Who Can Take Republicans Seriously?

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times,  May 12, 2013

It is time for President Obama to abandon his hopes of reaching a grand budget bargain with Republicans.

At every opportunity since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in reaching a compromise with the White House. For two years, they held sham negotiations with Democrats that only dragged down the economy with cuts; this year, they are refusing even to sit down at the table.

Mr. Obama hasn’t given up inviting the Republicans to join him in making the hard choices of governing, but he has been rebuffed each time. This year, in hopes of getting some support for modest tax increases on the rich, he even proposed a reduction in the cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. The events of the last few weeks should make it clear to him why that offer should be pulled from the table immediately. Consider:

Shortly after Mr. Obama presented this idea to Republicans, more than a half-dozen of them began trashing it as too “draconian” and a “shocking attack on seniors.” For years, the party has demanded entitlement cuts, but the moment the president actually offered one, he was attacked. Then last Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, said that no grand bargain is possible because Democrats aren’t willing to make significant cuts to spending and entitlement programs. The Social Security cost-of-living change, he said, did not go far enough.

Senate and House Republicans are refusing to meet with Democrats to negotiate over the budgets passed by each chamber. Four times in the last two weeks, Senate leaders have proposed beginning a conference committee to hash out a federal budget; four times they have been blocked by Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said they were afraid the committee might reach an agreement to raise both taxes on the rich and the debt ceiling, which are, of course, the Democrats’ stated goals. Knowing that their positions would be deeply unpopular among the public if their stubbornness were exposed in an open committee, Republicans would simply prefer not to talk at all.

Instead of negotiation, Republicans cling to their strategy of extorting budget demands by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, the House passed a stunningly dangerous bill that would allow foreign and domestic bondholders to be paid if Republicans forced a government default, while cutting off all other government payments except Social Security benefits. The bill has no possibility of becoming law, but its passage was a deliberate thumb in the eye to Mr. Obama, business leaders and those who say the debt ceiling should not be used for political leverage.

Republican lawmakers have become reflexive in rejecting every extended hand from the administration, even if the ideas were ones that they themselves once welcomed. Under the circumstances, Mr. Obama would be best advised to stop making peace offerings. Only when the Republican Party feels public pressure to become a serious partner can the real work of governing begin.

Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board »

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/opinion/who-can-take-republicans-seriously-on-the-budget.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130513&_r=0

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees

By Zack Beauchamp on Nov 28, 2012, thinkprogress.org

Excerpt

…ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology – …Smith is a climate change skeptic…Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign…

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services – …his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul…endorsed .. hearings on Islamic terrorism that..demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior… celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law…

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte…is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship…holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

Full text

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced the new House committee leaders: a full slate of white men. While many of these Congressmen are holding on positions they’ve already got, there are a few new faces sitting in the Chairperson’s seat. What follows is ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology – Like his predecessor, Rep. Smith is a climate change skeptic. Smith refers to supporters of the scientific consensus as “global warming alarmists” and has criticized the media for not giving equal time to warming skeptics. His official website does say warming is occurring, but does not, as the consensus does, cite human activity as the cause. Unsurprisingly, Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign. The new House point man on technology is also the author of the terrible Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and opposes potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research.

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services – Rep. Hensarling will be the point Republican on anything relating to the financial sector, but his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul, Congress’ richest member, seems primed to carry on his predecessor Peter King’s hardline legacy. McCaul enthusiastically endorsed King’s hearings on Islamic terrorism that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior who proposed legislation designating Mexican cartels “foreign terrorist organizations,” a move that infuriated the Mexican government and would have given the DEA access to enhanced counterterrorism powers. McCaul has also celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law and compared President Obama to King George III.

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte, like Rep. Royce, is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship and calling the DREAM act “ripe for fraud.” The Judiciary Committee has principal jurisdiction on immigration. Moreover, Goodlatte holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/11/28/1180181/meet-the-radical-republicans-chairing-important-house-committees/?mobile=nc

The Conservative Future

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 19, 2012

If you listened to the Republican candidates this year, you heard a conventional set of arguments. But if you go online, you can find a vibrant and increasingly influential center-right conversation. Most of the young writers and bloggers in this conversation intermingle, but they can be grouped, for clarity’s sake, around a few hot spots:

Paleoconservatives. The American Conservative has become one of the more dynamic spots on the political Web. Writers like Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth. Writers at that Web site, and at the temperamentally aligned Front Porch Republic, treasure tight communities and local bonds. They’re alert to the ways capitalism can erode community. Dispositionally, they are more Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.

Larison focuses on what he calls the imperial tendencies of both the Bush and Obama foreign policies. He crusades against what he sees as the unchecked killing power of drone strikes and champions a more modest and noninterventionist foreign policy.

Lower-Middle Reformists. Reihan Salam, a writer for National Review, E21 and others, recently pointed out that there are two stories about where the Republican Party should go next. There is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts. Then there is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.

Salam promotes the latter. This means acknowledging that working-class concerns are not what they were in the 1980s. The income tax is less burdensome than the payroll tax. Family disruption undermines social mobility. Republicans, he argues, should keep the social conservatism, which reinforces families, and supplement it with an agenda that supports upward mobility and social capital.

Similarly, Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute has argued for a Republican Party that listens more closely to working-class concerns. Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has argued for family-friendly tax credits and other measures that reinforce middle-class dignity. Jim Manzi wrote a seminal article in National Affairs on the need to promote innovation while reducing inequality.

Soft Libertarians. Some of the most influential bloggers on the right, like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok and Megan McArdle, start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.

Many of these market-oriented writers emphasize that being pro-market is not the same as being pro-business. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago published an influential book, “A Capitalism for the People,” that took aim at crony capitalism. Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner does muckraking reporting on corporate-federal collusion. Rising star Derek Khanna wrote a heralded paper on intellectual property rights for the House Republican Study Committee that was withdrawn by higher-ups in the party, presumably because it differed from the usual lobbyist-driven position.

There are a number of unpredictable libertarian-leaning writers, including Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic on civil liberties issues, and Eugene Volokh on legal and free speech concerns.

Burkean Revivalists. This group includes young conservatives whose intellectual roots go back to the organic vision of society described best by Edmund Burke but who are still deeply enmeshed in current policy debates.

Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs is one of the two or three most influential young writers in politics today. He argues that we are now witnessing the fiscal crisis of the entitlement state, exemplified most of all by exploding health care costs. His magazine promotes a big agenda of institutional modernization.

The lawyer Adam J. White has argued for an approach to jurisprudence and regulatory affairs based on modesty, but not a doctrinaire clinging to original intent. Ryan Streeter of Indiana champions civil-society conservatism, an updated version of the Jack Kemp style.

By and large, these diverse writers did not grow up in the age of Reagan and are not trying to recapture it. They disdain what you might call Donor Base Republicanism. Most important, they matured intellectually within a far-reaching Web-based conversation. In contrast to many members of the conservative political-entertainment complex, they are data-driven, empirical and low-key in tone.

They are united more by a style of feedback and mutual scrutiny than by a common agenda. Some politically unorthodox people in this conversation, such as Josh Barro of Bloomberg View, Meghan Clyne of National Affairs and Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, specialize in puncturing sentimentality and groupthink.

Since Nov. 6, the G.O.P. has experienced an epidemic of open-mindedness. The party may evolve quickly. If so, it’ll be powerfully influenced by people with names like Reihan, Ramesh, Yuval and Derek Khanna.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/opinion/brooks-the-conservative-future.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121120

The Obama Realignment

By ROSS DOUTHAT, New York TImes, November 7, 2012

When you do it once, it’s just a victory. When you do it twice, it’s a realignment.

The coalition that Barack Obama put together to win the presidency handily in 2008 looked a lot like the emerging Democratic majority that optimistic liberals had been discerning on the political horizon since the 1990s. It was the late George McGovern’s losing coalition from 1972 finally come of age: Young voters, the unmarried, African-Americans, Hispanics, the liberal professional class – and then more than enough of the party’s old blue collar base to hold the Rust Belt for the Democrats.

But 2008 was also a unique political moment, when George W. Bush’s immense unpopularity was compounded by a financial collapse, and when the possibility of electing the country’s first black president fired the imagination of the nation (and the nation’s press corps). So it was still possible to regard the Obama majority of ’08 as more flukish than transformative – or at the very least, to see it as a fragile thing, easily shattered by poor choices and adverse developments.

There were plenty of both during the president’s first term. The Obama White House underestimated the depth of the recession, it overreached politically on the health care bill and the failed push for cap and trade and it reaped a backlash at the polls in 2010. The Republican Party, left for dead after 2008, revived itself, and at many points across the 2012 campaign season Obama’s majority coalition looked vulnerable. Its policy victories seemed to teeter on the edge.

And the Obama coalition was vulnerable. I believed that at the beginning of the campaign season; I believed it in mid-October, when I thought Mitt Romney might just pull the election out; and I believe it even now that the president has won a narrow (in the popular vote) but electorally decisive victory.

But the lesson of the election is that the Obama coalition was truly vulnerable only to a Republican Party that took Obama seriously as an opponent – that understood how his majority had been built, why voters had joined it and why the conservative majority of the Reagan and Bush eras had unraveled.

Such understanding eluded the Republicans this year. In part, that failure can be blamed on their standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, who mostly ran as a kind of vanilla Republican instead of showing the imagination necessary to reinvent his party for a new era. Romney’s final month of campaigning was nearly flawless, though. His debate performances were the best by any Republican since Reagan and he will go down in history as one of the few losing challengers to claim a late lead in the polls. A weak nominee in many ways, he was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn’t particularly want to be reinvented, preferring to believe that the rhetoric and positioning of 1980 and 1984 could win again in the America of 2012.

You could see this belief at work in the confidence with which many conservatives insisted that the Obama presidency was not only embattled but self-evidently disastrous, in the way so many voices on the right sought to raise the ideological stakes at every opportunity, in the widespread conviction that the starker conservatives made the choice between left and right, the more votes they would win.

You could also see this conviction shaping the punditry and predictions that issued from conservatives in the days leading up this election. It was remarkable how many analysts not normally known for their boosterism (I’m thinking of Michael Barone and George Will in particular) were willing to predict that Romney would not only win but win sweepingly, capturing states that haven’t gone Republican since Reagan. But even less starry-eyed conservatives – like, well, myself – were willing to embrace models of the electorate that overstated the Republican base of support and downplayed the Democrats’ mounting demographic advantage.

Those models were wrong about 2012, and they aren’t likely to be right about 2016 or 2020. Republicans can console themselves that they came close in the popular vote. They can look ahead to a favorable Senate map in 2014 and they do still have their House majority to fall back on.

But Tuesday’s result ratifies much of the leftward shift in public policy that President Obama achieved during his first term. It paves the way for the White House to raise at least some of the tax revenue required to pay for a more activist government and it means that the Republicans let a golden chance to claim a governing coalition of their own slip away.

In this sense, just as Reagan Republicanism dominated the 1980s even though the Democrats controlled the House, our own era now clearly belongs to the Obama Democrats even though John Boehner is still speaker of the House.

That era will not last forever; it may not even last more than another four years. The current Democratic majority has its share of internal contradictions, and as it expands demographically it will become vulnerable to attack on many fronts. Parties are more adaptable than they seem in their moments of defeat, and there will come a day when a Republican presidential candidate will succeed where Mitt Romney just failed.

But getting there requires that conservatives face reality: The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have.

http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/07/douthat-the-obama-realignment/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20121107

Five Practical Reasons Not To Vote Republican

by Paul BuchheitCommon Dreams, October 8, 2012

There is no shortage of reasons not to vote Republican. The litany includes tax cuts for the rich, cutbacks in government programs, obstructing needed legislation, disregard for the environment, denial of women’s and other human rights, military escalation.

But the following five reasons have to do with money — specifically, who’s paying for the $1 trillion of annual tax savings and tax avoidance for the super-rich? And who’s paying for the $1 trillion of national security to protect their growing fortunes? The Republicans want that money to come from the rest of us.

1. Economic Darwinism — Republicans want the Poor to Pay

Paul Ryan’s proposed budget would take about a half-trillion dollars a year from programs that support the poor. This is a continuation of a 15-year shredding of the safety net by Republicans. The GOP-controlled Congress of Bill Clinton created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which has experienced a 60% drop in its caseload despite growing poverty, and which, according to the Urban Institute, provides “maximum benefits [that] even in the more generous states were far below the federal poverty level of $1,525 a month for a family of three.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), another vital program that serves 50 million “food insecure” Americans, would be cut by $16 billion under the House version of the Farm Bill. The average recipient currently gets $4.30 a day for food.

Republicans also voted to end the Child Tax Credit, and favor a tax plan that would eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit.

2. Payroll Tax — Republicans want the Middle Class to Pay

Encouraged by the steady Republican demand for lower corporate tax rates, big business has effected a stunning shift in taxpaying responsibility over the years, from corporate income tax to worker payroll tax. For every dollar of payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it’s 22 cents.

It’s gotten worse in recent years, as corporations decided to drastically cut their tax rates after the start of the recession. After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, they’ve paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.

Republicans claim that almost half of Americans don’t pay taxes. But when payroll and state and local taxes are considered, middle-income Americans pay at about the same rate as the highest earners. Only about 17% of households paid no federal income tax or payroll tax in 2009. And average workers get little help from people who make most of the money. Because of the $110,000 cutoff for payroll tax deductions, the richest 10% of Americans save $150 billion a year in taxes.

3. Job Shrinkage — Republicans want Young People to Pay

The jobs that exist for young Americans are paying much less than just a few years ago. During and after the recession, according to the National Employment Law Project, low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour) dropped by 21 percent, and then grew back at a 58 percent rate. Mid-wage jobs ($13.84 to $21.13 per hour) dropped by 60 percent and grew back at a 22 percent rate. In other words, the median wage is falling fast.

Unemployment for workers under 25 stands at 16.4 percent, twice the national average. Half of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed.

Yet Republicans killed a jobs bill that was supported by two-thirds of the public.

An academic study of employment data over 64 years found that an average of two million jobs per year were created under Democratic presidents, compared to one million under Republican presidents. Similar results were reported by the Bloomberg Government Barometer.

4. Retirement Planning — Republicans want the Seniors to Pay

There’s a common misconception in our country that most seniors are financially secure. Actually, Census data reveals that elderly people experience greater inequality than any other population group, with the poorest one-fifth receiving just 5.5% of the group’s total resources, while the wealthiest one-fifth receives 46%.

The senior wealth gap is further evidenced by data during the great 30-year surge in inequality. The average over-60 wealth was five times greater than the median in 1995, as would be expected with a small percentage of ultra-high-net-worth individuals and a great majority of low-wealth people. Further confirmation comes from 2004 Harvard data that shows rising inequality within all age groups, including the elderly. Indeed, an MIT study found that about 46% ofU.S. senior citizens have less than $10,000 in financial assets when they die.

For the vast majority of seniors, Social Security has been life-sustaining, accounting for 55% of their annual income. Because of this successful and popular program, the senior poverty rate has dropped from 50% to 10%, and due to life-long contributions from working Americans the program has a $2.7 trillion surplus while contributing nothing to the deficit. Yet Republicans want to undo it.

5. Public Fire Sale — Republicans want Society to Pay

The common good is threatened by the Republican disdain for public resources. Drilling and mining and pipeline construction continues on public lands, and the House of Representatives has voted over 100 times since 2011 to subsidize the oil and gas industry while weakening environmental, public health, and safety requirements. The “land grab” is pitting corporate muscle against citizens’ rights.

Sadly, most of Americaenvisions a new era of energy independence that increases our world-leading consumption of energy while depending on a proliferation of dirty technologies to extract it. Threats of methane emissions, water pollution, and earthquake activity don’t deter the fossil fuel enthusiasts.

It gets worse. Republicans are eager to sell public land. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” proposes to sell millions of acres of “unneeded federal land” and billions of dollars worth of federal assets. His running mate Mitt Romney admits that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands.

That brings us to the heart of the reasons not to vote Republican. Their reckless belief in the free market, and their dependency on corporatization and privatization to run the country, means that middle-class Americans keep paying for the fabulously wealthy people at the top who think they deserve everything they’ve taken from society.

 

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/10/08

 

The Political Awakening of Republican By Jeremiah Goulka

Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org), Tom Dispatch [1] /  [2] September 10, 2012

‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’

 

 I used to be a serious Republican, moderate and business-oriented, who planned for a public-service career in Republican politics.  But I am a Republican no longer.

There’s an old joke we Republicans used to tell that goes something like this: “If you’re young and not a Democrat, you’re heartless.  If you grow up and you’re not a Republican, you’re stupid.”  These days, my old friends and associates no doubt consider me the butt of that joke.  But I look on my “stupidity” somewhat differently.  After all, my real education only began when I was 30 years old.

This is the story of how in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and later in Iraq, I discovered that what I believed to be the full spectrum of reality was just a small slice of it and how that discovery knocked down my Republican worldview.

I always imagined that I was full of heart, but it turned out that I was oblivious.  Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their desserts.  As I came to recognize that poverty is not earned or chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people.

No longer oblivious, I couldn’t remain in today’s Republican Party, not unless I embraced an individualism that was even more heartless than the one I had previously accepted.  The more I learned about reality, the more I started to care about people as people, and my values shifted.  Had I always known what I know today, it would have been clear that there hasn’t been a place for me in the Republican Party since the Free Soil days of Abe Lincoln.

Where I Came From

I grew up in a rich, white suburb north of Chicago populated by moderate, business-oriented Republicans.  Once upon a time, we would have been called Rockefeller Republicans [4].  Today we would be called liberal Republicans or slurred by the Right as “Republicans In Name Only” (RINOs).

We believed in competition and the free market, in bootstraps and personal responsibility, in equality of opportunity, not outcomes.  We were financial conservatives who wanted less government. We believed in noblesse oblige, for we saw ourselves as part of a natural aristocracy, even if we hadn’t been born into it.  We sided with management over labor and saw unions as a scourge.  We hated racism and loved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., particularly his dream that his children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  We worried about the rise of the Religious Right and its social-conservative litmus tests. We were tough on crime, tough on national enemies. We believed in business, full stop.

I intended to run for office on just such a platform someday.  In the meantime, I founded the Republican club at my high school, knocked on doors and collected signatures with my father, volunteered on campaigns, socialized at fundraisers, and interned for Senator John McCain and Congressman Denny Hastert when he was House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s chief deputy.

We went to mainstream colleges — the more elite the better — but lamented their domination by liberal professors, and I did my best to tune out their liberal views.  I joined the Republican clubs and the Federalist Society, and I read the Wall Street Journal and the Economist rather the New York Times.  George Will was a voice in the wilderness, Rush Limbaugh an occasional (sometimes guilty) pleasure.

Left Behind By the Party

In January 2001, I was one of thousands of Americans who braved the cold rain to attend and cheer George W. Bush’s inauguration.  After eight years hating “Slick Willie,” it felt good to have a Republican back in the White House.  But I knew that he wasn’t one of our guys.  We had been McCain fans, and even if we liked the compassionate bit of Bush’s conservatism, we didn’t care for his religiosity or his social politics.

Bush won a lot of us over with his hawkish response to 9/11, but he lost me with the Iraq War.  Weren’t we still busy in Afghanistan?  I didn’t see the urgency.

By then, I was at the Justice Department, working in an office that handled litigation related to what was officially called the Global War on Terror (or GWOT).  My office was tasked with opposing petitions for habeas corpus brought by Guantánamo detainees who claimed that they were being held indefinitely without charge.  The government’s position struck me as an abdication of a core Republican value: protecting the “procedural” rights found in the Bill of Rights.  Sure, habeas corpus had been waived in wartime before, but it seemed to me that waiving it here reduced us to the terrorists’ level.  Besides, since acts of terrorism were crimes, why not prosecute them?  I refused to work on those cases.

With the Abu Ghraib pictures [5], my disappointment turned to rage.  The America I believed in didn’t torture people.

I couldn’t avoid GWOT work.  I was forced to read reams of allegations of torture, sexual abuse, and cover-ups in our war zones to give the White House a heads-up in case any of made it into the news cycle.

I was so mad that I voted for Kerry out of spite.

How I Learned to Start Worrying

I might still have stuck it out as a frustrated liberal Republican, knowing that the wealthy business core of the party still pulled a few strings and people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe remained in the Senate — if only because the idea of voting for Democrats by choice made me feel uncomfortable.  (It would have been so… gauche.)  Then came Hurricane Katrina.  In New Orleans, I learned that it wasn’t just the Bush administration that was flawed but my worldview itself.

I had fallen in love with New Orleans during a post-law-school year spent in Louisiana clerking for a federal judge, and the Bush administration’s callous (non-)response to the storm broke my heart.  I wanted to help out, but I didn’t fly helicopters or know how to do anything useful in a disaster, so just I sat glued to the coverage and fumed — until FEMA asked federal employees to volunteer to help.  I jumped at the chance.

Soon, I was involved with a task force trying to rebuild (and reform) the city’s criminal justice system.  Growing up hating racism, I was appalled but not very surprised to find overt racism and the obvious use of racist code words by officials in the Deep South.

Then something tiny happened that pried open my eyes to the less obvious forms of racism and the hurdles the poor face when they try to climb the economic ladder.  It happened on an official visit to a school in a suburb of New Orleans that served kids who had gotten kicked out of every other school around.  I was investigating what types of services were available to the young people who were showing up in juvenile hall and seemed to be headed toward the proverbial life of crime.

My tour guide mentioned that parents were required to participate in some school programs.  One of these was a field trip to a sit-down restaurant.

This stopped me in my tracks.  I thought: What kind of a lame field trip is that?

It turned out that none of the families had ever been to a sit-down restaurant before.  The teachers had to instruct parents and students alike how to order off a menu, how to calculate the tip.

I was stunned.

Starting To See

That night, I told my roommates about the crazy thing I had heard that day.  Apparently there were people out there who had never been to something as basic as a real restaurant.  Who knew?

One of my roommates wasn’t surprised.  He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account.  Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all.

I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID?  And no bank accounts?  Who are these people?  How do they vote?  How do they live?  Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?

From then on, I started to notice a lot more reality.  I noticed that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently in subtle as well as not-so-subtle ways, and that many of the people who were getting swept up by the system came from this underclass that I knew so little about.  Lingering for months in lock-up for misdemeanors, getting pressed against the hood and frisked during routine traffic stops, being pulled over in white neighborhoods for “driving while black [6]”: these are things that never happen to people in my world.  Not having experienced it, I had always assumed that government force was only used against guilty people.  (Maybe that’s why we middle-class white people collectively freak out at TSA airport pat-downs.)

I dove into the research literature to try to figure out what was going on.  It turned out that everything I was “discovering” had been hiding in plain sight and had been named: aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the “trial tax,” the “poverty tax,” and on and on.  Having grown up obsessed with race (welfare and affirmative action were our bêtes noirs), I wondered why I had never heard of any of these concepts.

Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”?  That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed.  But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity.  It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series.  Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in.  Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal.  For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets.  Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people.  My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.

How I Learned to Stop Loving the Bombs

In order to learn more — and to secure my membership in what Karl Rove sneeringly called the “reality-based community [7]” — I joined a social science research institute.  There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt.  Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception ofU.S. martial power — what it’s for, how it’s used — diverged from the reality of our wars.

Lots of Republicans grow up hawks.  I certainly did.  My sense of what it meant to be an American was linked to my belief that from 1776 to WWII, and even from the 1991 Gulf War to Kosovo and Afghanistan, the American military had been dedicated to birthing freedom and democracy in the world, while dispensing a tough and precise global justice.

To me, military service represented the perfect combination of public service, honor, heroism, glory, promotion, meaning, and coolness.  As a child, I couldn’t get enough of the military: toys and models, movies and cartoons, fat books with technical pictures of manly fighter planes and ships and submarines.  We went to air shows whenever we could, and with the advent of cable, I begged my parents to sign up so that the Discovery Channel could bring those shows right into our den.  Just after we got it, the first Gulf War kicked off, and CNN provided my afterschool entertainment for weeks.

As I got older, I studied Civil War military history and memory.  (I would eventually edit a book [8] of letters by Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.)  I thought I knew a lot about war; even if Sherman was right that “war is hell,” it was frequently necessary, we did it well, and — whatever those misinformed peaceniks said — we made the world a better place.

But then I went to a war zone.

I was deployed to Baghdadas part of a team of RAND Corporation researchers to help the detainee operations command figure out several thorny policy issues.  My task was to figure out why we were sort-of-protecting and sort-of-detaining an Iranian dissident group [9] on Washington’s terrorist list.

It got ugly fast.  Just after my first meal on base, there was a rumble of explosions, and an alarm started screaming INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING!  Two people were killed and dozens injured, right outside the chow hall where I had been standing minutes earlier.

This was the “surge” period in 2007 when, I was told, insurgent attacks came less frequently than before, but the sounds of war seemed constant to me.  The rat-tat-tat of small arms fire just across the “wire.”  Controlled detonations of insurgent duds.  Dual patrolling Blackhawks overhead. And every few mornings, a fresh rain of insurgent rockets and mortars.

Always alert, always nervous, I was only in Iraq for three and a half weeks, and never close to actual combat; and yet the experience gave me many of the symptoms of PTSD.  It turns out that it doesn’t take much.

That made me wonder how the Iraqis took it.  From overhead I saw that the once teeming city of Baghdad was now a desert of desolate neighborhoods and empty shopping streets, bomb craters in the middle of soccer fields and in the roofs of schools.  Millions displaced [10].

Our nation-building efforts reeked of post-Katrina organizational incompetence.  People were assigned the wrong roles — “Why am I building a radio station?  This isn’t what I do.  I blow things up…” — and given no advance training or guidance.  Outgoing leaders didn’t overlap with their successors, so what they had learned would be lost, leaving each wheel to be partially reinvented again.  Precious few contracts went to Iraqis.  It was driving people out of our military.

This incompetence had profound human costs.  Of the 26,000 people we were detaining in Iraq, as many as two-thirds [11] were innocent — wrong place, wrong time — or, poor and desperate, had worked with insurgent groups for cash, not out of an ideological commitment.  Aware of this, the military wanted to release thousands of them, but they didn’t know who was who; they only knew that being detained and interrogated made even the innocents dangerously angry.  That anger trickled down to family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.  It was about as good an in-kind donation as the U.S. could have made to insurgent recruitment — aside from invading in the first place.

So much for surgical precision and winning hearts and minds.  I had grown up believing that we were more careful in our use of force, that we only punished those who deserved punishment.  But in just a few weeks in Iraq, it became apparent that what we were doing to the Iraqis, as well as to our own people, was inexcusable.

Today, I wonder if Mitt Romney drones on about not apologizing [12] for America because he, like the former version of me, simply isn’t aware of the U.S. ever doing anything that might demand an apology.  Then again, no one wants to feel like a bad person, and there’s no need to apologize if you are oblivious to the harms done in your name – calling the occasional ones you notice collateral damage (“stuff happens [13]”) — or if you believe that American force is always applied righteously in a world that is justly divided into winners and losers.

A Painful Transition

An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion.  I think I finally understand what it means.  We see different realities, different worlds.  If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things.  I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.  I think this shows why Republicans [14] put so much effort [15] into “creat[ing] our own reality [7],” into fostering distrust [16] of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers [17]” (as a Romney pollster put it).  It explains why study after study shows — examples here [18], here [19], and here [20] — that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.

Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful.  I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned.  I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).

My transition has significantly strained my relationships with family, friends, and former colleagues.  It is deeply upsetting to walk on thin ice where there used to be solid, common ground.  I wish they, too, would come to see a fuller spectrum of reality, but I know from experience how hard that can be when your worldview won’t let you.

No one wants to feel like a dupe.  It is embarrassing to come out in public and admit that I was so miseducated when so much reality is out there in plain sight in neighborhoods I avoided, in journals I hadn’t heard of, in books by authors I had refused to read.  (So I take courage from the people who have done so before me like Andrew Bacevich [21].)

Many people see the wider spectrum of reality because they grew up on the receiving end.  As a retired African-American general in the Marine Corps said to me after I told him my story, “No one has to explain institutional racism to a black man.”

Others do because they grew up in families that simply got it.  I married a woman who grew up in such a family, for whom all of my hard-earned, painful “discoveries” are old news.  Each time I pull another layer of wool off my eyes and feel another surge of anger, she gives me a predictable series of looks.  The first one more or less says, “Duh, obviously.”  The second is sympathetic, a recognition of the pain that comes with dismantling my flawed worldview.  The third is concerned: “Do people actually think that?”

Yes, they do.

Jeremiah Goulka writes about American politics and culture.  His most recent work has been published in the American Prospect [22] and Salon [23].  He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a recovery worker in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.  He lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him at jeremiah@jeremiahgoulka.com [24].  His website is jeremiahgoulka.com [25]. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Goulka discusses his political journey, click here [26] or download it to your iPod here [27].

Copyright 2012 Jeremiah Goulka


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/political-awakening-republican-i-had-viewed-whole-swaths-country-and-world-second

Links:
[1] http://www.tomdispatch.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/jeremiah-goulka
[3] http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade
[4] http://www.tnr.com/blog/timothy-noah/98542/rockys-ghost
[5] http://www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560
[6] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/07/driving-while-black/307625/
[7] http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/05/23/1094237/-Scott-Walker-s-alternate-universe
[8] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807828645/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20
[9] http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG871.html
[10] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174892/michael_schwartz_the_great_iraqi-brain_drain
[11] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112051193
[12] http://factcheck.org/2012/08/romneys-sorry-apology-tour-dig/
[13] http://articles.cnn.com/2003-04-11/us/sprj.irq.pentagon_1_looting-defense-secretary-donald-rumsfeld-coalition-forces?_s=PM:US
[14] http://www.aei.org/article/politics-and-public-opinion/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/
[15] http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120905/COLUMNIST0150/309050062/Fact-checking-is-beneath-Romney-campaign
[16] http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4541
[17] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/01/us/politics/fact-checkers-howl-but-both-sides-cling-to-false-ads.html
[18] http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_–_and_reality?page=entire&paging=off
[19] http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-11-22/news/30431182_1_fox-news-results-show-viewers
[20] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/fox-news-less-informed-new-study_n_1538914.html
[21] http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175290/
[22] http://prospect.org/authors/jeremiah-goulka
[23] http://www.salon.com/2012/03/28/guest_op_ed_mek_and_its_material_supporters_in_washington/
[24] mailto:jeremiah@jeremiahgoulka.com
[25] http://www.jeremiahgoulka.com/
[26] http://tomdispatch.blogspot.com/2012/09/confessions-of-former-republican.html
[27] http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tomcast-from-tomdispatch-com/id357095817

The Crackpot Caucus By TIMOTHY EGAN

New York Times, August 23, 2012

Excerpt

…Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped. On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom.Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body…Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing…

Full text

The tutorial in 8th grade biology that Republicans got after one of their members of Congress went public with something from the wackosphere was instructive, and not just because it offered female anatomy lessons to those who get their science from the Bible.

Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

Let’s take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.

We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept.  But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change,  Representative John Shimkus of Illinoisis -  you guessed it  – a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.  It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton ofTexas.  You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said,  “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans.  Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House,  is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

In his party, Kingstonis in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years -  a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.

AnotherGeorgiacongressman, Paul Broun,  introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House – backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan – that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.

Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.

Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.

Remember the crazy statement that helped to kill the presidential aspirations of  Michele Bachmann?  A vaccine, designed to prevent a virus linked to cervical cancer, could cause mental retardation, she proclaimed. Bachmann knew this, she insisted, because some random lady told her so at a campaign event.  Fearful of the genuine damage Bachmann’s assertion could do to public health, theAmericanAcademyof Pediatrics promptly rushed out a notice, saying,  “there is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”

Nor is there is reputable scientific validity to those who deny that the globe’s climate is changing for the worst. But Bachmann calls that authoritative consensus a hoax, and faces no censure from her party.

It’s encouraging that Republican heavyweights have since told Akin that uttering scientific nonsense about sex and rape is not good for the party’s image. But where are these fact-enforcers on the other idiocies professed by elected representatives of their party?

Akin, if he stays in the race, may still win the Senate seat inMissouri.  Bachmann, who makes things up on a regular basis, is a leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and, in an unintended joke, a member of the Committee on Intelligence.  None of these folks are without power; they govern, and have significant followings.

A handful of Republicans have tried to fight the know-nothings. “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” said Jon Huntsman, the formerUtahgovernor, during his ill-fated run for his party’s presidential nomination. “Call me crazy.”

And in an on-air plea for sanity,  Joe Scarborough, the former G.O.P. congressman and MSNBC host, said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the stupid party.”  I feel for him.  But don’t expect the reality chorus to grow. For if intelligence were contagious, his party would be giving out vaccines for it.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/the-crackpot-caucus/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120824