Why Americans Don’t Understand What’s Going on in Washington

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Obama Administration

Read it, and weep.

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Interconnections

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economy

Are we all in love with Elizabeth Warren yet?

Steve Benen provides a partial transcript of this clip:

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she said. “No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

One of the things I love about EW is that she sees and clearly articulates how the economy is a web of interconnections, each part supporting or being supported by the other parts.

One of the things that has long driven me bats about “conservatives” is that they don’t see that. They don’t see how allowing bridges to rot hurts them, even if they never drive over those bridges personally. They don’t see how making higher education too expensive hurts them. They don’t see how under-funding public education hurts them. They don’t see how letting someone else’s family get buried (possibly literally) in medical bills hurts them. They don’t see how allowing a predatory banking system to rip millions of other Americans out of their homes hurts them.

The hurt may not be immediate, but when one part of the system fails it sets off a ripple of effects that damages other parts. If the overall system is strong it can absorb some failures here and there so that the shocks are localized and contained. But when there are a lot of big failures causing widespread damage to the system, and no one is stepping in to repair the damage, eventually it’s all going to fail.

Very simply, that’s what caused the Great Depression. It wasn’t any one thing. The allegedly strong economy attributed to Calvin Coolidge was a volatile boom-and-bust sort of critter that allowed some people to get rich but left millions behind. And it collapsed like a house of cards because the all-glorious free market did not repair the damage from several smaller failures, and the Coolidge/Hoover administration refused to intervene. Bad for business, you know.

You can see EW’s complex thinking at work in this Morning Joe clip. Someone asked her about China as a dominant military power, and she began to answer that China is investing some significant part of its GDP in infrastructure and technological development, and someone interrupted her and said, no, no, we’re talking about China’s military, not China’s economy. And Warren said, but they go together. The military and economic dominance that China is building are of a piece.

I still don’t think the bobbleheads got that. But what do we call a nation with a big, expensive military and a stagnant, unproductive economy? The USSR.

Part of our problem is that too many Americans have bought an ideology about what’s supposed to be good for business that looks at business in a vacuum, as if all the other parts of the system — such as sound infrastructure, an educated and healthy workforce, and lots of consumers with disposable income — don’t matter. In fact, the thinking is that we have to sacrifice those things in order to pump more money directly into business. This is insane.

As long as business executives get lots and lots of untaxed money, they will grow jobs and make the economy better, they say. The fact that business is losing customers because the working middle class is being squeezed out of existence doesn’t seem to register. And it doesn’t seem to register with business owners, either.

So you’ve got Rick Perry thumping his chest and saying he grew jobs in Texas by lowering taxes, cutting health care spending, and shredding environmental and consumer protection to lure business from other states. So how is that race to the bottom supposed to work nationally? Are we going to cut wages and working conditions even more to lure business from India?

And even then, right now Texas has its highest unemployment rate in 25 years. Way to go, Perry.

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The Job-Killing Republican Party

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Obama Administration

Matt Yglesias, “GOP Leaders Write Unprecedented Letter Urging The Federal Reserve To Keep Unemployment High

Robert Reich, “Republicans Threaten the Fed

Steve Benen, “GOP Leaders to Fed: Let America Suffer

Adam Serwer, “Republicans To Fed: Don’t Help The Economy—Or Else!

Stan Collender, “GOP to Fed: Let the Economy Fail

Alain Sherter: “Thug Life: Lawmakers Threaten Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke

Mark Gongloff, “If You Don’t Like Bernanke, Win an Election and Fire Him: Greenhaus

David Frum doesn’t like it, either.

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Ralphing Ralph

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liberalism and progressivism

I saw a headline this morning that said “Ralph Nader praises Sarah Palin,” and I was going to link to it under a headline that said “Ralph Bleeping Nader, Will You Please Go Now?” But there is more to the story.

Apparently Ralph and fellow geniuses such as Cornell West and Gore Vidal have declared that President Obama should be primaried. They apparently think this is an original idea, which tells us they don’t read blogs much. They also don’t have a specific candidate in mind, but acknowledge that filing deadlines are fast approaching. Maybe Ralph will decide he’s the only available choice on short notice.

In other words, they aren’t pushing to oust Obama because they have somebody better in mind. They just want to punish Obama for not being progressive enough.

At Balloon Juice, Dennis G. writes,

This Nader/West effort to marginalize the left is just another example of the progressive death wish. This recent editorial from The Nation is another. I’m 56 years old. I’ve watched the so called leaders of the Left do this dance of self-destruction over and over and over again. The results have never been good.

Humphrey had to pay a price for LBJ. They had to “punish” Carter to teach him a lesson, even if it gave us Reagan. Gore had to be disciplined for the sins of Clinton and these fools claimed there was no difference between Al and Bush. Kerry never “excited” them and also required election year chastisement. Now it is President Obama who is the target of these strategic geniuses.

Nader, West and these other fools always function as the reliable Left flank of wingnutopia. Without these useful idiots the GOP and their ideas would always be defeated. With them to serve as comic foils, vote sponges, and advocates of apathy, the GOP can get close enough to steal any election.

Ralph argues that a primary challenge will actually be good for Obama. We might remember that Ralph’s political instincts are nearly as sharp as Mark Penn‘s. Going back several years, the only incumbents who have lost the White House faced tough primary challenges. Those incumbents who enjoyed unified party support won, usually easily.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes,

As ABL notes, there are some unfortunate consistencies here. Nader began the Obama presidency by wondering if Obama would be an “Uncle Tom for the corporations..” He now joins forces with West who derides his “dear brother Barack Obama” as a “black mascot for Wall Street interests” with a “fear of free black men.” Perhaps Michael Moore shall join them and we can hear these three explain to us why Obama is actually a white president.

And the moral is, sometimes people need to learn when to shut up. Even former Naderite James Fallows thinks so.

But since Nader is too oblivious to reality to know when to shut up, I propose that any progressive who says he will vote for Nader be crowned with a dunce hat labeled “Florida 2000” and made to sit in the corner.

Update: BTW, if you aren’t already overdosed on stupid, David Brooks’s column will do the job.

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Do the Math

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Obama Administration

The President’s proposals must be pretty good. I went to Firedoglake to find out in what ways I should be disappointed, and instead I found David Dayen admitting it doesn’t suck as much as he expected it to.

The money line:

“Either we have to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share, or we have to ask seniors to pay more for medicare, or gut education,” he continued. “This is not class warfare. It’s Math.”

Ooo, take that, Frank Luntz.

The President also vows to veto any deficit reduction bill that does not include tax increases. HOO-yah.

Best of all, Hillary Clinton’s former “strategist” Mark Penn hates it.

Barack Obama is careening down the wrong path towards re-election.

He should be working as a president, not a candidate.

He should be claiming the vital center, not abandoning it.

He should be holding down taxes rather than raising them.

He should be mastering the global economy, not running away from it.

And most of all, he should be bringing the country together rather than dividing it through class warfare.

Really, this is almost as good a predictor of success as being trashed by William Kristol. Four more years! See also Steve Benen.

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When Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Just Ignorant

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Obama Administration

How many times have we been through this? Pollsters will ask people what they think of President Obama’s X Proposal, and they mostly disapprove. But when asked about the individual provisions of the X Proposal, a whopping majority think they’re grand.

We went through this with the Affordable Care Act, and we’re seeing it again with the jobs plan. What does this tell us?

I think it tells us something very simple. It tells us that most of the people polled have no clue what’s actually in the policy they’re being asked about. They just know they don’t like it, because that’s the vibe they feel sluicing out of their radios and TV sets and computer monitors.

The Noise Machine is well stocked with well-funded pundits — and some angry liberals — who declare over and over again what a failure President Obama is and how disappointed we’re all supposed to be and how he doesn’t know what he’s doing, blah blah blah. So, naturally, when people are asked about the President’s X policy, they dutifully repeat what Everybody Else says, which is that it’s probably a bad idea.

But why then do they approve of the individual parts of the policy? Because probably they had no idea that’s what’s in the bleeping policy. Hearing the individual provisions for the first time from a pollster, they say yeah, sure. Good ideas.

But then all the headlines and sound bites of the story say people don’t like Policy X, which reinforces the impression that Policy X is bad.

Really, people, polls don’t tell us anything about how good or bad a policy is. They are tests of the effectiveness of the Noise Machine. The degree to which the public says what it’s conditioned to say tells us how well the propaganda is working.

So, for once, I think Steve Benen doesn’t quite get it

This may seem counter-intuitive — if people like the parts, they should like the whole — but it makes a lot of sense. Indeed, we saw the exact same thing during the fight over health care reform when Americans said they didn’t like the Affordable Care Act, but strongly supported all of the ideas in the proposal. The problem is one of political perceptions — the president is struggling, so when folks are asked about his plan, the question becomes a referendum on him. But when asked about specific ideas, it turns out most Americans agree with Obama and his plan. (Likewise, during health care, folks were misled by attack ads and lousy media coverage, and came to think poorly of the proposal, but they actually liked what’s in the plan.)

But I don’t think most Americans understand what’s in the Patient Protection Act to this day, which is why it still polls fairly poorly. Big whopping chunks of the electorate may say they like the individual parts when asked by pollsters, but they still aren’t associating those individual parts with the PPA.

Put another way — if you were to give America a pop quiz on what’s in the PPA or the jobs plan or just about anything else the President has proposed — we’d flunk. Solid F. There aren’t enough of us who understand the proposals to make up for the vast ocean of cluelessness that is the American public.

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t blame the public as much as I blame news media for doing a crappy job covering political issues. Most people don’t have time to spend hours on the Web every day looking up information about things. They need issues explained to them, clearly and succinctly, and nobody is doing that. Or, I should say, the very few who are doing that are being drowned out by the Noise Machine of propaganda, so little actual information reaches most folks.

And it doesn’t help that most of the Left with any kind of megaphone is more or less echoing the Right’s argument — Obama’s a disaster, let’s primary him, yadda yadda. Hey, you don’t have to like him, but if you want to make America a place where progressive ideas are heard, honestly discussed, and even implemented, progressives need to stop whining about Obama and start trying to educate people about how progressive ideas can help them.

I think the biggest reason the President hasn’t been as effective as we wanted is not that he was a secret wingnut all along, but that he is cautious about overreaching what he can sell to Congress and the public. And the political climate is screaming at him to be cautious. You want a more progressive president? Make this a more progressive country.

We progressives may console ourselves that the public really is on our side because people agree with our policy ideas, but that’s not going to mean squat come election time, because the public won’t know anyone is proposing those policy ideas. They’ll just know they are disappointed in President Obama. Everybody says so.

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We Could All Be Next

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Obama Administration

At Balloon Juice, Kay has an update on the Ohio referendum to kill the union-busting law. She thinks that some of the firemen who have joined the effort probably are Republican voters, because they don’t complain about “Republicans” or “Kasich,” just “politicians.”

Too, the fireman spoke with what sounded to me like a real sense of betrayal and that’s another common theme I’m hearing. He said he never imagined that teachers, police officers and firefighters would somehow end up as “the problem” because everyone, at one time or another, has relied on a teacher, a police officer or a firefighter. He said “I didn’t know I was next”. At that point, a UAW member in the crowd shouted “I always know I’m next!” and everyone laughed.

I’d say the one thing American voters had better get through their heads is that they are expendable. The right-wing machine will turn all of us into a “problem” sooner or later. If the Right continues to control Congress, sooner or later they’ll find a way around the 13th Amendment’s ban on indentured servitude.

Elsewhere — Bobo wants the people to know that the government cannot protect them from “their” sins, meaning that government has limited power to cushion them from things like financial crises.

Over the past decades, Americans have developed an absurd view of the power of government. Many voters seem to think that government has the power to protect them from the consequences of their sins. Then they get angry and cynical when it turns out that it can’t.

Matt Yglesias says,

That something along these lines has become something like the conventional wisdom in Washington is, to me, maddening. Here’s a story about bus drivers in Clark County, Nevada getting laid off as a result of state/local budget woes. Are those soon-to-be-unemployed bus drivers really suffering for their sins? …

…Governments around the world have immense power to protect people from negative consequences. And they’re using that power. Nobody, thank god, is starving to death in the United States of America. But the government has done immensely more to protect creditors, shareholders, and managers of major banks from the negative consequences of their sins than it’s done to protect bus drivers.

Next?

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Free to Die (Quickly)

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Obama Administration

Paul Krugman weighs in on Ron Paul’s “let ‘im die” sympathies.

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.

Now, there are two things you should know about the Blitzer-Paul exchange. The first is that after the crowd weighed in, Mr. Paul basically tried to evade the question, asserting that warm-hearted doctors and charitable individuals would always make sure that people received the care they needed — or at least they would if they hadn’t been corrupted by the welfare state. Sorry, but that’s a fantasy. People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have — and sometimes they die as a result.

The second is that very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical individual who could and should have bought insurance. In reality, most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions.

Krugman goes on to argue that the “moralists” of the Right think it is more moral to allow the poor, even poor children, to die, than to subsidize any part of health care with taxpayer dollars. This include poor children, as witnessed by the fight over S-Chip.

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Stuff to Read

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Obama Administration

Ezra Klein, “Why libertarianism fails in health care.” Ezra points out that a former campaign manager of Ron Paul’s died of pneumonia without health insurance because he had a pre-existing condition and couldn’t get insurance. Ezra also makes the point that many people who receive health care are not in a position to refuse it. For example, if you are hit by a bus you may wake up six months later with a $600,000 hospital bill. I also think someone should ask Paul if he’d let a two-year-old die because his parents don’t have insurance.

Paul Krugman on the squeezed middle class.

More on the Brooklyn special election — “Jewish voters switched to GOP over NY same-sex marriage, Israel.” It wasn’t about President Obama. Everybody stop panicking.

Michael Klare, “America’s Oil Fueled Collapse.”

Another court decision about religious indoctrination in public school classrooms has the Religious Right throwing itself a pity party. I explain on the other blog.

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Brooklyn Bombs

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Obama Administration

I will defer to Nate Silver’s analysis of the special election in Brooklyn yesterday. See also Steve M., who knows that district a lot better than I do.

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