The “Tyranny of the Minority” is a lot more real than the opposite in the U.S.

54-46 means the 54 lose. Even casual sports fans get that there’s something wrong there. Anybody with basic math skills or possibly the entire population of 3 year olds who have casually watched Sesame Street would look at that and puzzle. Then you add in that the 54 represented the opinions of 90% of the country, and… they… lost! and it’s even more crazy making. But it goes further.  There’s an institutional problem here.

Yes, the drafters of the Constitution were very nobly interested in protecting the rights of minorities and that has been one of the things that made our democracy so great. It’s worked more in theory than in fact, but still, on paper (that paper called the Constitution) it’s still one of those things that Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, etc. got right. But the inability of a majority to actually rule has reached a ridiculous state. The Senate is in a state of dysfunction that makes the Lohan family took like the Brady’s.

Despite broad support from the American public, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey amendment to extend background checks died in the Senate, six ‘ayes’ short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. But party divisions were only one reason why the gun vote failed. More important was the institutional structure of the Senate itself, which by its very design (two senators per state) gives disproportionate representation and political power to small populations in large, rural states.


That map and Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog makes the case that the background check bill failed because “the Senate is wildly undemocratic.” The filibuster was not in the Constitution, it came about several decades later, but the idea of two senators per state,no matter how large or how small was part of the bicameral bargain hammered out over cheesesteaks in 1789. At that time Virginia, the most populous state was 12 times larger than Rhode Island, the smallest state. Today California is 66 times the size of Wyoming, but still have the same number of Senators! The Senate is 5 times less proportionate that it was at the founding.

Drill down into the numbers more and you have a mind boggling disproportionality of representation noted by Cohn and Kingsbury in the New Republic:

And the supporters’ majority was even bigger than it seems. If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.

And again, those are just the numbers representing representation. This doesn’t count that 46 Senators voted against something that majorities supported in their states. There is no poll that had ANY state underwater in backing the expanded background checks.  

So there’s the practical everyday question of how do we overcome the gun lobby and the cowardice of so-called “representatives” to vote scared. As Gabby Giffords noted in her NY Times op-ed. these 46 Senators ran away from what they perceived as danger rather than doing what heroes do, what great Americans have always done and run towards it for the benefit of our fellow citizens.  2014 has to be a year when the cowards, the NRA toadies, are shown the door and people more dedicated to the will of the people (on ALL issues) are elected. But what can we do to make our government more representative on the macro level given the evolving disproportionate nature of our government today?

Is it enough to get money out of politics?  Would all 100 senators from all 50 states vote their constituents’ interests then? Maybe. But factionalism and regional interests that were a huge issue in 1790 have only been exacerbated by time. If Virginia had been 66 times larger than Rhode Island at that time their representatives in Philadelphia would have been insane to agree to such an equalization of their rights as 2 senators each and reliance on the population driven House of Representatives.  How do we evolve our system to better represent us?

To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

What Charlie Pierce said – Which group of angry old white men will lead them?

Pierce is all about the latest nonsense to come from Tiger Beat on the Potomac (Politico) about how the Republican Party is going to be saved by, get this, Rand Paul (Aquabuddah-KY).  

(From Politico) Led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), libertarians hope to become a dominant wing of the GOP by tapping into a potent mix of war weariness, economic anxiety and frustration with federal overreach in the fifth year of Barack Obama’s presidency
There’s the usual fol-de-rol about how Ron Paul was too crazy old manish, but his progeny is going to make libertarianism more palatable, essentially by abandoning it in practice, but talking it up in empty rhetoric. 

Rand Paul is aggressively trying to pass that test and unite the various factions. He’s taken a series of steps to distance himself from his father’s most unpalatable positions, from articulating a more nuanced position on the drug war to taking a harder-line on national security and more vocally professing his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Pierce, as usual pierces this veil of crap:

Hey, Crazy Uncle Liberty (!). The reason he delivers the message differently is that it’s…not…the…same…message. It’s a new age attempt to keep another generation of dissatisfied white men in the Republican coalition without sounding like somebody who saw Jesus in the Wheatena this morning. (He sells the snake oil more smoothly than you did, and that’s a fact.)  In this context, “libertarianism” is a marketing device, a way to keep young bond traders comfortable within a party whose base is still snake-handlers and still stock-piling arms against the inevitable Kenyan Muslim gun-grab…

So, they’re basically Tea Party types who’d (pragmatically) still allow the government to bust you for selling an ounce of weed but not for selling millions of dollars in trash derivatives. Got it.

It is an odd sort of libertarianism that believes government has a right to poke around in a woman’s lady parts, but a businessman can decide not to cater to or hire minorities. The weird waters Sen. Aquabuddah swims in aren’t just inconsistency they’re intellectually bereft of any thing to anchor to and that’s what makes him the ideal Republican today. 
I’ve been looking for the schism that could finally rent the GOP in twain and there are many. The most popular implosion theory is that the party does slowly, quietly, shhhh, (whispering) drop portions of the radical Christianist agenda like their adamantine opposition to gay marriage and maybe even personhood laws. Then the Gary Bauer brigade would then take their ball home and create a third party.
But the angry old white Christianists, for all their rhetoric are, by their nature, followers. Unless some charismatic messianic leader arises to lead them out of the GOP to a third party, I don’t see it. The Christianists may be disaffected, but they won’t abandon presidential politics. Some may bury themselves in local and state politics and hope they can push a new confederacy of southern and midwestern states that choose Christianity over democracy.
But I see in the ambitious toe dipping in the 2016 waters by Sen. Paul the potential of the libertarian wing of angry old white men to make a more serious run than his father ever did. He will fail to get the nomination because he would be a worse disaster for the GOP’s prospects than 10 Williard Romneys mated with 10 Rick Santorum’s (now that’s a disaster movie for SyFi – the Attack of the Romtorum!), and that would pull the libertarian tea party wing into a showdown with the establishment. The libertarian angry old white men will absolutely go off into the woods to bang drums, shoot guns and vow eternal enmity to the GOP. They would form a third party in a second splitting off a good third or more of the GOP.

The System Isn’t Broken the GOP Is

Jonathan Bernstein in Salon explores some recent ruminations (especially election law expert Rick Hasan’s) on fixing our ridiculously gridlocked system but asserts that it’s not the system that is broken, the GOP is.

Hasan notes that our constitutional system was set up so it was difficult to pass legislation unless there was consensus, yes. And yet we always got things done, albeit usually in a way that was too late or too compromised to be real justice or effective government. Bernstein argues that the insane stasis we live under today isn’t really about the system, even the abuse of the filibuster, but rather the dysfunctional Republican Party and their perverse adoption of a confrontational style of discourse that comes with the conservative marketplace – the industry that includes talk radio, Fox News, fund raising, book sales – that actually incentivizes bomb throwing over compromise.

 Simply put, a large portion of the party, including the GOP-aligned partisan press and even many politicians, profit from having Democrats in office. Typically, democracies “work” in part because political parties have strong incentives to hold office, which causes them once they win to try hard to enact public policy that keeps people satisfied with their government. That appears to be undermined for today’s Republicans.

Except that while in the past such extremism was unsustainable, through gerrymandering and a constant propaganda drum beat the GOP has profited from behavior that should have had them rooted from power.  

What Bernstein and others do not take into account is that 30 years of such propaganda has created an entire generation of politicians, pundits and conservative voters that have been indoctrinated in lies and are immune to facts. So yeah, they should be out of power, throwing bombs, being a pain in the ass to the Democrats trying to govern. But they’re not out of power on the sidelines, they’re in power in Congress, in the courts, in state houses, acting out as if they were on the sidelines with no responsibility for governing.

From the GOP primary voter to the Speaker of the House they exhibit:

  • An aversion to normal bargaining and compromise

  • An inability to banish fringe people and views from the mainstream of the party

  • An almost comical lack of interest in substantive policy formation

  • A willingness to ignore established norms and play “Constitutional hardball”

  • A belief that when out of office, the best play is always all-out obstruction

Without a third party for rational traditional conservatives to go to, the present GOP is hell bent on shutting down governing. I don’t know how they will survive. The question is whether they can be stopped before we all go over the cliff together. 

Fast and Furious and Benghazi, the sequester and the various fiscal cliff fights, they all point to a party that is all about the outrage that used to just be the bailiwick of talk radio:

Republican politicians who believed that the job of a member of Congress is to be outraged, and once they’ve done that, they can pretty much go home.

I agree with Bernstein to the extent that our constitutional system is probably not as much to blame as some think. But our political system has been waylayed by the dysfunctional GOP. One of two things should have happened by now (or should happen soon):

1. The GOP moderates based on their failures in 2006, 2008 and 2012; or

2. The GOP is sent packing because of their failure to moderate and disdain of actual governing.

But what actually happened is they did not moderate after 2006 and 2008 and were rewarded for it in 2010. They got spanked again in 2012, but show every sign of having a short term memory problem that forgets everything except 2010. If they do not get spanked again in 2014…

Is the Background Check Issue a Firewall for Dem Activists?

Once again we reach a point where red state Dems run in fear from an issue and the rest of us have to weigh how much pressure can we put on them, how much leniency can we show them? Harry Reid busted the assault weapons ban out of the gun control bill simply because Begich, Pryor, Heitkamp, etc. do not want to go on record on that issue. Hell, neither does Reid himself. And yeah it’s cowardly, but it’s realistic too. Yada yada yada. The fear of the NRA may be irrational, but that fear may be harder to beat than the NRA itself.

Okay, so assault weapons ban, toss it.  I can see that, sure. I understand. I want to understand. I want to keep Dems in the majority in the Senate, I want the House back! I get it that the NRA is super scary because gun nuts are just that: nuts, and are single mindedest of single issue voters. They’re easy to bs and motivate, and no one wants them out in the streets with torches and AR-15s (in lieu of pitchforks). 

But there’s a whole array of measures on the table that should be voted on, and while the assault weapons ban might be a bridge too far, the low hanging fruit should be universal background checks. I think I’m in agreement with Democratic activists who believe that if you can’t support universal background checks what good are you? Draw the line there. 

(Although, I see the GOP as being in complete disconnect from the people and pretty much useless as a party. Further, anybody who joins it, at this point, disqualifies themselves from being fit for public service. So I’m not that worried about whatever crop of idiots they’ll put up in 2014 or 2016. So there’s that too. Hard to know how brave to be. It is up to each candidate to make that calculation. But complete cowardice and being a Republican in Democratic clothing is  not cool.)

GOP Ignoring Election and Polls – Part Infinity

Last week I mentioned that the GOP (hell, everybody!) considered the 2012 election a referendum, but then just ignored the results. Polls continue to show the people support ideas coming from the Democrats and the White House, not the GOP, but the party leaders and  politicos are continuing their Borg-like pursuit of whatever the hell they want to.

Gun control?  Majorities of the population, even NRA members! approve of an assault weapons ban, limitations on clip capacity, trafficking controls and universal background checks (92%!). We’ll be lucky if we get the background checks through a recalcitrant GOP-led Congress.

Social Issues? The country is running away from the religious right stance against choice and equality. Not the GOP, they run at it. But it’s not noble like firemen running towards danger when we all run away, no. This is a lack of ability to change or evolve unless of course their son comes out to them and then they will agonize about it and (maybe) slough off a thousand years of prejudice for what should have always been in a democracy that was founded on “all men are created equal.”


A total of 77 percent of respondents said they’d support infrastructure projects to put Americans to work and 75 percent would support a “federal job creation law” that would do the same for a million people.

Anticipating criticism of the poll, Gallup asked the same question again, pointing out that each initiative would “spend government money.” With that addition, support fell slightly, to 72 percent.

Over and over and over again, people are way smarter than the Beltway Bloviator Class and their GOP opinion leaders that constantly keep leading us rightward, while logic, science, reality and the people go leftward. You know what, screw that, it’s not “leftward”.  It’s not “left” or “right” it’s what works versus what does not friggin’ work at all. It’s what’s proven, been there, done that got screwed versus what worked before and would work again if the people in power would allow it to happen.

It’s so tiresome to have the people constantly show in polls and elections that they think one thing and their leaders believe that they’re just joking they really don’t think that. I hear it in the gun debate. Despite polls, it’s just smart politics to kill an assault weapons ban because the 4,000,000 members of the NRA will overwhelm the other 306 million of us and hand the Senate to the GOP.

From Digby:

It turns out that roughly the same number of Americans describe themselves as conservatives as they did in the 1970s, while the number of politicians describing themselves that way has skyrocketed. And yet Democrats, even as they win elections and hold massive amounts of power in the government are still on the run, following these GOP politicians as they race ever further to the right.

From Sal Gentile of the UP Blog:

There are a number of possible explanations for this disconnect. For one, politicians are much more beholden to the donor class that funds their campaigns than they are to their actual constituents, and as political scientists have found, the priorities of the wealthy are vastly different from the priorities of the public at large. Another possible explanation is that voters are generally bad at expressing policy preferences in the abstract. They’re much more accurate — and, generally, more liberal — about their own views when answering specific questions about discrete policies, like whether we should raise taxes on the wealthy.

A.P.: “Republican Losses Obscure US Drift To Right” – We didn’t “drift” we were pushed!

The National Memo printed this state of the state of politics piece from the A.P. this morning that lays out that, despite public opinion and the GOP losing the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, the country has moved rightward politically.  

Conservative efforts have pushed the government rightward on taxes, spending and other policies, despite losses on some social fronts. One might say Republicans keep losing battles but winning wars.

But they don’t have the courage to say why and how that happened. We didn’t just “drift” rightward as if by a zephyr that just came along, an act of God, no explanation necessary. Just the contrary.  After the Goldwater debacle of 1964 wealthy right wing activists organized and developed a nearly 50 year long effort to PUSH politics and the judiciary to accept and adopt a pro-business, anti-regulatory, anti-tax, anti-worker agenda.  Their adherents in private talked mostly economic issues, but in public used cultural issues to hoodwink middle class and working class people (Nixon’s Silent Majority, the Christian Coalition) to vote for politicians who talk a big culture warrior game but under the radar were moving the country further and further towards policies favoring the rich.  The surface culture wars were mostly a failure, but they succeeded spectacularly in driving the Overton Window to the right on economic issues while devastating the middle classes. (See “Nixonland” by Rick Perlstein).

We continue on an inexorable leftward push culturally towards more freedom, justice and equality, to the chagrin of the ultimately flaccid religious-right culture warriors. The only real exception over the last 30 years was in the debate on guns, which has recently taken a severe turn leftward and may well mark the end of the NRA’s 30 year reign of terror over politicians.  Also, abortion rights have been gnawed away at representing the only real “victories” the religious right can claim – to have made it harder for women in some states to actually get an abortion. That struggle continues, but I suspect the growing political activism of young women will mark a liberal political turnaround in that battle as well in the coming years.

It is ironic that the East-coast, Wall Street economic elitist segment of the GOP and the western  libertarian Goldwater wing needed the religious right typified by old Christian Coalition in order to get Ronald Reagan and the Bushes elected and implement their economic policies. The Wall Streeters and libertarians don’t, for the most part, share the cultural conservatism and religiosity of the Pat Robertsons.  And ultimately, the anti-gay, anti-choice, pro prayer in schools people have seen their power to pontificate and move elections erode except in the reddest of red states.  Without the veil of God, guns and gays the plutocrats are naked and have trouble selling their agenda. 

But for 40 years on economic issues, neo-liberalism, which is a misnomer that represents a very conservative, plutocratic approach to finance, was very successfully insinuated into every economic debate and pushed the country very much rightward by this coalition on the right. This has been a very deliberate and planned effort by “movement conservatives” funded by very familiar names in ultra conservative and libertarian aristocratic circles.  Millionaires and billionaires like the Walton Family, the Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Bradleys, Coors, etc. were recruited and organized into a concerted effort to push policies, especially in the areas of taxation and regulation, more amenable to wealthy plutocrats. Not just here in America, but through the IMF and the World Fund to spread the libertarian theories developed by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, to the rest of the world.  (Please see “The Shock Doctrine, the Rise of Disaster Capitalism” by Naomi Klein) This is how a lobbyist like Grover Norquist can become one of the most influential people in D.C., even though until recently most Americans had never heard his name. Now almost everybody with an ear towards American politics is familiar with his no-tax pledge that was signed by almost every Republican elected in the last 10 years, and more than a few Democrats. 

GOP leaders and tea party activists routinely describe Americans as overtaxed. By historical standards, at least, it’s a questionable claim. In 1981, the top marginal income tax rate was 70 percent. Today it is 39.6 percent.

Federal tax revenues exceeded 20 percent of the gross domestic product in 2000. Under Obama, they have not exceeded 15.8 percent a year.

They quietly developed a long term strategy to overcome the democratic inclinations of the country and reverse the New Deal, the Great Society, and all liberal influences on governing. Think tanks were funded, newspapers and radio stations were purchased, colleges and universities were endowed.

  • Over time conservatives took over AM talk radio.  
  • The American Legislative Exchange is developed to push legislation (and legislators) at the state level, developing conservative ideas and politicians.
  • The Federalist Society indoctrinates young lawyers with conservative legal principals in order to get these young activists on the bench and over time, one judicial activist at a time, they developed the very conservative courts we have today, including the Supreme Court, that never finds in favor of individuals or unions over businesses, ever.

This effort was not counterbalanced by any similar effort on the left, on the contrary, the left seemed to become a moribund force in American politics after Watergate. The activists of the 60s seemingly declared victory and went home after Watergate, the end of the Vietnam war and the women’s liberation movement. As if to say, we have bell bottoms, what more could we want? In my opinion the left sat back and took it and did not fight back in any coherent fashion until the outrages of the Bush administration reawakened them and the candidacy of Howard Dean gave them voice.

Just look at the fact that Richard M. Nixon, a bona fide conservative in 1968, proposed a more liberal agenda than Al Gore or Bill Clinton did in the 90s and 00s.  It seems almost mind blowing that a conservative Republican created the EPA, signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, was a gun control proponent and had a plan for universal health care that would make the Tea Party scream “Communism!” Obamacare itself was based on proposals by conservative think tanks like Heritage.

But that’s just the point, these shadowy conservative forces have moved the Republican Party way off the map rightward and in its wake pulled the Democrats as well towards a more centrist stance. 

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz says the Democratic Party has become “essentially a centrist party, and has remained so despite losing its right wing since the 1960s as a result of the realignment of the South.” Meanwhile, he said, the GOP “has moved rather dramatically to the right since the ’60s.” The political middle ground, he said, “has also shifted well to the right of where it was 30 or 40 years ago on most issues.”

So something like an EPA today would be unthinkable from the Republicans and pretty much dead on arrival from the Democrats. Very much like climate control legislation – cap and trade. The GOP has adopted skepticism on science that would boggle the minds of the enlightened Republicans of the 60s, and in so doing have dragged Blue Dog Democrats by their tails back into the muck with them, leaving progressives alone on the field proposing ideas that would have been universally accepted 40 years ago as practical, scientifically sound, marketbased solutions!

Obamacare is perfectly illustrative of how now, 40+ years into the plan, 30+ years into the indoctrination of conservatives of the evils of Democrats and liberals, the thinkers that began movement conservativism have, like Frankenstein, lost control of their monster. So Heritage comes up with a market-based way to cover more people with health care (something even republicans once cared about) and Republicans push that idea in the 90s as a conservative alternative to the universal healthcare that they dread is coming. But when Democrats adopt such ideas as Hilarycare in 1993 or Obamacare in 2008, instead of declaring ideological victory, these plans are attacked mercilessly because (1) can’t allow a victory for a Democrat, and (2)  the true believers on the ground, the Rush Limbaugh/Fox News audience that has swallowed Democratic demonization for decades, impulsively declares these conservative ideas “socialism” because they came from Democrats. The GOP wizards behind the curtain find they can no longer control the mob mentality against their own ideas, so out of self-preservation even they have to turn and, laughably, denounce ideas they previously proposed.

So now you have a GOP that has an ever diminishing quiver of ideas that they can take out and speechify about.  They can talk about their goals of small government and low taxes, but cannot come up with actual governing philosophies that people actually like.  Taxes are already as low as they’ve ever been and the average American believes that in the face of growing inequality and a struggling economy taxes should be raised on the wealthy and we should spend more on jobs and the middle class.

The “thinkers” of the past generation that developed the plan are now passing into irrelevancy and the party has been taken over by the “feelers” who internalized the now 40 years of propaganda, 30 years on radio, almost 20 years on TV. You have a generation that bought into the lies told for political purposes that were created as a “a beard” to mask the real agenda of pro-plutocrat policies.  They are outraged, but their outrage is incoherent and aimed at the people who are actually on their side like Occupy Wall Street or President Obama. They have lost credibility but like a zombie army fighting only on muscle memory of what motivated them when they lived, they swing wildly not recognizing how ineffective they are.  They are the Tea Party and they have taken over the asylum.  

The conservative master plan hatched after the Goldwater landslide is now on life support as the left finally fights back with both hands.  The problem is the conservative judiciary, like a sleeper cell, is still there, typified by an evermore out-of-step Antonin Scalia, making the left’s battle back to a more equitable society just that much more more difficult.


The People Who Are Killing Capitalism are the Capitalists

LOLGOP in The National Memo provides a great post-mortum on ex-Massachusetts somebody Scott Brown. He was called the first victory by the Tea Party. What nobody in the mainstream press said after his election was that he was instantly the most endangered politician of 2012 – a Republican in bright blue MA, that won the seat in an off-year special election against a terrible, terrible candidate in Martha Coakley in a state that had not elected a female to statewide office ever!!!

That Elizabeth Warren’s election in 2012 fixed both Massachusetts’ sexist record and Scott Brown’s wagon is the positive fallout of the 2010 debacle.  The negative is that upon going to D.C. Scott Brown went immediately to work gathering bigtime Wall Street money and derailing any appropriate accountability and re-regulation of the entities that brought our economy to its knees. 

Cynically, the Tea Party and the GOP, in the name of protecting jobs, went to work to water down Dodd Frank & the Volcker Rule, and making sure the Justice Dept. would never seriously pursue indictments against big names that might actually make millionaires and billionaires gasp and rethink their rapaciousness.  This is how you know that they were never a real grass-roots populist movement – their entire raison d’etre was to make sure the people raping the middle class could do so with impunity, even provide them economic viagra if they asked for it.   

That means Scott Brown let Wall Street write its own “reforms.” That’s what the Tea Party won.

The people who scream the loudest about the POTUS being a socialist and Democrats being anti-business are the ones who either perpetuate, or excuse the abuses of the system that create the vast inequality that will one day bring the entire system down, but in the meantime tilt the playing field so far in one direction that average everyday people have no faith in it and are discouraged from participating. They rationalize the funneling of money from the working class to the top 1% every day of their lives with simple propaganda that excuses tax cuts for “job creators”, tax havens for big business, tax credits for offshoring and other behaviors that hurt the American economy, 401(k)s instead of pensions, tax giveaways on the federal and state level, legal overcharging of customers by utilities who provide below world standard services, the relentless attack on organized labor and consumers. 

Scott Brown, the Tea Party, the GOP all aide and abet the system that makes life less secure for the average American. The system that constantly moves the risk from big business to the consumers and tax payers.  That socializes the risk but privatizes the profits. David Cay Johnston in “The Fine Print” warns that “Policies that create profits by working against the national economy need to be replaced yesterday.”  But it’s hard to replace them when Americans are ignorant of them and thus powerless against them. Johnston cuts to the point when he notes that we shouldn’t ask for “free markets,” instead we should be crying out for “competitive markets.”

If you are a 99% American you are probably paying more than you should pay in state, federal and local taxes as well as fees for the everyday services (oil, natural gas, electric, water, gasoline, telephone, cable and internet) that you need to succeed in our economy. Your health care is not as good and way more expensive. Your education can leave you with a mortgage around your neck but without a house to go with it. And it simply doesn’t have to be this way.  This situation exists by the concerted efforts of lobbyists and politicians to make it this way.