Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's Sunday ...

So today's Jack Kelly column has one interesting element. It has no pandering specifically to the Tea Party that I can see. Kelly does take a number of shots at a sitting United States Representative, and makes assertions that may not be fact.

Barney Frank is a interesting character. I realize saying that paints a big target on my (somewhat out sized) stomach, but I will make the obligatory statement that I have nothing against, and indeed have been friends with gays (although I am lousy about maintaining friendships with everyone, including my gay friends). I don't begrudge Barney Frank being angry if he thinks he is being attacked because he is gay. The reason I say that is because Frank was apparently really pissed when Stephen Colbert did a profile on Frank. Of course you should know what you will get when Colbert asks to do a profile of you (an often cringe-worthy event) and although I haven't seen it I believe Colbert went all out (I have seen clips of Colbert sashaying behind a striding, glaring Frank). What was interesting to me was that for months after words Frank emphasized in his appearances how he has a sense of humor. He even told a few jokes here and there (I think one on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me") that were OK, not knee slappers. As I said, an interesting character.

Of course, Kelly said absolutely nothing about Frank being gay, which is no more than as it should be. What Kelly does say is that Frank is “The member of Congress most responsible for our current economic troubles” (and possibly in trouble) right off the bat. This is the alternate reality that conservatives live in. Kelly also identifies Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad, and also (interestingly) parts of the financial industry as villains in the economic collapse. Of course in the financial arena Kelly focuses on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming their “bankruptcies accelerated the economic collapse”. Well, yes, that statement is obviously true, but to what degree did their collapse affect the recession as a whole? I would say not too much, but it fits Kelly’s view of the world to say the vast bulk of the recession is due to the Democrat created, assisting the poor Freddie and Fannie. In fact, Kelly re-writes history in saying that in 2003 and 2005 Bush proposed tighter regulation of Fannie and Freddie (read: gutting their mission of helping the poor get mortgages). I don’t remember Bush doing that, although I am sure he did, he just didn’t push very hard. Remember, Republicans held Congress in those years, and could have passed Bush’s regulations the way they passed the Bush tax cuts, through reconciliation.

I found it interesting that Kelly also blamed “Wall Street bankers” for their “bizarre financial instruments which were supposed to reduce risk, but multiplied it instead.”. He specifically mentioned Countrywide mortgages as a villain, a safe target since it is now defunct. I guess Republicans have taken a page from the Obama campaign playbook and now its ok for financial firms to be cast as villains in this election. After all, if Republicans take the House they can pass all sorts of deregulation and see if the Democrats in the Senate have the balls to stop them. The prospect of getting rid of Frank would be a big bonus for financial firms, since he has been a long time thorn in their sides.


The larger sociological questions of what is going on in this election are quite interesting too. How many people, in 2008, voted not for Obama but against McCain, especially after his poor debate performance? If Obama had tried to keep more of his campaign promises, such as to release more of the “detainees” (read prisoners) at Guantanamo, to stop being so secret about torture and wiretapping and to get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq, would the Democrats be more popular? Mind you, I would argue Obama has taken a half step on all of these (and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which has passed the House), but for every half step, there are more steps where Obama has allowed the Bush programs to continue, or even expand somewhat (predator drones). Mind you, these programs have nothing to do with jobs, and one might argue that the predator drone program, if correctly used, could be very effective against terrorists (even as one concedes it has not been effectively implemented). And speaking of jobs, what if Obama had not been distracted by health care for a year, what if he had made the stimulus larger and perhaps taken out some of the tax cuts in favor of spending on state and local government jobs. Would he have been a lightening rod for Republican fury such that Americans would not vote for a black candidate for President for decades?

Understand that in some ways Republicans won in 2008 in losing. They have been able to make wild accusations against Obama, the Democrats and what legislation has passed (health care reform, the stimulus) while using (abusing) the rules of the Senate to hold up hundreds of pieces of legislation. If Republicans win the House in the midterms and especially if they win the Senate, they will be expected to get things done. This will be a chance for Democratic Senators to take a page from the Republican play book and place holds on legislation, and use cloture against Republican legislation (especially if Democrats retain the Senate).

Meet the Press today implied that Obama may start to behave differently after the midterms (it’s not clear whether this depends on the outcome of the midterms or not). About time, I say. I think that Obama would re-energize his original followers if he became calmly strident towards the Republicans. He tried the reach across the aisle thing, and I will give him credit for that, but clearly the Republicans have rebuffed every effort (almost totally).

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