Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

04 July 2010

Think!—A Voter’s Guide for 2010

For the Right
For the Left
For the Center
Update: July 6, 2010

The orgy of comment on our recent primary and special elections has made one thing clear. The American people are very, very dissatisfied. Those on the right are fed up. Those on the left are disillusioned. Those in the middle―well, they’re a vanishing species and don’t matter much anymore. But even the few remaining centrists are unhappy.

What’s most interesting are the reasons. The right think the President is a socialist or a Communist, who busies himself divvying up what remains of our nation’s wealth and passing it out to undeserving freeloaders. The left think the President has sold out progressive goals to the corporate elite, the “fat cats.” The most extreme of them accuse him of being a corporate toady or crypto-fascist.

The middle―well, it’s hard to find them nowadays. But a moderate conservative like David Brooks has characterized the President (several times!―1, 2 and 3) as a middle-of-the-road pragmatist. Nobody listens to Brooks, the left because he’s a self-identified conservative, and the right because he’s too moderate, cerebral, and “elite.”

Of course these views are mutually contradictory. Logically they can’t all be right. So every voter who subscribes to one of them ought to re-examine his or her beliefs.

One thing we all agree on: if things don’t change for the better soon, we are all headed to third-world status, together. We’ll probably get there before babies born this year come of age. So if you have kids and care about their future, you should care enough to think and reconsider where you stand.

To that end, I thought I’d pose some very basic questions for voters still willing to think. Since the places we all start from are so different, I’ve organized my questions into three groups, for the right, left, and center.

For the Right

1. You say you want “smaller government.”

Does that mean you want to downsize or eliminate the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard? Which would you get rid of: the Post Office, Social Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (which keeps your workplace safe), or the Environmental Protection Agency (which keeps the air you breathe and the water you drink reasonably clean)?

In normal times, these institutions account for the vast majority of federal expenses and federal debt. If you got rid of one or more of them, what would take over their functions? Do you want Blackwater fighting the Taliban for profit? Do you want investment banks and hedge funds providing for your aging parents’ retirement? Massey Coal watching over safety in the workplace? BP in charge of environmental conservation? If not, what real alternatives are there to government and government regulation?

2. You are outraged at the bailouts and the bonuses for bankers who destroyed the global economy. Everyone agrees with you on this.

Did you know that the Administration of George W. Bush started the bailouts, including TARP, with decisive Republican support? (Go look it up! See also, recent recap.) If two groups of leaders as ideologically opposed as Dubya’s and Barack Obama’s took precisely the same approach, is it possible there was no alternative? If so, who’s to blame? The fella on whose watch the crash came, and who was in office for the previous eight years? Or the guy who took over after the crash and continued some of the same solutions?

3. Much more important than who’s to blame is who’s likely to do what. Over the last thirty years, which party has been more likely to reduce regulation and corporate taxes and give the CEOs free reign, the Democratic or the Republican party? If the Republicans, do you expect more or fewer bailouts and regulatory failures if the GOP wins the November elections? Do you want to give more power to oil companies like BP, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and other corporations?

4. Whose votes on the Supreme Court allowed corporations to take the money you pay for cars, gasoline, computers, electricity and plane rides and use some of it to tell you how to vote? Is that a good thing? If not, who appointed the Justices who cast the deciding votes, namely Roberts and Alito? Do you want more of the same? Do you want the profits corporations make by selling you the necessities of life used to tell you how to vote? Is that “liberty”?

5. Everyone, right, left and center, wants change. Who can deliver it? The GOP has owned the White House for all but nine-plus of the last thirty years. Democrat Bill Clinton ran a centrist administration, the last three years of which were preoccupied with the Monica Lewinski scandal. If it’s time for a change, who’s more likely to bring it, the party in power most of the last thirty years, of the new guys in town? Is sixteen months a fair trial for change after thirty years of mostly consistent policy?

6. It’s easy to criticize the guy in the hot seat, but who’s your alternative? Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin? Mitch McConnell? Scott Brown? Rand Paul? Rush Limbaugh? Congressional candidates who support them?

Before answering these questions, think. Suppose one of these people were your immediate boss. Would you be happy in your job? Would you be confident of the future of the business in which you work? Would you want to work directly for someone who always seems to have all the answers, without even gathering information or stopping to think? for someone like Rand Paul, who embarrasses himself by shooting his mouth off in the very first days after his upset win? If not, what makes you think one of these people would make a good political leader?

For the Left

1. If you no longer support Barack Obama, whom do you support? Jesus Christ is not likely to run for office here, either in November or in 2012. Do you have a real alternative leader in mind? Does anyone in the Democratic party appear likely to challenge the President for leadership anytime soon?

If not, your alternatives in 2012 will be Mitt Romney (most likely), Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Mitch McConnell or maybe Rand Paul. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will acknowledge his intellectual leadership of the GOP and run. Which of these figures do you prefer to the President, to salute, love and obey as your national leader? Should you vote for people running for Congress who support them?

2. Do you really believe that the sellout to corporate America started in January 2009? Or did it start thirty years ago, with Ronald Reagan? If with Reagan, do you expect a president―any president!―to change thirty years of consistent policy in sixteen months?

Let me rephrase that question in personal terms. Suppose your son or daughter had been a goof-off and failing student all his or her life. Then suppose, in the final year of high school, he or she started earning Cs and a few Bs. Would you disown your kid for being hopeless, or would you say “keep it up and try harder”?

3. If the President is the best we can realistically hope for, then do you want to tie his hands? During the last sixteen months, has the GOP assisted the President cooperatively or opposed his every move? Are the “new Republicans,” aka “Tea Partiers,” more or less likely to cooperate? If less, then how will your sitting home on election day, or voting for a candidate who cannot win, help the President do what you elected him to do?

4. If Republicans win the November election and decrease the Democratic majority in Congress, what will happen? Will you get the change you wanted in 2008? Or will you get more of the consistent Republican agenda for thirty years: lower taxes for the wealthy, smaller and less competent government, less regulation of corporations (including banks, hedge funds, and oil companies), and more corporate propaganda? If you stay home in November or throw away your vote on a candidate who has no chance of winning, will you make this outcome more or less likely?

For the Center

1. If you’re still in the center, despite everything that’s happened, you probably pride yourself on your cool reason and ability to weather any storm.

Who of the following best exemplifies those ideals: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell, Scott Brown, Rand Paul, or Barack Obama? Which of them do you now know enough about to make a wise decision that will determine your and your kids’ future? Should you gamble on an unknown?

2. Over the last thirty years, what caused the most trouble, government doing too much, or government doing too little? Would we be in better or worse shape if Congress had strengthened regulation of high finance and refused to allow companies like Massey Coal and BP to determine for themselves how much safety equipment to install? If better, who is likely to restore the proper balance of regulation and private initiative? Is the party that consistently pushed for weaker regulation over the past thirty years likely to do that job?

3. If you’re in the center, you don’t like extremes. Who and what are the extremes today? President Obama rejected the public option for health care, delayed closing Guantánamo when real problems arose, nixed precipitous, early withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and is dealing cautiously with Iran and North Korea. Is that extreme, or is it cautious, thoughtful, and prudent, just like you?

4. What do the Tea Partiers want? Do you know? Does anyone know? They’re mad about a lot of things, and rightly so about some. But do they have solutions, and do their solutions make sense? Is smaller government the solution to every problem, even problems of lax regulation? If not, do you want to gamble on their leadership?

5. If the Tea Partiers and folks like Sarah Palin and Rand Paul are assuming leadership of the Republican Party, should you follow? Can you describe them as “centrist,” like you? If not, should you vote for Democrats or throw away your vote on a fringe candidate who has no chance of winning?

* * *

Wherever you come from―right, left or center―consider one thing. November’s election is just as important as the presidential election in 2008. In fact, it’s really a continuation of that election. Its outcome will determine whether President Obama gets a chance to enact his agenda for change, or whether Congress will come to a screeching, grinding halt with even more divisive partisanship.

If you stay home, or if you vote for a candidate who has no realistic chance of winning, you are throwing away your most important power as citizen.

Under current economic conditions, you have only two other ways of influencing public policy. You can try to move big corporations by boycotting those with which you disagree. Good luck if they have monopolies! Or you can gamble your life, fortune and sacred honor in a second American Revolution. Don’t you think you should try the vote―and vote smart!―before doing anything more drastic?

If you’re like most of us, you picked a spouse who’s a real person. Those few who held out for ideal fantasies are still single. Just so, in politics you have to pick the best you can get. There are no ideal candidates. Like marriage and life, politics is a messy business.

I’m not advocating the status quo. God knows we need change, especially in Congress. By all means vote the bums out. But before you do, make sure the bum you vote for is really better than the bum you want to replace. And be sure your chosen bum can win.

If you throw away your vote, or if you choose unwisely, you will have no one but yourself to blame when you or your kids have to emigrate to get a decent job, or when a different corporate master uses the power of vast wealth to control your every move. Continuing to castrate government might just produce these results.

If you think that’s “liberty,” think again! Imagine every necessity of life, from health care to gas, electricity, education and transportation, being supplied by a corporate monopoly, so you have to endure one of those marvelous telephone queues every time something goes wrong. That’s what your life will be like if we drown government in a bathtub, as many libertarians suggest. Is that really what you want?

If not, how about giving the party that’s been out of power for most of the last thirty years a chance to make real change? You know what the other party offered for the last eight years: two wars, out-of-control deficits, out-of-control corporations, and near economic collapse. Do you want more of that?

P.S. Update: July 6, 2010. A recent poll of so-called “Tea Party” members reveals them for what they really are: the core or base of the Republican Party. In other words, the GOP invented the “Tea Party” movement for the purpose of “rebranding” itself as more important, newer, and more attractive to independents than it really is. When you go into the voting booth in November, do you want to reward this sort of PR game-playing, or do you want someone who’ll try hard to find real solutions to America’s many problems, including the lack of jobs?

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  • At Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 1:58:00 PM EDT, Blogger Greg hodges said…

    Dear Jay -

    This is one of the most concise and rational arguments for any reasonable American to support the Democratic Party in the 2010 Mid-Term Election Season I've seen to date. Although I have my complaints about the current president, he is BY FAR the best President I've ever known (I was 6 when Ronald Regan got elected in 1980) and plan to support him and his party in both donations and votes this November (the donation part I've already done). Thank you for framing the debate in simple, no-nonsense logic.

    P.S. -

    I've had my speculations about the Tea Party for some time. My boss, as well as other co-workers of mine, are sympathetic of the Tea Party movement for two basic reasons: 1) they despise federal taxation and intervention; and 2) carry a grudge that the Republican Party has "lost its way". There may be a genuine shift in opinion and organization here.

    I gathered the same sense in the Democratic Party when Howard Dean ran for the Presidential Nomination in 2004. He claimed the title of being "The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" and has helped foster the Progressive Democrats and bring Obama to the presidency while the chairman of the DNC. Perhaps I am mistaken on this, but I sense the two "main parties" are not what they used to be before Y2K. What was the classic GOP/Libertarians and the Non-DLC Democrats are now the "Tea Party" Republicans and the "Progressive" Democrats.

  • At Friday, September 3, 2010 at 12:17:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks for the support. If you like this post and think it would help, please feel free to send it to everyone you think might read it. I've activated Google's sharing technologies, both for this post and the others, to make that easier.

    As for the Tea Mob, I don't think it represents classic libertarians at all. There is a strain of extreme libertarianism there, but most of what I see is confusion, fear and a large dose of racism. As for who's behind it, I think this piece by Frank Rich says it all. (Note his meticulous attention to factual detail; nearly all his links are to independent investigative reporting.)

    If you were only six when Reagan came to power, you don't remember the old GOP. It was run by "conservatives" who really wanted to conserve things---important things like money, wilderness, the Bill or Rights, the middle class, and our troops' lives and honor. They were generally well educated, honest, flexible and prudent.

    Any resemblance between that party and the "GOP" today, let alone the Tea Mob, is purely coincidental. No doubt your bosses' despair at that awful change is responsible for part of their anger and confusion. How they'll vote when the chips are down is anyone's guess, which is why I'm not counting the Democrats out at this early date.



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