SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Leftist Republican Party of the Future

To Survive, GOP Should Out-Democrat the Democrats

Republicans, engaging in the traditional losing party’s post-election wound-licking, blame-flinging and anger-at-the-dumb-voters ritual, are facing the awful truth: The American people just aren’t into their gay-bashing, race-baiting, woman-hating, Eisenhower-era positions on social issues.

“It’s not that our message–we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong–didn’t get out. It did get out,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville told The New York Times. “It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

Exasperated radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh asks:

“Condoleeza Rice…is a pinnacle of achievement, and intelligent, and well-spoken…You can’t find a more accomplished person. Marco Rubio. And really, speaking in street lingo, we’re not getting credit for it…Are these people perceived as tokens?”

Yes. Uncle Toms are easy to spot.

“In order to get the Hispanic or Latino vote, does that mean open the borders and embrace the illegals?”

Yes.

“If we’re not getting the female vote, do we become pro-choice?”

Yes.

Liberal pundits are helpfully offering advice to their Republican counterparts this week, arguing that if that if GOP officials and pundits make a few nips and tucks into their Neanderthal platform and tone, downplaying their unpopular stances on social issues, they may yet save their white male–dominated party from irrelevance.

Let’s set aside the obvious fact that no one does nor should listen to counsel offered by their enemies. And that even a devastating defeat–not that this one was–doesn’t always necessarily take long to recover from. Consider, for example, the post-2008 commentaries wondering whether there was a future for the GOP; by early 2010 the written-off-as-dead Republicans were riding high.

Nevertheless, Republicans might be more willing to listen to me than to other left-of-center columnists. After all, I love the GOP just as much as I care for the Democrats (not at all). Really, truly, I don’t give a rat’s ass which corporate party wins or loses.

The Republicans’ big problem is that they think they’re me.

I am a pundit. I am an idealist. The pay isn’t great, but I get to be pure, to stand up for what I think is right regardless of whether or not anybody else is willing to follow me. My job isn’t to be popular. It’s to be right.

If I were tapped to head a major political party like the Republicans, however, I wouldn’t have the luxury of being right at the price of being unpopular. Political parties are in the business of trying to win elections. To paraphrase the philosopher Don Rumsfeld, you run campaigns with the voters you have, not the ones you wish you had.

It’s one thing to push for changes that your ideological base believes in. God knows the Democrats should do that sometimes. It’s another to commit political hari-kari, trying to fight the tide by espousing points of view that are not only in the minority, but whose constituencies are consistently shrinking.

If Republicans want to win elections here in the United States, they need to set the stage for a transformational shift as dramatic as 1932, when FDR turned the Democrats into the party of liberalism and progressivism.

Republicans need not wonder why Obama got 71% of the Latino vote; if anything, the shocker is that that figure wasn’t higher. For decades, right-wing talk radio hosts and other Republican surrogates have been bashing illegal immigration (racist code for anti-Hispanic propaganda, particularly on the West Coast). Now that the Latino vote has become essential to win national races, the GOP can no longer afford its hardline stance on immigration, whether the reasons behind it are evilly nativist, benignly protectionist or law-and-order upright.

On every social issue of note, Americans are moving away from the Republican Party. We are becoming more tolerant of gays and their rights, more supportive of abortion rights, and more open to people of different backgrounds. Despite the terrible economy, Americans are less inclined to blame their troubles on competition from undocumented workers.

These trends toward a leftier country are long term and unlikely to reverse in the near future.

Beginning last summer, Republican strategists consciously decided to downplay Mitt Romney’s stances Republican Party platform’s takes on social issues. Now liberal commentators are joining them, strangely and cynically suggesting that Republicans need to change their emphasis of their messaging–but not the content of their policies.

Style isn’t enough. Republicans are doomed unless they radically change to social-issues policies that are not only in step with the country, but to its left–since the electorate will soon catch up. If the Party of Lincoln is adaptable and intelligent–which I seriously doubt–they will exploit the opportunity to move, not just left, but to the left of the center-right Democratic Party, which abdicated its traditional progressive stands on social issues when, for example, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and gutted welfare.

The GOP could make good on its long-standing assertion that it favors a legal path to immigration by proposing that we open our doors to a huge surge of legal immigration. That would be consistent with previous opinions, and outmaneuver the Democrats, who have been reluctant to favor much immigration at all, and who have deported record numbers of Hispanics over the last four years.

Yes, Mr. Limbaugh, the Republican Party must become unabashedly pro-choice if it wants to keep the women’s vote. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government conservatism; why not say that this is a simple matter of keeping the government out of our bedrooms and out of women’s bodies? Same thing goes for gay marriage and other rights for people who are discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.

You can’t roll out a new and improved Republican Party social-issues platform overnight without alienating the crazy Christian fundamentalists and other unattractive sorts who currently form the basis of the Republican Party at present. But you can start a transition to a viable future in a methodical, gradual way that prepares the Republican Party for the huge demographic shifts that will drive the politics of the country as it moves further and further to the left.

(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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lead, or Follow and Get Out of the Race

Voters Turn Against Pols’ Follow-the-Polls Strategy

In order to be a good leader, Disraeli said, “I must follow the people.”

Aided and abetted by toe-sucking pollster Dick Morris, Bill Clinton finessed the art of leading from the rear, relying on Morris’ tracking surveys to help him decide everything from whether to bomb Serbia to when and if to take a vacation.

By definition, however, leaders point where their followers should go. Americans haven’t seen much real leadership on the federal level since Reagan. Where there’s been progress, such as on gay rights, the President only stepped forward after public opinion had shifted enough to make it safe.

For the first time in 30 years, Dick Morris’ follow-the-voters strategy appears to be running out of steam. This year, the electorate seems to be hungering for presidents in the mold of TR, FDR and LBJ—old-school leaders who painted ambitious visions of where America could go and why it should, who took political gambles that the people might not be ready for what they had in mind, who anticipated crises and challenges before anyone else, and explained why we had to act sooner rather than later.

The craving for leadership is evident in the polls. Though personally popular and enjoying the advantages of incumbency, President Obama is running neck and neck against Mitt Romney, an awkward candidate from a minority religion who has trouble connecting with, and is seen as out of touch by, ordinary voters.

Democrats must be worried. Historically, Republican presidential nominees typically gain on Democrats throughout the fall. At this point in the game, Democrats need a substantial lead in order to emerge victorious in November.

What’s going wrong? Mainly, it’s the economy. It sucks. Still. Democrats say the President inherited the meltdown from Bush. But Americans blame Obama.

“The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake,” reports The New York Times. Obama’s big screw-up: “He tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program—and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.”

Recovery? What recovery?

The depressed housing market, coupled with the reduced purchasing power of tens of millions of Americans who lost their homes to eviction and/or foreclosure, makes recovery unlikely to impossible for the foreseeable future.

Many people, including yours truly, warned that the millions of Americans who were evicted under foreclosure, many of them illegally, were more “too big to fail” than Citigroup. Some, like former Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), voted for TARP, but urged the Obama Administration to condition the bailout on forcing the banks to refinance mortgages and write down principal to reflect the new reality of lower housing prices. “There was another way to deal with this, and that is what I supported: forcing the banks to deal with this. It would have been better for the economy and lots of different neighborhoods and people owning houses in those neighborhoods,” Marshall says.

Voters aren’t mad at Obama for not being clairvoyant. They’re pissed off because he ignored people who were smart and prescient in favor of those who were clueless and self-interested, like Tim Geitner. He may be about to pay a price for that terrible decision.

Tens of millions of Americans already have.

Speaking of leadership—the art of seeing what comes next and doing something about it—what looming problems are the political class ignoring today?

It’s too late to stop the 2008-to-2012 economic meltdown. But it’s still possible for Obama (or, theoretically, Romney) to get ahead of the economy—permanent unemployment benefits, anybody?—and other pressing issues.

Australia, for example, is taking the climate change crisis seriously.

Americans want leaders who point the way forward, to anticipate monsters we can’t yet imagine. For example, there is a huge looming crisis: pensions. In 10 to 15 years, Generation Xers will hit traditional retirement age. How will they eat?

Close to none have traditional defined-benefit pension plans. Gen Xers, who earn far less than the Baby Boomers at the same age, have been shunted into 401(k)s, which turned out to be a total ripoff: the average rate of return between 1999 and 2010 was 0.3 percent.

Total.

And much of that was withdrawn—under penalty—to subsist after layoffs.

“[Gen Xers] have no savings, and what they had was devastated by two market crashes,” said Andrew Eschtruth of the Center for Retirement Research. “They never got off the ground.”

If you’re 45 years old now and just beginning to save for retirement, financial planners say you should save 41 percent of your income annually (if you haven’t gotten laid off again). As if. Half of Gen Xers live hand to mouth; the rest save a piddling six percent a year.

The Gen X retirement crisis represents 46 million people waiting for a savior—and 46 million potential votes.

Attention Mssrs. Obama, Romney and anyone else presenting yourself as a would-be leader: Don’t just read the polls. Don’t follow us. Show that you care about, and have a credible plan to confront, the problems of the future. If you do that—and we’re not holding our breaths—we’ll pay attention to you.

(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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Sexual Freedom

Sympathy for Newt and Open Marriage

You know the narrative. Right-wing family-values Republican gets caught doing secular-liberal totally-not-family-values stuff, usually involving sex:

Cruising for manlove in an airport men’s room.

Knocking up the maid.

Sending dirty emails to young male pages.

Hiring male hookers and smoking meth.

Asking wife #2 for an open marriage.

This kind of thing happens all the time. And it’s always red meat for leftie media commentators.

Liberal pundits love to call fallen Republicans hypocrites. They point out that liberal politicians are often more heterosexual and monogamous than many so-called conservatives—and remain married to the same spouse for life.

Now it’s Newt Gingrich’s turn.

In her divorce filing Ms. Gingrich the Second claims that Mr. Gingrich asked her for an open marriage so he could stay with her while carrying on with Callista, who became Ms. Gingrich the Third after Ms. Gingrich the Second refused said request. (You may need to re-read the previous sentence.)

Cue the holier-than-thou liberals.

CNN reporter John King opened a presidential debate with an assault on Newt’s alleged yearning for sexual freedom. A New York Times editorial called this “a perfectly reasonable question.”

Across the vertical seam in the op-ed graveyard Gail Collins could barely contain herself. “Beyond the hypocrisy of this sort of behavior from a guy who wants to protect the sanctity of holy matrimony from gay couples, there also seems to be a streak of almost crazed self-absorption that runs through the Newt saga,” Collins gloated. “Who would ditch a spouse of 18 years in a phone call? Shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? And, of course, he broke up with his first wife while she was battling cancer.”

That Newt Gingrich is pompous, nasty and one of the most hideous members of that physically repugnant tribe known as politicians can be stipulated by all but those blinded by hatred of Mormons and Kenyan-born socialists. Still, I think we on the Left are missing an opportunity for a teachable moment.

Progressives are fighting for human emancipation. The right to engage in sex with any consensual adult in any form is integral to this struggle to liberate ourselves from patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia and capitalism. How, then, can we justify mocking anyone—even a hypocritical Christian conservative—for expressing their sexuality?

When Senator Larry Craig was arrested, essentially for the crime of being a closeted gay or bisexual male, in that Minneapolis-St. Paul airport restroom, he needed our support, not our ridicule.

Imagine if supporters of gay rights from across the spectrum had refused to get sucked into stupid D-vs-R theatrics. Remember, the cops weren’t trying to catch a right-wing gay-bashing closeted senator. Craig was ensnared by one of countless sting operations conducted by police departments across the United States designed to harass all gays and lesbians. We should oppose such tactics forcefully and consistently. Defending Craig’s right to hit on other guys would have served the cause better than scoring cheap partisan points.

As for Newt’s alleged—divorce allegations ought to be swallowed with a massive dollop of sodium chloride—request for an open marriage, well, so what if he did?

When 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce it’s clear that state-enforced monogamy for life isn’t working for everyone. Researchers estimate that up to six percent of American couples are in open marriages. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s their decision. It’s their choice. Asked privately, most liberals would agree.

Millions of Americans prefer alternative arrangements for their sex lives—open marriages, swinging, etc. Yet they are forced to sneak around. They’re not hiding from their lovers, but from their friends and neighbors and colleagues lest they be shamed and shunned. Unlike conventionally married couples (who cheat on one another in significant numbers), people in open relationships know exactly what their partners are up to.

Moreover, there are a lot of open relationships that no one thinks about. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the Clintons had a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that essentially amounted to a license to cheat?

You shouldn’t have to hide or lie when you’re doing nothing wrong. Yet so-called “liberals” join their rightist counterparts in snickering about Craig’s “wide stance” and Gingrich’s request for an open marriage. The effect is to denigrate gays, lesbians and other sexually marginalized and oppressed people.

Nona Willis Aronowitz calls Gingrich “the poster child for the messy, miserable life people can have if they’re stuffed into rules they weren’t built to follow. He’s the poster child for how our sexist and repressive culture can hurt relationships. Gingrich was raised in, and now advocates for, a world that sets up incredibly narrow parameters for sex and love, and shames people who don’t adhere to those standards.”

We should tell right-wingers like Newt Gingrich: you’re one of us. You always were. The fact that you can’t live by your own supposed rules proves it.

Quit living a lie, Newt. More importantly, quit asking everyone else to live the stupid lie that defines your stupid out-of-date politics.

Hey Republicans! Are you a maid-knocking-up, men’s-room-trolling, sexting, bondage-loving, gay-bi-trans-whatever?

The Right’s not that into you. Join us.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: The De-politicization of Political Media

US political ideologies are converging on the right, but the power of ideas doesn’t matter in this popularity contest.

“President Obama’s support is eroding among elements of his base,” began a front-page story in the September 16th New York Times. Experienced readers understood what was meant. The U.S. Democratic Party “base” is comprised of liberals, progressives (to the left of liberals), and self-identified leftists (composed of socialists, communists and left libertarians).

These and other groups that compose the Democratic coalition—feminists, gays and lesbians, labor unions, etc.—pursue separate agendas. For decades American media consumers received granular, detailed analyses of each segment, their goals, accomplishments and failures to influence the party and the nation. No longer. These factions are increasingly being excluded and omitted from coverage in favor of something new: a formless, mushy whatever.

Call it “the base.”

Conventional wisdom—in other words, talking points repeated by columnists for big-city newspapers and cable-television news commentators—holds that the American electorate is roughly divided as follows: 40 percent who consistently vote Democratic, and another 40 percent who always vote Republican. These 80 percent of party loyalists are their base: if they vote at all, they always vote for the same party.

The outcome of elections depends on the whims of the remaining 20 percent, “swing voters” who may vote Democratic one election, Republican the next.

With a few exceptions, strategists and candidates for the two major parties direct most of their appeals to this “vital center” of the ideological spectrum. “Where else are they going to go?” is the constant, cynical refrain of political operatives when asked about the bases of the parties. If you’re a liberal voter, in other words, you probably won’t vote Republican. If you’re a conservative voter, you won’t jump to the Democrats no matter how disappointed you are with “your” party. (Historically, however, the Republican Party tends to coddle its right-wing base—with rhetoric as well as policy shifts—more than the Democrats pay attention to the left.)

The quest for swing voters relies on simple math. Convince a “swing voter” to switch from their party to yours and you’re up two votes. Lose a “base” voter and you’re down one. Swing voters count double.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fight the Powerlessness

The Left’s Case for Boycotting Obama in November 2012

Three years in, it’s obvious to all but the most willfully obtuse liberals and progressives that their 2008 votes for Obama have not paid off.

The president blames obstructionist Republicans for his lack of action on, well, everything. His blame-the-GOP argument would be plausible if not for one thing: Before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, Obama had enormous political capital, a supportive media and Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

Had Obama wanted, he could have governed to the left. Far to the left. To the left of FDR.

Remember how scared we were? The economy was in freefall. We lost 600,000 jobs the month he took office. We would have gone along with anything he asked for, including a new WPA program and permanent jobless benefits.

He didn’t ask.

Obama didn’t govern like a liberal because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to because he’s not a liberal.

Many progressives are angry. They want to send Obama and his fellow phony Democrats a message next November. But they don’t know how to counter the central argument of the two-party trap.

It goes like this:

“Voting for Obama sucks. He’s just going to do more stuff I hate, like bailing out banksters and starting more wars while ignoring the terrible economy. But what else can I do? I can’t vote for some science-denying, Bible-thumping Republican ignoramus who’d be even worse.

“Not voting? That’s almost as bad as voting Republican. With so much at stake, there’s no choice but to hold my nose and vote Democratic.”

This powerful argument has kept liberals in the Democratic fold since 1976, when Jimmy Carter pushed the party to the right with his huge defense build-up.

Fear of a GOP nation drove them to vote for Bill Clinton, even though his major accomplishments—welfare reform, NAFTA and the WTO—were right-wing.

There’s always something at stake. Every election is “one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.” As a result, there hasn’t been a liberal presidential nominee for 40 years. Mainly, this is because liberal voters are willing to vote for right-wing Democrats.

A lot of liberals, feeling even more conned than usual, are asking me how to counter the two-party trap argument.

Here’s what I tell them:

First and foremost, your vote (or lack thereof) cannot and will not put Rick Perry or Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in the White House. It’s simple statistics. By definition you can only change one vote: your own. And no state’s electoral votes have ever come down to a single vote.

No election in U.S. history has ever come down to one vote. Not even a local one.

Even in Florida in 2000, the outcome hinged on about 150 ballots. I don’t care how big your family or circle of friends is—you are not going to change 75 or more votes one way or the other. Mathematically speaking, your vote is purely symbolic.

Point two: Democratic Party strategists take liberal voters for granted. Don’t take my word for it; check out books by Washington insiders like former Clinton pollster Dick Morris and “The Political Brain” author Drew Westen. Democratic leaders obsess over “Reagan Democrats,” “soccer moms,” “security moms” or whatever catchphrase equates to “swing voter” during a given year—people who might vote Republican one election, Democratic the next. That’s why “Democrats” run as—and govern like—Republicans.

As for liberals, progressives and leftists, Democrats ask: Where else are they going to go?

Refusing to vote for Obama answers their question: If you don’t stop taking us for granted, we will take our votes elsewhere—whether to the Republicans, a third party, or limbo, boycotting the process altogether.

Point three: Voting for immoral leaders makes you immoral.

It’s one thing to be duped, as liberals were by Carter in 1976. It’s another to knowingly vote for a politician you know or at least strongly suspect will promulgate policies you believe are wrong—which is exactly what most liberals did when they voted for Obama in 2008.

Most Americans and the vast majority of lefties were against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. During the campaign Obama pledged to send even more troops there. From a moral standpoint, the blood of every Afghan wounded or killed after January 2009 is on the hands of those of us who pulled a lever, pushed a button or punched a chad for Barack Obama. (That includes me.)

Obama lied about other issues. He promised to close Gitmo, to push for a real healthcare plan (one with a public option), and to withdraw from Iraq. Now, however, we know that he lied.

Knowing what you know now, a vote for Obama in 2012 would be an enthusiastic vote of support for torture, extrajudicial assassinations, drone attacks, corporate healthcare, doing nothing about jobs and staying in Iraq. Your eyes are open. A liberal who votes for Obama would be directly responsible for the torture, the killings, and the suicides of the desperately unemployed.

The two-party trap is the sort of sick game that sadistic concentration camp guards like to play.

“I’m going to shoot this old man or this little boy. You decide which. If you refuse to choose, I’ll shoot both.”

There is only way to deal with ideological terrorists:

Don’t.

Let evil scum do what they like. You can’t stop them anyway. If the guard shoots both the man and the boy, it’s a terrible crime—but the blood is all on his hands.

For a progressive, voting for Obama is like asking the camp guard to shoot one person rather than two. In the short run, it seems like the right decision. In the long run, the man and the boy die—and it’ll partly be your fault,

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Boycott the 2012 Election

Hey Liberals! Time to Stop Getting Rolled

We might as well have defaulted.

Regardless of where you stand politically, the deal to raise the federal debt limit came too late for the U.S. to achieve its main objective, avoiding the downgrading of debt issued by the U.S. Treasury that would have followed a default.

“The political and financial world surely thinks less of us now, and one demonstration of that will likely be a downgrading of the credit rating of the U.S., probably imposed in the next few months,” writes John Keefe of CBS’s Moneywatch. “The net result will be higher interest rates on U.S. government debt, which is likely to bleed through ultimately to higher costs for all sorts of other interest rates.”

The buzz on Wall Street says that Standard & Poor’s will soon downgrade T-Notes from a sterling “AAA” either to “AA+” or “AA”, the same as Slovakia. That’s exactly what would have happened had there been a default.

It is true: Our leaders are idiots.

“I have a home in Nevada that I haven’t seen in months,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate. “My pomegranate trees are, I’m told, blossoming.” Too bad. He missed his pretty flowers for nothing.

Liberals got rolled.

Just like on healthcare.

Just like on everything else.

Everything about the way this deal went down, from the initial posturing to a compromise that will make the Great Depression of 2008-? even worse, along with Congress’ total lack of concern for the hardships being faced by the 20 percent-plus of Americans who are unemployed, has people disgusted.

“The big loser after this exercise is Washington,” Republican strategist Scott Reed tells The New York Times. The 2012 election “has the potential to be an anti-incumbent feeling in both parties.” Gee, ya think?

If any good comes out of the debt limit fiasco, it’s that this embarrassing showdown could serve as a long overdue wake-up call to liberals who still have faith in the Democratic Party. Maybe, just maybe, these ideological rubes will finally accept the obvious truth:

Those corrupt corporate-backed pigs just aren’t that into us.

So boycott the pigs. It is time for Real Liberals to kick Team Democrats to the curb. It isn’t hard. Next November all you have to do is…

Nothing.

Just.

Don’t.

Vote.

In other countries voter boycotts have a long and proud tradition as a way to effect pressure on a non-responsive political system. Think the politicians won’t care if you don’t vote? History proves you wrong. Even in dictatorships where only one candidate appears on the ballot, regimes go to desperate lengths to get people to turn out to vote. Why? It proves the government’s legitimacy.

Samuel Huntington cites the example of apartheid-era South Africa in his book “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century”: “In the 1988 municipal elections, the [pro-apartheid] South African government…clamped down on pro-boycott opposition groups and made it unlawful for individuals to urge a boycott.” The African National Congress then upped the ante, declaring its intent to “use revolutionary violence to prevent blacks from collaborating [by casting a vote].”

Extreme, perhaps. Effective, definitely. The ANC is now the majority incumbent party in post-apartheid South Africa.

Are you Real? Or do you play for a Team?

If you’re a Real Liberal, you espouse liberal values and policies that you think would make America a better place. If you’re a partisan of Team Politics, you only care about one thing—whether the Democrats get elected. You couldn’t care less about policy.

Which side are you on?

Like Clinton and Carter before him, Obama has sold out core liberal Democratic principles, such as fighting for the weak and poor and expanding the social safety net, as well as civil liberties. He can’t point to a single major liberal policy achievement. Heck, Obama hasn’t proposed a major liberal bill. Even so, Team Democrats will vote for Obama in 2012. Team Democrats are Democrats first, liberals last.

Real Liberals, on the other hand, have no reason to support the Dems. The debt limit deal makes this painfully clear.

Paul Krugman, the only reason to read The New York Times op/ed page, calls the debt limit deal “a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.”

Krugman is a Real Liberal. Real Liberals care about liberal policies—defending old liberal victories such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as struggling to achieve new gains like a public-works program to put the unemployed to work.

Real Liberals give Democratic politicians the benefit of the doubt. But after they prove themselves to be a DINO (Democrat In Name Only), Real Liberals withhold their support. Classic example: Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut. Current version: Barack Obama and his allies.

Obama has been locked in an epic showdown with House Republicans for weeks. Matador vs. bull. Scary and exciting.

First and foremost, the debt ceiling debate was ridiculous from the start. The economy is at a standstill. Recent GDP numbers came in at a sub-anemic 1.9 percent, so low that the real unemployment rate of 21 percent will continue to increase. Foreclosures are emptying out whole neighborhoods.

The traditional, historically proven Keynesian response to Depression is for the government to spend more. Members of both major parties know this. Yet here they were, both agreeing to spend less, indeed to slash the budget by historic amounts. If the Democrats had an ounce of sense, much less principle, they would have refused to discuss budget cuts at all. (Although an end to the wars would be nice.)

Obama and Congressional Democrats went along with trillions in cuts, cuts that may lead to Soviet-style collapse. The Dems’ only demand was that a final agreement include tax increases on the wealthy.

In the end, the Hopey Changey matador hopped the fence and fled the stadium. The GOP got their cuts. The Dems didn’t get a cent of taxes on the rich.

OK, Real Liberals. It’s been three years. You know Obama’s record. Obama never fights. When he does, it’s for conservative values, like slashing the federal budget and giving our money to millionaire bankers.

Why would you vote for him, or any Democrat, next year?

I know, I know: the Even More Insane Evil Republicans would take over. Après nous, la deluge. To which I ask, really, truly, no sarcasm—what difference would it make?

What if John McCain had won in 2008? Do you think we’d be at war in more countries than Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya? Would the Republicans have done less than Obama for the unemployed and homeowners getting evicted from their homes?

How much longer are you going to tolerate the sellout Democrats? How many more times are you going to stand in line to cast a vote for these treacherous scum?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The GOP Bets on Bad Judgement

Voters Focus on Spending at Just the Wrong Time

Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist who elevates bland to middle-brow art for The New York Times, thinks Republicans have overreached in their showdown with Obama over the debt ceiling. “[The Republicans’] inability to make even symbolic concessions has turned a winning hand into losing one,” he says.

Advantage, according to Douthat, representing the mainstream media: Obama.

Of course, Obama had already agreed to begin dismantling Social Security and Medicare, surrenders Republicans have craved for decades. If he pulls off this “victory” Obama will have done more damage to the Democratic Party and its core values than any president in our lifetimes. How will he promote what Douthat fears will be a “victory”? I wonder.

Or, to lift a line from “Double Indemnity”: I wonder if I wonder.

Back a few pages, Times reporter Jesse MacKinley finds himself in the curious position of writing that no one really cares about a story that has dominated the headlines for weeks.

“Indeed, the drama of whether the government will raise the debt ceiling (to the chagrin of some conservatives demanding tighter financial belts) or allow it to remain as is (to the horror of the administration and economists who predict financial ruin) seemed largely lost on a populace involved in more pressing—and more pleasant—summer distractions,” asserts MacKinley.

To summarize:

No one cares about the debt ceiling.

And:

Among the few political geeks who understand what’s going on, much less have an opinion, the tide is allegedly turning in favor of Obama because he’s willing to compromise and the Tea Party-led GOP isn’t.

Conventional wisdom floggers like Douthat say that if Congress can’t strike a deal and economic consequences follow—a reduction in the ratings of U.S. government-issued securities and a panic in the securities market—voters will hold Republicans accountable in 2012. Even if things don’t turn that far south, the GOP will pay for their intransigence. Obama wins in a cakewalk.

I’m not so sure.

In the same way that generals usually refight the last war, mainstream political pundits often apply old scenarios to new situations. This is not 1995, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich orchestrated a shutdown of the federal government that set the stage for Bill Clinton’s reelection the following year.

Without a doubt, the Republicans’ willingness to imperil the pure platinum credit of Treasury notes and bonds is reckless and irresponsible. There is also no denying their naked hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty. These so-called “deficit hawks” voted 19 times to raise the debt ceiling by $4 trillion.

If Republicans were serious about balancing the federal budget they’d start by slashing the military, which accounts for 54 percent of discretionary spending—and which hasn’t done anything to defend the U.S. from a real enemy since 1945. The Department of Homeland Security, a vast new bureaucracy created by Bush after 9/11 in order to make us take off our shoes, should be eliminated.

Moreover, the middle of the biggest economic meltdown since the industrial revolution is no time to be cutting debt. Read your Keynes: governments are supposed to spend their way out of downturns, and pay down debt during upswings.

Republicans, it seems, are trying to finish off an economy that is already gravely wounded.

Politically, however, I think they’re onto something. Year after year of warnings about the expanding national debt—remember Ross Perot’s charts?—the American people are finally, genuinely alarmed about the pace and scale of government spending. The current national debt of $14 trillion isn’t the magic number that flips some sort of switch in the public.

It’s simply that, at certain times, public opinion on an issue that has been around for years, divisive and apparently intractable, suddenly coalesces into widespread consensus. Climate change. Gay marriage. The war in Afghanistan, which was so popular in 2008 that Obama won by promising to expand it, but is now seen as stale and unwinnable.

Win or lose on the debt ceiling showdown, GOP strategists are betting than voters will reward them for taking an uncompromising stand on spending against a president who has increased the national debt faster than any of his predecessors. It’s not 100 percent—but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.

This is the worst possible time for the American people to start worrying about out-of-control federal spending. But it’s good for the GOP.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Too Soon To Tell

I am pleased to announce that I am now writing a weekly long-form column for Al Jazeera English. Here is my second piece for Al Jazeera:

One Year Early, Obama’s Reelection Far From Certain

The American punditocracy (and, perhaps more importantly, Las Vegas oddsmakers) currently cite Barack Obama as their odds-on favorite to win next year’s presidential election. Some even predict a landslide.

Mainstream media politicos acknowledge the atrocious economy, with its real unemployment rate nearly matching the worst years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as an obstacle to reelection. But most of them believe that other factors will prove decisive: disarray in the field of candidates for the nomination of the opposition Republican Party, the GOP’s reliance on discredited Reagan-style austerity measures for the masses coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy, and Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Maybe they’re right. But if I were the President, I wouldn’t be offering the White House chef a contract renewal any time soon. Count me among the majority of Americans (54 to 44 percent) who told a March 2011 CNN/Opinion Research poll they think Obama will lose the 2012 election.

I could be wrong.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, doesn’t think much of these so-called “trial-run” polls. “A review of polls conducted in the first quarter of the year preceding the election found many of them forecasting the wrong winner—often by substantial margins,” Keeter wrote in 2007, citing three elections as far back as 1968.

However, a historical analysis of the more recent presidential races, those over the two decades, reveals an even bigger gap. The year before a U.S. presidential election, the conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. The early favorite at this point on the calendar usually loses. So betting against the pundits—in this case, against Obama—is the safe bet at this point.

The meta question is: what difference does it make who wins next year? In practical terms, not much.

For one thing, American presidents tend to find more heartbreak than political success during their second terms. Had Richard Nixon retired in 1972, for example, he would have been fondly remembered as the architect of the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, the founder of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the defender of the working and middle class (for imposing wage and price controls to soften the effect of inflation). His second term saw him sinking into, and ultimately succumbing, to the morass of the Watergate scandal.

The next second termer, Ronald Reagan, was similarly preoccupied by scandal, in case the Iran-Contra imbroglio in which the United States traded arms to Iran in return for hostages held by students in Tehran and illegally funded right-wing death squads in Central America. Bill Clinton’s last four years were overshadowed by his developing romance, and the consequences of the revelation thereof, with intern Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush’s second term, from 2005 to 2009, was defined by his administration’s inept response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the deteriorating security situation in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic collapse that began in 2008. His number-one political priority, privatizing the U.S. Social Security system, never got off the ground.

Presidents rarely accomplish much of significance during their second term. So why do they bother to run again? Good question. Whether it’s ego—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is one hell of an address—or something else, I don’t know. Whatever, I have long maintained that a sane president would think of himself as standing for one four-year term, then announce his intention not to run again at the last possible moment.

From the standpoint of the American people and the citizens of countries directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, it is unlikely that the basic nature of the beast will change much regardless of Obama’s fortunes in the next election. One only has to consider the subtle “differences” between the tenures of Presidents Bush and Obama.

On the domestic front Obama continued and expanded upon Bush’s non-reaction to the economic crisis, exploiting the panic created by widespread unemployment, the bursting of the housing bubble and a massive foreclosure crisis that put tens of millions of Americans out of their homes in order to pour hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the pockets of the top executives of the nation’s largest banks, with no resulting stimulus effect whatsoever. Controversial attacks on privacy rights and civil liberties inaugurated by the Bush years were expanded and extended: the USA-Patriot Act, the National Security Agency “domestic surveillance” program that allowed the government to spy on U.S. citizens’ phone calls, emails and other communications. Obama even formalized Bush’s assertion that the president has the right to unilaterally order the assassination of anyone, including a U.S. citizen, without evidence or proof that he or she has committed a crime.

As promised during the 2008 campaign, Obama expanded the U.S. war against Afghanistan, transforming what Bush described as a short-term attempt to find Osama bin Laden after 9/11 into the most protracted military conflict in the history of the United States. The war continued in Iraq, albeit with “combat” troops redefined as “trainers.” During the last few years, the “global war on terror” expanded into Pakistan, east Africa, Libya and Yemen. Drone attacks escalated. Violating his campaign promises, he continued to keep torture available as a legal option—indeed, he ordered it against a U.S. solder, Private First Class Bradley Manning—and kept Guantánamo and other Bush-era concentration camps open.

If Obama goes down to defeat next year, then, the results should be viewed less as a shift in overall U.S. policy—hegemonic, imperialistic, increasingly authoritarian—than one that is symbolic. An Obama defeat would reflect the anger of ordinary Americans caught in the “two-party trap,” flailing back and forth between the Dems and the Reps, voting against the party in power to express their impotent rage, particularly at the economy. Mr. Hopey-Changey’s trip back to Chicago would mark the end of a brief, giddy, moment of reformism.

The argument that an overextended, indebted empire can be repaired via internal changes of personnel would be dead. With the reformism that Obama embodied no longer politically viable, American voters would be once again faced, as are the citizens of other repressive states, with the choice between sullen apathy and revolution.

Obamaism is currently believed to be unstoppable. If history serves as an accurate predictor, that belief is good cause to predict its defeat next November.

During the late spring and early summer of 1991, just over a year before the 1992 election, President George H.W. Bush was soaring in the polls in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, which the American media positively portrayed as successful, quick, internationalist, and cost the lives of few America soldiers. A March 1991 CBS poll gave him an 88 percent approval rating—a record high.

By October 1991 Bush was heavily favored to win. A Pew Research poll found that 78 percent of Democratic voters thought Bush would defeat any Democratic nominee. New York governor Mario Cuomo, an eloquent, charismatic liberal star of the party, sized up 1992 as unwinnable and decided not to run.

When the votes were counted, however, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Bush, 43 to 37.5 percent. Although Republicans blamed insurgent billionaire Ross Perot’s independent candidacy for siphoning away votes from Bush, subsequent analyses do not bear this out. In fact, Perot’s appeal had been bipartisan, attracting liberals opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and globalization in general, as well as conservative deficit hawks.

The most credible explanation for Bush’s defeat was handwritten on a sign that the victorious Bill Clinton’s campaign manager famously taped to the wall of the Dems’ war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.” As the 1989-1993 recession deepened Bush’s ratings tumbled to around 30 percent. A February 1992 incident, in which Bush was depicted by The New York Times as wearing “a look of wonder” when confronted with a supermarket price scanning machine, solidified his reputation with voters as patrician, out of touch, and unwilling to act to stimulate the economy or alleviate the suffering of the under- and unemployed. “Exit polls,” considered exceptionally reliable because they query voters seconds after exiting balloting places, showed that 75 percent of Americans thought the economy was “bad” or “very bad.”

In 1995, Bill Clinton was preparing his reelection bid. On the Republican side, Kansas senator and 1976 vice presidential candidate Bob Dole was expected to (and did) win his party’s nomination. Perot ran again, but suffered from a media blackout; newspapers and broadcast outlets had lost interest in him after a bizarre meltdown during the 1992 race in which he accused unnamed conspirators of plotting to violently disrupt his daughter’s wedding. He received eight percent in 1996.

Clinton trounced Dole, 49 to 40 percent. In 1995, however, that outcome was anything but certain. Bill Clinton had been severely wounded by a series of missteps during his first two years in office. His first major policy proposal, to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military, was so unpopular that he was forced to water it down into the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise. Clinton’s 1993 attempt to deprivatize the healthcare system, mocked as HillaryCare after he put his wife in charge of marketing it, went down to defeat. He signed the pro-corporate, Republican-backed trade agreement, NAFTA, alienating his party’s liberal and progressive base. Low voter turnout by the American left in the 1994 midterm elections led to the “Republican Revolution,” a historic sweep of both houses of the American Congress by right-wing conservatives led by the fiery new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

1995 saw the so-called “co-presidency” between Gingrich and a cowed Bill Clinton, who was reduced to telling a press conference that “the president is relevant.” The United States, which does not have a European-style parliamentary system, had never seen a president so politically weak while remaining in office.

During the spring and summer of 1995 Bob Dole was already the heir apparent to the nomination of a Republican Party that traditionally rewards those who wait their turn. Dole was a seasoned campaigner, a Plains States centrist whose gentlemanly demeanor and credentials as a hero of World War II. Conventional wisdom had him beating Clinton. So did the polls. A March 1995 Los Angeles Times poll had Dole defeating Clinton, 52 to 44 percent in a head-to-head match-up. “Among all voters, Clinton’s generic reelect remains dismal, with 40 percent inclined to vote him in again and 53% tilting or definitely planning a vote against him,” reported the Times.

By late autumn, however, the polls had flipped. Though statisticians differ about how big a factor it was, a summer 1995 shutdown of the federal government blamed on the refusal of Gingrich’s hardline Republicans to approve the budget turned the tide. At the end of the year the die was cast. As Americans began to pay more attention to his challenger they recoiled at Dole’s age—if elected, he would have been the oldest president in history, even older than Reagan—as it contrasted with Clinton’s youthful vigor. The Democrat coasted to reelection. But that’s not how things looked at this stage in the game.

When analyzing the 2000 race, remember that Republican George W. Bush lost the election to Al Gore by a bizarre quirk of the American system, the Electoral College. The U.S. popular vote actually determines the outcome of elected delegates to the College from each of the 50 states. The winner of those delegates is elected president.

Most of the time, the same candidate wins the national popular vote and the Electoral College tally. In 2000, there is no dispute: Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, 48.4 to 47.9 percent. There was a legal dispute over 25 electoral votes cast by the state of Florida; ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decided, along party lines, to award the state to Bush despite clear indications that Gore would have won recounts by tens of thousands of votes in that state.

Regardless of one’s views of the 2000 Florida recount controversy, from a predictive standpoint, one should assume that Gore won because no one could have anticipated a difference between the results of the electoral and popular votes.

Under normal circumstances Gore should have faced, as Dick Cheney said about the Iraq invasion, a cakewalk. A popular sitting vice president, he enjoyed the trappings of incumbency and a reputation as a thoughtful environmentalist and government efficiency expert. The economy was booming—always a good argument for the “don’t change horses in midstream” sales pitch. The early favorite on the Republican side, George W. Bush, was considered an intellectual lightweight who would get eaten alive the first time the two met in a presidential debate. But Monicagate had wounded Bill Clinton to the extent that Gore made a fateful decision to disassociate himself from the president who had appointed him.

A January 1999 CNN poll had Bush over Gore, 49 to 46 percent. By June 2000 the same poll had barely budged: now it was 49 to 45 percent. “The results indicate that the public is far more likely to view Texas Governor George W. Bush as a strong and decisive leader, and is also more confident in Bush’s ability to handle an international crisis—a worrisome finding for a vice president with eight years of international policy experience,” analyzed CNN in one of the most frightening summaries of the American people’s poor judgment ever recorded.

Gore didn’t become president. But he won the 2000 election. Once again, the media was wrong.

In the 2004 election, it was my turn to screw up. Howard Dean, the combative liberal darling and former Vermont governor, was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination against incumbent George W. Bush. I was so convinced at his inevitability after early primary elections and by the importance of unifying the Democratic Party behind a man who could defeat Bush that I authored a column I wish I could chuck down the memory hole calling for the party to suspend remaining primaries and back Dean. In 2004, John Kerry won the nomination.

Oops.

But I wasn’t alone. Polls and pundits agreed that George W. Bush, deeply embarrassed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would lose to Kerry, a Democrat with a rare combination of credentials: he was a bonafide war hero during the Vietnam War and a noted opponent of the war after his service there.

Bush trounced Kerry. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked Britain’s Daily Mirror. Good question. Maybe that’s why no one saw it coming.

Which brings us to the most recent presidential election. First, the pundit class was wrong about the likely Democratic nominee. Former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyone “knew,” would win. It wasn’t even close. An August 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll had Clinton ahead of Obama, 48 to 26 percent. As it turned out, many Democratic primary voters were wowed by Obama’s charisma and annoyed by Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her brazenly cynical vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2003. Aging Arizona Senator John McCain, on the other hand, remained the best-funded, and thus the continuous favorite, on the Republican side.

Obama’s advantages over McCain became clear by 2008. “The political landscape overwhelmingly favors Obama,” reported USA Today in June. At this point in 2007?

He didn’t stand a chance.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

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