Back to the Basics – What Boehner is Forgetting at the Negotiating Table


In Washington, a temporary budget has been agreed upon, but the debate is really just beginning. No matter what happens at the negotiating table in the weeks and months to come, conservative rhetoric – “cuts, cuts, cuts” – will not cease; because they just don’t get it. A middle school teacher of mine put it simply: you’ve got to spend money to make money.

John Boehner and his cronies missed a critical lesson in their college Econ classes: the one in which the professor taught the ABCs of basic fiscal policy. Just as you can’t start a business without buying the capital necessary for it to thrive, Boehner can’t expect to reinvigorate the largest economy in the world without a willingness to invest in the programs and resources that will lead it to flourish down the road. The Speaker is wrong because the spending cuts he’s demanding – to the degree at which he hopes to pass them – will fail to fish the American economy out of the deep and opaque waters of recession.

When a country has plummeted into massive, debilitating debt – say, hypothetically, our country – it is reasonable to view deficit spending as a puzzling choice. But now, as Washington’s politicians become desperate and some of the United States’ most critical social programs hang in the balance, this is a question finding the lesser of two evils.

Expansionary fiscal policy pumps money into the public’s reserves. And as the government spends more, employment in domestic industries rises – and so does the productivity of those industries. Investment becomes cheaper and more people are opting into business deals. You can’t knit a blanket without the yarn, you can’t write a paper without doing the research, and you can’t grow an economy without capital investment.

There’s a name for John Boehner’s approach to the budget negotiations. Severe and tangible budget cuts are hallmarks of a contractionary fiscal policy – which is used to shrink the economy when it is being overproductive or when it begins to run the risk of creating dangerous bubbles. And in a country whose populace has a profound fear of the implications of China’s ever accelerating rise, that type of policy is far from appropriate.

The people who get the Republicans elected year in and year out – trade moguls, successful business owners, bigwig executives – have built their careers through financial investment. If the Koch brothers (or their like) treated the country as their business, they would advise their representatives to seek investment for future growth, not slice and dice the federal budget until it’s spread so thin that nothing substantive can be built upon it. It is in the interest of American industry – and the American employment rate – to continue to expand the economy.

When Republicans stand up in town meetings, or on the floor of the House and Senate and wag their fingers at the big, bad, hasty Democrats, they’re simply using scare tactics. The claim that (in a recession or deficit) all spending is disadvantageous is an infantile one. Spending cuts can be helpful in eliminating waste, but it isn’t wasteful to underwrite the American future. If we want lasting positive economic change – if we want to make money – then we’ve gotta spend money.

Financial Floortime – Meeting the Country Where it’s “At”


My younger brother Ezra was diagnosed with autism when I was five years old. Because the neurological disorder puts a damper on socialization, I’ve actively searched for ways to connect with him on an interpersonal level since I was little. Trough trial and error, research, and experience, my family learned about a technique for building relationships with special needs kids called the “floortime” method. It’s the idea that, in order to connect with a child, you have to “meet the child where he’s at.”

Over the past few days, President Obama’s proposed budget has incurred some tough criticism from the left – and justifiably so.

The budget suggests rolling back half of a $700 million community service grant program, cutting a significant portion of funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (which, according to the Program’s mission statement, is intended “to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs”), and upping interest rates on students’ college loans.

This budget (or at least its discrepancy with past budgets proposed by Democratic administrations) has been portrayed as an unprecendented onslaught of policies that sympathize with neo-conservative ideals. Liberal pundits have expressed disgust. Members of the president’s own party have pinned him as a Judas-esque figure – a traitor to both his political allies and his own personal narrative.

Through lenses of morality and ideology, they all seem right. This proposal doesn’t align with Obama’s past promises, nor is it in tune with the song of his über-publicized family history that he’s been singing for so many years. But to fully understand the gravity of this budget’s implications, it’s important to recognize one principal idea: he’s trying to win reelection.

Barack Obama is me, America is my little brother Ezra, and this moment is floortime.

The president has identified where Americans are “at” – economically, socially, and culturally – and he’s attempting to meet us there.

From a strictly political perspective, Obama is trying to court conservative democrats, liberal republicans, and middle-of-the-road independents who have been alienated by the dominant party system as a result of America’s polarizing political culture. With a increasingly rapid rate of voters registering as independents, it is clear to the president that he must not associate himself with the country’s already-inflamed political dichotomy, but rather must make an ostensible effort to support compromise.

From a strictly retaliatory perspective, Obama is trying to uncover the nature of the right’s inherent hypocrisy. The proposal is a dare for the Republicans to blink: look, he’s telling them, I’m cutting the programs that you have deemed superfluous. Obama is showing the American electorate that even when he heeds the Republicans’ demands, they still reject his proposals. He’s trying to expose their conscious obstruction of progress.

And from a strictly symbolic perspective, Obama is trying to plead and reason with the American voter. He’s trying to show the average voter that everyone is hurting – and, therefore, he must sacrifice causes that he knows are important – programs that he personally benefited from. There a lot that’s wrong with this method of association, but the president is making it look as though he’s bringing the White House some proletariat anguish.

The president is gauging America’s interests and responding accordingly, though sometimes overly-politically. It’s okay to disagree with his decisions (I do) and it’s healthy to doubt his motives (I do that, too), but amidst any questions of morality we may have, we must remember: Barack Obama is trying to get reelected.

Report Card – A Brief Response to SOTU


Substance

He had a few different jobs to do from a few separate perspectives.

In the Eyes of the Left

He had to lay out his agenda in a definitive manner and avoid digressing from the party script. He had to concede little and give the Republicans much to mull over. He had to acknowledge the presence and potency of the new House majority, but suppress its voice to the best of his ability. He had to talk about guns — in light of Tucson — and talk about civility in light of the political climate. He had to promise to veto a healthcare repeal and vow to protect the middle class. He had to win over the “green” people, make education a priority, and address immigration reform. The list was endless. From the outset, the Democrats were not likely to be pleased.

From this perspective: B+

He covered most issues and did, in fact, present his agenda. Contrary to White House spin before the event, his speech was pretty partisan. It was sprinkled with a unifying tidbit here and there, which made it seem like somewhat “kumbaya”-esque. He neglected some key social issues (evidently for political purposes), but for the most part, his speech didn’t concede too much.

In the Eyes of the Right

Was there anything that the president could have said that would have pleased the right? Well, he could have said that he supports full gun-ownership rights and would be more than willing to sign a repeal of the healthcare bill. He could have said that taxes on the rich needed to be lower and that the issue of the declining quality of public education should take a backseat to more ‘important’ problems like regulation. He could have said that our two wars needed to be continually waged until every building in Baghdad and Khartoum is burned to the ground. In other words, to please the Republicans, he would have had to become a Republican.

From this perspective: D

He was partisan in one direction.

Appearance

I haven’t seen a whole lot of coverage of this element of the speech but I thought that the way the chamber looked during the speech was fascinating. For example, because the members were so intermingled, even when Obama spoke a line that only Democrats stood or applauded for, it looked as though the entire House chamber rose.

I also found a somewhat disheartening irony in the appearance of the House chamber. For the sake of unifying around a common cause, each member of Congress (among others working on the Hill) wore a white and blue-striped ribbon on his or her lapel. This was intended to honor the victims of the shooting in Tucson and keep Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — who was shot in the head — in Congress’ thoughts.

Here’s the irony: each Democrat wore the ribbon on his or her left, each Republican on his or her right. Nice job, Congress.

Implications

Ostensibly, the SOTU was a call for unity. If ever there was a place where the idea of unity and cohesion could take precedence over partisan gridlock and resistance to compromise, it would not be Capitol Hill. And Barack Obama knows that, which is why he sugar-coated his speech with a bipartisan flare. But the agenda that he set out in his speech covered left-wing talking points. The vitriolic mood is going nowhere.

A Post-Election Concession


As featured on the Huffington Post:

A four year old got angry and dragged her ruby-red crayon all over my computer screen. That’s what the map on my MacBook Pro looked like last night: a fresh coat of crimson Crayola. And, as four year olds are known to do, she colored outside of the lines. It’s messy, it’s uncalled for, and I’m feeling a complex combination of overwhelming emotions.

I’m angry that Republicans have retaken the House. I’m worried that the poor will be left to fend for themselves, that special-interest groups will determine the fate of our economy, that Congress will decide to regulate love, and that energy reform will manifest itself in the form of tax breaks for pollution-prone companies. I’m baffled by such an abrupt shift in popular ideology and loss of faith in new policies that haven’t yet had the chance to prove or disprove themselves. I’m concerned that my new speaker, John Boehner, is getting a little too much sun.

I’m terrified. I’m on the edge of my seat. I’m bellowing vitriolic insults at a Sony flat-screen television. But in the face of such severe inner-ire, there’s something that I must concede.

If there’s one thing that I learned last night–regardless of the magnitude of my outrage–it’s that we live in an incredible country, the likes of which the world has rarely seen. The “city on a hill” phenomenon–the idea of American exceptionalism in its traditional context–is not what I’m pointing to. I’m not saying that economically or socially, culturally or educationally, commercially or religiously, America is any more “exceptional” than the next country. What’s incredible, however, is that the same ethos of cyclical change that ushered in the would-be era of liberal influence in 2008, became its roadblock tonight. And that, even an angry liberal must admit, is exceptional.

There are countries in this world that have held the same leaders (or whose leaders have held them) for decades–generations. A steady capacity for change, in all its ambiguity and disappointing two-sidedness, is a remarkable achievement.

Taking a good hard look at the shifts in influence from the beginning of the Clinton era to the dawn of the Gingrich era to the beginning of the Bush era to the dawn of the Pelosi era to the beginning of the Obama era to the dawn of what may prove to be the Boehener era, one realizes what American freedom really means.

There’s been no violence, there’s been no bloodshed; and in an undisputed, clear-cut manner, the tables have very dramatically turned. The elasticity of the potential for power to shift in the United States is a present-day embodiment of Constitutional freedom and proof that Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has not perished from the earth.

“Frustrated” doesn’t being to describe it. I’m worried about the economy, just as I’m anxious about the well-being of the environment. I’m worried about the future of welfare and Social Security. I’m worried about racial profiling. I’m worried about a second subprime mortgage crisis. But paramount above that extraordinary frustration, there’s only one thing that I can coherently verbalize: God bless America.

Election Guide


If you think that more minorities belong in jail, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’ve seen your share of nature and have come to terms with letting the rest of it go, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you think that no one else should benefit from your success, that you and your money are better off in the a secluded bubble of wealth, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe those who are different should be sent away, ostracized, or persecuted, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you know which religion is best, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you think that not all Americans have the right to health insurance, if you think that only those who can afford it should have it, and that you are not somewhat responsible for the well being of your neighbor, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that the government doesn’t serve any critical function, or if you feel the deep desire to give up your compensation when you retire, if you have the concrete knowledge that you’ll never lose your job and you’ll never be in need of financial assistance–why bother having welfare?–vote Republican tomorrow.

If poor people are none of your concern and poverty–you’re sure–is a back burner issue, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to love, that the distinctions are clear, that the government should dictate to Americans who they can and can’t love, and  that feelings should be in the hands of Congress, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that corporations shouldn’t be held accountable for deeply destructive environmental policies and financial irresponsibility that has proven detrimental to millions, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’re under the impression that the subprime mortgage crisis couldn’t have been  prevented by regulation and oversight, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you don’t believe in the American Dream and instead believe that those seeking it should be sent away en masse, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you know that we need more wars, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that Texas oil billionaires need more money, that large companies should be able to fund major political campaigns, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’re sure that old white men should make decisions about what does or doesn’t happen to bodies of young women, vote Republican tomorrow.

But if you’re interested in a future antithetical to the one just described, you may want to reconsider your vote. I cast my vote for the Democratic Party in 2010.