Friday, March 20, 2009

Tracking The Backlash

TODAY MARKS TWO MONTHS since President Obama took office. For some, it would seem, even 60 days is way too long a presidential honeymoon. For Rush Limbaugh, it was about 64 days too long.

On January 16, four days before the new president was even handed the keys to the Oval Office restroom, here was Limbaugh declaring, "I want everything he is doing to fail."

In all fairness, those liberals and progressives who are honest with themselves will also admit to wanting most of George W. Bush's policies to fail. They sure as hell didn't want Bush/Cheney's vision of a Pax Americana succeeding, because it was reasonable to assume that if Iraq was the cakewalk neocons predicted it would be, American soldiers would be dying on the streets of Iran at this very moment, and who knows where else. But to hope the American economy fails, with all that's at stake, is a different animal of another stripe, like wanting your house to fall down because you hate the landlord.

With 4.4 million American jobs lost since December 2007, and the economy tanking in general well before the election results were in a year later, reasonable observers may well lay at least affix partial blame to the Republican administration that implemented the economic policies over an 8-year period, with Congress all but rubber-stamping 2, 3, 4, 5 straight years of massive tax cuts, securities deregulation and financing costly wars on two fronts. For years, progressive commentators like the Times' Paul Krugman warned of the consequences of such irresponsible economic behavior, but Bush's loyal defenders in the media scoffed at such anti-market hysteria. And when the modern-day Cassandras' worst predictions came to pass regarding the economic downturn, only then did we find the first mea culpas appearing on the editorial pages of the mainstream press.

The national economy was in true tailspin mode -- hemorrhaging jobs, suffering massive layoffs and suffereing a wave of bank collapses. The subsequent government bailouts to date amount to close to $2 trillion in taxpayer money, with the only certainty being more to come, which in all likelihood still won't be enough to stem years of job loss and almost unimaginably large deficits.
It was into this climate that the news came of insurance company AIG, recipient of billions in bailout money, going ahead with parceling out $125 million in executive compensation for 2008. The Obama people tried to get out ahead of the national wave of indignation, condemning the bonuses as unmitigated gall, even though the actual original bailout language had not expressly prohibited using the government funds as executive compensation. With one man's populism being another's demagoguery, the accusations predictably flew back and forth. The bonuses should be given back, or at least taxed at a prohibitive rate, came the roar from the Democrat-controlled Congress. Typical grandstanding and anti-business rhetoric, countered the Republican minority, with surprising last-minute succor from a group of select moderate Democrats by the end of the week.

How much of President Obama's erosion in popular support is due to his administration's handling of the economy is difficult to quantify, but the president's approval rating dropped below 60 percent this week for the first time:

It was a five point drop from the 64 percent approval rating for the president in January, according to the Pew Center. "Although most people think the new president is doing as much as he can to fix the economy and relatively few say Obama's policies have made the economy worse, the public expresses mixed views of his many major proposals to fix the economy," the Pew Center published in its conclusion.

For better or worse, the Daily News has always been my Sunday paper of choice, more out of habit and custom going back to my childhood than any great enthusiasm for its product on my part. I'm not gonna drop 4 bucks on the Sunday Times -- not when I can read most of it online; and the Sunday Newsday is okay in a pinch, but it's always been bland visually in terms of the layout. Rupert Murdoch's hideous New York Post is so far off the radar that I wouldn't even consider it unless it was free, and even then I'd feel dirty afterward like it was a porno magazine. So more by default than any real endorsement of what's to be found inside, I plunk down the buck-25 at the newsstand, carry off my copy of the News, and go about the rest of my Sunday morning like any good citizen.

The Daily News once housed unrepentant muckrakers like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. Unfortunately, since real estate developer Mort Zuckerman purchased the paper in 1993, its editorial policy has veered right, ostensibly in an attempt to encroach upon some of the New York Post's territory. The two tabloids have been in embroiled in a nasty never-ending circulation war -- with the main collateral damage being the newspaper readers of New York City, as dumbing down the product drives the tabloids to new depths of mediocrity.

Michael Goodwin has been the lead political columnist at the News since 2004. He sets himself up as a moderate, independent chronicler of national politics. Yet Goodwin was on board with every major component of the Bush agenda every step of the way, consistently siding with Republicans against Democrats right up until it became glaringly obvious that Bush was a dangerous incompetent who had bankrupted the country not only economically but morally poisoned the very soul of a nation in some strangely visceral way, in the process almost personally splitting the country along partisan lines like few times in its long history. Only when it became unavoidable fact that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were paranoid ideologues who conducted an organized campaign of demonizing the political opposition did Goodwin write his first columns that came to the same conclusions his colleagues in editorial offices across the country had reached years before. When men like Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff were Enron-izing the entire American economy over Bush's first term and lobbyists were seen handing out checks to the people's representatives on the Senate floor, the outrage was nowhere to be heard from "independent" Goodwin.
Leading up to the 2004 election, Goodwin wrote that it would be unwise to switch horses in midstream, especially in a time of war, that Bush was the man to finish the job against Islamic fascism. Even after the Iraq invasion and no weapons of mass destruction and Abu Ghraib and Mission Accomplished and Guantanamo, Goodwin believed voting George Bush back for a second term was the only option.

That lamentably consistent track record of enabling a corrupt president should serve as backdrop when reading Goodwin's increasingly sharp criticism of the new president. Back on February 11, three weeks into the Obama administration, here was Goodwin bemoaning Obama's lack of bipartisanship. In a Daily News column called Change would do President Obama good: Partisan rant is bad form, Goodwin decries the current state of Democratic leadership:
Oh, how we need a Moynihan now; one with the guts to call Obama on his promise to change the tone in Washington. Only three weeks into his tenure, the new President has repeatedly expressed scorn and ridicule for any who disagree with him. It is as unappealing as the initial promise of bipartisanship was appealing.

In the short term, it is succeeding brilliantly. Obama's approval ratings remain high and the campaign-style trips he took to sell the stimulus package demonstrated the potency of his charm and eloquence. Senate passage of the $838 billion package put an exclamation point on his demand for fast action.

But I believe he will pay a high price for running roughshod over those who object to some of the contents. It is odd because he himself says the bill is not perfect, but stomps calls to change it. And he does so in that intellectually dishonest way that marks Washington at its worst - by distorting legitimate objections into a form that is unrecognizable.

One result is that he got only three Republican votes in Congress. It's a worrisome start to a new administration facing a frightening list of foreign and domestic crises.

Goodwin ends the column by taking up the cause of the poor, misunderstood, outflanked minority party:

Yet Obama lumps all objections onto a garbage heap and douses it with gasoline. On Monday he was more solicitous of the mad mullahs of Iran than he was of Republicans. He promised to engage Iran and called its behavior "unhelpful," a curious word for an adversary whose explosives have killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq.

Republicans, on the other hand, were scolded for "the usual partisan games" and for plying "the failed theories of the last eight years." He often invokes similar language, suggesting he is ticked off in an irrational way.

Heaven knows, there was plenty wrong with the last eight years. But to believe the answer is a triumphalist turn of the partisan wheel does a disservice to all Americans who need and expect a united front now. After all, that's what candidate Obama promised.

Nothing if not repetitive, Goodwin drives home the same message of excessive partisanship coming from the Democratic leadership in a Sunday column titled Obama's search for an enemy from the March 8 Daily News. But he goes even further this time out, approaching hysteria in accusing President Obama of "putting together an enemies list" a la Tricky Dick:

"Strangely, though, those on it are not terrorists or foreign dictators. They are mostly Americans lucky enough to have succeeded through capitalism and democracy ... Less than halfway through what should be a 100-day honeymoon, the Obama administration is on a war footing. Make that a class-war footing.

But the tone of the President's own attacks on industry and his spending and tax policies are increasingly worrying Wall Street and much of the business world ... That agenda, which revolves around a dramatic increase in Washington power, relies on tax hikes on the same successful businesses and individuals he denounces.

First he demonizes them, then he taxes them ... Being President means you don't have to let the facts get in the way of a plan to divide and conquer."

Noticing that Goodwin's columns are preoccupied with the taxation of upper income earners is like saying Bruce Springsteen writes songs about cars every once in a while. His sycophantic sympathizing with the rich man's tax burden continues apace with his Wednesday March 11 column, There's no end in sight to pols' taxing problem. Here Goodwin argues that the Obama administration's policy of overtaxing the rich will have dire consequences on the rest of us:

"The arguments against the hikes have nothing to do with protecting the rich, who can speak for themselves and often do through Mayor Bloomberg. Bloomberg, no slouch on tax hikes himself, prefers to raise broad-based sales and property taxes. And he's onto something. His office says that, in a city of more than 8 million people, 1.2% of taxpayers, or 40,950 households that earned more than $500,000, already pay 52.3% of the city's income taxes.

Look at those numbers again - they are extraordinary. People with that earning power are no fools - they can and do leave for areas with lower taxes. Their economic impact is like that of a small business, with their spending creating jobs and tax revenues.

And as I have written before, it is economic incoherence for state and local government to raise taxes at the same time they are getting bailed out by Washington. The net effect will be to cancel out much of the stimulus. Yet Thompson sees no alternative. "Ordinarily, you definitely would not want to raise taxes in a recession," he told me yesterday. "But these are extraordinary times."

There's no argument this is a crisis. The only argument is with the idea that government should respond by grabbing an even bigger slice of the shrinking pie."

But the anti-Obama hysteria rises to a new crescendo in his Sunday March 15 piece, More than a bad day, with Goodwin for the first time voicing concern that the new administration's poorly executed economic agenda is an ominous sign of things to come:

"Yes, it's early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It's a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House ... The longest campaign in presidential history is being followed by a very short honeymoon.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the doubts about Obama himself. His famous eloquence is wearing thin through daily exposure and because his actions are often disconnected from his words. His lack of experience is showing.

His promises and policies contradict each other often enough that evidence of hypocrisy is ceasing to be news. Remember the pledges about bipartisanship and high ethics? They're so last year."

Maybe Goodwin is right. After all, if Obama can't solve this broken economy in the first 1/24th of his first term, maybe he's just not the right man for the job. And I'm sure if Goodwin was fortunate to have his current post back at a similar point in the FDR administration, he would have literally written off the FDR's New Deal as an anti-Wall Street demagogue's misguided attempt to resurrect the economy by government spending and massive taxpayer waste.

In any event, at least one of Goodwin's cherished canards -- that the rich will flee if taxes are too onerous -- was sweetly punctured by the facts once again. An article in yesterday's New York Times called Taxes Not Seen as Making the rich Flee New York would seem to almost directly countermand Goodwin's musings on the subject, so at odds with reality as to perhaps call his own competence into question yet again:

Yet there is surprisingly little evidence to support the proposition that rich New Yorkers would bolt if forced to pay higher income taxes. Though tracking the movement of wealthy taxpayers from state to state is difficult, experts on public finance and migration say they have yet to document a substantial “rich drain” in states that have raised income taxes in recent years.

“At the level we’re talking about, there’s no quantitative evidence that it affects the mobility decisions of affluent taxpayers,” said Douglas S. Massey, a demographer at Princeton University and president of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

“I kind of clench my teeth every time Paterson says people will leave,” said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative-leaning research group that has advocated for sharp cuts in spending to balance New York’s budget.

New Jersey raised taxes on the wealthy in 2004, increasing by 2.6 percent the tax rate levied on those making more than $500,000 a year; and Gov. Jon S. Corzine this month proposed a new increase on high earners. But a study by Professor Massey and two colleagues, published in September, estimated that the previous tax increase cost New Jersey only 50 to 350 existing “half-millionaire” households — a relatively small number against the total of 44,000 such households in the state.

Prominently adding to the increasingly nasty tone in the political debate was one Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney. The former vice president's latest salvo warned that President Obama's anti-terror policies risk exposing the United States to a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack:
In his first interview since Obama's inauguration, with Politico Tuesday, Cheney was unapologetic about the bitter controversies surrounding his own influential role in president George W. Bush's "war on terror." Cheney said Obama would regret his commitment to closing down the Guantanamo Bay internment camp and ending harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects. "These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek."
The Cheney remark was rejoined by retired Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, who in a March 17 editorial for the Washington Note website wrote that "crazy people" in the United States -- those "fringe" individuals who jeered for violence at McCain/Palin rallies -- make Dick Cheney's fearmongering "dangerous." Wilkinson also called Cheney "evil" and said the former vice president knowingly kept innocent men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay:
"The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan duri ng the early stages of the U.S. operations there. Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation." "Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent," he wrote. "Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib).
Wilkerson went on to say that he is becoming increasingly concerned about the "fringe" individuals who attended the McCain/Palin election rallies during the 2008 campaign:
"I didn't like what I saw," he said. "It frightened me. I think people like Rush Limbaugh and now Dick Cheney, former vice president ... are doing some of that fearmongering too. "This is not good. There are some crazy people in this country. There are uni-bombers. There are Lee Harvey Oswalds. There are Sirhan Sirhans. These are the kind of people that listen to this fearmongering and it's dangerous. Someone's gotta start talking out about it."
Students of American presidential history will recall that early in his first term FDR faced a threat in the form of a planned right-wing coup, known as the Business Plot. According to a BBC documentary: "The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell House and George W. Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott), believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the Great Depression."

More recently, JFK faced a withering barrage of scorn from the right-wing press, as well as entrenched opposition from the military-industrial complex over his (mis)handling of Cold War hot spots like Cuba and Vietnam. On the morning of his assassination, a full-page ad ran in a Dallas newspaper charging the president with outright treason among a host of other serious offenses that amounted to betraying his country to foreign powers. Is that the irreversibly divisive direction this nation is headed?

The Secret Service reportedly have been kept busy monitoring potential threats among the unhinged, increasingly rabid contributions to right wing websites like The hatred is in the air, and it has little to do with a policy debate over the progressive direction of the new administration.

Of course you may have noticed that some of these "crazy, dangerous people" happen to be employed in the mainstream media. What other conclusion can one draw upon encountering today's cover of the juvenile-minded New York Post, featuring a photo of President Obama on the Jay Leno Show and the headline: NO JOKE! O Disses Special Olympics on Leno as Economy Burns. The term Selective Moral Outrage comes to mind, as it's likely no will remember a similar use of the tabloid's cover page to express indignation at the Decider-in-Chief's work ethic, with Bush spending about half of every year vacationing at his faux Crawford ranch ("Uh, Karl, we need two more tumbleweeds from Ranches R Us, and you better order a few logs for the Prez to split at the next photo op").

In addition, the bad headlines continue for the newspaper industry itself, as the recession exacerbates a decade-long trend of falling classified and advertising revenues. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, founded in 1863, has ceased operating as a newspaper and is now online only. The New York Daily News itself was just listed by Time magazine as one of 10 prominent papers in danger of vanishing. If that were to happen, even Michael Goodwin might be less concerned with carrying water for the super-rich, and perhaps more concerned about the swelling ranks of jobless Americans. Goodwin might even find himself thankful that because of the last economic stimulus bill, hard-hit states like New York and Michigan were able to modestly raise unemployment benefits by $25 per week. I'd also guess we all see class warfare differently depending upon which class we find ourselves in at the moment.


jimithegreek said...


Wardens World said...

Thanks for reading, as always. Let's give him a chance to sort through the mess Bush left us.