Sunday, August 14, 2011

Election 2012: Why the GOP is D.O.A.

It might not look like it at the moment, but President Obama has a pretty easy path to victory in 2012. All he has to do is sit back and wait for the Republican Party's slapstick band of weirdos, religious fanatics, and angry white racists driven mad seeing a black man in the White House, implode from the weight of its own ridiculousness.

Recent polls have shown that a generic Republican candidate would beat Obama, but the problem with the current crop of GOP candidates is that they are anything but generic. When Ron Paul is your sanest candidate, you know your party is in trouble.

The Republican Party had a major credibility problem even before Donald Trump claimed that Obama was not born in the U.S. and demanded to see his birth certificate. But as the media followed Trump's every idiotic word, most of his party just agreed with him, and the GOP looked like a bunch of racist lunatics. When Trump claimed that Obama wasn't smart enough to get into an Ivy League college, but only got there because of affirmative action, the rest of the party watched and incredibly seemed to agree. This bolstered the logical theory that the Republicans are indeed a bunch of racist idiots, driven mad by a black man more intelligent, articulate and even-tempered than any of their own misguided and bizarre leaders.

Not only did the GOP as a whole fail to dismiss any of this birth certificate outlandishness, but had no comment on candidates who raised the specter of Sharia law in America or dismissed global warming as a socialist plot.

The fact that political lightweight Rick Perry is the newest and best GOP choice sums up the state of the party. Perry has been described as a “stupid George Bush”, but the median IQ of the rest of the GOP hopefuls falls somewhere between Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul.

Although a bit cartoonish, Ron Paul is very articulate, and has attracted somewhat of a cult following. And he is looking pretty smart these days, when matched against the rest of the GOP airheads. However, he has shown some very radical views. For example, his national defense strategy is to allow Iran to have their nuclear weapons because everyone else has them. The reasoning is obviously that the U.S. will always have more nuclear weapons than Iran, so that if they threatened us, we could simply blow them off the map. Paul does have a good point, though. We need to decrease our military spending and think more about our own economy. Obama knows this, but his views are less extreme than Paul's, and he was able to kill Osama bin Laden while simultaneously reducing our troop levels in Afghanistan.

Obama has taken a cautious, level-headed approach to national security, as he has with the rest of his presidential decisions, including the economic ones. You may agree with him or not, but considering the gridlock in Washington caused by the Tea Party and the resistance of the more moderate Republican base to stand up to them, it's amazing that Obama has been able to get anything done at all. The budget negotiations were a disaster, but they weren't Obama's disaster. In November of next year, when voters are alone in the booth, they will remember the chaos caused by a few right-wing nut jobs who were not willing to compromise, default or no default.

According to his Web site, Ron Paul is “America's leading voice for limited, constitutional government, low taxes, and free markets”. Once a fringe candidate, Paul's views are becoming more popular with some on the right simply because they are exactly the opposite of the Democratic positions. The fact that Paul has consistently stuck to his views without wavering sets him apart from the rest of the GOP field, many of whom take whatever positions are popular with their base at any given moment. Front runner Mitt Romney, for example, has turned political flip-flopping into an art form.

It would be an entertaining race if the colorful limited government advocate Paul was the GOP candidate, and Democrats would wholeheartedly approve. But we all know that won't happen, so the focus right now is on Romney and intellectually challenged Rick Perry, who Republican strategist Alex Castellanos says "benefits from an uncluttered mind". Besides not being very sharp on topics outside his comfort zone, particularly foreign policy, Perry's problems are obvious, starting with the fact that he's being compared to Bush. Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, winner of the meaningless Iowa Straw Poll, is ahead in many opinion polls, but Republican insiders know that she can't win the general election. First of all, her political views are based on religious extremism and not the facts, and second, she's a Tea Party favorite.

Of all the candidates, Romney looks the most presidential, but sounds the least presidential, at least from the GOP standpoint. Many in the Republican establishment are furious that Romney enacted a health care law in Massachusetts that required people to buy insurance, which was similar to Obama's plan. Romney said that his plan was not like the national law because it applied only to his state. In fact, it was exactly like the national law, expanded to all the states. Romney's consistent inconsistency is why the Democrats have said that he's not pro-choice, he's multiple choice.

The recent debt ceiling negotiation fiasco and subsequent credit rating downgrade seemed to be an indication that Obama is in trouble. Neither party was happy with the deal, and each party blamed the other for the way things were mishandled. But Standard and Poor's, the organization responsible for lowering the credit rating, blamed the GOP for causing it, at the same time the GOP was blaming the Democrats.

Americans are fed up with both parties, and politicians in general, but Obama's path to a second term is starting to look pretty good. The Republican Party is in disarray, and the nuttiness of the candidates compounds the fact that the party is being brought down by the Tea Party. This is not only causing political infighting, but is making the voting public aware just how far to the right the party has moved and how unpopular its positions have become. Not only are they talking about tax cuts for the rich, but cuts to Medicare, deregulating Wall Street and greenhouse gas pollution.

People are unhappy with the current political climate, but the majority don't blame Obama, and they sure as hell don't want to put the Republicans back in charge. Let's look at it this way: the odds are that the GOP will retain control of the House of Representatives next year, and they could theoretically win control of the Senate, given the number of seats up for grabs in 2012. If that happens, a Republican presidential victory would give them total control of the Federal government. Considering that nobody wants the Tea Party running the country, that may be the best argument the Democrats have for keeping Obama in the White House.

Even if the Republican Party could find a candidate more qualified than the current group of oddballs, the Tea Party has already done its damage. In addition, the far left of the Democratic Party may not like the concessions that Obama has had to give to the Republicans, but the liberal criticism aimed at him will position him well with moderate and independent voters, much as President Clinton was helped in his 1996 campaign against Republican Bob Dole. In that case, Clinton engaged in “triangulation”, a strategy by which he positioned himself as a moderate centrist. Clinton was aware that winning over the independent voters was the key to winning the election.

Once the debt crisis is safely in the rear-view mirror, Obama will be able to bring sanity back into vogue, and his critics on the left will at least vote for him, considering that he's their only real choice. By being cautious and level-headed, he has been able to compromise, even with the right-wing Tea Party stinking up the process. Obama will win in 2012 because the Democrats will unite behind him, independents will jump into his corner, and Republicans will split their loyalties between the moronic Tea Party and their more moderate lunatic fringe.

It doesn't matter whether Obama wins or the Republicans lose, it will be the same result. And it doesn't matter how many Democrats ubiquitous candidate Sarah Palin has in her crosshairs. When it comes to the 2012 presidential race, the GOP is D.O.A.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt Deal Done- 'It's Better Than Nothing'

A default was averted today when President Obama, with no fanfare, signed the debt ceiling bill into law shortly after it passed the Senate on Tuesday. Compromise was achieved, but at what price?

In a recent Washington Post/Pew Research poll, Americans put their disgust into words. The most common description was “ridiculous”, followed by “disgusting” and “stupid”. No, they weren't talking about Glenn Beck. They were talking about the budget negotiations that led up to the bizarre budget compromise.

If the debt debate proved one thing to America, it's that Washington is broken, and in need of some serious fixing. And there has been damage to the reputation of pretty much everyone in Washington.

The controversy was somewhat contrived to begin with. First of all, we call it a “debt ceiling”, but it's continually being raised. The problem this time, however, is that many Republicans, led by the right-wing Tea Party nut jobs, decided that they didn't want to compromise, default or no default.

In his televised address to the nation on July 25th, President Obama pointed out that raising the debt ceiling in America is a routine matter. “Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every President has signed it,” Obama said in his speech. “President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times. And we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd, or else we won't be able to pay all of our bills.”

Obama went to Harvard, so I'm sure that he can add. And he met the August 2nd deadline with a few hours to spare, so I guess we can now pay all of our bills. But that's the problem. The debt ceiling was raised, but when it comes to the national debt, we're talking trillions. It's rising at a staggering $3.8 billion a day, so you would think we would have come up with a good way to do pay our bills by, for instance, increasing revenue in addition to cutting spending. This is where it gets confusing.

The bill allows Obama to increase the borrowing limit by $400 billion immediately and mandates an additional $917 billion in cuts over the next decade. In addition, Obama can raise the limit another $500 billion later, and only be blocked if Congress votes to disapprove, by offering what the legislation oddly describes as "a joint resolution of disapproval". Since Congress would certainly disapprove and Obama would be certain to veto, thereby guaranteeing a debt limit increase, why is this bizarre charade necessary anyway, other than to score political points?

Then there's the “super committee”, a new 12-member group, split equally among Democrats and Republicans, which would have the authority to recommend another $1.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, and is expected to convene in the fall. Whether such a committee is actually constitutional is another matter, but if the committee fails to approve the cuts, the President can still raise the debt ceiling, but only by an additional $1.2 trillion. However, that would result in cuts split evenly between defense and non-defense programs, unless some other “as yet not agreed upon” budget measure can be agreed upon.

In addition to increasing the debt ceiling, the "super committee" would also theoretically have the power to raise taxes. Since this "bipartisan" committee would consist of six hand-picked anti-tax Republicans, this would seem highly unlikely. Of course, there's the matter of the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts which expire at the end of 2012. But more about that later.

If this whole convoluted budget deal sounds confusing, it is. But one thing stands out: Republicans have insisted all along on budget cuts only, without any new revenue. And that, in a nutshell, is what they got. How do you reduce this enormous budget deficit without any new revenue? Well, I'm not a Republican, so I can't answer that.

The problem with all of this is that the national debt is over $14 trillion, so a few billion here or there may add up to a trillion or two, but it won't make much difference in balancing the budget in the long run.

What is so wrong with higher taxes on the wealthy, which got the economy back on track under President Clinton's administration in the 1990s? How about taking away those silly farm subsidies for rich people with too much land? Or taxes on corporations with million-dollar loopholes? And the list goes on and on, but sadly, the Republican party is more intent on taking away college grants for poor students than on getting the rich to pay their share. So far, college grants are off the table, but they may be among the first programs to go, since the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy.

The one good thing to come out this debt fiasco is that there is no default. Confidence in our economy has been damaged, especially internationally, by this entire spectacle. But now we have to really concentrate on creating an environment under which businesses feel confident enough to invest and ultimately to hire. Under the new compromise, however, this may be impossible. Budget cuts and no new revenue lead to less jobs, but the GOP wants us to believe otherwise.

Both Republicans and Democrats have said that they are not happy with the bill, but both sides say it was necessary to avert the disaster of a default. The prevailing wisdom is that it's “better than nothing”. And that about sums up the problems with the political system in America today.

President Obama's original intention was for a “clean”, unencumbered bill to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans, goaded on by the lunatic Tea Party fringe group, said no. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had to fall in line with the rest of his party of head cases and special-interest candidates and, as well-intentioned as Boehner may have seemed, he never made much economic sense.

Although it may seem to some people as if Obama is the loser in all this, he was still able to keep the core institutions intact - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, the deal allows Obama to focus on the 2012 election without the distraction created by another imminent default. In the end, the majority of Americans are fed up with the dysfunction of the political process as a whole, and they blame Republicans and Democrats alike. Obama's approval ratings are low, but right now, so are the approval ratings of pretty much everyone in Washington.

The debt deal is burdened by the fact that deficit reduction in the middle of a severe recession is not only a stupid idea, but a dangerous one. Reducing the deficit in a period of high unemployment will harm the economy by putting more people out of work and decreasing consumer demand.

Getting back to the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2012, this could be Obama's most powerful weapon. And therein lies Obama’s opportunity. With Republicans so focused on keeping the Bush tax cuts alive, the President could use another extension to protect the Democrats' most cherished programs when the congressional "super committee" deliberates. If Obama dangles the possibility of extending some or all of the Bush tax cuts in front of the recalcitrant committee members, he could not only gain significant leverage to influence the outcome of the committee, but he could also position himself well for the election in 2012. In this case, he would be seen as an honest, intelligent, and moderate broker between the extremes of both parties.

It was clear to all rational people that budget cuts had to at least be matched by new revenue. Obama was left with a debt crisis and since time had run out, he had no choice but to compromise.

We can always ask what would have happened had Obama refused to budge. But he wasn't willing to take that chance, and that's probably for the best. What we got was “better than nothing.”