Monday, March 16, 2009

Ruth Ann today

I happened to catch a bit of Meet the Press this past Sunday. David Frum, who had written a piece for Newsweek (which I read part of) explaining why Rush Limbaugh should not be allowed to be the de facto voice of the Republican party, was trying to defend Michael Steele’s comments that allowed for the possibility that abortion is part of a woman’s right to choose. Tavis Smiley was sitting right next to Frum, saying the Republicans can not simply put a colored face on TV and expect black voters to respond. Frum tried to differentiate between a colored face (bad) and a different face (good).

The Republicans are treading carefully now. The politicians know that the minute they criticize the Democrats, they will have to endure a lecture on the last eight years. They believe that Congressional Democrats are not interested in bipartisanship (and they are probably right), but the Republicans are not convincing making this case because they also wanted to punish the President for not giving them more on the stimulus bill and so not one Republican representative voted for it. Because the Republican politicians are currently paralyzed, the commentators like Rush Limbaugh are leaping into the vacuum. Rush can say whatever he wants on his show (I guess maybe there are callers, probably taped so that callers challenging Mr. Limbaugh’s views can simply be deleted).

Ruth Ann Dailey is also jumping in, carrying on the theme that the Democrats are communists. She gives us a mock letter from communists to Ed Rendell about the PLCB. Now, let me say up front that I would prefer liquor stores to be private. There is no reason why the State should control liquor sales, except to gouge citizens. But I don’t think Ruth Ann’s column was entirely about the LCB.

As I say, Ruth Ann’s letter is listed as from “Marx, Engels, Keynes & Krugman -- "Economists for a Better Tomorrow"”. In other words, she wants to link the Obama administration to communists, and Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist. Yes, Krugman is mostly a cheerleader for the Obama administration, but I defy Ruth Ann to show one credible shred of a link between Obama and communists. As for whether the Obama administration is pursing even slightly communistic policies, they have resisted stating that they are nationalizing the banks or any other industry. The government’s handling of AIG, despite having installed the current CEO and owning most of the stock, still has them saying they do nothing about the contractually mandated bonuses. The Obama administration knows it has to keep the current system running and so has to keep bankers and other financial professionals somewhat happy.

Meanwhile Ruth Ann lobs this comment at us: “Since the real estate bubble burst, triggering the economic meltdown, we've worked diligently to deflect attention away from Clinton-era mandates on lending standards and to pin responsibility for the disastrous economic fallout on the Bush administration.”

I will certainly admit that some of the mandates to loosen controls came from a Republican Congress during the Clinton years. Clinton may well have expected Al Gore to be elected President (he was, actually) and that Gore could have kept watch and stepped in if the loosened mandates proved problematic.

But the Republicans are being incredibly disingenuous when they complain about legislation from the Clinton era. We all know, for example, that the Democrats quickly came to dislike the Patriot act, but have never been able to do much of anything about it. Yet Republican commentators claim the Democrats prevented reform in the financial sector. That is bullshit. I would buy the notion that neither the Bush administration nor the Republicans in Congress nor the Democrats in Congress wanted to change things or restrict bad mortgages because the housing bubble was very popular (and I suspect the credit swaps were creating enough wealth to cause some better than average campaign contributions). The incentives were likely perverse, but still I bitterly resent Republicans blaming Democrats for something when they spent at least four years and possibly as much as eight years reaping the benefits and therefore doing nothing about the coming financial mess.

As an aside, Jim Cramer claimed, on the Dailey Show, that the financial meltdown was a one in million thing, despite the fact terms like housing bubble have been around for years. Later Cramer said that the 35 to 1 leveraged mortgages were considered realistic in a world that gave 30% returns year after year. That lster statement might explain why everyone turned a blind (and stupid) eye towards a clearly inevitable downturn.

Ruth Ann is clearly reverting to Republican code phrases and innuendo to slam the Democrats. Which is a sham, since she rails against the liberal media for doing that to Republicans. We are all still waiting for a legitimate Republican criticism of the current administration, and some hint they are interested in bipartisanship.


Pittsburgh Conservative said...

I'm not sure that the onus is on the Republican party to do much of anything, bipartisan or otherwise. The key thing to remember is that Obama, McConnell, Boehner, et al, are politicians, and they are always looking for political gains, not necessarily tangible real policy gains. If those come along, too, all the better. Why else do you think that the administration pushed Rush Limbaugh out front and center? For bipartisanship, or to gain politically while taking the attention off Obama for a little while? The political approach that the Republicans seem to be taking is that when your opponent is busy shooting himself in the foot (earmarks, AIG), keep quiet and don't get between the gun and the foot. When you have Obama campaigning against McCain's proposal to tax health benefits as a multi-trillion dollar tax hike on the middle class, and then putting that on the table as an alternative to pay for his programs, the political script writes itself, no commentary needed.

It's one thing to abhor the crassness of the political process and the commentators/creatures like Ruth Ann that inhabit it. But it's a whole different thing to look at what any one of them and expect them to be better or different from the rest.

EdHeath said...

Well, I have several responses to several of your statements.

Do you really think it is a good idea to cede the public stage to your opponents, hoping that they will shoot themselves in the foot, and thus allow those opponents to frame the debate. This is essentially what the Democrats (and media) did after 9/11, because they were afraid that being the “loyal opposition” would get them branded as unpatriotic or even treasonous. Thus there was little or no opposition to Bush giving tax breaks to the rich, attacking our constitutional rights and claiming that there were “weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq (btw, I will stipulate Iraq had deadly chemical weapons before 1991).

Further, it can be argued that Obama campaigned on bipartisanship and made a genuine attempt to woo Republicans by setting some forty percent of the stimulus package as tax cuts (although probably not for the people Republicans favor). So now Obama can say he reached across the aisle and was rebuffed by all of the Republicans in the House and all but three Republicans in the Senate. And that is how the record will stand unless the Republicans say something.

As for AIG, earmarks and taxing healthcare benefits, the administration is spinning those events as best they can, and again without Republican comments, they will control the agenda. If the Republicans don’t point out that McCain campaigned on taxing healthcare benefits, then you are hoping and praying that voters will remember that. Only the thirty percent or so who read newspapers might, and many of them will shrug it off since the Republicans aren’t commenting.

The only time the political script writes itself, in my opinion, is when the public has, on its own or with help, lost confidence in the President. In the last couple of years of the Bush presidency he probably didn’t get the credit he deserved for taking bold steps in Iraq and on the economy (although Hank Paulson needed a different approach).

Now, the left does complain generically about conservative talk radio, although they also complain about the specific individuals. But conservative politicians since Nixon (probably before too) and conservative pundits have long complained about the “liberal media”. They insist that not only opinion pieces but ordinary news stories are slanted. I mean, on one level I agree with you that conservative and liberal commentators almost never present a balanced point of view. But when the right complains about the left, and then commits the sins they complain about, then yeah, I am going to make as much noise about it as I can. The mote in your neighbors eye and what not.

This linking of Obama to communism is especially egregious. What it says to me is that conservative commentators are still trying to give voters an excuse for they don’t like Obama, because the conservatives are afraid to say it is ok to be racist. So the conservatives raise an old and now thoroughly discredited bogeyman, and try to pin it to Obama with innuendo. Considering how important it is for the administration to help the country come out of the downturn, I think that we should be labeling Rush and Ruth Ann the traitors here.

By the way, the administration did not push Rush out front and center, he pushed himself out there when he stated (on his show before the inauguration and at CPAC) that he wanted Obama to fail. Obama is not running again for three years, so he doesn’t actually need to make political points against conservatives right now, but Rush is pushing him. So the administration is trying to spin it to their benefit.

Pittsburgh Conservative said...

Ed, your points are all fair, but I guess I'm coming at it from the standpoint that Obama is a politician first, everything else second. The true value of having bipartisanship, as both Reagan and Clinton learned the hard way in their first terms, is that the eventual electoral blame is mitigated. When Reagan ramrodded his agenda through without any support from Democratic senators, he lost the senate when the economy turned south. Likewise, when Clinton passed his budget without any Republican votes and tried to do the same with health care, he paid a steep price for it when the voters were passing judgment in 1994.

I think that the real fear of Obama and all of the moderate Democrats in congress is that they are left on the hook and all alone come election time. If you're a moderate Democrat in NC, saying that Arlen Specter and Susan Collins were on your side is not really a selling point. Now, if the economy does a total 180 in the next 12 months, the Republicans will look like a bunch of fools and will not have a chance to even hold their seats. Like most economists, though, I think that the Republicans think this is going to drag out for another two years or so, with limited growth after we've hit the bottom. Those macroeconomic forces won't be affected one way or another if 20 Republicans vote for the stimulus bill, but the election will.

In my opinion, most conservative commentators are lazy, so they reach out to hit the buttons that worked in the past. If it's not "urban" (scary mid-80's drug epidemic), "communist" (scary mid-70's cold war), it's "French" (just scary in general because they're different . . . and they like Jerry Lewis). I'm sure there is some racial remnant in there somewhere, but you have to remember, their target audience didn't vote for Obama anyways.

I think that Obama really needs to be conscious of the concerns of that moderate conservative who took a flyer on Obama because he was inspiring and, frankly, because they thought that it would be good for America to have an African-American president. Those people are seeing what's going on with AIG, the stimulus bill, etc., and you get the sense that the patience is beginning to wear thin. I agree that Bush caused this problem, but unless Obama shows that he is fixing it (and not merely continuing Bush's "fix"), it's going to get a little chippy.

EdHeath said...

Well, ok, we are coming at this from different angles, so let me restate, I was commenting on Ruth Ann’s commentary and the larger situation of conservatives right now. I wasn't really giving an opinion of Obama's policies or situation. When I responded to your first comment, I adopted your hypothetical that conservatives are allowing the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot right. I have to say that in fact I do not think Republican politicians have been silent, rather they are not saying any interesting (more on that later). As for the foot shooting, I will acknowledge merit to that argument, but I think that it is really Democrats in Congress that are doing the foot shooting. It may be that they will drag Obama down (the earmarks and AIG things probably are causing independents to wonder about Obama), but I think there is still separation in voters minds between Obama and the Congressional Democrats.

I think that in fact the Republicans are still showing up on Meet the Press and the PBS News Hour, as well as giving sound bites in the capitol rotunda. They are saying that there need to be more, and/or different or even only tax cuts in the stimulus plan. I think that people are moderately convinced that the current economic crisis is big enough that the government needs to spend money (although they do not want to be stuck with the debt), so this line from the Republicans is not convincing. The Republican politicians are also saying that the Democrats in Congress do not want to be bipartisan, and that Obama needs to force them. This may well be true, but I doubt a lot of voters are persuaded that this is important. So their rhetoric is falling flat, and even though I agree that most conservative commentators are lazy, their rhetoric is more persuasive. And yes, conservatives did not vote for Obama, but they want to avoid being labeled as racists (even though I suspect that motivated the votes of many of them). That’s part of the appeal of conservative commentators right now (when people have tired of the discredited war on terror and are scared of the financial meltdown). Again, it is conservative commentators who lead this charge against the rest of the media, branding it liberal and claiming it is slanted. I only want the same standards for the conservatives.

By the way, if you want to comment on Obama’s policies and predictions, one point that I think has glossed over is that the financial crisis that started in Nixon’s administration and helped bring Reagan in, in the 1970’s-1980’s is at least as bad as the crisis is now. There was stagflation, large scale closing of American industrial plants and later an S&L crisis where a whole bunch closed. That’s why even as TV journalists say this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression, inevitably the next phrase out of their mouths is something like the unemployment rate is the highest in twenty years or the Dow had its biggest percentage drop in 20 years. In other words, the last time things were this bad was not seventy years ago, but during the 1980’s.