Obama’s new long-game

President Obama’s biggest mistake was probably roasting Donald Trump at the 2011 National Press Club dinner. It likely infuriated Trump and led to his run for the presidency some years later and the current national disaster we are experiencing from his presidency. It’s hard to say for sure, but I think if Obama hadn’t lampooned him, Trump might still be busy laundering money by selling his condos at inflated prices to foreign investors.

Obama’s second biggest mistake was probably missing the 2010 midterm wave that turned control of Congress over to Republicans. Obama did what he could do. He certainly traveled the country and campaigned for Democrats and exhorted Democrats to turn out. But they didn’t. Republicans however did turn out massively, adding 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats. Eight years later Democrats are still reeling from this election. They are now hoping for a turn of the tide this November, similar to their success in the 2006 midterms.

Arguably it was what Republicans did after the 2010 midterms was much more important than that midterm results themselves. They used the wave of enthusiastic Republicans (many Tea Party affiliated) and Democrat apathy to gain control of more state legislatures and governorships. They also set up Operation REDMAP that worked relentlessly to flip Democratic state seats using two assets that Republican have in abundance: money and mean-spirited tenacity. This allowed them to control the redistricting process in ten out of the 15 states that would be redrawing their districts as a result of the 2010 census. Then they used the power of analytics to create highly gerrymandered districts to lock in their majorities. Since this redistricting effort, Republicans have picked up seats in states where Democrats took the majority of the votes, demonstrating the fundamental unfairness of their highly partisan gerrymandering effort.

Now out of office Obama is free to do what he does best: play a long game. Which is why he and former Attorney General Eric Holder have created the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Curiously though the NDRC goal is not to bring about Democratic gerrymandering, but to kill gerrymandering altogether. President Obama has put his finger on the nub of the real problem: gerrymandering is deeply undemocratic and must be killed to have a real democracy. What we are getting instead is bordering on autocracy.

The committee has four strategies to do this. The first is litigation, and here they have had great success. They challenged Pennsylvania’s highly gerrymandered map in court and succeeded in having it redrawn to be fairer, giving no party an unfair advantage. This will likely mean four House seats in Pennsylvania will flip in the election from Republican to Democrat, simply because of a more even playing field now. Similar efforts are underway in other states like Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin. In some states there are voter initiatives to make gerrymandering illegal, taking district drawing out of the control of politicians altogether.

The second strategy is to mobilize people in this effort. Toward that end I am getting mobilized, first by donating money to their cause but potentially in other ways too. Here in Massachusetts though, our districts are generally drawn pretty fairly already.

The third strategy is reform: passing laws in states to enact fairer redistricting laws. Here they have the support of Americans who generally disdain gerrymandering, 71 percent in favor according to one poll. I’ve complained about it before, noting that its worst sin was that it removed most moderates from political offices. Moderate politicians are the key to getting government working again.

The last strategy is to elect Democrats where it helps even the playing field. Here, working with other Democratic groups, they’ve had great success in many special elections since Trump was inaugurated. When Democrats trounce Republicans in special elections in Oklahoma, you know something is up.

There is no guarantee that getting rid of gerrymandering will necessarily mean that Democrats will control Congress and state legislatures again. But gerrymandering is the root of a much larger set of problems. When there were many moderates in office, political accommodation was possible. In the past, meeting in the middle was how government got things done. It was sometimes messy, such as in earmarks for congressional districts, but it did create a political space where such accommodations were possible.

So I’m in with Obama and Holder in playing this long game. Democracy is not possible if there is no space for political accommodation. In that sense this effort is very patriotic and perhaps the ideal response to our age of fake news and our fake presidency. For democracy to flourish, we all need a realistic chance to sit at the table again. We’ve lost that.

Why Obama is winning

Pollsters keep telling us that President Obama is statistically tied in the presidential race with his challenger Mitt Romney. “It’s within the margin of error,” they say, and if elections were won based on the popular vote, it would be. It is much harder to make the claim that the candidates are tied if you look at state polls, particularly at swing state polls. It’s beginning to look like check and mate for Mitt Romney.

Can things change? Of course they can. There is plenty of history sixty days out from Election Day showing that polls in early September don’t accurately predict the eventual winner. In this election though, the number of undecided voters is tiny. Moreover, the only undecided voters that matter are those in swing states. In most states, all the undecided voters could vote for one candidate over the other and it won’t change how the state’s electoral votes will go. With a few exceptions, states award all of their electoral votes to the candidate with the majority of votes in the state. Both campaigns know this, of course. There is no point wasting money trying to persuade voters in Texas to vote for Obama, or in Massachusetts trying to convince voters to vote for Romney. It’s only in swing states like, ironically, my state of Virginia where overbearing political ads seem to run nonstop.

State by state polls show that Obama has many realistic paths to the 270 electoral votes he needs for reelection, while few of Romney’s paths are viable. Most importantly, Romney looks like he is not going to win in Ohio, at least not without a lot of ballot stuffing or voter suppression. Polls show Obama with a consistent lead of about six points. Ohio’s Republican legislature has been working hard on the latter, but is getting some resistance from the courts. In recent times no candidate has won the presidency without winning Ohio. It is possible that Romney could win in a bunch of other states to make up the difference, but that path looks impossible.

Romney’s hope lies not in third parties that will spend enormous amounts of money to try to change the difference. His affiliated PACs have been doing that for months and it has been mostly wasted money. The recent Republican National Convention gave Romney no bounce at all in the polls. The more recent Democratic National Convention appears to have given Obama a bounce of at least a few points. History suggests any bounces will be short lived. So the race is likely to settle back to where it was before the conventions, showing the candidates close to tied with Obama generally shown marginally ahead.

Romney has only two real paths to victory. First, he can hope for some sort of cataclysmic financial event such as happened before the last election, or a sharply negative jobs report. This certainly is possible, but is unlikely. Second, he can hope that he so shines in the presidential debates that significant number of voters change their mind because they see a different and better candidate that they did not expect. Republican state legislators are hoping that Democrats can be restrained from voting through toughened voter identification laws, thus flipping the state into the red column. At best this strategy will work in only a couple of states.

Voter enthusiasm also makes a big difference in who wins, as Republicans demonstrated in 2010 when Democrats stayed home. There will be no problem turning out Republicans, unless polls make them feel disheartened. Democrats are also expected to turn out in large numbers, but perhaps not in as large numbers as in 2008.

So if Romney is checkmated, as it looks like he will be, how will it have happened? There are of course many factors, but I think the most important factor is that voters sense that Obama really cares about the middle class, and are not convinced that Romney does. Ohio actually makes a great case in point. It was ravaged by the recession, as it is nearly as dominated by the auto industry as Michigan. Obama and his brief Democratic congress rescued the auto industry when no one else would. The American auto industry came back as a direct result of our investment in it. This is the value of actions over beliefs. In this case, it is obvious that these were correct decisions, and probably explains why Obama leads in Ohio by a consistent six percent.

Moreover, voters remain distrustful of Republicans. While they may be unhappy that the recovery has not be broader, faster and more sustained, they do know who got us into this economic mess and they know it was not Obama. Having had their hand recently burned on the stove, they are reticent to put their hand back on the stove. Republicans need to demonstrate political competence. Instead, they are demonstrating obstruction, extremism and intransigence, which may thrill their political base but does not endear them to independents, no matter how desperate they may feel about their job prospects.

It’s not sexy but Democrats and President Obama have spent most of the last four years trying to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy. This Houdini trick became exponentially more difficult after the 2010 election when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House.

In addition, Obama framed Romney very effectively in June and July when voters were just beginning to pay attention to him. The frame, which was not hard to apply, was that Romney was someone with no empathy for the middle class and who understood only profits and losses, not the real issues that Americans face. Obama understands the needs of the middle class from experience, an experience that Romney never tasted. Romney’s own bungling and inconsistency since then helped cement the frame. He seems incapable of any empathy for other than the rich, and cannot even seem to speak in a language that middle America understands.

Smart Republicans have already largely written off a Romney win, and are concentrating money where it matters: on obtaining a Senate majority (which is looking increasingly problematic) and maintaining their House majority (which looks likely). Losses in this election might foment some earnest soul searching from Republicans. The sooner they realize that they need to moderate positions the more likely they are to achieve lasting political power. Republicans are going to eventually realize that they must govern from the center to maintain political power, and this means their extreme positions will need to be moderated or they risk obsolescence as a party.

How Republicans politically manipulate you

Republicans may be wrong on most things, but that certainly does not mean they are stupid. How many poor Republicans do you know? I cannot think of any offhand. Unless you inherit a boatload of money, you don’t get to be rich by being stupid. You get rich by figuring out ways to manipulate people, organizations and markets so that you come out ahead, usually at someone else’s expense. Perhaps the first rule in becoming rich should be to join the Republican Party.

Lately, Republicans have fine-tuned their machine to deliriously new and exciting heights. The Great Recession scared most of us shirtless, but Republicans saw it as an opportunity. They got us into it in the first place. However, when you don’t care about the consequences of your actions as long as it enriches you and your tribe, and when you do not feel remorse, you also won’t suffer from shame and guilt that most normal people would feel.

Yes, their stock portfolios took a tumble just as mine did, but they had eight profitable years under George W. Bush and largely Republican congresses to fatten their cash coffers. They persuaded Congress, which they essentially purchased, to lower capital gains taxes below their income tax rate, far below it, in fact. This means that investing money is now officially valued more than labor, which means the rest of us will pay disproportionately more in taxes. They also pushed the levers of power to lower their income tax rates as well. The cost has been massive deficits and the movement of wealth from middle and lower classes into the elite’s pockets instead. That this happens really doesn’t bother them at all; it makes them happy. If the government has to borrow money to give them tax cuts, like we’re going to do again with the latest compromise, that’s perfectly fine too. All that really matters is the accumulation of more and more wealth through whatever means works. When you cannot grow an economy because of lots of systemic factors, moving wealth from the bottom half to you is more than acceptable.

So unsurprisingly, Republicans dominate the moneyed professions, such as banking, investments, realty and the like. The one exception might be the law profession, simply because Republicans as a class don’t like it when the legal system can be used sue the rich into making them give up some of their wealth. It’s not sporting for a Republican to play Robin Hood, and that’s what a lot of these trial lawyers do, while often collecting a third of the settlement as their reward. So we get disinformation campaigns on so-called lawsuit abuse, for filing civil suits in court that are inherently lawful.

One of the first rules that the rich learn is that if you want to make money, you have to spend money. If you are of modest means like the rest of us, you don’t have a whole lot of discretionary spending. In fact, Republicans are hoping you are up to your eyeballs in debt, because this just makes you more disenfranchised. Whereas if you are rich, spending ten percent of your income to make sure you stay rich or get richer makes a lot of sense.

With the Supreme Court’s blessing in the Citizens United decision, they now no longer have much in the way of constraints. Under the guise of a corporation or a political action committee, they can spend as much as they want on elections. Unsurprisingly, they use their money to dominate the airwaves to make sure their message is heard. They also spend gobs of money on focus groups to figure out what message or phrases are most likely to influence you. Once they find it, they market it relentlessly.

Therefore, you get campaigns that culminate in an odd sort of distinction: PolitiFact’s infamous Lie of the Year 2010, a carefully crafted lie generated by moneyed Republicans designed specifically to appeal to your worst fears. That it was in fact a lie matters not. There is no penalty for lying in political advertising. The only thing that matters is whether you can sustain the lie long enough for it to have a political effect. Oh, the lie? It came from political consultant Frank Luntz who urged GOP leaders to say that health care reform was “government takeover”. How many of you knew it was a lie? How many of you were convinced, like Sarah Palin may actually believe (but probably no other thinking Republicans), that health care reform meant government death panels were imminent? How many of you were uncertain, but it had just enough plausibility in your mind to alter your vote?

Republicans played voters like a well-tuned fiddle this election season. Voters were already dreadfully anxious because while we were technically out of a recession the unemployment rate hovered near ten percent. So thinking like a Republican, you see opportunity and put out messages designed to feed these anxieties. Accuracy is obviously not important, you just have to influence perceptions and feelings. And when you have a lot of money and can afford to do first class market research and saturate the airwaves, you can translate anxiety into votes and gain sixty-three seats in the House of Representatives alone.

Democrats unwittingly aided and abetted Republicans, proving ineffectual at best at countering these messages. This was in part due to the large volume of salvos being hurdled at them. If you are forced into a defensive game, this eventually means that you will lose, because to win you have to score points. With money, it is possible to put the opposition on the defense most of the time. Rest assured that Republican political consultants have prepared poll tested responses in advance for any response they will get from Democrats to one of their many lies and exaggerations. Mainly they know that we voters are simple creatures. We cannot handle too much complexity, so they keep repeating the same talking points relentlessly until they sort of morph into a new conventional wisdom.

Any questions? How to change this dynamic will be the subject of a future post.

A battle lost, but a war far from over

News analysts and politicians are in a tizzy because House Democrats have done what seems to be a very strange thing. How, they ask, can House Democrats elect current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as their new minority leader, when they lost sixty house seats on November 2nd? Isn’t this counterproductive? Isn’t it rewarding failure?

These critics are looking at the wrong set of goal posts. To news analysts and pundits, the goal is to control power. To people like me, the goal of government is to work for the best interests of its people, even if in the process you must lose power for a while because you dared to do what was right and stand up against special interests. By that measure, Nancy Pelosi was a sterling success. Rarely has a Congress been as productive as this current congress, and Democrats in the House led the way. The usually recalcitrant Senate provided the breaks on so much progressive legislation that first was approved by the House. Even so, the 111th Congress passed an amazing amount of progressive legislation. Moreover, Pelosi’s leadership skills were instrumental in marshaling House Democrats, as fractious as their Senate colleagues into a strong and effective force.

Consider some of the legislation passed by this Congress and compare it with any congress in your living memory:

  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. No longer will women have pay discrimination lawsuits thrown out because 180 days have elapsed.
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This act drew plenty of scorn from Republicans and certainly did add greatly to our national debt. However, it also saved two to three million jobs and held our economy together. Skeptical? Our nation’s Number One investor Warren Buffet says it’s true. Without it and the bailout, it seems certain that we would now be mired in a depression instead of the effects of a lingering recession. Instead of 9.6% unemployment, it is likely the unemployment rate would be 15% or higher. Like the auto companies or loathe them, the bailout kept them afloat and even GM is returning to profitability. In some cases, taxpayers are making a profit from these bailouts, while saving large numbers of jobs right here in America.
  • Credit CARD Act. The act ended a host of egregious and abusive practices by credit card companies who were charging usury interest rates and fees. The act makes shopping for credit cards much less complicated and much more straightforward.
  • Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act. For the first time, the FDA is allowed to regulate cigarettes as the dangerous and controlled substance that they are. Coming soon to packs of cigarettes: graphic pictures of the effects of smoking to help dissuade smokers, courtesy of an empowered FDA, albeit fifty years later than necessary.
  • Worker, Homeowner and Business Assistance Act. Provided fourteen extra weeks of unemployment insurance for the longest unemployed Americans in the worst 24 states. The act has kept millions from destitution and homelessness.
  • Statutory Pay as you Go Act. Reinstated pay as you go budget rules that Republicans discarded in 2002. Ensures that most new spending is offset by cuts elsewhere or by new taxes. It’s a law any Republican should love, which make you wonder why they were the ones to abandon it.
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Health reform. While not perfect, for the first time your health insurance company cannot end your insurance because your condition is unprofitable for them. The act covers the health insurance needs of young adults under their parents’ policies through age 26. It squeezes real cost savings and efficiencies from Medicare and Medicaid. It opens health insurance plans to all comers and does not allow any health insurance company to reject you. The Act makes significant and meaningful changes that will lower the rate of growth in medical costs by ending much of the shifting of costs to others and state and local governments.
  • Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. Closed the donut hole for Medicare Part D recipients. It also allowed the government to make student loans directly to students, taking away the profit from the middleman.
  • Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This act puts in place governance that should preclude much of our latest financial disaster from happening again.

Time and time again, Pelosi stood in the firewall and organized House Democrats to pass progressive legislation. Through her raw power, guile, persuasion, strong-arming, nudging and probably some backroom deals she made things happen. No shrinking violet, she was one liberal unafraid of critics and unafraid to intimidate them.

Pundits will say she pushed through legislation America did not want. Others will say that she should have spent all her time creating jobs for Americans, although many of these same critics expected her to do it without spending any money. It was largely Democrats that kept the economy from collapsing altogether. Despite the higher unemployment rates, the Obama administration and the Pelosi/Reid 111th Congress has still created more jobs in two years than President Bush created in eight.

That’s of little comfort though to the unemployed. I am sorry that the public took out their wrath on a Democratic congress, and I am sorry for the sixty or so Democratic House members who lost their seats. They fell on their swords, but they did so nobly. They moved crucial progressive legislation. They kept an economy from collapsing and bought us time to recover. They all deserve our thanks, respect and honor. They are true patriots. The problems we face are engrained and long standing. There is no silver bullet for any of these. If they can be solved at all, it is only through the application of a lot of time, money and quality legislation. By that standard, and not by the artificial one of who controls power after an election, the 111th Congress and Speaker Pelosi were great successes.

We progressives may have lost a battle on November 2nd, but this war is far from over. To win the war, we need proven leaders who can chart a way forward. Nancy Pelosi is such a leader. House Democrats did the right thing by making her their minority leader in the next Congress. Those who are angry with her have their anger misplaced. I would rather have a Republican 112th Congress than a Democratic 111th Congress that accomplished nothing of note. With courage, conviction, spunk and determination, Pelosi showed her mettle and that she has the right stuff. Let’s hope she stays in Congress long enough to inflict some revenge. I think she will live to see it.

Election 2010 postmortem

As best I can parse it, the message from voters last night was, “the beatings will continue until the morale improves.” Republicans gained at least sixty house seats. Looking at the House electoral map it looks largely red from sea to shining sea. Unfortunately for Republicans, we have a bicameral legislature. While Republicans made important gains in the Senate, they did not win majority control. Democrats control at least 51 senate seats. Colorado and Washington State remain in dispute, but seem likely to go blue. Lisa Murkowski apparently won a write in vote in Alaska, and will doubtless canvas with the Republicans. So the Senate remains Democratic, with a likely 53-47 Democratic majority.

One lesson for Republicans: the Tea Party giveth and the Tea Party taketh. Their energy doubtless piled on Republican House majorities, but proved counterproductive in the Senate. While adding Tea Partiers Rand Paul in Kentucky, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio in Florida, overall Tea Partiers likely cost the GOP control of the Senate. Christine O’Donnell lost by seventeen percent in Delaware. John Raese lost by ten percent in West Virginia. Harry Reid, largely reviled in Nevada, won by five percent over an even worse candidate, Tea Partier Sharron Angle. In Alaska, voters were inclined to not take the advice of their former governor Sarah Palin and through a write in process elected Lisa Murkoswski instead. Doubtless, there will be recounts in Washington State and Colorado, but it doesn’t appear that the extreme positions of Dino Rossi or Ken Buck helped Republicans. More milquetoast candidates might have flipped these seats and given Republicans control of the Senate too. While the outcome in the House was a major disaster for Democrats, in a poisonous election year for incumbents, Democrats actually came out surprisingly well overall, retaining control of the Senate and, of course, the White House for two more years.

Democrats though need to check their backs, because Republican governors also did very well last night. Republicans control a majority of governorships and added control of ten legislatures last night. Governors and state legislatures draw congressional districts, which means that districts will drawn in an even more partisan manner, resulting in higher levels of Republicans in Congress. The long-term trend for Republicans though is not good. Ultimately, demographics will do them in, unless they can find ways to broaden their appeal toward Hispanics and younger people.

There is a lot of exit polling trying to make sense of this election. Doubtless, the analysis will get spun and respun. The animus driving this election though is clear: it’s the economy stupid. If somehow Democrats had managed to undo all the excesses of Republican rule in their two years and employment were at five percent instead of near ten percent, this wave likely would not have occurred. Voters expect politicians to make their lives better. When it does not happen, they tend to vote their bum out and vote the other bum in. At least fourteen percent of House seats flipped in this election. This is a remarkable number rarely seen in our history. It reflects the great anxiety that Americans are feeling now. What is remarkable is that with 9.6% unemployment even more representatives were not voted out of office.

It remains to be seen whether either party will learn from this election. My betting is neither will, which means, as I predicted in September that the only thing we can count on for sure in the next two years will be greater national dysfunction. What is the point of having power if you do not use it? House Republicans will probably be unable not to scratch the itch, so I expect all sorts of convoluted attempts (which are doomed to fail) to somehow “undo” health care reform and punish President Obama for alleged “socialism”. In reality, the American people don’t care that much about the health care law. What they care about is their own bottom line. Just getting back to their standard of living before the recession would make most Americans happy. Unfortunately, even if we had a united government there are no quick solutions to our national problems. The only real solutions are long term. So far, major tax cuts, many targeted toward business of all kinds, haven’t spurred hiring. Deficit reduction won’t spur hiring either. It may be prudent for the government to live within its means, but that doesn’t translate into more jobs. In the short term, it takes money out of the economy, increasing unemployment.

What will it take? Some certainty about our future would help. To start, it would be helpful to clear up the backlog of millions of foreclosed houses. Doing whatever it takes to resolve these foreclosures quickly makes an unknown problem a known one with a defined size and scope, allowing businesses to adjust their economic expectations accordingly. The other part are systemic reforms that Democrats have been working on, albeit sporadically and ineffectively. Health care costs are the biggest vampire on our economic health. The health care law certainly is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to change a health care system. It takes time. Eventually though these efficiencies work their way through the system. As health care costs are controlled, more money is available for uses that are more productive and we add more certainty to the economy as well.

Unfortunately, the American people show little patience for long-term solutions focused, as they tend to be, on their own personal pain. Many of the reforms working their way through our system now, like health care reform and financial reforms, will add certainty to our economy. However, since we seem to be doomed to have not just divided government, but hostile government for the next two years, more certainty is likely to elude us, which will likely keep unemployment artificially high. Certainty does increase if parties can find common ground and develop consensus solutions. It is hard to see how this can happen with so many new Tea Partiers and no-compromise Republicans in Congress. It is not even clear if House Republicans will raise our debt ceiling in a couple of months, and keep our nation from defaulting on its loans.

If you are a praying and patriotic person, now is a good time to pray because we need political accommodation that will almost certainly elude us. Just as was true when voters went for Democrats, voters are giving Republicans a qualified mandate to get useful work done. They have no more inherent trust in Republicans than they do with Democrats, in fact less as poll after poll bears out. They just want things to get better. Will Republicans listen? If obfuscation is their strategy, they may find, as Democrats found out yesterday, that their hold on power will also be short lived.

Psychiatrists agree: Republicans are insane

A year ago, I wrote that Republicans were putting the “bye” in bipartisanship. A commenter told me I was being premature because President Obama had only been in office a month. A year later, I bet the same commenter would now agree with me. You cannot have bipartisanship unless both parties can come together on a preponderance of disparate issues. When one side refuses to play ball, well that is clearly not bipartisanship.

Watching the “bipartisan” health care reform meeting on Thursday at Blair House was an exercise in mental torture. Even the Supreme Court would have to agree that no Gitmo inmate should be forced to listen to all eight hours or so of this “dialogue”. Watching it was kind of like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall. Not that President Obama did not try to lead out Republicans or ask them pragmatic and civil follow up questions. It’s just that Republicans did not have a whole lot of viable suggestions. The script was very shopworn even before the first Republican opened his mouth: start from scratch on a new health care reform bill. The only aspects of health care reform they seem willing to agree to are malpractice reform (which would affect less than one percent of health care spending) and allowing citizens in one state to get health insurance from other states. Everything else: forget about it! Cover the uninsured? Not interested. Seriously reduce the number of uninsured Americans? Not interested. As business reporter Steven Pearlstein pointed out recently in The Washington Post, based on the “discussion” at the Blair House, Republicans don’t give a crap about those too poor to have health insurance and certainly don’t want one dime of taxpayer money spent on the uninsured. In their ideal world, the uninsured would not get into the emergency room until they first brought a statement from their bank that they are credit worthy.

One of the definitions of insanity is to not learn from the same mistake. By this measure, Republicans (and this includes Conservatives and Tea Baggers) are insane. We usually deal with the insane by getting them psychotherapy or, if a menace to others or themselves, putting them in a rubber room. A clinical case could be made that the vast majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill should be in a rubber room. Because although we have tried massive tax cuts for the wealthy not once but twice and the result has been to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, Republicans are still convinced that all we need are yet more tax cuts affecting primarily the wealthy to change the situation around. In short, they are insane.

Republicans are insane on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Most of them deny that climate change is happening and many of them also want to abolish the EPA. This could revert the United States back to the 1960s when we had no environmental laws and polluters could pollute without restraint. They want to reduce fuel efficiency standards for cars. They actually think we can solve our dependence on foreign oil by drilling off our coastlines. The effect will of course make us more dependent on foreign oil, which will come principally from overseas and at higher and higher prices by not weaning ourselves off oil. It is just insane!

Perhaps most insane of all is that Republicans have this dichotomy about wanting to take a meat cleaver to reduce the size of government then, when asked, find it hard to find something to cut. Take a look at this 2008 American National Election Survey where self identified conservatives try to find things they would cut in federal spending. The number one thing that conservatives would like to cut is foreign aid, which accounts for less than 1 percent of our budget. Even there conservatives could not muster a majority (only 49%). Well, that certainly won’t solve the budget deficit! The next thing they most want to abolish are welfare programs. This is essentially Medicaid and food stamps, but even here, only 35% of conservatives want to do this. Presumably, 65% do not. About twenty percent want to cut funding for the war on terrorism. I assume this is the Ron Paul wing. It is clear from the chart that while tax cuts are always in season, if they were back in charge cutting the size of government would be mostly lip service, as it was under Reagan and two Bush presidencies.

But of course now these same people are in a froth because we are doing all this deficit spending. Moreover, they are deeply upset at President Obama for deficit spending money on tangible goods that we need like new bridges and road surfaces which also help to get us out of a bad recession. They prefer tax cuts and fairy dust instead. (Actually, Obama accommodated Republicans and added plenty of tax cuts in his stimulus package, including tax cuts for small business, and they are still upset.) They are telling us the government should live within its means, even during a severe economic recession. Yet, it is clear that if they were back in charge, the first thing they would do is cut taxes some more, and thereby exacerbate the budget deficit!

So why do Americans keep putting these bozos back in power? It must be because the majority of us are even dumber than Republicans, or as a nation, we suffer from ADD and cannot even remember all the debt we piled up under the last administration. Actually though the polls do not give as much comfort to Republicans as they might hope for. Americans are pissed off that divided government means that things like health care reform are not being accomplished. (By the way, Americans still strongly support health care reform, including a public option.) What is driving voters insane is the inability of politicians to find common ground at a time when it is essential. They are paying the price in house foreclosures, rising health care costs and unemployment. As much as they dislike the way Democrats are using their majorities, they like Republicans even less. Voters have a lot of visceral anger but little way to express it. Moreover, who could blame them? Obama promised change you can believe in, but a progressive president cannot necessarily turn around a deeply partisan and recalcitrant Congress. This was borne out on Thursday at the Blair House.

One thing is clear: you won’t get bipartisanship by electing Republicans. If voters want to end gridlock by voting for Republicans, they might end up breaking the gridlock but it is unlikely they will get real solutions to the problems they care about. Put Republicans back in power and for sure, you can count on more tax cuts for the privileged. You can also count on deficits that will make today’s look small. Voters would be insane to do so. Unfortunately, when you are really, really angry you are not usually thinking clearly in the first place. You are letting your emotions take control of your faculties, instead of using your brain.

If voters want bipartisanship then they have to vote for people who are running on the platform of being bipartisan. These candidates should have a track record of moderation and crossing the aisle. You certainly won’t find that in a tea bagger! Unfortunately, you are unlikely to find any such a creature nominated by the Republican Party this time around, and the odds are not much better for the Democratic Party either. With the exception of the lunatic left wing though, you can at least rest assured that the Democrats running will at least be sane. At least we have one foot firmly in reality.