Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Tea Party Is Still Winning

by Leslie S. Lebl

Like many, I've been reading all about the decline of the Tea Party, its relative invisibility in the Republican nominating process, and the widespread dissatisfaction with Republican members of Congress, many of whom were swept into office by the Tea Party. However, I'd like to add my two bits to the discussion before we hold a public funeral for the movement. 

Of course the Tea Party is quiet: none of the candidates really speak to them. It's discouraging, but on the other hand, look at it this way:

-- which Republican nominee would speak in favor of retaining Obamacare?

-- which Republican nominee is prepared to say that the federal debt isn't important?

You got it - none of them. That's because the Tea Party has succeeded in highlighting problems that can no longer be swept under the rug. Look what happened when Gingrich denigrated Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which contains the first public commitment to reform Medicare (and which was passed by the Republican House of Representatives). He had to eat crow.

What I find really interesting is that so many people (among them, I assume, many Tea Partiers) are focusing on electability. That's a bitter lesson learned in 2010, and it's clear people don't want to repeat the mistakes made then, especially with regard to key Senate races. That, folks, is real progress.

As for the low favorability numbers of Republicans in Congress: who would ever expect the guy trying to stop the spending to become popular? Look at Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin: he's facing a recall vote even though he saved lots of union jobs. The real lesson Tea Partiers have learned is that House Republicans can't make much headway resisting every bill raising the debt ceiling. While I suspect many people are disappointed, I'm confident that the majority understand that what's needed is systemic entitlement reform, which can't be done by only one House of Congress.

My prediction: as the Republican nominating process advances, watch the frontrunners come under pressure to formulate policies attractive to the Tea Party, hopefully framed in ways that attract support from Independents. The Tea Party may not have its nominee, but it will try to shape the platform of the party and persuade the nominee to espouse its positions. And it will have logic on its side. With U.S. obligations downgraded and our debt now equal to our GDP, it's pretty hard to argue that the level of government spending isn't a problem.

Only if the Tea Party fails to do this will I agree that it is a spent political force.
A retired Foreign Service Officer, Leslie S. Lebl is a writer, consultant and lecturer. In the Foreign Service, Ms. Lebl served as Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels. Prior to that, she was Political Advisor to the Commander of Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, first in the American sector in Tuzla and then at SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo. Other assignments included Russia, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, Bolivia, Germany and Poland, as well as a year as diplomat-in-residence at Yale University. She speaks French, German, Russian, Polish and Spanish. She is currently at work on a book about radical Islam and the European Union.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Variation on "I'm Right, You're Evil."

by Libby Sternberg

Civil policy discussions should be based on this simple premise, regardless of one's point of view:

I'm right, and you're wrong.

That starting point means both parties respect each other, but they believe they have information and analyses that bolster their point of view...that their adversaries have not seen or, perhaps, understood in the same way.

That's the ideal, but we all know that it's hard to achieve. It's so tempting, at times, to suggest your debating adversary is not just wrong, but wrong because he or she is stupid (see Newsweek's latest cover) or....evil.

This "evil adversary" meme has taken a particularly distasteful turn ever since Barack Obama was elected president. In the past three years, those who disagree with the president have regularly been called racists. The incidents are so numerous, I won't bother to link to examples. Anyone who shares the center-right or conservative worldview can probably offer up dozens without much effort.

Now we have the latest entry in this narrative--a New York Times opinion piece by Lee Siegel describing Mitt Romney as the "whitest white man" to run for president in living memory.

After reading Siegel's piece, I knew precisely what he was up to--he's "telegraphing" to Times readers, otherwise unwilling to call their ideological opponents "evil," that they can be comfortable with labeling the president's adversaries as closet racists, and they should feel free to pour their ideological sympathy on those backward folks even while sadly recognizing the roots of their opposition. This point was made brilliantly in this New Republic rebuttal by John McWhorter.  Here's a McWhorter snippet:
" Wonder-fully white Romney 'signaling' that he is 'not black'? There’s no case for that in any meaningful sense, other than to allow Siegel to flatter himself and his readers as sophisticated enough to be immune to the racism that is still 'out there.'”
Despite gussying up his argument with supposedly thoughtful ponderings on how someone like Romney "telegraphs" to those dumb conservatives that he is not going to scare them like that dark-skinned fellow now occupying the Oval Office, Siegel is just doing some old-fashioned grade school name-calling. He should have skipped the philosophical posing and merely written "Your mother wears Army boots, you conservative hicks who oppose Obama."

Like my fellow travelers, I've listened to this trope for three years now. It's the same old "I'm right, you're evil" line used for centuries by cowardly debaters. "I'm right, you're racist" is but a variation on that theme.

Rep. Allen West, himself an African-American Republican, has also weighed in, not specifically on the Siegel piece, but with a plea for the president and his handlers and supporters not to use unfounded racist claims in the coming election. Here's a link to his piece, and here's one of his best lines:

"According to a Washington Post poll in September 2011, the proportion of black Americans with a 'strongly positive' view of President Obama has slipped from 83 percent to 58 percent. It would obviously be absurd to say the black community’s changing view of President Obama is racially biased, so how can one make the same claim about white members opposing his policies?"

Good question, Allen. But I'm not holding my breath for a civil answer from the likes of Mr. Siegel.


Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Irony: Look It Up, Froma

Webster's entry on "irony":
The face of irony: someone who
calls people with whom she
disagrees "terrorists" while
scolding others about civil
a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance 
a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony, tragic irony

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hypocrite Hijinks... and Dead People Voting

by Libby Sternberg

Poor fellow...still searching
for that US Treasury address...
Warren Buffett, the Oracle Hypocrite of Omaha, is at it again. The Berkshire-Hathaway tax evader (see the company's annual report for info on how much the IRS says they owe, or go to this blog post for more), who wants other people to pay more taxes because he's so torn up about his own low tax rate, can't seem to find the U.S. Treasury address to which he could voluntarily send his millions. (Hint: we've posted it here.)

So he's come up with a new plan--sort of a "matching grant" program. For every dollar a Republican congressman contributes to lower the debt, he'll contribute a buck. And he'll put in even more for every one that Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell throws in the kitty.

Warren, Warren, don't need to set up ridiculous plans like this one. As pointed out above, you can send your money -- as much as you like, unfettered by silly gamesmanship -- to the U.S. Treasury.

Oh, all right. Maybe you're too busy to go to that link above. Here's the address for your charitable giving to the U.S. Treasury:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782

Here's a link to how you do the deed:

But Republicans aren't keen on raising taxes to lower the debt and deficit. They understand that a) more taxes will just mean more spending; and b) government-funded programs don't always achieve the best results anyway.

Hmm...where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, from Mr. Buffett himself, explaining his huge donations to his family's own foundations:

"I think that on balance the Gates Foundation, my daughter's foundation, my two sons' foundations will do a better job with lower administrative costs and better selection of beneficiaries than the government."

So, keep on giving, Warr (you don't mind if I call you that, do you?)--to both charitable foundations and the government. Just stop asking others who haven't made it to your gajillionaire status yet to pay more, too.


On to Voter I.D. laws....liberal groups, mostly funded by George Soros, have been having a field day lately getting their mailing list members in a stew over so-called voter-suppressing Voter I.D. laws now in place or being considered in numerous states, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such laws as legal (a 6-3 decision with liberal justice John Paul Stevens helping explain why Voter I.D. is not voter suppression).

This is a tactic of both left and right -- to get believers all het up -- to raise funds and grow the mailing list, on an issue that could resonate with the base when presented a certain way but which probably won't be going anywhere any time soon.

In other words, there's a good chance that more and more people will continue to support Voter I.D. laws (polls show majorities already do) and, if properly crafted, the laws will continue to be upheld in the courts. But in the meantime, groups like, TruthOut, (all offshoots of the same liberal organization tree) will rake in dough, gin up outrage and snag new subscribers.

Is voter fraud a big issue, though? These liberal groups claim it's not. That would come as a surprise to some Troy, NY officials who decided to plead guilty last year to filling out fraudulent absentee ballot forms, or to 11 conspirators in Alabama in 2008 for voter fraud or to Indiana's Democratic Chairman who resigned amidst charges of voter fraud during the Democratic primary in 2008. I could go on...

One of the easiest ways to commit voter fraud is to request the ballot of a dead person. There are a lot of dead people still on voter lists because it often takes a while for these names to be stricken from public records. Local town clerks usually can't just take it upon themselves to remove these names after seeing an obituary or even attending a funeral. There has to be an official communication affirming the death.

Conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe is now out with a video showing deceased persons' ballots being handed out quite cheerfully to fake voters in the New Hampshire primary (NH doesn't require Voter I.D.).

I know liberals and even moderates don't give much credence to O'Keefe, but he's right--you can easily obtain ballots for deceased persons in most jurisdictions.

If you want to make every vote count, you have to ensure that fraudulent votes are not counted. Viva Voter I.D.!

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

More Debates, Please

by Libby Sternberg

The first votes in the 2012 presidential race were finally cast last night at the Iowa caucuses. And, to no one's shock, Barack Obama won. Well, in the Democratic primary. In the Republican one, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are at the top of the pack, followed by Ron Paul.

The fact that these were the first votes cast might come as a surprise to some folks only paying attention tangentially because, for months now, media pundits have been gabbing about what candidate is ahead--in public opinion polls, that is, not in actual, real voters' votes.

Journalists love to focus on the "horse race" aspect of an election cycle -- who's ahead and why -- rather than on the details of a candidate's policy positions or his or her background. (Well, at least when it's a Democrat-- in that case, background investigation gets scant and/or glowing attention; if it's a Republican, every rug is lifted to see what dirt hides there.)

And what has this process taught us?  Well, it's taught me that public debates are a good thing and possibly even the antidote to the endless blathering and "gotcha" interviews of traditional media. Numerous public debates might even be -- are you ready? -- the best way to keep campaign expenses reasonable, meaning that less-well-funded candidates have a chance against mega-funded ones. Let's examine the recent GOP experiences for evidence:

When the primary campaigns began, the candidate field settled on Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and, oh, yeah, Jon Huntsman.

Mitt Romney, for many reasons, led the field in public opinion polls, but voters were clearly not settled on him and looking for an alternative. Into that role stepped a succession of candidates, and with each one's surge, the traditional media herd thundered in their direction with the usual breathless conjectures about the latest rising star. 

Texas Governor Rick Perry was one of those Mitt-alternatives. Although most liberal media surely didn't care much for Perry's policy approach, his rise to prominence in the electoral field was fueled, at least in part, by some of the media's oohing and aahing over his entry into the field, he with his job-creating record in Texas and his conservative bona fides.

And then....well, then the debates happened. And not only was Gov. Perry an extremely poor debater, some of his previous positions were revealed, by other candidates and by the debate moderators, as not being that conservative, or even that good, at all.

Polls that had shown him on top during the breathless media rush, afterwards showed a precipitous drop.

Media "gatekeepers" were trumped by the voters' ability to view the candidate himself.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich's story is a bit different, but it still showed the influence of the debates. Prior to Gov. Perry's decline, Mr. Gingrich's narrative in the media was one of the mean-spirited, Tiffany-client hypocrite who didn't have a chance.

Then, in the debates, he really began to shine, with intelligent, information-packed answers to questions and a refusal to beat up on his fellow candidates, focusing his criticism on the president's policies.

Once again, polls shifted. The media gatekeepers no longer owned the narrative, controlled the story. Voters saw for themselves who this man was, and they liked what they saw of his ideas. (That changed, of course, as Mr. Gingrich inadequately responded to criticisms from fellow candidates.)

I have heard complaints about the number of debates that have taken place, but they've served a great purpose -- they've allowed voters to make their own assessments of the candidates, rather than having the traditional media present assessments to them.

When voters can see for themselves and gather their own information on the candidates, less money is needed to counter false impressions, and candidates with less money still have a chance.

So, I say, "more debates, please," especially after the primaries are over and it's one Republican against the incumbent. Instead of the traditional two or three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate, let's have a schedule packed with them. Let the candidates debate often. Let them debate everywhere--on television, on the internet, on radio.

As long as the moderators' questions are intelligent and relevant (here are some ideas), debates help candidates get past the traditional media gatekeepers and go directly to the public with their ideas.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.