Opinion

The Great Debate

Re-thinking U.S.-China relations

The United States and China have been searching for a new way to frame their relationship.  President Barack Obama’s trip this week to Southeast Asia, the focus of much U.S-Chinese tension, reminds us that with new leadership now set in both countries, it is time for them to carry on with that important task.

The new head of China’s Communist Party Xi Jinping called for a “new type of great power relationship” when he visited Washington last spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Washington and Beijing “are trying to do something that is historically unprecedented, to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”

Obama’s China policy has been successful in securing U.S. interests. What’s missing, however, is the two nations’ shared understanding of how they can co-exist in peace decades into the future.

Instead, many Americans envision a stronger, more aggressive China that Washington may need to confront. Many Chinese, meanwhile, fear a United States that will seek to preserve its waning power by lashing out.

As China grows stronger, uncertainty about what will come next in the bilateral relationship may only increase.

Obama’s mandate: tax increase on rich

Republican leaders such as Grover Norquist and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to strike a hard line on taxes and revenues, “warning” President Barack Obama that the GOP will not negotiate or compromise when it comes to tax policy and deficit reduction.

From an electoral politics standpoint, the Democrats should “have at it.”

As the election made clear, this policy is out of step with voters. Obama made raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year a centerpiece of his economic message – something he emphasized in his recent press conference – and he was rewarded with a resounding victory. Voters also handed Democrats an increased Senate majority, where the tax debate played out front-and-center in many campaigns.

This theme echoed through state politics as well. Voters in California, for example, passed Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to fund K-12 public schools through a revenue increase that comes from the highest earners.

The end of white affirmative action

ILLUSTRATION: MATT MAHURIN

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in a Wednesday conference call to donors that President Barack Obama won re-election because he promised “big gifts” to voters, “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” Romney singled out healthcare reform as a “huge” gift to these voting blocs and the working poor.

This echoes what the conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly has been saying. “The demographics are changing,” O’Reilly lamented on election night. “This is not a ‘traditional America’ anymore.” Latino, black, and women voters, he noted, were turning out for Obama. They did so, O’Reilly said, because “they want stuff.”

The audacity of these claims is breathtaking. The Romney campaign promised $5 trillion in tax cuts and a pile of regulatory and other favors to the wealthiest Americans. Over the past three decades such conservative “gifts” have helped the top 1 percent of earners – the likes of Romney and his donors – to nearly triple their incomes and double their share of the national income.

The economy needs a ‘unity Cabinet’

The election left us with a status quo political lineup, one that failed to make any meaningful fiscal progress over the past two years. So is it realistic to expect that we can avoid the fiscal cliff and achieve some sort of “grand bargain”? Yes, it is possible, and here is how to do it:

First, President Barack Obama should form a “unity Cabinet” to demonstrate to the public and Congress that he wants to bring the nation together and accelerate progress on key challenges. It should include Democrats, Republicans and independents. All should be respected in both parties, have meaningful private-sector experience and credibility within and outside the Washington Beltway.

These criteria are especially critical when it comes to the president’s top economic team. Obama will almost certainly change the leadership at the Treasury Department, since Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has talked about leaving after the first term, and the Office of Management and Budget. Smart appointments could help reboot Obama’s relationships with Congress and increase the chance of success.

The real winner: Inflation

I buy none of the post-election, prime-time hokum that what decided the presidential race was the Latino vote, women’s issues, the next Supreme Court justices, the view from the fiscal cliff or how drones are winning the War on Terror. This presidential election was, as always, a contest between gold standardists and inflationists.

The victors were the forces of cheap money. William Jennings Bryan would be proud ‑ as would bimetalists and Weimar Republicans.

Inflation won because it is the panacea for all that ails the body politic: a short-term cure-all that promises economic growth, the possibility of paying off runaway national and international debts, new-found prosperity for the middle classes and liquidity for the impoverished, who otherwise would be voting in the streets with rocks and burning tires.

Fighting off the counterrevolution

The conventional wisdom has arrived: 2012 was a status quo election.  President Barack Obama was reelected.  Democrats continue to have a majority in the Senate.  Republicans still control the House.  Only two states changed their presidential votes from 2008 to 2012 (North Carolina and Indiana).  Six billion dollars were spent and almost nothing changed!

The conventional wisdom is wrong.  Things have indeed changed.  Voters came out to defend the revolution of 2008.  They rejected a return to the old order.

The status quo candidate in this election was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  Romney represented the old order that’s been in power since 1980: the Reagan regime with its power base of older white men.  Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to win the White House during that regime, tried to make accommodations with it.  They impeached him.

First step in ending DC dysfunction

 

After the sound and the fury, the public disdain for government — particularly for Congress — the high stakes and looming fiscal disaster and $6 billion, we end up where we began — with Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats with a modest majority in the Senate, and Republicans retaining control of the House.

It appears we are back to the same ingredients that produced the least productive and most destructive Congress in memory, whose public approval plummeted to historic lows. That reality is reinforced by House Speaker John Boehner’s claim of a mandate for House Republicans even as Obama won a sweeping electoral victory for a second term.

But appearances can be deceiving. In this case, they are.

The Republican approach for Obama’s first term was simple — use every available tool of obstruction to hamper and delegitimize his presidency. They opposed anything and everything he proposed, even policies they had recently embraced. The GOP used the filibuster to defeat, obstruct or discredit his every initiative. They took the debt ceiling hostage after their 2010 election victory, which lowered America’s credit rating and slowed the economic recovery, and gave us the “fiscal cliff.” They killed every serious effort in Congress to strengthen the economy, increase jobs and pass a balanced package of deficit reduction and debt stabilization.

Obama’s climate change quandary

After a campaign in which climate change did not come up, and after the East Coast weathered a storm that, if it was not brought on by climate change, felt an awful lot like the storms that will be, the president of the United States finally nodded in its direction. It was not much. It was not even a whole sentence. But it felt like the first rain after a long drought. From Barack Obama’s victory speech:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

There it was—a sign that, although cap-and-trade legislation failed so wretchedly in Congress and although the Environmental Protection Agency has had to keep quiet about its work to limit carbon emissions, the president still remembers that climate change is a danger to this country. It is not clear that he is going to do anything about it, however: In his speech, he said his goals for his second term were “reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil.” But since 2010, when the Senate gave up on passing a climate bill, it has seemed that politicians have forgotten how to talk about climate change ‑- or are too afraid to talk about it. If the country is ever going to deal with this threat, the first step is to start talking about it again.

Can Obama fire up younger voters?

 

As national attention focuses on the devastation inflicted on Atlantic states by megastorm Sandy, polls show the same basic electoral reality that has prevailed throughout the presidential campaign: Without a strong turnout among young voters, President Barack Obama loses on Nov. 6.

So, Obama may need more than fiery “go vote!” entreaties to students to overcome his presidency’s disorganized, mixed record on youth issues.

New polls taken nationally and in key swing states (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin) show how crucial young voters are to the president’s reelection. Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney among 18- to 29-year-olds by landslide margins, more than offsetting the mildly pro-Romney sentiments of their elders.

It’s the (lack of) unity, stupid!

What we expect to hear in the closing days of a campaign is a call to arms.  Instead, what we’re hearing from both sides is a call to disarm.

“I’m going to have to reach across the aisle and meet with good Democrats who love America just like you love America,” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a recent campaign rally in Virginia.  “And there are good Democrats like that.”

“In the end, we’re all in this together,” President Barack Obama said at a rally in Wisconsin.  “We rise and fall as one nation, one people.”

  •