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

Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."