Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What We Really Need For The New Year

We don't need a leader whose specialty is passion, not reason (sorry, Maureen). And we don't need ridiculous, arbitrary rules that frustrate democracy, rather than giving it free reign (sorry, Ross).

We need to have faith in the power of reason, freely expressed in an orderly fashion. That doesn't happen in societies where leaders lead by affection (or fear, or both) rather than with votes. And it doesn't happen when rules are put into place (i.e., the filibuster, term limits) that exist solely out of a lack of faith in the power of votes.

I am not making an argument for reason over passion. I believe that reason and passion have somehow become divorced in our society, and that fact goes a long way toward explaining the dysfunctionality of our political system. Let's hope that 2010, and the Teens in general, are a year, and a decade, of kissing and making up. The alternative is something that no one, including me, wants to contemplate.

Don't Think Of Going There, GOP

I expected them to be craven enough to think this way. But they might want to think about this first. (I guess he's still looking for Obama's Waterloo.)

If they really want to be crude about it, how's this: I'll take Obama's first-year body count over theirs, any day.

An Alternative Perspective On A Decade Of Zeros

This article is, in many ways, a refreshing counterbalance to the litany of end-of-the decade articles about how horrible this decade has been. (Strictly speaking, I'm one of those folks who thinks this decade has one more year to go, but I won't press the point. For whatever it's worth, my favorite nickname for this decade is "The Naughts.")

It has been a terrible decade, politically and economically. But when it comes to technology, it's been astounding. Maybe the future really does belong to the intellectuals, after all.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is Maureen Dowd A Masochist?

Why does she give national media time and space to her idiot right-wing brother? Is she hoping to convert him by being nice? Or does he have some kind of dirt on her?

Then again, are most liberals masochists? They're willing to give all sorts of exposure to their ideological opposite numbers, but you never see the favor returned.

Sometimes, politics in America seems like a horrible choice between fascism and fecklessness. God or Fate help us all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Few Holiday Thoughts

I shared the following on Facebook today; I'm sharing it here, wishing you and yours the best for the rest of this year and all of next:

Stephen Rourke

appreciates the fact that Christmas, whatever else may be true about it, motivates all of us to reach outside of ourselves and make a difference, even if it is a small one, in the world around us. Whatever your feelings are about the holidays, I wish you all good health, safe travels, and the chance to make a difference. To me, the latter is not simply the spirit of Christmas, but the spirit of life itself.

It's Official: Either God Is Dead ...

... or He/She/They/It is/are on the side of the Democrats. The U.S. Senate passed a health care reform bill today and, despite the sincere entreaties of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, not a single Senator was smote down so as to be prevented from voting for it.

By their own standards, they are begging for me to tell them to kneel, or suffer eternal wrath. I'm not going there. Eternal wrath is for a Higher Power. But I won't curse myself for sitting back and preparing to enjoy whatever the HP has in store for his "friends" in the GOP.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Lowest Of The Low

I can live with someone who runs as a Republican and serves as a Republican--barely. But cowards like this deserve no respect at all. They run as Democrats because Democrats in their states have stronger party organizations than their Republican counterparts, then jump to the GOP and tell their constituents to "vote for the person, not the party."

Calling this man a person is an insult to all persons everywhere. He only principal is political self-preservation. Rot in hell--in the minority, Mr. Griffith.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If You Still Think I'm Kidding ...

... about the willingness of the far right to use firearms as a last resort for seizing power, even if it means compromising "free enterprise" to do it, take a look at this.

And then, if you're a liberal, take my advice and buy a gun. It's the only way to give these people something to think about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stepping In The Right Direction

My friend and fellow blogger, John Tierney, has posted a link in his blog to a column by Gail Collins in The New York Times, regarding the desirability of liberals supporting the watered-down version of health care reform now likely to at least pass the Senate, now that Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, the two moths circling the publicity flame, have wrung it enough to deem it worthy of their precious votes.

Well, despite the foregoing sarcasm, I'm forced to agree with her. One of the relatively few advantages of being 53 is that you know a thing or two about how things work, including politics. In America, it always seems to be a choice between one step forward, and ten steps backward.

Given that choice, I vote for one step forward. Even though I think that we need and deserve twenty.

Disclosure: Mr. Tierney is a former student of my father's. But, if you knew my father, you'll know that that fact only recommends him all the more highly!

Friday, December 18, 2009

So, Tell Me, "Lipstick Conservative," Who's REALLY Playing Politics With Our Troops?

One of my favorite theatre-related Web sites, The Clyde Fitch Report, publishes a column by a former NFL cheerleader who calls herself a "Lipstick Conservative." In her most recent attempt at libeling liberals, she accuses Obama of deliberately dawdling in his thinking about Afghanistan, thereby allowing American troops.

We liberals can certainly appreciate your concern, Ms. Lipstick. I mean, it's not as if the folks on your side of the fence would EVER be guilty of playing politics with Americans under fire .... Oh wait!

Oh, well ... guess you'll do better next time (probably not)!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Most Powerful Intersection In America ...

... religion and money. That's the main reason you should care who Oral Roberts was. And, sadly, that's why he'll never lack for successors. Or suckers.

God (or Fate) help us all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Smart" Politics?

I'm a regular reader of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Web site, but this post really alarmed me ... and not just for what it says about the prospects of health care reform and the public option. Silver discusses at some length how "smart" Lie-berman (as I shall now continue to call him) was in refusing to accept last weekend's compromise proposal to substitute early buy-ins to Medicare for the public option.

I think this speaks volumes, sadly, about how we define the word "smart" as it applies to politics. Lie-berman's position is only "smart" as it relates to his short-term interest in slicing off the hands of the liberals who have fed his career, as well as earning the financial gratitude of his contributors in the health care industry (and just in time for his re-election campaign in 2012).

It's "smart" only in terms of his self-interest. The national interests, including those of the people of Connecticut, don't enter into his calculations at all. For that matter, neither do the interests of his caucus; if his views were really a matter of "conscience," he would not have waited to express them until the perfect moment for skewering the liberals he detests had arrived--at the end of the legislative process, and on the cusp of an election year. The case for throwing him out of the Democratic caucus has never been stronger.

As for the rest of us (and by that I mean Americans, not just Democrats), may God or something save us from that kind of "smartness." If history teaches us anything, it teaches us the folly of only focusing on the next fifteen minutes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Never Mind Kansas, What's Wrong With Nebraska and Connecticut?

These two men love their TV face time more than there country.

It's time for the Democrats to get this done, even if it means the reconcilation approach, and to stop bargaining with people who don't know the meaning of good faith.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bravo For Life's Little Ironies ...

...with apologies to Garry Trudeau. Once upon a time, crime was a reason for staying away from Times Square. Now, it's a reason to show up.

And to think this happened in front of the Marriott Marquis, a monstrosity for which five Broadway theatres were demolished. The theatres would have been safer and prettier.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Is What Ten Years Of Republican Economics Will Get You ...

Absolutely NOTHING!

If the American people are dumb enough to put these people in charge of Congress in the next election, there will be a Red revolution on American soil in a matter of years. If the Tea Baggers want a justified argument for their anger, they should invest in mirrors.

I don't think there will be a Republican Congress after 2010, despite last week's elections. The Republicans got lucky in the gubernatorial candidate match-ups; they're not going to be that lucky in a nationwide election. (Hint: there were two special Congressional elections on the same day, and the Democrats won both of them, one of them in a district that had elected Republicans for more than a century.) And, if employers start hiring again in a big way in 2010, tea bag politics may very well lose its steam.

But when Fox News is willing to cut-and-paste together the illusion of a larger opposition than the one that actually exists, and it takes a comedian to point it out, you really have to wonder: Where are the real watchdogs of the people?

On your toes, fellow lefties, for the next twelve months. On your toes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mr. Cooke, Do You Really Have A Blog?

If so, please feel free to share a link to it. I'm sure it's a never-ending source of entertainment.

Or would that take, as you might say, "guts"?

P.S. I do believe we all have an obligation to defend our country. The Iraq war was a war of choice, not of defense. If you're opposed to it, I have no objection to that.

UPDATE, 11/03/09: He's got a blog, but you have to join (or be a member of) Myspace to read or post on it. Sorry, Mr. Cooke. Myspace is yesterday's Facebook. Which is why it doesn't surprise me that you're worried about the threat of witchcraft.

And "thanks" for inviting me to look at your Facebook profile to find your blog, even though you knew I had to be your "friend" to have access to do it. Unfortunately for you, I know how to use Google. Liberals may not have invented the Internet, but they know how to use it (as opposed to conservatives, who only know how to abuse it).

Further update, with apologies to Mr. Cooke . He has a Blogger blog. Unfortunately, it turns out he's a pro-tobacco zealot. It fits it with the whole libertarian thing he's got going, but it's further evidence that the only thing wrong with libertarianism is that it's never been tried.

And, no, Mr. Cooke, I don't expect an apology from you for calling me "as stupid as I am fat." That would require class. I don't expect you to go outside your skill set.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Yes, I Know It's Been A Long Time ...

... but it's the end of October (Happy Halloween, everybody), and I think every good, decent, liberal American needs to get out there and do whatever they can to stop the barbarians at the gates. If recent polls are to be believed, they may carry the day in three elections next week. No matter what happens, however, we can't afford to give up or be discouraged.

I was reminded of this several days ago, when I got into a lively exchange on Facebook with a friend of a friend who believes, among other things:

1. that compulsory health insurance is immoral, but not compulsory car insurance because no one needs to drive a car (probably one of those Tea Party protesters whose hatred of Big Government led them to complain about the lack of extra Metro service for their protest);

2. that car insurance has nothing to do with the Federal government, despite the long-standing relationship between the automobile and federal funding;

3. that insurance makes the services it pays for more expensive, and that everybody should be compelled by the Federal government he hates to pay for their own health care; and

4. that his personal word means nothing, when he claims not to care that I drive a hybrid and then posts two additional diatribes about my choice in cars.

Oh, and I didn't even get into the fact that he doesn't believe in defending his country, probably because it doesn't fit in with his self-stated desire to be "left alone." He's like his hero, Dick Cheney; it isn't convenient to protect his country, but it's OK to root out new and more exciting ways to rip it off.

That's why all of us on the side of truth, justice and the American way need to get out and do whatever we can to ensure that what we believe carries the day. Letting morons like this sad sack run our country can only destroy it.

Personal footnote and disclosure: he accused me of hypocrisy because I criticized an obscenity in a comment he wanted to post on this blog, because of an earlier reference I had made to Cheney that played off of the former Vice President's first name. There's no hypocrisy. Taking responsibility for my own comments is easy; doing the same for others demands a little more concern for the sensitivity of my readers. My advice to my critic: grow a brain, get a blog and join the debate. I'm not afraid of you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

One Step Closer To The Second Civil War

The Van Jones affair, and the boycott of Glenn Beck's putrid Fox program that let to it, has sent my estimation of America and American progressives to a new low.

That a publicity whore like Beck has enough standing in the court of public opinion to drive out Jones, a man who has accomplished more in his lifetime than the Becks of the world can even dream about, is bad enough. That he is able to motivate and mobilize the idiocracy over which he and Fox presides to drive Jones to resign is far worse, in so many ways. And this is true without even taking into account Beck's sheer hypocrisy in attacking Jones for his past views of the Bush Administration and Republicans, coming from a "man" (I use the term advisedly) who accused a black President with a white mother and white grandparents of hating white people.

First, it's clear that whatever advantage progressives once had with new media and social networking is gone. The bad guys have learned, and caught up.

Second, it's equally clear that the Obama Administration, and its nominal "leader," have something less than a complete set of backbones when it comes to dealing with moral lepers like Beck. They should have trotted out Jones, have him issue one of those if-I-offended-anyone-I'm-sorry apologies that wingnuts routinely get away with issuing, and let him get on with his job. What chance is there that anyone with cutting-edge views is going to serve in the White House, knowing that loyalty to the President will only make it easier to be thrown to the wolves on the right every time they wake up and snarl "More"? For that matter, what chance is there for change anyone can believe in if this President defines bringing America together as a process in which the truth is systematically negotiated away to liars?

Third, I am sorry to say that a large measure of the fault lies with progressives themselves. We let Obama equivocate, negotiate, and frequently repudiate during last fall's campaign. We allowed him to become a bland, fuzzy symbol that voters could interpret any number of ways, by not holding his feet to the proverbial fire and insisting that he strongly campaign for progressive goals and progressive values. Like the rest of the country, we were so sick of Bush that we were willing to take anything. We forgot that in politics, as in the rest of life, if you're prepared to take anything, you'll more often than not get nothing.

And, as it is beginning to look more and more like President Obama does not understand the difference between compromise and appeasement, we have no choice but to take the battle back to the streets, in order to win not votes but the hearts and minds of the American people. Frankly, this doesn't bother me; if history teaches us anything, it is that true progress occurs outside of the corridors of power, and then slowly works its way in. What we have to remember is a lesson that conservatives never forget for a minute: winning anything in America is a matter of devotion, not numbers. An electoral majority is a luxury; an organized, focused, driven minority can do far more than any majority ever can. Margaret Mead was right.

We can start by doing two things: (a) expanding the Beck boycott to a boycott of Fox, making any advertiser who wants to do business with the network ashamed to do so; and (b) insisting that this pitiful excuse of a Democratic Congress investigate 9/11 top to bottom, once and for all. It's time to bring George W. Bush and the aptly-named "Dick" Cheney before the people's representatives and ask them the Watergate question: What did you know, and when did you know it?

If you're reading this, take any of this to heart, and start mobilizing on behalf of the real "truth, justice, and the American way," do not doubt that even the smallest gesture has value. It will echo throughout the corridors of history long after Glenn Beck has ceased to be a pimple on the hindquarters of humanity.

Monday, August 31, 2009

August Really Is The Cruelest Month ...

... which is probably why I haven't blogged at all during it. It's not as if there's been a lack of material. I could blog every day of the new month that's about to start in a few hours, and still not catch up.

But, frankly, the health care "debate" has depressed the hell out of me. The Republicans and their Astroturf agents at the town halls recognize no limits when it comes to exploiting the issue at the expense of potential solutions. And the Democrats expect us to believe that none of the could have been foreseen by them, despite past summer muggings.

Both parties misuse and abuse the concept of bipartisanship in different ways: the GOP uses it to leverage short-term gains of power at the expense of the country as a whole, while the Democrats use it as an excuse to avoid the ugly reality that change is not only worth fight for, but often can only be brought about by a fight.

And, while both parties fiddle, the health care system burns.

I have to fault President Obama for overlearning the lessons of the Clintons' experience with the issue. He has been missing in action on this and so many other issues for so long. It's time for him to get over himself and realize that he was elected to lead the nation, not mediate the differences of politicians who live to do nothing but differ with each other, while selling themselves to the highest bidder.

And he needs to understand that, for him, it's OK to have a point of view. Nobody expects to agree with him all the time. But they expect him to move forward, and take us with him by talking about what he wants to do, why he wants to do it, and why he believes it will work.

And, if he wants to be bipartisan, let him take a cue from the last Republican President to seriously proposed national health insurance, Richard Nixon: make a public appeal to the "silent majority" that wants reform and not ranting. This country has suffered enough at the hands of the angry minority that doesn't have brains enough to do anything but yell. Those people have effectively excused themselves from the democratic debate by acting like Fascists.

It is not too late, if we don't give up. I hope, and I pray, that we don't.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Off For The LHAT Conference

I won't be posting for the next week or so, because I'll be at the League of Historic American Theatres conference in Cleveland. If you want to learn more about the conference, and the League, click here. I look forward to sharing what I see and hear when I return next week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And All You Need To Know About The Stimulus

This is the best article I've seen so far about the various criticisms of Obama's stimulus plan. There's a good case to be made, in my opinion, that anything simultaneously attacked by the far left and the far right is probably something that's right on target.

I could live, however, without the conservative lectures on public debt. Not that this isn't a problem, but the overwhelming majority of the debt we have was run up in no small part because their number two hero, relying on the advice of their number one hero, said that deficits don't matter. I guess they only matter to the GOP when they're not enabling their need for power.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Everything You Need To Know About Alaska's Ex-Governor

I don't like to even mention her by name, because even doing that gives her more publicity than she ever has had any right to deserve. But this article tells you everything you REALLY need to know about S.P..

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The End Of Capitialism? (Part 2 And Counting)

Just when you think Republicans and conservatives have run out of ways to bankrupt our country and our lives, along comes this piece of nonsense from the New York Post. I supposed that I shouldn't be surprised; the Murdoch-owned tabloid has been an outpost of comic-book journalism for years (as well as editorial hypocrisy: family-values editorials mixed with topless-bar ads). But the author of this piece, John Crudele, has generally proved in the past to be one of its better writers.

The unsurprising aspect of the article, however, lies in the nature of its economic-bailout prescription, which is a variation of an idea that comes up from time to time in right-wing circles (and, sometimes, left-wing ones as well): easy access to retirement savings, typically framed as short-term "loans" that would have to be paid back at some point.

The obvious objection to this is that it would further weaken the banking industry and Wall Street, by allowing everyone to simultaneously raid the last stable asset in the American financial system. Banks would have even less money to lend, which would send interest rates skyrocketing. And, as interest rates go up while the stocks and bonds in pension plans are liquidated, privately-owned companies would have an even harder time raising capital to survive, let alone expand.

This is another illustration of how the classic vision of capitalism as a system based on personal initiative, hard work and thrift gives way in reality to a world in which something closer to piracy prevails: borrow and spend (and, when that fails, steal and spend). In the Reagan (and even in the post-Reagan) era, this generally has taken the form of highly leveraged buyouts and mergers, typically creating large amounts of short-term wealth on paper, but ultimately producing only unemployment, monopolization and, ultimately, bankruptcy.

I sometimes think about George Bernard Shaw's joke about Christianity--the only thing wrong with it is that it's never been tried--and conclude that it has at least as much applicability to capitalism as it does to anything else. Let's face it. It's hard to work, to take risks with little or nothing to fall back on, to forgo short-term pleasure in favor of long-term gains. It's much easier to focus on the next fifteen minutes, and hope that the day of reckoning never comes. Except that it does. And, to paraphrase Keynes, sometimes in the long run we're not dead when it does.

Ultimately, there is no easy road. Working hard, working together, paying for what we need and not what we want, and planning for the uncertainties of life are the only ways to get out of the current crisis. Sorry, Mr. Crudele, but there are no pain-free solutions. There are only the right ones.

And, by right, the last thing I mean is extremely right.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Robert McNamara And The Limits of Bipartisanship

Reading the obituaries for Robert McNamara over the past day or so reminded me of Lyndon Johnson's primary reason for forging ahead down the road to disaster called Vietnam: fear of being tarred by Republicans as being insufficiently anti-Communist. How might American and world history be different had Johnson realized that doing the right thing (i.e., ending the use of American lives as guerrilla fodder to support a corrupt regime) outweighed any kind of pretense about partisanship ending at the water's edge? How might they be different if Jimmy Carter had realized the same thing, with regard to American aid and comfort for the Shah of Iran and his family? And, more recently and even more painfully obvious, how might they be different if Congressional Democrats had called the Bush-Cheney bluff about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

I do not believe that the leaders and, more importantly, the peoples of other nations are particularly impressed when Americans stand together for the sake of a mistake (apologies for the paraphrase, Senator Kerry). I think they are more likely to be impressed when we choose one or more leaders who believe that truth and justice, even when deeply divisive, are more important to the American way that unity achieved through partisan bullying (and a second paraphrase apology to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who deserved the belated rewards they got for creating Superman).

Which is why I'm hoping that having a different kind of President is having the potential to make American and world history different in the right way. It looks like that might be a possibility.
We'll see.

As for McNamara himself, he seems to have been belatedly aware of the egregious nature of his tenure as Secretary of Defense, and he obviously spent much of his post-LBJ career attempting to atone for it in some measure, especially in his work at the World Bank. It's worth remembering, too, that he was one of the men who helped the Kennedy Administration and the world step back from the brink of disaster during the Cuban Missile crisis. I'm forced to confess that there may be a bit of self-interest in that observation: in preparing to play Dean Rusk for a local production of "The Missiles of October," I read Robert Kennedy's "Thirteen Days." However, thespianism aside, I'm happy to recommend the book (if you haven't read it) for any number of reasons--not the least of which is the testament it serves to the difference between being tough and being belligerent.

It's a difference I hope President Obama continues to remember.

Monday, July 6, 2009

At Least You're Still Alive ...

... so, David Vittner, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, John Ensign and Mark Sanford, consider yourselves lucky.

Who would have thought politics was safer than sports?

When All Else Fails, Lie

You know the climate change deniers are losing the battle when they are forced to result to baldfaced lies like the one in this letter to the editor in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. It seems too obvious to point out that the real issue is not the presence of carbon dioxide, but the relative proportion of it to other chemicals. Not to Mr. Schvimmer, apparently, who may be either ignorant or lying.

"We are being had," sir? Only if we listen to the likes of you, and some of the more economically powerful interests in this country who have been pushing this same message for some time. The rest of us can only hope that the U.S. Senate, currently considering the climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives, turns 200 deaf ears to your dissembling.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The End Of Capitalism?

My friend John Tierney recently included a link in his blog to the following Web item. It's well worth a look all by itself. For me, the irony of this lies in the fact that the same basic argument had occurred to me, but someone else beat me to it with regard to putting it on the Web. Well, all I can say is, this is what happens when you don't post anything for an entire month or more!

Of course, it's perfectly true that a publicly-sponsored optional health insurance plan would no more destroy the private health insurance industry than the existence of the Postal Service threatens the existence of UPS and FedEx. What is amazing, however, is the fact that the Republican Party, the supposed ultimate defender of capitalism, is willing to make such an argument in the face of evidence to the contrary. They probably don't realize it but, in effect, Republicans in Congress are revealing the fact that they have absolutely no faith in the theory that supposedly gives their party its raison d'etre.

Put this in the context of their explanation for the end of the Cold War: the view that unfettered capitalism, led by an unapologetic defender of capitalism in Ronald Reagan, inevitably crushed the lesser system of Communism practiced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In making this argument, they were essentially standing Marxism on its head by claiming that capitalism was the inevitable "end of history."

Well, inevitability apparently isn't what it used to be, if you believe the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell--who, along with the GOP colleagues in the House and Senate, benefit from the most generous health insurance plan in history, paid for with the very same tax dollars that they don't want to use to insure you. Reminds me of those arguments they used to make for "school choice," in the form of vouchers for private schools (priced at the level where they basically become federal aid for religious school's, but that's a topic for another day). Remember? "We want all Americans to have the same choice that Chelsea Clinton has." Leaving aside the obvious fact that the vouchers they wanted to offer you wouldn't have paid for more than five minutes at Sidwell Friends (where Chelsea went), this argument underscores the hypocrisy of their current arguments about health insurance and the public option.

John, you're right. They are scumbags.

And, apart from that, a belated Happy 4th to all, especially to those in uniform, who deserve all the health care we can give them.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Something Is STILL The Matter With Kansas ... And Maybe Everywhere Else

Well, despite my best intentions, it's been over a month since I've posted anything. That's partly about life getting in the way of blogging (to paraphrase Michael Crichton's words in "Jurassic Park," life will find a way to do that). But it's also about the fact that I've been wrestling with a topic that has reared its very ugly head in a number of ways since Barack Obama replaced Howdy Doody in the White House: right-wing violence.

As a political force, the far right wing-nuts in this country are at their lowest ebb. If they were Democrats, they would no doubt be forming a circular firing squad, aiming at themselves. But, lately, I've been getting the impression that conservatives, and their political allies in the Republican Party, have been forming a circular firing squad of their own. Unfortunately, theirs is aimed at everyone else. This reflects the competing character flaws in both of our major political parties. Democrats, political nebbishes that most of them are, are always on the lookout for new and more exciting ways to flagelate themselves for their failures. On the other hand, Republicans, who long ago reduced the question of "character" to keeping one's fly up, are always on the lookout for ways to bamboozle the rest of us to handing them power.

At least the Democrats, when they lose, are content to play by the rules and let democracy win. But, when the party of Lincoln runs out of ways to fool all of the people all of the time (thankfully, it periodically happens), it isn't content to let the proverbial chips fall where they may. They prefer to hurl the chips--and any other non-verbal weapons that they can find--at the people who have peaceably lifted the burden of government from their government-hating shoulders.

In this context, I recall the efforts by some wing-nut commentators to justify the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal court house by citing the anger many of their devoted followers felt about the 1993 destruction of the Branch Davidian religious compound, allegedly by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (never mind the facts that the fanatics burned their own compound, and that the ATF troops moved in solely based to prevent alleged child abuse). I have heard echoes of those arguments in some of the rhetoric of the past six months that has masqueraded as political commentary from such distinguished sources as Glenn Beck and Chuck Norris. As a consequence, I have spent much of the past month wrestling with this rhetoric and the proper response to it. I have wanted to hold back, out of respect for democracy and the freedom to disagree, even to the point of being disagreeable.

But, ultimately, I have been propelled forward by today's tragedy in Kansas. This sick, perverted, disgusting incident makes me question whether it is even possible to co-exist in a democratic society with a movement that treats "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as a slogan--or, even worse, as a club to brandish against the 99 percent of reality that frightens them so much.

This much I'll say for now, and I may have more to say about it later. As our wing-nut bretheren and sisteren are fond of reminding us, the Second Amendment is a civil right. I'm here today to recommend that all of my friends on the left exercise it. Buy a gun. Learn how to use it. You may need it to defend freedom--and yourselves. I'm not advocating lawlessness, and I'm not advocating murder. The law allows you to fight fire with fire. Democracy certainly allows a level playing field. And trust me on this: if there's one thing the wing-nuts REALLY hate, it's a level playing field.

Especially a well-armed one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Worse Than Hypocrisy

The only thing really worth pointing out about former Vice President Cheney's defense of torture, and the effort of his allies to drag down the Democrats with a you-let-us-do-this defense (though some, like Joe Lieberman, really deserve that line of attack), is the fact that Cheney and his allies spent the last eight years rhetorically indicting all criticism of the executive branch (or whatever branch Cheney thought at the time he belonged to) as coming from traitors. That Ari Fleisher, who led that particular charge (remember "we should watch what we say"?) is now leading the conservative counter-charge along these lines merely proves, to paraphrase Larry Gelbart's Broadway comedy, "Sly Fox," that sincerity is written on both his faces.

This line of "argument," however, is worse than hypocrisy. Put simply, it is Fascism in its rhetorical form. Agree with us, so we can drag you into the mud with us; disagree with us, and we'll brand you as traitors. Those who brandish these verbal clubs should be forced by the rest of us to admit who and what they really are: cowardly predators whose stated commitment to principles barely masks their appetite for power, and their mortal fear of losing it.

Unfortunately, for the most part, we the people let them get away with it for eight years. So where does that leave us?

Torture is criminal under international law, which our Constitution recognizes as binding, and immoral in any event, dragging nations who practice it into the same reputational gutter that has stigmatized every nation that has rationalized its use. No, we cannot indict an entire nation. But we can indict those who made the decisions in the decision-making branch, whether they thought themselves a member of that branch or not. And if the Republicans really want to extend that liability to members of the executive branch, that's fine. There were more of them marching in lockstep with Cheney on this issue than there were Democrats.

Oh, well. Given the dynamics of the Bush Administration, at least Cheney can't say he was following orders.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea-Bag Hypocrisy

It's the day after the IRS filing deadline for most of us, and I suspect we all could use a little humor. With that in mind, I offer this photo of an idiot polluting the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland with what is, presumably, a perfectly good box of tea:

For the record, the idiot in question is a Republican member of Maryland's House of Delegates, Donald H. Dwyer, Jr.. He was one of allegedly thousands of people who joined so-called "tea parties" yesterday to protest the so-called "socialistic" policies of the Obama Administration (and, in Maryland, the administration of Governor Martin O'Malley). Apart from losing last fall's election on merit, their principal grievances are the expansion of government and the increase in the public debt in the past several months, the blame for which they lay entirely at the feet of Democrats.

The idiocy of all this seems, at least to me, to be so obvious as to be totally beneath comment. But, in the (faint) hope of initiating a bipartisan dialogue, I'd like to throw out a few questions for these, my fellow citizens who participated and/or sympathized with these pseudo-events:

1. The Boston Tea Party (on which the events were supposedly modelled), like the so-called "Reagan Revolution", was designed to protest taxation without representation, not taxation of any sort. The sons and daughters of the American Revolution understood that government was a social contract, one that benefited everyone in society. Why have you confused that with your own short-term self interest?

2. Some of you claim to be unrepresented because your candidate didn't win the last election. Well, the vast majority of the candidates I have supported in more than thirty years of voting didn't win, but I didn't use that as an excuse to give up on democracy. What gives you a greater right to do so?

3. Above all, where the hell were you during the past eight years, when the expansion of government and the public debt were geometrically greater that anything President Obama has done or has promised to do? Aren't you guilty of hypocrisy? And isn't that a character issue?

I don't expect honest answers to any of these questions from this crowd. But the least they can do is stop pretending they have anything in common with the founders of this country. Every one of them, had they been alive at the time of the real Tea Party, would have been Tories whining about the destruction of valuable tea. They have no answers to our current problems except tax cuts (for which they are unwilling to pay with anything except yes, you guessed it, more public debt).

They ought to apologize for the mess their bankrupt policies have left America with, and not pollute it further by dumping tea.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Not "Nannying" When The Private Sector Does It!

So, let me get this straight: When the government creates a rule or spends money to promote public health, it's symptomatic of the "nannying" state (or, for some, the "bullying" state), but when a private company charges extra for its services based on your size (whether you can control it or not), it's just good business? Seems to me that if behavior is "nannying" or "bullying," it shouldn't matter whether the mailed fist comes from the private or the public sector. On the other hand (no pun intended), more often than not, government action is designed to prevent the problem, while business is often in the position of only being able to react to it. And government can be voted in or out every two to four years, while businesses can go on and on for years before their bad behavior catches up with them.

Unless, of course, society decides that business = virtue and government = vice, and government no longer has the support of the people to be proactive. And the bad behavior of business can go on and on for decades, because we've put effectively put handcuffs on the police and bought tickets to the burglars' ball.

But that wouldn't describe any society any of us know, right? Right? Um, I thought so!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Don't I Like Mickey Kaus? Here's One Really Good Reason

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to "Kausfiles," a blog written by Mickey Kaus for (an otherwise excellent Web site, if you've never checked it out).

And I'm addicted in spite of the fact that I hate what he writes.

Let me explain. Kaus is a textbook-perfect example of what I would call a self-loathing Democrat, one who professes allegiance to the Democratic Party and its general political philosophy, while spending the majority of his time looking for supposed "examples" of how conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, might ... actually ... be ... (gasp) ... better, no? (An approximate imitation of Kaus' style, but close enough.)

Some people might think that the term "self-loathing Democrat" might be repetitious, because Democrats as a rule demonstrate a certain amount of self-loathing for one or both of two reasons:

(1) Unlike Republicans, who cling to ideas that are either outdated or moronic at inception with the fervor of religious fanatics, they tend to be so obsessed with showing a perpetually open mind that they often systematically deliberate even good ideas to death; and/or

(2) Like Republicans, albeit differing in degree, they are attached enough to material success to envy the seemingly superior financial position of most Republicans, overlooking the fact that that position is often based on inheritance, borrowed money, or both and rarely on merit (see, e.g., Donald Trump).

I'm not sure which one of these categories Kaus falls into; he may be unlucky enough to fall into both. But his status as a self-loathing Democrat is beyond all doubt, if (like me) you are unlucky enough to be addicted to his columns. I'm not even sure I can explain my addiction, except possibly to blame it on a perverse fascination with the idea that some who seems, at least on the surface, to be very bright can systematically lead himself over and over again into mind-boggling error. Were I inclined to do so, I could make an almost daily blog out of Kaus' mistakes. However, one of my fellow bloggers has beaten me to the punch. And I'm more than happy about that.

But there is one comment of his recently that I took very, very personally, leaving me with no choice but to write about it. He posted it on April 8th in "Kausfiles":

Why would you leave a recurring part on a hit TV show--a job you "loved" --to become a mid-level liaison official in the White House? Either you are crazy or you have huge political ambitions. Or both.

Unless you are regular or recent viewer of the Fox TV series House, a show that (like The Simpsons) is so good one can hardly believe that it's on Fox, you may not be aware that this is a crude reference to one of its actors. (Spoiler alert: if you did not watch the show last week and still want to see it unsurprised, stop reading this until after you have seen it.)

The reference in question is to actor Kal Penn, who (up until last week) played Dr. Lawrence Kutner, a member of House's diagnostic team. In his time away from the show, he spent a considerable amount of time and energy campaigning on behalf of Barack Obama last fall. In the process, he became very close to campaign officials, and expressed an interest in formally working with the new Administration. Last week, Penn announced that he would, in fact, be leaving the series to become an associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. He made this announcement in the wake of last Monday's episode of House, in which his character apparently took his own life.

Back, however, from House to Kaus. What personally infuriated me about this comment is that Kaus seems incapable of considering a third possibility: that there are in the world some people (a limited, perhaps, but very real number) whose talents and energies need to find fulfillment in more than one area. More to the point, it is not exactly unusual to find such people in both politics and the arts. Anthony Trollope, Victor Hugo and Glenda Jackson are three illustrious examples of people whose talents manifested themselves strongly in both areas (as opposed to Ronald Reagan, whose lack of talent managed to do the same, for which all of us are currently paying the price).

I'm not saying that Penn's work in the White House will be the equal of his excellent work on television. That remains to be seen. But it is entirely possible to be talented in more than one area, and to want to see one's talents fulfilled in both. Such a desire can stem from altruistic or selfish reasons; neither motive can or should negate the reality of the wish.

So why would Kaus instantly assume that Penn's career change stems from insanity and/or a lust for power? If I were a dyed-in-the wool cynic, or an advocate of ad hominem argument, I might assume it has something to do with the fact that Penn's parents are immigrants from India, meaning that an attack on him fits neatly, in a subtextual way, with Kaus' overarching theme of the past several months: that immigrants are destroying the American economy, and that comprehensive immigration reform will accelerate that destruction. (They aren't and it won't; in fact, it will have the opposite effect. But that's a topic for another entry.)

I do, however, think that it might have something to do with cynicism. This, in turn, brings me back to the concept of the self-loathing Democrat. Cynicism, born of thirty years of nearly uninterrupted conservative power in this country, may be at the root of a third potential source of self-loathing: the cynical view that, having made it this far, conservatism will last forever. Certainly conservatives, who have spent much of the past two decades promoting "the end of history" (ending, of course, in their favor), have a vested interest in this perspective, one that they have worked hard to protect.

But there is a central irony in this: in its classic form , conservatism attempts to use history to educate humanity about the limits of its potential. And, if history teaches us anything, it is that nothing lasts forever. Not empires, not families, not philosophies, not economies, and most certainly not the me-first, borrow-and-spend, only-the-next fifteen minutes-matters conservatism that has largely held sway since 1980. Thirty years is not forever, although many of us can be forgiven for thinking that it feels like it. If there is one thing that most Americans can and do agree upon, it is that it is time to try something different (even if many of them are not sure of what that difference is).

For whatever reason (an obsession with dithering, material envy or cynicism), Kaus is just not ready to move on. Unfortunately, he's not alone. It is ultimately up to the future, and those who will write the history of the present, to determine whether his failure will ultimately become ours.

A note of disclosure in closing: those of you who have or will read my profile know that I am also someone with multiple interests. I don't pretend to have achieved at the level of the individuals cited in this posts as examples. But I believe very strongly that, just because the volume of knowledge in the modern world has tended to lead to an age of specialists, it may still be possible and even desirable to cultivate more than one field. And I don't intend to let anyone's self-loathing stand in my way.

I'm off tomorrow to New York with my stepson, to see the opening of the New York Mets' new stadium. Until then ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

In Case You've Noticed (Part 2) ...

... my absence has been longer than I expected, due to a combination of the wedding, my father-in-law's birthday, and the beginning of Passover. To anyone reading who is also observing the holiday, Happy Pesach and, hopefully, no matzoh stomach!;-). And a Happy Easter to those who will be either collecting eggs or going to church (or doing both) on Sunday.

I really am going to try to get back to more regular posting this weekend. It's not for a lack of things to say.

And a shout-out to my fellow blogger, John Tierney, who has been taking a break from blogging for family reasons. Hope everything's better soon, John!

Friday, March 27, 2009

In Case You've Noticed ...

... I'm WAY behind on my posts. In fairness, however, I have a perfectly good reason: my beautiful stepdaughter got married this past weekend. Those of you who were there know what a great event it was; as for those of you who weren't there ... well, the least I can do is post a picture of her and my terrific new son-in-law.

Mazel tov, Shayna and David! I'll try to be back on a regular schedule next week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This Post Is NOT About Ron Silver

Writing about the recently deceased is always a tricky process. The dead have families and friends in mourning, to which I can personally relate. There is no exception to this in the case of Ron Silver, whose talent I admired and whose post-9/11 politics I disagreed with. But when the dead are turned into political pawns by the living, a decent respect for the Opinions of Mankind (to borrow a phrase) demands a rebuttal.

In yesterday's edition of The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch's money-losing print outlet in the Big Apple, a certain gossip column best known by its page number ran an item to the effect that Silver was "blacklisted" after he spoke on behalf of former President George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Silver himself was quoted as saying the following: "After I made that speech ... Hollywood and Broadway dried up on me ... The phone stopped ringing . . . nada . . . not a thing." You can see the item by clicking on the following link:

Unfortunately for this column, and the dissemblers in charge of writing it, the Internet bears witness to a somewhat different story. Silver hardly had a thriving career on Broadway. He won acclaim for his performance in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" in 1988, but he only appeared in two shows before that, and none after ( His entire performing career on Broadway spanned a total of roughly 30 months in slightly over 30 years; it ended back when Bush's biggest ambition was buying the Texas Rangers.

As for film and television work, Silver's entry in ( is hardly the history of someone barred from Hollywood's studios. There are no fewer than nine entries for the post-2004 period, including one project that was in pre-production at the time of his death. And this, of course, includes his role as Bruno Gianelli on that well-know icon of liberal television viewing, "The West Wing."

Why, then, did Silver say what he said? At this point, who knows? There may have been incidents that, rightly or not, created for him the perception that there were producers who wouldn't hire him because of his politics. Then again, all actors feel that they should be working all the time (I'm no exception to this rule).

What matters is the willingness of The Post to use its minions to fill its pages with willful distortions of the truth, for no other reason than to desperately attempt to prop up its own discredited political agenda. Perhaps one shouldn't expect more from a paper that ran an editorial cartoon comparing President Obama to a monkey, and whose losses under Murdoch easily run into nine figures. But that doesn't mean that it should be allowed to exploit a human tragedy for self-serving ends.

The facts are the facts: liberals, no matter how much they disagreed with Silver's politics, respected his talent and put it to good use. They, along with those who were close to him personally, are prepared to let him rest in peace. The Post should do the same.

And the gossip columnist? IMHO, he and his assistants should be deep-Sixed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Earl's Smarter Than Govenor Jindal

Like many of you, I was stunned by the jaw-dropping, gee-whiskers performance of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in responding to President Obama's first address to Congress. The banality of the content (less government is always better, blah, blah blah) is pretty much what I expected; after all, it's what today's Republicans say all the time, even when (as now) no one believes it's true. What was more surprising was the almost juvenile style and tone with which it was delivered. If he's truly the GOP's idea of a rising star, their talent base is even more depleted than I thought. I'm not sure which is worse, from the perspective of Jindal or his party: being compared to Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock," or having Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock" come on a late-night talk show to ridicule the comparison. But, of course, that could never happen .... Oh, wait (as Mickey Kaus likes to say):

However, one piece of the content stands out in my mind: his use of volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful and excessive Federal spending. Well, Govenor Jindal, try telling that to the thousands of Americans who live near any one of the 169 active volcanoes in the United States, or to the airline passengers whose flight paths may lie over one or more of those volcanoes (reference: I suspect that some of them may wonder why their tax dollars are used to subsidize the clean-up of hurricane damage to people who choose to live in hurricane-prone areas. Know any states that fit that description, Kenneth (I mean, Bobby)?

As a society, we have endlessly debated the proper role and reach of government in our society. It's a debate that predates the existence of the Republic, and one that (I suspect) will continue for decades to come. But it seems to me that, whatever else government should or should not be doing, it ought to be tackling and solving the problems for which there exists no solution or remedy in the market place (either because their is no market-based solution, or one hasn't yet been created). And, in a society governed by democracy, we ought to be able to meet each other's needs even when doing so doesn't directly benefit us. If democracy is about anything, it is about cooperation and collaboration among interests that are not otherwise naturally aligned. One day, we may be the helping hand; the next day, we may need yesterday's victim to be the helping hand.

This seems like such an obvious point. And yet, given the success of conservative politicians and special interests in ragging on government over the past three decades (while helping themselves to generous portions of it), I have sometimes despaired that there was any possibility that, one day, most Americans would get it. And then, from the most unlikely of sources, I found a ray of hope.

The source, in this case, is a rerun of an episode of My Name is Earl. For the benefit of those of you who have never watched the show, its title character spends all of his time trying to create good "karma" for himself by righting various misdeeds from his past, and them crossing them off his "list." Most of the comedy in the show (such as there is) stems from the fact that Earl is neither well-educated nor sophisticated in his approach to people, and this leads him into all sorts of trouble as he tries to improve his karma.

As a case in point, in the episode I saw, Earl tries to pay the government back taxes that he owes, and runs into bureaucratic obfuscation every step of the way. Like most people who have run up against the brick wall of civil service, Earl starts to wonder what good it does at all to pay taxes for government. Finally, he decides that he only way to get the government to accept his money is to trespass on a water tower, so that he can pay the money as a fine. In the process of doing so, Earl and his brother Randy fall through the roof of the empty tower, and are trapped inside until rescue workers finally arrive to take them out. Earl is finally able to pay his back taxes, which (as it turns out) just covers the cost of the rescue effort.

But what really stayed with me is Earl's realization (in a voice-over as he is pulled from the tower) that government, even when it's not help you personally, is out there helping someone. That made me almost wish I had a copy of the show to send to Governor Jindal and the rest of the GOP. If Earl can get it, why can't they?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Print Journalism; Quo Vadis?

Many of you already have heard or read about the closing of The Rocky Mountain News. I'm not sure there's any better way to document the pain caused by the loss of a local journalism institution like this one than to hear it in the words of its now-former employees. Toward that end, click on the following link:

If you have as much respect for journalism and journalists as I do (and I confess to having a lot), the comments made by the staffers for the Rocky make for tough reading. I suspect that many of them, if not most, will find other jobs. Some, if they have not done so already, will enter the burgeoning field of blogging, as others have done;-). But the fact that the Internet has become an alternative for many print journalists should force us all to reflect on the future of journalism, and the impact of the Internet on the profession.

As more of us get an ever-increasing amount of information and opinion electronically, newspapers are expanding their online editions, at the expense of their print versions. In fact, it is entirely fair to say that newspapers, in their traditional form, are literally dying by inches. My hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, has shrunk so much from its former broadsheet dimensions that it is easy to imagine it becoming a tabloid in the near future. It is no less easy to imagine it disappearing altogether sometime after that. Such may be the fate of the Seattle Post-Intelligencier; the Hearst Corporation has announced that it will become an online-only publication unless a buyer for the print version emerges. The Christian Science Monitor, formerly a daily newspaper, is now only a weekly in print; it uses its Web site to publish daily news.

Should we worry about this? After all, isn't this just the consequence of the emergence of a new technology, much as movable type once displaced clerks with quill pens? Unfortunately, I think the answer is "Yes." Online newspapers, for the most part, emerged during the early days of the Internet, when it was a medium that could only be accessed for limited periods of time from PCs. Most of these online journals were electronic versions of existing newspapers, choosing to put their print content online. The cost of doing so was minimal, the site created a new source of advertising revenue, and everybody was happy.

Fast forward to now: the Internet can be accessed from almost anywhere through an increasingly varied array of portable devices, at relatively minimal cost. This means fewer readers for print journals, as well as less revenue from circulation and advertising. On the other hand, even in their increasingly dessicated state, they still bring in more revenue than their electronic cousins. In the process, they continue to effectively subsidize the costs of those cousins. This is the business paradox in which most newspapers (and news magazines as well) now find themselves. The print versions should be allowed to die the natural death that a newer, superior medium has prepared for them. But the financial role that they play in subsidizing that medium prevents them from dying.

Like it or not, print news papers are going to die anyway. No enterprise can continue to hemorrhage money indefinitely. As a consequence, journalism faces one of two possible futures. In one, formal news gathering organizations, including editors and bureaus, will cease to exist, and online journalists en masse will fill the gap, subsidized by advertising and, perhaps, alternative employment. This might have a kind of Utopian appeal for some. But it is not likely to produce the quality of journalism that society not only needs but expects. Some news makers and news events (certainly those that involve the Federal government, for example) are so inherently big and complex that they cannot be reported adequately or at all by one or more individuals acting independently. They have to be covered by a variety of journalists with different skills and backgrounds, and they have to have someone--an editor, a publisher, call him or her what you will--directing their work and shaping their product.

But news organizations cost money. And, if they are to have a truly national or international scope, they require more money than Web sites can produce from advertising revenue alone. If that were not the case, most publishers would have already abandoned their print editions by now. The seemingly obvious answer is to charge a fee for access to the Web versions, but those newspapers that have experimented with this (i.e., The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times) have met with more resistance from their readers than they could handle. It seems more likely than not that the concept of free access to individual Web sites is so ingrained in our culture that not even sheer economic or journalistic necessity can dislodge it.

It may be the case that the appropriate economic model can be found in cable television. Currently, cable services provide access to a number of channels for a flat fee, and charge additional fees for so-called premium or on-demand services. Perhaps one or more news organizations could "bundle" their offerings as part of some sort of premium package, for which users could pay an additional flat, monthly fee and thereby gain access to a wide variety of online newspapers and magazines, which they could surf at their leisure. Or newspapers could go back to doing what they did in the early days of the Internet: offering their content directly through the online service itself, with the service paying for the content and spreading the costs among all of their subscribers and advertisers, not just the ones using the online publications.

Or, in a worst-case scenario, newspaper publishers could just bite the bullet, shut down their hard-copy editions, and say to their reading public "If you want to find us, go on the Web--for a price. This is what the newspaper is now. Subscribing to our Web site is no different from subscribing to the old-fashioned paper. If you subscribe now, you'll pay less than you would later, and the longer your subscription, the less you'll pay. You may not want to 'read the paper' this way, but the alternative is no paper at all, including no local news coverage. It's a world of choices, and we've now made one. We do so recognizing that you are free to do the same, and hope that you will stay with us."

No one, including me, knows which of these scenarios is likely. But, since newspapers cannot lose money forever, one of them is going to happen. The rewards will fall to the publishers who recognize this fact, and attempt to embrace one or more of these alternatives. Here's hoping that one or more of them do so soon. I love newspapers, and I hate seeing them die piece by piece. We are all better off if "print journalism" decides where it is going--and soon.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Case For Higher Taxes

If you followed the debate in Congress (such as it was) as the stimulus package made its way to President Obama's desk, you may recall the GOP attempt to reshape the bill. It consisted of an "amendment" that was, for all practical purposes, an entirely new and different proposal, sharing only its price tag with the original. As "amended," with the exception of a modest extension of unemployment benefits, the package would consist entirely of tax cuts.

Not surprising, none of these tax cuts would be paid for with any reductions in spending; GOP tax cutting proposals seldom, if ever, are paid for at all. As it has been for three decades, the prevailing view is apparently the same: Tax cuts are self-financing, and require no sacrifices at all. Rather, they require the boundless optimism of Ronald Reagan, the "patron saint" of boundless Republican optimism (and other worse things, a subject for future posts). If only, the Gipper told us, we got government "the hell out of the way," the spirit and the initiative of the American people would magically do the rest.

Reagan's view may have had some resonance in 1980, at a time when a significant number of Americans felt that government had grown too big for its own good, as well as theirs. Even so, his view barely won him a majority of the popular vote against a deeply unpopular Jimmy Carter (as well as John Anderson, a limousine-liberal darling). Moreover, his own willingness to follow through on his words was somewhat compromised by harsh reality; as enacted, his initial tax-cutting proposals ballooned the national debt, and needed to be subsequently revised and largely reversed. It was these revisions, combined with the tight-money policies of Paul Volcker (appointed as Federal Reserve chairman by Carter, not Reagan) that really sparked the economic boom of the mid-1980s.

Another "harsh reality" compromising the gospel of tax cuts was the success of the Clinton Administration in bringing the federal government into surplus for the first time in decades. While the dot-com bubble played a role in making this happen, the foundation for the surplus was laid with then-President Clinton's budget plan which (gasp!) included tax increases. For that matter, the dot-com bubble followed the rapid expansion in the 1990s of Internet service, which was enabled to a large degree by legislation promoted by the then-Vice President, known to some of us as the real 43rd president of the United States. Al Gore may not have invented the Internet (he never said he did), but he had a major hand in promoting its growth.

So much for the argument that tax cuts always produce growth, and tax increases always kill growth. As the last eight years have taught us, however, truth on the ground--or anywhere else--is not what gets the Republican Party or its conservative supporters out of bed in the morning. One can easily imagine them doing a commercial, with reworked lyrics from an old food commercial:

Tax cuts in the morning,
Tax cuts in the evening,
Tax cuts at suppertime!
With tax cuts on the table,
You can have tax cuts every time!

If you need further proof of this, you can turn to the magazine section of tomorrow's New York Times. It contains a lengthy profile of Newt Gingrich, and his allegedly brilliant brainstorming with the GOP minority in the House of Representatives. (Remember Newt's "brilliant" stint as Speaker? Exactly my point. But let's move on.) Here's a sample of how Newt's "brilliance" doesn't exactly outshine the sun: He proposed substituting Obama's stimulus package with a three month federal tax holiday, for roughly the same price tag.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this repackaging of yesterday's dried-up goods shouldn't play in Peoria, or anywhere else for that matter. But, if you're a True Believer, it has the power of plutonium. Consider the following assessment of Gingrich by what the article describes as one of his proteges, a Wisconsin congressman named Paul Ryan. As quoted by the Times, Gingrich, according to Ryan, is "a total idea factory ... The man will have 10 ideas in an hour. Six of them will be brilliant, two of them are in the stratosphere and two of them I’ll just flat-out disagree with. And then you’ll get 10 more ideas in the next hour.”

Really, Congressman Ryan? Or will they just be ten more variations on the same, worn-out theme? The one that has been discredited by reality, over and over again? The one that has landed you and you party on the south side of both power and history?

The fact is that experience, including recent experience, makes the case for higher taxes, and absolutely nothing makes the case for cutting them. We have (a) a multi-front war against terrorists to fight, (2) a culture of excess consumption and financial corruption to cure, (3) multiple obligations to our most vulnerable citizens to meet, and (4) a credit crisis created in no small part because paying for (1), (2) and (3) were ignored for far too long. And all of us deserve some share of the blame for the ignoring. These are society's problems, and they can only be solved by society, working together. The system in which that happens is called democracy, and if some idiot ranting in the dark named Rush Limbaugh wants to call it creeping socialism, just remember to respond "You should know, Rush. You're pretty creepy yourself."

Experience, however, is a very cruel teacher, and the explosive growth of the national debt over the past 30 years is the cruelest reminder of all that tax cuts have not delivered the benefits that were promised. They have not been self-financing. They have not paved the way for a better future for America. And they have, subtly and not-so-subtly, eroded the standard of living for everyone, in the form of higher interest rates and degraded public benefits. I was around back then and trust me: You were better off 30 years ago.

But let's say you're talking to someone for whom reality, harsh and otherwise, simply isn't a reference point. You know these people. They're called the Bush Administration, and its amen corner in the right-wing chattering classes. Not to mention not a few of the people who voted for them and paid their bills.

Most of these people would call themselves business people. So much so, in fact, that they like to lecture people on the proposition that "government should be run just like a business." Well, I help run a business, and I seriously doubt that I could talk my partner into the idea that, if we took deep cuts in our fees, our ability to solve our clients' legal problems would geometrically grow like magic. (Yes, we're lawyers; we're also married, which compounds the problem of talking her into the idea, and rightly so.) But, guess what? Most of those business people don't run their businesses that way either. They ramp up their prices as high as they can for as long as they can.

And, when they get the private-sector equivalent of a "surplus," aka "a profit," they don't say "Oops! We overcharged! We're giving it back to you, because YOU make it all possible." They don't do that in part because it's smarter for themselves AND the people who make it possible to plow that "surplus" back into the enterprise and make it better, stronger, more efficient and more economical for everyone. (And they keep not a little for themselves; hey, even capitalists have to eat.) By the exact same token, government that runs a surplus should pay down debt, improve existing programs and THEN (without burdening anyone) fairly reduce taxes for all. Any private-sector analogy that argues to the contrary only exposes its own self-serving hypocrisy.

So much for the business-model argument. But their is also, of course, a strong populist argument in favor of higher taxes as well. That's the fact that lower taxes for the upper 1 to 5 percent of the population trickles down to no one. Instead, it trickles into the deeper pockets of the upper 1 to 5 percent (U1T5P hereafter)--except, of course, when it gets invested in offshore enterprises, or into Ponzi-style, get-richer-quick schemes. The truth is that 30 years of "supply-side" tax cutting has done nothing more than given the U1T5P more money than it knows what to do with. It certainly didn't fuel the only real growth industry apart from the Interet during that time, mergers and acquisitions. That was fueled by credit, which in turn could not be paid for by the resulting enterprises. Sound familiar?

The real patron saint of Reaganomics is not Reagan, or Arthur Laffer (no economist ever had a better last name). It's Bernie Madoff. Borrow now, live high, and get out before the crash comes. That's what happens when tax cuts cause wealth to trickle upwards from productive working people to unproductive, unprincipled con artists.

I started this entry (and, if you've made it this far, thanks for hanging with me) by talking about 30 years ago, and the then supposedly prevalent fear of big government that launched the so-called "tax revolt" in California. There, the late, unlamented Howard Jarvis co-sponsored a ballot initiative called Proposition 13, designed to cap property tax rates. His argument: the only way to prevent politicians from not using taxpayer money is to not give it to them in the first place.

Maybe. Maybe the only way to stop rich people from abusing your future with your money is not to give it to them in the first place. Here's hoping that we give that a try over the next four years.