October 2010

There are two additional two Op-Eds today that are well worth reading, both of which appeared in today’s New York Times.  They concern, respectively, two issues that have been much discussed on the campaign trail this year.  Specifically they concern two government programs upon which it now seems almost all candidates, incumbent and otherwise, believe were dreadful mistakes.  I am referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 (the “bailout”) and the fiscal stimulus bill.

The first article, concerning the “bailout” bill is authored by Ross Douthat and is entitled The Great Bailout Backlash.  The second, by Paul Krugman and concerning the stimulus bill, is called Falling Into the Chasm.  Both offer important perspectives on these important issues that have been grossly misunderstood it seems by a majority of the electorate.

I regard both the “bailout” bill and fiscal stimulus as having been essential to the country’s economic welfare.  The problem is that the first was badly executed and explained and the latter poorly crafted so as to result in far less in economic stimulus than could almost certainly have been achieved with a better designed (less political) bill.

Unfortunately, we are going to have a lot of Congressmen and Senators elected next week who wouldn’t voted for the TARP bill or any economic stimulus.  This is frightening, very frightening, and it doesn’t bode well for the ability of the incoming Congress to tackle future economic crises.  Let’s hope some sense yet creeps into the public debate in advance of next week’s election.

Robert J. Samuelson writes an Op-Ed in this morning’s Washington Post on the polarization of the American political system.  The piece is entitled Politics has lost its center of balance (online it is entitled “The dysfunction of American politics”).  Indeed it has.  Samuelson cites four reasons:

First, politicians depend increasingly on their activist “bases” for votes, money and job security (read: no primary challenger). But activist agendas are well to the left or right of center. So when politicians pander to their bases, they often offend the center. In one poll, 70 percent of registered voters said Republicans’ positions were too conservative at least some of the time; 76 percent likewise thought Democratic positions often “too liberal.”

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.

Third, cable television and the Internet impose entertainment values on politics. Constant chatter reigns. Conflict and shock language prevail; analysis is boring.

Finally, politicians overpromise. The federal budget has run deficits in all but five years since 1961. The main reason: Both Democrats and Republicans want to raise spending and cut taxes. To obscure their own expediency, both parties blame the other.

I am in complete agreement with Mr. Samuelson and I recommend reading the piece.

I’ve addressed my concern with over-identification with political party a number of times on this blog over the years.   One such posting was entitled The Negative Consequences of Identification With Political Party.
It’s a big problem. Now comes along a group, about which I’m still seeking additional information, called No Labels. I’m intrigued. Could this be a MoveOn for Americans tired of partisan politics and interested in solutions?
Watch this YouTube video and let me know what you think.

While the Republican Party spends its life in fantasyland (no new taxes, etc.) and welcomes with open arms the delusional tea party movement, the Conservative Party in Britain is going about the task of governing.  Ruth Marcus’ Op-Ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday entitled British Conservatives tackle their fiscal crisis with ‘real’ magic gives us a perspective on how the Conservative Party, through the coalition government it leads, is realistically addressing the big issues facing the United Kingdom.

This call to govern in the United Kingdom, albeit in a coalition government, came because voters decided the nay-saying, fantasyland Conservative Party of yesteryear (almost two decades yesteryear) had learned its lesson andwas ready to govern again.  While the Republican Party may take control of the U.S. House and even, perhaps, the Senate, next month, they are unlikely to capture the White House in 2012 or any time soon unless the Republican Party, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., is willing to realistically address head-on the serious issues facing the country.  This will require a realistic as opposed to a rigidly ideological mode of governing.  Don’t count on this happening soon here in the U.S.  The GOP needs a decade or two of losing elections, like their Conservative Party counterparts in the U.K., to learn this lesson.

I am a firm believer that the best government is government in the relative center of the political spectrum where one can acknowledge the need for government, and indeed taxes, but actively fight the “liberal” impulse to make government the ultimate solution to every problem.

There was a very informative article by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled Beyond the tea party: What Americans really think of government.  The article dissects and discusses a new study by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.  My takeaways from the story are several.  First, that there is a vast gap in the perceptions of Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans toward the role of government.  A graphic that I found interesting in this regard from the story is one comparing the views of various groups (Liberal Democrats to Tea Party strong supporters) toward Government Services and whether they favored “Fewer services/lower taxes” or “More services/higher taxes”.

What’s revealed in the graphic is a pretty sharp partisan split.  That’s too bad for America, especially as the two parties appear to listen more ardently to their respective fringes.  Those of us in the middle who want significant, but limited, government aren’t represented well by either party in today’s America.  It is all or nothing.

A second takeaway from the story is the survey’s revelation that Americans give their government a relatively low report card.  The story discusses this in much more detail.

Finally, I was interested but not surprised to learn that Americans really don’t understand the complexity of issues facing this country, for instance toward balancing the federal budget.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

One challenge for policymakers is that half the country thinks the federal government can balance its budget by simply cutting wasteful spending. In fact, eliminating waste in the budget would do very little to bring down the size of the deficit. Nearly as many say they think some useful programs will have to go to bring the deficit under control, but the number saying so has slipped since the mid-1990s.

The bottom line is Americans really don’t understand the scale of the problem, suggesting that politicians need to start explaining the problem to the public rather than simply pointing their partisan fingers at the other party.

As one who believes strongly in the need for a viable third party in this country to challenge the existing two party duopoly, I note that the article also observed that “just over half” of survey respondents said that “government in Washington [would] work better” if electoral laws were eased “to make it easier for third parties to compete with Democrats and Republicans.”

For those interested, Dan Balz also penned another piece in Sunday‘s Washington Post based on the above-referenced survey.  For those wanting to read more, it is entitled Tea Party fuels GOP midterm enthusiasm, action.

While I was off introspecting this summer, something stunning was happening in American politics.  Conservative Republicans were being rejected by Republican voters in primaries and caucuses across the country:  Bob Bennett (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mike Castle (DE).  Charlie Crist would surely have lost the Republican primary had he not opted to run as an independent first.  These conservative Republicans were beat because they were not conservative enough.  They were too “moderate” for the Republican rank and file.

The extent of this lunacy is well-described by Dana Milbank in an October 6 Op-Ed in the Washington Post entitled Who’s a real conservative?  It’s all relative. I consider this a must-read.

It helps explain why I am not longer a real Republican.  If there is no place in the party for folks who are with you two-thirds of the time, there is no place in the party for a relative centrist such as myself.  And it speaks to a very dangerous America in the years ahead when our two parties are so ideologically distant.  Nothing that this country so urgently needs to do will be done, as Thomas Friedman so eloquently pointed out in his October 2 New York Times Op-Ed, discussed and linked in one of my blog postings yesterday.

What I am pleased about is that Senator Murkowski and Governor Crist have opted to run as independents.  Fantastic.  My hope would be that they would choose not to align with either party and start building a third party base in their home states.  I think there would be enormous freedom in not having to pander to either party’s ideological base.  The country would undoubtedly benefit as we’d likely see more common sense and rationality emanating from at least two U.S. Senators.  I regret that Mike Castle declined to also run as an independent.  He would have been a great U.S. Senator, especially if freed from the need to pander to his party’s right wing.

In an October 2, 2010, Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled Third Party Rising, Thomas L. Friedman hits a nail directly on its head with two primary assertions:  (1) That our government is failing to seriously address the significant crises that beset it, and (2) that we must, as a country, rip open the two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a “serious” third party that will be able to develop rational and centrist public policy with greatly diminished special interest influence.

I couldn’t agree with more with this piece.  In fact, I am making it a mission to identify these groups working on East and West coasts to develop “third parties”.

Let me close with a excerpt that especially resonates with me:

“We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country,” said the Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond. Indeed, our two-party system is ossified; it lacks integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or high-aspiration in confronting our problems. We simply will not be able to do the things we need to do as a country to move forward “with all the vested interests that have accrued around these two parties,” added Diamond. “They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations,” where each one’s gains are seen as the other’s losses.

Hear, hear!

In my last posting on June 8, 2010, I noted that I’d begun a road trip.  It was in fact a big part of my summer of introspection.  Having quit my job a few weeks earlier, I was heading out into America to experience new things and get out of the rut I’d been in, arguably a 10-year and very deep rut.  The trip was amazing, lasting just over 7-weeks and covering over 9,500 miles in the United States and Canada.  It began with trips to Chaco Canyon (NM), Canyon de Chelly (AZ) and Canyonlands (UT).  While there were other destinations, these were the most spectacular and remarkable for the gift they gave me:  immediate and total grounding.  Instead of deadlines and the stress of life in a large city, I was sleeping in a tent with the earth directly beneath me.  You can’t ground any more efficiently than that.  Here are words I wrote a few weeks later from an ashram in British Columbia about my early experiences on the road:

Amazement at the sense of peace and connectedness I’ve found – the lack of angst, conflict, timetables, expectations (self-imposed and of others), attacks.  Open to the experiences that unfold, this among them.  The book is an empty one, waiting to be filled.

Upon returning home, I spent most of August in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  I went running every other day.  I worked on projects long neglected.  I visited farmers’ markets twice weekly.  I made an effort to end each day at the beach with a swim in the ocean.  In mid-September, I took a two week vacation in Europe, the first week with my partner in France and the second in the United Kingdom visiting old friends.  I returned home last week, and for the final act of my summer of introspection, I participated in The New Warrior Training Adventure conducted by The ManKind Project.  Wow, what a topper it turned out to be.  It effectively ended the introspection and launched me, in a transformed and reborn state, into the next stage of the development of the new me – I will refer to this stage as my Autumn of Action.  And I can thank synchronicity  for my learning about the training just when needed.  I cannot recommend more highly The New Warrior Training Adventure.  MEN, DO IT.

So in the coming weeks, I will once again post more regularly to this site, if not daily, at least twice per week.  Yes, I really mean it this time.  I will continue to post commentary of relevance to my passion for getting this country back on the right tracks again.  And no, President Obama is not the reason we’re off the tracks and the Tea Party is not the solution.  I will also share, as appropriate and relevant, decisions I make and steps I take toward building a new and more fulfilling life.

The posting which follows is a remarkable Op-Ed which appeared in the New York Times last week.  I associate myself completely with Mr. Friedman’s remarks.  He is saying what I’ve been saying for the last two years, with many of my views over those two years archived on this blog.