Tag Archives: Tea Party

SYNDICATED COLUMN: America’s “Moderates” Are Wild, Crazy — and More Extreme Than Any “Extremist”

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Every damn second of every stupid day in this brain-dead nation, the insipid overlords of America’s inane corporate news media put out the same message: extremism is extremely bad.

9/11? Carried out by Muslim extremists. The couple who murdered two police officers in Las Vegas this week? Right-wing, anti-government extremists. Washington gridlock? A Republican Party taken over by intransigent extremists (the Tea Party).

In this official narrative, unquestioned by left and right alike, moderation and centrism are equated with reasonableness. So Hillary Rodham Clinton describes herself as a middle-way realist who values compromise — i.e., a moderate and therefore a Very Serious Person, and thus qualified to be president.

To be feared and marginalized, by contrast, are those the system defines as “extremists.” (Some might call them men and women of principle. But that would be on funny little blogs no one reads.)

If you criticize the mainstream (the current government, the biggest corporations, the most well-connected journalistic elites) in a sustained way — especially if you call those in charge out for breaking their own rules and laws — you will be categorized as one of these horrible “extremists.”

A recent example: Michael Kinsley, lately of Slate and The New Republic (the most centrist of moderate magazines), comparing Glenn Greenwald to Robespierre (within the context of the pretty extreme French revolution, extreme) in the New York Times (down to the tone of any given sentence, the most centrist of moderate newspapers), for the sin of complaining about NSA spying, drone assassinations, Guantánamo and other (when you think about it, extreme) U.S. government activities that violate — U.S. government laws.

Though, actually, “violate” doesn’t quite go far enough. Bombing countries without bothering to declare war against them pees all over the Constitution, numerous federal laws — the whole spirit of the American endeavor. Extreme, no?

This is some bass-ackward shit.

For asking that political elites obey their own laws on domestic spying and not assassinating American citizens on American soil — even being willing to mount an actual filibuster over it — Rand Paul gets portrayed as a wacky fringe loony-toons extremist. For listening to our calls and reading our email and dropping Hellfire missiles on American citizens — and children! — without a warrant, Barack Obama is a moderate.

What the “moderates” call “mainstream” is, in truth, about as extreme as it gets.

Ex-Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, formerly of Goldman Sachs and thus the embodiment of reasonable centristness, is pushing a book in which he claims a tough-call-but-had-to-do-it middle ground for an action that was in reality about as extreme as can be: his reaction to the 2008-09 economic collapse. Geithner gave $7.77 trillion in taxpayer money to the banks and their top executives, no questions asked, and $0.00 to the homeowners and unemployed people whom the banks screwed. (Also, there’s this: he failed. The economy is still tens of millions of unemployed behind; consumer confidence is still shit. NPR still asks his opinion.)

Speaking of books, Hillary’s latest brief, called “Hard Choices” — a phrase meant to conjure Solomonic wisdom — kinda sorta admits she “got it wrong” by voting for the U.S. war against Iraq.

Democrats voting for Republican-led wars — that’s the “crossing the aisle” “bipartisan” “seriousness” Manhattan and Beltway pundits like Thomas Friedman and David Ignatius, both of whom did the same, approve of.

Moderate.

The war, of course, was an extreme affair. Between $2 trillion and $6 trillion down the shitter. 4,500 dead American troops. Hundreds of thousands whose brains will never be right again. At least a million — more like two million — dead Iraqis. Who can count them all? A Second World oil state, secular socialist and authoritarian, reduced by ten years of American occupation to civil war and total societal, political and economic disintegration, Third World going on Fourth.

And what about the way it began? Ginned up out of whole cloth. Even by U.S. standards, it takes some big stones to justify attacking a nation that never attacked, or threatened to attack, you. Pretending that you know about WMDs, and then getting caught lying, and then not only not apologizing and immediately withdrawing, but doubling down (c.f., the “surge”)?

Pretty damn extreme, if you ask me. (No one does. Cuz, like, my saying so makes me extreme.)

Hillary’s “hard choice”? In 2003, Bush was popular, so was invading Iraq. She assumed that, when she ran for reelection to the Senate in 2006, Bush and his war would still be the bee’s knees.

Sorry, Iraq.

Hard choice, you see.

With “moderates” like this…

Yet the Moderate Class is so loud about the evils of extremism. Writing in the very moderate Washington Post opinion pages, a forum that promoted the Iraq War and publishes the full range of editorial opinion from center-right Democrat to center-right Republican, Paul Waldman asked “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?” after the Vegas cop shooting.

Here’s a taste: “When you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

Mmmaybe. But how about a little context? Assuming that “the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns” inspired the Vegas shooters, shooting cops isn’t good. But: (only) four people died, including the killers, in Vegas. Four dead due to right-wing extremism.

Millions died in the Iraq War. This slaughter wasn’t inspired by, but directly carried out by a bipartisan Congress coming together to support an attack editorial writers on both the Right and what passes for the Left agreed upon.

Why doesn’t anyone at the Post ask “How much does mainstream Democratic-Republican rhetoric contribute to U.S. state terrorism?” Here is how Waldman would write if he or his editors were sane:

“When you broadcast every day that an isolated Middle Eastern dictatorship is a totalitarian beast bent on reducing America to ashes and irradiated rubble, when you appease lawbreakers like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Yoo, when you say that antiwar activists would literally destroy the country if they could, to score cheap political points, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that war is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

When you run an extremist government that markets itself as realistically moderate, your smartest move is distraction.

See Huge Crazy Extremist Kettle point at tiny extremist pot.

Like, even when a politician considered extremist within the bounds of the two-party “mainstream” gets defeated by an even more extreme extremist, mourn the loss of the slightly less extreme extremist as “A Bad Omen for Moderates.”

And ask things like this:

Why on earth would a 22-year-old from Florida with a “passion for Islam and teaching children about the Quran turn into something more disturbing”?

The New York Times approvingly quotes Veronica Monroy, a friend of a man who carried out a suicide bombing against Assad government forces in Syria: “He deplored any kind of negativity, and was always the first to lend a hand if you needed one. He was religious, but definitely not an extremist,” Monroy said. “He was loving and caring, and I know he came from a strong, loving, supportive home.”

Get the message? Jihad is extreme. Fundamentalists are severe and cold, not loving or caring — and they’re usually the damaged products of dysfunctional families. Extremism is “negative.” Follow a religion. Just don’t really follow all its tenets.

Like that stuff about giving up all your stuff and joining the poor: that would be extreme.

If you step back from the media maelstrom, it isn’t all that hard to frame another narrative: here was a young man, his father from Israeli-occupied Palestine, politicized by the global onslaught against and oppression of Islam, led by the U.S. Done with “doing typical adolescent things, such as playing video games,” he put his ass on the line and made the supreme sacrifice for his coreligionists.

Moner Mohammad Abusalha’s wasn’t my brand of “extremism.” Nevertheless, unlike Hillary’s vote to destroy Iraq, carefully calibrated to maximize her centrist warmongering cred as a “realist” “moderate,” it’s one I can respect.

(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coverage of the anti-NSA Protest is an Example of a New Way to Disseminate Government BS

Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent

On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.

The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.

The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”

USA Today reported another sign —  “No NSA mass spying” — and that  marchers chanted “no secret courts” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.”

The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”

Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”

Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!

Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.

First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]

Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”

MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”

It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”

Unambiguous.

“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.

No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.

USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.

They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.

The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”

Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.

Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: May Sarah Palin’s Stupid Conspiracy Theory Come True

How Obama’s Stupidity Might Get Us Real Healthcare

When it comes to Obamacare, Democrats have every reason to accuse the House Republicans of bad faith. Still, yesterday’s Congressional grilling of the private contractors hired to build the healthcare.gov federal marketplace serves as a reminder that editorial writers’ endless calls for bipartisan cooperation should never be heeded. We need adversarial politics; for that, the more polarization the better. If not for those pissy Republicans, who would get to the bottom of the disastrous October 1st rollout of the Affordable Care Act? Not the secrecy-obsessed Obama, who makes Nixon look like a paragon of transparency. Not his make-any-lame excuse Democrats.

Tea Party types love conspiracies. Obama is a Kenyan socialist. (So where’s the socialism?) 9/11 was an inside job. (But not a good one.)  But sometimes conspiracies turn out to be true — even if they’re weren’t planned that way.

The latest dastardly plot circulating among Tea Partiers is that the Obamaites deliberately screwed up the ACA websites to pave the way for their true agenda: socializing healthcare. (I use the plural because most of the online state marketplaces, developed based on consultations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are just as buggy and crashy as the federal one.)

Sarah Palin articulates this — hey, there are four words you don’t usually see at the same time — in an October 20th blog post:

“Obamacare in its current corporatist form isn’t meant to last. It’s meant to push us towards full socialized medicine with a single-payer system.”

“The broken websites and botched Obamacare rollout help push things to that inevitable conclusion by causing frustration and confusion that only the government can ‘fix,'” writes Palin.

She continues with a logical fallacy: Obama is smart, smart people don’t make dumb mistakes, therefore any “mistakes” they make are intentional.

“In fact,” Palin argues, “these unusable Obamacare websites make a reasonable person wonder how this administration could have made such a colossal bungle of the rollout when they are, after all, the same savvy experts who had the most sophisticated and precise campaign websites ever built. They could pinpoint voters down to a city block, but they messed up a website that cost the government over $200 million more than it cost Apple to develop the first iPhone. Purposeful?”

The problem with this reasoning (which echoes 9/11 Truther theories that the Bush Administration couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to let hijacked planes fly around the U.S. for nearly two hours) is that Obama and his team aren’t really smart. They’re calm.

It’s not the same.

If Team Obama had been plotting Canadian-style socialized medicine all along, they wouldn’t have floated all those dumb “heckuva job, Barry”-style excuses that turned healthcare.gov into the president’s Katrina moment:

  • Too much volume. But corporate websites routinely handle more than the ACA sites. Besides, the feds knew that, in a nation with tens of millions of uninsured people, tens of millions of people were going to check out the website. The truth, as any idiot could plainly see, was that volume wasn’t the issue. Lousy coding was.
  • ACA is “more than a website” — and anyway, why don’t people use the phone? Actually, that’s not true. For most people, the ACA are the websites. That’s how Obamacare was promoted. People were told to go online. So they did. As for those who threw up their hands and tried calling — I was one of them — there was no way to buy a plan by phone.
  • Everyone knew there would be glitches. The problem with that Democratic talking point is that while Americans may suffer from short memories, they’re not totally retarded. We still recall September 2013. It’s not like anyone in the White House announced before the launch: “Hey, don’t freak if you can’t access the websites right away. Chillax, wait a month or two. We’re expecting a lot of glitches, and things could be less than cromulent for a while.”

No, Governor Palin, the truth behind the ACA mess is that Obama and his gang of golfing buddies are idiots.

OK, so there was evildoing. For example, as Forbes reported: “HHS bureaucrats knew [forcing the uninsured to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping] would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away… Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions…This political objective — masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans — far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly.”

There was corruption too. UnitedHealth Group, which as one of the nation’s biggest insurers stands to make billions from the ACA, was a key contractor for the federal website.

Mostly, though, there was idiocy. Secondarily, in execution. End-to-end testing began in late September. For an October 1st rollout. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s right: secondarily.

Primarily, Obama and the Democrats were idiots to think that the ACA’s bastard hybrid of public and private could function properly — certainly not on “a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.”

Look at what happened to the Postal Service: neither beast nor fowl, the uncomfortable marriage of for-profit business and Congressionally mandated payouts has pushed an otherwise viable organization to the brink of collapse.

ACA was created in response to skyrocketing healthcare costs — a problem directly attributable to the big insurance companies, which are raping patients and doctors with extortionist rates in order to accumulate obscene profits. The common sense solution? Cut out the insurers; put them out of business. Nationalize hospitals and private clinics. Turn doctors and nurses into federal employees. Obama built the ACA to increase the big insurers’ profits even more. Thus, for example, no federal price controls on the plans to be sold through the government websites. It comes as no surprise, but sad confirmation that we were right, that insurance company stocks have soared since the passage of the ACA.

Now, with a little luck, we’re looking at the possible realization of Sarah Palin’s nightmare scenario:

“With Obamacare we have crappier health care (fewer choices, fewer doctors, and an IPAB rationing panel of faceless bureaucrats, aka the ol’ ‘death panel’ that has been admitted to existing in Obamacare), but it is very expensive for the individual American…Americans, if you’re faced with a 300% increase (or even a 65% increase like my family) in your health care premiums for crappier coverage, doesn’t ‘free’ socialized medicine all of a sudden sound appealing? And that’s how Americans will be led down the primrose path to a single-payer system. People will be frustrated, worn out, and broke under this new government burden. Many will end up concluding they’ll settle for — then demand — full socialized medicine because they’ll see how the unworkable Obamacare will break our health care system (where, presently, no one is turned away from emergency rooms and we have many public and private safety nets for people in need), along with busting our personal bank accounts.”

I never thought I’d say this, but: From Sarah Palin’s lips to God’s ears.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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The Ransom of Red Party

The Republican Party is threatening not to raise the debt limit unless President Obama and the Democrats accede to their list of demands, which includes defunding the Affordable Care Act. Economists believe that this would precipitate an economic downturn. Effectively, then, the GOP is holding economy hostage. So why don’t most Americans seem scared? Because for them, the downturn began years ago, and is merely continuing.

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Tea Party Democrats

What if there were radical liberals pushing a left-wing agenda, and willing to do whatever it takes to get it enacted? The current “double-barreled showdown” over the federal budget and raising the debt limit is a reminder that American politics is a contest between the right and the further right.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Investigating the Investigators

IRS Targeting is a Scandal, CIA Targeting is Business as Usual

“We’re fighting for you!” That’s what the Democratic Party tells Democratic voters and what the Republican Party tells Republicans. But even their “battles” reveal how similar the two parties really are.

Case study: what gets investigated.

Less than a week after the news broke that the IRS engaged in ideological profiling in 2011 and 2012 — targeting Tea Party-related non-profits for checks into whether they were violating the terms of their tax-exempt status by spending donor money on political ads — top Democrats joined their GOP counterparts to demand a Congressional investigation. That’s lightening quick for government work — and yet not fast for some. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida, ’16 prez prospect) called for Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller to resign immediately. President Obama called the IRS’ actions “outrageous” and “contrary to our traditions.” The IRS has already apologized.

This all goes to show that the federal government can turn on a dime when it wants to do something. It’s a matter of priorities. Millions of Americans whose homes were stolen by banks in illegal foreclosures waited five years for $600 settlement checks that bounced; the Fed gave the executives of those banks $7.77 trillion in a matter of days, no questions asked.

So it goes with what gets investigated.

Thrown under the bus in a matter of days, the IRS is already getting ground to mincemeat. Meanwhile, a spectacular panorama of Bush-era abuses have yet to draw the attention of a single Congressional subcommittee.

The 2000 stolen presidential election fiasco? Still no investigation — even though retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote in the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, now agrees with constitutional lawyers who say the high court had no jurisdiction in the case and thus shouldn’t have heard it.

There still hasn’t been an independent investigation of 9/11.

No one has ever been questioned, much less held accountable, for the invasion of Afghanistan (ostensibly to catch Osama bin Laden, though he was already in Pakistan), the installation by the U.S. of the unpopular Hamid Karzai as a U.S. puppet, huge cash bribes paid to Karzai by Bush and now Obama,  or the lies — an impeachable offense — about Saddam’s WMDs used to con the public into war against Iraq.

People outraged by Bush’s torture program, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of innocent people, including children, at post-9/11 gulags at places like Guantánamo, the “salt pit” at Bagram and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia — even on prison ships on the high seas — hoped that President Obama would make good on his campaign promises to investigate these horrific crimes against international law, U.S. law and common decency. Instead, he obstructed justice — another impeachable offense — issuing a directive to his Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies to ignore them. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he told a TV interviewer on January 12, 2009, eight days before taking office.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe,” he said. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

Yes. God forbid our heroic torturers should face any questions about jamming forced enemas up prisoners’ butts. Sorry: I meant our extraordinarily talented torturers.

And, now a flashback to April 14, 2008 — a mere nine months earlier. Candidate Obama told The Philadelphia Inquirer: “If I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

Except the CIA. And the military. And Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice and Dick Cheney and John Yoo and, of course, George W. Bush, who explicitly authorized the torture and other high crimes, and is now an elder statesman with his own library and everything.

To recap:

Both parties think it’s bad bad bad for the IRS to target right-wing pseudo-nonprofits for audits.

Both parties think it’s perfectly fine A-OK doubleplusgood to target the buttholes of random Muslims you kidnapped from Afghanistan or Yemen or wherever.

What the IRS did was, of course, wrong. But I’d rather be audited than butt-raped. Butt-raping, especially butt-raping that occurs before illegal auditing, should be investigating before illegal auditing.

Both parties also agree that if there’s ever been something that doesn’t need investigating by anyone, ever, it’s drones. Yes, a whopping 1.8% of Congress recently held an “unofficial hearing” (toothless PR stunt) and politely requested that Obama provide “further clarification of the legal justifications behind drone strikes.”

But no one —not even Vermont’s token “socialist” Bernie Sanders — has called for an investigation into a drone war that ridiculously remains “classified,” a secret to everyone but the dead, the maimed and their survivors. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky, ’16 prez prospect)’s filibuster merely demanded whether Obama planned to drone any U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. (Since he has already droned U.S. citizens on foreign soil, we know the answer to that.)

I’m not Suze Orman, but please let me help you save a few bucks. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the next time you get a campaign mailer asking you to support them because they’re “fighting hard for you,” chuck that sucker into the recycler. The truth is, the two major parties are on the same page on just about everything.

They’re not fighting for you.

They’re fighting for themselves.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Men of Dishonor

A Congress of 21st Century Cynics Dodges 19th Century Rules

People are calling the recently adjourned 112th Congress “the most dysfunctional ever” and the least productive since the infamous “do-nothing Congress” of the 1940s. There’s lots of blame to go around, but one cause for congressional gridlock has gone unnoticed and unremarked upon: we no longer have a sense of honor.

Back in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when our bicameral legislature and its rules were conceived of by a bunch of land-owning white males, a gentleman’s word was his most precious asset. Integrity and the lack thereof were literally a matter of life and death; consider the matter of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. As Thomas Jefferson and his de facto wife Sally Hemings could attest, civility was far from guaranteed under this old system. It certainly could have worked better for Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Massachusetts senator who was nearly beaten to death by a proslavery colleague on the floor of the Senate in 1856. (He was avenging what he considered libelous rhetoric against his family.)

Though less-than-perfect, there was a lot to be said for a culture in which a person’s word was his bond, legalistic quibbling was scorned, and a legislator was expected to stake out and defend a principled position, even in the face of political and personal adversity.

It’s hard to imagine the “fiscal cliff” showdown unfolding in the 1800s or even the first half of the 1900s for two simple reasons. First, the general fiscal health of the country would have come ahead of partisanship. Second, and more importantly, members of the two political parties would have stuck to the deal that they struck a decade earlier. When George W. Bush and his Republicans pushed for a set of income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans in 2001, they argued the standard GOP trickle-down economics talking point that the tax cuts would pay for themselves by stimulating the economy so much that revenues into government coffers would more than make up for the cost. In order to get enough Democratic support for passage, the Republicans agreed to a five-year time period, after which taxes would revert to their Bill Clinton-era levels.

By 2006 there was still no evidence to show that the tax cuts had stimulated the economy. In fact, by many measures, things were worse. The housing bubble was beginning to burst; unemployment and underemployment had increased. If this had been the 19th century, Republican legislators would have acknowledged that their experiment had failed and that would have been that. A gentleman didn’t run away from the facts or his mistakes.

Voters seemed to agree. Unhappy with the invasion of Iraq as well as the state of the economy, Americans returned Democrats to control of Congress in 2006. Republicans had a pretty good idea—the polls were damning—that their unpopular policies were driving them toward a decisive defeat in the midterm elections. For men and women of honor, this would have been a time to reassess and back off.

Nevertheless the GOP jammed through an extension of the 2001 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy months before the midterm election. No honor there.

Here we are nearly 12 years later, and the verdict is in: the Bush tax cuts failed miserably. No doubt about it, it’s absolutely ridiculous that President Obama and the Democrats agreed to extend them for all but the richest one-half of one percent of American income earners. But the debate should never have gotten this far in the first place. Had the Republicans who proposed it in the first place possessed an iota of good old-fashioned 19th-century honor and integrity, this misbegotten legislative abortion would have died in 2006.

Robert’s Rules of Order and other quaint traditions of parliamentary procedure don’t translate to a quibbling little time like ours, when White House lawyers torture widely understood words like “torture” and “soldier” or claim that a US military base in Cuba is in no man’s land, neither in Cuba nor under US control, and that members of both major political parties say anything in order to get their way. Consider, for example, the current push to reform the filibuster, in order to clear the logjam on judicial nominations and other business that used to be considered routine.

The Senate, the only house of Congress that permits a filibuster, draws upon a tradition of principled minority protest that goes back to Cato in ancient Rome. Until the 1970s, filibusters were a rarity, averaging one a year. Senators viewed them as a bit of a nuclear option and only considered deploying a one-man block on debate of a bill a few times during a long political career, to take a stand on an issue where he felt it mattered most. Now the filibuster is not only a daily routine but gets deployed in an automated way so that the Senate has effectively become a body in which nothing gets done without a 60% vote in favor.

Everyone in the Senate understood what filibusters were for. No one abused them. It was a matter of honor.

But honor is too much to ask when even the most basic of all political considerations—ideology and party affiliation—bend like a reed in the winds of change.

Last week the Republican governor of New Jersey and a Republican congressman from Long Island, New York were so incensed by their party’s refusal to approve disaster relief funds for their states after hurricane Sandy that they went public with disparaging remarks about the Republican leadership in Congress. Fair enough. Standing up for your constituents against rank parochial self-interest is what integrity is all about.

On the other hand, the immediate willingness of some so-called liberal and progressive Democrats to welcome Chris Christie—a Tea Party favorite—and Peter King—a notorious nativist and anti-Muslim bigot—into their party’s ranks indicates a willingness to overlook basic principles that would have startled most self-described gentlemen of a century or two ago, much less those who’d entered public service. Back then, of course, the American political party system wasn’t as settled as it is today, so there were mass changes of party affiliation as parties appeared, metastasized and vanished. Still, it wasn’t acceptable behavior to change parties over a minor spat like the hurricane aid or for a party to accept members who didn’t adhere to its principles.

It’s almost enough to make you wish for a duel.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Contempt is Bipartisan

Both Zombie Parties Too Stubborn To Admit They’re Dead

Neither party gets it.

They both think they won. And they sort of did.

But we still hate them.

Democrats are patting themselves on the back, congratulating themselves for a mandate that neither exists–50.4% to 48.1% does not a mandate make–nor, if were real, would be actionable (Republicans still control the House). “Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change,” Democratic columnist E.J. Dionne sniped in the Washington Post.

Not likely. If Republicans could change anything, it would be the weather. “If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Karl Rove told the Post. (Which leaves out the fact that the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey, are not GOP states.)

“We [Congressional Republicans] will have as much of a mandate as he [Obama] will,” claimed Speaker John Boehner.

The donkeys and the elephants think they’re awesome. Their plan to govern America for the next four years? Keep on keeping on. Why change?

Both parties are insane and self-delusional.

Voters are narrowly divided between the Ds and the Rs–because we can’t decide which one we hate most.

One out of three people think the two-party system is broken, and complain that neither party represents their political views.

A staggering number of people are boycotting quadrennial exercises in pseudodemocracy. Despite the advent of convenient early voting by mail, Election Day 2012 saw a “major plunge in turnout nationally” compared to 2008. About 42.5% of registered voters stayed home this year.

There were a substantial number of protest votes.

In one of the most ignored and interesting stories coming out of Election Day, one and a half million people voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Since Johnson and Stein were even more thoroughly censored than previous third-party candidates–Johnson and Stein were denied interviews on the major networks and locked out of the presidential debates–many of these votes must have been for “none of the above.”

Democrats didn’t win this election.

Neither did the Republicans.

Give the parties credit: They’ve united us in our contempt. Liberals and progressives hate the Democrats, which takes their votes for granted and ignores them. Conservatives hate the GOP for the same reasons. And moderates hate both parties because they don’t get along.

Who won? Not us.

Since the economy collapsed in 2008, Americans have made consistently clear what their number-one priority was: jobs. Yet the two major parties have focused on anything but.

The Tea Party convinced Republicans to campaign on paying down the national debt. Deficits, the debt and entitlements are important–but those problems are not nearly as urgent as unemployment and underemployment. When you’ve lost your job–as millions of Americans have since 2008–you need a new job now. Not next week. Not next year. NOW. You sure don’t need a job next decade–and that’s if you believe that austerity stimulates the economy. “Romney is not offering a plausible solution to the [unemployment] crisis,” Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine back in June. Romney never did.

And that’s why he lost.

Jobs were the #1 issue with voters, Obama never reduced unemployment and Romney had a credible narrative as a corporate turnaround expert. By all rights, Romney should have won. But he never delivered what voters wanted: a credible turnaround plan for the terrible jobs market–one with quick results.

Not that Obama and the Democrats have much to celebrate.

The president nearly lost to one of the worst challengers of all time, a bumbling, inarticulate Monopoly Man caricature of an evil capitalist. Democrats only picked up a few seats in Congress–this to a Republican Party whose platform on social issues was lifted from the Taliban, and whose major political figures included two rape apologists.

Like the GOP, Democrats paid lip service to the economy but never put forward a credible proposal that would have created millions of new jobs next week, not next decade. In 2009, while millions were losing their homes to foreclosure, Obama dwelled instead on healthcare reform. Like the deficits, the healthcare crisis is real and important–but it wasn’t nearly as urgent as the jobs catastrophe. Which, planted stories about fictional recoveries to the contrary, continues unabated.

Four years into an existential crisis that likely marks the final crisis of late-stage capitalism, an economic seizure of epic proportions that has impoverished tens of millions of Americans and driven many to suicide, the United States is governed by two parties that don’t have a clue about what we want or what we need.

Change? Not these guys. Not unless we force them to–or, better yet, get rid of them.

(Ted Rall‘s is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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Back to 2008

As Mitt Romney accepts the Republican nomination, many voters disillusioned by Obama consider whether Romney’s right-wing rhetoric is just red meat for his party’s base, or whether deep down he’s still the moderate healthcare reformer he acted like as governor of Massachusetts.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fear of a Right Planet

Romney-Ryan Extremism Could Revive Liberal Support for Obama

Soviet citizens had to be Kremlinologists, studying subtle linguistic and tonal shifts in state propaganda, noting the seating order of party leaders at official functions, in order to predict the future direction of their lives. So too are we Americans, for without any way to really get to know our politicians—their press conferences and interviews are too infrequent and carefully stagemanaged, unchallenged by compliant journalistic toadies—we are reduced to reading signals.

Even to an alienated electorate, the tealeaves are easy to read on the Republican side.

Between Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, his team of Dubya-rehash economic advisors (because that worked out so well) and Tea Party favorite Chris Christie as keynote speaker at this year’s Republican National Convention, the Republican Party is in danger of doing something that seemed impossible just a few months ago: strengthening support among the liberal base of the Democratic Party for President Obama.

Granted, disappointed lefties will not soon forget Obama’s betrayals. Guantánamo, the concentration camp that supposedly holds “the worst of the worst” terrorists, remains open—although, now that the White House is reportedly negotiating with the Taliban to exchange captured Afghan ministers for an American POW, one assumes they’re not all that bad. The drone wars against Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are an affront to basic morality, logic and decency. On the economy, this tone-deaf president has yet to propose a jobs program, much less try to push one through Congress.

But many progressives, until recently threatening to sit on their hands or cast votes for a third party, are reconsidering, weighing disgust against gathering terror as they read the signals from the gathering storm in Tampa. Where Obama fails to inspire enthusiasm, the Romney team seems determined to generate as much fear as possible that he plans to shove the needle even further to the radical right than Reagan or Bush.

Romney, who abandoned his history as a centrist Massachusetts Republican and is running as a right-winger, chose to balance his newfound extremism with Paul Ryan, an even-more-right-winger. Ryan is a vicious, overrated ideologue whose greatest achievement, his theoretical budget proposal, paints a picture of America as a dystopian hell where an infinitely funded Pentagon wages perpetual war and the top 1% of the top 1% party on tax cuts while the elderly and poor starve or succumb to treatable diseases, whichever kills them first. (In the media today, this gets you lionized as “smart,” “wonky,” and “an intellectual heavyweight.” Ryan = Sartre.) Lest you wonder whether the Ryan selection is an anomaly, wonder not—from Christie to the stump speeches to the men first in line to join a Romney cabinet, everything about Team Romney screams Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand minus the cool atheism and elitism.

This is a Republican Party that Barry Goldwater wouldn’t recognize, batso nutso, stripped of the last veneer of libertarianism, completely owned by and in thrall to figures whom the media would characterize as “extreme nationalist” or “neo-Nazi” if they spouted the same nonsense in other countries.

If I were advising Romney, I would tell him that cozying up to the lunatic fringe of American pseudoconservatism is not a prescription for victory in November, when the outcome hinges upon seducing that 5% or 10% of voters who swing both ways. Ryan isn’t as crazy (or bold) of a choice as Sarah Palin, but what Republicans don’t understand is that conservatives will vote Republican regardless of who is the vice presidential running mate or, for that matter, who is the Republican nominee for president. Lack of enthusiasm among the base wasn’t Romney’s big problem, it was Obama’s.

Romney’s biggest albatross is that he’s a terrible candidate, a guy who obviously doesn’t like people. And his campaign sucks. The deficit may or may not represent an looming existential threat—unemployment and the environment are more urgent—but “take your medicine” austerity isn’t much of a sales pitch, especially when two-thirds of the people are already feeling squeezed. Voters reward candidates who present an optimistic vision, a future in which they see themselves richer, happier and with fuller, more lustrous hair.

The fact that Romney can’t manage to put forward a credible economic program doesn’t help either. Since his entire campaign is predicated on the argument that he’s the economy guy and knows how to fix it, he needs to cough up a plan.

However, my real concern is that Romney’s gangbusters right-wing extremism lets Obama and the Democrats off the hook.

If all Democratic strategists have to do to attract progressive voters is to frighten them with greater-evil Republicans, when will people who care about the working class, who oppose wars of choice, and whose critique of government is that it isn’t in our lives enough ever see their dreams become party platform planks with some chance of being incorporated into legislation? In recent elections (c.f. Sarah Palin and some old guy versus Barry), liberals are only voting for Democrats out of terror that things will get even worse. That’s no way to run a party, or a country.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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