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I’ve spent most of this evening watching the State of the Union and the Republican response.  Here are some thoughts on those:

The State of the Union

  • I liked the agenda that President Obama laid out.  That’s not much of a surprise, really, for those who know me or who have been reading the sporadic posts on this blog.  (I hope to post more as the election gets closer.  We’ll see if I can make that happen.)  The fact is that we do have a major problem with the economic equality in this country.  The middle class is threatened.  The deck is stacked in favor of the very wealthy.  Obama is right when he says that we have to level the playing field.  We should be giving tax breaks to companies that move manufacturing back to the United States, and we should penalize those (through the tax code) that offshore jobs and profits.  These are common sense steps that we should have taken long ago.
  • We do have to get the money out of politics.  A constitutional amendment is needed, though.  Bernie Sanders’ proposed amendment is a great place to start.  (Actually, I think it should be passed as is.)
  • I liked Obama’s confrontational tone.  The Fix called it “Confrontation Wrapped in Kumbaya”.  I like that; it’s an apt description.  Obama fully played on the fact that Congress’s approval rating is extremely low, lecturing them about their inaction.  He promised action where Congress has been inactive.  He can do a lot through executive order, but that is not as good as legislation.  He demanded that Congress send him bills this year and promised to sign them.
  • I don’t have a lot of hope that Congress will actually act, though, the cameras kept panning to shots of stony-faced Republicans who seemed to want to be anywhere else.
  • The Republicans didn’t seem to take kindly to that scolding tone, and cleared out of the chamber pretty quickly.  I enjoyed that.  One never likes being lectured to, especially when one knows that the person doing the lecturing is right.

The Republican Response

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana delivered the Republican response.  I was struck by a few things.

  • The use of the phrase “loyal opposition”.  I see a lot of opposition in the Republican agenda during Obama’s presidency.  But I have not seen a lot of loyal.  When the Senate minority leader’s stated goal is to make Obama a one-term president, how is that loyally caring for the people’s business?  How is the president supposed to work to find a middle ground, when there isn’t any to begin with?
  • Mitch Daniels talking about budget math is really pretty rich.  Daniels was President Bush’s budget director.  A strong case can be made that the deficit and debt issues that the Republicans care so much about now can be laid at the feet of President Bush and his tax cuts.  And then fighting two wars.
  • The claim that Steve Jobs was a jobs creator was embellished, to say the least.  Apparently Daniels missed the New York Times article from January 21.  Steve Jobs created jobs, all right, but Daniels neglected to mention that most of those were overseas.

I see a lot more of the same coming from Republicans.  They still don’t want to work with President Obama, despite the record low approval rating that Congress enjoys.  So President Obama will need to do what he can via executive order, and he’ll have to go out on the road and really sell his plan.  And he’s going to have to pick a couple of things he absolutely has to have and fight for them in Congress the way he hasn’t the past three years.

Once again, John Boehner can’t keep his caucus in line.  This fact contributes to the absolute disgrace that is Congress these days.  The Republican leadership makes deals with the Democrats and then reneges because Boehner can’t get the Republican votes needed to pass a law.

Let’s be honest here – the tea partiers are holding this up for reasons completely unrelated to the payroll tax holiday.  They want quick action on the Keystone XL Pipeline and more discretionary spending cuts, according to Ezra Klein.  The American people are the ones who will pay the price in higher taxes – taxes that are in fact regressive, so the rich won’t pay anything more than they already do.  And Boehner says that the House has finished the work of the American people and is saying that the ball is back in the Senate’s court.

Boehner also says that a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday is a non-starter because the House doesn’t want any more half measures that might “cause uncertainty.”  Dana Milbank’s column today points out the lie there:

On Monday, the bar owner’s son aligned himself with House conservatives in opposition to a broadly bipartisan plan to extend a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

This new position, essentially reversing the one Boehner voiced a mere three days earlier, proves anew that the old-school speaker is less a leader of his caucus than a servant of his radical backbenchers. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s their barkeep.

Three times at a news conference on Friday, Boehner was asked whether he could support a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, as Senate Democrats and Republicans were planning. Three times, Boehner declined to state an objection to the two-month extension (he objected to a different part of the agreement, about an oil pipeline, which the senators subsequently changed to his liking).

“I just gave you an answer. How much clearer can I be?” Boehner said, refusing to take issue with the two-month extension.

And so senators passed the extension, 89 to 10. Tea Party heroes Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio voted for the compromise. The fiercest budget cutter of them all, Sen. Tom Coburn, voted for it. Republican lions such as John Cornyn, Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell voted for it. Only seven Republicans voted “no.”

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who negotiated the compromise, kept Boehner informed at every step — and was confident enough in Boehner’s acquiescence that his office sent out a notice saying there would be no more legislative business in the Senate until 2 p.m. on Jan. 23. But Boehner’s backbenchers — particularly the Tea Party freshmen — had other ideas, and, in a Saturday teleconference, made clear to Boehner that he would have to abandon the compromise.

The House Republican freshmen have become a bit tipsy with power, and freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) on Tuesday boasted at a news conference that his class is “performing more like sophomores now than freshmen.” Actually, their performance is more sophomoric than anything, but they’ve been able to deliver a string of insults to Boehner, most notably the July revolt that forced the speaker to pull his debt-limit plan from the floor. If Boehner needs any more evidence he’s out of style in his party, he can ponder the rise in the presidential race of Newt Gingrich, the man Boehner tried to depose from the speakership 15 years ago, losing his leadership position in the process.

On Tuesday, Boehner had the unpleasant task of going before the cameras to explain why his House Republicans, after championing tax cuts for millionaires, would be voting against a tax cut for ordinary Americans.

“You know, Americans are tired of, uh,Washington’s short-term fixes and gimmicks,” Boehner began. Behind him in the hallway outside his office, four American flags provided patriotic cover for the reversal. He complained that “the Senate Democratic leaders passed a two-month extension” — omitting mention that Senate Republicans, with Boehner’s knowledge and tacit support, had agreed.

So rather than pass a two-month extension, he’s willing to have the tax cuts lapse entirely when they expire at year end?

“I don’t believe the differences between the House and Senate are that great,” Boehner said, by way of reassurance. But this only confirmed that his side was making a big stink over nothing.

Why didn’t he raise warnings earlier about the two-month extension? “Uh, we expressed our reservations about what the Senate was doing,” he said.

What did he make of the fact that 90 percent of the Senate supported the compromise? Boehner, in reply, demanded to know why “we always have to go to the lowest common denominator” — which is exactly what he had done in letting his backbenchers lead him.

The speaker denied the obvious truth that he had encouraged the compromise before opposing it. He licked his lips, gave a “thanks, everybody” and disappeared.

The sophomoric freshmen must have needed their barkeep to serve them another round.

This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil to get power.  The Republican establishment made that deal with the Tea Party to win the 2010 Congressional election.  They made this bed.  Gridlock has ensued for the entire term.  Congress is an absolute disgrace with something like an 11% approval rating (who ARE the people who approve, by the way?).  And now, again, the American people that they profess to love so much will suffer.  The rich won’t, remember, because the payroll tax is regressive.  Nice going, Republicans.

“Send in the Clueless” is the headline from the op-ed by Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times.  I borrowed it for this post because it’s just so perfect.  Krugman, as usual, is exactly right.  He says it so much better than I did in my post on the state of the Republican field.

Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today. You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year — and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).

And you also have to denounce President Obama, who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.

So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless.

I think Krugman is right on when he says:

The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”

The same metaphor, it seems to me, might apply to the G.O.P. pursuit of the White House next year. If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S.government — it will have no idea what to do, because the realities of government in the 21st century bear no resemblance to the mythology all ambitious Republican politicians must pretend to believe. And what will happen then?

That’s the right question.  What, exactly, will happen if the Republicans win the White House next year?  They will actually have to govern if they are elected.  (Which, by the way, I think would be an unmitigated disaster.)

They’ve said exactly nothing about how they plan to do that.  They just talk about how bad the government is, how it must be cut, that we have to cut taxes and regulation, and somehow – magically – prosperity will return to the United States.

Wishing doesn’t make it so.  Cutting the government – and putting more people of work as a result, incidentally – will not make it so.  It will hurt more than it helps.  Real interest rates on the debt are negative.  The government should be taking advantage of this opportunity and spending more in the short term while taking a long term view on deficits, which do need to be dealt with.

Government is not the root of all evil in America, as the Republicans would have us believe.  There are many, many things it can do better, but there is a place for government in our lives.  The government should be the one to pay for and run prisons, or build and maintain roads, or run schools, or myriad other things.  We can’t simply starve the beast and hope everything gets better.  And the Republicans either don’t realize this or are so cynical that they don’t care.  I don’t really know which is worse.

The Republican presidential field is remarkable for one reason.  They’re doing the best they can to distinguish themselves in how unremarkable they are.  I’ve talked about some of this before, but with the events of the past few days in this race, I need to talk about it again.

EJ Dionne wrote about this in his column today.  (And that’s before Herman Cain’s truly impressive gaffe on Libya today.  If you watch the video of that one, you’re left wondering if he knows anything at all.)

Dionne made some points today about the lack of depth in the field.  That it wasn’t Perry’s brain cramp (which can happen to anyone and is a little bit forgivable), but what’s really bad is his lack of depth.

What really matters is the subject that sent Perry’s brain into lockdown. He was in the middle of describing sweeping changes in the federal bureaucracy closely connected to his spare vision of American government. One presumes a candidate for president ponders such proposals carefully, discusses them with advisers and understands their implications.

Forgetting an idea at the heart of your program, in other words, is not the same as forgetting a phone number, a friend’s name, a football score or the title of a recently read book.

Perry’s memory lapse showed that he wasn’t asserting anything that he is truly serious about because he is not serious about what government does, or ought not to do. For him, governing seems a casual undertaking.

“And I will tell you,” he declared, “it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”

Yes, let’s see what “gone” might imply. Would Perry end all federal aid to education? Would he do away with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the part of the Commerce Department that, among other things, tracks hurricanes? Energy was the department he forgot. Would he scrap the department’s 17 national labs, including such world-class facilities as Los Alamos, N.M., Oak Ridge, Tenn., or — there’s that primary coming up — Aiken, S.C.?

I’m not accusing Perry of wanting to do any of these things because I don’t believe he has given them a moment of thought. And that’s the problem for conservatives. Their movement has been overtaken by a quite literally mindless opposition to government. Perry, correctly, thought he had a winning sound bite, had he managed to blurt it out, because if you just say you want to scrap government departments (and three is a nice, round number), many conservatives will cheer without asking questions.

“He hasn’t given them a moment of thought.”  Doesn’t that just nail the problem with the GOP today?

It is a brainless field.  They brainlessly spout off talking points (to huge cheers, mind) about the evils of government, about how taxes and spending and regulation must be cut, about foreign policy (see Herman Cain’s moment from today), or torture (both Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain say that they would waterboard people again).  They all attack science and intellectual work as evil liberal plots.  And conservative voters — even those who should know better — lap it up.

It’s a frightening prospect.  Someone from this field — my guess is that it will be Romney — will be the nominee, and someone else from this field will be the running mate.  That person has a pretty decent chance at beating President Obama next November.  Others in this field may be in line for Cabinet positions.  These are the people who would run the country.  And they haven’t thought anything they say they want to do through.  It’s simply about being the president, not actually governing if they win.  How can that not be scary?

I’ll leave off with Dionne’s last paragraph:

There are honorable exceptions: Bill Bennett, for one, and to some degree — hard to admit, I know — Karl Rove. But that so many other members of a movement theoretically devoted to traditional values on sexual matters would eagerly jump into this mess on Cain’s side speaks volumes about its condition. To paraphrase Bennett from another context, where’s the outrage about a conservatism that is losing both its intellectual moorings and its moral compass?

What is it with the Republicans these days?  I’m talking, specifically, about the Republican presidential field.  It’s absolutely nuts.  You know it’s really nuts when Pat Robertson, of all people, is saying that it’s bad.  (I mean, can you believe this?  This is the guy who blames floods and other natural disasters on gay people.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

The one guy who could actually be elected from that group has to tack so far to the right to get past the wing nuts that have taken over the party that he’s making campaign ad after campaign ad for Obama in the general election.  The other guy who’s actually reasonable can’t gain any traction because he’s reasonable.  The nominal frontrunner (depending on which poll you’re reading) is a mediocre pizza chain executive who’s never held office.

I feel like I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone and am waiting for Rod Serling to step out of the shadows and tell me it’s all okay.  But of course he never does because this is reality.  Surreal and real at the same time.  Go figure.  Such is the state of the Republican Party as it tries to find anyone other than Romney for the nomination next year.

Let’s briefly examine the field:

  • Mitt Romney – this is the one guy who could beat Obama next year.  But the wing nuts are driving him so far to the right that he’s looking more and more like a wing nut too.  He just hangs in and hopes to be still standing when the latest flavor of the week flames out.  And not be so far to the right that he can’t come back for the general election.  You just know Obama can’t wait to run some of the things Romney has said in this primary as campaign ads in the general election next year.
  • Jon Hunstman – he could probably beat Obama next year, too, but he can’t get any traction because he worked in a Democratic administration (as ambassador toChina), and has no money, probably also because he worked in a Democratic administration.
  • Herman Cain – the mediocre pizza chain executive.  All he can talk about is 9-9-9, even though it’s been repeatedly shown to belong in the pile of ordure it came from.  He’s polling so well precisely because the Republican Party can’t stand Romney.
  • Rick Perry – this is the guy who touts his C average in college.  He’s trying to make himself look more attractive by making himself look stupid.  He’s also the guy with the racist name on his ranch.  And the one who tried to bring back the “birther” controversy in Parade magazine, of all places.  (Does anyone else mistake that magazine for coupons, as Jon Stewart notes?  I always toss it, unread.)  He’s also the candidate who said that appearing in debates was a mistake.  Pardon me for thinking it’s somewhat important to see how candidates think on their feet.  A debate is a friendly venue compared to sparring with some world leaders.
  • Newt Gingrich – Mr. Family Values himself.  This is the former speaker of the House, who resigned from Congress in disgrace, attempting a comeback like Richard Nixon’s.  He’s also the stand-up guy who informed his wife of divorce proceedings while she was in the hospital.  (Gingrich disputes this, of course.)  I always admired his intellect – he always seemed to be the smartest of this motley bunch – but he seems to think that the way ahead is to deny established science.
  • Michele Bachmann – Ms. Wing Nut herself.  I can’t believe I was saying that we needed to take her seriously.  Well, those words certainly weren’t true.  I guess the old adage about giving them enough rope is true.

Let’s be real here.  The economy is horrid and has remained so for a long time.  People are rightly upset about that.  Obama gets the blame for that because he’s the president, and the president gets the blame for everything.  Kind of like an oldest child.  And because of that, President Obama is in a tough fight for reelection.  He’s beatable.  But the Republicans are handing the election to him.  I’m an Obama supporter, so I don’t like saying or reading that he’s vulnerable.  But he is.  The election in 2012 is going to be hugely important.  We have real problems in this country.  I see Obama trying to address them, Republicans trying to stop him, and then blaming him for not doing anything.  And the presidential candidates are doing the same thing.

I think the Republican Party needs to grow up.  They claim to be the adults in the room, but what I see is a group of people who childishly deny something despite the facts.  (Just watch The Daily Show for myriad examples.  Jon Stewart and his staff are masterful at putting that together.)  What happened to the intellectuals of the GOP?  Did they all check out when Bill Buckley shuffled off the mortal coil?

The Republican Party has taken a real slide in intellectualism lately.  They’re all smart enough, but seem to want to be stupid.  Constantly.  It makes one truly despair for the future.

I’m going to do the unthinkable – defend a Republican.  But what’s happening is wrong and needs to be called out.

This post isn’t about Mitt Romney’s (or Jon Huntsman’s, although he’s been so quiet I’d forgotten he was running) qualifications to be president.  I think that Romney is the least scary (and this isn’t saying much; the Republican field looks pretty much like a gaggle of wing nuts to me) Republican candidate for president.  This post also isn’t about Mormons or the Mormon church, although I don’t have much love for them, either, considering how they went to work to pass Proposition 8 in California.

This post is about the shameful castigation of Mormonism by some people.

We went through this in 1960.  Perhaps Romney and Huntsman need to borrow from John Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association about his Catholicism:

I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.

But I hate to even suggest that they do that.  We have freedom of religion in this country.  We do not have a religious test in this country to determine who can and can’t hold office.  It’s just a knee-jerk conservative reaction to anything different from themselves.

Maybe Mormonism is a cult.  Maybe it isn’t.  But that doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if a Protestant or a Jew or a Muslim or a Catholic or a Mormon or a Moonie runs for president.  Each candidate should be evaluated based on his or her qualifications for the job.  That doesn’t include religion.

I don’t think any of the Republican candidates are qualified to be president.  But that’s because I think they’re all nuts who want to do away with the Federal Reserve, disband the EPA, and think that any government at all is a horrible wrong (you can see some of the proposals from last night’s Republican debate here).  That has nothing to do with any of the candidates’ religions.

This post could be about DADT ending today.  It’s about time for that, too.  But that, while pretty amazing in itself, is not quite as amazing as President Obama growing a spine and forcing the Republicans to do what he wants.  I hope that continues.

It’s about time President Obama stood up for what he believes in.  It was far, far past time for him to find his backbone and stop trying to compromise with people who have absolutely no interest in working with him.

Obama went to Washington trying to stop business as usual, end the partisanship, and actually do some good in Washington.  This is what he campaigned on, anyway.  Yes, some of the choices were mistimed.  The health care bill should have waited while the economy really recovered.  But it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and the Republicans don’t want to work with Obama.

Today, though, Obama gave a speech in the Rose Garden.  He called the Republicans out, promising a veto if the bill that comes out of the super committee doesn’t contain new revenues.  He finally(!) stood up for something he believes in.

President Obama struck a combative tone on Monday as called for $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue as part of a proposal to tame the nation’s rocketing federal debt, drawing a sharp contrast with the Republican vision and resetting the terms of the economic debate in Washington this fall.

In a defiant Rose Garden appearance, Obama threatened to veto any plan to tame the debt that does not pair cuts to Medicare and Medicaid with increases in taxes on the rich.

“We can’t just cut our way out of this hole,” Obama said. “It’s going to take a balanced approach.”

Combined with his call this month for $450 billion in new stimulus, the proposal represents a more populist approach to confronting the nation’s economic travails than the compromises he advocated earlier this summer.

It is also diametrically opposed to many of the views supported by Republicans, who want to balance the nation’s books mainly through cutting spending, particularly in Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans argue that Obama’s plan to tax the rich is a divisive political strategy. But Obama rejected that view Monday.

“This is not class warfare,” Obama said. “It’s math.”

In doing so, he finally took steps to bring back his base.  More importantly, Obama also took steps to bring back independents, which he will need for reelection next year.

[S]hows that the American public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy as part of a package to cut the deficit. The margins are staggering: the NYT poll shows a majority of 74 – 21; even Rasmussen shows a majority of 56 – 34. What the president proposed this morning is simply where the American people are at. If he keeps at it, if he turns his administration into a permanent campaign for structural fiscal reform, I don’t see how he loses the argument.

It really is about time.

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