Thursday, September 6, 2012

Democrats Day Two: Speeches improved, coverage curtailed

The Democratic speeches became much more hard-hitting last night, and the Republican owned media reduced its coverage.  NBC covered a football game and dispensed with the speeches.  CBS dispensed with the former Chairman of Costco but carried Elizabeth Warren. ABC covered only one speech: Bill Clinton's.

That's because the entrepreneur who built Costco into the country's fifth largest retailer made a strong case that Obama is a better business president than Romney.  Speeches before primetime had been heavily weighted by auto industry and union executives highlighting the president's rescue of that industry, but the Costco Chairman took a broader view of all business.  Then Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senate candidate, spoke and said the one thing Democrats have been afraid to say about the economy all along: the Game is Rigged, which is obvious to all Americans. They know CEO's don't earn 500 times what the workers do because they are "risk takers," or "brilliant entrepreneurs,"  but because corporate governance has broken down. They know that hedge fund operators and traders don't earn billion dollar salaries because Wall Street is an efficient market but because it is inefficient, corrupt, and manipulated.  For the crime of saying this truth, Elizabeth Warren is facing the biggest tide of corporate cash in the country other than Obama; and ABC and NBC did not carry her speech.

Finally, the Democrats brought in Bill Clinton, whose long rambling speech had plenty of meaty specifics about how the Republicans were wrong and Obama right.  However,  there were a few problems with Clinton's speech, problems that highlight why the country has moved so far right over the last thirty years.  
The first was his lengthy spiel about how he never learned to hate Republicans.  Only a privileged white heterosexual could have made this speech, because minorities and gays and many women have been taught to hate Republicans over the years by receiving unsolicited personal attacks by hysterics under the influence of Republican rhetoric.  Clinton has received personal attacks too, but apparently treated them in the spirit of a game as a defense mechanism. More than that, it is clear by what he said and what he didn't say that he fears Democrats' fighting Republican fire with fire more than he fears anything the Republicans would do to this country. In essence, he fears for his privilege more than he fears for the general good.  And that, in a nutshell, is why the country keeps moving right.  The GOP has been in full-blown civil war against the  nation since the 1970s, and the Democrats have not been willing to fight back with the intensity the situation requires.

This requires some explanation.  Factionalism was indeed the greatest threat our Founding Fathers recognized to our political system.  Both Paul Ryan, the Republican vp nominee, and Bill Clinton quoted James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution, in their speeches.  But they ignored his message, elucidated in the National Gazette January 23, 1792:  "In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them.  The great objects should be to combat the evil (of parties) by 1. Establishing political equality among all 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort. 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest, at the expense of another. 5. By making one party a check on the other, so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented, nor their views accommodated.  If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism...."  Madison, in short, favored taxing the rich to reduce their political mischief, and operating the economy to prevent unmerited wealth accumulation,  and said the best way to keep one party under control was to oppose it with another party.  He was also against a permanent military.  As for lobbyists, "A government operating by corrupt influence; substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty; converting its pecuniary dispensations into bounties of favorites, or bribes to opponents; accommodating its measures to the avidity of a part of the nation instead of the benefit of the whole; in a word, enlisting an army of interested partisans, whose tongues, whose pens, whose intrigues, and whose active combinations, by supplying the terror of the sword, any support a real domination of the few, under an apparent liberty of the many.  Such a government, wherever to be found, is an imposter."  In short, Madison would have predicted the factionalism of the last thirty years and viewed our government as an imposter, not a Republic.

Why? Because the Democrats have not been mounting an effective opposition.  Civil War can and did result from factionalism within America.  But there were plenty of hot issues like the War of 1812, the split over the Bank of the U.S., the argument over bimetallism, and the New Deal government expansion, that were hotly contested on both sides, and the country benefited from it and did not deteriorate into Civil War.  To accomplish that, we need politicians who are not afraid to take on the Republican faction, whose behavior Madison foresaw.

With regard to "Free trade," which Romney, Clinton, and apparently Obama all support and which the Republicans would have you believe is an ancient American value.  It is not. It is well to remember that none of our Founding Fathers favored free trade and unregulated prices; and that the government was financed by tariffs until less than 100 years ago, so protectionism funded and sustained the United States of America for more than 100 years.  Indeed protectionism was the essence of the United States government, the big difference between our federal government and the weak Articles of Confederation, and the most opulent public building in all the country is the New York City Customs House, which is where the government derived most of its revenue before the income tax.

Let me repeat that one more time so it sinks in.  James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, recommended using the government to prevent the accumulation of extraordinary and unearned riches.  That's a fact of history they don't want you to know and they don't want taught in schools.

 The second problem with the speech was  that some of Clinton's explanations were confusing, like his statement that Obama's medicare cut was just payment to insurance companies, not to benefits.  What does that mean?  Don't all benefit payments go to insurance companies?  Clinton didn't explain that insurance companies were getting a special additional subsidy, and he didn't explain that, because it was his policy.  He also didn't say it was partly his doing to deregulate the banks.  He did mention that he reduced poverty, but didn't mention that the biggest part of this effort was to change the way poverty was surveyed, to move the number rather than the people.  He did say he had huge job growth, but did not mention the trending rise in layoffs throughout his two terms, so that there was no gain to median incomes, since wage rises were offset by higher employment turnover as the rich got richer under his watch. Clinton also didn't mention the corruption that was a hallmark of his era.  Why? Well, from 1994-2000 he worked with a Republican Congress, and so only a little of what he did was progressive.  From 1993-1994 his liberal projects like gays in the military and health care reform were stopped, and only conservative causes like NAFTA and welfare reform sailed through.  In short, Clinton helped to create the system which failed in 2008, so his eagerness to work with Republicans should be seen in that light.  It's great he's on our side, but at the same time, he's a double edged sword who gave as much or more help to Republicans as to Democrats.

Clinton also implemented many of the economic statistical fallacies recommended by Bush I and elaborated by Bush II that minimize unemployment and inflation and over-report GDP growth.  Thus in 2004 when Bush was running for re-election, the economy did not loom that large as an issue, because Bush had hidden rising unemployment by cutting the "labor force" by more than 2%, something Obama has not done.  And Bush hid a 10% plus drop in median household income by under-reporting inflation with fallacious tricks like hedonic pricing as a non-cash adjustment to prices, thus over-reporting "real" growth (total growth minus inflation);  and by eliminating reporting of mass layoffs and money supply growth.  All this trickery had been recommended by the first Bush as a way to stop rising social security costs, but was first implemented in a smaller way under Bill Clinton.  That Obama can point to growth and job growth and still have a bad economy is more a tribute to the way our economic statistics no longer reflect the true underlying position of things.  So Obama is a "success" by the standards of Bush and Clinton, especially on employment where Bush cheated every which way; but the public no longer believes in the statistics, although they did when Clinton and Bush were in office. Therefore the public has an excessive nostalgia for those earlier times not justified by what was actually happening.  The real need is for policies far to the left of anything Obama has even proposed, and yet even what he has proposed and accomplished is under attack.

The Republicans had a burning hate of Bill Clinton, impeaching him and nearly removing him from office, but they didn't frame their response to his remarks with the usual run of angry rhetoric. Instead, they held back an hour and then contrasted Clinton's "success" presidency against Obama's "failure" presidency.  This move to "own" Clinton was a 180 turn after years of hysterical opposition to him that started long before Clinton was president.  In the 1980s, Republican strategist Lee Atwater identified Governor Clinton as someone who could be a strong leader on the national stage, and so interfered in the Arkansas' governor's race, replacing a weak republican with a stronger Democrat  as Republican standard bearer in an effort to check Clinton's career. The effort failed, as did the impeachment gambit of the 1990s.  This year, to woo "independents," they have now taken the position that Clinton was a huge success, which polls tell them the public feels, and instead of fighting him are trying to contrast him with President Obama.   There could be no better proof that 1. It's all a game to the Republicans; and 2. That Clinton has time and again played into their hands.

Both Republicans and Democrats tended to view Clinton's speech as a masterful success.  To me, it was only a slight success in promoting Obama for re-election and it is doubtful the president will derive much benefit from it.

In the meantime, the convention voting turned problematic when the Democrats had their own voting scandal.  For all of Israel's existence, Israel has asserted that Jerusalem is its capital, but the U.S. has never found it necessary or convenient to recognize it, since Jerusalem is a contested city.  Suddenly, in this campaign, Romney has insisted on making it official Republican policy, so Democrats decided to do so also.  However, Arab-American lobbyists and diplomats who understood that this would be a major shift in policy managed to get it removed from the platform.  A floor vote was taken to add it back. The embarrassment came when the first voice vote clearly went against the proposal.  A second voice vote was done which sounded for the proposal, but not unequivocally by two-thirds.  The speaker turned to his adviser who told them, "Let them do what they're going to do."  Instead, he asked for a third voice vote and then gavelled the resolution as passed to the outrage of much of the audience.  This was better than the Republican case in that there were no explicit instructions to ignore the voice vote results, but it was clearly contestable and will be contested.  Israel's supporters have been wringing their hands all morning that the Democrats may be turning against them after all these years.  On the surface that seems absurd, since both parties have now more extreme positions on behalf of Israel than they ever had before.  But there is an element of truth to it in that  Israel's position would have been sustained by both parties any time during the last sixty years had the issue been raised publicly.  However, I think  this fear is greatly overstated.  Most who opposed it simply didn't want to interfere with longstanding U.S. professional diplomatic policy.  The number voting "for" an Arab position were likely very few.

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