The coming blue wave

To my surprise, Roy Moore lost his bid to be Alabama’s next senator last Tuesday to Democrat Doug Jones. Jones won, but not decisively, by a 1.5% margin over Moore. One of the more curious aspects of the election was that 1.7% of the votes were cast as write-ins. It’s reasonable to assume that virtually all of these were from people who would normally vote Republican, but couldn’t stomach Moore but could not vote for a Democrat.

This is the first example I’ve seen of a “reverse Green Party effect”. It’s usually Democrats that shoot themselves in the foot. We do this by being so principled that we get the exact opposite result instead. In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that swung for Trump last year, had Jill Stein’s (Green Party) votes gone for Hillary Clinton instead then Hillary Clinton would now be president of the United States.

What’s appalling in Alabama is that apparently almost all Republicans voted for the pedophile Moore anyhow. Those who voted for a write-in plus those who stayed home apparently gave Jones the edge. Huge kudos goes to blacks and women in Alabama that showed up to vote, which was the edge Jones needed. I can see why both would have incentive to vote. After all, Moore said he’d like to get rid of constitutional amendments after the 10th amendment. This would make slavery legal again and take away women’s right to vote.

When a Democrat can win a statewide office in Alabama again, that’s pretty much all you need to know about which way the political winds in this country are blowing. Granted that Jones’s victory pretty much is a fluke. There was literally no one worse in the whole state of Alabama that Republicans could have nominated. As one Republican wag put it, Republicans could have picked any other name out of the phone book and have won the election by at least 10%.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Steve Bannon seems serious about fielding a Trump Republican in every Republican primary next year. Moreover, Trump plans to aggressively campaign for Republican candidates. Given Trump’s track record recently promoting Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Luther Strange in Alabama and then Roy Moore, all who lost, it’s clear his endorsement is toxic. These tactics enflame Democrats, which is likely to have them coming out to vote in droves. A Trump endorsement also keeps establishment Republicans lukewarm about voting for any Trump Republican that survives the primaries and caucuses.

In short the 2018 elections are likely to be a blowout, ending eight years of Republican control of Congress. The House should flip. One scenario suggests that when the dust settles Democrats could take the chamber 255 seats to 177 Republican seats. Retaking the Senate no longer seems improbable, particularly if Trump Republicans run against Democrats. Democrats should not take this for granted. It depends on maintaining their enthusiasm, a skill at which Trump will predictably excel.

Moreover there are so many issues beyond Trump that will encourage not just Democrats to come out, but to lean independents toward Democratic candidates and even pull away many Republicans. Last week’s vote to end net neutrality is one example. Support for net neutrality is overwhelmingly bipartisan but changing it clearly won’t happen with Republicans in charge. Republicans’ tax bill that looks likely to pass is another animus as it clearly shifts yet more income toward the rich. Rank and file Republicans don’t like it either. On so many issues voting Republicans tend to side with Democrats but even where they don’t, independents do. Some of these include addressing climate change, shrinking our national monuments and the rank incompetence in the people that Trump is nominating. This included a recent judicial nominee who had never tried a case. Even Congressional Republicans seem to be blanching at this.

It’s unknown where the Mueller investigation will be come November. Rumors abound that Trump is about to fire Mueller, although he cannot without firing a whole lot of other people and putting in place sycophants to do the deed. In any event, when Richard Nixon tried this approach it was hugely counterproductive and led to his eventual resignation. It certainly would inflame voters even more and make Washington even more chaotic than it currently is.

So it’s not hard at all to predict that the political heat will continue to rise in our nation’s pressure cooker. Next November the pent up frustration should be overwhelming. So I for one hope that Trump keeps endorsing Republican candidates, as he is now toxic. Please proceed.

Bloomberg plus The Coffee Party in 2012?

Michael Bloomberg for President? The mayor of New York City is making noises like he may be running for president. Anyhow, so suggests Washington Post columnist Dan Balz in today’s paper, quoting the $18 billion three-term mayor of the Big Apple from various recent speeches. One thing is for sure: it’s hard to pin Bloomberg down to a political party or ideology. He used to be a Democrat, found it convenient to run for mayor as a Republican, then when he last ran for mayor decided he was an Independent. No question about it: it helps to be a billionaire. A month before he was reelected to a third term (for which he had to cajole the City Council to amend the city’s charter), he had spent $63 million on his campaign, drowning out his closest opposition sixteen to one. In a Democratic city, he won grudging respect from the governed. His approval ratings hovered in the sixties for a long time and are now in the mid forties. For a politician these days, those are good numbers

As a partisan Democrat, I have a grudging respect for the guy. Good: he supports same sex marriage and gun control, although I suspect the latter just within his city. He raised taxes in 2003 and as a result steadied the city’s precarious financial position. He believes in immigration reform and is generally pro-environmental. Not so good: he thinks us lefties are, well, kind of weird. He’s convinced we think that only more government will solve problems when we really want government to do the people’s business when other means clearly don’t work. He does not want to decriminalize marijuana although he admits to having used it (and enjoyed it). He considers himself a fiscal conservative, although he is not the kind that Grover Norquist would recognize. He supported the War in Iraq. He is not exactly anti-development and has taken the side of developers over preservationists. In 2004, this very smart man endorsed George W. Bush for his second term at the Republican National Convention. He must have been smoking that stuff he does not want to decriminalize.

Will Bloomberg run for president in 2012? An astute businessman, Balz suggests he won’t unless he is convinced that the polls suggest it is viable. History would be stacked against him. Arguably, Ross Perot’s run as an independent in 1992 put Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Still, these are unique times. The country is deeply divided but there remains an independent middle deeply disgusted with both parties. If this group can constitute a critical mass that is greater than the mass of partisan Republicans and Democrats, Bloomberg could win. With $18 billion, he can self finance a national campaign.

I sometimes wonder if those of us who are partisan are just as sick of the partisanship as the rest of the country. I cannot be alone. I am deeply scared for our country. President Obama’s most recent attempt to tack toward the middle has left me very troubled. Yet, I am not sure if I were in his shoes that I could have done anything differently. The current political dynamics stink and the only way to move even a very modest agenda seems to require dances with the devil. I guess I should not be surprised that Republicans will put tax cuts over deficit reduction. It is just crazy insane to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to finance tax cuts to multimillionaires who not only don’t need it but cannot even think of ways to spend it. Republican audacity simply knows no limits.

Our country desperately needs a few things that seem likely to elude us. We need to be one united states again, instead of the sectarian divided states that we clearly are. We need politicians to behave reasonably, not to be rewarded for ever more virulent and extreme positions. Instead, we have the irresistible force colliding with the immovable object. All that generates is great destruction, destruction that achieves the aims of neither the left, nor the right, nor the middle but likely will make the Chinese happy.

For me this is Bloomberg’s appeal. We already have a Congress overwhelmingly white and wealthy, but we don’t have a whole lot of people in Congress who can act rationally. This is because no matter what side you are on, you don’t get there unless you echo the party line. President Obama’s latest capitulation to Republicans is a case in point. Democrats, at least House Democrats, are outraged and rightly feel they have been betrayed. Obama can stalk the center, but he is going to find it a lonely spot. It may sway independents and maybe even get him reelected, but it won’t grow the center. What’s the point of having a second term if it will be one where he is continuously hamstrung and where little of any real benefit results? Instead, Obama will become an even larger piñata, with Democrats taking swings at him as well as Republicans.

Bloomberg doesn’t come with that baggage. Is he a Republican, Democrat or Independent? Does it matter? No, because neither side will find a reason to like him and will only feel threatened by his candidacy, should he run. Bloomberg’s credentials as mayor, his pragmatism, his fearlessness to tell things and they are, and (let’s face it) his great wealth that gives him the means to do so, are compelling credentials, just the sort of stuff we need. Which is why, although I am a partisan Democrat, I might have to vote for him. Why? Because our national situation is so bad that whether the president is Republican or Democrat, their political affiliation would only fan the flames of further national dysfunction. To get beyond it, the first step may be an independent mediator in the form of an independent presidential candidate with the right credentials, the right attitude, and the money to challenge all the political parties and the entrenched special interests out there. Bloomberg’s got all these things.

If I were to give Bloomberg advice, it would be not to run as an Independent, but to run under the Coffee Party banner. The Coffee Party is arguably not a real party, but it could become one quickly enough. The Coffee Party is simply a bunch of moderate and reasonable people, with a slightly leftward bent, sick of excessive partisanship and incivility by both parties. They believe we can rise beyond our partisanship and ideology and just be reasonable. Like Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated as mayor.

It’s not widely know, but Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. The Republican Party coalesced around the old American Whig and other parties after the Whigs disintegrated. They were the counterpoint to the Democratic Party, which in its day was unmistakable from today’s Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln himself was a Whig for most of his life. The time for a party of moderates may be rising. The time for deeply polarizing Democratic and Republican parties may be waning.

I am convinced that pragmatic and moderate people are the majority in this country; they are just not heard. Bloomberg, affiliated and running under a Coffee Party might sweep not only himself into office, but throw out both Republicans and Democrats from Congress. Moderate Americans just need a viable alternative and need to rise up en masse. Right now, they don’t have a party which is viably centrist. It’s either the devil they know or the devil they don’t.

If such a party were viable and if Bloomberg were associated with it, I might switch. More than anything else, we must govern in a civil and reasonable fashion again. Continuing down our current path yields disunity and a rapid descent into second world status. As a patriot, I cannot stand for it.

America: grow up

Polls, polls. There are so many of them out there at the moment and most of them trying to figure out how us voters will vote on November 2nd. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from them: voters are frustrated and feel Washington is disconnected from their lives. They are mad as hell and ready to vote their incumbent out of office. They don’t approve of Democrats in Congress, but like Republicans in Congress even less. They are lukewarm at best about President Obama, but as least his approval numbers tend to hover in the forties, which is good for this toxic political environment. If the election were held today, Republicans would retake the House but probably not the Senate, but regardless of who wins, the voters don’t expect a whole lot to change. In addition, a sizeable number of us must have been smoking something because one in five of us actually believe President Obama is a secret Muslim.

Frustration is understandable. Voters voted for change, but they don’t much like the change they got, not that they liked what they had before either. And speaking of change, many of them are living on it, and food stamps, and extended unemployment benefits and maybe living in their parents’ basement. The job market is a depressing mess and those jobs that are available tend to pay a lot less than the ones lost.

Everyone wants relief from their misery, to know that real prosperity is ahead and that we can go back to living comfortable and predictable lives again. If anything in the Republican pitch is resonating, it is the vision of the white clapboard house with the picket fence and a flower garden in the front. Also, it sure would be nice to have our homes worth something close to what we paid for it, and to see our 401-K’s recover.

We can certainly wish for these things, but to expect them to all materialize rapidly is ludicrous. Unemployment is but a symptom of our real problem: a government and society still vastly overleveraged. Republicans can rail against the perceived socialist Democrats. Democrats can hiss back at Republicans for putting us deeply into debt and creating costly and unnecessary wars. All that hatred and vitriol though accomplishes nothing, which is why the anger that will be expressed on November 2nd will not bring relief. We all seem to understand that we can change the cast of players in Congress and the White House, but the relief we crave for is not going to magically appear. We face problems that no ideology can fix and no quick political voodoo can solve. Collectively, the nation is grieving, wailing for a time that is lost and not likely to come again, at least not anytime very soon.

With rare exceptions, politicians cannot be elected by telling us the truth. They tell us what we want to hear, and wrap their narrative around all sorts of other villains, most of them props. Yet, now of all times we must hear the truth, the truth that we know in are hearts. In case you are not listening to yours in the quiet of the night, here’s what it is saying. I can’t take credit for it. It was articulated by Walt Kelly many decades ago in the comic strip Pogo.

We have met the enemy and he is us

America, it’s time for some very strong coffee and to face some uncomfortable facts. First, we live in a democratic republic. Like it or not, we created this mess not that other guy. We created it by voting in people who told us what we wanted to hear. We also created it by tolerating a government that worked for the special interests, instead of demanding one that worked for us. Most of us selfishly tuned out our civics lessons. Instead, we grew fat, tone deaf and apathetic. Don’t care, can’t make any difference, so why bother? Still, for better or worse, it’s our government. We own it. We are all stockholders and the board of directors is out of control. We can’t all emigrate so we have to sober up and fix it.

It’s not the Democrats that need to fix it, nor the Republicans, nor the Independents, nor the Kiwanis Club of Passaic, New Jersey. We need to fix it. We need to fix it together. To fix things, no one is going to get what they want. We are going to have to reach that hardest of places here in American government: consensus. And it is going to be painful. Yeah, I know it’s already painful and you want the pain to go away, but to get to that promised land is going to require more pain. It will require years of pain at best, decades at worst. We have to undo a whole lot of self-inflicted damage and fundamentally change our orientation. Moreover, the stakes could not be higher. If we do not, we are facing the likely bankruptcy and eventual dissolution of the United States. I may have more on that in a later post.

America, we need to so sober up quickly, stop the incessant finger pointing and get busy. Republicans, to get to consensus, you must accept that America will not be the libertarian, Christian, largely white, God-fearing, ultra low tax utopia that you want it to be. By the way, it never was, and never will be. Democrats, America will never be the liberal, gun-free, vegetarian, eco-friendly, blissfully multicultural Birkenstock wearing utopia you want it to be. Independents: no party has a solution that is going to make you happy. The middle ground may not be ideal but if we want to actually solve some of our problems rather than find ourselves a second-class country, it’s a place we all have to get to again.

You get to the middle through this forgotten process called achieving consensus, or, failing that, compromise. We do it all the time in the business world. Not a week goes by where I work where some dispute does not comes up. My team and I do what we have learned to do: we talk an issue through, realizing that while we don’t always agree with each other, we respect each other enough to come to consensus. It’s sort of like therapy. Why should it be anathema for our political parties to do something as civil as I do at least once a week?

Take a deep breath because here’s a sample of what compromise will mean. For liberals this will mean some constraints on entitlements. It may mean something like Medicare costs cannot grow faster than the cost of living in general or a requirement to not allow Medicare costs to exceed a portion of the budget. It will mean that when we find some new medical problem we will not immediately be able to throw money at it, at least not without taking it from somewhere else out. For conservatives, it means that health care vouchers are out. We will mend the Medicare and Medicaid systems we have and make them the best we can with the money we can afford to invest in them, and they won’t be run by the private sector. Yeah, I know these ideas give both liberals and conservatives hives. Grow up.

We all need to suck it in because we are all in this together. We should not take anything off the table, not set any condition that will make us hide in our corners and pout. I was disappointed in President Obama recently when he suggested that the Bush tax cuts for the middle class should never be rescinded, even while he promoted restoring them for the rich. (It is true that when he set up the deficit commission he said everything was on the table, including potential tax increases should the commission recommend them. But that was then, not now.) While increasing taxes on the middle class may not be a good idea in a recession, any prudent stewards of the country would have to agree that in normal times taxes can at least be where they were when President Clinton was in office. We managed just fine, had terrific prosperity and even had a couple years of surpluses. Congress even had pay go rules which basically said you had to either raise taxes or cut something else if you want to propose a new program. Unfortunately, since Clinton left office the public debt has increased by at least half again (more than five trillion dollars). Our goal is not just a balanced budget, but paying down our debt. It means moving prudently and deliberately toward a balanced budget. That is but the first step. It also means paying back principle on our debt as well as interest on it, so our debt load decreases over time. What this really means in essence (steel yourself) is paying more in taxes and probably getting less.

So no one feels singled out, the pain must be spread evenly, and that’s where it will get even harder because we excel at creating tax policies where someone else gets the short end of the stick. It could be something simple like raising the tax rates five percent for everyone. Yes, this will mean a lower standard of living for us in the short run. However, it will also mean that we will be paying down our debt and our grandchildren will not inherit such an onerous debt.

Maybe there is someone in Congress brave enough to tell us the truth. There is at least one columnist. I know I would vote for such a brave politician. No more crying; no more whining. We made our fiscal mess and we must clean it up. If you ask me, anyone who stakes out an ideological position not to do so is unpatriotic at best, and a traitor at worst. This is our country. We are one United States or divided we will fall. We will not grow our way out of this problem. This problem will not ease until the burden of our national debt starts to lift from our collective shoulders.