Sunday, March 01, 2009

Political update for March, 2009

The end to detente in America

Now, this seems more normal.

After the big inauguration parties and the love fest, Obama could only get a few Republicans in Congress, all in the Senate, to vote for his stimulus package. The conservatives have now held their big conference - featuring Rush Limbaugh in the keynote address, followed by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and they are becoming more strident in their opposition to the spend our way out of a rescession approach. Good as far as I'm concerned.

One of the interesting things about conservatives is, they are rarely going to surprise you in what they say. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense as the whole point of their movement is - don't change anything; the old ways are the best. And sure enough, as entertaining as Rush Limbaugh is -- and even one of my most liberal friends who watched said he was very entertaining -- you could have played a tape from his radio show from a year ago or ten or twenty years ago, and, it's pretty much the same story, whether right or wrong.

Ron Paul

But, it wasn't the undisputed leader of the conservative movement who interested me. It was the Texas surgeon, who, after dropping out of the 2008 presidential election (he kept going even after McCain won the Republican primary) won his congressional seat back again handily -- getting 70% of the Republican primary and being unopposed in the general election. Although a mere congressman, his congressional territory is geographically enormous. In fact, were it state, it would be larger than seven others. That, of course, is due to population density and not any virtuosity on Ron Paul's part.

In a conservative straw poll this past week, Paul finished tied with Sarah Palin for third place -- behind Romney and Jindal, the new conservative superstar. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that Paul will find himself the Republican candidate in 2012 (and, my belief, the campaigning will start next year - three years before the election) but I do think he will be important if he wants to run, at least for several fold reasons:

- He has the least ego of any candidate running. It is about his view of the constitution, whether you agree or not with him. His followers find this very attractive. Ironically, no doubt the more attention is paid to him, the less humble he will become.

- Without much effort, he is a fundraising machine. On one day in December, 2007, he raised over 6 million dollars on the internet. No one had ever raised as much (although Obama, the greatest fundraiser ever, shattered it later on). In that fourth quarter, '07, undoubtedly his best, Paul raised more money than Rudy Giuliani (then the front runner) and over twice as much as the two highest candidates at the time put to together.

- He attracts people from both sides of the aisle. No doubt he is a conservative. In fact, for a long stretch on the nineties and early double 0's he was rated the most conservative congressperson. In fact, he is so conservative, he is not very cooperative in congress, where he is known as Dr. No. and many of his own fellow ideologist find him a bit nutty. But there is a purity about his arguments - again, whether or not you agree with him -- that we should follow the constitution or change it, that many people find refreshing. I have personally met a few people who were for him on the left who had little idea that he was vehemently opposed to the things that they were vehemently for, such as abortion. I've met people for him on the right who were similarly stunned to learn that he would have pulled the troops from overseas and was very much against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here's Paul in a January 2008 debate linking our military spending with our financial problems:

Look at what's happening today. The dollar is crashing. [Our debate moderator] suggests that we think of the economy, but not in foreign policy. You can't do that. They're one and the same. That's where all the money's going. We're spending nearly a trillion dollars a year overseas maintaining this empire. And then there's never been a war fought without inflation and destruction and devaluation of a currency. And this is what we're doing today to ourselves, is we're literally spending ourselves into oblivion. But nobody here is willing to even suggest that we cut something overseas. But we have to. We don't need to cut anything here at home. I'd like to see things frozen. I'd like to see massive tax cuts. But we need deregulation. So this is the kind of thing we need. We need the government out of the way, but it should have sound money, low taxes, less regulations, and a sensible policy where we're not wasting our money overseas.

Perhaps the Republicans should have listened. While McCain shot himself in the foot with his optimistic outlook in September, 2008 where it seems everyone in the glass bubble of the Beltway was shocked by the crashing of our economy, Paul seemed well aware of it long ago. This is also from January, 2008:

I was waving a flag the whole time saying, slow up, slow up; this isn't going well. And here we are. We're at the verge of bankruptcy. We're moving into a new era, believe it or not. With the dollar and our economy and the world economy, this is a new era.

It is perhaps strange that for all of the publicity he got these past two years, he has not changed his arguments or made any changes to his somewhat angry little man style of campaigning. There's no charisma there, and, understandably, some people who are fed up with all of the cults of personality, that is very attractive. Here are a few reasons why people find him so attractive:

Truth is treason in the empire of lies. There is an alternative to national bankruptcy, a bigger police state, trillion dollar wars, and a government that draws ever more parasitically on the productive energies of the American people. It’s called freedom.

That's from his book The Revolution: A manifest. Here's another, from a speech about a year ago, way before the actual "crash":

The Constitution says: no emitting bills of credit, no paper money, only gold and silver can be legal tender. And today we allow big government to grow. Whether it’s on the conservative side or the liberal side, if they want something, they usually have compromise--spend it on both. Then they resort to printing money, and that is where our trouble is coming from, and that’s the crisis we’re facing. All great nations and great empires end for fiscal, financial reasons. That’s how the Soviet system was defeated. We didn’t have to invade them; we didn’t have to fight them. Their system collapsed. And that is what’s happening today, the middle class is getting wiped out, the middle class is getting poor, endlessly, because they can’t keep up with the cos of living. And the solution isn’t printing more money, and spending more money, and allowing the Federal Reserve to pretend they can solve the problem. The answer is found in fiscal conservatism: live within our means, is what we have to do.

I recall one primary debate where Paul was serving as the fall guy for his Republican colleagues. Even though he was never a front runner, he was often the butt of the other candidate's jokes and attacks - a veritable Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer of the right. Here's my favorite quote by anyone from the entire presidential campaign in that January, 2008 debate, when he said to great applause:

"Let me see if I get this right. We need to borrow $10 billion from China, and then we give it to Musharraf, who is a military dictator, who overthrew an elected government. And then we go to war, where we lose all these lives promoting democracy in Iraq? I mean, what's going on here?"

Unfortunately, it is too hard for many people to get behind this way of thinking, thanks to the two ideological, two party stranglehold on America. As always, I encourage, encourage, encourage everyone to shake their ties from these ideologies and parties and just hew to the ideas that will make us successful and happier. Spending less money seems prudent to me whether it is a conservative or liberal idea (and it was a liberal idea while the Republicans held all the power). Until I can see historically or economically (whatever that means) how spending trillions of dollars makes sense when you already owe trillions, I am against it. And Dr. Paul makes a lot of sense when he speaks about it. How many people do you know who live well within their means, or seek to cling to middle class as if plasma tv's and Prada bags were the key to their happiness and our economic success. It's particularly hard to do when it seems that the ideologies "own" the ideas and you must cleave to one side or the other regardless of the issue.

I don't know that I would ever vote for Dr. Paul. I do not agree with a number of his positions and even he admits that some of his preferences just aren't possible anymore. It depends, as usual, as who he might be running against and which party controls congress. Frankly, I think our nation would have to be on death's door before he would even get enough Republican support. It could happen. Ronald Reagan was once seen as an also ran too. It took 21 percent interest rates for him to win.

John Kerry

Whenever someone asks me in shock how I voted for George Bush in 2004, I answer them this way. The Democratic alternative was John Kerry. I have stated here before my dislike of Kerry who I find to be an awkward, pompous, backstabbing political klutz and don't intend to spend much time on him. But, not surprising to me, Kerry feels the opposite as I do when it comes to the stimulus package. It seems as if he has finally gotten what he wants, an opportunity to take money out of the hands of the American people and in his hands where he can spend it like he wants. If you don't believe me, listen to him from the floor of the Senate and go to the congressional record to see if I take this out of context (this shocked me but didn't even make the papers):

"If you put a tax cut into the hands of either a business or an individual today, there is no guarantee they are going to invest their money. There is no guarantee they are going to invest their money in the United States. They are free to invest anywhere they want, if they choose to invest.”

. . .

“The fact is, none of those people are guaranteed to invest that money in any of the new projects the way we are. So Government--yes, Government--has the ability to be able to make a decision that the private sector won't necessarily make today.”

In other words, if we, the people, get to invest our money the way we want, we will do it wrong. We might not invest in the businesses or programs he wants. If this isn't upside down top down philosophy, I don't know what is. We have to invest in what the government wants us to? Well, that's exactly what happens when our government borrows to spend trillions of dollars, including bailouts to select industries, like automobile manufacturers and banks (even banks that didn't want the money!!!).

Here's to you, Mr. Kerry. Knowing just how bad a president George Bush was, blowing the opportunity history gave him to be one of the greats, I'd still vote for him again if Kerry was his opponent.

President Obama and the Middle East

I've said before here that everything McCain and Obama said during the campaign was lies. Candidates simply feel that they can't tell the truth and win. Maybe they are right. But, Obama has already severely disappointed me with this stimulus bill. But, that's what comes of one party power, and that is what our country allows.

It is not just his belief in spending and the now obvious direction that government should be running much of our country, particularly the economy. The recent decision, way below the radar of our uninterested media is the pledging of $900,000,000 dollars to the Palestinians because of the destruction caused by the three week or so Israeli bombardment.

It's not that I don't feel horribly sorry for the Palestinian people, who have neither freedom, good economic potential or wise leaders. Most of these people would be happy to run their stores or work their farms, or whatever else people do everywhere. No doubt they hate Israel and cannot afford, at risk of their lives, to hate the leaders in Gaza, Hamas.

But, despite this, just as I was against giving money to poor Lebanon, which was smashed by Israel while under Hizbollah's thumb, I am against it here. Here's why:

Israel is our ally. This is a slap in the face to them as the conflict is not over. Given the rest of the world's position on this controversy, this has to have a real effect on Israel. This is not the same as spending money to rebuild a defeated Germany or Japan. It is like giving money to the Taliban. I guarantee you - guarantee, even though the money will not be put directly in Hamas' hands, that they get their hands on it indirectly, and, even if they don't, they benefit enormously from it in terms of propaganda.

Remember that one of the tactics of militant Islamist is too hide behind its citizenry and cry their demise when they die or their homes are shattered, and then, no matter how badly they lost, to declare victory. When they are giving Gaza $900 million dollars it lends credence to the Gazans that their militaristic, no compromise, leaders were right.

Keep in mind that in order to win complete power in Gaza, Hamas murdered their political opponents and pretty much eradicated all their power, even though technically Fatah is still in charge of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians in the West Bank will see this largese given to the Gaza as a result of their fighting Israel and think Hamas won too, even though they suffered billions and billions in lost revenue, greater lost freedom and the loss of hundreds of citizens, not to mention perhaps thousands injured. Is it any surprise that rockets are still being fired into Israel or that Gaza is now more popular in the West Bank. Partially, this is Israel's fault for listening to much to world opinion, not finishing what it started in Lebanon or Gaza. But, we are helping. This is a big mistake and Obama's second such one on my score card.

George Bush

Not that we should forget how bad Bush was. I still haven't written my final critique on him, but, just off the top of my head -- too little transparency, too much arrogance in civil rights (an area Americans are very sensitive about), too much aggrandizing of presidential power, too much Cheney and, my guess, too little Laura. The Iraqi War has been a national disaster (and I still think it was okay to go in, providing we weren't going to stay), simultaneous mishandling of Afghanistan, similar blundering with the economy (the same policies being followed by Obama) and last, but not least, a president who would not, could not admit a mistake and change direction.

I'll get back to Bush some day. The reaon I even mention him now is to point out that Bush was just learning to be the president in the last two years when the Democrats took control of congress. That's because he had to share power and his officers had to account to congressional committees. His problem the first six years in my humble opinion. Too MUCH power. One party power in America often works poorly. Hence my cynicism about the Democrats now - tToo MUCH power.

The Ronald Reagan Myth

The biggest sale of bologna in politics right now is that the Obama tide is wiping away 30 years of Reaganism. This is untrue from both the left and the right. You know why? It's because the Reagan Revolution never happened as far as spending is concerned.

In order to convince you that everything you hear from both sides is as silly a story as George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, we must revisit the tale of David Stockman, the young director of the Office of Budget Management in the Reagan administration.

Stockman, unlike Reagan, was a true supply-sider and believer in "trickle-down" theory, that is, if you help the rich, they will help the economy. Reagan, it should be well known, had to have supply side economics explained to him and reportedly never quite got it. George Bush (I), it is known, called it "Voodoo economics" and only became one in order to secure the vice presidency, which did him a bit of good. When he ran in 1988, however, he had to firmly declare that "I am my own man" in order to distance himself from the then tarnished Reagan reputation (which has grown larger in later days).

Stockman became disillusioned with what was going on. "Reaganism" came in against deficits. The plan was to drastically cut spending and taxes. Only, the 79 billion dollar deficit in Carter's last budget (i.e., Reagan's first year) and trillion dollar collective debt (now, teeny little numbers) soon ballooned to the point that it more than doubled by 1986. Stockman had resigned the year before. The number at the time Reagan left office was - ready for this - about 3.6 trillion dollars. They doubled what it was then they came in and came close to doubling it again.

During his first year in office, Stockman gave an interview to William Greider, who writes on financial matters. He acknowledged that none of them really understood "the numbers" and that Kemp-Roth, the tax reduction act was really a "Trojan Horse" to get down the high tax bracket.

As a result of the interview he was famously "taken to the woodshed" by Reagan. In other words, he was told to shut up and he did. That is, he shut up until he resigned in '85 when he published a biography (which I suffered through over 20 years ago - boring writer - and did not read again before writing this) in which he said that they never really did supply-side economics because you have to cut spending along with taxes for it to work.

So, what Reagan Revolution in spending? Stockman seems to believe it never happened. He was, of course, denounced by Republicans, and was really never heard from politically again. Sadly, back in the stock world, he had a couple of rough years, being indicted for fraud, but one of the last acts of the Bush Justice Department was to announce that he would not be prosecuted. But, I digress.

So, when I hear the conservatives bellyaching at their conference this week-end that Obama is assaulting Reaganism, and, the Democrats crowing that they are undoing 30 years of Reaganism, I have to laugh. In fact, look at the Bush administration. Yes, there was a slight reduction in higher tax rates, but spending always increased. The last two years of Bush's term, the Democrats controlled congress and -- the spending increased.

I do my best here to be fair, at least to my own lights, and the Reagan administration does get some credit, along with the independent Federal Exchange under Paul Volcker (who is back in the Obama administration), for dramatically reducing taxes, inflation and interest rates (however, the prime rate was at the end of Reagan's terms more than twice what it is now). But, those are not the problems we are facing at this time and not what the pols and pundits are talking about. For example, the top tax rates now are half of what they were when Reagan took office -- an extreme 78%. It is no longer the issue it was and at least right now, there is no talk of going even remotely that high. If you listen to both sides, they are both acting as if we reduced spending in the 1980s, when, in fact, the opposite happened.

Another semi-fallacy is that deregulation started under Reagan, when, in fact, it started under Carter. Of course, saying so no doubt displeases conservatives now, who want to claim it, and liberals who want to disown it. Sorry. I'll make them both feel better and argue also that it reached its height under Reagan. As well, we could also fairly argue that the real work on inflation and interest rates was Volcker's doing at the Fed and he was appointed by Carter. Uh oh. I leave more of this for another day as my cup beginnith to floweth over.

My apologies for missing a week of blogging. What could you possibly have been reading?

4 comments:

  1. I will agree with one point: Too little time and energy and focus was spent on Laura Bush. She was/is a fantastic person who was also a diplomat and very smart. Liz

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's true. What kind of person wouldn't like Laura?

    I welcome Mrs. Neely to the forum.

    Thanks for commenting Liz.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ron Paul??? You are truly the champion of lost causes. Too early to be so critical of Obama. I do agree that he has made some early mistakes, but he has also done some things right. Jury still out as far as I'm concerned. You would still vote for Bush over Kerry??? Oh Quixote, you do tilt at windmills still.

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  4. I would vote for Bush over Kerry even today and I still can't believe that the Democrats picked one of their few candidates who didn't stand a chance against a weak incumbent. I have trouble thinking of anyone on the right or left who I would not vote for before Kerry, who, as I think I indicated, is the politician I like least. Unintelligent, angry, thin-skinned, back-stabbing, virtually socialist member of the Senate. The right tossed some very unfair comments about him during his presidential run, however, the one about him being from the French contingent of the Democratic Party was well stated.

    As to Mr. Paul, I was commenting on him because he's interesting. As I said, I'm not very likely to vote for him.

    Thanks for your thoughts, as always.

    ReplyDelete

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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .