Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Letters, we get letters

I got a lengthy comment on several of my posts. Here's the comment, followed by my answers to his numbered points:

1. Obama is a snob. No kidding. Don't believe me? Check out "Obama Visits Billionaires Row" (http://zombietime.com/obama_visits_billionaires_row/). His visit to Billionaires row is notable not just for his (very) well received fund raising, but what he said (privately, it leaked anyway) while he was there. I quote "And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" Elitist? I think so. Obama was challenged about his statement some number of times. His response was "it's true isn't it?".

2. On Bank Regulation. You critique of the GOP and bank regulation is only partially correct. Remember that the House Republicans voted against TARP and killed it for a while. Why? Because a great many of them believe that free markets including the right to fail, not get bailouts. I know a few Republican Congressmen and they were (are) just as opposed to Wall Street handouts as Matt Taibbi. By contrast, Obama appointed Timothy Geithner as the Secratary of the Treasury after he did such a great job as the chairman of the New York Fed and paying his own taxes...

3. Accusations that Lou Dobbs is a racist are laughable. His wife is Mexican-American and they have two daughers together.

4. You have the politics of Eminent Domain wrong. Ordinary Republicans and Republican politicians were outraged by Kelo vs. City of New London. Of course, Republican property developers were presumably thrilled. However, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London#Congressional_reaction. Note that the New York Times and the Washington Post endoursed Kelo.
For the record, I supported Kelo as well. I strong oppose using eminent domain for private purposes. However, I don't think it is unconstitutional, merely dismal public policy.

5. You have the details of Bush and Rangers stadium wrong. No land was "stolen for pennies on the dollar". Eminent domain was used to obtain 13 acres of land (not 200 acres). The owners of the land (the Mathes family) sued claiming that the land was worth more than they were paid. A jury agreed with them and awarded a $5 million judgement. With interest this came to $7.5 million. The legal case was against the development authority which paid the judgement. The development authority claimed that the team was liable for the cost of the judgement under the terms of the original development agreement.
Initially the team refused to pay, but eventually did. Note that the team was later sold at a very large profit to Thomas Hicks. The gain to the original investors (roughly $160 million) dwarfed the difference over the value of the Mathes land. See http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:519405 , http://www.answers.com/topic/texas-rangers-baseball , and http://www.houstonpress.com/1998-01-29/news/bush-s-big-score/ There are any number of things that I find objectionable about Bush's dealings with the Rangers and the City of Arlington. However, the "theft" of private property isn't one of them.


My responses:

1. Obama snob?

If you think humility is the key trait of a great president, you get Gerald Ford and probably no one else in the last century. I'm sure Obama thinks he's hotter stuff than some high school dropout who bags groceries for a living. Well, he is. Did you see him at the healthcare summit? No notes, yet he showed an immense grasp of the subject. I'm not saying this means you should agree with him about healthcare.

But it doesn't mean you should disagree.

The right wing blogosphere obsesses over this. But it didn't over Bush II, who acted like he was better than everyone else all the way back to his college days. The difference is that he was defeated once early in his political career by someone who out-Bubba'd him, and he swore he'd never let that happen again.

Look at their biographies. Bush was born rich, grew up rich, and has lived rich his entire life. Obama was born in an educated home but one with little money, and he bootstrapped himself.

If he were a jerk personally it would show in his relationship with his wife and daughters. Yet obviously he's a better family man than any previous president in memory, back to and very much including Ronald Reagan.

It also shows in his hires. He hires really smart people, and he hires ones who don't necessarily agree with him. He carried over Bush's secretary of defense, and obviously listens to him and backs him. He hired Jim Jones. Bush never did anything of the sort.

And this openness to different ideas goes back to when he was editor of the Harvard Law Review, and the black ideologues and white liberals there were furious with him because he included a number of real conservatives on his team.

If he were a snob he'd only have yes-men around him.

I suspect that what the Right calls snobbery is actually self-respect.

He thinks he's smart and knows a lot because he is and he does. If he thought there was no difference between his intelligence and education and that of Joe Lunchbox I'd think he was insane. {None of this means Obama is always right. He isn't. And he agrees with that, by the way.)

So let's look at it from the other end: why do so many right wingers talk about his supposed snobbery?

a. Anti-intellectualism: Americans--myself included--are descended from peasants. Mine were sharecroppers in Scotland. And not so long ago, either. My grandpa said he raised hawgs "'cause they didn't take no plowin'." The country rejected the Europeans respect for authority, and it shows in our anti-intellectualism. I grew up in white blue-collar neighborhoods, and kids repeatedly accused me of cheating on tests because they couldn't imagine any other reason why my grades were so good.

I'd guess--without recourse to any research--that at least half of Americans are pretty strongly anti-intellectual.

b. Racism: I know, lefties cry "Racist" if a Republican blinks...but the Right also cries "Socialist" if a Democrat advocates any kind of government regulation.

So granting that both sides call each other names constantly, and often without foundation...we all know that a substantial minority of Americans are racist. My father was a racist from Georgia. My mother was not. So my sample of two comes out 50-50. And in fact the most racist people I've met in my life here in California were ghetto Blacks in Richmond and Oakland.

So we should all agree that every race has its racists.

So...what percentage of American voters are racist enough to let race color (so to speak) their vote? Can we all agree that it's at least 30% (remember, the South is nominally part of America)?

Now if you were a Republican strategist, you'd want to keep those people voting against Obama by riling them up. Yet you wouldn't dare say "Don't vote for a Nigrah." So you use code words that are defensible. Hence "snob," which a racist hears as "uppity Nigrah" (which Southern racists like my dad regard as possibly the worst human being this side of a serial killer). Yet if you use "snob" you have what lawyers call "plausible deniability." That is, you can claim it's not racism.

It's the perfect attack, because racists can read the subtitles, and the larger group of anti-intellectuals can also have their buttons pushed--all without having to admit to any feelings that you can't defend in public.

That's why the right talks about Obama's snobbery. It's a tactic and the wrapping paper that hides something darker.

And yes, Black pols routinely use racist appeals in their districts. A few years ago two blacks were vying to be elected mayor of Newark. But the young guy was educated, centrist, and supported by a coalition. The old black crook who opposed him ran a blatantly racist campaign, centered on the them of saying of the new guy "He ain't black."

And yes, Obama shifts into Black-ish dialect when he talks to Black audiences. Exactly the same as Bush abandoning his Harvard MBA-talk and gettin' all Bubba when he spoke to redneck audiences.

The race card gets played by some folks on both sides.

2. Bank regulation.

"Free market" is an ideological term. There's no such thing in reality. I've spent time in countries--like Indonesia--with profoundly "free" markets. The result is always the same: monopoly, enforced by bully boys with guns and government bureaucrats whose job is purely to protect the rich and powerful.

The problem the right wing has is that Ayn Rand saw the Commies confiscate her parents' property, so she concluded that all government control is evil. And the billionaires who bankroll the Republican Party agree with her, since they have no need for any kind of government social services or, for the most part, for infrastructure building/repair either, except for porkbarrel projects like Alaska's bridge to nowhere.

But there's a whole lot of territory between Communism and no government at all (as in Somalia). A modicum of regulation keeps the playing field level, even as those with money and power never stop striving to tilt the playing field and turn what started as a competitive advantage (better products, better service) into monopoly.

Obama's hiring Geithner proves how conservative he is. That hire and others shows he's trying to rescue our American free enterprise system, not destroy it.

TARP was a Hobsian bargain. He felt he had to save financial institutions whose failure would have brought about a collapse rivalling the Great Depression. And that situation came about precisely due to the lax regulation of the Republican years. Yes, subprime mortgages went to those they shouldn't. But that problem would have been isolated from the rest of the economy if the Republicans hadn't let banks turn into gambling casinos on their watch.

Personally I think he should have used managed bankruptcy instead of the bailout Bush engineered and that he kind of got stuck with when he took office (as Paul Krugman advocated), and I think any business too big to fail is too big and needs to be broken up in exchange for government help--as is happening with GM, I notice, and AIG too.

The things Republicans now advocate (as opposed to what they did under Bush) are common sense solutions--let the chips fall where they may, let good businesses survive, bad ones fail--but it's more complicated than that, unfortunately, and I don't want to cut off my nose to spite my face.

I've said that America's economy has gotten too complex for the average guy to understand--and that this fact is extremely dangerous for democracy. It's emotionally gratifying to hear politicians claim it's not that complicated, your common sense is enough, and here's the simple solution.

But whenever a politician says something I find flattering and emotionally gratifying I start to worry--and I feel my hip pocket to make sure my wallet's still there.

And when it's the part not in power that's advocating these simply, gratifying solutions I get doubly suspicious.

The left made the same kinds of errors when they tried to solve centuries of segregation and slavery with affirmative action and the welfare state.

That, too, was a solution too simple for the situation.

3. I've never accused Lou Dobbs of being racist--especially since I'm even more opposed to illegal immigration than he is. And I knew about his Latina wife. You must have me confused with someone else. Look in my archives to see what I've said about him and illegal immigration.

4. I think we agree about eminent domain.

It's needed for freeways and reservoirs and railroad right of ways and national parks--not luxury developments by private developers. And I think the wording of the Constitution can be interpreted to support this interpretation.

The problem is that rank and file Republicans feel as I do about eminent domain--but Republican fat cats and their billionaire backers want to use it for private gain, leading to a disconnect between rank and file Republicans and the Republican leadership.

Similarly, many rank and file Democrats oppose special favors for everyone but whites, and actually support colorblind social policy with special support for the poor and disadvantaged of all races, equally. But the Democratic leadership is so beholden to racialist special interest groups it's hard for them to pry loose from that.

5. The Bush-Rangers deal:

I was speaking from a bottom line viewpoint about the complex series of steps Bush used. It wasn't simple theft. It was complex theft. Like Woodie Guthrie said, "Some men rob you with a six-gun--some with a fountain pen."

I agree with the thorough analysis made by Pulitzer-prize-winner economic journalist David Cay Johnston, described in his book "Free Lunch: How the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill)".

I have to believe that if rank and file Republicans realized how much their leadership preys on them, using socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us, that they'd rise up in revolt.

The bottom line for Bush is that he got rich at taxpayer expense, not through building a business that sold goods and/or services whose honest profits made him rich. And his chicanery was only possible through dynastic use of his wealthy family's connections.

I hope these answers help to show that I'm neither a leftist nor a rightist, but rather a reformer who wants there to be leftists and rightists in government--I just want them to be true to their own principles.

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