MONEY


Age of Denial: win or lose chambers in November, it’s soul searching time for Democrats


Christine O’Donnell’s victory in the Delaware Republican Senate primary had Democrats exuberant – cheering victory by the ‘crazy Tea Party candidate.’ But when your electoral strategy is “let’s hope the lunatic wins cause we can’t beat a sane Republican,” it’s time for some serious soul-searching.

Nate Silver injects a dose of realism into overblown prognostications about a GOP landslide:

There’s the possibility that Republicans end up with a lot of half-loaves: independent voters get them almost close enough in some states and districts, base voters in some others, but they come up a few points short in a lot of key races and wind up winning “only” 30 House seats and 4 or 5 Senate seats. Or, just the opposite could be true. Independent voters rally them to surprising wins in some blue-leaning states, while base voters shore up the home front, and allow them to roll back the gains that Democrat made into Republican territory in 2006 and 2008.

He’s absolutely right – anything can happen on Election Day and expectations are beginning to get out of hand for Republicans. Unfortunately, if Democrats lose badly but retain the House and Senate, it will be hailed by the White House and pundits as a victory, perhaps a great victory, dampening the urge for introspection, the self-awareness needed to battle a dangerous radical rightwing resurgence.

Of course, it will be anything but a victory. The whiplash-inducing right turn America has taken since 2008, the deflation of hope, compel a sober and serious look at what Democrats have done wrong. We can take solace all we want in previous presidential poll numbers, we can say this is a normal cyclical dip, but that doesn’t explain or excuse this:

  • George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
  • Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
  • Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
  • In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
  • From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
  • Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
  • Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
  • Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
  • The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
  • We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
  • An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
  • Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
  • The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
  • Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.

O’Donnell’s shock victory is part of this larger picture. Granted, it may imperil GOP chances to grab one more senate seat, but if you see it as a loss leader, as one more huge step to the right, it’s cold comfort to those who have fought the radical right’s takeover of our national discourse.

Yesterday I posted what I believe is the photo that defines our age of denial, a Biblical image of dead sea life:

When things like this are happening before our eyes and we can’t muster the will to do something dramatic to fix it, when Democrats seek comfort in radicals winning primaries, when a great nation abruptly reverses course and barrels headlong toward the 19th century, we have no choice but to dig deep and ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong.

Die-hard Obama supporters demand incessant cheerleading, but their blinders are part of the problem not the solution. As citizens, we’re tasked with making sure elected officials do their jobs. If Democrats and progressives are satisfied with the direction we’re heading, it’s their prerogative. Some of us are not in denial and we’ll keep speaking out until there’s a legitimate reason to believe that we’re righting our ship, reclaiming the moral high ground and making actual – not imagined – progress.

The world’s to-do list and the risk of “the greatest collective failure in history”


Ted Turner describes the Millennium Development Goals as the world’s to-do list. Watch this video and you’ll see why:

Oxfam’s Joel Bassuk writes:

In less than a week world leaders will meet in New York to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, including the goal to halve world hunger by 2015 (MDG1). Governments are no closer to achieving this goal today then they were ten years ago. But the genuinely good news is that it is still possible to halve hunger in the next 5 years.

Oxfam’s new report, ‘Halving World Hunger: Still Possible,’ points to countries such as Vietnam and Brazil as evidence of what is possible. By supporting poor food producers and providing social safety nets for people who cannot produce or buy enough food, Vietnam and Brazil have dramatically cut hunger at home. For instance, Brazil has reduced malnutrition by 73 percent in the last six years.

If more governments – north and south – work together to deliver the right policies and the necessary investment the success stories of Brazil and Vietnam can be replicated across the globe.

World leaders meeting at the MDG Summit in New York must show they haven’t given up on the Millennium Development Goals. They must put their weight behind a global action plan that will bring all countries together to tackle hunger.

The intro to the Oxfam report states:

Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGs, we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.

In most discussions of right and wrong, sins of commission tend to get more attention than sins of omission, but not doing something that could save lives is still ethically reprehensible. If we can spare millions of children the ravages of hunger, poverty and disease and we don’t, then it is indeed an epic collective failure.

It’s the moral authority, stupid


Who are America’s preeminent living moral leaders? Name three. Name two. OK, name one.

There’s a reason Glenn Beck tried to steal Martin Luther King, Jr.’s glory, it’s because there was no one he could put on that podium who exemplified and possessed anywhere near the same moral authority:

The Fox News host was attempting to sieze a mantle of moral authority earned and ultimately paid for with his life by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And, sadly, I think in the eyes of some viewers, Beck might have succeeded.

If it sounds absurd that a mercurial cable TV host who regularly breaks down in tears and has called the president of the United States a racist should be able to get what appeared to be more than a hundred thousand Americans to listen and applaud as he laid claim to King’s mantle, it is. In fact, you might even say it is outrageous.

And for all the “warnings” and wakeup calls” that Beck issued from the steps of the Lincoln Monument Saturday, here’s another one: We need to think about the success of Beck’s rally Saturday and ask what it says about the lack of moral authority in this country today. We also need to wonder what it says about us as a culture that so many Americans on a Saturday in August and more than two million a day via Fox News come to Beck and apparently hear something in his hodge-podge of elementary-school history and mishmash of moral platitudes and bromides that they find meaningful.

Moral authority — that’s what the rally was really about. That’s what the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” at the end of the rally were all about. That’s what all the talk of standing on “hallowed ground” was all about. That’s what the repeated use of words like “honor,” “integrity” and “trust” were all about.

What is moral authority? Broadly speaking, it is the respect and power of suasion conferred on a person who is true to inviolable ethical principles. It is the ability to influence by setting an example of virtue and good character rather than through coercion.

Most politicians campaign using the language of right and wrong, tapping into the power of morality to persuade and sway voters. Once in office, the rhetoric is toned down as grand promises meet the reality of legislating and deal-making. That doesn’t mean that right and wrong cease to matter.

The astounding collapse of Democrats and the rightwing resurgence of 2009 and 2010 is a direct result of the squandered moral authority of Barack Obama and Democratic leaders. I say “squandered” because it is something Obama possessed during the campaign and something Democrats prioritized as the antidote to Bush and Cheney’s radicalism.

Pundits put forth myriad reasons to explain the GOP wave (jobs and the economy topping the list), but they invariably overlook the biggest one: that Obama and Democrats have undermined their own moral authority by continuing some of Bush’s’ most egregious policies:

[The Obama administration’s] counterterrorism programs have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers — though the administration has forbidden torture and says it seeks assurances from other countries that detainees will not be mistreated.

Everything flows from the public’s belief that you stand for something. The most impressive legislative wins lose their force if people become convinced you’ll sell out your own values. Here’s how I explained it in a recent post:

With polls signaling peril for Democrats, identifying the cause of President Obama’s travails and the demise of ‘hope and change’ is a Washington sport. Some attribute it to the lifeless economy, others to Obama’s supposed (excessive) liberalism, and yet others to the prioritization of health insurance reform in the administration’s first year.

It’s really much more basic. Set aside policy and focus on sheer perception, who do you associate with strength, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Republicans or Democrats? I’d bet good money that on both questions, many on the left would pick the former.

Bush’s bluster, born of narrow-mindedness and jingoism, led America to near ruin. But even if it was an act, transparent and loathsome to his detractors, it left an indelible impression – and I stress “impression” – of a resolute man with the courage of his convictions, no matter how terribly wrong-headed those convictions. By contrast, Barack Obama and most Democratic officials are chronically unwilling to speak in moral absolutes, to frame Democratic policies in the language of right and wrong, to project an unshakeable faith in core ideals. And far too often, the reluctance to speak with moral courage is coupled with a failure to act.

This has been the essence of the progressive critique from day one, on gay rights, civil liberties, secrecy, the environment, the economy, health care, executive power, war.

It’s baffling that pundits still don’t get it. We hear endless tea leaf (and Tea Party) reading, endless poll analysis, endless pontification about Obama’s ideology or lack thereof. He’s too liberal, he’s not liberal enough, he’s overly pragmatic, he’s a conservative, a socialist, a corporatist, he’s achieved more than any president in history, he’s presided over the biggest government takeover in history. Who cares? In the end, you either project strength or weakness. You have moral courage or you don’t.

Cheney and Bush knew one thing: from a strictly political – and cynical – perspective, pretend moral conviction is better than none at all. At the very least, it telegraphs to voters that you care deeply about something, anything. Enough to take a stand for it, to portray your opponent as unethical for opposing it.

In the best of worlds, Democrats would believe in something good and fight tooth and nail for it. Their moral compass would be true, pointing in the direction of justice, fairness, equality. Progressive ideals would guide them and they’d present America with a consistent, cohesive, powerful and inspiring worldview. Candidate Obama tapped into the force of that combination. President Obama can’t seem to do it.

Democratic weakness, real or perceived, is a self-inflicted function of the inability to project moral authority, even in cases where they possess the unequivocal high ground. Religious liberty. Torture. A war based on lies.

…It would be unfair and silly to portray all Democrat politicians as devoid of moral convictions, but it’s not inaccurate to state that there is a widespread phobia among Democrats of appearing “weak,” which paradoxically leads to behavior that further reinforces that impression. When you fret too much over what others think, you tend to contort yourself in an attempt to please, often at the expense of your core beliefs. When the specific complaint is that you’re weak, there is a tendency is to do whatever your critics characterize as strong – and in the case of Democrats, they tend to ignore the strength of their own values and emulate Republicans, ending up looking even weaker in the process.The only way to break the cycle and to project strength is to go back to basics, to look inside, to find the core principles that power a life of public service and to be relentless in pursuit of those principles. Moral authority is a prerequisite to genuine, enlightened leadership.

To borrow a phrase: it’s the moral authority, stupid.

Obama’s infrastructure proposal: left says “good idea, too small,” right says “more big spending”


Consensus is quickly congealing around President Obama’s reported $50 billion infrastructure proposal: the left says it’s a good idea, but a paltry sum relative to the size of the hole we’re in. The right, having successfully framed Obama as a profligate liberal, is pouncing on “more big spending.”

ED MORRISSEY:

What happens when over a hundred billion dollars in borrowed cash gets plunged into infrastructure spending and it fails to kick-start the economy?  According to this administration, spend another $50 billion on the same failed policy.  Barack Obama will unveil his new economic stimulus plan in Wisconsin today, while Russ Feingold looks for a place to hide

MICHELLE MALKIN:

President Obama will announce an additional $50 billion in infrastructure spending. Yeah, that’s what voters have been waiting for — more spending. Should be a good sell on the campaign trail.

STEVE BENEN:

It comes as something of a relief, then, that infrastructure and public works remain a top White House priority. Bang for the buck, these is the kind of investments that make a real difference. … Because this is an excellent idea that would improve the economy, it’s very likely to be killed by Congress. But (a) I’m glad President Obama is stepping up and doing the right thing anyway; and (b) it’s good to have lawmakers put on the spot before the election, taking a position on sensible, effective economic proposals like this one. I’d like to see a bigger, more ambitious package, but it’s a step in the right direction.

KEVIN DRUM:

This is all perfectly sensible. At the same time, if it’s offset by other items in the budget it probably won’t have any net stimulative effect. Essentially, we’ve given in to the deficit hawk brigade without even a fight. Not that it matters, I suppose. It’s too small to be more than a pinprick, and Republicans will probably filibuster to the death the right of our nation’s oil and gas companies to their federal subsidies anyway. But I’m sure it will give Fox News something to roar about for the next month.

The poor are “strikingly generous” – but billionaires are catching up


I’m sure many of you have seen anecdotal evidence of this in your lives, but here it is, spelled out:

With the battle over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy shaping up as the major political event of the fall, opponents of repeal were handed a bounteous gift this summer when Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 38 others announced that they formed a pact to give at least half their wealth to charity. After all, what better illustration could there be of the great social good that wealthy people can do when the government lets them keep their hard-earned dollars to spend as they please?

The problem is that the exceptional philanthropy of the superwealthy few doesn’t apply to the many more people defined as rich in the current debate over the Bush tax cuts — individuals earning over $200,000 and couples with revenues over $250,000. For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.

More on that Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge:

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced today that 40 signers, including at least 30 billionaires and other wealthy families, had officially made the Giving Pledge–a promise to give away more than half their fortunes.

…Some people may write off the pledge as a gimmick aimed at simply improving the PR of the super-rich, which could certainly use some improving. But the list could become a strong financial force for philanthropy, if for no other reason than peer pressure, publicity and the inspiring example of others.

America’s rich have been searching for new status symbols in the wake of the Great Recession. Yachts, private jets, seaside mansions are so 2007. But being wealthy enough and generous enough to get on the Giving Pledge list may quickly become the ultimate badge of status–both in the U.S. and abroad.

The billionaire’s pledge is undeniably a good thing, and Buffet and Gates are setting an excellent example and saving lives. Still, for the 40+ signers, you have to ask yourself if being left with a few hundred million or even a few billion dollars after you’ve given away half your fortune should be considered a sacrifice in any meaningful sense of that word.