Ideology is what has won in the shutdown debate
The shutdown of good governance
By Fred Hiatt, Published: October 6
If a country proves unable to govern itself, you expect to find a historical explanation. A plague, maybe, or chronic drought, or the rise of a hostile power on its borders.
None of those applies in the present case. To the contrary, by many measures the United States, long blessed, should be entering a new golden age. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the United States would become, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the world’s No. 1 energy power — producing more oil and gas combined than Russia or Saudi Arabia? While most developed nations, from Japan to Italy to Russia, don’t have enough young people, U.S. population trends are relatively benign thanks to immigration and a stable birth rate.
Yet the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?
One theory is bad luck: Some analysts suggest that John Boehner, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are a collection of unusually weak leaders, or leaders especially ill-matched in temperament.
A variation on that theme holds that leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold Warunderstood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.
But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:
Slow growth and inequality. As my colleague Robert Samuelson recently wrote, after World War II Americans became accustomed to 3 percent annual growth, which allowed for a cheerful spreading of the wealth. Now 2 percent may be the new normal, in part because the United States, though its population is younger than that of many countries, still will have more retirees per active worker than in the past.
The growth we do manage is being shared less equally, thanks largely to technology and globalization. The possible result: nastier politics as classes and generations fight over a slower-growing pie.
The great fracturing. Then-Sen. Barack Obama electrified the nation in 2004 with his Democratic convention speech insisting there was no Red America or Blue America. Since then, the divisions have only become more marked. From guns to gay marriage to Obamacare, we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.
As Americans increasingly choose to live among those with whom they agree politically, in what author Bill Bishop called “the big sort,” technology and other factors loosen the ties that bound us into one nation. Other than the occasional, and fleeting, YouTube video, there is no cable television channel or Internet site that we experience in common. Political parties that transcended region have been purged of dissenters and overshadowed by single-focus interest groups.
Immigration and the end of a white majority. “The Mexican migration, and the similarly large migration of others from the rest of Latin America, has in just one generation reshaped the nation,” Michael Barone recently wrote. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican-born people in the country; today they number more than 12 million, and with their children comprise about 10 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities — if that’s still the right word — make up about half of the under-5 population. By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority. The country seems to have handled the surge in immigration more peaceably than it greeted past waves of newcomers. But the shifts may be causing political shockwaves whose connections to the demographic changes aren’t immediately obvious.
Inadequate political institutions. There’s the affront posed to the principle of one man, one vote by the U.S. Senate, where 600,000 Wyoming residents have as much say as 38 million Californians. In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.
The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and un-threatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.
Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.
In 1860, the North and South were divided by more than ideology, the issue of slavery. Northern and Southern elites viewed each other as stereotypes. Today, the divide between the Publicrats approaches the level that produced secession, the true cause of the war.
The conflict between the sections concerned the extension of slavery into the territories: both sides were wrong.
Letter to Alexander H. Stephens
Slavery was not viable in the territories; it was doomed in the South. Ideology prevailed…civil war ensued.
If the war had ended in 1862 with the North victorious, slavery would have survived. The planter class succumbed to emotional logic. Fearful that their way of life would end because of Lincoln’s election, which meant slavery would not be extended into the territories, they agitated for secession. The slavocracy persuaded farmers and laborers that it would be in their self-interest to leave the Union because blacks would become socially equal to whites: racism. Abolitionists furnished emotional canister that was underlined by John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Republicans, however, assiduously attempted to assure Southerners they would not interfere with slavery in the South. The Fugitive Slave Law would not be repealed and the inter-state slave trade would not be interfered with. The Republican Party was more concerned with developing a national economy than ending slavery. After the war, Republicans abandoned former slaves in favor of developing the industrial state, the economy.
“The quality of the Second Corps was evident at every level, but no more so than in the individual soldiers. Countless letters and diaries speak to individual soldiers’ bravery through an unremitting series of brutal battles. But also evident is a deep commitment to the Union. Soldiers in the Second Corps knew that the United States would endure even if the Confederacy established itself as an independent political entity, but they believed the freedoms guaranteed white Americans by a republican form of government would suffer a fatal blow. They were, one wrote, fighting to protect ‘our great and free government’ and the ‘best government that ever was instituted.’
Jonathan Stowe, a farm laborer, enlisted in the 15th Massachusetts — one of the hardest-fighting regiments in the Second Corps — during the autumn of 1861. Stowe wrote that Southerners who took up arms against a freely elected government were not only ‘my country’s enemy,’ but ‘base traitors to humanity and the world.’ He made the ultimate sacrifice one year later, when he was mortally wounded at Antietam.
By the spring of 1864, Lt. Josiah Favill admitted that he and many other soldiers were homesick. Yet maintaining the Union came above all else, and ‘until the work is done this army will never lay down its arms.’
At first glance, not all of the soldiers of the Second Corps seemed destined to become among the most redoubtable fighters in the Union Army. Many of them came from Democratic homes and ethnic communities that gave little support to the expansion of Federal war aims to include emancipation. Pvt. William Smith of the 116th Pennsylvania, a largely Irish regiment recruited in Philadelphia, argued that fighting to free the slaves was a betrayal of why he had gone to war. ‘To hell with the Niggers,’ he concluded. After the Second Corps was badly bloodied in the fighting around Fredericksburg, Va., during late 1862, a New York private fumed that the loss of life was because of the ‘accursed Nigger. It is all fudge and I am mad.’
And yet what modern-day Americans must grasp, amid the harshness of such racial attitudes, is that the soldiers of the Second Corps saw the fighting through. Many of these men reenlisted during the winter of 1863 and 1864, when their three-year term of service was about to expire. That fall, in fact, they overwhelmingly voted for Abraham Lincoln and the continuation of the war in overwhelming numbers. Without such resolve, whether the Union even would have won the war, let alone destroyed the institution of slavery, remains open to question.
The emphasis on Union continued into the postwar era…Reflecting the move toward national reconciliation by the late 19th century, veterans of the Second Corps praised their former gray-clad adversaries as Americans ‘as brave as ourselves’ and ‘foemen “worthy of our steel.”’ African-Americans and their plight in the postwar South rarely intruded upon the good feelings, even as Second Corps veterans often patted themselves on the back for helping to bring an end to the institution of slavery. Talk flowed freely about slavery as a ‘foul blot wiped out forever’ and America as a land; where all mankind are free.’ Yet the transition of millions of blacks from slavery to freedom simply was not these veterans’ concern.”
Ideology is a form of ignorance which delimits thinking. Ideologues place boundaries around their minds that precludes contemplating or allowing new ideas to enter a calculus.
In the early nineteenth century, the Republican Party hated taxes and feared the rise of a despot who could gain control of the government through a standing army. This ideology included maintenance of the United States Navy, even though numerous warships had already been built.
Result: The British navy impeded American sea commerce with impunity. British frigates boarded brigs from Boston and New York and frequently impounded the vessels which caused insurance rates to quadruple. One London paper printed: The sea is ours, and we must maintain the doctrine that no nation, no fleet, no cock-boat shall sail upon it without our permission.
More importantly, British captains impressed and forced unwilling American crewmen to serve on their warships. Crown policy included natural born Americans and citizens who were born in Great Britain because once British always British. According to their own records, the British impressed at a minimum 4,000 American sailors. When the Constitution returned to Boston in October 1807, there were no American warships at sea.
President Thomas Jefferson’ solution to defend American harbors was to build small gunboats. Dozens were built but these vessels proved unsuitable for the task — they were crap. The cost of these feeble “warships”, $1.5 million, could have bought 8 frigates, destroyers of the day. Finally, in January 1809, Federalists and Republicans overcame their ideological differences for the common good and passed a bill to revive the United States Navy.
Neo-liberalism is an ideology tied to the concept of free trade, which is a myth. Result: American jobs lost.
Perhaps the greatest issue facing our country is the inevitable bankruptcy of the federal government. Anyone with common sense discerns that there must be massive spending cuts accompanied by modest, fair tax increases. Yet…the Publicrats are unable to find common ground to address the salient issue that will affect US All, eventually, down the road.
The Simpson Bowles Commission provided a non-ideological path toward fiscal responsibility; it has been rejected.
If Columbus had accepted the ideology that the world is flat, he never would have sailed West to discover the New World.
Guest column: Ideologies are closing American minds
8:49 AM, Apr. 11, 2012
A disconcerting thought has been gnawing at me for a while now. I am now certain of its truth and it truly saddens me. As a society, we have slowly become incapable of civil discourse and would rather shield ourselves in ignorance than listen to an opposing point of view. I have not gleaned this from watching MSNBC or listening to Rush Limbaugh. That is too easy. No, I slowly found this by watching and listening to regular folks.
Two recent snippets of conversations really drove this point home. One was a colleague who expressed utter contempt for President George W. Bush. Another was an acquaintance who explained that he would rather have bamboo shoved under his fingernails (or something akin to that) than watch President Obama address the nation.
Now I know these people well enough to know they are educated and well-intentioned. And this is not about two isolated comments. This is about a national trend of intolerance I have witnessed in recent years.
There have always been people on the fringes who assaulted “the other side” and made it their mission to lambaste or lampoon any idea generated from across the aisle. But this has somehow become the new normal. We have grown so distrustful of our perceived adversaries that we cannot even stop to listen (even critically) to their ideas. Compromise is gone; leadership is a lost art.
I am a Republican who often votes for Democrats. Yes – that is absolutely possible and the way it should be. I listen. I think. I vote. And if I cannot get enough education on a particular issue, I abstain. There are no party lines that mandate my voting record. And here is a real bombshell – I am perfectly willing to have my opinions on political and other “taboo” issues swayed by persuasive arguments from the other side. There are few, if any, absolutes in this world, and I have no fear of modifying my beliefs if a compelling argument is made.
This nation was founded on democratic principles of debate and discourse – not distrust and contempt. One of the greatest framers, Thomas Jefferson, said the following: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Amen to that.
So why do we now look so hard to isolate ourselves in various ideological camps and refuse to even give grudging respect to the other point of view? I for one actually respect a politician whose voting record or other past acts show independent thought. Give me a “flip-flop” over a party-line automaton any day. In my opinion, this often shows an actual ability to think – to hear the other side, work to a resolution, and perhaps to do what is best in the end after serious soul-searching. It may also show personal growth over a long career – something laudable indeed.
My wife and I hate it when people assume they know the way we think because of some perceived stereotype. We are both free thinkers and are working diligently to raise two kids who will do the same.
I don’t do this for the sake of unpredictability. I do this because I seek personal growth which can only come through hearing and studying other points of view on important topics.
I may stay right where I am, but I will listen, consider, and weigh the points offered by my friend or adversary. And though I may disagree, I will not disrespect. This applies to my friends, adversaries, and certainly the current or former president of the United States of America.
Paul Haffner of Mariemont is an attorney and insurance executive who also teaches a class in business ethics at a local university.
March 13, 2012 at 00:02:47
Republicans Court the “White Trash” Vote in Alabama and Mississippi
By Walter Uhler
Although it was far behind Texas, in 2011 Alabama executed more prisoners than any other state in the United States. Citizens of Alabama live in more mobile homes per capita than all but three other states. Alabama has the third worst infant mortality rate in the United States, the third lowest life expectancy, and the second highest obesity rate. Only four states have more single parent households per capita than the great state of Alabama.
Mississippi is worse. It has the lowest per capita income in the United States, the highest percentage of persons living below the poverty level, the fourth highest unemployment rate, the third highest percentage of mobile homes per capita, the highest infant mortality rate, the highest percentage of out-of-wedlock births, the highest percentage of single-parent households, the highest obesity rate, the second worst high school graduation rate and the lowest life expectancy.
In a word, Alabama and Mississippi are two of the nation’s worst performers when it comes to providing a decent quality of life for its citizens. But they hardly stand out in the American South, the region that embarrasses the rest of the country with its egregious social pathologies. (For a chart demonstrating just how poorly the South performs, see
Students of the American South have provided a few plausible explanations for the South’s interminable failure to bring about widespread social and economic improvement. W. J. Cash, in his classic study, The Mind of the South , concluded that the Southern plantations, which thrived by exploiting Negro slave labor, proved doubly beneficial to virtually every yeoman farmer and the landless poor white in the region. As Mr. Cash saw it, “Not only was he not exploited directly, he was himself made by extension a member of the dominant class — was lodged solidly on a tremendous superiority, which, however much the blacks in the “big house’ might sneer at him, and however much the masters might privately agree with them, he could never publicly lose.”
However, “The grand outcome was the almost complete disappearance of economic and social focus on the part of the masses. One simply did not have to get on in this world in order to achieve security, independence, or value in one’s own estimation and in that of one’s fellows. [p.39] Unfortunately, when the economic focus disappeared, so too did the work ethic.
Like Mr. Cash, Professor Grady McWhiney also noted the absence of a work ethic in the American South, but he attributed it to the Scotch-Irish culture dominating the region, as well as to the many Southerners who “earned” their living by herding hogs and cattle. “Aside from marketing or branding their animals, Southerners had little more to do than round them up in the fall and either sell them to a local buyer or drive them to market. One could even raise livestock without owning land.” [Cracker Culture , p. 67]
That aversion to work also undermined efforts to educate the masses; leaving untouched the region’s infamous anti-intellectualism, which was largely a product of religious enthusiasm and Scotch-Irish culture. Henry Adams — who observed Robert E. Lee’s son and other Southerners at Harvard — would note: “Strictly, the Southerner had no mind; he had temperament. He was not a scholar; he had no intellectual training; he could not analyze an idea, and he could not even conceive of admitting two”" [p. 99]
Nevertheless, being uneducated and emotional hasn’t prevented the common white Southerner from believing himself intelligent enough to spot a liberal, socialist, communist, traitor, moral degenerate or godless atheist, whenever somebody challenges, questions or seeks to improve upon his culturally impoverished status quo. And it doesn’t prevent 45 percent of the good folks in Alabama — and 52 percent of the good folks in Mississippi — from expressing the absolutely shameful, asinine, opinion that President Obama is a Muslim.
How many of them are racist white trash? In 2008, Obama received but 10 percent of the white votes in Alabama, compared with the 19 percent that John Kerry received there in 2004. Similarly, Obama received only 11 percent of the white vote in Mississippi in 2008, whereas Kerry received 14 percent.
(Readers of The South and America Since World War II, by James C. Cobb might recall that the author briefly discusses the work of “white-trash” writers like Rick Bragg, Dorothy Allison, Larry Brown, Harry Crews and Tim McLaurin. According to Professor Cobb, “the characters created by the white-trash writers seethe with class resentment while clinging tenaciously to a fierce sense of independence and pride that is often their undoing.” See pp. 253-257)
More recently, Glenn Feldman has updated W. J. Cash’s insight about the enervating superiority that, for centuries, — immobilized the poor whites who luxuriated in their racial dominance. For Feldman, however, the issue now is not the South’s cheap racial superiority — which has been demolished by the Civil Rights movement — but its equally cheap religious/moral superiority.
According to Professor Feldman: “People tend to lose sight of issues that have a relevance or their day-to-day lives in the rush to feel part of a majority that carries with it a sense of emotional well-being, even superiority. For so long in the South, that issue was race and white supremacy. Now, it is increasingly morality and religion, accompanied by a sense of moral superiority and righteousness.” [Politics and Religion in the White South , ed. By Glenn Feldman, 2005, p. 332]
Why “cheap?” Because it often is based on only one or two issues — especially abortion — that allow many Southerners to feel complacently superior enough to ignore what would be, for any decent person, an obligation to engage in self-improvement, good works and the promotion of social justice. As Professor Feldman notes: Catholics in the Deep South litter their churches with anti-abortion literature that “instruct the faithful on how to clear all other issues from their conscience save abortion when going to the polls.” [Ibid. p. 314]
Thus, we obtain a profound insight into how, historically, the South can teem with openly self-righteous Christians and, yet, make almost no progress in ameliorating the many pathologies that plague their society. It’s a place where big-talking social conservatives like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich should do well.
Rep. Allen West: 80 Communist Party Members In U.S.House
April 11, 2012 5:15 PM
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It wasn’t quite Joseph McCarthy waving around papers claiming to know of communists in the federal government, but according to the Palm Beach Post, Congressman Allen West claims he “has heard” there are communists in the House of Representatives.
According to the Post, West was talking to Jensen Beach voters this week when he said President Barack Obama was “scared” to have a discussion with him.
West then said that “he’s heard” up to 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Communist Party members, but declined to give the names of any of the alleged members, according to the Post.
Here’s the question and answer from the meeting provided by Congressman West’s office.
Moderator: What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or International Socialist?
West: It’s a good question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Congressman West’s office responded to questions from CBSMiami.com with the following statement:
“The Congressman was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies. The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren’t proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom.”
When pressed on the issue, Congressman West’s office refused to back down and said because the Communist Party considers the Progressive Caucus as its allies, that speaks for itself.
CBSMiami reached out to Co-Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Raul Grijalva for their comments on the issue.
“Allen West is denigrating the millions of Americans who voted to elect Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) members, and he is ignoring the oath they took to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution—just like he did. Calling fellow Members of Congress ‘communists’ is reminiscent of the days when Joe McCarthy divided Americans with name-calling and modern-day witch hunts that don’t advance policies to benefit people’s lives.
“We hope the people of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District will note that he repeatedly polarizes the American people instead of focusing on their interests. When people like Rep. West have no ideals or principles, they rely on personal attacks. The CPC is proud to stand up for economic equality and civil and human rights for all Americans. Congress is having, and will continue to have, an ongoing debate about job creation, home foreclosures and the issues that concern working families. But we will not engage in base and childish conversations that lower the high level of discourse Americans rightly expect from their representatives.”
The CPC also directed people to a finding from Politifact on the issue West was referring to in his comments.
“Just because you are a member of the Progressive Caucus does not mean you are a socialist,” Politifact said in September 2011.
Roll Call reported Wednesday that it contacted Communist Party USA and asked about West’s comments and got the reply, “That’s the most ludicrous things I’ve ever heard.”
West’s opponent in November, Democrat Patrick Murphy told the Post that he wasn’t surprised by what West said.
“The bottom line is, Allen West is trying to make it in the press with comments that don’t even make sense,” Murphy said. “He’s trying to make headlines, get a rise out of people and not get anything done.”
It’s not the first time West has made comments that have ignited a firestorm. In February, West was talking about how he doesn’t believe Israel has support from Barack Obama when he warned of a “second Holocaust” if Israel doesn’t have the backing of the United States.
West told a crowd in January that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz should “get the hell out of the United States of America.”
Last December, West said that “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party.”