Thursday, October 15, 2009

A complicated world ...

One of the problems I have always had with Democrats is their willingness to embrace ideas that have economic consequences while not wanting to discuss those economic consequences. Probably my favorite example is the minimum wage. An economist will tell you that the minimum wage is pad to any and all types of workers, not only bread winners for a family of four make the minimum, but also teenagers at a summer job. You hope that not many bread winners do make the minimum, but you know some do (and there are things to say about that, that I don’t have space for). Now, if you raise the minimum, the bread winners get that raise, but it is also possible that the summer job teenagers will be put out of work (by their employer instead of him/her paying the teenager the higher wage). How do we evaluate that result? Well, when I try to talk about that with many liberals, they think I am trying to find an excuse not to raise the minimum wage, when in fact I think I am just trying to find a way to help the bread winners without harming the summer job teenagers (an increase in the earned income tax credit perhaps, for example).

My point is that the Democrats have seemed to lack a single, coherent, thought out sort of plan to alleviate poverty for quite some time, so the battles over programs have to be fought internally (before being fought externally) time after time. I think that the reason for that is the Democrats attempt’s to lure Reagan (conservative) Democrats to vote for actual Democrats can’t include a fixed message of helping the poor.

By contrast, Republicans have had it easy, they can use a simple message of lower taxes, fiscal discipline and less government intrusion to reassure their base and lure conservative, rural white voters who in the past might have voted Democratic (as well as luring corporate donors). But there are some problems with that. First of all, the Republicans demonstrated during the last Presidency, especially from 2002 to the end of 2005 (when they controlled Congress as well), that they were unable to actually restrain themselves from spending at least as much or more than Democrats do. A related problem is that Republicans want to reward their districts for voting them into office just like Democrats do, and Republicans also want to reward corporate sponsors. Republicans can reward big business in two ways, by giving them taxpayer money for contracts, and by loosening regulations. Of course, we just had a lesson in what happens when you loosen regulations (in this case on financial markets). Their willingness to indulge their philosophy when it came to regulations and ignore their philosophy when it came to spending brought this country to the brink of disaster.

The thing is, we found out that the Republicans' famous discipline carries the price of tolerating no dissent, which in this case meant there were no ideological purists criticizing the party or Congress or the President for violating their ideology. Glenn Greenwald talks about this in his Wednesday column in Salon, in the context of why Democrats need to not be afraid to criticize Obama. Now, some criticism might have the problem of what I described in the first paragraph, of not at least considering all factors. I think, for example, we probably do have to send more troops to Afghanistan (because I think we do need to try to bring at least temporary stability to the country), although I also think we need to carefully distance ourselves from Karzai, who seems incapable of dealing with the corruption in his administration. And I think advocating simply withdrawing is reckless, although a discussion of those positions would be a good thing. Greenwald’s point, and I would agree, is that the Republicans would not and did not criticize Bush on that or any issue, and simply criticize Obama on all his policies and everything he doesn’t do as well.

So while the Democrats are all over the map, the Republicans pay lip service to their core ideals without trying to actually work towards them, and criticize nothing when they are in charge and everything when they aren’t. It’s hard to defend the current political situation when people say they are tired of it.

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