Politics: Blame Them For Doing Right, Too

I loves me some politics, as readers here well know. But there are occasionally times when the rush to declare someone a “hypocrite” overtakes rational behavior. I am not exception in this.

Take for example the latest TPM post, pointing out that a lot of state governors have accepted federal moneys that they patently decried in the campaign season. This is certainly hypocritical, that is true:

Republican Governors Quietly Accept Federal Dollars — While Attacking Federal Spending | TPMDC.

But then again, if we’re going to attack people for doing things we disagree with, shouldn’t we also praise them for doing things we agree with? Even if, as in this case, its a direct contradiction to their stated beliefs?

At the end of a day, a governor who is serious about governing has to realize that getting through the Great Recession without federal help will be neigh-on impossible. If they take that money, its the responsible thing to do. We can get into the argument about how to pay for it later.


Wisconsin State Senator Tackled on His Way Into the Capitol Building

Sometimes, the back-and-forth of politics is fun to watch. But this isn’t a game, as this video in Wisconsin demonstrates. A local television media posted video, linked to below at TPM, of a State Senator apparently getting tackled by cops on his way inside the building:

Video Apparently Shows Wisconsin Rep Getting Tackled By Officers VIDEO | TPMMuckraker.

Trouble with video is: its very visceral but often lacks context. In this case, we don’t see what happened before and we don’t see what happened after the event – which is very irritating inasmuch as this is a nominally professional news agency who was surely running the camera for longer than the clip they posted.

That Senator might have said something truly awful about that cop’s sister. Its also possible that the cop was possessed just moments before by the spirit of Bam Bam Bigelow. Unlikely, I grant you. But the point we don’t know just what did happen.

And everybody in the political realm will do their level best to make this video damning of their opposition.


Are We In a Crisis? Yes! But Let’s Not Do Anything About It

Once again, just watching the same poll data over and over again: we want to solve what we believe are budget problems, but we don’t want to actually take any of the steps that are being presented as options:

Two in Three in U.S. Say Their State is in a Budget Crisis.

There are a number of issues with the entire concept of this article. For example, two in three people in the US think their state is in a budget crisis. Well, how many of them were actually right? Of those polled, how many lived in states with actual budget crises and how many were not?

This strikes me as a quantitative question with a right or wrong answer. That two in three Americans see it the same way is probably telling in its own right: it seems like the Republican message is getting through, if not the appetite for their remedies. But there is a real baseline here to compare and contrast with, so why is that not included in the report?

The other problem is that, as is the typical blind-spot for polls, multiple choice questions leave us with only one predefined set of answers. Gallup to their credit chose the more common methods of budget cutting, but the choices were all budget cuts. And the problem with that is: we didn’t need to cut the budgets when we were making money in this country. Nowhere in there is the option to “put people back to work and raise tax revenue,” though this is in reality the only measure that works.

I’m not arguing that budgets can’t be cut, that bloat doesn’t happen, that success doesn’t hide a multitude of sin. I’m saying success hides a multitude of sin.


I Don’t Care Whose Fault It is. Just Fix It.

Down the line on most any issue, my politics fall predictably to the left. I think that’s pretty clearly understood by anyone who reads my stuff. You know, what with the title of the website, the six years spent blogging on said site, and all. But over the last two years, I’ve slowly come under the impression that the issues that drove me to blog in the first place are entirely irrelevant to the “discussion” as it happens between the political poles of our country. In fact, issues don’t really seem to factor in to the “discussion” at all, save of course, as props.

Both the Left and the Right of the country seem to be entirely focused on the proposition that the only means of saving the economy is a radical shift in one direction or another. I say that as an ardent supporter of public financing of health care. And one who believes the Stimulus package was both necessary and successful. Nevertheless, just because I agree with my friends on the Left – down the line. on every issue – doesn’t make that the relevant issue of the day. Right now, the relevant issue of the day is in fact the figurative business of “getting the car out of the ditch.” That is the problem. That is what I suspect most people want to talk about.

And while I generally look to my beliefs and therefore my politics for answers to the issues of the day, now I just look at the two sides bickering over issues in disbelief. Both sides are citing historical precedents and studies from the colleges of their choice,…. and I just remember the thing I heard my mommy and daddy say to my sister and I countless times:

I don’t care whose fault it is. Just fix it.


Olbermann, Kopel and Journalism: Complete the Thought

I’m certain I did not originally start this website for the purposes of being a commentator on the news media. I’m sure that’s not really my desire even now. Yet I keep coming back to the theme, despite myself, because the media increasing becomes the story.

So, I’m going to keep this one brief, but observe that, in the whole Keith Olbermann / now apparently Joe Scarborough / Ted Koppel dust-up over journalistic objectivity, it strikes me that Keith ultimately has made the most salient point. Or glanced it, anyway. He’s right when he says that Koppel’s bland form of journalism has indeed failed us. He’s right when he says that the rise of his own brand of – well, let’s just call it “journalism,” though I’m not at all sure that’s the right term for it – was inevitable in the wake of that failure. I don’t necessarily think that this is any kind of defense of Olbermann, however.

To me, the slavish insistence on “objectivity,” as in the insistence on not coming to conclusions based on the reporting done, is a cheat. Those of us who watch the news on television or read it online or in print do so because we want to read the news as reported by someone who has some sense of what it means. While the rest of us do our jobs, live with our families and enjoy our hobbies, we don’t often find time to sit down with Senators, Senate staffers, generals, or mayors to discuss the news of the day. We don’t even get the opportunity to sit in a row of uncomfortable chairs and watch said leaders bloviate or dodge questions. And we certainly don’t have the benefit of having done such things for the last several years.

So when the people who actually have done the leg work and the drudge work of reporting the news fail to connect the dots for us – when they fail to complete the thought – we get cheated. When the people with the expertise in both journalism and their specifically-assigned politics choose to censor themselves because they want to be “objective,” the rest of us who are busy doing our own jobs get left in the lurch. No, we do not in fact need your opinion. But we are not so weak-minded that, if we hear the informed opinion of an experienced journalist, we won’t be able to handle it.

And into that chasm will inevitably flow editorials. Then talking heads. Then bloggers such as myself. Because conversation is how humans operate. Because people will always look outside themselves for guidance, inspiration and wisdom. Even to those whom, like myself, don’t really have any more to give them than they had in the first place.


We Need Merit Pay for DMV Workers

Reading this Carl Bailik article in the Wall Street Journal about the merits of merit pay for teachers, I am struck by the notion that teachers require government-instituted merit pay evaluation programs in order to improve their performance. There is no such program for us PHP developers – nor was there any such program for press-brake and punch fabricator operators when those were my professions – but I don’t think anyone can seriously accuse me of soft-peddling my job as a result.

But granted, those professions I’ve held have all been in private industry: there’s no tax money going to pay for my salary. Fair enough. What, then, of other government professions? DMV clerks? Postal workers? Congressmen? And what are the benchmarks for those professions?

The truth is that professionalism cannot be quantified. And a lack of professionalism will certainly – as indeed the article notes – breed dishonesty. And either way, the only real test of one’s professional ability and ethics is personal observation. The fact is: you know who at your job is a fuck up and who isn’t.

So to what end are we imposing merit systems to teachers? What will it accomplish? The answer is: it makes politicians look good and taxpayers feel good to discuss the possibility. It might even make them both feel better once instituted: people might get a sense that they’ve accomplished something and made the world a better place. But really, its just a political football that is of more importance to the feelings of the players than it is of substance to the children being educated. mh.


The Permanent Campaign

Chuck Todd was just on MSNBC discussing the political apparatus available to the Obama Administration and how that apparatus has come down hard on Dianne Feinstein on the health care reform vote. He points out that, since Senator Feinstein announced that they did not have the votes on the reform bill, MoveOn and other groups have launched attack ads on California television to push her back to the table. Nicole Wallace adds that this illustrates how Obama’s model for this issue is really the same as George Bush’s model: that of the permanent campaign.

The truth I think is much less simple than the pundits would like to make it seem. The left is certainly on the same page in it’s desire for health care reform; indeed the majority of our country seems to be ready for something new. But to assume that the Obama Administration has MoveOn to count as a tool of it’s policy making is probably going a bit far.

But there is no question that the Obama Campaign has shifted to the Obama Administration or that many of the priorities of the campaign have shifted to the priorities of the administration. In fact, they made no apologies immediately after the campaign, telling those of us who volunteered for him that they planned on keeping that network active. Certainly, the campaign continues. On this level, one can certainly compare the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration fairly, but it’s also worth contrasting as well.

There is a substantive difference between how the Bush Administration campaigned from the White House and how the Obama Administration is currently operating. Note the admitted caveat, “currently.” Primarily, the Bush Administration was concerned with winning, not necessarily winning anything specific. If there was a problem with political angling in the Bush Administration and in the Republican Party generally throughout the last eight years, it was that they squandered what was an impressive political machine on silly things like Terry Shiavo and the credit reform bill. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration awarded campaign donors with plum jobs in the administration. Here we see the real difference between Obama and Bush: George Bush’s policy and procedure were meant to support his campaign, whereas Barack Obama’s campaign supports his policy and procedure.


Contemplating the Nature of Potholes

Call it pre-partisanship: the idea that before you get to political discourse, the first step is identifying the things that are required of a government. After you’ve identified those things – and identified the things you disagree with others about – then you get to demagogue over how best to run the government.

But in the meanwhile, potholes still need to be filled; street lights need replacing; parks need to have trash removed from them. Politicians can be “tough on crime,” or talk about “accountability,” until they’re blue in the face, these things still need to be done.

I guess I’m just thinking that, after all the time and effort I’ve spent being partisan, focusing on these small, unsexy things that make our society run might be worth the effort.

But not here, not to worry. This site is all about the firebrand.


Here We Go Again. . .

If anyone needs any specific reason to think that the Republican Party has run plum out of ideas, check out their obstructionist tactics on the stimulus bill. Where have we heard about this one before? Oh, yes. I remember: the bank bailout bill that in obstructing they hamstrung their candidate and cost themselves the election. Looks like the House and Senate Republicans are planning on going for a double-dip because, “ooh! Wasn’t that lovely!”

It’s kinda nice watching the Republicans play Keystone Cops for a change.

I’m not sure that I agree with Josh Marshall‘s assertion that obstruction is the GOP’s best stand-out political move is, as he says, the best cynical political move. Of course, I understand that in pure political calculus, if the stimulus fails and Republicans opposed it, they create a necessary differentiation between the parties. That difference can be filled in with their own ideas which they can sell to a disaffected public.

But as I probably already said once or twice before the election, I don’t think any normal person whose job is at stake gives a rat’s ass about politics right now. Think the Republicans may be vastly underestimating the “flighty” public and it’s “fan-boy love” of Obama. Americans gravitated to Obama because of his competence at at time when we have need of real leadership. The party that chooses to stand on the sidelines and complain will be the party remembered for. . . having stood on the sidelines. Americans will remember that the Republicans chose to do nothing.

Locally, that’s why my thinking is beginning to change on the Renn Square project as well. Whatever our differences and suspicions about the project, we’d do well to find a way to improve the project in ways that benefit our ideals rather than seeking to kill the plan which at this point looks kind of necessary.


Opening Moves

Its been my observation that a president has but a few short months – if that – of glowing appreciation from the country and what he chooses to do with that short time span as his first set of acts will forever dominate his presidency. Even if those acts seem little to him and his staff. Bill Clinton signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell order which I think completely alienated him from the moderate to Conservative side of the country who cannot accept gay people in any way. One of George Bush’s first acts was to raise the threshold of the EPA’s standard for lead in drinking water. I think most of us on the left knew exactly where his presidency was headed, and even after 911, Katrina and a near banking collapse, that notion of complete and total kinship with the worst of Corporate America’s excesses remains.

So, how is Barack Obama doing so far? Well, he’s signed an executive order banning torture (funny, I though that was already banned?), he’s suspended trials at Gitmo, he’s reversed an executive order signed by George Bush shortly after 911 that made it possible to forever conceal presidential documents under executive privilege.

On balance, at least so far, the only people who are going to object are the hard-Righties who insist on carrying on the Bush Legacy. The trouble comes when the first major test of these orders – particularly the detention and interrogation orders – comes along. We have to expect that it won’t be long in coming. When some terrorist attack happens in Bali and kills Americans, there will be pundits all over the airwaves insisting that these harshest of Bush Policies be restored. The question is: will Americans respond to this fear mongering, or will we stand firm?

It will probably be the answer to this question that will either make Obama a near-Lincoln quality president in the eyes of Americans, or a near-Bush.