Is our President learning?

3 Nov

Dear Mr. President:

Your party just got clobbered in the election, and yet you don’t seem to have learned anything. Today you said that you are willing to work with the Republicans and look for common ground. For the last 22 months of your administration, these Republicans have shown you repeatedly that they are not willing to work with you. They don’t have any interest in anything except making you a one-term president.

Please, Mr. President, please stop this insane behavior. Your message today should have been forceful and direct:

Two years ago, the American people elected me to bring change to Washington and to how we do things in this nation. Since then, we have not done as much as we needed to do, and the American people have taken their frustrations out on their elected representatives. This has caused a change in the leadership of the House of Representatives.

Let there be no mistake, however. This administration was elected with a mandate. I am willing to work with the Republican leadership so long as their agenda advances the mandate I was given. If the Republicans are truly willing to work in a bipartisan manner, we can accomplish many things.

But if the Republicans plan to simply undo the progress of the last two years, then they will be the ones who have to explain to the American people in two years why things have not gotten better. We will not go backward to the policies that caused our economy to collapse. We will not enact irresponsible and unaffordable tax cuts. I will veto any legislation that runs contrary to the interests of the American people and the mandate they handed me in 2008.

For the sake of this country, please stop treating these Republicans like they will act responsibly. The American people do not want bipartisanship and cooperation over jobs and a better economy. They want things to get better. If the Republicans aren’t willing to make things better for the nation, it’s up to you to call them on the carpet about it.

Candidate Obama would do it. Will President Obama?

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Some reasons why Democrats lost yesterday

3 Nov

1. The Citizens United decision last year from the Supreme Court let corporations funnel millions of dollars into advertising for and against candidates. A handful of organizations, such as 60 Plus, were able to take those dollars and run ads under their own label. We have no idea who was actually funding the ads.

2. The Democrats ran against themselves. When they were under attack–especially false attacks–they did not rebut the claims. For example, Democrats were accused of voting for a “government takeover of health care.” They didn’t respond, and people interpret that inaction as an admission. They should have simply said, “One, it’s not a government take over of health care. Your doctors, your hospitals, are not going to become government employees. Two, it’s simply a requirement that everyone be insured. Three, whatever imperfections, the health care reform was better than the alternative: doing nothing.”

3. The Democrats did not run on their record. No mention of financial reform. No mention of the jobs created by the stimulus bill (at least a million jobs–how hard is it to say “unemployment would have been worse”?).

4. The Democrats did not have a theme. A soundbite like, “My opponent and her party drove this economy into the ground before 2008. We can’t afford to give them the keys to the car again,” would have done wonders.

5. The White House (I’m talking to you, Mr. President) sat this race out until the very end. Mr. Obama should have been campaigning for Democratic congressional candidates since May, using good messages (such as my idea in No. 4, above).

6. The DNC abandoned the 50-state strategy that Howard Dean implemented despite criticism from other party leaders. The strategy paid off in the 2008 election.

So, where do we go from here?

The White House must realize that it cannot compromise with the extreme Republicans in the House leadership. Reaching across the aisle will accomplish nothing. Senate Minority Leader McConnell is on the record saying that the Republicans’ number one goal is to make sure President Obama does not win re-election. That doesn’t sound like someone who is willing to work with you, Mr. President.

Democrats have to start thinking about the 2012 election–and the 2014, 2016, and 2018 elections as well. The opposition is doing that already. Democrats must look at the example of the Republicans after the Goldwater drubbing. The right wing that backed Goldwater put their heads together and developed a long range plan. They didn’t plan to win just two years later–they planned to build a movement that would provide a long series of Republican wins: Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Congressional takeover in 1994 that lasted until 2006, and 2010. They put together a set of principles that became a mantra: government is the problem and taxes must be cut. They repeat that every election cycle.

The Democrats have no principles that they can make into a mantra. There are some excellent ideas out there (I highly recommend the Bill Scher book linked to there), but nothing coming from the party leaders.

The one thing the Democrats cannot do is assume that they lost because they were not moderate enough. The conservadem Blue Dogs lost about half of their members last night. While not conclusive, those losses strongly suggest that being a Blue Dog is not the answer. After all, as Harry Truman once said, “If you give the people a choice between a watered-down Republican and a Republican, they will choose the real thing every time.”

As discouraging as last night’s losses are, it’s no time to whine about how badly Democrats were beaten. It’s time to get up, brush the dust off, and start fighting back.

Good news and bad news

28 Sep

Results from a recent survey are out, and they contain some good news and not so good news. The survey has nothing to do with politics in this election season. Rather, it has to do with knowledge of religion in the U.S.

What I found encouraging is that 89% of the people surveyed know that public school teachers cannot lead their students in prayer. Still encouraging, though less so, is that 68% of the people surveyed know that the U.S. Constitution says the government cannot establish a religion nor can it interfere with one’s religious beliefs. It is discouraging, though, that less than a third know that public school teachers can read from a religious work such as the Koran or the Bible as examples of literature or teach a class on comparative religions.

I have long felt that the public largely misunderstands what the First Amendment allows and doesn’t allow. For example, I encountered a group of college students who thought that the law would not permit a public display of the Ten Commandments. They did not realize that a public display of the Commandments on private land is perfectly legal, while the same display on public land has constitutional problems. People often think, incorrectly, that public school students cannot pray in school. Nothing prevents a student from saying a silent prayer before lunch or before a difficult exam.

Often, I find myself thinking cynically that these sorts of misunderstandings are fostered by certain groups as a way of gathering supporters and donations. There are apocryphal stories of students who are told not to wear a watch with the face of Jesus on it, but further digging reveals the student was told to leave the watch home because she kept setting off the musical alarm and disrupting the class. If a student is being told to leave a watch at home solely because it is a religious watch, then I’ll be the first to represent her against the school.

The misinformation in this nation about church and state is frustrating, but we cannot lose hope. Religion flourishes in the U.S. because of our First Amendment, not in spite of it. As long as we can keep our government out of religions–and our religions out of government–we will continue to do quite nicely (on that part of our culture, anyway). If we can cut down on the misinformation, that would be a big help.

Galileo was right–accept it and move on

27 Sep

Just when you thought things could not get any crazier…I learned over the weekend that South Bend is going to be the location of the first conference on geocentrism. For those who aren’t aware, geocentrism is the belief/argument/position that the Earth is the center of, well, everything. Despite hundreds of years of actual, empirical science, these folks maintain that the sun, the planets, the galaxy all revolve around the earth. The conference bills itself as a Catholic conference, but I think the Vatican observatory would disagree with the conferees’ papers and presentations.

It seems likely that the geocentrists are an offshoot or subset of the creationists. Either way, it’s disturbing that Americans’ ability to reason critically has fallen to this low level. There are people who still believe that the earth is flat. Sadly, I bet the local media covers this conference and thus gives legitimacy to the group’s views–all in the name of telling “both sides” of the story. Never mind that one of the “sides” is demonstrably wrong and is a fringe of a fringe movement.

The real challenge here is that these folks are not likely to change their views, regardless of the facts. You cannot reason a person out of a position that he or she did not reason himself or herself into. And when the conference attendees point out that their position is “correct” because the Bible backs them up, there’s no way to even argue with them. All we can do is hope that they stay out of the science classrooms in our schools.

It’s the ineptitude, stupid

24 Sep

Every day there’s another news report in the NYTimes, on NPR, or some other news channel reminding us that Democratic voters are not very motivated this year. With the way the Congressional Democrats are behaving this week, it’s no wonder why.

At the end of this year, the 2001 Bush tax cuts are set to expire. (They will expire because the Republican-led Congress that passed the tax cuts used a parliamentary tool to prevent having to involve Democrats in the negotiations over the bill: put a time limit on the tax cuts, and the Dems could be ignored.) President Obama made it a campaign pledge that he would keep the tax cuts on the middle class. Implicitly, he would also let the tax cuts on the wealthiest of the wealthy–the top 1 or 2 percent–expire.

So here we are in 2010, with the Democrats facing a tough election season. Polls show overwhelming support for the President’s proposal: keep the tax cuts on couples making less than $250,000 a year (and individuals earning less than $200,000 a year), and let the other tax cuts expire. People around the country would benefit, yet the Britney Spearses, the Citibank executives, and others who have more money than sense would go back to the tax rates and levels they enjoyed under the Clinton tax cuts. It’s a sure way to tell voters that the Democrats are with them, not with the people on Wall Street.

Seems like a no brainer.

Unless you’re a Congressional Democrat. The leadership in both houses has decided that the vote on the Bush tax cuts will be delayed until after the election. Some Blue Dog Democrats (including my own Congressman, Joe Donnelly) don’t want to vote against the wealthy people before an election. So they managed to scuttle the whole deal.

This is going to backfire, of course. As one person over at Talking Points Memo put it, the Democrats have apparently decided they’d rather let the Republicans run ads saying “Democrats are going to raise everyone’s taxes” rather than ads saying “Democrats have raised taxes on the rich.”

Some bumbling idiots in the White House are pointing the finger at the GOP, accusing the often-obstructionist Republicans of obstructionism. The problem is, it won’t work this time: as a Republican pointed out yesterday, the Republicans can’t obstruct a piece of legislation that hasn’t even been brought forward yet.

At this point, I’ve had it with the Blue Dog Democrats. Some claim that the BDDs have to be BDDs in order to hang onto their seats in certain parts of the country. That’s a load of goat glop. Instead of making the case for good, sound, progressive government, they want to be able to claim they are “independent.” The fact that their “independence” means pushing policies that created this holy hellhole of an economic mess in the first place doesn’t seem to matter. “We back the Republicans’ economic plan, even though the numbers don’t add up.”

It’s all very discouraging. Barack Obama campaigned about real change, giving hope to millions of Americans. He helped get a huge Democratic majority in Congress, a bigger majority than George W. Bush ever had (and yet he still managed to get everything he wanted), and we can’t get squat done. Health care reform ends up being half baked. Sensible economic policies? A mediocre stimulus package that could have done so much more. The Democrats had the opportunity to show what they could do if given the chance, and they are blowing it. Big time.

I used to say that Republicans are very good at winning elections, but they are lousy at governing. The idea was that Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, but they can govern when in control. Today I feel like that whole concept has been shot to hell: the Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, and they are not good at governing, either. The Democratic National Committee might as well liquidate, close up shop, and let the staffers write their memoirs. At the rate we are going (and there’s virtually no time left to change things), Democrats will put themselves in the position of giving Republicans control of Congress and the White House for a long time to come.

Anyone need an American lawyer in Canada? Maybe Costa Rica?

A moral issue

23 Sep

I’ve been reading T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America lately. He opens the book by telling the story of a 32-year-old woman who was diagnosed with lupus. Her health insurance company canceled the policy, so she couldn’t get the treatments she needed. As a result, she died much sooner than she would have if she received medical treatments. Reid notes that other “first world” nations (Germany, the U.K., France, Japan, Switzerland, etc.) have different health care systems where the lupus victim would have received treatments she needed.

Reid creates an interesting frame for discussion: Other nations have made the decision that it is immoral to let people go without medical treatments they need, and that this immorality is worse than whatever problems might be caused by making sure everyone has real access to health care–whether it’s mandatory insurance, higher taxes, etc. Here in the U.S., however, we seem to have made the opposite moral choice: better to let some people die than deal with the negatives of a universal health care system.

I’m still working my way through the book, so I am not reaching any conclusions yet. The frame Reid has created, however, is disturbing. We’d better give this question some very serious thought.

Because facts don’t matter anymore…

22 Sep

There’s a group of “senior citizens” running ads against members of Congress who voted for the health care reform bill. Joe Donnelly is one of the targets of this ad campaign. I’m not Joe Donnelly’s biggest fan, but this kind of “voter education” makes my blood boil.

One of the statements made in the ad is that the bill cuts $500 million from Medicare.

True? Yes.

Misleading? Yes.

PolitiFact has the details. Is it a long article? Yes. But you can’t explain complicated legislation in a 30-second commercial. Shame on the “seniors” group for misleading voters.