Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards promoted an appealing rhetoric: The working poor in America should get a larger piece of the very large national economic pie. In the interests of equity and social harmony, this was the right stance to take, especially after years of government sponsorship of class warfare against society's most vulnerable members. Edwards, it appeared, had made a personal and moral commitment to creating a fairer America.
But as soon as it became clear he would not obtain his party's nomination, John Edwards quit. It reminded me of something I had almost forgotten: On election night 2004 I went to bed having heard vice-presidential candidate Edwards promise to explore every legal channel in Ohio in a bid to move that state's electoral votes into the Democratic column and potentially propel the putative opposition party into the White House. By the very next morning, though, the great American appeaser had capitulated and that was the end of the matter. His running mate John Kerry went back to his cushy job as a senator, and our nation got four more years of George W. Bush.
This time around, knowing full well he would end his presidential bid the next day, John Edwards found himself in a union hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, urging the gathering (along with potential donors) to stay in the election fight with him. I guess announcing the campaign's end at that time was inconvenient from the standpoint of publicity generation, but there should have been great compunction about leading supporters on for such self-serving reasons. Edwards took advantage of the union members, hiding his real intentions until one last opportunity to grandstand before the national press during prime cable news hours.
If Edwards really cared about poor Americans as he claims, he would stay in the race until the Democratic convention in August and broker a deal there on their behalf. But clearly this cause of the poor is not worth another few months of work for the former senator. When the going got tough, he folded. Meanwhile, 37 million poor Americans will remain that way, without an explicit champion on the national stage.
The disingenuous Edwards had this to say as he threw in the barely-perspired-upon towel: "But I want to say . . . . this son of a millworker's gonna be just fine." With that reassurance, America's working poor must have breathed a tremendous sigh of relief. The system actually works, at least for half-hearted politicians with millions of dollars to fall back on.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Ol' "Blood and Freedom" Thompson
"We must never forget that America has shed more blood defending freedom here and abroad than all the other countries in the world combined."
--Republican Presidential Candidate Fred Thompson
I heard Fred Thompson (on TV) make the above statement to his supporters after losing the South Carolina primary. It drew great applause, and struck me as one of the oddest utterances of the tedious 2008 presidential campaign. It is a risible assertion, patently impossible to substantiate, even if the term "freedom" were objective. Yet it drew wild applause.
As a search of the Internet shows, Thompson trots out this enigmatic and grisly phrase a lot. What can it mean? Why does it strike a chord? Here is a hypothesis: It at once assuages repressed guilt for the mass violence wreaked by our country on Iraq, and validates the collective bloodlust so prevalent among hardcore Republicans. It also implies that, in a manner befitting the Aztecs, the GOP - if returned to power - will continue to sacrifice humans as a talismanic ritual.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
The US financial crisis has become so severe -- domestic stock markets have plunged nearly ten percent since the start of the year -- that the president seems to have taken notice. So, after spending $4,100 per household so far on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, he is on the verge of giving over one-third of it back. How beneficent.
But where will this money come from? After all, the US government already owes $9.2 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion in 2000 -- a rise of 61% in just over seven years. The proportion of this debt held by foreigners is approaching fifty percent, with nearly half of that held by two countries: Japan and China. If these countries overcome their increasing reluctance to accept Treasury paper denominated in ever-weaker dollars, they would be the parties to whom Bush turns to prop up the national economy.
So I propose we cut out the middle man, and have the Asian Development Bank issue checks to American citizens directly. That way, we all would know who bailed us out and to whom we must return the money when (or if) we're on better footing.
Why the current government cares about the state of the American economy now is somewhat of a mystery. Fiscal, tax and monetary policy for years have been driving us to this moment of reckoning, so it can not come as a surprise. Plus, with only a year remaining in office and approval ratings securely in the doldrums, popularity for the Bush administration must not be much of a concern. There is also a dim prospect of the next president being a Republican no matter what happens over the next few months.
Ulimately, the "stimulus package" that we citizens are going to get is due to a nefarious bipartisanship: If the economy becomes too rocky in an election year, the two major parties that have controlled government for as long as anyone can remember may have to answer some real questions and propose some real solutions. And that is something they can not abide. But they can always provide a quick fix now and work out a payment plan with the Chinese later.