Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

The End Of The Road?

As regular readers of this blog know, I was for 35 years an active member of a political party that no longer exists. I was a Republican. Virtually everyone I worked with in Republican politics during those years has now left the GOP, and none of us recognize what is left.

Recently, Steve Schmidt, the former GOP strategist who ran John McCain’s Presidential Campaign, predicted the demise of the cult that is today’s Republican Party. 

The die is cast for the Republican Party. It will be destroyed on January 6th in much the same way the Whig party was destroyed by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The act unraveled the Missouri compromise and allowed for the westward expansion of slavery.

“The party could not survive its factionalism. There could be no more accommodation, compromise and partnership between pro-slavery and anti-slavery Whigs. A new political party was born, the Republican Party. That party will divide into irreconcilable factions on January 6th.

Schmidt’s choice of tomorrow–January 6th– followed the announcement that several  Republican Senators plan to object to that chamber’s scheduled acceptance of November’s electoral votes (but before leakage of the taped conversation in which Trump tried to pressure the Georgia Secretary of State to fraudulently change that state’s vote total). 

The poisonous fruit from four years of collaboration and complicity with Trump’s insanity, illiberalism and incompetence are ready for harvest.

It will kill the GOP because its pro-democracy faction and autocratic factions can no more exist together then could the Whig Party hold together the abolitionist with the slave master….Fascism has indeed come to America and as was once predicted. It is wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. 

The question, of course, is how many “pro-democracy” Republicans remain in today’s GOP.

Schmidt’s prediction of a split is buttressed by a lengthy critique issued by Senator Ben Sasse, aimed at dishonorable Senators like Hawley, Cruz and Braun. Sasse explained why he was refusing to participate in that project to overturn the election – and why he was urging his colleagues to reject what he called “this dangerous ploy.”

The letter is a quite long, and I urge readers to click through and read the whole thing. But here is a brief summary of the important points he raises:

  • There is no factual or legal basis for the protest.
  • There is no evidence of voter fraud significant enough to change the results. (Here, he includes a state-by-state analysis of claims and the lawsuits dismissing them.)
  • The claims that Trump’s lawyers make in public don’t match the claims made to courts, because opponents of the results aren’t really conducting a legal challenge–they are fundraising. “Since Election Day, the president and his allied organizations have raised well over half a billion (billion!) dollars from supporters who have been led to believe that they’re contributing to a ferocious legal defense. But in reality, they’re mostly just giving the president and his allies a blank check that can go to their super-PACs, their next plane trip, their next campaign or project.”
  • The Senators participating in this travesty do so despite knowing better. “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will “look” to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”

Sasse then points to the damage being done by “ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.”

But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government…

All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided.

Sasse has been one of the very few GOP lawmakers willing to “talk the talk” (although he has often proved unwilling to “walk the walk” with his votes.) Mitt Romney did criticize the arsonists for allowing ambition to eclipse principle, and Sen. Pat Toomey accused Cruz and Hawley– by name– of subverting American democracy. Even Tom Cotton and Liz Cheney have criticized the ploy, but I’m unaware of other current GOP officeholders who have done so.

Following disclosure of Trump’s stunning and illegal phone call, will any other Republican incumbents be willing to disavow the cowards, incompetents, would-be fascists and institutional arsonists who currently control the GOP? 

I guess we’ll find out.

 

 

Mencken Didn’t Go Far Enough

A quotation by H.L. Mencken has been a recurring favorite on my Facebook feed since 2016. Famously curmudgeonly (is that a word?), Mencken wrote that

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

The Trump Administration has fulfilled Mencken’s prophecy, but his prediction arguably didn’t go far enough. Those “plain folks” who elevated the “downright moron” have also saddled the other branches of government with a wide assortment of defective/dishonest incompetents.

There’s a tried-and-true assortment of ignorant racists in Congress. There’s Louie Gohmert, perfectly described by Charles Pierce as “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Steve King finally lost his seat, but Jim Jordan is still there. And of course, there’s Devin Nunes, who memorably sued a cow...There’s no dearth of candidates for the dubious honor of “dimmest lawmaker.”

The Washington Post recently ran a column by Dana Milbank that should have embarrassed newly elected Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. However, Tuberville and those who voted for him appear immune to embarrassment, since the emotion requires recognition of what constitutes an embarrassing defect.

Tuberville — or “Tubs,” from his college football coaching days — is the Republican senator-elect from Alabama, and he’s proposing to object to the election results in the Senate on Jan. 6. Trump exulted: “Great senator.

Problem is, Tubs, if he were a Democrat, is what Trump might call a “low-IQ individual.” In their wisdom, the voters of Alabama chose to replace Democrat Doug Jones, who prosecuted the Birmingham church bombing, with a man who recently announced his discovery that there are “three branches of government,” namely, “the House, the Senate and the executive.”
  
He further informed the newspaper that “in 2000 Al Gore was president, United States, president-elect, for 30 days.” (Actual number of days Gore spent as president-elect: zero.)

Evidently, “Tubs” was able to avoid debates and interviews during the campaign. He did, however, issue a few statements transmitting a variety of his less-than-well-founded beliefs. When asked about his denial of climate change, he explained that “only God can change climate.” In response to a question about the opiod epidemic, he responded that “it isn’t just opioids, it’s also heroin.”

There’s more:

On health care: “We don’t have the answer until we go back to open up being a capitalistic health-care system where we have more than one insurance company.” (There are 952 health insurers in the United States.)

On education: “We’ve taken God out of the schools and we’ve replaced the schools with metal detectors.”

 Tubs has declared his desire to serve on the Senate “banking finance” committee, apparently unaware that banking and finance are separate committees — and that he is ineligible to serve on banking because Alabama’s senior Republican senator already does.

Milbank characterized Tuberville’s Senate campaign as “a magical voyage of discovery.” Tuberville had been unaware of a little Senate prerogative called “advice and consent,” or the existence and purpose of the Voting Rights Act–despite its centrality to years of public debate. 

As Milbank notes, as long as there are mental giants like Tuberville, “Trumpism will remain.” Trumpism, in this iteration, contains equal amounts of ignorance and venality; 
 when his business partner in a hedge fund pled guilty to fraud, Tuberville claimed he didn’t know anything. (Given his general performance, the assertion was convincing.) He also set up a foundation purportedly to help veterans, but veterans got only a third of the money raised.

As a candidate, Tubs offered exotic views on why rural hospitals closed (“because we don’t have Internet”), on impeachment (“I’ve been trying to keep up with it but it’s so hard”) and on constitutional democracy (“We’d probably get more done with just the president running this country. So let the Democrats go home”).

Alabama voters–who twice made Roy Moore the Chief Justice of their state Supreme Court– evidently epitomize the “plain folks” of Mencken’s observation.

Actually, it may be time to amend that Mencken prediction. It should read “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and they will be governed  almost entirely by morons.”

 

 

 

Give Him Credit For Consistency…

Give Trump credit for one thing: he’s consistent. He has gone through a year of campaigning and four years with the title of President without learning much of anything about effective political strategy or even how government operates. He has remained fixated on one thing and one thing only: himself.

As Americans have been treated to yet another in a tiresome stream of Presidential hissy-fits–this time, about affixing his signature to a document negotiated by his own administration–we’ve once again allowed a Trumpian tantrum to distract from a very interesting provision contained in the National Defense Authorization Act that he vetoed at about the same time. His explanation for that veto–the first time ever that an NDAA has been vetoed–was that it included a provision requiring the renaming of military bases that are currently named for confederate generals, in what I’m sure he agrees was a war of northern aggression…

Heather Cox Richardson pointed to what was likely the real sticking point.

It includes a measure known as the Corporate Transparency Act, which undercuts shell companies and money laundering in America. The act requires the owners of any company that is not otherwise overseen by the federal government (by filing taxes, for example, or through close regulation) to file a report that identifies each person associated with the company who either owns 25% or more of it or exercises substantial control over it. That report, including name, birthdate, address, and an identifying number, goes to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The measure also increases penalties for money laundering and streamlines cooperation between banks and foreign law enforcement authorities.

America is currently the easiest place in the world for criminals to form an anonymous shell company which enables them to launder money, evade taxes, and engage in illegal payoff schemes. The measure will pull the rug out from both domestic and international criminals that take advantage of shell companies to hide from investigators…

As Richardson points out, the ability to use shell companies to mask what is really going on means America’s political system is awash in secrecy. The Donald almost certainly wants to keep it that way.

We know that the Trump family has embraced the use of shell companies. Michael Cohen used such a shell company to pay off Stormy Daniels. Media outlets have recently reported that Jared Kushner created a shell company that allowed Trump to secretly spend more than $600 million in campaign funds. New York prosecutors have been investigating a number of other money-laundering accusations–many including Deutsche Bank, where officers managing his accounts recently resigned.

Not only would the Corporate Transparency Act make shell company shenanigans illegal going forward, its provisions would apply to existing entities. As Richardson writes,

Congress needs to repass the NDAA over Trump’s veto—indeed it is likely that the CTA was included in this measure precisely because the NDAA is must-pass legislation—and both the CTA and the NDAA bill into which is it tucked have bipartisan support. Trump has objected to a number of things in the original bill but has not publicly complained about the CTA in it. It will be interesting to see if Congress repasses this bill in its original form and, if not, what changes it makes.

Follow the money…

 

 

Atwater’s Explanation Still Applies

I believe it was Tallyrand who said “Man was given speech to disguise his thoughts, and words to disguise his eyes.” Had he been a contemporary American, he’d have been an enthusiastic Republican.

The late, legendary campaign consultant Lee Atwater once explained how Republicans won the vote of racists by manipulating language:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Nowadays, the economic linguistic game revolves around “socialism.” It took me a long time to realize that it’s the same game.

As an article in TNR noted,

to hear Republicans tell it, virtually everything government does is socialism; it is utterly foreign to the United States, and it cannot be implemented without imposing tyranny on the American people, along with poverty and deprivation such as we see today in Venezuela, where socialism allegedly destroyed the country.

It’s necessary to label and distort, to hide the real message, because many of the programs that trigger GOP hysteria over “socialism” are wildly popular: Medicare and Social Security come to mind. (Others are expected government services. As one friend noted on Facebook when it began to snow, “Look out for those socialist snowplows!”)

If GOP pundits and policymakers really wanted to discuss economics, rather than hide their actual motives, they would define their terms. They don’t, so allow me.

Socialism is generally what we call mixed economies where the social safety net is much broader and the tax burden somewhat higher than in the U.S. (Not as much higher as most think, actually)—Scandinavian countries are an example. The terminology tends to obscure the fact that most of those countries also maintain thriving private sector capitalist markets. 

Republicans misuse of the term also obscures the considerable amount of socialism enjoyed by wealthy Americans. A system that privatizes profits and socializes losses is hardly free-market capitalism. It’s socialism for the rich and brutal capitalism for the poor.

Socialism isn’t Communism. Communists believe that equality is defined by equal results. All property is owned communally, by everyone (hence the term “communism”). In practice, this meant that all property was owned by the government, ostensibly on behalf of the people. In theory, communism erases all class distinctions, and wealth is redistributed so that everyone gets the same share.  In practice, the government controls the means of production and most individual decisions are made by the state. Since the quality and quantity of work is divorced from reward, there is less incentive to innovate or produce, and ultimately, countries that have tried to create a communist system have collapsed (the USSR) or moved toward a more mixed economy (China).

Socialism isn’t Fascism. Some of our dimmer policymakers like to say that Nazi Germany was “Socialist” because fascism was sometimes called “national Socialism,” however the two are very different. In fascist systems, the nation is elevated—a fervent nationalism (MAGA?) is central to fascist philosophy. Although there is nominally private property, government controls business decisions. Fascist regimes tend to be focused upon a (glorious) past, and to insist upon traditional class structures and gender roles as necessary to maintain the social order.

The biggest problem with turning words into epithets, or using them to veil our real meaning isn’t just that it’s intellectually dishonest; it’s because labeling and dismissing avoids the conversations we ought to be having.

For one thing, the use of economic language to obscure real motives has left the U.S. with the most dysfunctional–and expensive– delivery of health care in the developed world.

The basic question in any economic system is: what should government do, and what should be left to the private sector? Another way to put that is: what services should be supplied communally? We “socialize” police and fire protection, provision of most physical infrastructure, and numerous other services–parks, garbage collection, schools, those snow plows–because it is fairer, more efficient and/or more cost-effective to do so. Those decisions don’t turn us into Venezuela.

When you deconstruct it, the GOP opposition to programs they label “socialism” is explained perfectly by  Atwater’s admission. White Republican Americans are unwilling to have their taxes benefit “those people.”

 

 

Very Interesting…

Most of us of a “certain age” remember Arte Johnson’s Laugh In character who would emerge from undergrowth at points in the show and declaim “Veery interesting!”

A reader sent me a column that elicited a similar sentiment from me as it had from him. He wanted to know whether the legal points being raised were accurate. As I indicated, it’s an area far beyond what expertise I still–or ever–had, but I promised to do a bit of research.

The article itself, titled “Who’s Afraid of Mitch McConnell,” asserted that even in the absence of wins in Georgia, Kamala Harris has authority under the Constitution to call on any senator who will call up one of the numerous bills on which McConnell has refused to allow  a vote. Lawyers who read this blog can click on the link and draw their own conclusions.

I did some limited research, but Dr. Google let me down, so I turned to a couple of lawyers I know, who met my very stringent criteria: they had to be good lawyers, they had to be politically savvy, and they had to be nice people who were likely to humor me. (So–one of my sons and a friend who is really, really smart. Both named David.)

That friend summed up the problem with the article’s thesis thusly:

Certainly not my area of expertise, but I see three problems with the analysis.

First, custom becomes rule. The idea that a VP could come in and do this without a massive response is pie-in-the-sky. The pushback would come from Democrats as well as Republicans, protecting Senate privilege and custom from interference from the Executive.

Second, it ignores the elephant in the room, cloture. Even if Harris could do this, it still takes 60 votes to stop debate, and Republicans not only have them, but such a strong-armed move would guarantee a complete shut down of the Senate, with no negotiation or compromise.

And third, it assumes today’s Republicans are capable of shame. The idea that bringing a vote to the floor would change their behavior is akin to assuming that putting a bow on a rabid pit bull will make it a poodle.

My son was–if possible–even more negative. His comment (edited slightly for profanities–he takes after his mother):

I agree with David. I would add (as I mentioned on the FB page of the guy who circulated this point a few weeks ago) that the ONLY thing the applicable clause of the Constitution says about VP and Senate is that the VP is the President of the Senate and gets NO vote unless the body is evenly divided…. hardly a textual position of strength to argue that the VP can come in and dictate who gets to preside and run the show.  

Also, the argument is somewhat internally contradictory — on the one hand, the Constitution grants her sweeping powers to override longstanding, informal rules, on the other hand, the VP’s “priority recognition”-power IS one of those informal rules. 

Of course, all the other practical/political/prudential reasons David noted are also at work.   

I think it’s a fantasy, particularly in a world where EVEN IF Dems retake the Senate by winning both Dem seats in Georgia, f***ers like Manchin and Feinstein stand ready to kill any attempt to even soften the Filibuster that would defang McConnell.   

Actually, his last sentence suggests his current mood, and may indicate a need for intervention–or at least, strong drink:

The country is doomed. The sooner we all move away, the more peace of mind we’ll have. 

It would be lovely if the Constitution or some other part of the legal system had a shortcut we could use to repair what is broken. It doesn’t. We have a lot of work ahead of us–and failure to do that work would doom the American experiment.