South Will Fall Again (with Obamacare)

South Will Fall AgainTimothy Egan wrote a really good article over at the New York Times last night, The South’s New Lost Cause. It is very clever. He starts by contrasting Obama’s healthcare “lie” with how Lincoln lied to South when he said during his inauguration, “If you like the slaves you’ve got now, you can keep them.” Well, he didn’t use those words. He actually said, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists.” But you get the idea.

Of course, it isn’t clear that Lincoln meant to lie. Had the southern states just stayed cool, they might have been able to to keep the slaves they liked. But Egan’s point is that slavery was a lost cause for the southern slave owners. He doesn’t get into it, but slavery was bad for the southern economies. It might have been great for some of that minority of southerners who had slaves, but it stopped the region generally from industrializing and moving into the modern world. With or without Lincoln, slavery was ending.

This is a similar situation with modern conservative economics. Business owners in general prefer the Republican Party. But the modern Democratic Party pushes economic policies that are better for the country and for the business community. Yet they continue to support the Republicans because they only look at their short-term interests. They don’t ask, “How can I increase the number of people buying my products over the next decade?” They instead ask, “How can I minimize the amount of taxes I pay next quarter?” (Ayn Rand always talked about how businesses had to look out for their “enlightened self-interest.” That shows what a fantasy she believed in. People don’t act like that. Communism is more believable than that!)

Now the south is at it again, hurting themselves in the name of another lost cause. Right now, southern (and other conservative) states are passing up the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Why? Egan is more blunt than I’m used to reading in the Times, “And they are doing it out of spite.” But it is more than just harming the poor. That’s no big deal for conservatives. They believe the poor are unworthy after all. They aren’t just spiting Obamacare and the working poor of their states. They are spiting their own economies.

Egan provides some numbers:

In Kentucky, which has bravely tried to buck the retrograde tide, Medicaid expansion is projected to create 17,000 jobs. In Washington, the state predicts 10,000 new jobs and savings of $300 million in the first 18 months of expansion.

To provide some context here, there are about two million people employed in Kentucky. An increase of 17,000 jobs represents almost 1% of the total workforce and 10% of the unemployed. Accepting the Medicaid expansion will not only provide healthcare to tens of thousands who don’t currently have it, it will reduce the unemployment rate by an entire percentage point. Imagine that you were the governor of a state and the federal government offered you a free program that would lower your unemployment rate by a percentage point. You’d have to be really messed up to pass that up, and yet 25 states have said, “Hell no! We like our high unemployment and uninsured rates!”

Meanwhile, conservatives throughout the nation are very keen on the Keystone XL pipeline because of all the jobs it would create. Estimates indicate that it would create just a couple thousand for two years and then basically none after that. Even the company itself no longer holds to the 20,000 jobs number. But even if that were the case, nationally, that means nothing. It is roughly equal to what the ACA will do in Kentucky alone. There’s a whole lot of hypocrisy going on with the conservatives regarding Obamacare and the Keystone XL pipeline.

The south is as likely to rise again and re-enslave our African-American citizens as they are to avoid the Medicaid expansion as they years go by. I can’t help but think it all goes back to the same thing. Them Yankees ain’t gonna tell us true Americans in Texas and Alabama and Idaho what to do! Apparently, they would rather live in dirt hovels than allow the black Democratic president to “win.” It’s just awful because a lot of innocent people are harmed. For example, 70,000 people in Montana will go without healthcare and many others will go without jobs, all in the name of spite and meaningless political posturing.

Obama Must Use Filibuster Reform

Cautiously OptimisticAs one of the more hysterical of the filibuster reform proponents, I’ve been itching to talk about yesterday’s historic change to the Senate rules. For those of you who have been in a coma, the filibuster was changed so that it now only applies to Supreme Court nominations and legislation. But even that is only temporary. The next time there is a filibuster of consequence on these matters, it too will die. But we aren’t likely to see anything for a while because there won’t be a Supreme Court vacancy for a while, nor will there be any important legislation as long as we have divided government. So the filibuster change is about as big as it could possibly be.

What may surprise you is that I think this change is sad. Harry Reid was correct to do it, but what led up to this is just terrible. The filibuster was a good idea and as long as it was used sparingly, it was fine. The standard narrative about it is that the filibuster went on tilt as soon as the two parties became strictly ideological. It used to be the the most liberal Republican was notably more liberal than the most conservative Democrat. That’s no longer true. But it also isn’t true that this is the reason that the filibuster had to be destroyed.

As I wrote about all the way back in January, Republicans Caused All Filibuster Abuse. For good and for bad, the Democrats did and do abide by norms. Over the years, they’ve kept filibuster use at whatever level the Republicans had left it at. It was the Republicans and the Republicans alone who constantly increased the use of the filibuster. The Republicans long ago became a revolutionary party, and as such they have no interest in norms because they don’t think the system itself is legitimate.

So I’m very sad that things have gotten to this place. And let’s be clear: this is a good thing for the Republicans. The Senate is already a highly undemocratic institution. It favors low-density areas and that means that it favors bigotry and intolerance, and that means it favors the Republicans. As it is, they stand a decent chance of controlling the Senate as of 2015. But here’s the thing. Despite their cries and whimpers, the Republicans are thrilled with the end of the filibuster. Their most recent behavior regarding the DC Appeals Court nominations really left the Democrats with no choice. I suspect that they are licking their chops, imagining how they can destroy democracy for decades if only they can get another George W Bush elected.

My biggest concern is that Obama will not use this opportunity. Now is the time to focus on filling judicial vacancies. There are a lot of them and this administration has not been very good at nominating. In the past, that may have been because they figured that the Republicans would just block them anyway. But I think it is more that Obama is just focused elsewhere. And now we can add to that the usual Obama as schoolboy with his bizarre notions of fairness. Well, as it is, the courts are skewed to the right and there are major limits to reproductive rights in Texas because of it. This is a very big issue and Obama needs to pay attention.

I know how the Republicans operate. If they do get the presidency in 2016 (and that is quite possible), they will likely see it as their last opportunity in a while. They will funnel conservative judges onto the federal courts to block any and every liberal legislative endeavor for the next generation. Changing the filibuster gives the Democrats more power now but it also gives the Republicans more power later. And the best way to limit that later power is for the Democrats to maximize the power now.

Regardless of all this strategy, killing the filibuster was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do in February 2009. Regardless of everything else, the Republicans were going to kill the filibuster the moment it was to their advantage. I still don’t understand what Carl Levin thinks he gets from keeping the filibuster. Can he possibly be naive enough to think that the Republicans would not use the nuclear option when they effectively did so already in 2005? I think the best assumption is that our elected officials just aren’t that good at thinking.

Going forward, I’m cautiously optimistic. But regardless of what bad comes of this, we all have to remember that it was coming no matter what. We need to use this opportunity the best we can to put as much sense in the courts and executive institutions as we can. Now.

Update (22 November 2013 4:17 pm)

I saw the following headline over at Political Animal, With the Filibuster Gone, Time for a Confirmation-palooza! I thought, “Wow! Ed Kilgore is talking as radical as I am!” But it wasn’t so. It seems that Kilgore’s father is in the hospital (on the mend, it looks like) and so he has been getting some help. The article was written by Ryan Cooper. He’s hardly a radical himself, but it isn’t quite the same. Regardless, I agree with him completely! Check out the article.

Laughing 90 Years With Arthur Hiller

Arthur HillerOn this day in 1819, the great English writer George Eliot was born. When I was reading her as a young man, I found her work rather dense. And I stand by the that assessment. But her work is remarkably clear. Since then, I’ve come to see that many of the American writers of that time were perhaps trying too hard. They created overly dense prose that is often hard to unravel. (It got better in the late 19th and early 20th century.) But Eliot’s work is wonderfully clear. Of course, she’s also really sad. But at least she never wrote Jude the Obscure. (Which is one of my favorite novels, actually.)

The great film director Terry Gilliam is 73 today. In some ways, he’s overrated. But he has made one perfect film, 12 Monkeys. Things don’t get any better than that. It shows what movies can do. Of course, it is helped by a great collaboration, most especially with screenwriters David and Janet Peoples. His other work is good but it generally has what I consider fatal flaws. But check out 12 Monkeys!

Other birthdays: Abigail Adams (1744); French leader Charles de Gaulle (1890); comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921); AR-15 designer Eugene Stoner (1922); comic book writer Roy Thomas (73); actor Tom Conti (72); tennis player Billie Jean King (70); musicians Steven Van Zandt and Tina Weymouth (both 63); actor Jamie Lee Curtis (55); actor Mariel Hemingway (52); actor Mark Ruffalo (46); and actor Scarlett Johansson (29).

The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest comedic film directors, Arthur Hiller who is 90 today. He directed some of my favorite films: The Out-of-Towners, The Hospital, Silver Streak. He also directed the iconic Love Story. But most of all, he directed one of the funniest movies ever made, The In-Laws. Now most of that comes from working with Andrew Bergman’s great script. But the thing about Hiller is that he generally worked for great writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon. Anyway, here is the classic “serpentine” scene from The In-Laws:

Happy birthday Arthur Hiller!