Sunday, January 1, 2012

An Unwitting and Unholy Alliance

If you follow the news about the seeming political gridlock in Washington, no matter which paper or news channel you get it from, you’ll have the impression that there’s a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil for the heart and soul of the country – not to mention its fiscal health and the economy.

President Obama is either that evil socialist and secret Muslim scheming to spend the country into bankruptcy through a new welfare state at home while abandoning Israel and cozying up to jihadists abroad, or the only hope of saving the country from greedy Wall Street bankers, racists and other bigots of every stripe. The Republicans are either those racist bigots, homophobes and religious zealots who want to give away the country to Wall Street, or the only hope of stopping Big Government at home while safeguarding us from those Muslim hordes abroad.

It makes for great Political Theater, but theater is all it is. To give just a few examples, Obamacare may be a bad idea, and even unconstitutional – but Mitt Romney had that idea first on a state level, and Newt Gingrich favored it at the time. Calling for higher taxes on millionaires may be class warfare, but so is blaming illegal immigrants for our economic troubles, and filling up our prisons with mostly black drug offenders while letting corporate crooks off scot-free. There may be a argument for states’ rights on some matters – but the kind of conservatives who raise that argument don’t think states should have the right to legalize marijuana or gay marriage.

Ross Douthat, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, had a piece today about Ron Paul, self-proclaimed libertarian who has been gaining in polls recently against the Religious Right candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. I wish I could support Paul – not that it matters, because I don’t live in Iowa or New Hampshire or any of the other states that will be decisive, and I’m not even a Republican. I believe for the most part in libertarian values, but I can’t trust that Paul himself does. Like the Religious Right candidates, he’s absolutely opposed to abortion. But beyond that, he’s been caught out (like practically every candidate in the field) by his past: newsletters he once sent out that were filled with racist and homophobic venom. He now claims these didn’t represent his views, and that he wasn’t even aware at the time of their content. I find this as disingenuous as Jon Corzine’s claim that he doesn’t have any idea what happened to the $1.2 billion that disappeared from client accounts at MF Global before it tanked.

But Douthat argues that even if he’s a crank with a disreputable past, Ron Paul is serving a very timely and very useful purpose:

In both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, Paul has been the only figure willing to point out the deep continuities in American politics — the way social spending grows and overseas commitments multiply no matter which party is in power, the revolving doors that connect K Street to Congress and Wall Street to the White House, the long list of dubious policies and programs that both sides tacitly support. In both election cycles, his honest extremism has sometimes cut closer to the heart of our national predicament than the calculating partisanship of his more grounded rivals. He sometimes rants, but he rarely spins — and he’s one of the few figures on the national stage who says “a plague on both your houses!” and actually means it.

Douthat could have added that both parties have advanced the cause of Caesarism, concentrating more and more power in the executive branch. Democrats roundly condemned Bush for indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and legalized torture at Guantanamo, but Obama has not only kept Guantanamo open but signed a law authorizing indefinite military detention of American citizens living in America – without evidence, without trial. He claims to have opposed that provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, yet its sponsor, Democratic Senator Carl Levin, testified that he got his marching orders from the White House. Obama has also embraced Bush’s policy of unlimited and warrantless surveillance of telecommunications. And then there’s Fast and Furious, a harebrained scheme by the FBI to track illegal gun sales that ended up with the government selling guns to Mexican drug cartels – which used them as you’d expect them to. Bush was condemned by Democrats for signing statements that proclaimed he didn’t agree with some provisions in laws passed by Congress and therefore wouldn’t enforce them – but now Obama is doing exactly the same thing. He is also carrying on such Bush initiatives as the Transportation Security Administration’s draconian and even sadistic practices – like strip searches of little old ladies. He’s actually been harder on illegal immigrants – 1.5 million so far deported on his watch – than the Republicans who claim he’s “soft” on that issue.

But enough about Bush and Obama. What about government policy in general? Gretchen Morgenson, another columnist for the Times, created a stir last year as co-author of a book called Reckless Endangerment, which argues that liberals and conservatives worked hand-in-glove to create the housing bubble that wrecked the economy. The liberals wanted to show that they were Doing Something for poor blacks and Hispanics by pushing banks to give them mortgages on easy terms. That led to a wave of liar loans (I still remember radio commercials from lenders who promised “no income verification."), but the mortgage bankers didn’t care, as long as they could palm off the risky debts on suckers by repackaging them as “credit default swaps.” Anyway, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, those idealistic semi-government institutions that had spearheaded the campaign for liar loans, were there to pick up the pieces. Well, you know what happened. Morgenson looks back on the scandal here:

She had a follow-up in today’s Times about what those we trust to manage the economy have “learned” from all this: namely nothing. The crooks are having their SEC legal bills paid by shareholders or the taxpayers. Nobody is being criminally prosecuted for fraud, and Congress is even still using Fannie and Freddie as piggy banks – authorizing them to stick borrowers with higher mortgage guarantee fees to fund an extension of the payroll tax cut.

We have very noisy activists on both the Right and the Left, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. The Tea Party people are supposedly against Big Government and Big Spending, but only for social programs. They don’t seem to be worried about the ruinous cost of the wars Bush launched and Obama continued, and the way the carry on about Obama’s deficits you’d think Bush had never put the country a dime into the red. And they have nothing to say about Caesarism. The Occupy people claim to represent the 99 percent as opposed to the one percent, but they seem to be mostly college students whose chief aim is forgiveness of student loans. And while they have gotten lip service support from some union leaders, they don’t care much for working people – closing the port of Oakland hit dock workers and truck drivers in their pocketbooks Like elitist Marxists, they think only they know what’s best for the proletariat.

Maybe we need a Coffee Party. It’s sure time to wake up and smell the coffee – and to challenge the unwitting and unholy alliance of the worst elements of the conventional Right and Left that endanger both our liberty and security.

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