Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category


New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait has an article, dated April 6th, of this title, which is one of the more interesting examinations I’ve read on the exasperating, poisonous liberal-left vs. conservative-right polemic over Obama’s presidency and the issue of race. The lede: “Optimists hoped Obama would usher in a new age of racial harmony. Pessimists feared a surge in racial strife. Neither was right. But what happened instead has been even more invidious.”

There are lots of good passages in the article, in particular this one

…the truth is almost too brutal to be acknowledged. A few months ago, three University of Rochester political scientists—Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen—published an astonishing study. They discovered that a strong link exists between the proportion of slaves residing in a southern county in 1860 and the racial conservatism (and voting habits) of its white residents today. The more slave-intensive a southern county was 150 years ago, the more conservative and Republican its contemporary white residents. The authors tested their findings against every plausible control factor—for instance, whether the results could be explained simply by population density—but the correlation held. Higher levels of slave ownership in 1860 made white Southerners more opposed to affirmative action, score higher on the anti-black-affect scale, and more hostile to Democrats.

The authors suggest that the economic shock of emancipation, which suddenly raised wages among the black labor pool, caused whites in the most slave-intensive counties to “promote local anti-black sentiment by encouraging violence towards blacks, racist norms and cultural beliefs,” which “produced racially hostile attitudes that have been passed down from parents to children.” The scale of the effect they found is staggering. Whites from southern areas with very low rates of slave ownership exhibit attitudes similar to whites in the North—an enormous difference, given that Obama won only 27 percent of the white vote in the South in 2012, as opposed to 46 percent of the white vote outside the South.

The Rochester study should, among other things, settle a very old and deep argument about the roots of America’s unique hostility to the welfare state. Few industrialized economies provide as stingy aid to the poor as the United States; in none of them is the principle of universal health insurance even contested by a major conservative party. Conservatives have long celebrated America’s unique strand of anti-statism as the product of our religiosity, or the tradition of English liberty, or the searing experience of the tea tax. But the factor that stands above all the rest is slavery.

The article is lengthy but well worth the read.

Chait, who is one of the best political journalists in America these days, also has a piece in NY Mag, dated April 23rd, asking “Is the rising Democratic majority doomed?” The short answer: no, but the Repubs are not totally down and out.

Read Full Post »

Obamacare: Here to stay

Dallas TX, August 20 2013

Dallas, August 20 2013

So says Theda Skocpol of Harvard University, who’s one of the smartest social scientists around, in an essay in TPM Café, in which she tells Republicans that they “need to suck it up and learn to love Obamacare,” as there’s no way that they’ll be able to repeal the law, now or ever. She thus begins

A big U.S. social insurance program is enacted into law – only to face delays and fierce controversies. Regulations are imposed on businesses and taxes collected well before citizens get sizable benefits. Right-wingers fight for repeal or evisceration, and many on the left are also disgruntled. Outright failure remains possible for years after enactment.

Obamacare? No, we’re talking about the early life of the program called Social Security, now hugely popular and regarded as virtually untouchable politically.

Social Security was enacted in 1935, but no one got a check until the first small benefit was issued in 1940. Scheduled revenues vital to the program’s viability were repeatedly delayed, and conservatives and leftists tried to scuttle it altogether. Not until the mid-1950s did Eisenhower-era Republicans finally accept Social Security; and it took until the early 1970s for generous benefits to make it widely popular.

Compared to this long story, Affordable Care is advancing at warp speed. Sure, Republicans are still fighting a rear-guard war for “repeal.” And an impatient media blows every tiny glitch into Armageddon. Political reporters have a vested interest in the notion that Obamacare is still up for grabs if Republicans take control of the Senate next November.

But let’s look at the unfolding realities, starting with the health insurance facts.

Read the rest of the essay here.

Read Full Post »

Paris 01 05 2013

Henri Guaino, sarkozyste du premier plan, had a full-page tribune on the Front National in Le Monde dated December 17th (voici le lien), explaining why, from his Gaullist standpoint, the FN’s world-view and political posture is antithetical to his, of why he feels no affinity whatever with this political party. Now I am not a fan of Guaino, to put it mildly. I have felt no affinity whatever with him over the years—and particularly during his five-year stint at the Élysée as Sarkozy’s right-hand man—and have made unkind statements about him on occasions too numerous to count. But giving credit where credit is due, I have to say that his tribune is excellent. As a principled man of the right, he nails what it is about the FN that renders it beyond the pale. The tribune merits being read in its entirety but here is one noteworthy passage

D’où vient alors ce malaise indicible que j’éprouve comme tant d’autres face à ce parti et qui m’empêchera toujours de pactiser avec lui ? Il vient du sentiment, dont je ne peux pas me défaire, qu’il y a dans sa conception du pouvoir quelque chose de monstrueusement inhumain et que le problème posé par le FN est dans ce que j’appellerais, au risque assumé de la polémique, son ADN. C’est une métaphore. Il ne s’agit nullement ici de biologie. Mais, j’y reviens, les partis comme toute collectivité humaine, comme les nations, ont une histoire, une expérience, une culture qui leur façonne une manière d’être et de penser.

Si avec les responsables du FN, il n’y a jamais de débat possible, seulement des affrontements, c’est parce que ce parti a encore et toujours besoin d’ennemis. Sa nature est d’être toujours l’instrument d’une colère ; aujourd’hui, l’immense colère qu’éprouvent tous ceux qui se sentant dépossédés de leur vie veulent dire non à tout parce qu’ils ont le sentiment que c’est l’ultime refuge, l’ultime expression de leur liberté.

Reading Guaino’s description of the FN’s DNA, I was reminded of the Tea Party GOP. The need to have enemies, to demonize part of society… For the anecdote, I mentioned Guaino’s tribune yesterday to two of my American students, which led to comments on American politics. One said that her mother, a lifelong Republican, was now calling herself an independent on account of the GOP’s right-wing lurch. The other said that her father, an investment banker and Republican, was so fed up with the party that he may vote for Hillary Clinton in ’16. As I’ve said before, the Tea Party GOP = FN. A not insignificant number of Republicans want nothing to do with the party if it is taken over by its extremist wing. And an even more significant number of principled French conservatives want nothing to do with the FN. Which is why the UMP will not, malgré tout, enter into any kind of formal alliance with the Frontistes, now or in the future.

Read Full Post »

MAC43_ANGRY WHITE MALE Joe Raedle  Getty Images

For the coming years, at least, so argues Harvard social scientist Theda Skocpol in a must read article, “Why the Tea Party’s Hold Persists,” in the Winter 2014 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. A few quotes

In 2011, Vanessa Williamson and I published our book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism [AWAV: It's an excellent book], which used a full panoply of research—from interviews and local observations to media and website analysis and tracking of national surveys—to explain the dynamics of this radical movement. We showed how bottom-up and top-down forces intersect to give the Tea Party both leverage over the Republican Party and the clout to push national politics sharply to the right.

At the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels. At least half of all GOP voters sympathize with this Tea Party upsurge. They are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative-minded men and women who fear that “their country” is about to be lost to mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs (like the Affordable Care Act) for low- and moderate-income working-aged people, many of whom are black or brown. Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots Tea Party priority, but Williamson and I did not find this to be true. Crackdowns on immigrants, fierce opposition to Democrats, and cuts in spending for the young were the overriding priorities we heard from volunteer Tea Partiers, who are often, themselves, collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have “paid their dues” in lifetimes of hard work.

Of course Tea Partiers are for social insurance. Just so long as they’re the beneficiaries—and not categories of the population they don’t like (“the undeserving poor,” moochers and other takers, etc).

Here is the key point: Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority—indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center—the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincers operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all Tea Party activists, sympathizers, and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics. The entire pincers operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes”—including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark.

Tea Party Republicans don’t care if they’re unpopular, BTW, because they disdain people who don’t like them (they, the Tea Partiers, being “real Americans”). If it were up to the GOP right-wing, there would no doubt be a return to the suffrage censitaire (I’ll develop this at a future date).

The bottom line is sobering. Anyone concerned about the damage Tea Party forces are inflicting on American politics needs to draw several hard-headed conclusions.

For the conclusions, read Skocpol’s article.

The article is one of several in a symposium on the Tea Party in Democracy’s Winter issue. I haven’t read the others yet but they look most interesting—and are authored by well-known specialists of the subject:

Republican Leaders’ Two Choices by Alan I. Abramowitz

The Anti-Jacksonians by Sean Wilentz

R.I.P. Republican Internationalism by Leslie H. Gelb & Michael Kramer

Will the Tea Party Outlast Obama? by Christopher S. Parker

The Tea Party and the 2016 Nomination by Dave Weigel

Bonne lecture.

Read Full Post »

GOP Wanker Watch

The Strip Brian McFadden 10132013

[update below]

Wankers. That’s what Bruce Bartlett calls right-wing Republicans (on his Twitter account, at least). An apt expression. (Pour mémoire, Barlett is a one-time conservative Republican and who served the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, so knows the beast intimately). I’ve read a fair amount on the Republican/Tea Party right over the years and particularly of late, with the shutdown psychodrama and all. Of the many analyses and commentaries I’ve come across since my last post on the matter, let me recommend just one, a short piece on the Foreign Affairs website by Michael Kazin, “American unexceptionalism: the Tea Party is special – just not in the way it thinks.” Kazin compares the Tea Party GOP to right-wing populist movements in Europe, including the French Front National—on which he is particularly well-informed for a non-specialist of France—, and sees similarities. In this, he seconds my long-standing equation of the GOP right-wing and the French FN. Some conservatives may not like the parallel but it’s the truth.

Another article, this in Rolling Stone: “Inside the Republican suicide machine,” by Tim Dickinson. The lede: “It’s open warfare within the GOP – and all of America is caught in the crossfire.” The piece is long but worth the read.

UPDATE: The always interesting Michael Lind—who, like Bruce Bartlett, is a one-time conservative—has a pertinent article in Salon (October 22) on how the “Tea Party is an anti-populist elite tool [a]nd…has progressives fooled.” The lede: “This is not some spontaneous uprising. It’s the newest incarnation of a rich, elite, right-wing tradition.”

Read Full Post »

The Obamacare rollout


[update below] [2nd update below]

It hasn’t been a success, that’s for sure. I’ve read a few articles here and there that analyze what’s gone wrong. Kimberly J. Morgan’s “Doomed from the start: Why Obamacare’s disastrous rollout is no surprise” is the best. Morgan, who teaches political science at George Washington University, is a specialist of welfare states and social policy—notably American and French (I’ve assigned her publications on France in courses)—, so situates her analysis in a comparative context. As the piece is short, no money quotes. Just read the whole thing (as it’s published on the Foreign Affairs website, it may eventually disappear behind the paywall; if so, let me know and I’ll make the text available).

Ross Douthat, the conservative NYT columnist, has an analysis today on the Obamacare rollout failure. I normally don’t bother with Douthat—who has, of course, opposed Obamacare—but decided to look at this one. It’s not uninteresting. He concludes his column with this

…the wreck of the exchanges may actually be worse for conservative policy objectives than a more successful rollout would have been.

That’s because while conservatives think the Obamacare exchanges are overregulated and oversubsidized, they are actually closer to the right-of-center vision for health care reform than the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which is happening no matter what transpires with Healthcare.gov. So if the exchanges fail and the Medicaid expansion takes effect (and, inevitably, becomes difficult to roll back), we’ll be left with an individual market that’s completely dysfunctional and a more socialized system over all.

In that scenario, the Democratic Party would probably end up pushing, not for the pipe dream of true single payer, but for a further bottom-up/top-down socialization, in which Medicare is offered to 55- to 65-year-olds and Medicaid is eventually expanded even more.

Meanwhile, the task for serious conservative reformers — already not the most politically effective bunch — might actually become harder, because they would have to explain how their plan to build an effective, exchange-based marketplace differed from the Obama White House’s exchange fiasco.

So while Republican politicians may be salivating over a potential Obamacare crisis, the conservative policy thinkers I know are not. They’re hoping, as I’m hoping, that this isn’t as bad as it looks. The chance to say “I told you so” is always nice, but not if the price is a potentially irrecoverable disaster.

FWIW, the right’s leading policy wonk critic of Obamacare, Yuval Levin, has an analysis in NRO “assessing the exchanges.” Not being an habitué of NRO or of Levin’s writings—life is too short—I would not have seen this were it not for The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who linked to it on Twitter and called it a “must-read.” So I read it. Like I said, FWIW.

UPDATE: Tech journalist Gregory Ferenstein, writing in TDB, says that “Obamacare’s rollout is a disaster that didn’t have to happen.” The lede: “How cronyism, secrecy, and authoritarianism doomed Obamacare, and why it was all so unnecessary.”

2nd UPDATE: Paul Krugman has a typically on target column today (October 21), on Obamacare, its botched rollout, and the right’s efforts to undermine the law.

Read Full Post »


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

On the political psychodrama on Capitol Hill, Paul Krugman had a blog post yesterday telling you exactly what you need to know about the Republicans and why they are behaving the way they are:

The War On The Poor Is A War On You-Know-Who

Lots of people have been referencing this Democracy Corps report on focus-group meetings with Republicans, and with good reason: Greenberg has basically provided a unified theory of the craziness that has enveloped American politics in the last few years. What the report makes clear is that the current Republican obsession with attacking programs that benefit Americans in need, ranging from food stamps to Obamacare, isn’t about some philosophical commitment to small government, still less worries about incentive effects and implicit marginal tax rates. It’s about anxiety over a changing America — the multiracial, multicultural society we’re becoming — and anger that Democrats are taking Their Money and giving it to Those People. In other words, it’s still race after all these years. One irony here is that at this point it’s the liberals who believe in America, while the conservatives don’t. I believe in our ability to change while retaining our essential nature; I believe that today’s immigrants will be incorporated into the fabric of our society, just as Italian and Jewish immigrants — once regarded as fundamentally incompatible with American ways — became “white” by the middle of the 20th century. Another irony is that the great right-wing fear — that social insurance programs will in effect buy minority votes for Democrats, leading to further change — is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The GOP could have tried to reach out to immigrants, moderate its stances on Obamacare, and stake out a position as the restrained, sensible party. Instead, it’s alienating all the people it needs to win over, and quite possibly setting the stage for the very liberal dominance it fears. Meanwhile, a key takeaway for us wonks is that none of the ostensible debates we’re having — say, the debate over rising disability rolls — can be taken at face value. Yes, we need to crunch the numbers, but in the end the other side doesn’t care about the evidence.

The Democracy Corps memo, “Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans,” is here. What the report recounts is not exactly news to anyone who has been following the American right over the years. One thing needs to be made crystal clear: the Republican party base is not opposed to social insurance schemes such as Social Security or Medicare. Right-wing Republicans have no problem with transfer payments that they benefit from. Right-wingers only oppose social insurance when this goes to categories of the population the right doesn’t like, e.g. the “undeserving poor,” or the “47%,” or just them (and the disproportionately white Southern Republican base knows who “them” is). Social insurance schemes—referred to in the US as “entitlements” (an unfortunate neologism that is banned on my blog)—have a conservative pedigree, as I’ve written more than once, and are not opposed by conservative citizens who have paid into them in the course of their working lives. Only an extremist ideological fringe—but which is loud and dominates right-wing media—advocates a mythical libertarian vision of an unregulated free market and minimalist state. Sociologists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, among others, documented this in their essential 2012 book The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which was the fruit of a near full year of field research inside the Tea Party movement in different parts of the country.

On the Tea Party’s antecedents, Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, has a post on “Your grandfather’s Republicans.” The lede: “It’s startling how absolutely unchanged the ideology of the extreme American right has been over fifty years…” Gopnik’s piece begins

My colleague John Cassidy wrote not long ago about his difficulties, shared by the fine historian Jerrold Seigel, in finding an apt historical analogue for the Tea Party caucus as it exists today. Nothing quite like it anywhere else, he mused—and then Cassidy won this Francophile heart, at least, by citing as a possible model the Poujadists and Poujadisme, the small shopkeepers’ revolt in France in the nineteen-fifties—a movement that seemed to wither away when de Gaulle came to power, though it’s still alive today in many of the doctrines and practices of the French National Front.

On the parallel between the Tea Party and French Front National, I wrote on this at length two years ago in my post on “Le Pen and America.” As for the Tea Party resembling the Poujadists: sort of but not really. Poujadism was short-lived—lasting barely two years (it had fizzled by 1957)—and had little ideological content. There was a sharp right-wing populist tone to Pierre Poujade‘s discourse but his world-view—and which was that of his petit bourgeois supporters—was centrist at its core (adhering much more to the republican radicalism of the Third Republic than to the reactionary authoritarianism of the Vichy regime or the prewar ligues).

Continuing his tour of recent history, Gopnik sees a strong resemblance between the Tea Partiers today and the John Birch Society of the 1960s

In their new book, “Dallas 1963,” Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis demonstrate in luxuriant detail just how clotted Dallas was with right-wing types in the period before Kennedy’s fatal visit. The John Birch Society, the paranoid, well-heeled, anti-Communist group, was the engine of the movement then, as the Tea Party is now—and though, to their great credit, the saner conservatives worked hard to keep it out of the official center, the society remained hyper-present. Powerful men, like Ted Dealey, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, sympathized with the Birchers’ ideology, and engaged with General Edwin A. Walker, an extreme right-wing military man (and racist) who had left the Army in protest at Kennedy’s civil-rights and foreign policies—and who had the ear of Senators Strom Thurmond and John Tower. It was Walker who said of the President, “He is worse than a traitor. Kennedy has essentially exiled Americans to doom.” … Medicare then, as Obamacare now, was the key evil. An editorial in the Morning News announced that “JFK’s support of Medicare sounds suspiciously similar to a pro-Medicare editorial that appeared in the Worker—the official publication of the U.S. Communist Party.” At the same time, Minutaglio and Davis write, “on the radio, H.L. Hunt (the Dallas millionaire) filled the airwaves with dozens of attacks on Medicare, claiming that it would create government death panels: The plan provides a near little package of sweeping dictatorial power over medicine and the healing arts—a package which would literally make the President of the United States a medical czar with potential life or death power over every man woman and child in the country.” Stanley Marcus, the owner of the department store Neiman Marcus, heard from angry customers who were cancelling their Neiman Marcus charge cards because of his public support for the United Nations.

I remember the John Birch Society well from the early-mid 1970s, during my last two years of high school, when I developed an ongoing interest in right-wing movements. The Birchers’ monthly magazine, American Opinion, was sold at my local drug store in Evanston IL (a once conservative city—which voted Goldwater in 1964—but that had lurched liberal by the ’70s) and I would discreetly read it there (in the first of only two times in my life that I shoplifted, I stole a copy—I didn’t want to give the Birchers a cent of my allowance—so I could read it at my leisure). Wild stuff, about how America was being taken over by Communists. Even Republicans were infected with the communist virus (the term RINO hadn’t been coined yet, though that’s clearly how the Birchers saw many Republican politicians). It was fascinating to read a perspective and world-view that were so antithetical to mine and that of my family and social milieu (liberal/left). And that was so utterly ignorant of the world beyond America (I had lived in Turkey for four years in my early adolescence and two years in Somalia as a child—and had seen much of Europe and the Middle East, plus India—, so knew something about that world). The Birchers were naturally opposed to the civil rights movement—and had labeled Martin Luther King 100% communist—and there was an undercurrent of racism in their magazine—I remember clearly one article extolling apartheid South Africa—, though one of American Opinion’s regular contributors was black: the now mostly forgotten journalist and author George Schuyler. A black intellectual Bircher, only slightly to the right of Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, or Herman Cain (or maybe not; these three may well be as conservative as Schuyler was in his day). All goes to show that just as some of the best friends of an anti-Semite are Jews, one may be racist and admire a like-minded person or two of color.

Gopnik makes this observation about the Birchers of the ’60s

The whole thing came to a climax with the famous black-bordered flyer that appeared on the day of J.F.K.’s visit to Dallas, which showed him in front face and profile, as in a “Wanted” poster, with the headline “WANTED FOR TREASON.” The style of that treason is familiar mix of deliberate subversion and personal depravity. “He has been wrong on innumerable issues affecting the security of the United States”; “He has been caught in fantastic lies to the American people, including personal ones like his previous marriage and divorce.” Birth certificate, please?

The really weird thing—the American exception in it all—then as much as now, is how tiny all the offenses are. French right-wingers really did have a powerful, Soviet-affiliated Communist Party to deal with, as their British counterparts really had honest-to-god Socialists around, socializing stuff. But the Bircher-centered loonies and the Tea Partiers created a world of fantasy, willing mild-mannered, conflict-adverse centrists like J.F.K. and Obama into socialist Supermen.

Absolutely. The American right sees socialists, communists, Marxists etc in their midst—Obama being one of these or all three—but have no idea what any of these species look like in real life. Continuing with Gopnik’s observation, even the French FN knows the difference between a socialist and a communist; frontistes can identify the real thing. The most reactionary French rightist understands that there is no confusing François Hollande with Olivier Besancenot or Arlette Laguiller. And no French right-winger with the slightest knowledge of American politics would call Obama a socialist, let alone a Red (for the anecdote, when I spoke to an audience of several dozen UMP activists and local politicians in a Paris banlieue last year, the local deputy-mayor, who presided over the event, assured me that in France Obama would be in the UMP; I respectfully begged to differ).

It has been said by many that one of the reasons the right hates Obamacare owes not to fears that the latter may sink the economy but rather that it may well prove a popular success. In this vein, The NYer’s James Surowiecki has a piece on “The business end of Obamacare,” in which one “learn[s] that Obamacare may well be the best thing Washington has done for American small business in decades.” And The Nation is recirculating a blog post from a year ago on how “Paul Ryan quietly requested Obamacare cash,” which may at least partly explain why the GOP’s faux policy wonk didn’t mention defunding Obamacare in his debt ceiling proposal the other day.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Josh Barro, political editor of Business Insider—and who calls himself a Republican—, tells readers to take “One look at these emails [that he's received], and you’ll see why Republicans let Ted Cruz lead them off a cliff.” The GOP base in all its splendor. And they don’t like the RINO Marxist socialist Barro. He concludes: “These people are idiots. But if you’re a Republican elected official, they’re your idiots.”

2nd UPDATE: Garry Wills has a must read post on the NYR Blog, “Back door secession,” which concludes with this

So we have one condition that resembles the pre-Civil War virtual secessionism—the holding of a whole party hostage to its most extreme members. We also have the other antebellum condition—the disproportionate representation of the extreme faction. In state after state in the 2012 election, there was a large vote for President Obama, but a majority of House seats went to Republicans. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, but Republicans got over twice as many seats (13 to 5), thanks to carefully planned gerrymandering of districts by Republican state legislatures. This advantage will be set in stone if all the voter restriction laws now being advanced block voters who might upset the disproportion.

The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule. We see this in the Senate, where a Democratic majority is resisted at every turn by automatic recourses to the filibuster. We see it in the attempt to repeal the seventeenth amendment, which allows a majority of voters to choose a state’s senators. The repealers want that choice to go back to the state legislatures, where they rule thanks to anti-majority gerrymandering.

The Old South went from virtual to actual secession only when the addition of non-slave Western states threatened their disproportionate hold on the Congress and the Court (which had been Southern in makeup when ruling on Dred Scott). It is difficult to conjecture what will happen if the modern virtual seceders do not get their way. Their anti-government rhetoric is reaching new intensity. Some would clearly rather ruin than be ruled by a “foreign-born Muslim.” What will the Republicans who are not fanatics, only cowards, do in that case?

We’ll see soon enough, when they lose the 2016 election.

3rd UPDATE: Josh Barro has an amusing commentary on how “Republicans aren’t the ‘daddy party’ anymore.” They’re now “the abusive ex-husband with a substance abuse problem party,” which “is drunk and beating the children”… (October 13)

Read Full Post »

Tokyo, May 25 2012 (Photo: AFP)

Tokyo, May 25 2012 (Photo: AFP)

[update below] [2nd update below]

The TPP. Any idea of what that is? Most likely not. I hardly knew myself until today, and I like to think that I’m well-informed on international affairs. It’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the free trade agreement the Obama administration is presently negotiating below the radar screen with several Asian and Latin American countries (map below). And it is very important. So important for the business interests that are driving it—and of the governments doing their bidding—that, from their standpoint, it best be kept way below that public radar screen. The redoubtable Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, who has been organizing around trade and globalization issues since the ’90s, explains what’s at stake with the TPP in this Democracy Now! interview. It will take 14-minutes of your time to watch it (it starts at the 13th minute) but is well worth it if you’re a citizen of any of the countries involved. So please watch it now.

Re Lori Wallach: Talk about being well-spoken and having your facts and arguments down cold. I would dread being on the opposing side of a debate with her. For more by Wallach on the TPP, see the article she wrote last year in The Nation, “NAFTA on steroids.” The lede: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would grant enormous new powers to corporations, is a massive assault on democracy.” If Wallach’s characterization of the TPP is at all accurate—and I have no reason to believe that it’s not—, it represents, at the very least, a significant, European Union-like transfer of national sovereignty to a supranational entity. Except that, unlike the EU—until the enlargements of the past decade plus Greece—, the TPP involves countries with vastly different standards of living, political institutions, systems of governance, and economic legislation (labor, consumer, etc), to name a few, but without any EU-type supranational institution (commission, parliament, council, court) and absent any pretense of democratic accountability. Moreover, one has a hard time imagining what benefits could accrue to significant numbers of citizens in the countries involved, and particularly the United States. This thing needs to be stopped, and beginning with Congress refusing fast-track authority to President Obama. NAFTA, which I was all for twenty years ago, turned out to be a mistake. The TPP will definitely be a mistake and a much bigger one.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman has a post (December 12th) on his blog on why he doesn’t think the TPP is a big deal. Dean Baker explains on his blog why his friend Paul is in error on this, that the TPP is indeed a big—and bad—deal.

2nd UPDATE: Joseph Stiglitz has a must read article on the TPP, “On the wrong side of globalization,” on the NYT op-ed page. (March 15, 2014)

newTPP map cropped

Read Full Post »

(Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

That’s what TAP’s Paul Waldman calls the extremist Republican dead-enders in the House of Representatives, who are 30 to 80 in number, depending on how they’re counted, and are holding America hostage to their insane demands. Waldman despairs that “[t]his madness will never end” so long as there’s a Democrat in the White House and he’s likely right.

Andrew Sullivan, who calls the GOP “The Nullification Party,” has the best commentary I’ve seen so far on the insanity on Capitol Hill. Here’s the whole thing for those too lazy to click on the link

I’ve been trying to think of something original to say about the absurdity now transpiring in Washington, DC. I’ve said roughly what I think in short; and I defer to Fallows for an important dose of reality against the predictably moronic coverage of the Washington Post.

But there is something more here. How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case – as well as two Senate elections  -   think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way on universal healthcare now? I see no quid pro quo even. Just pure blackmail, resting on understandable and predictable public concern whenever a major reform is enacted. But what has to be resisted is any idea that this is government or politics as usual. It is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States.

When ideologies become as calcified, as cocooned and as extremist as those galvanizing the GOP, the American system of government cannot work. But I fear this nullification of the last two elections is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the American system of government as we have known it cannot work. It cannot, must not work, in the mindset of these radicals, because they simply do not accept the legitimacy of a President and Congress of the opposing party. The GOP does not regard the president as merely wrong – but as illegitimate. Not misguided – illegitimate. This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment.

Except this time, of course, we cannot deny that race too is an added factor to the fathomless sense of entitlement felt among the GOP far right. You saw it in birtherism; in the Southern GOP’s constant outrageous claims of Obama’s alleged treason and alliance with Islamist enemies; in providing zero votes for a stimulus that was the only thing that prevented a global depression of far worse proportions; in the endless race-baiting from Fox News and the talk radio right. And in this racially-charged atmosphere, providing access to private healthcare insurance to the working poor is obviously the point of no return.

Even though the law is almost identical to that of their last presidential nominee’s in Massachusetts, the GOP is prepared to destroy both the American government and the global economy to stop it. They see it, it seems to me, as both some kind of profound attack on the Constitution (something even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts viewed as a step too far) and, in some inchoate way, as a racial hand-out, however preposterous that is. And that is at the core of the recklessness behind this attack on the US – or at least my best attempt to understand something that has long since gone beyond reason. This is the point of no return – a black president doing something for black citizens (even though the vast majority of beneficiaries of Obamacare will be non-black).I regard this development as one of the more insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism against the American republic in my adult lifetime. Those who keep talking as if there are two sides to this, when there are not, are as much a part of the vandalism as Ted Cruz. Obama has played punctiliously by the constitutional rules – two elections, one court case – while the GOP has decided that the rules are for dummies and suckers, and throws over the board game as soon as it looks as if it is going to lose by the rules as they have always applied.

The president must therefore hold absolutely firm. This time, there can be no compromise because the GOP isn’t offering any. They’re offering the kind of constitutional surrender that would effectively end any routine operation of the American government. If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.

This time, the elephant must go down. And if possible, it must be so wounded it does not get up for a long time to come.

Sullivan’s commentary finally persuaded me to fork over the $19.99 for unlimited yearly access to his blog. I don’t look at it too often—question of time—and have had issues with him in the past, but I’ll pay a nickel a day for commentary of this quality.

Two pieces from The New Yorker: Ryan Lizza on “Where the GOP’s suicide caucus lives“—the sobriquet “suicide caucus” was coined by Charles Krauthammer—and surgeon and public health specialist Atul Gawande on Obamacare and obstructionism.

À suivre (malheureusement).

UPDATE: NYT economics columnist Eduardo Porter explains “Why the health care law scares the GOP.” A must read.

2nd UPDATE: TPM links to a hilarious, absolute must watch 4-minute video from “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” in which citizens on the street in L.A. are asked what they think of Obamacare vs. the Affordable Care Act. It rather confirms—if confirmation were neeeded—the irrelevance of opinion polls showing majorities of Americans opposed to Obamacare, as many people have no idea what it is.

3rd UPDATE: Nice commentary by Michael Tomasky on “What history will say about Obamacare and the government shutdown.”


Read Full Post »

The rise of the new new left

Labor Movement And An Organized College Walkout Add Support To Occupy Wall Street Protest

[update below]

If one didn’t see it, Peter Beinart has a very interesting essay of this title in TDB, dated September 12th, in which he foresees a bright future for a revived left wing politics in the US. The lede

Bill de Blasio’s win in New York’s Democratic primary isn’t a local story. It’s part of a vast shift that could upend three decades of American political thinking.

This is one of the more thoughtful reflections I’ve read on the general subject in a while. I don’t know if Beinart is right but sure hope he is. His essay is lengthy but really worth the read.

À propos, the right-wing TWS’s in-house economics writer, Irwin Stelzer, has a post on the TWS blog, dated September 21st, on what he regretfully sees as the possible revival of trade unions in the US. I don’t know if Stelzer is right but sure hope he is!

If one needs just one little reminder of how loathsome the Republican party has become—and why America really needs a revived left wing politics and robust unions—, read Timothy Egan’s post, “Red state pain,” dated September 19th, on the NYT’s Opinionator blog.

UPDATE: The NYT has a most informative article about Bill de Blasio’s youthful participation in the 1980s Nicaragua solidarity movement: “A mayoral hopeful now, de Blasio was once a young leftist.” (September 23)

Read Full Post »


[update below]

There are plenty of reasons to be disappointed with Obama’s presidency but one of the most is his failure to close the Guantánamo prison as he promised he would during the 2008 campaign. One could perhaps understand the political constraints during his first term—in view of the opposition from Congressional Democrats and public opinion—but he has no such excuse now. So he’s speaking out again against Gitmo and his desire to close it. If he can do so via executive order, he should just do it. Shut the goddamned place down and now. If assholes members of Congress and right-wing media pundits scream and holler, let them scream and holler. Ignore them. The New York Times has a good editorial on the subject. Le voici

The President and the Hunger Strike

President Obama said a lot of important things on Tuesday about the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It is a blight on the nation’s reputation. It mocks American standards of justice by keeping people imprisoned without charges. It has actually hindered the prosecution and imprisonment of dangerous terrorists. Even if Guantánamo seemed justified to some people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, those justifications are wearing thin. It is unsustainable and should be closed.

We were pleased that Mr. Obama pledged to make good, finally, on his promise to do just that. But that reaction was tempered by the fact that he has failed to do so for five years and that he has not taken steps within his executive power to transfer prisoners long ago cleared for release. Mr. Obama’s plans to try to talk Congress into removing obstacles to closing the prison do not reflect the urgency of the crisis facing him now.

As of Tuesday morning, Charlie Savage reported in The Times, 100 of the 166 inmates at Guantánamo are participating in a hunger strike against their conditions and indefinite detention. Twenty-one have been “approved” for force-feeding, which involves the insertion of a tube through their nostrils and down their throats.

Mr. Obama defended the practice. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” he said.

Most people don’t. But a recently published bipartisan report on detainee treatment by the Constitution Project said “forced feeding of detainees is a form of abuse and must end.” The World Medical Association has long considered forced feeding a violation of a physicians’ ethics when it is done against a competent person’s express wishes, a point that was reinforced on April 25 by Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

There is no indication that the inmates being force-fed were unconscious or incapable of making decisions. And virtually all inmates at Guantánamo have never been charged with any crime and never will be. Nearly 90 have been cleared for release, and another large group can never be tried because they were tortured or there is no evidence they were involved in a particular attack. Only six are facing active charges before a military tribunal.

Mr. Obama was asked about the hunger strike at a White House news conference. “I think it is critical,” he said, “for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists.”

Mr. Obama said permanent detention without trial is “contrary to who we are. It is contrary to our interests.”

Mr. Obama correctly said that Congress passed malicious laws that restrict the use of federal money to transfer Guantánamo detainees to other countries and prohibit sending them to be tried in federal courts, which, unlike the military tribunals, are competent to do that.

But those laws were lent political momentum by the Obama administration’s bungling of an attempt to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in a federal court. And, since then, Mr. Obama has approved a dangerous expansion of military detention of terrorist suspects.

If he is serious about moving toward closure, there are two steps proposed by the American Civil Liberties Union that could get the ball rolling. He could appoint a senior official “so that the administration’s Guantánamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats,” the A.C.L.U. said, and he could order Mr. Hagel to start providing legally required waivers to transfer detainees who have been cleared. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has urged Mr. Obama to urgently review the status of those prisoners — a primary issue for the hunger strikers.

The hunger strike is an act of desperation over policies even Mr. Obama says cannot be defended. It is his responsibility to deal with it — and close the prison.

Shut it down, Mr. President. Shut it down.

UPDATE: In an NYT op-ed (May 3) Bruce Ackerman and Eugene R. Fidell of the Yale Law School tell President Obama what he should do: “Send judges to Guantánamo, then shut it.”

Read Full Post »


[update below]

The JTA reports that the effort by the US Congress to have Israel added to the Visa Waiver Program—which would allow Israeli passport holders visa-free entry into the US for up to 90 days—has run into problems over the issue of reciprocity, i.e. of the requirement that countries in the VWP also allow Americans visa-free entry. Israel has long done this, of course, except that Americans—and particularly those of Palestinian/Arab origin and/or with Muslim surnames—are often arbitrarily denied entry by Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport or the Allenby bridge—invariably after a lengthy and humiliating interrogation process—and with no explanation. The Israelis do not seek to justify such refusals of entry—pour mémoire, to citizens of a state with which it has exceptionally close relations—and have never, not once, demonstrated that the American deportee constituted a manifest security threat (on a recent instance, see this Haaretz piece on the denial of entry to American citizen Nour Joudah, an English teacher in Ramallah). I’ve written on this several times (e.g. see this post from a year ago, and which spawned a lively debate in the comments thread). So unless the Israelis clean up their act and stop behaving arbitrarily at their ports of entry—and cease discriminating against Americans on account of their ethnicity or putative political views—they should clearly not be admitted into the VWP.

But now AIPAC is pushing Congress to exempt Israel from the reciprocity requirements of the VWP and Barbara Boxer is leading the effort in the Senate. If the Senate bill is enacted Israel would be uniquely excused from the rule applied to the 37 other VWP countries and with Congress formally acquiescing in its discrimination against categories of Americans. Boxer’s Senate bill, as Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now explains, “takes the extraordinary step of seeking to change the current U.S. law to create a special and unique exception for Israel in U.S. immigration law.” What chutzpah on the part of AIPAC and Boxer et al to try to do this. A number of Congresspersons, otherwise pro-Israel, are indeed balking at the Boxer bill. AIPAC normally gets what it wants on Capitol Hill but not always. I don’t think it will this time—American politicians usually don’t like it when American citizens are discriminated against abroad—but Arab-American and civil liberties groups need to lobby hard to make sure the Boxer bill doesn’t pass.

Even if Israel doesn’t enter the VWP, the US could and should request that the Israelis explicitly explain the reason for each and every arbitrary refusal of entry of an American citizen. And demand that the Israelis stop discriminating against Palestinian-Americans. The European Schengen area, which does allow Israelis visa-free entry, should also start making an issue of discrimination against EU passport holders at Israeli ports of entry.

UPDATE: California law professor George Bisharat, who is Palestinian-American, has an LAT op-ed (April 28) on “Israel’s free pass from Boxer,” in which he describes his experiences with the Ben Gurion Airport security gauntlet. How can anyone possibly justify this?

Read Full Post »

toles sequester

Bruce Bartlett, the well known onetime conservative Republican—who knows of what he speaks when talking about the SOBs—, has an analysis of the politics of the sequester psychodrama that is well worth reading. In short, he thinks it will last only to the end of this month, when the Repubs will cave. Inshallah.

And in case anyone missed it, Paul Krugman has a typically slam dunk column today, on the fiscal austerity zombies in Washington.

Read Full Post »

Tiananmen Square, Beijing (Photo: Oded Balilty/Associated Press)

Tiananmen Square, Beijing (Photo: Oded Balilty/AP)

I had a post with this title back in October ’11, on the L.A. smog of past decades and in which I asked how libertarians would have dealt with it in the absence of state regulation and environmental legislation. I never got any kind of response, needless to say—not from a free-marketeer, at any rate, though one did send an email with a link to an article about how anti-pollution regulations hinder job creation, or something like that, but that in no way addressed my question. Now we’ve been reading about the off-the-scales smog alert in Beijing the other day and comparisons with the infamous London pea soup fog that afflicted that city for well over a century, until the first clear air laws were enacted there in the 1950s. London was hardly the only city with a present-day Beijing-like smog problem, of course. The Atlantic has a piece today on smog in Pittsburgh through the mid 20th century. Incredible to think that people lived with this (as they live with it today in Beijing and elsewhere). Scroll down and click on the link of the photo show of what Pittsburgh looked like at noon.

So I repeat my question to libertarians, and to anti-government Tea Party GOP types more generally: if they had their way and government got out of the business of environmental regulation—and with clean air and other such acts repealed in the interest of an unfettered free market, not to mention abolishing subsidies for mass transit—, what do they think would happen pollution-wise? If there were a return to the smog status quo ante—an inevitability, one would presume—what would they propose doing about it, if anything?

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a response.

Read Full Post »

Determined to vote!

Voting line in Miami, 4 Nov. 2012 (photo credit: Ian Koski/pic.twitter.com/wuMcXz3D)

Voting line in Miami, 4 Nov. 2012 (photo credit: Ian Koski/pic.twitter.com/wuMcXz3D)

This is the title of an article by Elizabeth Drew in the December 20th NYRB that I just read, on the Republicans’ failed effort to suppress voter turnout in the November election in states where they control the machinery of government, notably Florida and Ohio. Plenty has been written on the disgraceful, Third World-like spectacle of voters in the world’s richest and most powerful democracy spending hours in line in the two aforementioned states, among others—as well as on the admirable determination of those voters to cast their ballots, despite the Republicans’ concerted efforts to thwart it—, but it really does need to be reiterated that in no other advanced democracy would such spectacles even be conceivable, let alone happen. E.g. in the 2007 French presidential election, when just about everyone voted—84% of registered voters (and with some 95% of the voting-age population registered)—, the wait time at the polling stations was ten minutes max. Even with the longer ballot in the US—with numerous electoral mandates to vote for—there is no reason whatever that one shouldn’t be able to get in and out of a polling station in half an hour at most. Only in America—i.e. in those parts of America controlled by the Republican party—is there a concerted effort to suppress voting, to make the most fundamental civic act in a democracy as difficult as possible. It’s a goddamned f-ing disgrace.

Elizabeth Drew, in her otherwise impeccable analysis, does make one peculiar comment in passing and with which I will nitpick

Inevitably, after a contentious election all sorts of proposals are brought forth to improve the election system, including the hoary and perpetually futile argument over eliminating the electoral college—which would lead to a campaign focused on New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston and a probable Democratic advantage; less populous states that benefit from the current system are most unlikely to agree to its being changed.

I will not argue with Ms. Drew over the futility of trying to eliminate the electoral college—which should happen but never will—, but will tell her that the notion that an elimination of the electoral college would result in an election being focused on NYC, L.A., Chicago et al—metropolises that are entirely ignored in presidential campaigns, BTW—is a lot of poppycock. There is no reason whatever to think such a thing would happen. In statewide elections—governor, senator, etc—candidates campaign throughout the state, not just in areas where their voters may be concentrated. E.g. in a gubernatorial election in Illinois, the Democratic candidate campaigns downstate and not just in Chicago and the Quad Cities. In France, presidential candidates campaign throughout the country, in cities and towns big and small, and in rural areas. If the electoral college were abolished and with the president elected by a national popular vote, not only would candidates hold rallies in Long Island and Houston, the Bay Area and Omaha, but one would see the Democrat campaigning  in Alabama and the Republican in New Jersey. The electoral map for both candidates would be greatly expanded, and with so many more Americans implicated in the campaigns. Wouldn’t that be nice? One can hardly argue that such a fundamental change would constitute a regression. Not that it will ever happen, of course.

Read Full Post »

It’s the South, stupid!


[updates below]

Ringing in the new year with the fiscal cliff psychodrama, Michael Tomasky has a commentary in TDB giving Obama somewhat of a break. The president is up against crazy people in Congress. Mainly from the South. Whenever there’s a major political problem in the US—nowadays as 225 years ago—it’s invariably because of the South. Tomasky thus begins

While most liberals were stewing at Barack Obama yesterday for his “capitulation” on tax rates, I confess that I was feeling philosophical about it, and even mildly defensive of him. He is negotiating with madmen, and you can’t negotiate with madmen, because they’re, well, mad. I also spent part of yesterday morning re-reading a little history and reminding myself that rascality like this fiscal-cliff business has been going on since the beginning of the republic. So now I’d like to remind you. It’s always the reactionaries holding up the progressives—and usually, needless to say, it’s been the South holding up the North—and always with the same demagogic and dishonest arguments about a tyrannical central government. We’ll never be rid of these paranoid bloviators, and if no other president could stop them I don’t really see why Obama ought to be able to.

Reactionaries in the goddamned f-ing South. Without the South, there is no Tea Party. The GOP would be a normal conservative party, not an extreme right-wing party. Nothing to be done about it, of course, except maybe let demography do its handiwork. After we’re all dead.

As for the deal voted by the Senate and how to judge Obama, I defer to Paul Krugman, as I invariably do on these matters.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on Obama’s “long game.”

2nd UPDATE: Ezra Klein in WaPo says “Calm down, liberals. The White House won.”

3rd UPDATE: Peter Coy, economics editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, analyzes “The Fiscal Cliff Deal and the Damage Done.”

4th UPDATE: John Judis in TNR asserts that “Obama Wasn’t Rolled. He Won!

Read Full Post »

Our flawed constitution

Louis Michael Seidman, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, writes in today’s NYT about some of the major flaws in the US constitution. He begins

As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Evil? Perhaps. Archaic and idiosyncratic? Definitely.

On the same topic, retired Justice Jean Paul Stevens had a review essay in the October 11th NYRB of UT Law professor Sanford Levinson’s latest book, Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance. Levinson is a well-known critic of the constitution. For the anecdote, I briefly met him some seven years ago at a conference in Paris and asked him, along with Marcie Hamilton of the Cardozo law school, if they thought that the president swearing the oath of office on the Bible violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Both replied that, in their considered opinion, it did indeed, probably the letter of the clause, definitely of its spirit. When it comes to church-state issues at least, the US constitution—correctly interpreted—isn’t bad.

constitution - book cover

Read Full Post »

Something I’ve been wanting to ask conservatives since seeing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ the other day. If you had been around for the January 1865 debate in the House of Representatives over the 13th amendment to the constitution—and had adhered to the prevailing conservative positions of the time—would you have identified with the views of Thaddeus Stevens or George Pendleton?  Just asking.


Read Full Post »

Philippe Bernard a une bonne analyse dans Le Monde, daté du samedi 8 décembre, comparant la dérive droitière de l’UMP à celle du Parti Républicain aux Etats-Unis. Si la ligne Buisson/Copé se confirme à l’UMP, il risque le même sort que les Républicains outre-Atlantique. J’ai la même analyse que Philippe Bernard depuis l’élection américaine

Au-delà d’un combat de coqs franco-français, que se joue-t-il dans la guerre suicidaire entre les chefs de l’UMP ? Pour échapper à la lassitude que procure ce spectacle, il est tentant de prendre du recul, d’aller chercher hors de l’Hexagone des angles d’analyse nouveaux, des éclairages inédits.

Un continent est familier de ce type de situation où les deux concurrents d’une élection se proclament simultanément vainqueurs et refusent obstinément de céder, jusqu’à l’autodestruction : l’Afrique.

Logistique électorale monopolisée par le président sortant, incapacité de proclamer des résultats crédibles, électeurs pris en otage d’un combat d’ego : les tares de certains scrutins africains sont souvent commentées avec condescendance dans l’ancienne puissance impériale qu’est la France. Ces Africains, susurre-t-on, ne sont décidément pas mûrs pour la démocratie.

Mais c’est sur un autre continent, aux Etats-Unis, que les raisons de fond du grand déchirement de l’UMP se trouvent éclairées par la défaite de Mitt Romney. La droite française et les républicains américains paraissent souffrir de la même incapacité à renouveler leur discours sur le rôle de l’Etat, les grands sujets de société, la place des immigrés, afin de rassembler une majorité d’électeurs.

A l’origine de la rivalité Copé-Fillon se trouve l’échec de la stratégie de Nicolas Sarkozy. La crise financière l’ayant amené à abandonner la rhétorique ultralibérale sur laquelle il avait été élu en 2007, l’ancien président français avait enclenché les sirènes du populisme identitaire.

Objectif : profiter du repli et des tentations xénophobes suscités par la crise, pour capter les électeurs effrayés par l’Europe et la mondialisation, hostiles aux immigrés et à la libéralisation des mœurs. On sait ce qu’il advint de cette “ligne Buisson” censée siphonner l’électorat de Marine Le Pen.

M. Sarkozy, ayant dérivé si loin à droite avec la campagne sur l’identité nationale, la tentative de remettre en cause les naturalisations et les surenchères anti-islam, s’est révélé incapable de mobiliser, entre les deux tours, l’électorat modéré indispensable à sa réélection.

A l’échelle du pays-continent que sont les Etats-Unis, l’échec du candidat républicain, le 6 novembre, résulte d’un scénario aux analogies étonnantes. Le modéré Mitt Romney a donné tant de gages aux extrémistes du Tea Party pour obtenir l’investiture républicaine – promesse d’abroger la loi Obama sur l’assurance-santé qualifiée de “socialiste”, refus d’augmenter les impôts des riches et de régulariser les sans-papiers, ambiguïté sur le droit à l’avortement –, que son recentrage brutal pendant les deux mois précédant le scrutin n’a pas assez largement convaincu, face à Barack Obama pourtant handicapé par le haut niveau de chômage.

Des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, les deux candidats conservateurs ont tenté en vain de se poser en protecteurs non seulement des classes favorisées, mais aussi des petites gens bousculés par la désindustrialisation, la menace de la Chine, des électeurs prompts à rendre les immigrés responsables du chômage et hantés par un sentiment de déclin.

Dans les deux cas, la majorité des électeurs a préféré le candidat le moins réticent à défendre les filets de sécurité étatiques – sauvetage de General Motors, loi sur la santé pour M. Obama, volontarisme des pouvoirs publics pour François Hollande – face aux soubresauts de l’économie.

Aux Etats-Unis, une coalition de fait entre les électorats jeune, féminin, noir et latino a assuré la réélection du président démocrate. En France, la mobilisation des 18-24 ans et des électeurs musulmans – selon des sondages, respectivement 57 % et 86 % ont voté pour M.Hollande au second tour – a contribué à la victoire du candidat socialiste.

“Je pense qu’il y a beaucoup à apprendre de la réélection de Barack Obama mais aussi de la défaite de Mitt Romney, a constaté le filloniste François Baroin dans Le Figaro. Le Parti républicain a réduit sa base électorale en déplaçant son centre de gravité sur sa droite. Ce qui leur est arrivé nous est arrivé aussi et je ne souhaite pas que l’UMP, grand parti de gouvernement, perde de vue la logique de rassemblement qu’avait souhaitée Jacques Chirac à sa création.”

Comment sortir de ce piège qui enserre les conservateurs, entre un anti-étatisme affaibli par les dérives de la finance, la défense des privilégiés qui aliène les éclopés de la crise, et une xénophobie rampante – anti-Latinos aux Etats-Unis, anti-musulmane en France – que rejettent notamment les électeurs issus de l’immigration ?

Tels sont les dilemmes qui alimentent tant la guéguerre Copé-Fillon – lancée par l’histoire inventée du “pain au chocolat” – que la crise du Parti républicain aux Etats-Unis, provoquée par l’échec des contorsions électorales de M. Romney.

Au-delà du bruit et de la fureur suscités par une bagarre parisienne d’ego, le malaise parallèle des droites américaine et française marque probablement la fin d’un cycle politique mondial ouvert par la “révolution conservatrice” de Ronald Reagan dans les années 1980, dont Nicolas Sarkozy a été le dernier avatar français.

De part et d’autre de l’Atlantique, la guerre à l’impôt, le moins d’Etat, la remise en cause des acquis sociaux, le nationalisme, le procès fait au libéralisme post-1968 en matière de mœurs, ne suffisent plus nécessairement à unir une majorité. Analogues par leurs origines, les crises d’identité que traversent les deux droites, française et américaine, supposent de profonds aggiornamentos.

Philippe Bernard (Service International)


Read Full Post »

[update below]

This is the title of a great, great essay by Bruce Bartlett in The American Conservative, who tells about “My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong.” No selected passages or money quotes here (there would be too many). Just read the essay. The whole thing, from beginning to end. You won’t regret it.

Just one thing. In Bartlett’s quote in the above photo, he says the Republican party today wants anarchy and ending government. This is not precisely the case and his own essay implicitly says why. What comes across in his account is the extreme intolerance of today’s Republicans for anyone who doesn’t share their world-view. If these people were to control all three branches of government—with a solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court and a filibuster-proof Senate—they would not only gut the welfare state—and, via SCOTUS rulings, render impossible its future revival—but also the institutions of democracy, notably in undermining the suffrage via an abrogation of the Voting Rights Act. Significant portions of the (Democratic-voting) electorate would be effectively disenfranchised (the efforts at voter suppression in Florida, Ohio, and other states in the last election give an inkling as to GOP intentions on this; see also the proposal by Republican office holders in Ohio and Pennsylvania to implement the congressional district method in the allocation of electoral votes). Representation is distorted enough in America as it is, but the Republicans, if they could, would distort it even further, attempting to lock in their control over the reins of power for generations, and despite the demographic evolution of American society. Under unchecked Republican rule, America would be a brutal and violent place, and with an increasingly muscular repressive state apparatus. So-called small government conservatives only believe in small government when it comes to transfer payments and regulations on business, not on the powers of the police and instruments of repression. Thank God Obama won. And that he won decisively.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman has a typically spot on commentary on his blog, in which he discusses Bruce Bartlett’s essay and Republican “epistemic closure.” He discusses

a phenomenon I notice a lot on the right (you can see it often in the comments on this blog): the persistent portrayal of people who disagree with them as marginal figures with trivial support. I think of Bill O’Reilly dismissing anyone who presents data he doesn’t like as “far left”, even when they’re thoroughly mainstream. Or, to be self-centered, the constant insistence by some people that nobody pays attention to what yours truly says; there are, it appears, an awful lot of nobodies out there. I’m not sure I fully understand this phenomenon, but it comes in part from a refusal to pay any attention at all to what other people think.

The point isn’t just that right-wingers believe in their own reality, but that they don’t think it matters that other people have different versions of reality. And no, this isn’t symmetric: liberals don’t consider it unnecessary to know what conservatives are thinking, or dismiss actually influential figures as marginal. Liberal may despise Rush Limbaugh, but they won’t dismiss him as a marginal figure nobody listens to.

This is so true. À propos, some three years ago I was “informed” by a Tea Party interlocutor from the American Midwest that Paul Krugman was “a joke” and that “nobody” paid any attention to him, “not even liberals.” For my brilliant interlocutor I was ergo a “nobody,” as were the millions who read Krugman regularly. Lots of us nobodies out there (and who continue to feel oh so good about the results of the election; how nice it is to know that we are, in fact, not only not nobodies but the majority…).

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 171 other followers

%d bloggers like this: