Sunday, December 18, 2011

Republicans are Cracking Up

From the NY Times:
WASHINGTON — The House Republican leader on Sunday flatly rejected a short-term, bipartisan Senate measure to extend a payroll tax break and unemployment insurance, setting the stage for a bitter year-end Congressional collision and the potential loss of benefits for millions of Americans...The surprising setback threatened the holiday plans of lawmakers and President Obama, deeply embarrassed Republican leaders in both chambers and raised the specter of a Jan. 1 tax increase that economists have warned could set back the already fragile economic recovery...

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader who, like scores of his colleagues, voted for the Senate-brokered agreement to extend the tax cut temporarily, retreated from the measure Sunday, throwing his support behind Mr. Boehner’s idea to come up with a yearlong extension, which was the original goal of Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats.

I'm pretty sure this is a sign that the Republicans are falling apart. Mittens will be probably be our next president, but that will be their last hurrah...

Monday, December 12, 2011

democratic Woes in the U.S. and Europe

Predictably, the Great Recession is taking its toll on democracy in the U.S. and Europe. I've recently read a couple of well written columns on this, and have a few thoughts to add in light of the Gingrich revival. Here is the short version:

  1. Class war is on in the U.S.
  2. Unpopular technocrats are running Europe.
  3. The G.O.P. has been playing with fire for some time now and it's finally caught up with them.
  4. The national and international politic mood has changed dramatically, and consequent political storms are headed our way.

We'll start with Frank Rich in The Class War Has Begun and in a follow up interview.

Just in time for election season, Obama has recovered his populist rhetoric (if not populism itself) and will say the right things about Wall Street, about that “frustration” out there, about the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, and about millionaires who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. It’s not clear if anyone believes it, including him. Having been a bystander to history when the tea party harvested populist rage during the summer of 2009, he may have a tough time co-opting Occupy Wall Street now to plug the so-called enthusiasm gap in his base...

Despite all the chatter to the contrary, Obama is so far outdrawing all the GOP candidates combined in Wall Street contributions. His best hope is that that fact is blurred by Romney, the plutocrat from central casting...

Elections are supposed to resolve conflicts in a great democracy, but our next one will not. The elites will face off against the elites to a standoff, and the issues animating the class war in both parties won’t even be on the table.

The two powerful forces that extricated America from the Great Depression—the courageous leadership and reformist zeal of Roosevelt, the mobilization for World War II—are not on offer this time. Our class war will rage on without winners indefinitely, with all sides stewing in their own juices, until—when? No one knows. The reckoning with capitalism’s failures over the past three decades, both in America and the globe beyond, may well be on hold until the top one percent becomes persuaded that its own economic fate is tied to the other 99 percent’s. Which is to say things may have to get worse before they get better.

Though the Bonus Army was driven out of Washington in the similarly fraught election year of 1932, the newsreels they left behind turned out to be previews of coming attractions for the long decade still to come...

I wouldn't want to be an incumbent in either party (except, of course, in all those gerrymandered House districts — part of our democracy's problem). I am wary of predictions, but my guess is that there will be a political stalemate until one of the following: an unexpected speedy recovery on the jobs and housing fronts; an external existential threat to the country (see Depression and WWII); the emergence of a reformist populist leader with enormous public support. All unlikely at least in the near future; we may stew in our anger and this listless economy for quite some time.

And here's Paul Krugman from 12/11/2011 on Depression and Democracy:

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Europe — not because all is well with America, but because the gravity of European political developments isn’t widely understood.

First of all, the crisis of the euro is killing the European dream. The shared currency, which was supposed to bind nations together, has instead created an atmosphere of bitter acrimony.

Specifically, demands for ever-harsher austerity, with no offsetting effort to foster growth, have done double damage. They have failed as economic policy, worsening unemployment without restoring confidence; a Europe-wide recession now looks likely even if the immediate threat of financial crisis is contained. And they have created immense anger, with many Europeans furious at what is perceived, fairly or unfairly (or actually a bit of both), as a heavy-handed exercise of German power.

Nobody familiar with Europe’s history can look at this resurgence of hostility without feeling a shiver. Yet there may be worse things happening.

Right-wing populists are on the rise from Austria, where the Freedom Party (whose leader used to have neo-Nazi connections) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with established parties, to Finland, where the anti-immigrant True Finns party had a strong electoral showing last April. And these are rich countries whose economies have held up fairly well. Matters look even more ominous in the poorer nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

Last month the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development documented a sharp drop in public support for democracy in the “new E.U.” countries, the nations that joined the European Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, the loss of faith in democracy has been greatest in the countries that suffered the deepest economic slumps.

And in at least one nation, Hungary, democratic institutions are being undermined as we speak... this amounts to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule, under a paper-thin veneer of democracy, in the heart of Europe. And it’s a sample of what may happen much more widely if this depression continues...

The European Union missed the chance to head off the power grab at the start — in part because the new Constitution was rammed through while Hungary held the Union’s rotating presidency. It will be much harder to reverse the slide now. Yet Europe’s leaders had better try, or risk losing everything they stand for.

And they also need to rethink their failing economic policies. If they don’t, there will be more backsliding on democracy — and the breakup of the euro may be the least of their worries.

In the US, The Republicans have been playing with fire, and the old guard may be close to panic. Here's David Brooks last week in the NY Times on The Gingrich Tragedy:

As nearly everyone who has ever worked with Gingrich knows, he would severely damage conservatism and the Republican Party if nominated.

And here's former chief advisor (2000-2006) to President George W. Bush, Michael Gerson, in the Washington Post on Newt Gingrich’s lack of discipline:

As speaker of the House, he conducted an affair during the impeachment of a president for lying under oath about an affair. It helped undermine a movement Gingrich had helped to build.

And this indiscipline was not an aberration. It indicated an impulsiveness found elsewhere in his career. Gingrich has a history of making serious charges that turn out to be self-indictments — witness his recent attack on congressional advocates for Freddie Mac, despite having been one of its well-paid consultants. Gingrich’s language is often intemperate. He is seized by temporary enthusiasms. He combines absolute certainty in any given moment with continual reinvention over time.

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal -- Gingrich Is Inspiring—and Disturbing:

Former New Hampshire governor and George H.W. Bush chief of staff John Sununu told The Wall Street Journal this week: "Listen to just about anyone who worked alongside Gingrich and you will hear that he's inconsistent, erratic, untrustworthy and unprincipled." In a conference call Thursday, Jim Talent, who served with Mr. Gingrich in the House from 1993 through 1999, said, "He's not reliable as a leader." Sen. Tom Coburn, a member of the House class of 1994, called the former speaker's leadership "lacking," and according to a local press report, he told Oklahoma constituents last year that Mr. Gingrich was "the last person I'd vote for for president of the United States."

Who could predict the rise of a right wing demagogue in difficult economic times?

At any rate, here's (liberal) Nate Silver in the NY Times:

Republicans are dangerously close to having none of their candidates be acceptable to rank-and-file voters and the party establishment. It’s not clear what happens when this is the case; there is no good precedent for it. But since finding a nominee who is broadly acceptable to different party constituencies is the foremost goal of any party during its nomination process, it seems possible that Republicans might begin to look elsewhere...

One possibility — probably the most likely one — is that Mr. Gingrich wins South Carolina, wins Florida and holds on to win the Republican nomination.

But Mr. Gingrich might nevertheless be considered an unacceptable choice by much of the party establishment. That would put us in uncharted waters... a brokered convention is plausible...

Liberal John Cole sums things up nicely at Balloon Juice:

The thing to remember about the chaos ensuing in the GOP primaries, where each week a different candidate is the new new savior before publicly shitting the bed, is that this is all the fault of the Republican party itself. They allowed the party to create this alternate reality about, well, everything that happened the last decade. They are the ones who encouraged their party to believe that a center-left Democrat is actually an America hating socialists. They are the ones who made this mess, so when they are all horrified when each week a different candidate looks the fool by pandering to the base, remember, they are the ones who encouraged the base to think all this crazy shit.


The mood of the country has shifted. The Republican base is no longer enamored of mega-rich establishment figures such as George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. They want red meat. The Occupy movement struck a chord with both the left and right, and the situation is Europe is as dire as it is here in the States.

Seen in the current light, Obama is a compelling figure for 2012 -- a centrist figure who might be able to hold things together. However, if Romney survives the Gingrich onslaught, which I believe he will given unanimous support for his candidacy by the GOP establishment, then we'll probably see the Republicans close ranks and successfully demonize Obama once more. The 2012 presidential election will then play out as elite vs elite as suggested by Rich. But the stage will be set for further disruption of the status quo by insurgents from the left and right, at home and abroad. Fasten your seatbelts...