Friday, July 01, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Debate

I'm still not sure what Krugman, PM Carpenter and others want Obama to do in the face an opposition that doesn't want to compromise on this issue, but it seems to me that among the reasonable interpretations to be made from GOP rhetoric is that they don't much care if Obama exercises the so-called Constitutional Option--essentially ignoring the debt ceiling restriction and authorizing Treasury to pay the country's bills anyway.

Certainly their drastic-spending-cuts-only demand is ludicrous and not made in good faith. In addition, their offstated claims that the debt ceiling clock isn't a serious matter and the "Treasury has lots of means at its disposal to avoid default" bare the sound of a party that expects its demands to not be taken seriously and an invitation for the President to act regardless of any authorization legislation.

Obviously, at some point, the GOP would rail against the President one way or the other. But their language so far seems, weirdly, to be anti-crisis. And given the tragedy that would result from implementing the GOP's Dream Spending Cuts as an alternative, it's hard to imagine a worse outcome than the Constitutional Option.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Punching Back

Unfortunately, I think David Frum makes some valid points here about the President's presser yesterday (h/t Sullivan):

1) The stuff about corporate jets is just … crapola really. It’s the Democratic equivalent of Republicans pretending that the deficit can be closed by cutting PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. If Obama, the supposed grownup in the room, wants to make the case for revenue measures, let him make the case for relevant revenue measures.

2) 30 or so days before a forced default on the financial obligations of the United States seems a poor choice of a time for negotiations over budget measures. Why is Obama allowing himself to be engaged in this way?

3) Why for that matter is Obama surrendering to the demand to change the subject from jobs to deficits? Surely Obama believes that rapid budget-cutting will be deflationary? And therefore irresponsible in the context of 10% unemployment, near-zero inflation, and 1% interest rates on federal debt? Why has he allowed himself to be pushed into measures he regards as irresponsible?

4) Beyond that why isn’t he yelling his head off about the Republican default threat? Why isn’t he being specific about what it could mean? And why isn’t he doing what Lyndon Johnson would do – making it clear that if H-Hour does arrive, he’ll use disbursement power just as politically as Republicans are using the power of the debt ceiling: eg, paying Medicaid bills from Blue states first, Red states later? Paying farmers and other Republican constituencies with IOUs, while hoarding cash for Democratic voters?

I do appreciate that the President made specific references to the governmental functions, like ensuring food safety, that could be at stake, that are in fact already at stake, in a spending-cuts-only position on raising the debt limit.

And it seems rather obvious that Democrats have public opinion on their side relating to tax increases, even those beyond the marginal ones Obama offered up yesterday.

But I'm having a hard time seeing how the scope of the ultimate agreement won't embrace nearly all the GOP demands, given the circumstances and Obama's unwillingness to make the consequences of default and drastic spending cuts plain to the public.

At the same time, that his speech elicited a wonderful "He's a dick" from GOP shill Mark Halperin, followed quickly by an apology and suspension from MSNBC qualifies as a small reward.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

American Christianity and MMA

One of the most disconcerting aspects of American Christianity is its, at best, indifference to violence in our culture. At worst, Christianity, especially it's more fundamentalist and evangelical strains, seem to actively defend it.

I mention this in relation to the recent Supreme Court decision on violence in video games. Steve M at No More Mister Niced Blog writes:

To a guy like Scalia, for whom it's always going to be 1968, lefties are people who burn draft cards because they're simperingly allergic to red-blooded American violence, even as they insist on having dirty hippie dope-fueled sex in the streets. Lefties want you to shun Patton and The Green Betets and go see I Am Curious (Yellow) instead, or some mystifying Off-Off-Broadway play with antiwar sentiments and nudity and no plot.

Or, as Charles Murray wrote in a 2010 Washington Post op-ed praising the tea party and sneering at "the New Elite":

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

Dirty hippies hate NASCAR and mixed martial arts because, y'know, people can get hurt. Eeek! I'm not sure how this jibes with the existence of successful contact-sport teams in, say, Boston, or other blue enclaves, but this is what wingers believe. So of course the conservative bloc (Thomas excepted, admittedly) thinks game violence (as opposed to, say, porn sex) is protected speech.

I actually don't know if Charles Murray is a church-goer. But to the extent he represents the wing of American conservatism that is perpetually lamenting the decline of American culture, it's interesting he would single out Mixed Martial Arts (see I know what the acronym MMA means) as somehow virtuos.

Whatever else could be said about MMA, it certainly isn't Christian in any respect. And yet, I can't recall any Christian leaders denouncing it. Sex and the entertainment industry, yes. Conservative Christians hate that. But violence on the sports field or at the point of a gun? Today's Christianity seems all too comfortable with it.

Obama's Bully Pulpit

Interesting little discussion at Balloon Juice related to Obama's "evolving" position on gay marriage and whether or not more assertive presidential leadership would be beneficial.

In general, I think Obama's use of the presidential bully pulpit has been pretty disappointing. He hasn't made much of an effort to challenge the anti-government rhetoric of Republicans and in so doing, help provide liberals and liberal-minded independents a reason to support the president's legislative successes, which have been several (universal health care, the consumer financial protection bureau, stricter food safety regs, and an improved auto industry condition due to the bailout, to name a few).

But I'm not sure a bolder, more public stance on marriage equality, particular state initiatives in Maryland and New York, would be advantageous. The recent victory in New York owes a lot to that state's GOP Senate majorty's willingness to allow a vote on marriage equality to come to the floor, a position that might have been harder had the President weighed in on the matter.

The President has already started the elimination of DADT and is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, itself a potentially controversial tact given the Executive Department's general obligation to enforce federal law.

Still I long for an Obama more willing to be more public about these positions.