Monthly Archives: November 2008

Center Right, Liberal, Moderate: The Vapidity of Labels

With its devastating loss three weeks ago, the GOP’s mantra has been, “Still, we are a ‘center right’ country.”   They draw that conclusion, in part, by pointing to polls that show only 22% of voters identify themselves as liberal, while 34% say they are conservative and 44% are moderate (read “center”).

What these poll results and the losers’ neat description of the U.S electorate tell us is this:  Absolutely nothing.

What is a liberal?  Is it my wife, who calls herself a liberal, but supports capital punishment and opposes gun control?  Is it one of her friends who is liberal about every social issue in the book, but being in the upper echelon of income earners, goes apoplectic about higher taxes?

Isn’t it conservative to believe the government should not be in our bedroom or a hospital room, or that our foreign entanglements should be measured?

And who exactly is a moderate?  Can you imagine a moderate saying that gays should have the right to live their love with the same rights as traditional marriages that fail 50% of the time?  Or would a moderate believe that marriage is only for a man and a woman?  Would today’s moderate believe that the rich, whose marginal tax rate has fallen from 90% (during the 50s when our economy was booming) be offended if people making a quarter million dollars a year pay another percent or two (and less than 35%)?   Or would a moderate say if government were more efficient, it could do with less of our money?  Would a moderate object to torture as a national policy or believe that sometimes we need to take extraordinary measures to protect our country?

I don’t know.  Do you?

The idea that we can make assumptions on what a legislative agenda should be based on what people call themselves is ludicrous.  

Most of this post was written last night.  This morning I awoke to this analysis in The Washington Post. It covers some of the arguments I make here.  But it concludes that it will be Obama’s success or lack thereof that determines if we move right or left.  It suggests that this election was transformational and cites the attitudes of young people as evidence.

In the 2007 [University of California at Los Angeles graduate school of education poll of more than 270,000 first-year students], three-fourths of the students said the United States needs “a national health care plan . . . to cover everybody’s medical costs.” Nearly 57 percent favored legalized abortion. Six in 10 said they thought “wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes than they do now.” Two-thirds said they believed “same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status.” Eighty percent said “the federal government is not doing enough to control environmental pollution.”

The article goes on to describe these students as “more liberal” than non-college educated young people and suggests we are moving towards being a “center left” nation.

I would argue, however, that most of the views cited above are not radical leftist positions.  Today, they are more moderate positions.  Are they center left?  Perhaps.  But not because we have decided to call ourselves leftists and leave the past behind.

We have evolved, the radical right’s prohibition against evolution notwithstanding.

It is not so much that we have transformed ourselves.  Rather, we are seeking new solutions as the old ones, cloaked in “right-wing” ideology, have failed us.

What has and will change over time is likely not the percentage of people who call themselves conservatives or liberal.  I would be surprised if those 22, 34, 44 numbers change, even if Obama succeeds with his policies prescriptions. 

All that will change is how we define them.

The smartest politicians with power (read Democrats) will be those who seek real solutions they can sell to the public.  Initially, those prescriptions might be considered leftist.  If the GOP opposes those solutions and then gains power, their solutions will be considered right wing. 

But no matter how they are now perceived, if those solutions succeed over time, they will be described as “moderate.” 

Stunned Silent: The McCain Campaign and the Media

or How the Blind Led the Blind

I am stunned silent at the silence of the McCain campaign’s media gurus, who later were stunned after the Katie Couric interview with Sarah Palin.  According to reports, they thought it would be a walk in the woods because the interviewer was a woman.  So they didn’t prepare Palin.  They gave her nary an encouraging word.  Which contradicts earlier stories that Palin refused prep work.  I wonder if the McCain PR wonder boys and girls also thought because Couric had suggested earlier than Hillary Clinton received sexist treatment, the CBS anchor would lob questions underhand for Palin. 

Of course, Couric overpowered Palin, though not with fastballs.  Asking what papers you read shouldn’t be a hard question.  Which, because they already knew after the Charlie Gibson interview that Palin wasn’t going to challenge Henry Kissinger to a game of Foreign Policy Trivial Pursuit, makes it the more incredible that they didn’t prepare her.  They had to know at least the minimum Couric guaranteed them in air time, and prepared accordingly.  Even if it was initially only going to be a one-time airing, after CBS uncovered the goldmine that is Sarah, they would have quickly figured they had a long-running series on their hands, though unsure if it was comedy or tragedy.

They could have given one or two choices, and taught her how to deliver in as humble yet encouraging voice as she had, of answers for foreign policy questions that allowed her to pivot away from her obvious lack of knowledge.  They could have prepped her with an answer about how she learns to give reassurance that she, well, has learned something before.  She has shown that she can read, a speech at least.  It wouldn’t have been an easy prep session, but they could have taught her how to recall the two or three key messages she wanted to deliver and frame the other answer in those messages.  Hell, at the very least, they could have helped her know when to shut up.  Her biggest problem wasn’t just her lack of knowledge but that she seemed so willing to share it all with us.

The condescension and the sexism the McCain brain trust displayed toward Couric aside, this was a remarkably clueless group, message wise. 




Chris Cuomo Doesn’t Take No for an Answer from William Ayers

ABC anchor Chris Cuomo, perhaps trying to prove he’s not a Democratic flak given his family heritage, keeps coming at William Ayers, the 60s radical who became a bogeyman in the election, in their “Good Morning America” interview.  Cuomo clearly wouldn’t take no for an answer to the question, “Was Ayers a close friend and confidant of Obama?”  The first question wasn’t even a question, it was an accusation.

First question: “You did have a meaningful relationship with Barack Obama, didn’t you?”

Ayers says he knows Obama like thousands of other people know him and wish he knew him better.  So Cuomo plows ahead.

2nd question:  “But thousands of people were not asked to start his political career in their home.  That’s an intimacy.”

When Ayers says he was asked by a state senator to host a coffee and that was the first time Ayers met Obama , Cuomo was undeterred.

3rd question:  Cuomo then says that Ayers called Obama a “family friend” and that signifies something of “a closer relationship.”

Ayers then says that “family friend” alludes not to how he characterized the relationship but how the blogosphere did.  Cuomo presses on.

4th question:  “There seems an evasiveness here….Someone’s in your home, you’re introducing them…Certainly, you must have gotten to know Barack Obama before you did that.  Didn’t you?”

Ayers again says no.

5th question:  “But when you’re measuring the content of a man’s character…Certain information about his friendship slash coffee slash association with a man who has the history that you have…You must understand how that can be a concern.”  Note  how Cuomo accepts the GOP characterization that if Ayers had a coffee for Obama, there must be a closer association. 

Ayers calls the narrative dishonest. 

6th question: Cuomo cuts him off and says, “The relevance here is that Obama is campaigning to be president.”  Cuomo then goes on to make the analogy that if McCain had a coffee of the home of someone who had bombed an abortion clinic, “you don’t think that would be relevant?”

Ayers says no again and that the analogy doesn’t hold.

7th question:  “Clearly you have to understand the sensitivity.  You can’t say that someone is a family friend, have them in your house trying to launch their political career and then say this is nothing.  Because you make it sound like it’s something by saying it’s nothing.”  (Figure that last line out and you win the kewpee doll.)

Ayers, in again saying he didn’t know him, says you have to admire that Obama is willing to talk to people of different views is a good thing.  Another opening for Cuomo.

8th question:  “But then you have to come clean and say that I’m one of those people.  Cuomo then goes on to suggest that Obama sought out Ayers to discuss his radical ideas.

Ayers denies that and then interview ends — and without asking if Ayers still beats his wife.

If there is any more evidence of mainstream journalism’s descent into the world of Matt Drudge, here it is.

Tom Friedman for President

At least that’s the view of Mark Haines, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk On the Street, after the New York Times columnist gave an impassioned political argument (at end of segment) for a carbon tax.

Friedman has been everywhere the past few days.  I’ve seen him on The Daily Show, Hardball and on CNBC to make the argument that responsibility for the U.S. automakers’ problems should be largely shared by Michigan lawmakers who have for years bent to the will of whatever the automakers and the unions wanted, rarely challenging them to insist on higher fuel mileage and less onerous labor packages.

According to an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Ingrassia this morning  on NPR’s Morning Edition, non-American automakers are successfully running plants in the U.S. while paying salaries and benefits comparable to what the Big Three offer.  They are not union shops, however.  According to Ingrassia, they save money by having more flexible work rules and co-pays and deductibles in their health care plans.

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, one of my favorite whipping boys as the guy who drove Home Depot into a ditch and was rewarded with a $240 million golden parachute, is certainly one who should be replaced if taxpayers bail out the automakers.  Friedman and Ingrassia think not just the CEOs, but top management and the boards of directors, should be replaced if government rescues bails them.  At the very least.  There also needs to be government oversight of the plan moving forward.  Remember, taxpayers already bailed out Chrysler once, and here they are with a failed leader showing the light to oblivion.

But unions will also need to make concessions.

One of the greatest challenges for the Obama administration will be to reform unions.  Friedman in the interview this morning wasn’t willing to take on the unions.  I’ve always been a fan of the working man and would like to see unions strengthen and expand.  But they must be reasonable and recognize the changes in global market.  They need to look to how they can sustain the industry, and hence their jobs, rather than leap from contract to contract trying to sustain the status quo. 

New GOP Idea: Lower Taxes!

Editors Note:  Sorry for the dearth of posts lately.  You would think that after the election of a lifetime, I’d have something to say about it.  Alas, immediately after the election I had hand surgery, leaving my editorial voice silent.  Though still in a cast for the next five weeks, I’m again able to type without pain.


Eugene Robinson’s column yesterday alludes to what many pundits have discussed this past week:  the GOP’s need for some new ideas.  The party is on message that this election was not an endorsement of a new left direction.  We are, as they say in unison, a “center-right” country.  Isn’t it interesting that when the GOP wins an election by a fraction of one percent, it is a mandate for change, but when Democrats win one by 6 points, no realignment is warranted?

I don’t begrudge the GOP’s right to spin.  In fact, I admire their tenacity and shamelessness.  In the week since their world was turned upside down, the right, not surprisingly, has attacked President-elect Obama’s ideas.  But when asked for a better idea, they resort to the tried and true “cut taxes.”

Well, we tried that at the beginning of President Bush’s first term, and it didn’t turn out so well, did it?  And even the most ardent supporters of John McCain would be excused for thinking that that’s an old idea that doesn’t exactly position the GOP as being a creative group.  In fact, in light of lower taxes being perceived as an idea that doesn’t work for the middle class, the GOP risks being viewed as simply selfish and greedy.

I agree that the election, as it was conducted by the Obama campaign, cannot be viewed as a desire to return to the liberal ideas of the Great Society.  But despite Obama’s call for a middle class tax cut, I get the feeling that an extra thousand bucks in their pocket was not the reason they pulled the lever for the first black president.  The electorate is not stupid.  A thousand dollars is always welcomed, but it won’t put the retirement fund on autopilot.  It won’t pay for a four-year college degree.  And it won’t cover much of a health disaster.

Instead, voters decided that tax cuts aren’t the big answer for the big questions.  In fact, there is no indisputable research that tax cuts spur the economy.  You can find studies on both sides of the issue, and each side can find anecdotes for their arguments.  But the proof is elusive. 

With the results at hand, we can excuse Americans for thinking that tax cuts are a stale idea.  Again, nice to have, but not a panacea.  I’ve often wondered why Democrats haven’t offered this meme:

The Republicans cut your taxes $500 and then raise your gasoline prices $700 a year.  They cut your taxes $1,000 and then raise your health premiums $1500 a year.  They cut your taxes $1400 and then raise the cost of tuition $3,000 a year.

Maybe the electorate is catching up with the shell game.  In a recent survey by the AP, “People want the tax cuts promised during the presidential campaign, but they may be willing to wait while President-elect Obama takes on the larger issue of fixing the economy.”  Instead, more than twice as many people want to fix the economy and create more jobs.  The GOP will tell you tax cuts do just that, but the public isn’t buying it.

How much taxes we’re paying is not as important as getting the bang for the tax bucks we spend.  That’s the real issue.  If paying another $500 in taxes saves us $2,000 in expenses, then we’d be crazy not to take that deal.  Our challenge is not to cut taxes to the bone, but rather to make government work efficiently. 

There is little question people want government to help them.  That’s the message of this election.  How we do that is open to debate, a debate to which the GOP must contribute new ideas if it is to remain viable.  “Cut taxes,” isn’t new and isn’t getting traction.