Friday, April 27, 2012

Hardworking, uncomplaining, and non-mooching

Quite a while ago my father gave me the March/April issue of Washington Monthly. I've been reading it when my computer gets bogged down. That means I've read a lot of it (though I'm not done yet) but mostly only a couple paragraphs at a time. There are a couple articles to bring to your attention.

Steven Teles reviews the book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Skocpol and Williamson. My comments are based on the review, not on the book. Teles (as well as the authors) think we should accurately understand the Tea Party because they are creating structures so that they will stick around for a while. The authors spent time visiting Tea Party meetings to get the unfiltered story of what the members really want.

Though the Koch brother have dumped a lot of money into the national Tea Party, the local chapters don't see that money and aren't beholden to Koch influence. They should be able to stick around when the Koch money disappears.

Most Tea Party members are white, older, and middle class. A basic principle in their politics is government is great when it helps people like them -- hard working, uncomplaining, non-mooching, patriotic and such -- with programs such as Social Security and Medicare that are "earned" through paying taxes. But government is a threat when it helps people who have not worked and thus don't taxpayer support.

That may not be racist (and the members say they aren't) but it can easily come across that way -- government benefits are for us (white, middle class) and not for you (black, poor). This sounds a lot like conservative principles that Terrence Heath talks about in which your moral worth depends on your wealth and government services are only for the morally worthy.

Many Tea Party members treat the Constitution the same way they treat the Bible. The text is inerrant and any person should be able to read it and understand the literal meaning.

Back in the Bush II years the GOP talked about limited government, then betrayed those principles with continued pork-barrel spending, expansion of Medicare through Part D, massive regulatory programs, and "compassionate conservatism" outreach to minorities and immigrants. Add to that the economic collapse as Bush was leaving office left Tea Party members with no trust in the GOP leadership. That led to their demands that those they elect to Congress shall not compromise. Alas, they don't understand how government works, even just the dry mechanics of getting a bill passed -- or truly understanding what is in most bills.

Teles suggests the local Tea Party chapters would have greatest effect by turning a watchful gaze on local government to examine where the mayor and council throw needless regulations in the way of business and violate personal liberty and property. They might get liberals to help.

The Washington Monthly cover article discusses what Obama has accomplished in three years and why Obama isn't getting the credit. The article was written by Paul Glastris. There is also a list of Obama's top 50 accomplishments (though I don't see a link).

Some of Obama's accomplishments will only be appreciated many years from now. Part of it is because what Obama did is only a kernel of something that will grow into great benefit. An example is the Affordable Care Act. Many provisions don't kick in for another couple years. And the Act is only the first step in a big change in how we do health care. Obama is derided for not being able to make it all happen at once. Another example is the American Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus. Yeah, the amount of money was too small, but other provisions -- such as the way money was rewarded -- will have long lasting effects.

Another reason why Obama doesn't get the credit is he didn't implement solutions the way his base wanted him to. Obama's bank rescue didn't include prosecution of Wall Street tycoons, but did get the banking industry working again and put regulations in place to lessen the chance of it happening again (though I wonder if the recently signed JOBS act undid some of that work). Another example is the auto bailouts. Those came with lots of restrictions, such as improved gas mileage goals, which mean car companies might actually make small cars at a profit. The article gives several more examples.

A third reason why Obama doesn't get much credit is because he is very reluctant (or perhaps not very good at) tooting his own horn. He could very easily do that by putting his accomplishments in context with his long-term vision.

Has Obama made mistakes? There have been no scandals (until recently with the Secret Service and that is minor). His policies have had no horrible unintended consequences (even saintly Washington had the Whiskey Rebellion). He has taken huge risks when warranted, such as the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. But Obama has let the GOP roll over him too many times and has neither mastered the political games of Washington or been able to change them.

Obama's place in history? Looks pretty good. Maybe within the top ten presidents. But his legacy is very much dependent on being reelected. If he fails at that the GOP will expend a great deal of effort undoing what he has done and there will be no long-term benefits.

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