Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

The Future of the Tea Party (cont.)

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Markos Moulitsas sees echoes of the rise of the progressive netroots in the Tea Party’s money bomb for Scott Brown (H/t Sullivan) – though he also sees its demand for ideological purity as different from the approach taken by Daily Kos and much of the rest of the progressive netroots. He seems to share with David Brooks the sense that the Tea Party Movement is here to stay.

I’m still not certain. This group seems so similar to the flare-up of similar sentiments from 1992 to 1994 – which was quashed finally by Bill Clinton’s fiscally responsible governance. The Obama administration – if the economy doesn’t enter into a double-dip recession – will try to steer a similar path.

My bet is that the Tea Party will only gain momentum – and have any relevance beyond 2010 if the economy doesn’t rebound.

Health Care Reform and Its Unintended Consequences

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I said I was going to make a point of noting solid criticisms of the Obama administration by mainstream conservatives and right wingers.

Mona Charen of the National Review wrote a solid piece that didn’t resort to blatant falsehoods as far as I could tell that made a solid case against health care reform. Her basic point is that she doesn’t trust the Democrats:

Every single page [of the health care bill] proclaims something that is dubious — that the Democrats know what they are doing.

Rather than talking about death panels, she points out that electronic recordkeeping has overwhelmed doctors with information they are not used to having to sort through – and thus has made hospitals less efficient. (She cites no study, but it is certainly plausible that this would be a short term effect.) Preventive care, she explains, while probably saving lives could end up costing more – as “more and more of us are tested for more and more diseases.”

Her big point is that this health care reform is “brought to you by the same people” who brought you Medicare and Medicaid – and that the costs of these programs were vastly underestimated. As she points out:

In 1965, Congress predicted that by 1990, Medicare would be costing $12 billion. The actual cost — $90 billion.

Long term forecasts of government spending – or really anything – are a fool’s game, and Charen is right to point this out. On a macroeconomic level, there are too many factors to take into account – and that’s not even counting “black swans” that change everything. In this case, the major factor causing the government health care costs to be so off was the explosion of health care inflation in the 1980s which has only gotten worse since. But it’s not clear that Medicare or Medicaid played any role in this – especially as their costs have been below that of private insurance.

Bill Clinton made a similar point to Charen’s yesterday in trying to make the case for why the health care reform should be passed:

There is no perfect bill because there are always unintended consequences…

Yet, Clinton maintained:

The worst thing to do is nothing.

As Steven Pearlstein writing for the Washington Post described the price of doing nothing (and was later echoed by Barack Obama):

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing…

This is the answer Democrats give to the sensible concerns of Charen and those like her: there inherent uncertainty in any attempt to change a macroeconomic trend, but given where we are headed if we do nothing, it’s worth trying.

The only other option is to give up.

This is exactly the sort of sensible criticism that – in my opinion – conservatives should be making. However, the answer should not be to do nothing, but to “tinker” instead of instituting massive top-down changes, and to adopt the measures that work after tinkering. For the most part, this is exactly the approach the current bills take – which is a testament to the fundamental insights of the conservative movement of the past few decades. To take into account this fundamental insight while promoting a liberal agenda is in fact the essence of Obama’s approach: It’s why 40% of the stimulus was tax cuts; it’s why the key health care reform is to create a market that allows individuals to make decisions based on information that is more transparent; it’s why the answer to global warming is a cap-and-trade program that decentralizes authority and whose main mechanism is a market. That this has been Obama’s approach is what has forced the right wing opposition to him to become so unhinged.

Did Kim Jong Il Apologize for Calling Hillary A “Funny Lady”?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

David Rothkopf asks an interesting question:

I wonder how our former president and Kim Jong Il handled the “funny lady” who looks like a “pensioner going shopping” comments at dinner tonight?  And however they handled it, if only we could have gotten a glimpse of the “Annie Hall” subtitles that would have revealed what they were really thinking.”

A Leap of Faith on Health Care

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Last week, Matt Yglesias explained how the relationship between Congress, the media, and the public doesn’t often lead to positive policy results. His these is that a policy idea do not become popular and then receive bipartisan support and those presidents who support such ideas then succeed; instead, the observing affects the observed: if an idea is promoted by the president at the head of one party and is supported by at least some of his opposition party then the media conveys this in such a way that the idea becomes popular; if instead his opponents remain solidly opposed, the idea is seen as overreach. It was this insight that allowed Bill Clinton to bounce back after his defeat on health care in 1993/1994. The plan was solid enough – but failed, among other reasons, because the Republicans solidly opposed it and were able to peel off a few Democrats. The public thus assumed that the health care plan was a bad thing, that it was a result of Clinton’s liberal overreach. Clinton, to his credit learned from this defeat and subsequently exploited this dynamic by consistently peeling off a few Republicans for the rest of his initiatives – or sometimes siding with them more substantially – and thus accomplished things as he needed to in order to save his presidency. The problem is that Clinton’s approach often hurt the Democratic party – and resulted in many small initiatives at a time when there were festering problems that needed to be dealt with.

Obama has tried to be the un-Clinton on this and other issues. Clinton was often seen to be insincere in reaching out to the Republicans – but he helped the class of 1994 pass a significant part of their agenda. Obama has taken pains to appear sincere, but has been more interested in ideas of his own – including incorporating Republican ideas into his proposals. While Bill Clinton had started out happy with partisan victories, but then gradually came to see how the above dynamic could be used to protect himself, and became a proponent of bipartisanship, Obama started out trying to reach out to Republicans, but has become disillusioned with bipartisanship as he saw how the necessity of it gave inordinate power to a few Republicans to derail his agenda.

All of this creates a situation which Jonathan Chait over at The New Republic‘s Plank describes:

Democrats simply have to accept that health care reform is going to be polling badly when they vote on it. There’s no mechanism in the current media configuration that would allow them to convey the details of the plan in a positive way without getting overrun by negative process stories. It’s just not possible. What they have to focus on is which alternative is likely to make them better off: reform passing or reform failing. It’s an easy call, which is why I think reform will pass.

But it’s a bit depressing that the actual merit of a policy has little to nothing to do with whether or not it will pass. I agree with Chait that health care reform will pass – and it will be substantial – because the Democrats know they must just take that leap of faith and trust the president (or whoever the architect of this health care bill ends up being). It’s an easy choice between whether each representative wants to survive together, or hang separately.

[Image by ClickFlashPhotos licensed under Creative Commons.]

NSA’s Secret Pinwale Program Used to Spy on Bill Clinton

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the Times – who previously broke the wireless wiretapping story – relay concerns of a number of Congressmen about the extent of email surveillance by the NSA. These Congressmen are concerned about the number of domestic emails being intercepted and analyzed under the current program – which is identified as “Pinwale.” Marc Ambinder identifies this as the fourth NSA anti-terrorist surveillance program we’ve found out about in his piece responding to the story. Risen and Lichtblau also reveal for the first time that it was this Pinwale program that was at the heart of the dispute that led to the dramatic middle-of-the-night hospital room showdown between Acting Attorney General Comey, ailing Attorney General Ashcroft, and FBI director Mueller and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card.

But what got my attention was a small side-note buried in the story:

The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.

I had presumed the program worked by screening vast amounts of email for keywords and perhaps tracking who particular people emailed, creating webs of relationships – with attempts to filter results to exclude Americans. This is how the program had been described – and through most of this most recent piece, it clearly suggests the program works this way. But this particular item here suggests that this NSA program is of a different sort – and  is capable of accessing any email account individually – and that this is so easy to do that one can look into a prominent former official’s emails just to see what’s up.

The possibility of abuse in this is clearly enormous  – from spying on one’s girlfriend or wife to fishing for embarassing information on politicians whose job it is to regulate you.

What this story confirms is that if the potential for abuse exists, abuse will occur.

[Image by jacromer licensed under Creative Commons]

The intellectual deterioration of the conservative movement

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Richard Posner has written one of those posts that gets talked about despite it’s lack of hyperventilation – it’s a thoughtful, reflective piece on what he calls the “intellectual deterioration of the once-vital conservative movement in the United States.” Posner summarizes the deteriotion:

[T]he policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings [such that]the face of the Republican Party [has] become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals [have] no party.

Posner sees this decline as a symptom of the movement’s success. I think he’s half right.

Philip Bobbitt posited some time ago his theory of the evolution of the state – from princely city-states to kingly states to imperial states to the modern nation-state. The next step – according to Bobbitt – the one to which we are already evolving – is the market-state. And while a nation-state was legitimized in the eyes of it’s people by ensuring people were provided for (thus setting up the economic battle of the Cold War, as capitalism and Communism competed on this front), the market-state is legitimized by offering the maximum amount of opportunity for it’s citizens. Bobbitt’s theory is interesting – and if not entirely perfect, it is certainly useful. 

Given this structure, you can easily understand how the nation-state liberalism of Lyndon Johnson gave way over time to the market-state liberalism of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. By this reading, conservatism did not so much win any more than nation-state liberalism “won.” Both were appropriate responses to their times.

Unfortunately for it’s proponents, conservatism (like nation-state liberalism in the 1970s) did not evolve with the times, but remained staticly committed to the principles that worked so well three decades earlier. The innovative ideas of the 1980s have become the brittle orthodoxies of the present. As conservative historian Niall Ferguson explained – “only the left” has a credible response to the issues of our day. The Right is still fighting the battles they won decades ago.

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Don’t Be Idiots: Stop Talking About the Fairness Doctrine

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

I didn’t think the Democrats were stupid enough to start talking about reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. But I was wrong.

For those not up-to-date with the Fairness Doctrine controversy, it goes back to the late 1960s when the FCC began to push radio and television stations to air material about controversial matters including some consideration for both sides of the issue.1 The justification for this government interference was that with a very limited amount of media channels available, and with the airwaves owned by the public and merely licensed to the media companies profiting from them, this was a reasonable request and a necessary one in order to encourage an informed citizenry. By the late 1960s, the powerful corporate forces in the right-wing movement had begun to bankroll a conservative movement at this point – giving enormous amounts of money to create advocacy groups, think tanks, magazines, and other means of pushing conservative messages. One of their goals was to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine – and in 1987 they succeeded. At right about this time with no more obligation to be fair or present both sides of controversial issues, right-wing talk radio took off. Simon Rosenberg publicized this sequence of events – and Steve Rendall at Commons Dreams gives an overview of the liberal take on this history which is worth a read. Since then, conservative talk radio has mobilized the conservative movement – and perpetuated quite a few lies and distrortions. 

In this context, you can see why some Democrats want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.  After all, if Steve Marlsburg, nemises of this blog, can use the public airwaves to talk for two hours about how Barack Obama is evil and no good people can support him and go on and on supporting this with one lie after another distortion, wouldn’t everyone benefit from a bit of the other side getting a word in edgewise? And if a handful of media titans control almost all of the media, the concentration of power in their hands ensures that opinions they agree with are aired – and oftentimes, that opinions they disagree strongly with are not aired. 

In this context, Bill Clinton mused about reimposing the Fairness Doctrine on a liberal radio show; Democratic Senator Stanbow wants hearings on something like a Fairness Standard; Senator Tom Harken was quoted on another liberal talk radio show saying, “We gotta get the Fairness Doctrine back in law again;” and a number of other Senators and Congressman have similarly suggested something be done to restore “fairness” to the radio.2 Barack Obama though made it clear during his campaign that he did not support this – and reiterated his opposition again after he took office.

And with good reason: reimposing the Fairness Doctrine might sound like a decent idea given the above history. But there are some major reasons not to:

  1. It won’t accomplish much. Cable and broadcast television shows already give alternative views on controversial issues. They might present one side much better than the other (think Hannity and Colmes) but they give the other side a platform as well. Listeners to conservative talk radio today choose to listen to right-wing nutjobs who don’t try to balance their opinion with facts over more serious sources of news. They have other options if they want them.
  2. It would endanger the important goal of net neutrality. Conservatives are already calling net neutrality a “Fairness Doctrine for the internet.” This is a ridiculous claim – but it will gain some credence if those who support net neutrality also support the Fairness Doctrine. The right continues to push this meme [pdf] and has been having some success in polarizing the support for net neutrality, picking off those right-wingers who are most gullible. As I wrote earlier about this campaign to link these two very different policy ideas
  3. [T]his propaganda campaign [to link net neutrality and the Fairness Doctrine] does not seem directed to the public at large, but at conservative activists. The Fairness Doctrine is not something that gets the blood of the average American boiling. But it does evoke a Pavlovian response among conservative activists and right-wing radio listeners. And although these groups are not large enough to force their way, they are large enough to derail the political conversation and make it harder to enact this obvious policy.

  4. It would also endanger other goals such as breaking up media monopolies. In terms of other issues, Rush Limbaugh in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed began to lump in rules about “local content” and “diversity of ownership” as the Fairness Doctrine by other means. Rush Limbaugh here is clearly carrying water for Clear Channel Communications who recently gave him a $400 million contract and who would be threatened by rules regarding local content and diversity of ownership as they already own such a large portion of America’s radio stations. Byron York followed Limbaugh’s lead repeating the same talking points in a recent column.
  5. It will provoke a backlash. Right now, aside from the musings of a few prominent liberals and impassioned editorials from liberal talk radio hosts themselves, there is no serious effort to push this idea forward. Liberal ideas are out there – on newspaper editorial pages, on political opinion shows, and most of all on the web. The people most excited by the revival of the Fairness Doctrine are the conservative talk radio hosts and the right-wing movement they lead. I follow this matter closely – reading most articles published on it – and almost every article I read is from some conservative publication or blog hyping the threat to free speech and all that is good and holy that is the Fairness Doctrine. Which is why the Heritage Foundation has this piece of trash written by Rory Cooper insisting that the White House is “rushing” to the Fairness Doctrine – despite the aforementioned opposition by the White House. (A propaganda outlet such as Heritage has not patience for such “subtlties” as facts.) Which is why Senator Inhofe is promoting the view that the Fairness Doctrine as yet another assault on the Christians. Which is why Bryon York recently penned a column linking the Fairness Doctrine to breaking up media monopolies as assaults on “media freedom.” Which is why the World News Daily has distorted Senator Sherrod Brown’s comments to claim he supports the Fairness Doctrine. Which is why Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the talking heads can’t shut up about it. This is a fight the right wants – and for good reason. It plays into the liberal stereotypes conservatives promote – especially the idea of a nanny-state attempt to control free speech. It makes the right look important; it makes the Democrats look petty; if the right loses, they will be able to claim the mantle of victimhood that conservatives seem to relish as much as any other group. 
  1. The Fairness Doctrine was actually created earlier, but it was not incorporated into FCC guidelines until the late 1960s. []
  2. It’s worth noting that all of these more recent comments were made by politicians on liberal talk radio – and only after being prompted by their hosts. []

Stimulus Is What We Need

Friday, February 13th, 2009

It is commonly stated that China’s ruling power has struck a kind of bargain with it’s people – that they will accept the one-party rule and other political restrictions – as long as the government is able to keep the standard of living rising. Orville Schell, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and author of several books on China, gives a typical explanation:

…it would not be excessive to say that everything – economic health, social stability, political reform, environmental modernization, etc. – all depend on China’s economy maintaining at least a 6 percent to 7 percent growth rate. This is something that most market economies cannot do in perpetuity given the nature of cyclical growth cycles.

When this topic is brought up in foreign policy discussions, it is often understood as a uniquely Chinese problem – this bargain between the people and the state that they will accept an authoritarian government in return for a growing economy. But a government’s dependence  on its ability to increase opportunities for its people for its legitimacy is not a uniquely Chinese problem. The Chinese government may only be able to survive as long as it continues to provide economic growth to it’s citizens, but how different is this bargain the Chinese people have made with their government from the bargain the America people have with ours? As long as American citizens have their basic needs met and a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a polarized distribution of wealth, corruption of various sorts, and sundry other injustices. And as long as the Chinese citizens are moving towards having their basic needs met and have a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a single-party state, restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, and other restrictions.

Any state’s constitutional structure is legitimated by whether it provides for the needs of it’s people. In another age, the state merely provided security against hostile invasions and criminals; later, it provided an identity as well; by the middle of the 20th century, a state was legitimated by the extent to which it could provide for the basic needs of it’s citizens. The Cold War was, to a large degree, a competition between the capitalist states and the Communists states to see which could provide more ably for the needs of it’s citizens. Today, the state is evolving from providing for the needs of it’s citizens to providing opportunities for it’s citizens. The basic problems of sufficient housing, food, clothes, and other necessities are able to be met with our global prosperity.1

This evolution of our state into a market-state can best be seen by looking at the long-term trends in politics, shaping both the left and the right – as politiciains, with their ears constantly attuned to changing expectations, have sensed this evolution before most. Looking from Carter to Clinton to Obama, we can see how each has progressively embraced a different sort of liberalism – each less focused on a government providing services and more focused on government providing opporunity. Carter was a traditional big state Great Society liberal; Clinton favored free trade, ending welfare, and reining in the deficit; Obama’s liberalism accepts a number of libertarian premises and seeks as it’s goal the maximization of opportunity – as his health care reform plan, for example wouldn’t force people to join any particular program while offering a stable base for a necessary service that often causes people to remain in jobs they would not otherwise. A similar evolution can be seen in Nixon to Reagan to Bush – as Nixon favored big government programs; Reagan attacked big government; Bush focused on creating an ownership society among other reforms. Even when misguided – as for example his Social Security proposal – it was focused on offering greater opportunity.

James Glassman speaks for many doctrinaire anti-government conservatives when he suggests we allow our economy to contract – as eventually, it will reach bottom and bounce back. Stimulus – he says – is the wrong metaphor:

“We’re going to have to jump start this economy with my economic recovery plan,” [Obama] said on January 3. According to the image, one can jolt a dormant economy into action just as one can hook up polarized cables to a car battery, clamp a defibrillator to the chest, or breathe into the ear of a reluctant lover. Suddenly, the object of our attention will be back in action, aroused…

In fact, stimulus may be precisely the wrong metaphor. Rather than getting jazzed up, we need to be calmed down and to take the time to learn from the Great Depression, a time when government did too much, not too little.

Putting aside the non-consensus historical take on government action in the Great Depression (discussed here), Glassman misses the point our political leaders do not: our societal order is premised on the idea of continuous growth. A growing economy in a market state is like a beating heart – without it, we cannot survive. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is a business not making a payroll – the company can’t continue if it’s employees don’t get paid. The employees will no longer consent to subject to their employer’s authority – and the company will dissolve. When the nation-states of the early 20th century were not able to legitimate their structure by providing for the basic needs of their citizens, radicalism, revolution, and war ensued as the old order broke down and fascism and Communism took it’s place. Today, if market-states are unable to provide opportunity their citizens, they will not survive going forward. 

Our politicians and the elites sense this – which creates the manic desire to arrest this free fall and start our economy moving forward again – before it’s too late.

  1. Clearly, the problems associated with deficiences in these areas aren’t gone. But technologically, we have solved them. The problems remaining are systematic – how to satisfy the needs of those who don’t have access to the excess prosperity of the developed world. []

The Highlights From Davos

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Now that the World Economic Forum 2009 meeting in Davos, Switzerland has concluded, let me present some highlights.

The number one highlight, of course, is the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, storming off the stage after not being allowed to finish addressing Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres on the issue of Gaza:

Keep in mind that the “spirit of Davos” is supposed to be international cooperation and civil discussion between the business and political elites and the journalists who so eagerly report on them- and that Turkey and Israel are allies rather than enemies. Dr. George Friedman of the Stratfor Institute saw this as the clearest demonstration yet of Turkey’s increasingly prominent role as the leader of the Muslim world – and certainly Erdogan is being lionized for standing up to the Western media and the Israeli prime minister.

But the immediate buzz in the hall wasn’t about the global significance of this fit, but about breakdown of the spirit of Davos. For journalists, Davos is a kind of ideal as William Lewis of London’s the Telegraph described it:

The beauty of Davos is that one can meet large numbers of the world’s most important/interesting/powerful/egotistical people in the space of four days. Interviews that would otherwise take months to arrange, and hours to travel to, take place in a small Swiss ski resort. It’s a journalist’s dream…

More significantly, Lewis noted that this year, for the first time in many years, Americans did not dominate. Barack Obama only sent his advisor Valerie Jarrett. The most prominent American present was Bill Clinton. More on him later. Instead, Davos was dominated by the Chinese premier and Russian prime minister, each of whom confronted America and blamed it for the crises in their countries in a different manner. Joe Conanson of Salon described the mood:

Accustomed to flattering themselves and each other as benevolent masters of the globalizing world, they now confront an unprecedented crisis – actually a conglomeration of crises – that has diminished their financial worth and moral credibility.

What roused the global elitists from their glum torpor was the opportunity to lay blame for the economic catastrophe that has befallen the world. There was one obvious target: the United States of America, whose stupid and criminal bankers have inflicted so much harm on the whole of humanity. It is an undeniable fact that the Russian and Chinese leaders explored with great relish at every opportunity.

The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, in a characteristic manner, did not directly name America as the cause of the financial crisis, but elliptically described it as “attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption; excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit,” etcetera. It was clear to everyone who he was talking about. Wen’s speech was warmly received – but his private remarks to a meeting of Western business leaders demonstrated his real political skill – as he charmed the gathered free market capitalists by referencing such touchstones as the work of Adam Smith (which he had recently re-read.)

Then, there were Vladimir Putin’s remarks on the “perfect storm” that is the current financial crisis. The theory of the perfect storm – “the simultaneous occurrence of weather events which, taken individually, would be far less powerful than the storm resulting of their chance combination” – seems to be a rather apt metaphor for the confluence of events shaking the global system. Putin placed the blame directly on America though, in part no doubt due to his honest assessment, and in part to deflect responsibility. While he was giving this speech, violent protests calling on him to step down were being put down back in Russia as many blamed his financial mismanagement as he bet Russia’s economy on strong commodities prices.

Finally, there was former president Bill Clinton. Clinton addressed the assembled world political and economic leaders:

This is not a time for denial or delay. Do something. Give people confidence by showing confidence. Don’t give up. Don’t bet against yourself. Don’t bet against your country. This is still a good time to be alive.

Described as “the lone American to whom anyone at Davos might actually listen as he attempted to uphold the name of his country,” Clinton not only tried to rally the world leaders from their sour mood, but also responded more specifically to Putin in response to a question:

Later, Clinton met with Putin privately for an hour and a half, seemingly with the consent of the State Department and White House.

The overall lesson of this year’s Davos seems to be a reinforcement of the consensus view of the foreign policy establishment: We are now living in a nonpolar world in which, though America retains great power and is the most powerful single force, it will not hold the same leverage that it once did. We can no longer act as the world’s only superpower – but instead can take our place as the first among equals.

41 Tells a Joke

Thursday, January 29th, 2009