Monday, January 30, 2012

Meet me in the Middle (sucker)

The political blogosphere exists today thanks to one factor. No, not the internet. That is simply the technology that allowed it to occur. The cause, instead, is the complete failure of the political pundit class. Sometimes referred to as the Gang of 500 by smarmy insiders like Mark Halperin, this group has failed to offer true and insightful analysis of events instead relying time and again on "both sides do it" so "the answer is in the middle" analysis.

You will never see a more stunning example of this kind of worthless analysis than in this article at the Wapo. h/t Instaputz

Read this line from the article:
Our guess is that Jones’ latter hypothesis is the right one — that we are simply living in an era in which Democrats dislike a Republican president (and Republicans dislike a Democratic one) even before the commander in chief has taken a single official action.

And then look at the chart accompanying the article.

Notice anything interesting?

If the analysis above were to accurate, we would assume that Democrats hating a Republican president before a single official action has been taken would mean that the first year of W would appear on that handy little chart. Oddly, it's not there. Instead, the W years that make the list are 4,5,6,7,8: the latter half of his presidency...long after he took many official actions, some of them like torturing prisoners, that deeply offended many Americans, not just Democrats.

OTOH, it's pretty clear the GOP hated Obama on day one and hasn't stopped since. In fact, this past weekend you even had Grover Norquist saying as soon as the GOP has control of the Senate, they will impeach him. There is no mention of what they will impeach him for. High crimes and misdemeanors are so 20th century thinking.

It is evidently clear that only one side of the political game is guilty of hate with no reason. But that does not fit the approved Gang of 500 narrative so it does not get reported. And even if some reporter did point out the obvious ("Hey, the current GOP Congress is abusing the filibuster in a way that has never been done in history" or "Democrats did disapprove of Bush but only after spending 3 years with him" or "The GOP wants to impeach Obama for breathing"), the GOP would point and scream bias until the reporter backed down. (Meanwhile, Politifact would rate the whole episode "half-true" and call it a millenium.)

Our media failed and continues to do so in spectacular ways. And I must admit I have a grudging admiration to the right for recognizing this fact and exploiting it for all it is worth. If the answer is always to be reported in the middle, you can easily drive the country to your philosphy by simply taking the most extreme position. It gets further exacerbated if the opposing side take reasonable "middle ground" positions and yet you call them "socialism" anyway. (Ex. A healthcare law that is entirely reliant on the private sector insurance companies (i.e. the capitalists) and yet is called a government takeover of medicine.)

The right is working the refs. They are doing it very well. And this is why only venture capitalists and the Wall Street boys can have nice things.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Birther Emails and Mondays Always Get me Down

In the middle of the day I received an email from my parents. It featured the most recent (I think!) conspiracy theory about Obama's Birth Certificate and the various discrepancies proving he is not a US born citizen. I tried to ignore the message but eventually surrendered to my impulse for truth and responded by debunking all the claims within. (For those that are aficionados of the genre, it is the message that features the three challenges to the most recent birth certificate released.) I didn't even need snopes! Still, I doubt it will change anyone's belief that Obama is a usurper and has achieved the presidency through enchantments and charismatic flim-flam.

But this email message, and its odd timing considering we are almost at the end of the first term of the Obama Presidency, have me wondering about the connection with the recent (re)surgence of Newt, the Republican Id in pasty white man form. Hmm, I think I was redundant there.

Anyway, my parents are long-time conservatives and it is, I imagine, a great embarrassment to them that I became liberal in my 20s. So from time to time they attempt to engage me and change my leanings. At least, I suspect that is there motive. It is a frustrating experience for us both. But at its core I think it speaks to their experience and desires, the very experience and desires that caused me to reject conservatism. And its most simplistic that can be explained as: fear the other. The other is anyone that differs from you and has concluded that life can be lived differently than you do. The other is a threat. They reject your order, your values, your superiority and as such, they must be ostracized and if need be, destroyed. It does not matter if the other actually does embrace your values. In fact, there is nothing the other can ever do to persuade you they are not the other.

And Barack Obama is the other.

No matter what he does, no matter his values, no matter his policies, he will always be unacceptable. 3 years of presidential material and hardcore conservatives still want to discuss his birth certificate.
He is Dr. Huxtable. To conservatives he will always be Tupac.

And because of this, and Fox News stoking these fears of the other, I cannot have a political discussion with my parents.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rosie Blogs the Primaries: South Carolina

I got home from work around 7:15 tonight to discover that MSNBC had already called South Carolina for Newt Gingrich, based solely on exit polls. In a way, the quick results were a bit disappointing– I was hoping for a bit more drama, because the more interesting things are, the better– but, lack of drama aside, these results are pretty interesting.

Never before in history has a different Republican candidate won Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In other words, this race is going to be an absolute mess. There's no cohesion– there's no unity at all, no coalescing behind one candidate.

Dad said, "They know how to divide a party. And you know what we always say..."

"A house divided against itself cannot stand?" I suggested.

What he actually had in mind was "When you build a clown car, you have to expect it'll get filled up with clowns" (and he's got a point there, I must admit), but I think there's a lot of truth to the Lincoln quote that was my first thought. If the Republican party continues to be split like this, they're quickly going to become completely non-functional. Opinion within the party will be divided enough that they won't be able to muster any significant support for any one candidate. And that is not the way to win elections. Especially not nationwide ones.

In the short term, this division means that things are looking good for Obama's reelection this upcoming November. In the long term, it means that the Republican party is facing some pretty serious problems– if they can't get their act together to unify a bit, they may well find themselves losing a lot of relevance really quickly.

Even if they do manage to reunify (to be honest, I sort of doubt that they will), they're not doing it before this primary is over, which is going to make the race very messy. And in all likelihood, very long.

I wasn't hugely impressed with anyone's speeches tonight. Maybe the problem is just that they're making all the same points they've made a thousand times before (or, in Newt Gingrich's case, the same jokes), but none of them have really stood out in any way. I just find myself... bored. And as a politician, boredom is not what you want to leave your audience with.

I'll be interested to see how Florida turns out. This primary season has already been a bloodbath, and I have a feeling it's about to get even bloodier.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Brief Open Letter to Newt Gingrich, Regarding Food Stamps

Dear Speaker,

My name is Rosie. I'm sixteen years old, and I work in a grocery store. Recently, your comments about getting African-Americans off food stamps and onto paychecks made the news. I have a couple of things to say about those comments.

Mr. Speaker, I work in a grocery store, and most of the time, I run register. Although I live in what is probably the whitest state in the nation, I've certainly had African-Americans come through my checkout line, and I've also certainly had people on food stamps. And you know what? Not once have those two groups overlapped. I have never had an African-American on food stamps come through my register. In fact, if you want to help eliminate the need for food stamps, I suggest you focus on young white men, because that's the largest demographic group I've seen who have paid with food stamp cards.

Also, I'd like to just quickly point out that having a paycheck is not automatically equal to not needing food stamp assistance. Two or three times, people who have paid in food stamps have been wearing the uniform of the grocery store where I work– clearly, they have jobs. They're getting paychecks every Thursday just like I am. But they're also working minimum-wage jobs, and those sometimes just can't pay all the bills. It's hard to make ends meet as an adult in a job like that.

I'm just saying, Mr. Speaker, that you can't make assumptions about people like the ones you made in those comments. It's not fair to the people you're wrong about, which will undoubtedly be most of them.

Yours Sincerely,
Rosie Politika

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rosie (and Bernie Sanders) on Healthcare

We had a special guest during my AP Gov class today– Bernie Sanders, our junior senator and one of the two Independents in Congress (he caucuses with the Democrats). He was on the Colbert Report a few days ago to talk about his proposed constitutional amendment which would overturn the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision. He's pretty cool.

I like Senator Sanders for several different reasons. One, his views: he described himself today as "the most progressive member of Congress", a definition I find it difficult to argue with. In addition, he's friendly and despite the fact that he was talking to an auditorium partially full of high school students today, he seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say– and he didn't try to press his views on us. He encouraged us to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions about things.

He's also got an independent spirit to match his independent label; he recently gave an eight-and-a-half hour speech in order to filibuster a bill. (This speech has now been published as a book, which I would rather like to read.) In a day and age where the minority simply indicates that they intend to filibuster and the Senate votes for cloture before anyone actually gets up and talks, I find that pretty impressive.

We ended up talking about healthcare when he came to talk to us today; it's clearly an issue he feels very strongly about, and he encouraged our participation. Firstly he asked us "Who here believes healthcare is a right for all people?" and most of us in the auditorium (myself included) raised our hands. He then asked us to debate the issue. We accepted the challenge a bit reluctantly at first, but he appreciated our questions and comments. The central issue of our debate was this: Why should people with higher incomes have to pay for lower-income folks' access to healthcare through taxes in a system with some government support for healthcare?

Several points were raised– the fact that those with higher incomes do, in fact, have the money to pay a bit more in taxes, and that it doesn't make much sense for them to have to pay less. One girl mentioned the natural rights theory famously echoed in the Declaration of Independence: the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I'd had something to say from the beginning, but I don't much like talking in front of people, so for quite a while I refrained from saying it.

Eventually, though, Senator Sanders asked, "Any more questions or opinions?" and I figured, oh, what the heck, so I raised my hand. I was sitting in the center of the third row, so he saw my hand almost immediately and called on me. The social studies teacher with the microphone jogged down to hand it to me.

"Hi," I said. "My name's Rosie. I have a comment. I think that one of the major purposes– and one of the major responsibilities– of government is to protect its citizens. That's why we have things like the Department of Defense. In my opinion, healthcare is another form of protecting people. I guess it just doesn't make sense to me that people would complain about paying taxes to fund healthcare and not the Department of Defense."

Okay, possibly not my most eloquently worded paragraph ever. But it got my point across– "That's a very good point," Senator Sanders told me. Maybe I'm not so bad at this public-speaking thing after all?

The entire conversation got me thinking about the healthcare debate. A few friends and I were discussing it a little bit after Senator Sanders had to leave, and some of them thought that to say people had a "right to healthcare" was too strong in terms of language. I didn't say anything at the time, but after thinking about it, I think I disagree.

If healthcare isn't a right, then what is it? A privilege? Something only owed to the "deserving", or those with enough money? Something that some people should have to live without? Something optional?

I'm sorry, but no. I don't think that's true.

And, as Senator Sanders pointed out in our discussion today, it's not really about politics. The healthcare debate is much more about being a good human being– loving your neighbor, to borrow a basic tenant of Christianity. Universal healthcare shouldn't even be an issue under question, and if people were less selfish, I don't think it would be. Yes: healthcare is a right, and everyone deserves healthcare, no matter what. And if they don't have the resources to provide it themselves– well, the government has a responsibility to help fix that, and to say that healthcare isn't a basic right and not everyone is entitled to it represents an appalling lack of compassion.

Come on, humanity. Let's learn to give a little bit.