September 2008


There’s an article I consider a must-read in yesterday’s Washington Post by Shankur Vedantam entitled My Team vs. Your Team: The Political Arena Lives Up to Its Name.  The subject is research that suggests that “party identification more than ideology is behind the growing polarization of the electorate.”  I was delighted by the article in that it supported a recent observation of mine that over-identification with party is seriously hurting the country’s ability to solve its most pressing problems.  My recent piece entitled The Amassing of Power by Political Partisans Through Party addresses this point.    

My concern is that party identification is becoming so strong that people are losing their ability to look at issues other than through the prism of party.  Over-identification with party means that people replace a rational decision-making process with default acceptance of the party’s policy positions, whether rational or not.  I likened it in my posting above to allegiances to sports teams and concluded that they were often just as illogical and devoid of meaning. 

My concern with irrational decision-making is that it decreases the chances of reaching a desired outcome.  A useful analogy to explain this is one I first came across reading The Road Less Traveled by Dr. M. Scott Peck.  His thesis was that individuals who navigate from a reality-based understanding of the world in which they live are emotionally healthier than individuals who navigate from an understanding that is skewed or inaccurate.  Put another way, an individual navigating from an accurate road map is more likely to reach his or her destination (a healthy, satisfying life) than an individual navigating from a flawed (non-reality based) road map.  

Applying this to public policy, it is possible to posit that it is likewise important for a country, through its government, to continually and diligently keep its view of the realities underlying the policy issue (the road map) updated if it hopes to navigate to a desired outcome.  Rephrased, if not constantly refined and kept up-to-date, the road map will become stale and inaccurate.  The more stale and inaccurate, the less likely navigation from that roadmap is going to yield a productive result. 

I am concerned that a great proportion of peoples’ opinions on issues of the day are formed as a result of identification with a particular political party.  This applies to party leadership as well as to rank and file membership.  Rather than the individual bearing the responsibility for looking at issues afresh so as to keep his or her worldview accurate, I am afraid that too many rely on party group-think apparently under the presumption that the group-think is the product of a reasonable and principled process.  I’d suggest that most often it isn’t or even if it once was that it probably hasn’t been reassessed meaningfully in years.

I see this most clearly in the area in which I work – energy policy.  What I’ve observed is that the position of the Democratic Party on energy, particularly as it concerns the role of domestic oil and natural gas development, is stale and inaccurate.  I would contend that the party hasn’t seriously rethought the issue in its full context (including the national security and economic implications of oil imports) in decades and its road map is therefore very old and highly inaccurate.  The prevailing group-think hasn’t put 2 and 2 together in years but remains adamant that the sum is other than 4.  I see this as only one example among many and that both parties are equally ensnared in the group-think trap. 

Both parties on a range of issues, sometimes on different issues and sometimes on the same issue, are ensnared in positions that bear little relationship to reality.  Given the irrational inputs, it would therefore seem obvious that the country is not going to get to rational endpoints very often if ever.  It leads me to a conclusion that we have to break this over-identification with party if we are to begin to achieve political solutions to our most pressing problems. 

It is my conclusion that this will not come from within the parties but will require an external influence, ideally a third-party.  My thought is that a centrist “independent” party is going to be necessary to break the country free of this trap.  Perhaps with as few as 15-20 “independent” members elected to the U.S. House of Representatives who could argue for rational policy development, the country could begin to make rationality rather than partisanship the key driver of domestic policy.  

In closing I should note one other interesting aspect of the research addressed by Vendantum.  It was that non-party affiliated “moderates” don’t appear to see as much difference between the parties as do those who identify solidly with one party or the other.  The researchers concluded that this was because “moderates are generally less interested in politics.”  As a moderate who is, if anything, over-consumed with politics, I don’t understand this.  I can’t believe that I am alone in both seeing the great flaws in the 2 parties and in caring passionately about politics.  I believe it is a big part of why I’m writing this blog — to find others who agree with me and care enough to try to change things, to shake up the counterproductive status quo.  Is there anyone else out there? 

According to a story in the Washington Post (SEC Clarification May Help Markets) this afternoon:

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Accounting Standards Board have just made an announcement that, dry as it sounds, may mean a great deal: “When an active market for a security does not exist, the use of management estimates that incorporate current market participant expectations of future cash flows, and include appropriate risk premiums, is acceptable.”

This was one of the demands made by renegede House members yesterday and may help give them the cover they need, in addition to the change in FDIC insurance limits on individual accounts noted in the post below, to change their position on a new bailout bill Thursday when the House comes back into session.   

 

It appears likely that with some relatively minor changes, perphaps including increasing FDIC coverage of individual accounts from $100,000 to $250,000 (endorsed today by both Presidential candidates and requested later in the day by the FDIC on a temporary basis according to a Washington Post article), that the so-called bailout bill will be brought up for another vote on Thursday when the House is back in session.  It is highly unlikey if that happens that the bill will fail again.  You can be sure that House Leadership won’t bring the bill back up for a vote unless it has a pretty good indication that it will succeed.  One factor that might increase the chances of passage this time, according to reporter Christian Bourge in the National Journal’s Congress Daily PM, is work being done this week by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable.  Quoting from the article, “NAM is targetting about 40 lawmakers who opposed the bill Monday and have a large number of manufacturers in their districts.  BRT President John Castellani said 90 CEOs participated in a conference call this morning to coordinate their lobbying plan.  ‘Maybe we just didn’t do a good enough job in explaining as a business community that the circumstances require dramatic action.'”

For several years now I have been of the opinion that the American political system is broken.  I attribute that brokenness to three primary factors:  partisanship, polarization, and a wholesale disregard of reality by Americans in addressing the serious issues that confront the country.  We witnessed that brokenness, on all three fronts, in spades yesterday.  The fringe outnumbered the pragmatists.  If there was a plus, we now have a list of those who can sometimes be trusted, as well as one of those who apparently cannot ever be. 

I am going to post three initial items today that I think capture a sense of what transpired yesterday.  A good starting place is Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post entitled A House Divided Along Twisted Lines.  An excerpt:

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 778 points, the largest one-day point drop in history. And no wonder: In the Congress of the United States, the insane are now running the asylum.

After the shocking vote of 228 to 205, party leaders did their usual rounds of partisan finger-pointing, but it really wasn’t a partisan issue at all. The center had collapsed in favor of a coalition of far-right and far-left zealots. What was once the lunatic fringe was now a majority: 40 percent of House Democrats, going by yesterday’s vote, and fully two-thirds of Republicans.

 

Steven Pearlstein’s column in the Washington Post today gives a good overview of what went down yesterday and the consequences.  It is entitled They Just Don’t Get It.  I fear Pearlsteing is right on all accounts. 

David Brooks begins his Op-ed piece, Revolt of the Nihilists, in today’s New York Times with these words:

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt inherited an economic crisis. He understood that his first job was to restore confidence, to give people a sense that somebody was in charge, that something was going to be done.

This generation of political leaders is confronting a similar situation, and, so far, they have failed utterly and catastrophically to project any sense of authority, to give the world any reason to believe that this country is being governed. Instead, by rejecting the rescue package on Monday, they have made the psychological climate much worse.

There was indeed a failure of American political leadership yesterday and it will have consequences.  While I have no doubt that some kind of bailout bill will be passed by both Houses and signed by the President by week’s end, damage will have been done, as Brooks points out not just economically but politically.  I highly recommend this thought-provoking David Brooks’ piece.  By the way, here’s a link to the definition of nihilism – See 2 a.

I stated in my earlier email that I was very impressed with leadership speeches.  I should have said, of those I listened to — Boehner, Blunt and Hoyer.  I did not hear Speaker Pelosi, however.  According to Christian Bourge with Congress Daily PM, “House Minority Whip Blunt, the GOP’s chief negotiator on the package, said the GOP lost about a dozen votes after House Speaker Pelosi’s floor speech on behalf of the measure, which Blunt and House Minority Leader Boehner called inappropriately partisan.”

What a shame that the Speaker couldn’t grasp what everyone else in leadership did that this wasn’t a time for overt partisanship.  Speaker Pelosi joins in sharing repsonsibility for this debacle today.  This didn’t have to happen today and there are many to blame.  For those interested, here is Speaker Pelosi’s floor speech yesterday on the bailout bill.  Helpful to the cause of passage of the bill it was not.


 

Here is a list of those voting “No” today on the so-called bailout bill (HR 3993).  I hope America on election day judges these people as they deserve.  The Democrats are in regular type, the italics are Republican.

Abercrombie
Aderholt
Akin
Alexander
Altmire
Baca
Bachmann
Barrett (SC)
Barrow
Bartlett (MD)
Barton (TX)
Becerra
Berkley
Biggert
Bilbray
Bilirakis
Bishop (UT)
Blackburn
Blumenauer
Boustany
Boyda (KS)
Braley (IA)
Broun (GA)
Brown-Waite, Ginny
Buchanan
Burgess
Burton (IN)
Butterfield
Buyer
Capito
Carney
Carson
Carter
Castor
Cazayoux
Chabot
Chandler
Childers
Clay
Cleaver
Coble
Conaway
Conyers
Costello
Courtney
Cuellar
Culberson
Cummings
Davis (KY)
Davis, David
Davis, Lincoln
Deal (GA)
DeFazio
Delahunt
Dent
Diaz-Balart, L.
Diaz-Balart, M.
Doggett
Doolittle
Drake
Duncan
Edwards (MD)
English (PA)
Fallin
Feeney
Filner
Flake
Forbes
Fortenberry
Foxx
Franks (AZ)
Frelinghuysen
Gallegly
Garrett (NJ)
Gerlach
Giffords
Gillibrand
Gingrey
Gohmert
Goode
Goodlatte
Graves
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Grijalva
Hall (TX)
Hastings (WA)
Hayes
Heller
Hensarling
Herseth Sandlin
Hill
Hinchey
Hirono
Hodes
Hoekstra
Holden
Hulshof
Hunter
Inslee
Issa
Jackson (IL)
Jackson-Lee (TX)
Jefferson
Johnson (GA)
Johnson (IL)
Johnson, Sam
Jones (NC)
Jordan
Kagen
Kaptur
Keller
Kilpatrick
King (IA)
Kingston
Knollenberg
Kucinich
Kuhl (NY)
Lamborn
Lampson
Latham
LaTourette
Latta
Lee
Lewis (GA)
Linder
Lipinski
LoBiondo
Lucas
Lynch
Mack
Manzullo
Marchant
Matheson
McCarthy (CA)
McCaul (TX)
McCotter
McHenry
McIntyre
McMorris Rodgers
Mica
Michaud
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Mitchell
Moran (KS)
Murphy, Tim
Musgrave
Myrick
Napolitano
Neugebauer
Nunes
Ortiz
Pascrell
Pastor
Paul
Payne
Pearce
Pence
Peterson (MN)
Petri
Pitts
Platts
Poe
Price (GA)
Ramstad
Rehberg
Reichert
Renzi
Rodriguez
Rogers (MI)
Rohrabacher
Ros-Lehtinen
Roskam
Rothman
Roybal-Allard
Royce
Rush
Salazar
Sali
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta
Scalise
Schiff
Schmidt
Scott (GA)
Scott (VA)
Sensenbrenner
Serrano
Shadegg
Shea-Porter
Sherman
Shimkus
Shuler
Shuster
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Solis
Stark
Stearns
Stupak
Sullivan
Sutton
Taylor
Terry
Thompson (CA)
Thompson (MS)
Thornberry
Tiahrt
Tiberi
Tierney
Turner
Udall (CO)
Udall (NM)
Visclosky
Walberg
Walz (MN)
Wamp
Watson
Welch (VT)
Westmoreland
Whitfield (KY)
Wittman (VA)
Woolsey
Wu
Yarmuth
Young (AK)
Young (FL)

Listening to the speeches of House leadership, Democrat and Republican, I have never felt prouder of being an American.  I heard good people putting aside partisan interests and trying their hardest to do what was best for America.  And then the House voted and I never felt more ashamed.

The House defeated the bill by a margin of 228-205.  Republicans voted by more than 2/3 against.  Shame on them.  At least Democrats by a good majority voted in favor of passage.  As I write this parliamentary maneuvers are under way that may allow a revote.

As I watched the vote take place on CSPAN I signed onto my brokerage account to get a live picture of the U.S. stock market’s reaction.  The DOW was down about 300 as the vote started.  As it looked like it was going to lose, the loss pushed above 700.  It’s since settled back, as I write this, to about 450 down.  That’s a bad day on the market folks.  And it’s going to get worse in the coming days unless the House remedies things fast.  That’s unfortunately not the half of what’s going to happen in the coming days.  Also, you might want to make sure you have some cash.  Things could get bad.

I suggest this serve as the day we were provided the list of those members of Congress who deserve to be defeated in the next election.  I will print those names here as soon as I have them.  Let the campaign begin.

I’m going to keep this posting short and sweet.  As I write this the DOW industrial average is down 300 points.  The country can’t delay positive action on this proposed financial legislation any longer.  By all reports the work over the weekend to fashion a compromise should be enough to secure passage in both houses, although some doubt apparently remains in the House.  A “no” vote by either the House or the Senate would have tragic consequences for the country.  There is no real choice but to pass this bill, now.  The House vote is apparently scheduled for today and the Senate vote on Wednesday.  I must add I do not understand the Senate delay, Jewish religious holiday or not.  This is too important to delay and I’d feel absolutely no different if it were Christmas.  One can only hope that with a positive House vote today the markets will read the writing on the wall and react positively. 

But, time is running out.

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