His hypothesis is that the rush to the extremes by the two traditional parties, a kind of yellow dog mania, has paralyzed the process, which is bad, by marginalizing the majority centrists, which is absurd.
The undesirable side effect of this is to close the big tent of the political parties, which have been most important port of entry into political activism for the moderate, ambivalent centrists. Most of us.
If the parties still had the power to slate, fund, and elect, it would be worth the considerable effort it would take for the centrists to retake control of that crucial part of the apparatus.
When the parties' game was worth the candle, the yellow dogs and the ideological true believers were part of the mix, but they were not in charge. Friedman's hypothesis that the majority are neither of the above and will take control when the parties are truly representative was mostly proved to be true.
The unintended consequences of the Watergate reforms diverted the money flow and spawned an era of self-slating and funding entrepreneurial candidates. This reduced the power of the parties enough to discourage the centrists' effort to go to the trouble of herding and leading this diverse, fractious collection and led to the extremists' takeover of a weakened apparatus.
From that development dates the outsourcing to mercenaries' wedge politics, the rise of the radical true believers, the hardening of the political arteries, the disdain of what used to be a respected and respectable artform: compromise.
If the restoration of the parties' traditional powers isn't the answer to what Friedman views with alarm, then one must be invented so there is a way for the centrists to get back in the game and back in charge.
Or do we really like government by the extremist on the Middle East model?
If Shakespeare had witnessed the prolonged attempt to deal with the multiple health care crises in this country, he might have dubbed it The Comedy of Errors except, while it has been characterized by a long series of pratfalls, it hasn’t been all that funny.
Let’s start with the Republicans.
What we expect when we put the Republicans in power is not that they will dismantle the government, but that they will make the government work better. The Republicans are fixers. They certainly must have noticed in 2000 that the health care system was both inefficient, costing way too much, and not delivering results commensurate with the prices being charged.
When Tommy was secretary of the department that would have done this, he was rebuffed in one notable attempt to do what Republicans do by his boss, the president, and who seemed at the time to be the president’s boss, Karl Rove.
Rove seemed to be concentrating on over-representing the ideological base which only cares about banning abortion, carrying concealed weapons, and making sure marriage is available only to heterosexuals. All other subjects are secondary, 47 games out of first, including what the health care system is doing to our ability to compete in a flat world.
When the Democrats proposed to do what the Republicans had neglected to do, the Republicans trashed their proposals with inside-the-beltway arguments that resonate only with hardcore partisans who think everyone understands and is outraged by voting procedures. They aren’t.
The Republicans blew it.
The Democrats botched their opportunity as well.
They framed their health care proposals in ways that made people think it was mostly about welfare for the uninsured instead of about creating an economically competitive system that delivered care evenhandedly and efficiently without burdening businesses that are trying to compete internationally.
Didn’t anybody remember the Kennedy tax cut, the Nixon visit to China, the political efficacy of surprise? Business was there for the taking. Instead the Democrats chose to demonize the insurance industry and ignore anyone else who employs people.
Then they validated Mark Twain’s dictum, “I’m not a member of an organized party; I’m a Democrat,” by turning their backs on a popular president and indicating that maybe they can’t run a two-car funeral afterall unless they have a strong-armed Lyndon Johnson-like leader to bully their legislative majorities.
As bad as the pols were, the biggest stumble of all was taken by the befuddled leaders of the business community. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce decided to refight the war they raged against Harry Truman 60 years ago when they joined forces with the American Medical Association to protect us all from the “socialized medicine” that is beating the socks off U.S. exporters who are saddled with high cost, competitiveness-killing employee health care expenses.
In those 60 years business leaders have given up political action to giving money via political action committees and to putting really big money into lobbying. They have outsourced politics to mercenaries whose mantra is attack politics and big spending on TV.
A friend recently accused me of “class envy” when I referred him to an Alternet article titled “Why Are We Afraid to Tax the Super-Rich?” He also said that by embracing tax fairness I was guilty of subscribing to the notion that “big, powerful government will solve all our problems.”
Perhaps you have friends like this, too. The following is what I told him.
Dylan Radigan, of MSNBC, and many others have described our current financial crisis as massive, systemic fraud by Wall Street that continues because there are no adequate government regulations to deal with the problems that caused the financial meltdown. People like Warren Buffet, George Soros, Bill Gates and Paul Volker agree that the financial system incentivized fraudulent activity and continues to do so with support of short-term profit at the expense of the of the long-term interests of both the de-frauders and the rest of us. We are at serious risk of a much greater catastrophe unless smart and prudent legislation by the federal government is put into place soon. The reason this hasn't happened is because the large financial institutions, with huge lobbying efforts, go to great lengths to prevent effective regulation, and a small core of voters can always be counted upon to use terms like “class envy” and “big government” to confuse the issue and bog down the real debate.
Here’s a term for you: "Regulatory Capture.” It means that interest groups such as Wall Street banks, payday loan sharks and other political participants use the regulatory and coercive powers of government not just to avoid regulation but to shape laws and regulations beneficial to them. In other words, the government power of regulation that is supposed to protect all of us is captured by special interests and turned back against the interests of the general good. This has intensified over the last 30 years to the extent that our nation and our world are at tremendous risk.
Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, said recently on 60 Minutes that the financial meltdown was created by a mass delusion that seemed to affect smart, wealthy people even more than everyone else. Lewis said, "Wall Street's finest minds managed to destroy $1.75 trillion of wealth in the subprime mortgage markets."
The occasional column that Sally Quinn (Ben Bradlee’s wife) wrote for the Washington Post was mostly about politicians socializing after hours.
The column has been discontinued.
Politicians don’t do that anymore. This is due in part because most of them are commuters who go back to the state or district on weekends and probably spend whatever remains of their leisure time dialing for campaign dollars.
What has really happened though is that camaraderie has disappeared.
The days when the adversaries fought in public and socialized in private ended when adversaries became enemies, and what I have described as the “Arena Effect” no longer existed in politics the way it used to and still does in sports. The effect is based on the respect and empathy the participants in contests have for the effort they have gone through to get into the game.
They may have different philosophies, goals, objectives, but they could disagree without being disagreeable.
The decline of civility and sociability can be traced in Wisconsin to the time when two of the state’s most accomplished and smartest legislative leaders were ascendant.
Chuck Chvala was Senate Majority Leader and Scott Jensen was the reigning Speaker of the Assembly.
They preached and practiced a kind of disassociation.
Early in their ruling tenures a freshman representative and his fellow neophytes from both parties convened regular breakfasts with cabinet members and leaders of the administration to learn more about the way this government worked.
When he learned of this, Jensen told his members not to participate. Chvala did not object.
The theory, if there was one, seemed to be that it’s better not to get to know, or to be friendly with the people on the other side. This might somehow weaken your resolve to enact your agenda. From the outside though it looked less like agenda advancement than a pursuit of advantage pure and simple.
The collateral damage was that compromise which at one time was regarded as the real art of politics became a dirty word. Worse yet, the law of unintended (at least I hope it was unintended) consequences took hold, and disassociation became demonization.
It is hardly surprising that the rise of the “my way or no way” ideologues, the immutability of the status quo, a “when the solution is proposed, the problem goes away, and the solution becomes the problem” world where true believers, extremists, and yellow dogs prevail, became the political norm.
In a remarkable 1908 book titled The Process of Government, Arthur Bentley declared that there is no general interest, that politics is about special interests. Maybe it is. But the interests he saw at work clearly were not the kind of tribal Hatfield v. McCoy interests that are bringing our democracy to a screeching halt.
March 12, 2010 Help FightingBob.com keep fighting By Ms. Forward
I am quite accustomed to fielding requests for financial support from organizations, causes, candidates, websites, radio stations and so on, but not from Fighting Bob. I have always appreciated that my reward for so assiduously reading the contents of the site is not to have to wade through tons of fundraising appeals. So when the people at Fighting Bob tell me they need money I believe them. And Ms. Forward says we give it to them.
It seems that this recession that has cost so much to so many (except bankers), has also cost Fighting Bob. Foundations and individuals who would have otherwise given have not. So the rest of us who can give have to pick up the slack.
Unemployment has tripled, and many people who have not lost their jobs have seen their wages decrease and/or their workloads increase. FightingBob.com speaks for them (you), and always has, since its founding in February 2003. But not all of us are unemployed. Those of us who can afford it need to step up now and help this website and the Fest it bolsters continue to thrive.
March 11, 2010 Granny D, in her own words By Karen Rybold-Chin
Tributes to Doris "Granny D" Haddock are pouring in all over the internet, and rightfully so. Her walk across the the United States to raise awareness of the scourge of money in politics and the need for campaign finance reform did just that--raise awareness. It also inspired many of us to become more involved and more committed.
Granny D was a fixture at Fighting Bob Fest, appearing in spirit even when she wasn't speaking in person. In 2005, the People's Legislature brought Granny D to Wisconsin. It happened at the Capitol, and here is what she said:
Politicians state over and over that we are a nation at war. I hate this mindless refrain.
We are not at war. We are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan for no rational reason. Most acknowledge that we have no discernable way of knowing when we have won "the wars." We have been fighting the so-called War on Global Terror since the twin towers were attacked by 19 criminal individuals from Saudi Arabia on 9/11/2001. These criminals represented no nation state and should have been hunted down just as we hunted down Tim Mcveigh and his accomplices for the criminal act of bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Our national paranoia has fueled a state of perpetual war that has never been rationally defined. It allows the U.S., with assistance from the Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex to permanently suspend our civil liberties and exist in a perpetual state of military emergency. Military expenditures related to the "wars" are not part of the regular budget, but are handled as a supplementary items that have a blank check quality about them with no concern of paying for the expenditures. This operational status quo allows us to wander around the globe with our war making machine finely tuned to attack anyone anywhere for whatever reason the President deems necessary. There is never a "declaration of war" by Congress with appropriate debate.
Anyone who seriously questions our policy is deemed unpatriotic. Since 9/11, there has been an increasing trend to privatize our military which leads to an increasing condition with less oversight of our military adventures. Private contractors such as Blackwater operate as secretly as the CIA resulting in crimes by thugs that have no oversight.
President Obama provided a hope for change in this madness, but it is clear that he is captive to our world view of Empire. When the Romans found themselves in this position, most of them chose to just kick up their feet and enjoy it. Then it ended. And so will ours.
March 7, 2010 Be more like NRA By Bill Kraus
This should be the reformers year. At long last large numbers of people seem to be noticing that our legislatures do not seem to be working. They also seem to be coalescing and organizing to let it be known that some of them do not like what legislators are doing, more of them don’t like what the legislators are not doing, and all of them have noticed and really don’t like the fact that the legislators are not listening to them.
This latter has been the reformers lament ever since I got into this Sisyphean business 20 years ago. Reform measures are somewhere around 13th place on almost everyone’s priority list. Reformers are not marching on capitols. Reformers are mostly old lefties. Nice. Well intended. Hardly threatening.
Reformers want to be is as threatening as, say, the National Rifle Association. They aren’t.
Until this year.
Except the latter-day protesters who have noticed that the people who are representing them are a lot more interested in preserving the status quo, in paying attention to people and organizations who will raise and contribute the money they need to be re-elected to the jobs that they want to career out in, and, worse yet, that the people who represent them in most cases have picked them as constituents instead of vice versa.
The system is not working as the reformers have been telling them for all of my time in the reform business.
So why don’t the newly alerted and aware protesters simply join forces with the reformers, adopt the reform agendas, get the attention and action they deserve and want?
Why isn’t Common Cause more like the NRA?
Because the reformers operate in the ethereal precincts of policy not politics.
Step on the toes of the NRA and your mailbox fills up and your contributions box doesn’t.
So the rascals' movement is looking for more than the reform organizations offer.
Putting the tea parties aside for the moment, the recent action against the system and its incumbents comes in two main forms.
One is mostly positive. The Wisconsin Way coalition of diverse interest groups in Wisconsin that Jim Wood collected proposed changes in the way taxes are collected and spent. They want the legislators to quit posing for holy pictures and do something.
What Ed Koch, the 85-year-old former mayor of New York City, had in mind for the collection of interests he is putting together was a place for the “throw the rascals out” advocates to gather and target the miscreants in Albany.
Surely California’s discontent will breed variations on both of these change-agent ideas.
What occurs to me is that this might be the year that the long standing, long suffering reform groups finally get some respect. But only if they step up ther firepower.
The Common Causes, Leagues of Women Voters, Wisconsin Democracy Campaigns, and all their clones are reform and change agents who have members and programs which the protesters have got to love: dispassionate redistricting, election reform, contributor disclosure, even such ideas as term limits, part-time legislators are not off the table.
None of the newly awakened are going to ally with either party. They want bi-partisan action.
Why reinvent the wheel? Why not make the reformers as scary as the shooters already are?
"Is this a private fight, or can anyone join?" -Old Irish saying