Sunday, August 14, 2011

President Obama has done no good--compared to perfection

My extra-Republican accountant (and spouse) once observed that presidents are given more credit and more blams than they deserve for the course of the American economy.

That's because economic tides are caused by many influences--people and events--and presidents of the United States in particular get treated as if they get to put their ideas into action as if they're the prime ministers of parliamentary governments--or monarchs.

Thus the Republican presidential candidate mantra is that "President Obama inherited a bad situation and made it worse--and his party controlled both houses of Congress and the Executive, so he has no excuse."

Executive summary: this combines minimizing your side's misdeeds with a passive construction, while vilifying the other side through implicit comparison of the present situation with an idealized alternative that couldn't possibly have happened. In short, demagoguery depending on triggering people's tribal emotions so strongly that their reasoning ability--if it was there in the first place--gets disengaged.

The details:

Well, he certainly inherited a "bad situation"--but all Republican presidential candidates invariably fail to mention that this "bad situation" was created by the American government enacting the Republican Party's economic platform, and pursuing that course for eight very long years, and successfully blocking most subsequent Democratic efforts to change that course (except for the diluted health care reform package that passed--a notable achievement, to be sure, but more the exception than the rule).

In saying this I'm not exculpating the Democrats' role in helping Fannie Mae provide mortgages for people who shouldn't have gotten them, nor for Democratic pork, nor for the Democrats' role in supporting illegal immigration and its negative economic effects on American unskilled laborers of every race and ethnicity. But the Democrats were bit players in this drama, which mostly stemmed from financial deregulation--both through gutting regulatory laws and starving regulatory agencies of mandate and financing, and through turning a blind eye to the subversion of Wall Street from a source of capital for manufacturers and service industries, into a source of profit for Wall Street insiders through financial manipulation.

The housing crisis would have been confined to the banks holding the bad mortgages, but for the fact that the banks didn't hold the mortgages--they were bundled into packages that were rated AAA by Standard & Poors and the other rating agencies, then sold to investors worldwide, exchanging America's financial reputation for quick profits. This enabled the people who'd created the mortgages to outsource all of the risk to others. In countries that hadn't been deregulated, and hence didn't allow this practice--such as Canada--the housing crisis didn't affect them.

Then there's the "made it worse" part of the Republican mantra.

Says who:? Compared to what? The implication--and believe me, it's only an implication on purpose--is that it's proper to compare what's going on now to the boom years of the 1990s. It's left as an implication because it's ridiculous to make that comparison. That boom was a bubble, created by housing becoming overvalued,with the overvaluation treated as income by innumerable homeowners via second and third mortgages--partly because they could, partly because virtually all gains in real household income since the Reagan Revolution have been confined to millionaires and billionaires.

My own household did this, financing a camping vehicle this way. However, we didn't go overboard and we'd bought our home before the boom and in a highly recession-resistant area, preserving the value of our home. We could sell our home and pay off our first and second mortgages and still have enough to buy a house outright in a cheaper area such as Las Vegas Nevada. We don't plan to and don't need to, and it was mostly dumb luck that we're in this situation--but it means I understand how many people got into a jam with second mortgages.

Ultimately no one knows whether President Obama "made it worse" or "made it better." It's conceivable that his policies and actions prevented a far worse downturn. The fact that the Republican candidates don't even mention this possibilities--as if it's out of the questions--and hence without explaining why his actions didn't prevent a far worse downturn--proves to me that all the Republican candidates are engaged in demagoguery, not serious political discourse.

And the notion that President Obama is a monarch whose Democratic congressional majorities enabled him to do as he pleased depends on the listener understanding nothing about American civics. Especially since Republicans have stated repeatedly that the word "majority" is now defined as "60%," and even when the Democrats had 60% of the Senate, it was a squishy 60%, dependent of a few senators who had reason to fear that that they'd lose their jobs if they didn't succumb to the Republicans' frenzied, nonstop, abundantly--and secretly--financed propaganda campaign. And the congressional Republicans have abused the checks and balances of Senate rules to filibuster 80'% of Democratic legislation and numerous nonpartisan appointments. They have brought the legislative equivalent of total war to the operations of Congress by using legislative rules and practices in ways never contemplated by those who'd formulated such rules.

It amounts to the Republicans unhesitatingly sacrificing the common good of the country for Party advantage. They would say same thing, only swapping in the word "Democrats," except for the fact that Movement Democrats think the Republicans are crazed ideologues who accept America's downfall as unavoidable collateral damage, while Movement Republicans think the Democrats are enemy agents whose actual goal is America's downfall. As to who's right--look over the many fact checks at and of which the Republicans consider left wing shills, not because they don't call out Democrats when they make misstatements--which both do all the time--but because they EVER call out any Republicans on misstastements. That is, you're either totally for us or totally against us.

This Total War policy is used to justifiy America being hampered in the short run for the benefit of "job promoting" Republican rule.

One other trick I've noticed concerns the idea of "acceptable debating points."

Meaning, if I bring up signals from Mars received through the fillings in your teeth as a source of political activity, no one's going to debate me. They'll just dismiss me as a loon, and rightly so.

The genius of the Republican propaganda machine is that they've delegitimized not just loony propositions, but also Centrist points like saying "Obama is not a Socialist." I said this to an educated movement Republican I know and he didn't even deign to contradict me,. He just snorted derisively. My saying Obama isn't a Socialist was automatically categorized with talking about Signals from Mars.

It's like the old Polish definition of "Anti-Semite" as "Someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary." Hating Jews was a given--the only discussion possible was to what degree.

The best way to win an argument is to frame the debate so you win before the discussion starts.
Have you quit beating your wife--Yes or No?

Thus today the debate is how much can we cut government spending without raising anything that could be remotely construed as "taxes"--not "What should the federal government do to create jobs?"  And they've gotten half the country--and even the Democratic President, apparently--to agree that reducing the federal deficit is the only topic of national debate, with the implicit assumption that the federal government can't do anything whatsoever to create jobs, either by policy or by tax dollars, other than to cut taxes and "get out of the way" --i.e. to do exactly what the Republicans did from 2000 to 2008 that created this mess.

Talk about not learning from your mistakes.

Lastly, the fact that all eight Republican presidential candidates stated that they wouldn't accept any deficit-reducing compromise, no matter how close it came to all the Republican demands, if it also included any kind of tax increase whatsoever, no matter how small, tells me that not one of them is a legitimate alternative to President Obama--especially the two of them (Huntsman and Romney) who know better. The others are fools. These two have now shown that they're knaves.

And I'm really sorry to say that about Huntsman, who is plainly the most desirable Republican candidate from a moderate Republican perspective. I don't feel as bad about Romney, who's the embodiment of the corporate layoff artist played by George Clooney in the movie "Up in the air."

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