Friday, July 26, 2013

Reason #298: Getting Caught Trying

Since taking control in 2010, Republicans in the House of Representatives, famously, have so far attempted to repeal Obamacare thirty-seven times. With your indulgence, I will now, briefly, defend that practice.

Not repealing Obamacare, specifically, mind you--but the act of loading up your car, announcing your imminent vacation, then repeatedly, deliberately, and for a number of years driving straight into a brick wall.

Obama gave a big economic speech the other day, essentially daring the Republicans to come after him on the debt ceiling this fall. It had all the attitude and bombast and, frankly, common sense of most of his speeches, but even his supporters have to admit, we've heard it all before. Obama has been touting the economic benefits of infrastructure spending, health care reform, and so on since before he was even in office--and while his people would gladly point to that as a sign of consistency, there's clearly a certain segment of the population that just isn't on board for that no matter how many times you ask.

That's why it's in the Republicans' interest to repeal Obamacare dozens of time when they know perfectly well it's not going anywhere: it gives them something to wave in front of their base as a sign that they're fighting the good fight. When gridlock is this institutionally assured, both parties really only have two options--catatonia, or fruitless exertion. It may not be terribly empowering, but the exertion scenario still has its benefits; it keeps the base active, keeps the legislative muscles intact, and who knows--once in a while you may even sneak something through.

The title of this post is a phrase that gets used now and then in political circles, though I haven't been able to determine its origin. What it means, basically, is that voters would rather see a politician fail doing what they believe in--even, on some level, if it's antithetical to what said voters want--than see them as doing nothing whatsoever. It's a lesson the Republicans seem to have learned long ago, and have been demonstrating throughout their 30-month reign in the House. You could say that Senate Democrats at least demonstrated their own understanding of this last month in passing their doomed immigration-reform bill (though Marco Rubio's motives are harder to work out in this context), so hopefully this week is a sign that Obama is starting to figure it out as well.

Further Reading

House to vote, yet again, on repealing Obamacare

Obama Needs to Get ’Caught Trying’ on Job Creation: Ron Klain

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reason #297: Food Stamps

Okay, right off the bat--food stamps are, on average, $134 a month. That's around $4 per day. Whatever else there is to say about them, let's all understand just how little money we're actually talking about.

Moving on--I read all sorts of random stuff during the day, both in my free time and when doing research for this blog, and almost never do I come across something that reshapes my image of American society as definitively as "Hipsters on Food Stamps", an article on the blog The Last Psychiatrist (link below). It's very long and very expansive in its scope, but briefly, it's a response to an eponymous Salon article discussing the phenomenon of college-educated young adults, unable to find work in today's economy due to their crunchy liberal-arts degrees, turning to government assistance and then using it, alongside whatever income or family support they are getting, to buy organic this and gluten-free that at Whole Foods.

While the original is presented generally as a slice-of-life, what-are-ya-gonna-do type of story, The Last Psychiatrist's response turns the entire subject on its head to make the argument that, one, this situation is the responsibility of said hipsters' narcissistic parents for raising their children to believe that a Medieval History degree was as valid as any other, and more to the point, worth $100 thousand in guaranteed loans, and two, blames that situation on the college-industrial complex, so to speak, for selling the entire nation on the notion that a college degree will make you more valuable to employers simply by brunt of its existence.

That might have been true when people were going to college for engineering and  brain surgery and whatever, but back in the here and now, America has indulged my entire generation into economic irrelevancy--and the article makes the case that this is costing us far more in lost productivity, and the devaluing of everybody's degrees by proxy, than food stamps ever could. If every other Starbucjs barista wasn't paying off a mountain of student loans, their career prospects would be no different and they'd have one less bill to pay every month.

Food stamps, in other words, are no more of a subsidy for laziness and naïveté than are college loans--either way, we're all paying for it.

Further Reading

Friday, July 12, 2013

Reason #296: Seven out of Ten

It's a given now that this is the worst Congress ever. Both in terms of popularity and productivity, they are demonstratively, empirically, the worst--you can prove it with graphs. But given the dramatic halt to which the Senate's immigration reform package has come in the House this month, and the Senate's own hissyfit this week over Harry Reid's attempt to change the filibuster rules so maybe one of Obama's appointees--to departments that in some cases are currently being run by nobody--can actually get approved for once, I'd like to take a step back and actually look at some of the relevant numbers.

In 2012, Obama won the popular vote by five million or so votes, but actually lost more congressional districts than he won. He won Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, but only carried between a quarter and a third of their respective congressional districts. Naturally, many Republicans see this as a failure of democracy, regardless of how many actual voters all those Republican districts represent.

Likewise, if you look at the vote totals by party, the Democrats received far more votes for both their House and Senate confidantes--around five percent more in both cases, mirroring Obama's numbers--yet were still crushed in the House, and barely held onto their majority in the Senate.

The disparity between House election results and the actual vote margins is due to the most extensive gerrymandering this country has ever seen--any state that has a strong Republican majority then immediately goes to work redrawing its districts to spread out its conservatives into as many districts as possible while cramming its liberals into as few districts as possible. This is helped along a great deal by the fact that heavily-populated areas tend to be more progressive in the first place.

But there's another way to look at it.

Even in a country where Republicans have a stranglehold on every drop of their territory, where they're enacting voter-ID laws and cutting down on early voting to stifle Democratic turnout, Obama still won twice--and by a bigger margin the second time. Even in a country with a conservative Supreme Court that neuters the Voting Rights Act and rubber-stamps each of the aforementioned discriminatory redistributing efforts (and they have), Democrats have won four out of the last six presidential elections.

Consider: from 1968 to 2004, Republicans won seven out of ten presidential elections. Of the ten elections before that, Democrats won seven. Of the ten before that, going back now all the way to guessed it: Republicans won seven. Prior to that, the political parties get harder to distinguish by modern paradigms, but it could, at least, be argued that liberals had another good run.

While I don't want to point to this an some magical absolute pattern, it is true without a doubt that American politics are cyclical--generations come and go, and new movements are born in response to old ones. Even if the pattern holds true and the Obama presidency heralds another 7-out-of-10-wins period for Democrats, the tide will eventually turn. But even more certain than that is the fact that by 2044 or so, this will be a majority-minority country--which means that conservatism, as we know it today, is in its death throes.

The conservatism of 2050 will not be anti-gay, or anti-Hispanic; those battles will be over. It may well be anti-abortion, but with irreligion on the rise and Catholicism in the midst of both upheaval and decline, who's to say? I see no reason to believe it won't still be anti-poor, deep down, but after forty years of progressive politics it's not crazy to think that entitlements and social welfare and all that good stuff will have run totally off the rails and need reigning in.

The point is, a wild animal is always loudest and most dangerous when it's cornered. And for all the noise they create, for all the harm they're still doing, the Tea Party wing of modern conservatism is most definitely cornered.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reason #295: The Prosecution Rests

A light one this week, in honor of the holiday.

I usually avoid cable-news trial coverage like the plague. Even the Trayvon Martin case, which is as invested in a "trial of the century"-type story as I've likely ever been, is starting to get on my nerves, and it's only been a couple weeks. I usually listen to Hardball on Sirius radio in the car on my way home from work, and a few days ago even Chris Matthews seemed to have had enough, ceding his usual 5pm timeslot to Martin Bashir's trial coverage (and by "coverage" I mean forty minutes of raw video straight from the courtroom).

Obviously people are strongly divided on how this case should shake out, but if there's one thing I think we can all agree on, it's my relief that today, with the prosecution resting its case, the ordeal is half over.

Further Reading

Prosecution rests in Zimmerman trial

Reason #213: Release

Reason #171: The Right to Remain Silent