Jun 20th 2013

Our Skewed Political Landscape

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

By today's standards my political views are considered liberal, perhaps even far to the left of center. Yet just a few decades ago I would have been (and was) labeled a moderate or even slightly right of center for holding the same positions I hold today. The radicalization of the right has skewed our political landscape: a moderate outlook compared to the extremism of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Ron Paul seems downright leftist. Much of what is bunched together as liberalism is really centrism that has been artificially shifted left when compared to the fanaticism of the religious right.

Centrism is easy enough to define. We seek a secular government as small as possible, but no smaller than necessary for proper function; a fair, equitable, and simplified tax system, a strong and lean military capable of meeting modern threats to our security, robust protection of civil liberties and voting rights, and a level field in which everybody plays by the same rules as we strive to better our lives.

Certainly all of those ideals are subject to debate, and have multiple means of implementation with a wide margin for different outcomes; but none is radical or leftist. The latter idea, ensuring that we have a level playing field, is perhaps the most misunderstood. All competition requires a referee. Imagine a professional football game with no zebras to ensure fairness and enforce rules. The referee is there not to hinder competition, but to ensure that the competition is fair -- to make sure that the best team wins on merit and skill. Football works only because everybody -- players and fans alike -- believe that the two teams are competing fairly, and that both teams must play by the same set of rules.

Capitalism is much like that football game. The competition is fierce, and under ideal conditions the best ideas win. That is the incredible power of the marketplace. But history has shown that without proper refereeing, capitalism collapses toward oligarchy and monopoly, crushing the very competition that makes capitalism an engine of innovation and growth. The age of the robber barons was no fluke of history. Just as with football, capitalism needs to be regulated to ensure fairness so that everybody plays by the same rules. Enter the government, the referee that keeps capitalism alive. Conservatives fear all things federal (except the military), insisting that government is a threat to free enterprise and entrepreneurship; ironically, the exact opposite is true. Government intervention, properly constituted and implemented, is essential to the very survival of capitalism. In the absence of oversight, reasonable regulations, efforts to maintain transparency, and the enforcement of rules of fair play, the system collapses. We little reminder of this: credit default swaps, insider trading, and a host of other ills brought our financial system to its knees just a few years ago. Greed and corruption will never go away; only by reining in those excesses will we reap the true benefits of a free market. And that requires government intervention.

And here is where the skewing of our political landscape has dire consequences. We have lost our tenuous consensus that government has some role to play. Tension between left and right is healthy; nobody has all the answers, and that struggle moving back and forth across the middle has historically created good and moderate solutions to the nation's problems. But today the tug of war is no longer centered around the mud hole in the middle; as the red and blue teams pull hard, the debate back and forth no longer covers neutral ground, but is now all in red territory. So instead of having a healthy debate about the role of government in managing Wall Street, we get cries from the right that Obama is a socialist or communist. Instead of creating a balanced budget with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, we get sequestration because the GOP will not even discuss tax hikes (including "hikes" that are nothing more than the expiration of previous and supposedly temporary cuts). Instead of a loyal opposition, working with but moderating the excesses of the opposing party, we get the Senate Majority leader vowing, in public, that his primary objective to ensure that the president fails. Mitch McConnell said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Sure, you can put this in context, and lighten the sinister meaning, but the statement remains: defeating Obama became a greater goal than solving the nation's problems. The underlying idea is that Obama is so bad that sacrificing any progress that might arise from cooperation is worth the price so that Obama is in office only one term. Whatever lack of progress results from the focus on defeating Obama would be made up by the progress we would see under the subsequent Republican president. There is no middle ground here; no struggle across the central mud hole to find good solutions to our problems.

This skewed approach leads to some surrealistic political posturing. For example, conservatives set out to blame Obama for the collapsing economy and declining stock market that he inherited. In the March 6, 2009, Wall Street Journal Michael Boskin opined that "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." He said, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis." Now that the DJIA is firmly over 15,000 we don't hear from the GOP that Obama's policies are killing the DOW. Funny that.

Conservatives were so quick to blame Obama for a bad economy that they saddled him with a declining DOW even before he took office. John Tanny of Real Clear Markets, wrote on November 25, 2008, that an article entitled, "This Is Obama's Market, Good and Bad." Obama was not yet president! That did not stop Tanny from writing that, "Lacking clarity, investors can only guess about what's ahead based on Obama's decidedly anti-business rhetoric used during the campaign. Whatever direction he takes, it should be clear that today's stock market is the Obama stock market, so it's up to him to decide its basic direction." Even though Obama was not yet president.

What are conservatives saying about the DOW and Obama now, nearly five years into Obamas presidency? Nothing. He was responsible for a collapsing DOW before he became president, but is not responsible for a nearly 100 percent increase in the DOW during his five years in office. Such absurdities are only possible in our skewed political landscape, which allows the GOP, with full support of its base, to blame Obama for all failures and give him no credit for any successes. The tug of war is no longer about the center.

Liberals are not guilt free here. We hear constant whining about how Obama is not liberal enough, with ceaseless efforts to pull him away from the center. Remember the cries of woe and agony because Obama did not repeal DADT or DOMA the moment he got into office. The LGBT community attacked Obama instead of giving him the political space he needed to make lasting change. Fortunately for that community, Obama had their back and his eye on the long game, looking for lasting change rather than expediency. Liberals bemoan the continued operation of Guantanamo, without getting out the vote to overcome right wing opposition. Liberals want Obama to succeed but are unwilling to create the necessary grass roots support. Many liberals were unhappy with the pace in getting us out Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of cheering the fact that Obama was fulfilling his promise to do so. What, a Republican president would do better?

We have reached the point where we can no longer collectively celebrate success. In today's paper, we learn that home builders are more upbeat now than any time in the last seven years. That is on top of good news over good news about the economy. According to Bloomberg Government, manufacturing has its best showing since the days of Bill Clinton, arresting the long slide seen under Bush. U.S. factory positions have grown since early 2010. Fox & Friends soiled themselves trying to discredit this reality: even the Wall Street Journal called Bush's job creation history "the worst track record on record," admitting the obvious growth under Obama. American automobile sales have not only recovered from catastrophic loss, but have accelerated into strong growth. GM reports sales up 11 percent from last year; Ford reports an annual increase of 17.8 percent; Chrysler is up 11 percent. American banks saw record profits the first quarter of 2013. American banks earned more from January through March than during any previous quarter, a total of $40.3 billion, the highest ever for a single quarter, and up 15.8 percent from the same period last year.

Historically, the political parties would be fighting to get credit for these positive developments. Instead, the GOP either denies their reality (Obama's tax cut for 95% of Americans), ignores the obvious progress we've made (mum on DOW and automobile sales), or blames Obama for not having enough success quickly enough (unemployment figures).

The current GOP strategy is to obstruct progress and then blame Obama for failure. A better and more traditional approach, and one that will more likely ensure long-term political viability: cooperate with Obama to create a better America, and then claim credit. That old formula worked for most of our history; we need to return to the practice of promoting success, and then arguing over who is responsible for our good times. As long as we remain stuck in the mire of conservative vitriol, skewed far to the right, we will never reach our full potential as the great nation we are. History will judge the GOP harshly for this decade of obstructionism, but they can recover. The time has come to move on -- and move back to the tug of war over the middle. If we must fight, let us fight over success. With just a little cooperation, there will be plenty to go around.


First posted on the Huffington Post, posted here with the kind permission of the author.


Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "