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From “Change We Can Believe In” to “Better Than Nothing”

July 13th, 2010 No comments

Barack Obama did some campaigning for Harry Reid last week as part of his broader effort to maintain Democratic majorities in the House and Senate after this November’s mid-term elections.

The strategy for the republicans is clear: Make the elections a referendum on Obama and the democrats. If the economy still sucks and unemployment is high, voters blame whichever party is in power.

Because the economy does indeed still suck, the democrats have to make sure the election is not a referendum on how they govern but a choice between that and the way the republicans govern.

Hence you have Obama’s now-famous “keys to the car” talking-point, the metaphorical back-bone of the democrats’ entire 2010 strategy:

It’s hard to argue against that. Anyone with a memory-span greater than that of a goldfish understands that republicans had control for nearly the entire downward spiral America took during the last decade. Putting them back in control when their ideas haven’t changed at all since then would unquestionably accelerate the fall.

Obama rephrased this message while campaigning for Reid:

“This is a choice between the policies that led us into the mess, or the policies that are leading us out of the mess,” he said. “This is the choice between falling backwards and moving forward. Harry Reid wants to move forward. I think most people in Nevada want to move forward.”

This kind of assertion is a bit less un-assailable. I don’t really see Obama’s policies as moving us forward—it’s more like they’re moving us backward at a slower rate. The choice isn’t about direction but about velocity. How fast do you want to go over the cliff? Vote republican if you want to go faster.

It’s pathetic how far Obama has fallen from that role of visionary candidate he managed to play so perfectly in 2008, promising not just to play the game better but to change the way the game was played. He’s neither changed the game nor played it particularly better than most. His victories have been weak and hollow, and he hasn’t appeared to be fighting very hard for them in the first place.

The choice we’re left with is no choice at all. Left-leaning voters can’t vote republican, but voting democrat would send the wrong message as well—that we approve of the pathetically ineffective governance we’re getting and we’ll accept more of the same.

Obama didn’t win the 2008 election. The idea of “Change” won. Now Obama is the “more of the same” candidate. The “could be worse” candidate. The Democratic Party is the party of “better than nothing.” If they think that message will motive people, they’re sadly mistaken.

Americans Paying for Europeans’ Vacations?

July 13th, 2010 No comments

Occasionally you come across something you hadn’t considered before and it really makes you look at things differently. Here I’d been living in Europe for two years and marveling at how much better their social programs are in comparison with America, never considering that America might be to thank.

Last week, Barney Frank and Ron Paul wrote a joint statement for the Huffington Post which received a lot of attention. They called for a reduction in America’s defense spending, pointing to the fact that the $693 billion Pentagon budget is greater than all other discretionary spending programs combined, and that even if you exclude the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending still constitutes 42% of total spending. Why?

Immediately after World War II, with much of the world devastated and the Soviet Union becoming increasingly aggressive, America took on the responsibility of protecting virtually every country that asked for it. Sixty-five years later, we continue to play that role long after there is any justification for it, and currently American military spending makes up approximately 44% of all such expenditures worldwide. The nations of Western Europe now collectively have greater resources at their command than we do, yet they continue to depend overwhelmingly on American taxpayers to provide for their defense. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism. Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella.”

This is an interesting question—if the United States wasn’t paying for the defense of all these countries, how would life here change? Would they have to make up the difference and we’d suddenly see reductions in vacation time, later retirement ages and so on—or would they just choose not to spend much on defending themselves seeing as how there’s no longer a conventional military force that threatens them? Presumably the choice would ultimately be left to the voters, and I’d be terribly interested to see which side they came down on.

Because we know which side Americans come down on. This initiative by Frank and Paul is doomed to failure, because while there is no conventional military force threatening us, we sure as hell act like there is. Americans, thanks to ruling trifecta of corporations, politicians, and the media, are scared shitless and any talk of a reduction in defense spending sounds like an invitation to be invaded by the Red Army. Never mind that we’d be cutting our defense of other countries—this is too much nuance for the typical conservative voter.

But the argument is at least worth a try. Ask a conservative hawk why we have to spend money on other countries and cut spending on ourselves? Why should our retirement age go up so Europeans’ retirement age can go down? Why should our vacations be shorter so theirs can be longer?