Political and legislative dynamics 2015 – 2016

Time for the GOP to pitch in By Eugene Robinson Opinion writer, Washington Post, January 5, 2015

10 Dynamics That Will Shape the Next Two Years of American Politics by Joshua Holland, BillMoyers.com, December 30, 2014

New Senate majority leader’s main goal for GOP: Don’t be scary By Paul Kane, Washington Post, January 4, 2015

New GOP Senate chairmen aim to undo Obama policies By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press, January 3, 2015

Democracy, citizenship and government

Democracy

Democracy: government by the people; the common people of a community, as distinguished from any privileged class …81 percent of us–four out of five–would cut the deficit by taxing the rich and/or slashing military spending…What’s wrong with this picture? On every key issue of public concern the government in this supposed democracy has gone against the wishes of the majority of the public. Clearly, whatever it is, this is no democracy we are living in today… A Profound and Jarring Disconnect by Dave Lindorff,

Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it[there are] two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual… politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal… Political dysfunction spells trouble for democracies By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents….But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards…The major reason is widening inequality…Taxes have been cut on the rich, public schools have deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded…20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania)…How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent? The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society? Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.” But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice. In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society. The Meaning of Decent Society by Robert Reich, RobertReich.org December 20, 2013

Threats to democracy

Sedition: Crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow or destruction…Advocating, encouraging, and sanc­tioning sedition is the new norm on the conservative side…a wake-up call for progressives…it’s time to openly con­front the fact that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of US government. When they’re in power, they mismanage it and defund it. When they’re out of power, they refuse to participate in running the country at all — indeed, they throw all their energy into thwarting the democratic process any way they can. When they need to win an election, they use violent, polarizing, eliminationist language against their opponents to motivate their base. This is sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive under­mining of the government’s authority and capability to run the country. And it’s been at the core of their politics going all the way back to Goldwater…puts the short-term needs of the Republi­can party ahead of the long-term viability of the American democracy they’ve sworn to uphold… They need to choose whose side they’re on: America’s, or their own. Guilty of Sedition? How the Right Is Undermining Our Government’s Authority and Capability to Run the Country by Sara Robinson

…It is an affront to our democracy that you need a specific identification to vote for a candidate, but not to finance one. Why is it so easy to buy a government, but becoming so hard to vote for one? Voter suppression laws, overzealous filibuster use, you name it — the Republicans use every tactic they can to stop our democracy from actually selecting the person with the most support. Why do they do this? It seems obvious: when you don’t have winning ideas, you change the rules of the game. When you can’t convince voters that you are the best choice, you restrict their ability to choose. Voter Suppression Is Treasonous by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm

10 Ways Our Democracy Is Crumbling Around Us 

On the Sabotage of Democracy by Bill Moyers

How the Wealthy Wage War on Democracy Itself

Citizenship

“We have an opening in this crisis for a deep transformation in American politics…But it requires people — this is the hard part — to get out of their sort of passive resignation…and engage among themselves in a much more serious role as citizens…to force the changing values of the system.” William Grieder being interviewed by Bill Moyers, July 24, 2008

“It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a proportion of his property, but even his personal service to the defense of it.”   George Washington

… the public school system should prepare citizens for democracy…why our public school system was founded in the first place. …History is the study of that which has happened. Civics prepares each and every one of us to make our own history, by giving us the skills to navigate our democracy…we are failing to educate our children about their critical role as citizens…Our young people’s civic ignorance is a long-term threat…Three R’s and a Why by Andrea Batista Schlesinger

Speaking Out Is at the Heart of Being a Citizen

 Governance

The Repub­li­cans have changed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics…the Repub­li­can Party may no longer be a nor­mal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a fac­tion that is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal protest than a prac­ti­cal, gov­ern­ing alter­na­tive…The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the logic of com­pro­mise, no mat­ter how sweet the terms. The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the legit­i­macy of schol­ars and intel­lec­tual author­i­ties…The mem­bers of this move­ment have no sense of moral decency…if respon­si­ble Repub­li­cans don’t take con­trol, inde­pen­dents will con­clude that Repub­li­can fanati­cism caused this default. They will con­clude that Repub­li­cans are not fit to gov­ern.  And they will be right.   The Mother of All No-Brainers by David Brooks, New York Times

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is… do Republicans really believe that government spending is bad for the economy? No.… why is Mr. Romney denouncing these [defense] cuts? Because, he says, they would cost jobs! This is classic “weaponized Keynesianism” — the claim that government spending can’t create jobs unless the money goes to defense contractors, in which case it’s the lifeblood of the economy. And no, it doesn’t make any sense…As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate…  this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reaon for our ongo­ing economic weakness. And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, America will have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic. Obstruct and Exploit by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 9, 2012

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes.  The Greatest Story Never Told by Michael Tomasky

…Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen. Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux

…the fundamental debate we should be having is not the size of government but what the goal of government should be…for both policy and political reasons, the Democrats need to firmly pick the side of middle class and low income Americans, and not worry so much about preserving and protecting the establishment. The Mission of Government by Mike Lux

Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

Why America Can’t Pass Gun Control

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Millionaires Are Now the Majority in Congress: The 1% Literally Rule Us

Government – moral authority

.…Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good, is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? Protect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened… The prerequisite for solving the deepest prob­lems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good.… The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wallis

…Our current discussion of what constitutes “freedom” is shaped far too much by a deeply flawed right-wing notion that every action by government is a threat to personal liberty and that the one and only priority of those who care about keeping people free is for government to do less than it does. This perspective ignores the many ways over the course of our history in which government has expanded the autonomy of our citizens. Consider how much less freedom so many of us would have without civil rights or voting rights laws, without government student loans, without labor laws, without public schools and without Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. (And we don’t take seriously enough the implications of a most basic fact of our national story: that it took big government in Washington to outlaw slavery.)…we need to think more about “positive liberty,” the ability to realize certain goals in our lives. Democratic government can create the framework in which we have more power to reach those ends… Family values hypocrisy By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 15, 2014

Anti-government hysteria

Teaching the middle class to hate their government was an essential part of the [conservative] plan… A middle class cannot exist without a strong government. This is because only a government has the power to stand up to the giant corporations of today’s world …Thirty years ago at the onset of the Reagan Revolution, the middle class basically appreciated and respected their government…the basic message of Reagan and the conservatives was that everyone would be better off if the federal government just disappeared. They were smart enough not to say this directly, however. Instead, they just landed one body blow after another without openly expressing their desire to destroy the government…. Teaching People to Hate Their Own Govt. Is at the Core of the Project to Destroy the Middle Class By Dennis Marker

Government and corporations

They want to control and privatize government resources. Capitalism is exhausted here. It needs more public money. It’s always needed public money, it needs more now. When you look at the growth of capitalism in America from railroads all the way to the computer, it’s publicly funded…So the reinvention of capitalism is the issue, and the reinvention of government is what is happening. So capitalism is directly claiming public investment now…That’s the system they are steadily building — prisons, schools, public parks, there’s a conversion of the whole system into an investment of capital which is a major extension of what’s always been true. … The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America 

The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism 

Privatization

Five Ways privatization degrades America

The Campaign to Privatize the World 

Military-industrial complex

War Profiteers Make Millions At the Expense of the Public

Corporations Profit From Permanent War 

US Government Pays Contractors Twice as Much as Civil Servants for the Same Work

Overview – Government

 Governance

The Repub­li­cans have changed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics…the Repub­li­can Party may no longer be a nor­mal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a fac­tion that is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal protest than a prac­ti­cal, gov­ern­ing alter­na­tive…The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the logic of com­pro­mise, no mat­ter how sweet the terms. The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the legit­i­macy of schol­ars and intel­lec­tual author­i­ties…The mem­bers of this move­ment have no sense of moral decency…if respon­si­ble Repub­li­cans don’t take con­trol, inde­pen­dents will con­clude that Repub­li­can fanati­cism caused this default. They will con­clude that Repub­li­cans are not fit to gov­ern.  And they will be right.   The Mother of All No-Brainers by David Brooks

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is… do Republicans really believe that government spending is bad for the economy? No.… why is Mr. Romney denouncing these [defense] cuts? Because, he says, they would cost jobs! This is classic “weaponized Keynesianism” — the claim that government spending can’t create jobs unless the money goes to defense contractors, in which case it’s the lifeblood of the economy. And no, it doesn’t make any sense…As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate…  this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reaon for our ongo­ing economic weakness. And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, America will have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic. Obstruct and Exploit by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 9, 2012

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes.  The Greatest Story Never Told by Michael Tomasky

…Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen. Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux

…the fundamental debate we should be having is not the size of government but what the goal of government should be…for both policy and political reasons, the Democrats need to firmly pick the side of middle class and low income Americans, and not worry so much about preserving and protecting the establishment. The Mission of Government by Mike Lux

Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

Why America Can’t Pass Gun Control

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Millionaires Are Now the Majority in Congress: The 1% Literally Rule Us

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann Explain Why Congress is Failing Us,

Government – moral authority

…All politics is moral… But progressives and radical conservatives have very different ideas of right and wrong. The basic idea is this: Democracy is based on empathy, that is, on citizens caring about each other and acting on that care, taking responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, communities, and their nation. The role of government is to carry out this principle in two ways: protection and empowerment.  Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully! by George Lakoff

.…Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good, is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? Protect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened… The prerequisite for solving the deepest prob­lems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good.… The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wallis

…Our current discussion of what constitutes “freedom” is shaped far too much by a deeply flawed right-wing notion that every action by government is a threat to personal liberty and that the one and only priority of those who care about keeping people free is for government to do less than it does. This perspective ignores the many ways over the course of our history in which government has expanded the autonomy of our citizens. Consider how much less freedom so many of us would have without civil rights or voting rights laws, without government student loans, without labor laws, without public schools and without Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. (And we don’t take seriously enough the implications of a most basic fact of our national story: that it took big government in Washington to outlaw slavery.)…we need to think more about “positive liberty,” the ability to realize certain goals in our lives. Democratic government can create the framework in which we have more power to reach those ends… Family values hypocrisy By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 15, 2014

Anti-government

Teaching the middle class to hate their government was an essential part of the [conservative] plan… A middle class cannot exist without a strong government. This is because only a government has the power to stand up to the giant corporations of today’s world …Thirty years ago at the onset of the Reagan Revolution, the middle class basically appreciated and respected their government…the basic message of Reagan and the conservatives was that everyone would be better off if the federal government just disappeared. They were smart enough not to say this directly, however. Instead, they just landed one body blow after another without openly expressing their desire to destroy the government…. Teaching People to Hate Their Own Govt. Is at the Core of the Project to Destroy the Middle Class By Dennis Marker

Government and corporations

They want to control and privatize government resources. Capitalism is exhausted here. It needs more public money. It’s always needed public money, it needs more now. When you look at the growth of capitalism in America from railroads all the way to the computer, it’s publicly funded…So the reinvention of capitalism is the issue, and the reinvention of government is what is happening. So capitalism is directly claiming public investment now…That’s the system they are steadily building — prisons, schools, public parks, there’s a conversion of the whole system into an investment of capital which is a major extension of what’s always been true. … The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America 

The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism 

Privatization

Five Ways privatization degrades America

The Campaign to Privatize the World 

Military-industrial complex

War Profiteers Make Millions At the Expense of the Public

Corporations Profit From Permanent War 

US Government Pays Contractors Twice as Much as Civil Servants for the Same Work


Tea Party Radicalism Is Misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”

By Michael Lind, Salon.com, posted on Alternet.org,  October 6, 2013

To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.

The first misconception that is widespread in the commentariat is that the Newest Right can be thought of as being simply a group of “extremists” who happen to be further on the same political spectrum on which leftists, liberals, centrists and moderate conservatives find their places. But reducing politics to points on a single line is more confusing than enlightening. Most political movements result from the intersection of several axes—ideology, class, occupation, religion, ethnicity and region—of which abstract ideology is seldom the most important.

The second misconception is that the Newest Right or Tea Party Right is populist. The data, however, show that Tea Party activists and leaders on average are more affluent than the average American. The white working class often votes for the Newest Right, but then the white working class has voted for Republicans ever since Nixon. For all its Jacksonian populist rhetoric, the Newest Right is no more a rebellion of the white working class than was the original faux-populist Jacksonian movement, led by rich slaveowners like Andrew Jackson and agents of New York banks like Martin Van Buren.

The third misconception is that the Newest Right is irrational. The American center-left, whose white social base is among highly-educated, credentialed individuals like professors and professionals, repeatedly has committed political suicide by assuming that anyone who disagrees with its views is an ignorant “Neanderthal.” Progressive snobs to the contrary, the leaders of the Newest Right, including Harvard-educated Ted Cruz, like the leaders of any successful political movement, tend to be highly educated and well-off. The self-described members of the Tea Party tend to be more affluent and educated [2] than the general public.

The Newest Right, then, cannot be explained in terms of abstract ideological extremism, working-class populism or ignorance and stupidity. What, then, is the Newest Right?

The Newest Right is the simply the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right, adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances. While it has followers nationwide, its territorial bases are the South and the West, particularly the South, whose population dwarfs that of the Mountain and Prairie West. According to one study [3] by scholars at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas:

While less than one in five (19.4%) minority non-Southerners and about 36% of Anglo non-Southerners report supporting the movement, almost half of white Southerners (47.1%) express support….

In fact, the role that antigovernment sentiment in the South plays in Tea Party movement support is the strongest in our analysis.

The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern [4] but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.

Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables—the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.  These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.

For nearly a century, from the end of Reconstruction, when white Southern terrorism drove federal troops out of the conquered South, until the Civil Rights Revolution, the South’s local notables maintained their control over a region of the U.S. larger than Western Europe by means of segregation, disenfranchisement, and bloc voting and the filibuster at the federal level. Segregation created a powerless black workforce and helped the South’s notables pit poor whites against poor blacks. The local notables also used literacy tests and other tricks to disenfranchise lower-income whites as well as blacks in the South, creating a distinctly upscale electorate. Finally, by voting as a unit in Congress and presidential elections, the “Solid South” sought to thwart any federal reforms that could undermine the power of Southern notables at the state, county and city level. When the Solid South failed, Southern senators made a specialty of the filibuster, the last defense of the embattled former Confederacy.

When the post-Civil War system broke down during the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the South’s local notable class and its Northern and Western allies unexpectedly won a temporary three-decade reprieve, thanks to the “Reagan Democrats.” From the 1970s to the 2000s, white working-class voters alienated from the Democratic Party by civil rights and cultural liberalism made possible Republican presidential dominance from Reagan to George W. Bush and Republican dominance of Congress from 1994 to 2008. Because their politicians dominated the federal government much of the time, the conservative notables were less threatened by federal power, and some of them, like the second Bush, could even imagine a “governing conservatism” which, I have argued [5], sought to “Southernize” the entire U.S.

But then, by the 2000s, demography destroyed the temporary Nixon-to-Bush conservative majority (although conceivably it could enjoy an illusory Indian summer if Republicans pick up the Senate and retain the House in 2016). Absent ever-growing shares of the white vote, in the long run the Republican Party cannot win without attracting more black and Latino support.

That may well happen, in the long run. But right now most conservative white local notables in the South and elsewhere in the country don’t want black and Latino support. They would rather disenfranchise blacks and Latinos than compete for their votes. And they would rather dismantle the federal government than surrender their local power and privilege.

The political strategy of the Newest Right, then, is simply a new strategy for the very old, chiefly-Southern Jefferson-Jackson right. It is a perfectly rational strategy, given its goal: maximizing the political power and wealth of white local notables who find themselves living in states, and eventually a nation, with present or potential nonwhite majorities.

Although racial segregation can no longer be employed, the tool kit of the older Southern white right is pretty much the same as that of the Newest Right:

The Solid South. By means of partisan and racial gerrymandering—packing white liberal voters into conservative majority districts and ghettoizing black and Latino voters–Republicans in Texas and other Southern and Western states control the U.S. Congress, even though in the last election more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans. The same undemocratic technique makes the South far more Republican in its political representation than it really is in terms of voters.

The Filibuster. By using a semi-filibuster to help shut down the government rather than implement Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is acting rationally on behalf of his constituency—the surburban and exurban white local notables of Texas and other states, whom the demagogic Senator seems to confuse with “the American people.” Newt Gingrich, another Southern conservative demagogue, pioneered the modern use of government shutdowns and debt-ceiling negotiations as supplements to the classic filibuster used by embattled white provincial elites who prefer to paralyze a federal government they cannot control.

Disenfranchisement. In state after state controlled by Republican governors and legislators, a fictitious epidemic of voter fraud is being used as an excuse for onerous voter registration requirements which have the effect, and the manifest purpose, of disenfranchising disproportionately poor blacks and Latinos. The upscale leaders of the Newest Right also tend to have be more supportive of mass immigration than their downscale populist supporters—on the condition, however, that “guest workers” and amnestied illegal immigrants not be allowed to vote or become citizens any time soon. In the twenty-first century, as in the twentieth and nineteenth, the Southern ideal is a society in which local white elites lord it over a largely-nonwhite population of poor workers who can’t vote.

Localization and privatization of federal programs. It is perfectly rational for the white local notables of the South and their allies in other regions to oppose universal, federal social programs, if they expect to lose control of the federal government to a new, largely-nonwhite national electoral majority.

Turning over federal programs to the states allows Southern states controlled by local conservative elites to make those programs less generous—thereby attracting investment to their states by national and global corporations seeking low wages.

Privatizing other federal programs allows affluent whites in the South and elsewhere to turn the welfare state into a private country club for those who can afford to pay the fees, with underfunded public clinics and emergency rooms for the lower orders. In the words of Mitt Romney [6]: “We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

When the election of Lincoln seemed to foreshadow a future national political majority based outside of the South, the local notables of the South tried to create a smaller system they could dominate by seceding from the U.S. That effort failed, after having killed more Americans than have been killed in all our foreign wars combined. However, during Reconstruction the Southern elite snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and succeeded in turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders until the 1950s and 1960s.

Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.

While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.

See more stories tagged with:

tea party [7],

radicalism [8],

the south [9],

the right [10],

republican party [11],

Editor’s Picks [12],

white people [13],

civil war [14],

politics news [15]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/tea-party-radicalism-misunderstood-meet-newest-right

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/michael-lind
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html?_r=0
[3] http://www.shsu.edu/~sgu001/mpsa2011.pdf
[4] http://www.salon.com/2011/08/02/lind_tea_party/
[5] http://www.amazon.com/Made-Texas-Southern-Takeover-American/dp/0465041213
[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/romney-let-them-go-to-emergency-rooms/2012/09/24/3ac90b0e-0680-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radicalism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-0
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/white-people
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-war
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[16] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead

by James Fallows, The Atlantic, Sep 27 2013

A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years

Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via “the sequester”; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don’t lose sight of these three essential points:

  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classroomsor expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the “dig in their heels” headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/your-false-equivalence-guide-to-the-days-ahead/280062/

The Two Political Parties Are Remarkably Far Apart on Basic Issues

By David Morris, Institute for Local Self Reliance, June 18, 2013 – The following content was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website [2]. posted on Alternet,org

Excerpt

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13. In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically…What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict libertyIt is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily…One could hope that in 2014 the stark evidence emerging from state capitols about the difference between the parties can lay the foundation for a nationwide debate on the purpose of government and the ends to which collective authority should aspire that goes beyond the are-you-for-it-or-against-it attitude that contaminates and diminishes that debate.

Full text

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13.

In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically.

Democrats believe that governments should not only secure our borders but also advance our personal security.  As reflected in recently enacted state laws, that belief translates into policies extending health care access to as many as possible, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance. Republicans vigorously oppose this use of government.  They insist we should not be compelled to be our brothers’ keeper. Of the 13 states that so far have refused the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding health care coverage to millions of their residents, for example, Republicans dominate 12.  All six of the states that are leaning that way are Republican controlled.

What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict liberty.  They assert that government-created health exchanges interfere with the right of insurance companies to manage their own affairs while the requirement that everyone have health insurance constitutes an act of tyranny.  Minimum wage laws interfere with the economic liberty of business and the freedom of the marketplace.

Republicans argue that taxes, especially those that tax the rich at higher rates than the poor, interfere with our liberty to pursue happiness by amassing unrestrained wealth.   In the last legislative session Democrat-controlled California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota raised the income tax rate on millionaires while in the last two legislative sessions, Republican-controlled Kansas reduced such rates by 75 percent and legislators in Kansas as well as in North Carolina and Nebraska are openly pushing for the complete elimination of the income tax.

It is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily.

When it comes to personal liberty, however, Republicans believe in big government. As former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum observed, “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”  Even if their wants or passions do not harm others.

This legislative session Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota joined 9 other states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to include those of the same sex. Meanwhile, of the 25 states with constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage, 22 are completely controlled by Republicans.  None are Democrat dominant.

Of the 17 states that have enacted medical marijuana laws, 10 are Democratic and only two are Republican. (The rest are not controlled by a single party.) As if to put an exclamation point on this difference, the same day last November that voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legalization of marijuana, voters in Arkansas handily defeated a proposal to allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes with a doctor’s prescription.

Gun control is an issue that for Republicans and Democrats affects both liberty and security. For Republicans the ability to own unlimited numbers of guns and carry them whenever and wherever one wants with a minimum of government oversight, constitutes an essential part of freedom while allowing the owner to protect herself from physical harm.  For Democrats widespread gun ownership significantly contributes to physical violence inside and outside the gun owner’s household; thus in this case unrestrained liberty must give way to regulation.

In this legislative session while Democratic states like New York and Connecticut and Maryland tightened gun laws, more than a dozen GOP states scaled back their already minimal gun laws. Statistician Nate Silver insists, “Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic (or) whether she lives in the south…”

For both Democrats and Republicans liberty means being able to participate in influencing the political decisions that affect our lives and futures.  But here again their conception of liberty differs significantly. For Republicans it means the liberty of money, allowing individuals to spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates and lobby legislators while restricting the liberty of people by making voter access more difficult.  For Democrats it means the opposite.

Recently Colorado, Delaware and Maryland have enacted laws making it easier for people to register and vote while Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia have made it harder. Nine of ten states that have voter photo ID laws are Republican dominated.

One could hope that in 2014 the stark evidence emerging from state capitols about the difference between the parties can lay the foundation for a nationwide debate on the purpose of government and the ends to which collective authority should aspire that goes beyond the are-you-for-it-or-against-it attitude that contaminates and diminishes that debate.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/democrats-and-republicans-differ-drastically-liberty-and-security

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/david-morris
[2] http://www.ilsr.org/liberty-security-democrats-republicans-differ/:
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/arkansas
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/candidate-position
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/colorado
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/connecticut
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/declaration-independence
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/delaware-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/district-columbia
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/indiana
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/institute-local-self-reliance
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/kansas
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/maryland
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/massachusetts-0
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/minnesota
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nate-silver
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nebraska
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/new-york
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/north-carolina
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-career
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/person-location
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/political-parties-united-states
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-0
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[26] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-senator
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rhode-island
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rick-santorum-0
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/statistician
[30] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tennessee
[31] http://www.alternet.org/tags/virginia-0
[32] http://www.alternet.org/tags/washington-0
[33] http://www.alternet.org/tags/candidate
[34] http://www.alternet.org/tags/federal-government
[35] http://www.alternet.org/tags/health-insurance
[36] http://www.alternet.org/tags/insurance-0
[37] http://www.alternet.org/tags/unemployment-insurance-0
[38] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Plutocracy, Paralysis, Perplexity

by Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 4, 2012

Excerpt

…inequality is a major reason the economy is still so depressed and unemployment so high. For we have responded to crisis with a mix of paralysis and confusion — both of which have a lot to do with the distorting effects of great wealth on our society…

Today, Washington is marked by a combination of bitter partisanship and intellectual confusion — and both are, I would argue, largely the result of extreme income inequality.

On partisanship: The Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein…say our political dysfunction is largely because of the transformation of the Republican Party into an extremist force that is “dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” …

For the past century, political polarization has closely tracked income inequality, and there’s every reason to believe that the relationship is causal. Specifically, money buys power, and the increasing wealth of a tiny minority has effectively bought the allegiance of one of our two major political parties, in the process destroying any prospect for cooperation…

the Republican Party is dominated by doctrines formerly on the political fringe…a party that, as Mr. Mann and Mr. Ornstein note, is “unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”…billionaires have always loved the doctrines in question, which offer a rationale for policies that serve their interests.…the real structural problem is in our political system, which has been warped and paralyzed by the power of a small, wealthy minority. And the key to economic recovery lies in finding a way to get past that minority’s malign influence.

Full text

Before the Great Recession, I would sometimes give public lectures in which I would talk about rising inequality, making the point that the concentration of income at the top had reached levels not seen since 1929. Often, someone in the audience would ask whether this meant that another depression was imminent.

Well, whaddya know?

Did the rise of the 1 percent (or, better yet, the 0.01 percent) cause the Lesser Depression we’re now living through? It probably contributed. But the more important point is that inequality is a major reason the economy is still so depressed and unemployment so high. For we have responded to crisis with a mix of paralysis and confusion — both of which have a lot to do with the distorting effects of great wealth on our society.

Put it this way: If something like the financial crisis of 2008 had occurred in, say, 1971 — the year Richard Nixon declared that “I am now a Keynesian in economic policy” — Washington would probably have responded fairly effectively. There would have been a broad bipartisan consensus in favor of strong action, and there would also have been wide agreement about what kind of action was needed.

But that was then. Today, Washington is marked by a combination of bitter partisanship and intellectual confusion — and both are, I would argue, largely the result of extreme income inequality.

On partisanship: The Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have been making waves with a new book acknowledging a truth that, until now, was unmentionable in polite circles. They say our political dysfunction is largely because of the transformation of the Republican Party into an extremist force that is “dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” You can’t get cooperation to serve the national interest when one side of the divide sees no distinction between the national interest and its own partisan triumph.

So how did that happen? For the past century, political polarization has closely tracked income inequality, and there’s every reason to believe that the relationship is causal. Specifically, money buys power, and the increasing wealth of a tiny minority has effectively bought the allegiance of one of our two major political parties, in the process destroying any prospect for cooperation.

And the takeover of half our political spectrum by the 0.01 percent is, I’d argue, also responsible for the degradation of our economic discourse, which has made any sensible discussion of what we should be doing impossible.

Disputes in economics used to be bounded by a shared understanding of the evidence, creating a broad range of agreement about economic policy. To take the most prominent example, Milton Friedman may have opposed fiscal activism, but he very much supported monetary activism to fight deep economic slumps, to an extent that would have put him well to the left of center in many current debates.

Now, however, the Republican Party is dominated by doctrines formerly on the political fringe. Friedman called for monetary flexibility; today, much of the G.O.P. is fanatically devoted to the gold standard. N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University, a Romney economic adviser, once dismissed those claiming that tax cuts pay for themselves as “charlatans and cranks”; today, that notion is very close to being official Republican doctrine.

As it happens, these doctrines have overwhelmingly failed in practice. For example, conservative goldbugs have been predicting vast inflation and soaring interest rates for three years, and have been wrong every step of the way. But this failure has done nothing to dent their influence on a party that, as Mr. Mann and Mr. Ornstein note, is “unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”

And why is the G.O.P. so devoted to these doctrines regardless of facts and evidence? It surely has a lot to do with the fact that billionaires have always loved the doctrines in question, which offer a rationale for policies that serve their interests. Indeed, support from billionaires has always been the main thing keeping those charlatans and cranks in business. And now the same people effectively own a whole political party.

Which brings us to the question of what it will take to end this depression we’re in.

Many pundits assert that the U.S. economy has big structural problems that will prevent any quick recovery. All the evidence, however, points to a simple lack of demand, which could and should be cured very quickly through a combination of fiscal and monetary stimulus.

No, the real structural problem is in our political system, which has been warped and paralyzed by the power of a small, wealthy minority. And the key to economic recovery lies in finding a way to get past that minority’s malign influence.

© 2012 The New York Times
Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, The Return of Depression Economics, and his most recent, End This Depression Now!.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/04-5

Bye, Bye American Dream! U.S. Economic Inequality Is Permanent, Study Finds

AlterNet [1] / By Steven Rosenfeld, March 22, 2013  |

Excerpt

A new study [3] by a team of economists in academia and the government has concluded that economic inequality is a permanent—not temporary—feature in the United States…“The reason the permanent/transitory distinction matters is that lifetime earnings are much more important than a single year’s earnings. It’s lifetime earnings that decide how you live in general, what sort of house you can afford, whether you can send a kid to college, whether you can retire comfortably.”… this study suggests that there are irreconcilable gaps in income, lifetime wealth, consumption and the resulting health between the haves and have-nots in America…That means federal safety nets are more needed than ever—despite the GOP’s ideological crusade to cut spending on them.

Full study

A new study [3] by a team of economists in academia and the government has concluded that economic inequality is a permanent—not temporary—feature in the United States, based on an analysis of 350,000 federal income tax returns between 1987 and 2009.

“For household income, both before and after taxes, the increase in inequality over this period was predominantly, although not entirely, permanent,” the highly technical report concluded. “We also find evidence that the U.S. federal tax system helped reduce the increase in household income inequality; but this attenuating effect was insufficient to significantly alter the broad trend toward rising inequality.”

The study by economists at two state universities, the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department, also found, not surprisingly, that the wealthiest Americans consume more than less well-off people, and that disparity causes poorer Americans to suffer as a result.

“Our findings, along with economic theory, suggest that the increase in income inequality observed in roughly the last two decades should translate into increases in consumption inequality, and is therefore likely to be welfare-reducing, at least according to most social welfare functions,” the report said. “Although measurement problems with household consumption data in the U.S. have made it difficult to convincingly measure the degree of the increase in consumption inequality, some recent studies… suggest that the increase in consumption inequality was indeed substantial.”

Simply put, the study confirms what Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders has been saying for years, “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

“The takeaway here is rough,” the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote [4] in his Wonkblog column. “The reason the permanent/transitory distinction matters is that lifetime earnings are much more important than a single year’s earnings. It’s lifetime earnings that decide how you live in general, what sort of house you can afford, whether you can send a kid to college, whether you can retire comfortably.”

Better-off Americans often opine that those below them on the economic ladder should just work a little harder. But this study suggests that there are irreconcilable gaps in income, lifetime wealth, consumption and the resulting health between the haves and have-nots in America. It also suggests progressive taxation can buffer those inequalities a bit, but not make up for the gaps.

It will be curious to see if this study will be cited in Washington’s ongoing debate about ‘reforming’ entitlement programs—namely Medicare and Social Security. It suggests, if anything, that growing slices of American society are heading to less financially secure futures, especially in old age. That means federal safety nets are more needed than ever—despite the GOP’s ideological crusade to cut spending on them.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/bye-bye-american-dream-us-economic-inequality-permanent-study-finds

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/steven-rosenfeld
[3] http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Projects/BPEA/Spring%202013/2013a_panousi.pdf
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/22/good-news-for-people-who-like-bad-news-about-inequality/
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economic-inequality
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/progressive-taxation
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/entitlement-reform
[8] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Obama Inaugural’s Liberal Definition of Rights

By Michael Kinsley, Washington Monthly, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.”…both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government…First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom..This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone…

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you…There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”…So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now…

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2013/01/obama_inaugurals_liberal_defin_1042537.php

Obama in Command: The Rolling Stone Interview

In an Oval Office interview, the president discusses the Tea Party, the war, the economy and what’s at stake this November

by: Jann S. Wenner, 9/28/2010

We arrived at the southwest gate of the white house a little after one o’clock on the afternoon of September 17th. It was a warm fall day, but the capital felt quiet and half-empty, as it does on Fridays at the end of summer, with Congress still in recess. Rolling Stone had interviewed Barack Obama twice before, both times aboard his campaign plane — first in June 2008, a few days after he won the Democratic nomination, and again that October, a month before his election. This time executive editor Eric Bates and I sat down with the president in the Oval Office, flanked by busts of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. The conversation stretched on for nearly an hour and a quarter. The president began by complimenting my multi-colored striped socks. “If I wasn’t president,” he laughed, “I could wear socks like that.”

This article appeared in the October 14, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

When you came into office, you felt you would be able to work with the other side. When did you realize that the Republicans had abandoned any real effort to work with you and create bipartisan policy?
Well, I’ll tell you that given the state of the economy during my transition, between my election and being sworn in, our working assumption was that everybody was going to want to pull together, because there was a sizable chance that we could have a financial meltdown and the entire country could plunge into a depression. So we had to work very rapidly to try to create a combination of measures that would stop the free-fall and cauterize the job loss.

The recovery package we shaped was put together on the theory that we shouldn’t exclude any ideas on the basis of ideological predispositions, and so a third of the Recovery Act were tax cuts. Now, they happened to be the most progressive tax cuts in history, very much geared toward middle-class families. There was not only a fairness rationale to that, but also an economic rationale — those were the folks who were most likely to spend the money and, hence, prop up demand at a time when the economy was really freezing up.

I still remember going over to the Republican caucus to meet with them and present our ideas, and to solicit ideas from them before we presented the final package. And on the way over, the caucus essentially released a statement that said, “We’re going to all vote ‘No’ as a caucus.” And this was before we’d even had the conversation. At that point, we realized that we weren’t going to get the kind of cooperation we’d anticipated. The strategy the Republicans were going to pursue was one of sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn’t be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem.

The Case for Obama

How do you feel about the fact that day after day, there’s this really destructive attack on whatever you propose? Does that bother you? Has it shocked you?
I don’t think it’s a shock. I had served in the United States Senate; I had seen how the filibuster had become a routine tool to slow things down, as opposed to what it used to be, which was a selective tool — although often a very destructive one, because it was typically targeted at civil rights and the aspirations of African-Americans who were trying to be freed up from Jim Crow. But I’d been in the Senate long enough to know that the machinery there was breaking down.

What I was surprised somewhat by, and disappointed by, although I’ve got to give some grudging admiration for just how effective it’s been, was the degree to which [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell was able to keep his caucus together on a lot of issues. Eventually, we were able to wear them down, so that we were able to finally get really important laws passed, some of which haven’t gotten a lot of attention — the credit-card reform bill, or the anti-tobacco legislation, or preventing housing and mortgage fraud. We’d be able to pick off two or three Republicans who wanted to do the right thing.

But the delays, the cloture votes, the unprecedented obstruction that has taken place in the Senate took its toll. Even if you eventually got something done, it would take so long and it would be so contentious, that it sent a message to the public that “Gosh, Obama said he was going to come in and change Washington, and it’s exactly the same, it’s more contentious than ever.” Everything just seems to drag on — even what should be routine activities, like appointments, aren’t happening. So it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, “We’re just seeing more of the same.”

Photos: Barack Obama’s Rock & Roll White House

What do you think the Republican Party stands for today?
Well, on the economic front, their only agenda seems to be tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. If you ask their leadership what their agenda will be going into next year to bring about growth and improve the job numbers out there, what they will say is, “We just want these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which will cost us $700 billion and which we’re not going to pay for.”

Now what they’ll also say is, “We’re going to control spending.” But of course, when you say you’re going to borrow $700 billion to give an average $100,000-a-year tax break to people making a million dollars a year, or more, and you’re not going to pay for it; when Mitch McConnell’s overall tax package that he just announced recently was priced at about $4 trillion; when you, as a caucus, reject a bipartisan idea for a fiscal commission that originated from Judd Gregg, Republican budget chair, and Kent Conrad, Democratic budget chair, so that I had to end up putting the thing together administratively because we couldn’t get any support — you don’t get a sense that they’re actually serious on the deficit side.

What do you think of the Tea Party and the people behind it?
I think the Tea Party is an amalgam, a mixed bag of a lot of different strains in American politics that have been there for a long time. There are some strong and sincere libertarians who are in the Tea Party who generally don’t believe in government intervention in the market or socially. There are some social conservatives in the Tea Party who are rejecting me the same way they rejected Bill Clinton, the same way they would reject any Democratic president as being too liberal or too progressive. There are strains in the Tea Party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington, but their anger is misdirected.

And then there are probably some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president. So I think it’s hard to characterize the Tea Party as a whole, and I think it’s still defining itself.

Obama’s Sheriff

Do you think that it’s being manipulated?
There’s no doubt that the infrastructure and the financing of the Tea Party come from some very traditional, very powerful, special-interest lobbies. I don’t think this is a secret. Dick Armey and FreedomWorks, which was one of the first organizational mechanisms to bring Tea Party folks together, are financed by very conservative industries and forces that are opposed to enforcement of environmental laws, that are opposed to an energy policy that would be different than the fossil-fuel-based approach we’ve been taking, that don’t believe in regulations that protect workers from safety violations in the workplace, that want to make sure that we are not regulating the financial industries in ways that we have.

There’s no doubt that there is genuine anger, frustration and anxiety in the public at large about the worst financial crisis we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. Part of what we have to keep in mind here is this recession is worse than the Ronald Reagan recession of the Eighties, the 1990-91 recession, and the 2001 recession combined. The depths of it have been profound. This body politic took a big hit in the gut, and that always roils up our politics, and can make people angry. But because of the ability of a lot of very well-funded groups to point that anger — I think misdirect that anger — it is translating into a relevant political force in this election.

What do you think of Fox News? Do you think it’s a good institution for America and for democracy?
[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We’ve got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.

You’ve passed more progressive legislation than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Yet your base does not seem nearly as fired up as the opposition, and you don’t seem to be getting the credit for those legislative victories. There was talk that you were going to mobilize your grass-roots volunteers and use them to pressure Congress, but you decided for whatever reason not to involve the public directly and not to force a filibuster on issues like health care. What do you say to those people who have developed a sense of frustration — your base — who feel that you need to fight harder?
That’s a bunch of different questions, so let me see if I can kind of knock them out one by one.

One of the healthy things about the Democratic Party is that it is diverse and opinionated. We have big arguments within the party because we got a big tent, and that tent grew during my election and in the midterm election previously. So making everybody happy within the Democratic Party is always going to be tough.

Some of it, also, has to do with — and I joke about it — that there’s a turn of mind among Democrats and progressives where a lot of times we see the glass as half-empty. It’s like, “Well, gosh, we’ve got this historic health care legislation that we’ve been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn’t have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let’s focus on what we didn’t get instead of what we got.” That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating.

When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, “Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.” I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars. In the midst of all that, I ended one of those wars, at least in terms of combat operations. We passed historic health care legislation, historic financial regulatory reform and a huge number of legislative victories that people don’t even notice. We wrestled away billions of dollars of profit that were going to the banks and middlemen through the student-loan program, and now we have tens of billions of dollars that are going directly to students to help them pay for college. We expanded national service more than we ever have before.

The Recovery Act alone represented the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in education — and that was combined, by the way, with the kind of education reform that we hadn’t seen in this country in 30 years — and the largest investment in clean energy in our history.

You look at all this, and you say, “Folks, that’s what you elected me to do.” I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do — and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we’ve accomplished.

All that has taken place against a backdrop in which, because of the financial crisis, we’ve seen an increase in poverty, and an increase in unemployment, and people’s wages and incomes have stagnated. So it’s not surprising that a lot of folks out there don’t feel like these victories have had an impact. What is also true is our two biggest pieces of legislation, health care and financial regulatory reform, won’t take effect right away, so ordinary folks won’t see the impact of a lot of these things for another couple of years. It is very important for progressives to understand that just on the domestic side, we’ve accomplished a huge amount.

When you look at what we’ve been able to do internationally — resetting our relations with Russia and potentially having a new START treaty by the end of the year, reinvigorating the Middle East peace talks, ending the combat mission in Iraq, promoting a G-20 structure that has drained away a lot of the sense of north versus south, east versus west, so that now the whole world looks to America for leadership, and changing world opinion in terms of how we operate on issues like human rights and torture around the world — all those things have had an impact as well.

What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn’t have a bill. You’ve got to make a set of decisions in terms of “What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you’re actually trying to govern?” I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I’m going to go ahead and take it.

I just made the announcement about Elizabeth Warren setting up our Consumer Finance Protection Bureau out in the Rose Garden, right before you came in. Here’s an agency that has the potential to save consumers billions of dollars over the next 20 to 30 years — simple stuff like making sure that folks don’t jack up your credit cards without you knowing about it, making sure that mortgage companies don’t steer you to higher-rate mortgages because they’re getting a kickback, making sure that payday loans aren’t preying on poor people in ways that these folks don’t understand. And you know what? That’s what we say we stand for as progressives. If we can’t take pleasure and satisfaction in concretely helping middle-class families and working-class families save money, get a college education, get health care — if that’s not what we’re about, then we shouldn’t be in the business of politics. Then we’re no better than the other side, because all we’re thinking about is whether or not we’re in power.

Let me ask you about financial reform. Despite all the things like consumer protection that you did get accomplished, the regulation of Wall Street — especially the closing down of all the derivatives trading that was really at the heart of the financial meltdown — seems to have been eviscerated.
I’ve got to disagree with that. If you take a look at it, what we’ve essentially said is that the vast majority of derivatives are now going to be sold through a clearinghouse. And if you ask the experts what was the best way to make sure the derivative markets didn’t bring down the economy again, it’s transparency, so that everybody understands who the counterparties are, everybody understands what the deal is, what the risks are — it’s all aboveboard, it’s all in the light of day.

People have legitimate concerns that if the rules drafted by all these various agencies in charge of implementing financial reform wind up with exceptions that are so big you can drive a truck through them, and suddenly you can have these specially tailored derivatives that are sold outside of the clearinghouse, then you could end up with an inadequate regulatory structure.

But if the rules are written properly — and I have confidence that the people I appointed to these agencies intend to apply them properly — it’s going to make a difference. Is it going to solve every potential problem in Wall Street in a multi-trillion-dollar, worldwide, capital market? Probably not. There could end up being new schemes, new loopholes that folks are going to try to exploit. The special interests are already ginning up to try to influence the rulemaking process in all these issues, so we have to remain vigilant. But to say that we did not significantly improve oversight of the derivatives market, it just isn’t true.

There’s also a concern when it comes to financial reform that your economic team is closely identified with Wall Street and the deregulation that caused the collapse. These are the folks who were supposed to have had oversight of Wall Street, and many of them worked for or were close to banks like Goldman Sachs.
Let me first of all say this. . . .

You used to work for Goldman Sachs!
[Laughs] Exactly. I read some of the articles that Tim Dickinson and others have produced in Rolling Stone. I understand the point of view that they’re bringing. But look: Tim Geithner never worked for Goldman; Larry Summers didn’t work for Goldman. There is no doubt that I brought in a bunch of folks who understand the financial markets, the same way, by the way, that FDR brought in a lot of folks who understood the financial markets after the crash, including Joe Kennedy, because my number-one job at that point was making sure that we did not have a full-fledged financial meltdown.

The reason that was so important was not because I was concerned about making sure that the folks who had been making hundreds of millions of dollars were keeping their bonuses for the next year. The reason was because we were seeing 750,000 jobs a month being lost when I was sworn in. The consequence to Main Street, to ordinary folks, was catastrophic, and we had to make sure that we stopped the bleeding. We managed to stabilize the financial markets at a cost that is much less to taxpayers than anybody had anticipated. The truth of the matter is that TARP will end up costing probably less than $100 billion, when all is said and done. Which I promise you, two years ago, you could have asked any economist and any financial expert out there, and they would have said, “We’ll take that deal.”

One of the things that you realize when you’re in my seat is that, typically, the issues that come to my desk — there are no simple answers to them. Usually what I’m doing is operating on the basis of a bunch of probabilities: I’m looking at the best options available based on the fact that there are no easy choices. If there were easy choices, somebody else would have solved it, and it wouldn’t have come to my desk.

That’s true for financial regulatory reform, that’s true on Afghanistan, that’s true on how we deal with the terrorist threat. On all these issues, you’ve got a huge number of complex factors involved. When you’re sitting outside and watching, you think, “Well, that sounds simple,” and you can afford to operate on the basis of your ideological predispositions. What I’m trying to do — and certainly what we’ve tried to do in our economic team — is to keep a North Star out there: What are the core principles we’re abiding by? In the economic sphere, my core principle is that America works best when you’ve got a growing middle class, and you’ve got ladders so that people who aren’t yet in the middle class can aspire to the middle class, and if that broad base is rolling, then the country does well.

How do you personally feel about hedge-fund managers who are making $200 million a year and paying a 15 percent tax rate? Or the guy who made $700 million one year and compared you to Hitler for trying to raise his taxes above 15 percent — does that gall you?
I’ve gotta say that I have been surprised by some of the rhetoric in the business press, in which we are accused of being anti-business. I know a lot of these guys who started hedge funds. They are making large profits, taking home large incomes, but because of a rule called “carried interest,” they are paying lower tax rates than their secretaries, or the janitor that cleans up the building. Or folks who are out there as police officers and teachers and small-business people. So all we’ve said is that it makes sense for them to pay taxes on it like on ordinary income.

I understand why folks might disagree with that. I’ve yet to meet a broad base of people who are anxious to pay higher taxes. But the point you’re making, which is exactly right, is that what should be a pretty straightforward policy argument ends up generating the kind of rhetoric we’ve been seeing: where I’m anti-business, I’m socialist, our administration is trying to destroy capitalism. That, I think, is over-the-top.

The average American out there who is my primary concern and is making 60 grand a year and paying taxes on all that income and trying to send their kids through school, and partly as a consequence of bad decisions on Wall Street, feels that their job is insecure and has seen their 401(k) decline by 30 percent, and has seen the value of their home decline — I don’t think they’re that sympathetic to these guys, and neither am I.

Let’s talk about the war in Afghanistan. Where were you when you first heard about the comments made by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff, and how did you feel as you read them for yourself?
I was in my office in the residence, in the Treaty Room. Joe Biden called me — he was the first one who heard about it. I think it was Sunday night, and I had one of the staff here send me up a copy, and I read through the article. I will say at the outset that I think Gen. McChrystal is a fine man, an outstanding soldier, and has served this country very well. I do not think that he meant those comments maliciously. I think some of those comments were from his staff, and so he was poorly served. And it pained me to have to make the decision I did. Having said that, he showed bad judgment. When I put somebody in charge of the lives of 100,000 young men and women in a very hazardous situation, they’ve got to conduct themselves at the highest standards, and he didn’t meet those standards.

But it couldn’t have just been those remarks, which were casual and forgivable. The whole article was pretty damning.
The remarks themselves, I think, showed poor judgment. The rest of the article had to do with a series of very difficult, complex choices on the ground in Afghanistan, in which, as I said before, there are no easy answers. So Gen. McChrystal, in response to a very serious and legitimate concern about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, put out orders that have significantly reduced civilian casualties. The flip side of it is that it frustrates our troops, who feel that they may not be able to go on the offense as effectively, and it may put them in danger. That’s a profound strategic, tactical debate that takes place in the military. That’s not unique to Gen. McChrystal — that’s a debate that Gen. Petraeus is having to work his way through, that’s a debate that I have to work my way through as commander in chief.

To broaden the issue for a second, you were asking about the sources of frustration in the progressive community; clearly, Afghanistan has to be near the top of the list, maybe at the top of the list. I always try to point out, number one, that this shouldn’t have come as any surprise. When I was campaigning, I was very specific. I said, “We are going to end the war in Iraq, that was a mistake,” and I have done that. What I also said was that we need to plus up what we’re doing in Afghanistan, because that was where the original terrorist threat emanated, and we need to finish the job. That’s what we’re doing.

Now, I think that a lot of progressive supporters thought that maybe it would be easier than it has proven to be to try to bring Afghanistan to a place where we can see an end in sight. The fact of the matter is, when we came in, what we learned was that the neglect of Afghanistan had been more profound than we expected. Just simple examples: The Afghan National Army, the Afghan security forces, oftentimes were recruited, given a uniform, given a rifle, and that was it — they weren’t getting trained. As a functional matter, there was no way that they were going to start taking the place of U.S. troops.

What we’ve had to do after an extensive review that I engaged in was to say to our commanders on the ground, “You guys have to have a strategy in which we are training Afghan security forces, we’re going to break the Taliban momentum, but I am going to establish a date at which we start transitioning down and we start turning these security functions over to a newly trained Afghan security force.” That is what we’re in the process of doing.

It is exacting a terrible cost. Whenever I go over to Walter Reed or Bethesda, or when I was in Afghanistan, and I meet kids who lost their legs or were otherwise badly injured, I am reminded of that cost. Nobody wants more than me to be able to bring that war to a close in a way that makes sure that region is not used as a base for terrorist attacks against the United States. But what we have to do is see this process through. Starting July of 2011, we will begin a transition process, and if the strategy we’re engaged in isn’t working, we’re going to keep on re-examining it until we make sure that we’ve got a strategy that does work.

But by every index we know of, there seems to be no part of the Afghanistan strategy that is working. The Taliban control more of the country than ever. The Karzai regime is incredibly corrupt and has lost the trust of its own people. The program to buy the loyalty of Taliban soldiers, which was used with the Awakening during the surge in Iraq, can’t find enough takers for the $250 million that was allocated to it. The McChrystal offensive in Kandahar also failed. Afghanistan has been called the “graveyard of empires.” In view of the fact that Great Britain failed there, the Soviet Union with millions of troops right on the border failed there — what makes you think we are going to succeed?
Number one, this is very hard stuff. I knew it was hard a year ago, and I suspect a year from now, I will conclude that it’s still hard, and it’s messy. Number two, when you tick off these metrics that have quote-unquote “failed” — well, they haven’t failed yet. They haven’t succeeded yet. We’ve made progress in terms of creating a line of security around Kandahar, but there’s no doubt that Kandahar is not yet a secure place any more than Mosul or Fallujah were secure in certain phases of the Iraq War.

I will also agree that Afghanistan is harder than Iraq. This is the second-poorest country in the world. You’ve got no tradition of a civil service or bureaucracy that is effective countrywide. We have been very successful in taking out the middle ranks of the Taliban. We have been very successful in recruiting and beginning to train Afghan security forces. There are elements that are working, and there are elements that are not working.

Keep in mind that the decision I have to make is always, “If we’re not doing this, then what does that mean? What are the consequences?” I don’t know anybody who has examined the region who thinks that if we completely pulled out of Afghanistan, the Karzai regime collapsed, Kabul was overrun once again by the Taliban, and Sharia law was imposed throughout the country, that we would be safer, or the Afghan people would be better off, or Pakistan would be better off, or India would be better off, or that we would see a reduction in potential terrorist attacks around the world. You can’t make that argument.

Some have argued that what we can do is have a smaller footprint in Afghanistan, focus on counterterrorism activities, but have less boots on the ground. We examined every option that’s out there. I assure you: With all the problems we’ve got here at home, and the fact that I have to sign letters to the family members of every soldier who is killed in Afghanistan, if I can find a way of reducing the costs to the American taxpayer, and more profoundly, to our young men and women in uniform, while making sure that we are not rendered much more vulnerable to a terrorist attack in the future, that’s going to be the option that I choose. But no matter what your ultimate belief is in terms of what will succeed in Afghanistan, it’s going to take us several years to work through this issue.

Ideally, what would have happened was that we didn’t go into Iraq. Right after our victory in 2001, if we had focused on rebuilding Afghanistan, and had been in much more direct day-to-day interaction with Karzai and his government, then we wouldn’t find ourselves in this circumstance.

But you know what: I have to play the cards that I’m dealt. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit and the worst recession since the Great Depression. But you work with what’s before you.

Let me ask you about the Gulf oil spill. British Petroleum fired Tony Hayward, so my question is: Why does Interior Secretary Ken Salazar still have his job? The corruption at Minerals Management Service was widely known at the time he came into office, as was reported several times in Rolling Stone and other places, and that’s what helped the Gulf disaster to happen.
When Ken Salazar came in, he said to me, “One of my top priorities is cleaning up MMS.” It was no secret. You had seen the kind of behavior in that office that was just over-the-top, and Ken did reform the agency to eliminate those core ethical lapses — the drugs, the other malfeasance that was reported there. What Ken would admit, and I would admit, and what we both have to take responsibility for, is that we did not fully change the institutional conflicts that were inherent in that office. If you ask why did we not get that done, the very simple answer is that this is a big government with a lot of people, and changing bureaucracies and agencies is a time-consuming process. We just didn’t get to it fast enough.

Having said that, the person who was put in charge of MMS was fired. We brought in Michael Bromwich, who by every account is somebody who is serious about cleaning up that agency. We are committed to making sure that that place works the way it is supposed to. But when I have somebody like Ken Salazar, who has been an outstanding public servant, who takes this stuff seriously, who bleeds when he sees what was happening in the Gulf, and had started on a path of reform but just didn’t get there as fast on every aspect of it as needed to be, I had to just let him know, “You’re accountable, you’re responsible, I expect you to change it.” I have confidence that he can change it, and I think he’s in the process of doing so.

James Hansen, the NASA scientist who is perhaps the most respected authority on global warming, says that climate change is the predominant moral issue of the 21st century, comparable to slavery faced by Lincoln and the response to Nazism faced by Churchill. Do you agree with that statement?
What I would agree with is that climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we’ve got to do something about it. In order to do something about it, we’re going to have to mobilize domestically, and we’re going to have to mobilize internationally.

During the past two years, we’ve not made as much progress as I wanted to make when I was sworn into office. It is very hard to make progress on these issues in the midst of a huge economic crisis, because the natural inclination around the world is to say, “You know what? That may be a huge problem, but right now what’s a really big problem is 10 percent unemployment,” or “What’s a really big problem is that our businesses can’t get loans.” That diverted attention from what I consider to be an urgent priority. The House of Representatives made an attempt to deal with the issue in a serious way. It wasn’t perfect, but it was serious. We could not get 60 votes for a comparable approach in the Senate.

One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment.

Understand, though, that even in the absence of legislation, we took steps over the past two years that have made a significant difference. I will give you one example, and this is an example where sometimes I think the progressive community just pockets whatever we do, takes it for granted, and then asks, “Well, why didn’t you get this done?”

We instituted the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in this country in 30 years. It used to be that California would have some very rigorous rule, and then other states would have much weaker ones. Now we’ve got one rule. Not only that, it used to be that trucks weren’t covered, and there were all kinds of loopholes — that’s how SUVs were out there getting eight miles a gallon. Now everybody’s regulated — not only cars, but trucks. We did this with the agreement of the auto industry, which had never agreed to it before, we did it with the auto workers, who had never agreed to it before. We are taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road, when it comes to the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. The progress that we’re making on renewable energy, the progress that we’re making on retrofitting buildings and making sure that we are reducing electricity use — all those things, cumulatively, if we stay on it over the next several years, will allow us to meet the target that I set, which would be around a 17 percent reduction in our greenhouse gases.

But we’re going to have to do a lot more than that. When I talk to [Energy Secretary] Steven Chu, who, by the way, was an unsung hero in the Gulf oil spill — this guy went down and helped design the way to plug that hole with BP engineers — nobody’s a bigger champion for the cause of reducing climate change than he is. When I ask him how we are going to solve this problem internationally, what he’ll tell you is that we can get about a third of this done through efficiencies and existing technologies, we can get an additional chunk through some sort of pricing in carbon, but ultimately we’re going to need some technological breakthroughs. So the investments we’re making in research and development around clean energy are also going to be important if we’re going to be able to get all the way there. Am I satisfied with what we’ve gotten done? Absolutely not.

Do you see a point at which you’re going to throw the whole weight of the presidency behind this, like you did on health care or financial reform?
Yes. Not only can I foresee it, but I am committed to making sure that we get an energy policy that makes sense for the country and that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way. I am just as committed to getting immigration reform done.

I’ve been here two years, guys. And one of the things that I just try to remember is that if we have accomplished 70 percent of what we committed to in the campaign, historic legislation, and we’ve got 30 percent of it undone — well, that’s what the next two years is for, or maybe the next six.

Understandably, everybody has a great sense of urgency about these issues. But one of the things that I constantly want to counsel my friends is to keep the long view in mind. On social issues, something like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Here, I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff both committed to changing the policy. That’s a big deal.

You get credit for that.
Now, I am also the commander in chief of an armed forces that is in the midst of one war and wrapping up another one. So I don’t think it’s too much to ask, to say “Let’s do this in an orderly way” — to ensure, by the way, that gays and lesbians who are serving honorably in our armed forces aren’t subject to harassment and bullying and a whole bunch of other stuff once we implement the policy. I use that as an example because on each of these areas, even those where we did not get some grand legislative victory, we have made progress. We have moved in the right direction.

When people start being concerned about, “You haven’t closed Guantánamo yet,” I say, listen, that’s something I wanted to get done by now, and I haven’t gotten done because of recalcitrance from the other side. Frankly, it’s an easy issue to demagogue. But what I have been able to do is to ban torture. I have been able to make sure that our intelligence agencies and our military operate under a core set of principles and rules that are true to our traditions of due process. People will say, “I don’t know — you’ve got your Justice Department out there that’s still using the state-secrets doctrine to defend against some of these previous actions.” Well, I gave very specific instructions to the Department of Justice. What I’ve said is that we are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part. On the other hand, there are occasions where I’ve got to protect operatives in the field, their sources and their methods, because if those were revealed in open court, they could be subject to very great danger. There are going to be circumstances in which, yes, I can’t have every operation that we’re engaged in to deal with a very real terrorist threat published in Rolling Stone.

These things don’t happen overnight. But we’re moving in the right direction, and that’s what people have to keep in mind.

What has surprised you the most about these first two years in office? What advice would you give your successor about the first two years?
Over the past two years, what I probably anticipated but you don’t fully appreciate until you’re in the job, is something I said earlier, which is if a problem is easy, it doesn’t hit my desk. If there’s an obvious solution, it never arrives here — somebody else has solved it a long time ago. The issues that cross my desk are hard and complicated, and oftentimes involve the clash not of right and wrong, but of two rights. And you’re having to balance and reconcile against competing values that are equally legitimate.

What I’m very proud of is that we have, as an administration, kept our moral compass, even as we’ve worked through these very difficult issues. Doesn’t mean we haven’t made mistakes, but I think we’ve moved the country in a profoundly better direction just in the past two years.

What music have you been listening to lately? What have you discovered, what speaks to you these days?
My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There’s still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I’m not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

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You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?
Here’s what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you’d expect he would be. He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

Having Paul McCartney here was also incredible. He’s just a very gracious guy. When he was up there singing “Michelle” to Michelle, I was thinking to myself, “Imagine when Michelle was growing up, this little girl on the South Side of Chicago, from a working-class family.” The notion that someday one of the Beatles would be singing his song to her in the White House — you couldn’t imagine something like that.

Did you cry?
Whenever I think about my wife, she can choke me up. My wife and my kids, they’ll get to me.

[Signaled by his aides, the president brings the interview to a close and leaves the Oval Office. A moment later, however, he returns to the office and says that he has one more thing to add. He speaks with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger.]

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what’s at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money’s coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/obama-in-command-br-the-rolling-stone-interview-20100928