Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Can't McCain Make His Accusations of Socialism Stick?

Historically, if a politician, particularly a Democrat, dared to bring up the subject of inequality, they were branded as a Marxist or accused of trying to start class warfare. McCain and Palin have been reviving this tactic with gusto and are now trying to make it sound like tax cuts for the middle class are an "un-American" redistribution of wealth.

In the past, Republicans calling Democrats elitist or accusing them of socialism was effective. This time around, it isn't working. Why?

  • Economic Crisis - The most obvious answer is the economic crisis. It is blatantly obvious that the Republican sacred cows of greed, deregulation, and lowering taxes for the rich have caused an economic disaster. Even Alan Greenspan has (partially) admitted the error of his ways.
  • Anti-Corporatism - Feelings against large corporations have been growing for a long time. Growing up in the 80s, I watched massive layoffs of people who thought they had lifetime jobs. I saw the Reagan administration union busting. I watched savings and loan scandals and saw my father's small business be destroyed by Office Depot. I saw all of this in the midst of a cocaine and yacht-filled orgy of greed. Many of my generation learned not to expect much of employers. We refused to dedicate our lives to a company, preferring to make fun of work in movies like Office Space. From anti-Walmart films to protests against the WTO in Seattle, we have built up a deep distrust of "big business."
  • Generational Divide - The Cold War was the defining theme of my parents generation, but it is barely a blip for me. I am thirty-five years old and the only thing I know about the Cold War from personal experience is that a wall came down in Germany when I was a kid and that Reagan used communism as an excuse to fight illegal wars in many of my friends home countries. McCarthy is long dead. The Berlin wall has been down for almost twenty years. Cries of "socialist" don't mean much to anyone under the age of 40.
The truth is that it is Republicans who have been the primary class warriors. They're the ones who are always advocating policies that benefit only the wealthiest class while getting less wealthy people to vote for them by branding anyone intellectual as a coastal "elite."

I think we are all really tired of people with more houses than I have shoes telling us that letting them get richer, and bailing them out when they screw up, is necessary, but that doing something about the more than a million homes now in foreclosure is "socialism."

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If McCain Loses, Does the Southern Strategy Finally RIP?

Republicans have consistently and explicitly used racism as a political strategy. Sadly, their tactics have all too often worked. They are trying it again this election, but this time it seems to be failing. If it fails, especially if it fails big, does the Southern strategy finally die forever?

Racism in Republican Campaigns

In my lifetime, I have come to know the Republican Party as the party of white people; specifically, old, white, Protestant, men. The Republican Party has encouraged this perception and still managed to win quite a few elections.

When Nixon talked about "states rights" in the south, what he really meant was that the federal government shouldn't make Southerners integrate. When Ronald Reagan began his run for the presidency talking about states rights in Mississippi, in the very county where three civil right activists were infamously murdered, he was sending a very strong message.

When George H.W. Bush used images of a black felon who committed horrible crimes (Willie Horton) in his race against Michael Dukakis, he conjured up images of the scary black man to win an election. And when George W. Bush's campaign flyered the South insinuating that John McCain had an illegitimate black baby, Bush rode racism all the way to the Republican nomination.

Republicans Moment of Demographic Realization

Bill Clinton's popularity and success depended in large part upon the votes of women, Latinos, African-Americans, and young people. It took Republicans a while to catch on, but some time during Bill Clinton's presidency they realized that demographics were against them. In fact, in just thirty-four years, white people will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population.

In 2000, the Republican National Convention looked like Sunday in Harlem (literally, the 2000 convention featured a black gospel choir). Republicans started trying to appeal to black voters and to court Latino voters (particularly Christian conservative blacks and Latinos). Prominent Republicans were even apologizing for their use of the Southern strategy.

McCain's New Southern Strategy

This time around, Republicans seem to have conceded the black vote and nearly conceded the Latino one. The possibility of the first African-American president is as exciting as the Bush administration's response to Katrina was infuriating to black voters. Their support of Barack Obama is strong. Latinos are angry at the anti-immigration Republican vitriol that has often turned just plain anti-Latino, and especially anti-Mexican. The GOP is losing them as well.

This leaves John McCain with only one way of winning. He has to make sure he appeals to the most base conservatives of the Republican Party (no that's not a typo) and bring them out in force. He must make sure every fearful, racist shows up at the polls to vote against the black guy with the funny name. He needs women to show up for the Republicans, as white men alone won't get them a win. Republicans thought they covered their bases by choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate. She is certainly appealing to anti-abortion zealots, Christian conservatives, racists, and aging cold warriors. Just check out some fan videos.

The Southern Strategy Backlash

Of course in trying to appeal to the fringe elements of the Republican Party, the party was bound to lose some of the moderates. They are betting on the fact that there are enough fanatics and racists out there (men and women) to bring the election home for them. But the gamble doesn't appear to be working.

Moderate Republicans and true conservatives are abandoning ship. Colin Powell just came out in support of Barack Obama, specifically citing the tone of his campaign and his choice of Sarah Palin. William F. Buckley's son, conservative columnist and writer Christopher, also came out in support of Obama citing the same reasons. A friends father, who hasn't voted for a Democrat since the seventies, is voting for Obama in large part because of the Palin choice.

In fact, it seems that the Southern strategy may be pushing the numbers in Obama's favor in some battleground states like Florida and Virginia. Polls there have shown Obama's numbers jump since McCain has gone increasingly negative, trying to paint Obama as an outsider, un-American, and suspicious.

The End of the Southern Strategy

I've spoken to a lot of people who worry about the ugliness of the campaign. They are afraid that appealing to racism will work yet again and wonder what happens then. A better question is, what if it doesn't work? What if it fails so spectacularly that no Republican politician running for national office will ever believe that he can win using those tactics?

A rout this election will not only give democrats a win, it will give fiscal conservatives and Libertarian Republicans an opportunity to end the days of the Southern strategy. It will give them an opening to end the stranglehold social conservatives and neo-conservatives have on their party. Let's hope they take it.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Redefining Success in a Post Bling World

It seems like I am not the only one who has had it with greed, selfishness and decadence.

Richard Fuld, the former CEO of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers (a CEO who made $300 million dollars since 2000) was punched in the face at the company gym. (Man, that must have felt good.) Americans are up in arms about the $440,000 retreat taken by AIG executives right after we bailed them out with our tax money. And we sent thousands of emails to try and stop the bailout to begin with, mostly because we didn't want to help a bunch of overpaid, greedy, schmucks keep their millions.

So the million dollar question is - Will it stick? Is this a momentary hiccup or is something more substantial happening here? And if it is something more substantial, what does America look like if we're not all aiming for boundless riches? Will The Apprentice get cancelled? Will the Sex and the City women start wearing Converse? Will the $10 million stable full of thoroughbreds in this year's Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog go unpurchased? God I hope so.

What if the United States wasn't like an overgrown middle school? What if nobody cared whose name was sewn on the ass of your jeans or what car you drive (or if you drive one at all)? What if, given the choice between a new flatscreen and more time with the kids, everyone chose the latter? What if we redefined our idea of success?

Up until now, success for most people seemed to be based on how much stuff they had or what they could get. Success meant career "advancement," a mcmansion in the suburbs, designer clothes, the right car, resort vacations, and lots of toys (adult and child-sized). We filled our lives with things, hoping each new thing would be the one that finally made us feel good about ourselves. Success was measured by how far "above" other people one progressed, because success entailed an illusion of superiority.

Now what if we judged success differently. What if the most successful people were the ones who were truly happy? What if our jobs supported our lives instead of our lives supporting our jobs? What if we admired people who had the most time to spend with the people they loved? What if we congratulated the people who left work on time and not the ones who stay at the office until midnight? What if we just shook our heads and chuckled at people who spent all their time trying to keep up with Joneses? What if their were no Joneses to keep up with?

Financially, things are going to get tougher for a lot of people and attitudes are likely to change out of necessity. Perhaps this is just the kick in the pants we need. Perhaps we'll start buying less, conserving more, fixing things, and rethinking our priorities. Perhaps we can build a culture where it is the greedy who are pariahs and not the poor.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Against The Rich

I am so tired of rich people. I'm tired of people who admire rich people. I'm tired of people who aspire to be rich people. I'm tired of Paris Hilton and MTV Cribs. I'm tired of televised yacht tours. I'm tired of walking by empty beach-side mansions that are only occupied one month per year while thousands of homeless don't have shit. I'm tired of hummers and beemers, of six hundred dollar purses and thousand dollar shoes. I'm tired of the shallow, materialistic, empty, selfish, and greedy culture that underpins it all.

Most of all, I'm tired of the people whose desire for money goes beyond what they can get for it. The worst are those who just want money to have it. They want as much of it as possible. And they don't give a damn who they step on in the process of getting and keeping it. And don't kid yourself into thinking that it is possible to acquire that much wealth without being ruthless. Acquiring that much wealth is in itself ruthless.

What is wealth really? It is a representation of natural and human resources. It is the value of commodities plus the value of labor. What gives anyone the right to hoard that much of the natural resources and labor in the world? And why do we accept it? We are all getting raped in every orifice and yet, instead of raising hell, we just go to the corner store to buy a lotto ticket in the hope that we can be one of those rich people. It isn't going to happen.

Goldman Sachs is one of the firms whose speculation and greed has caused this supposed meltdown of our financial system. Of course, it is former Goldman Sachs CEO and current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who is telling us the sky is falling, but lets pretend it is for a moment. Not only are the Goldman Sachs of the world costing each of us more than $2,000 with this ridiculous bailout, they are also one of the major oil speculators that has been driving the price of gasoline sky high. Goldman Sachs executives have been pulling in $50 million a year. Why are they coming to us for $2,000 a piece? Why aren't they taking the $54.3 million Lloyd Blankfein made in 2006?

No one needs to make 50 million dollars a year. And making 50 million dollars a year isn't good for anyone. It means hoarding resources that could be better used by others, at best. At worst it involves crushing other human beings. It creates extremes of wealth and poverty that aren't good for the people at either end of the spectrum. The poor are dehumanized by their desperation and the rich are dehumanized by their inability to empathise or relate to real life.

This country is full of addicts. The bastards we are bailing out with our tax money are addicted to cash. They don't need us to provide another fix for them. They need a twelve step program. They need some tough love. Cut them off. Let them hit rock bottom. Let them lose their mansions and yachts and trophy wives. Put them to work tarring driveways or cleaning airport bathrooms for minimum wage.

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