America Held Hostage, Day 2

A couple of very good pieces to read today.Tom Friedman from the New York Times hits the nail on the head.  And this piece from Business Insider makes a similar point.

Think about what we argue in Chapters 1 and 2 about people who do an end run around the democratic process when it doesn’t produce the results that they want. What kind of political system is it where the leaders believe they know what is right for the people and impose their vision regardless of what the people would choose themselves? What is the place for that in American culture?

Also think about what Madison had to say about the effects of factions.  What would he say about the Tea Party?

And for comic relief, late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel has some fun with how people feel about Obamacare.


Closed for Business

As we predicted, the government shut down last night at midnight.  What does that mean?  Basically, this.

Obama’s speech yesterday afternoon.

We have already been over the events leading up to this but you can read about the last minute back and forth here.

How long will this last?  Hard to say.  Tea Party Republicans want to hold out, much to the chagrin of their more practical party colleagues, because they believe they are right.

How did the Tea Party caucus get so radical, anyway? One analyst’s answer here.

Here’s another take on the evolution of the Republicans, this one by a liberal reporter for the Huffington Post.

A Republican gives his take on the situation here.

Another argues that the problem is that the Tea Partiers took the wrong hostage

Veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz argues that regardless of the dissension in their ranks, the Republicans need to learn how to govern.

Has this happened before?  Yup.

Meanwhile, enrollment in the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act begins today.  Almost all Americans will need to sign up for a plan if they are not already covered through an employer or a parent.  What will it cost you?

This is a long piece, but if you want to hear one smart (though leaning liberal) guy’s take on why Tea Partiers are driven so crazy by Obamacare, read this.

And remember, we reach the debt ceiling limit in just 17 days and that has the potential to be much, much worse.  Will the Tea Party Caucus have gotten their need to stand on principle out of their system by then, or will national inconvenience tumble into international disaster?

As I seem to be saying a lot these days, stay tuned.


Ticking Clock

It’s a crazy Monday morning, but let me quickly give you two pieces to think about as the clock ticks down to a possible (and increasingly probable) shut down at midnight tonight.  The first is from the National Review, a conservative journal with very good sourcing among Republicans.  What does that mean? It means Republicans talk to their journalists and those journalists know what they are talking about.  Costa and Strong paint a fairly grim picture of how intra-party politics is going for the Republicans.  A second view, a little less insidery but more comprehensive, is here.

Think about the split in the Republican Party in terms of the figures on American political ideologies you read about in KTR‘s Chapter 2.  Is this playing out as we would expect?  Who do you think will win and lose in this internal power struggle for control of the party?

Some Context for the Protests in the Middle East

It can be hard for Americans to understand why we seem to be such a magnet for anger in some parts of the Muslim world.  It’s a complex problem, with complex answers, but in some ways it really illustrates the clash between substantive and procedural cultures we discuss in Chapter 1 of KTR.

Since the Arab Spring, much of the Arab world, whose political culture has traditionally been quite substantive politically (believing that government should enforce the moral principles that their religion holds to be true), is beginning to emerge into the more politically procedural culture of democracy.  To grapple with the meaning of free speech, for instance, which allows all voices to be heard, is frustrating to them when they believe that some of the voices (such as the ones heard in the film trailer that set off the latest round of violence) are so clearly untrue and should be condemned.  This piece in the Washington Post helps explain this cultural clash, and gives you some context for understanding what is going on.

Playing Catch Up

Okay, we need a catch up post here – to bring everyone up to speed after a crazy political summer.  Even though the campaign is only officially beginning now – with the Republican convention set for this week and the Democrats for the week after – the campaigning has been going on all summer and most Americans’ views are pretty well set.

So here is what you need to know, abbreviated version.

After a divisive primary season, Mitt Romney secured the Republican Party nomination (which he will officially accept this week in Tampa.) To win that nomination, he had to take many positions that were more conservative than those he had taken in the past. The Republican Party is itself more conservative than it has been since the 1960s, and many observers thought he would try to moderate some of his more conservative positions once the general election began.  However, his choice of Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate, makes that unlikely.

Ryan is, in words Romney once used to describe himself, “severely conservative.” He has sponsored legislation that would give a fertilized egg all the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen, criminalizing not only abortions under any circumstances, but also many forms of birth control, and he sponsored other legislation that would restrict federal funding to abortions for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape,’ but not other kinds (language that was dropped after women’s groups objected.)  His budget, which the Republican-led House (but not the Senate) has voted to adopt would shrink government dramatically, converting Medicare from a guarantee of health coverage for older Americans to a voucher system, and cutting or eliminating programs that have traditionally formed an economic safety net for poor Americans while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

While Romney and Ryan are both clear that Romney is the head of the ticket and that his policies will be the policies of a Romney administration, Romney’s refusal to spell out details of his own program leave a vacuum that analysts fill with Ryan’s.

Why hasn’t Romney spelled out his own policy proposals?  Every time you get specific, you lose people who hear something they don’t like.  In a candidate’s ideal world you could be vague about your proposal and please everyone, but usually that doesn’t work as voters demand to know what they are being asked to vote for.  Romney’s hope was that he could make this election a referendum  on President Obama rather than on what he, Romney, would do as president, and his own proposals would not matter as much. Good piece on this here. With a painfully slow recovery, that wasn’t a bad plan – incumbent office holders usually lose when the economy is bad and unemployment is high.

Knowing that, the Obama campaign has tried to make this an election about choice – about whether voters want Obama’s policies or Romney’s – because they know that even though the economy has been slow to recover, voters are closer to Obama’s position on issues like Medicare, and taxes  than they are to Romney’s – especially since Romney has run so far in a conservative direction. To this end, the campaign ran commercials all summer that tried to take away any advantage Romney might have because of his business background – questioning why he has located some of his money in off shore accounts and challenging his reputation as a businessman.

Romney spent the summer running ads that tried to shape how voters saw Obama too, including commercials that claimed that Obama is against small businesses and capitalism and that he wants to gut welfare reforms so that the poor can get benefits without having to work.

Polls at the end of the summer – after all the ads and the Ryan pick – are pretty much where there were at the start of the summer.  They show a small but persistent lead for Obama, with most people having made up their minds already.  On questions of who voters trust on various issues, they give an edge to Romney on the economy but believe that Obama cares more for everyday people.  They also show that people like Obama and perhaps believe that the bad economy is not entirely his fault. Generally speaking, however, the polls show that voters see the election more as Obama wants them to – as a choice between two visions for American – than as Romney wants them to – as an up or down vote on Obama.

And while Romney would desperately like to get the national conversation back on to the economy, the focus has been on everything but – the last several weeks have been spent debating Medicare and now in the preconvention days, the topic is turning to some ill-advised words from Congressman Todd Akin, the Republican running for the Senate from Missouri.  Akin claimed the other day that in cases of what he called “legitimate rape” women’s bodies shut down and pregnancy does not occur.  While Akin’s views are not unusual among social conservatives and in some ways are shared by Paul Ryan, with whom Akin has sponsored prolife legislation, they are not mainstream views and they threaten to exacerbate the so-called “gender gap” in American politics, which is that women are more likely to support Democratic than Republican policies.  Republicans tried to get Akin to bow out of the race but he refused, ensuring that national attention will be focused  more on social issues than on economic issues.  Two good things to read on that here and here.

An article in the New York Times this last weekend shows that the Romney campaign is giving up on making the election solely about the economy, and is adopting a harder edge.  This is apparent in the welfare ads he has been running that accuse Obama of gutting the work requirement of welfare and just giving checks away. While fact checkers universally point out that this claim is false (it gets four Pinocchio’s from the Washington Post  and a “pants on fire” from Politifact) and that Obama has toughened rather than loosened the work requirement of welfare where he has given governors latitude to craft their own programs, Romney continues to make the claim.  That in conjunction with his use of “birther” language last Friday when he pointed out that no one had ever asked to see his birth certificate suggest that his campaign is getting off the economy track and trying to persuade Americans that Obama is not who they think he is.

There is another important catch-up post about changes to voting laws in the states, but we’ll save that for another day (aren’t you glad?)

Trayvon Martin

While some of the facts about what happened to Trayvon Martin are still up in the air, it is clear that his death is a heartbreaking tragedy and one that raises questions about the role of racial stereotyping in American culture and highlights the constant wariness with which many African Americans still view the police and the justice system.  Many good things have been written about this in the last weeks — two of the best appeared in the papers today.  Read this piece by Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson and this one by New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Since the election of Barack Obama, we Americans frequently pat ourselves on the back for living in a post-racial society.  Do we?