Business Is Not Turning Against GOP

Chamber of CommercseYou know me. I’m not inclined to agree with the world view of many publication with “business” in the title. And I’m even less inclined to agree with anything that related to Michael Bloomberg. Still, I read Bloomberg Businessweek all the time and often find it informative. Yesterday, Joshua Green wrote an interesting article, Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business. But as you may have guessed based upon the bullshit title, I don’t much agree with it.

The title is a gut buster, ain’t it? I could count the ways, but I won’t. The Republicans have never been the party of business. They’ve been the party of big business. But actual small businesses like the doughnut shop across the street from Grocery Outlet? No way! What’s always been sad is that the Republicans are really good at the kind of rhetoric that appeals to small business owners. I know! I’m one now and I’ve been one many times throughout my life. But what I’m not is naive enough to think that Republican rhetoric has anything to do with how they govern.

But it’s worse than that. Even for big business, the Republican Party has not been especially good for at least two decades. What the Republican Party has been good for—now and forever more—is the rich. Because the one thing you can count on is that the Republicans will cut the taxes of the rich. The last two Democratic presidents have been very pro-business and indeed, very pro-big business. All Obama and Clinton did was raise taxes a couple of percentage points on the rich. Oh my God!

Last year, the US Chamber of Commerce spent $35,657,029 on federal elections. And how much of that was spent on Democrats? A great big $305,044. That’s 0.86%. Bill Clinton was president during a huge economic boom. Obama has been president during a “recovery” that has seen 95% of it go to the top 1%. Yet the Chamber decided that that the Democrats deserved 0.86% of its largess. In fact, this was after the Republicans in 2011 created a Debt Ceiling crisis that everyone agrees greatly hurt economic growth. Yet the Chamber of Commerce decided that the Democrats deserved 0.86% of its federal political donations.

So sure: the Chamber is angry with the Republican for shutting down the government. And if the Republicans cause a government default, the Chamber will be apoplectic. But in 2014 and 2016, you can bet that the Chamber will spend the vast majority of their money on the Republicans. Because the Chamber—and big business in general—doesn’t care so much about a good economy so much as they do that their taxes stay as low as possible. The Democrats might raise taxes by a percent or two. The Republicans might crash the world economy. On balance, big business thinks the Democrats are the bigger risk to them.

Debt Ceiling Crisis Options

Obama CopeYesterday, Adam Liptak wrote an interesting article in the New York Times, Experts See Potential Ways Out for Obama in Debt Ceiling Maze. It discusses three ideas—two of which you have probably heard before. And the one new one is kind of dumb. Still, I think it is important to discuss them.

But before getting to the specifics, I should note: the White House could not be any clearer that none of these ideas is valid. And I think we should believe them. There are two sides to this. One the front side, they have to say that to put pressure on Congress to use normal order to raise the Debt Ceiling. But on the back side, I’m sure that Obama is concerned that if he does anything that is considered even slightly shady from a Constitutional perspective, the House would almost certainly vote to impeach him. Just the same, I think this is typical cowardly Obama, because the Senate would never have the votes to convict. What’s more, the Republicans would end up looking really bad, impeaching two consecutive Democratic presidents over trivial issues that they more or less created. But I think that Obama might change his tune if we are on the verge of default.

The first idea is that the president could claim that it was a state of emergency. In such cases, he has broad authority and could do pretty much as he liked regarding spending. That strikes me as an extremely bad precedent that could eventually lead to a kind of dictatorship where divided government always leads to a state of emergency and a government ruling based upon that. It is very much like Obama’s use of spying and drones: some liberals may think it is okay in his hands. (I don’t!) But what about in the hands of President Ted Cruz?

The second idea is that the president should use the 14th Amendment, which reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.” Obama could just say, “By the 14th Amendment I am paying the government’s bills.” This does sound like the best option, but this is the one that the White House has been most specific in dismissing.

The third idea is that the president is screwed regardless of what he does: one way or another, he is going to violate the Constitution. As a result, he should just admit that he will violate the Constitution whether he acts or not, so he should act. Most of the legal scholars think this is a loony idea. Perhaps more important, there is nothing that would set up the Republicans on an impeachment drive than Obama admitting that he was intentionally violating the Constitution. (Although, as I said, I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing from a political standpoint.)

I was most struck by something that Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe said. He is supposedly a liberal legal scholar, but I guess like most liberals in America, that doesn’t mean much. The article quoted him as saying, “Congressional spending directives to the president contain an implicit condition that, if the money just isn’t there to be spent, the president must make tough choices—prioritizing repayment of bondholders who have lent money to our country over those who have been promised payment under various sorts of entitlements, politically painful though that would be.” He could be offering this up as an example. But I don’t think so. He seems to be saying that this is what Obama should do. The problem is that both bond holders and Social Security recipients have paid money to the government with an expectation of getting paid back. I don’t see why Tribe thinks it is clear that the bond holders are more deserving of payment than the retirees.

In the end, if the Republicans force a Debt Ceiling crisis, Obama is either going to have to find a way around it, or he is going to have to default on debt obligations by paying only part of what’s owed to everyone. I don’t see any reasonable way of distinguishing between one government obligation and another.

Gerrymandering Didn’t Make GOP Extreme

Nate CohnI was very disappointed to see that yesterday, Nate Cohn had written Quit Blaming Gerrymandering for the Shutdown. I was not disappointed because he was wrong; I was disappointed that he beat me. On Wednesday, as I waited around at the VA for my father’s surgery, I wrote in my notebook, “Gerrymandering by Republicans does not make for very conservative districts. It makes for very liberal districts.” That was in my list of “articles I will write when I get the hell out of here!” Unfortunately, Cohn published his article before I was even out of the hospital.

What’s going on is that a lot of pundits are claiming that the Republicans are so extreme because of gerrymandering which makes for really red districts. If that were true, then the House would now be controlled by the Democrats. The idea of gerrymandering is to create districts that are fairly safe for the Republicans (in this case) but really safe for the Democrats. So the Republican districts will be maybe 60% Republican but the Democratic districts will be 90% Democrat. (The opponent districts would probably not be able to be quite this extreme for practical reasons.) If you don’t understand this, you should watch C.G.P. Grey’s great “Gerrymandering Explained” video:

Cohn notes that many districts are in fact highly “red” but this isn’t due to gerrymandering; it is just because (especially in the south) whole regions are really conservative. And even in those areas, there will be natural gerrymandering because liberals tend to live in compact areas.

But Cohn (and everyone else, as far as I can tell) avoids an important point. If gerrymandering caused politicians to be extreme, it would be the democrats who are extreme. But they aren’t, are they? So this whole idea that gerrymandering has made Republicans extreme is nonsense. In fact, it is a kind of apologia for the Republicans. But the facts don’t provide any such comforting narratives to explain the radicalism of the Republican Party.

As I discussed yesterday, I think that the problem is that the Republican elites have simply become extreme based upon their acceptance of the work by truly minor league thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. But based upon a comment by JMF, I have begun to think that this is allowed by a great deal of implicit fascism in the base of the party. As the data show, neither the elites nor the base believe in “small government” except as a talking point. But the elites get support for policies the base largely doesn’t agree with by getting the base to vote on its typically fascist beliefs. As I wrote in the comments, “Are they jingoistic? Check. Do they vilify immigrants and minority groups? Check. Are they hierarchical and authoritarian? Check. Are they in favor of traditional Christian sexual mores? Check. Are they for corporate welfare? Check.”

That is all speculative. What is not speculative is that Democrats being forced into overwhelmingly liberal districts has not lead to a bunch of socialists or even very liberal people in the House Democratic caucus. I may be wrong about why the House Republican caucus is so extreme. (I actually believe there are a number of reasons.) But there is no doubt that gerrymandering is not any part of the cause. Let me just leave you with a good example: Nancy Pelosi is more conservative than her liberal district. That would never happen on the opposite side. (It would make a great term paper to look at Boehner compared to his district.)

Buster Keaton

Buster KeatonThe first artificial earth satellite Sputnik 1 was launched on this day in 1957. I just love it because it is a great example of American hubris. We have such a tendency to think that we are the only people who can do anything. Except when our government is trying to frighten us into war or at least more military expenditures, the rest of the world is a bunch of clowns. But when Sputnik was launched, Americans were shocked. Several years later, when we decided that we would beat the Soviets to the moon, our first launch was intended to simply crash a spacecraft on the moon. And we missed. Look, I’m not trying to put America down here. I think we are great people and a great nation. But there are lots of great people and nations. And hubris is a very unpleasant character trait for anyone to have.

There are four artist birthdays today in as many countries and centuries. First, there is Lucas Cranach the Younger, a German Renaissance painter, who was born in 1515. Second, is Francesco Solimena, an Italian Baroque painter, who was born in 1657. Third, is Jean-Francois Millet, a French Barbizon painter, who was born in 1814. And fourth, is Frederic Remington, an American artist of the old west, who was born in 1861.

Four Painters

Children’s writer Edward Stratemeyer was born in 1862. He is best remembered for having created The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book series. But he created a number of other series: The Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and The Bobbsey Twins. In fact, that last series was his longest running one, ending in 72 books. The funny thing is that Stratemeyer wrote almost none of the books. In fact, he wrote none at all of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Almost all of these books were produced by a large number of writers. Often, teams of writers worked on a single book, although that does not appear to be the normal way the books were produced once they were established. One interesting thing I found out was that the publisher decided to rewrite the Nancy Drew books in the late 1950s to remove racist stereotypes. But in the process, they also changed the Nancy Drew character to make her less assertive and more “feminine.” So they took out racism (with questionable success) and they added sexism. What this shows is that a lot of feminine stereotypes that we live with today are really not all that old.

Other birthdays: actor Charlton Heston (1923); philosopher Richard Rorty (1931); humorist Roy Blount Jr (72); writer Anne Rice (72); actor Susan Sarandon (67); and the very great writer and activist Tim Wise (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great filmmaker Buster Keaton who was born on this day in 1895. I’ve always had this slight political problem with him. Like a lot of people in the film industry at that time, he seems to have sided with the south in the Civil War. The great example of this is in The General where the rebels are the good guys and the Union army men are the heavies. I don’t think that means that Keaton was a racist, however. The film is still great, but it rankles. Nonetheless, he was a fine filmmaker. But I remember Woody Allen comparing Keaton to Charlie Chaplin. He said that he appreciated that Keaton was a much better filmmaker. Chaplin’s films are really primitive, mostly shot with one long shot, like people sometimes shoot performances of plays. But Allen said he still greatly preferred the Chaplin films. I don’t know why Allen thinks that, but I know why I do. Chaplin is so much more compelling and his films are so very very sweet. Anyway, Keaton was great and I still really enjoy his films.

He is most remembered for his stunts, which are amazing. And in the following video, there are a bunch of stunts and other great moments from his films (with a soundtrack of a Queen song that strangely works pretty well followed by a Beatles song that does not). But it is important to remember that he was first and foremost a great filmmaker:

Happy birthday Buster Keaton!

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