation’s financial health hostage in a political negotiation was shown to be an effective tactic, so we can expect to see it used again in the future.

Among the lessons learned:

–the deal assumes the elimination of the so-called Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012, meaning Republicans gave up the very thing they fought so hard for a year ago.

Plucking flaccid compromise from obstinacy should not be mistaken for victory, just as the smell emanating from Washington after this deal shouldn’t be mistaken for success.

82% of Americans are unhappy (disgusted?) with the performance of Congress on the debt issue, nearly half are unhappy with the president’s handling of the situation, and 40% view the Tea Party unfavorably.

More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.

–the political system in Washington, D.C. is becoming more and more unproductive, and may not be able to help us with anything.

The president has tried reasonableness and he has failed. It has been astonishing to watch Obama’s sheer unwillingness to give up on his opponents after their refusal to work with him on the stimulus package, health care reform, or the extension of the Bush tax cuts last fall. A Congress dominated by mindless cannibals is now feasting on a supine president. But surely even he now realizes there’s no middle ground with antagonists whose only interest is in seeing him humiliated.

More real fun is going to come later in the year when a new federal fiscal commission tries to come up with a plan to solve the federal government’s money problems.  If it’s anything like the most recent such commissions, it will find that cutting the budget just can’t produce enough savings to right the ship and it will also look for equitable ways to increase revenue.  It could start by checking this week’s local paper: Ezra Klein outlines a plan for Democrats to boost revenue by negotiating like Republicans, and Charles Krauthammer offers a very rational outline for reforming and simplifying taxes so our representatives in Washington could have a fresh starting point on the coming negotiations on tax rates and entitlement reforms…and they are coming.

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!