Archive for the ‘Social Policy’ Category

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you become the conventional wisdom in the Washington Post

Questions of timing aside, Richard Cohen is making a lot of sense over in his WaPo column:

Great presidents lead. In a sense, Lincoln “rammed” through the Emancipation Proclamation just as FDR “rammed” through Lend-Lease, Truman “rammed” through desegregation of the military, and Lyndon Johnson “rammed” the Civil Rights Act down the throat of a gagging South. These might be considered more dramatic issues than mundane health care, I grant you — but grant me an exception for someone putting off doctor visits because he or she can’t afford to be sick. To that person, this bill is as dramatic as the difference between sickness and health — the great divide of mankind.

The baleful fact is that the country suffers from a surfeit of democracy — a gazillion interest groups, a gazillion blogs, a gazillion talk shows and all of them insisting on transparency so a gazillion eyes peer over the shoulders of politicians. The black but necessary art of politics shies from the sun. Little gets done. Backrooms have been turned into rec rooms and meetings are seminars. We are doomed. Worse, we are bored.

Google does not tell the whole story. It fails to answer what’s wrong with the old belief — a virtual childhood mantra — that “majority rules”? It was never “supermajority rules,” and the presidency was never intended as a weather vane, turning this way and that on the slight breeze of the latest poll. Lead and the people will — or will not — follow. Either way, ram the damn thing, Mr. President. Ram it!

Not only does is the phrase super majority missing from the traditional conversations about Democracy, but where it is mentioned it is usually described negatively. Super majorities and power sharing arrangements create the type of irresponsible and intractable party of ‘no’ politics we see today.



Clarity and Transparency

Matthew Yglesias on Transparency:

I think the country would benefit from drawing a terminological distinction they have in other Anglophone democracies between “the government” (Gordon Brown and his ministers and other political appointees) and “the state” (the permanent institutions of the United Kingdom). What people are entitled to more of is transparency in the operations of the state. The state is financed by our taxes and is supposed to be serving our interests. It ought to be as easy as possible to figure out what’s going on—what the rules are, where the money’s going, how it all works, etc.

But I think that transparency in the sense of “the government” offered above is of much more dubious value.

I really agree that the conversation regarding transparency would benefit from drawing a distinction between Government and the State, but his description transparency in government misses the mark.

Consider the deficit. Imagine a meeting between President Obama and Mitch McConnell about the long-term, and assume that both guys are operating in good faith but that neither of them are self-sacrificing saints and neither of them can be fully sure whether the other one is operating in good faith. McConnell starts by saying that the deficits projected in the President’s budget are too big. If the meeting is behind closed doors, Obama can say “obviously that’s why we’re having a meeting.” But if the cameras are rolling, Obama needs to treat McConnell’s observation as a political attack and respond in kind by arguing that deficits are mostly caused by Bush’s policies and the economic downturn.

Which is all true enough, but there are lots and lots of off the record conversations and negotiation taking place in Washington, D.C. In the last year there have been non-transparent talks on pretty much every major issue (budget, climate, health care, financial reform) and the problem is just never that they have some great deal both sides really wanted to do and then things got transparent. And there’s nothing stopping Obama, McConnell or anyone from doing more closed door meetings.

Big Problems, Need Big Solutions

Tom Toles continues to a great job explaining big issues with simple illustrations. Although like seemingly everything these days, the problem has a lot more to do with the Senate, then Obama.

Anyway it’s good that Toyota is thinking outside the box in terms of ways to help American car makers

We’re All Gonna Need More Puppies

I noticed this morning that Dave Roberts at Grist felt the need to put lots of pictures of puppies in his recent analysis of the methodology used by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for scoring of energy efficiency. Since I’m prone to find myself talking about CBO scoring of the climate bill, I’m thinking I should carrying pictures of puppies around.

Puppies aside people need to get used to talking CBO scoring and other budget wonkery, they affect everything and will for the foreseeable future! If activists want anything, even low cost initiatives, enacted they’re going to need to get familiar with PAYGO and the whole whole host of budget issues as they find they’re not fighting about if they have good idea, but if revenue method X or Y can pass muster and can get votes.


Term Limits and Taxes

I’ve noticed that an anti-tax group is running Creigh Deeds bashing ads based on statements he made on the campaign trail.

I’m not sure it’s a very effective ad, but if you’re dead set against any tax increase then it would keep you from voting for Creigh Deeds. Here’s the thing: No matters who wins they’ll be great pressure to raise taxes to relieve budget pressure and because of VA terms limits it’s much more likely that the next governor of VA will never run for state wide office again.

It’s not a huge thing, but Gubernatorial term limits is one less leverage point (i.e. We’ll tag you next election) to achieve that particular objective. In general one-term Governors don’t tend to ‘go rogue’, but you’ve got to think that any activist group which can afford to run ads in expensive media markets like D.C. is going to have diminished capacity to influence office holders if they can’t run for re-election.


Remember when Conservatives Used to Look Down on People Marching in the Streets?

Here’s a link to an internal memorandum detailing right-wing harassment strategies to defeat reform via TPM

As Alex said in our comment thread Think Progress has been documenting a national campaign of intimidation aimed at members of Congress. In one video of Spectre getting shouted at you can clearly see no more then a third (probably less) seems to be involved in shouting at him, but he still has a hard time speaking.

When left wing protesters made a big stink at the 2000 Inauguration you could hear the sneer of the right echo in the streets. Conservatives were above such things. No longer

I had figured that cultural backlash against Clinton was related to NAFTA and instituting gun control restrictions. Thinking about what’s been instituted recently you have TARP, supported by both Bush and McCain, and the stimulus plan, which was pretty boilerplate stuff: unemployment insurance, trains, and construction projects. What gives?

On a certain level it makes sense. The economy sucks, Obama is the first non-white guy elected to the Presidency, but still it’s heard to understand what this new wave of rightwing protesters wants.

Does anybody seriously expect America to hold a special election because somebody forged a Kenyan birth certificate?


Read Ryan Avent

To follow up on the last post, read Ryan Avent. Seriously, he’s doing great work writing on Climate Change and smart growth with a focus on the District of Columbia. You’ll be better informed for working him into your reading rotation.


Some thoughts on civil rights & social issues

Erin just asked me in an e-mail:

I’d be curious your stance on a more civil-rights focused area as well (lgbtq, women, seniors and young people along with the standard racial discrimination) as I’ve seen an uptick in the media about it recently, and I am feeling some small legislation may be coming around at various points (and who knows, maybe the mathew shepard act will finally pass…).  It’d be a small focus, but still something to keep an eye on.

My response, which can hopefully serve as a conversation starter:

My stance on civil rights issues is complicated. I mean personally, it’s not. It just seems intuitive to me that people should be treated on a completely level playing field, and I really don’t understand how anyone can think naked bigotry is the least bit justifiable. Life’s too short to live with such corrosive hate.

However, it’s not the most salient political set of issues to me (with the notable exception of drug policy), precisely because it is so intuitive. Most people have very set views on these issues one way or another, and because there isn’t a lot of biconceptualism (swing voters in English) among the voting population on civil rights matters there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver politically. More than anything, the variable that will decide social justice issues in our favor is time; as older bigots die off and are replaced in the electorate by younger, more tolerant people, the tide will turn. That is already starting to happen on gay marriage and the same will happen on many remaining gender and racial issues in coming decades.

The other thing is, I believe these issues, while important, don’t form the backbone of a society’s big-picture identity. Once the most grievous injustices like codified race-based discrimination are out of the way, the distribution of wealth and the arrangement of economic incentives is much more important in determining whether a society is healthy or not. Right now, America’s economic incentives are downright destructive and are heading in the wrong direction. Income inequality is the worst it has been since 1928. When wealth concentrates too much into the hands of a fortunate few, the political system is inevitably rigged to favor the few, often at the direct expense of the many. Our economic system also fails to assign value to social or environmental priorities, and in the process causes the degradation of community and overexploitation of natural resources. In my opinion, these are the most dangerous current threats to the nation and indeed the world because they are incredibly difficult trends to reverse and can cause lasting damage to human welfare. This is why I suggested the Carrots & Sticks focus be on advocating sustainable prosperity; the term captures all of the stuff I just mentioned, and I’m wary about focusing too broadly at the expense of a core message.

But Carrots & Sticks belongs to all of us, not just me. I’m certainly open to discussion. Bring it up to the whole group if you want, and let’s see what folks say. In fact, I think there is an avenue we can work certain issues in where social backwardness directly interferes with other policy areas (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the War on Drugs are key examples).

Let’s see what everyone thinks….