Opinion

The Great Debate

Vote is referendum on the New Deal

 

We have been told throughout this presidential campaign that the contest is a referendum about two visions of government, one activist, the other passive ‑ like every presidential election since 1980. But that may actually understate the stakes. In a larger context, it is a choice between maintaining the last 80 years of American governance or abruptly ending it.

In fact, this election is really about whether the New Deal and its descendant, the Great Society, will survive or whether they will be dismantled. And that is historic.

What does dismantling the New Deal and Great Society mean? It means converting Medicare from guaranteed medical insurance to a possible privately run system of health procurement. It means Medicaid could be capped, which could strip millions of children of their healthcare. It means scaling back financial regulation. It means poverty programs, like food stamps, may be cut dramatically. It means the Davis-Bacon Act, insuring that workers on government projects receive the prevailing wage, could be revoked. It means the end of subsidies for public transportation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, of course, the Public Broadcasting System. It even means slashing disaster relief.

All these cuts, and so many more, are enumerated in the Ryan budget. More, they are a systematic program to gut government action – action that has accreted for decades to meet public needs.

This would constitute a gigantic reversal, even in Republicanism. It may be hard to believe, given today’s rancorous political climate, that Republicans never really challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s program to revive the country during the Great Depression. The Social Security Act passed the House of Representatives with 81 Republicans voting yes and only 15 voting no, and the Senate with 16 Republican yeses and only 5 nos. Similarly, despite grumblings from Wall Street, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 that regulated the financial industry received wide Republican support. The Civilian Conservation Corps, which put the unemployed to work on conservation projects, passed Congress by a voice vote. Even the National Labor Relations Act protecting union rights passed the House by a voice vote and the Senate with just 12 dissenters.

Is Obama good for black people?

Is President Barack Obama good for black people?  While Obama heads into Election Day with strong support from black voters, some black intellectuals are pressing that question.

In a reproachful op-ed article in the Sunday New York Times, flanked by a large drawing of a black man literally muzzled by an Obama campaign placard, Columbia professor Fredrick C. Harris proposes that “black elites” and voters have effectively conspired to mute criticism of the president because of his race. This argument is plain wrong.

Obama’s presidency, Harris argues, marks “the decline” of a politics devoted to “challenging racial inequality” — a failure facilitated by black America itself. “Black elites” and black constituencies, Harris asserts, have capitulated to a president who does little for them — simply for the “pride” of “having a black family in the White House.”

Voting in an election that matters

Every four years, presidential nominees tell voters that this election is the most important of our lifetimes. Such proclamations are largely hyperbole.

In 2012, however, it might be warranted. This election is consequential.

During the next four years, the nation will have to face issues of debt, taxes and fiscal stability that will imprint our grandchildren’s futures and beyond. National and homeland security have received less attention during this election than in the previous few, but they always are an international or national incident away from dominating our consciousness in ways we can’t anticipate.

And issues surrounding inclusion, equality and fairness can’t ever be forgotten for long. Otherwise our essential character as a country — the very essence of the American experiment — will be endangered.

Obama’s base and politics of disappointment

There may be no better illustration of President Barack Obama’s appeal than his ability to hold onto voters — minorities, single moms and young people — who have fared the worst under his presidency. The big question as we approach Election Day may be whether these constituencies, having been mauled by the economy, will show up in sufficient numbers to ensure Obama’s re-election.

Welcome to the politics of disappointment. Much has been said about the problems facing the middle class, which has been losing out since the 1970s. But the biggest recent losers have been groups like African-Americans and Latinos. In the current economic downturn, middle class African-Americans have lost virtually all the gains they made over the past 30 years, according to the National Urban League. Median annual household income for blacks declined by more than 11 percent from June 2009 to June 2012, according to the Census bureau. That’s twice the loss suffered by whites.

African-Americans and Latinos have also borne much of the pain from the housing downturn. Latinos suffered the biggest loss of net worth in the recession — largely based on decline in housing values — of any ethnic group, according to the Census. Weakness in the housing market, now only beginning to recover, also hurt many Latino workers, who represent a large part of the nation’s construction industry labor force.

Why ‘peace’ was catchphrase in presidential debate

Foreign policy attempted to take center stage at the presidential debate Monday evening but failed resoundingly. For the candidates agreed to agree on a number of key issues — the timeline for ending America’s longest war, support for Israel, and the importance of diplomacy and sanctions in Iran. Nation-building at home trumped nation-building abroad, and small business won as many mentions from the nominees as the death of Osama bin Laden. It was no accident that the contenders talked about teachers more than Libya.

What both President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney made clear to a nation exhausted by one decade of two bloody wars: The era of big military interventions is over. Romney, who earlier in the campaign sounded poised to embrace a more activist foreign policy, embraced a loudly centrist worldview that eschewed saber-rattling in favor of promoting entrepreneurship and civil society.

“Peaceful” was the night’s catchphrase for Romney, who told the president, “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” This key word is likely to resonate with the women voters his campaign now sees as both critical to victory and open to his more centrist message.

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday’s foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

What both presidential nominees fail to see is that the United States and its allies went beyond their (and the U.N.’s) declared objective of protecting civilian areas under threat of attack to promoting rapid and violent regime change. This left the country in the hands of a fledgling rebel political leadership, which has tenuous control over the country’s militia groups.

Romney’s big chance with Jewish voters

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Monday foreign policy debate, should play to the Jewish TV audience like he was the star of a Borscht Belt revue.

Romney has a tempting assortment of issues he can tap to frame President Barack Obama as a leader whose policies are perilous for Israel. He can use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Egypt and even Syria to make a case that Obama’s policies are wrong for the Jewish state.

Given the tenuous state of relations between Israel and the United States, it’s surprising that, according to a recent American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish opinion, 61 percent approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israeli relations, while 39 percent disapprove. Those are numbers Romney needs to change Monday night.

Key fiscal questions nominees must answer

 

We can only hope the final presidential debate Monday provides less heat and more light than the previous two. Especially with regard to fiscal matters, the debates have so far not provided the substance and solutions that voters need and deserve to hear.

Our nation’s escalating deficits and debt represent the biggest threat to our national security, as I said in early 2007. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said much the same in 2010. So the topic of the third debate, foreign policy and national security, needs to include a frank discussion of fiscal issues.

For, as our economy weakens, so does our position in the world. It will eventually compromise both our national security and domestic tranquility if not effectively addressed. Both our allies and adversaries recognize this, and we need to take action.

Biden changes 2016 race as well as 2012

Whoever wins on November 6, and however the president is thought to have done in the remaining debates, the only sure winner of the debate season is Joe Biden.

He has moved from the nearly man to the coming man, from also-ran to man-to-watch. Why so? Biden attracted a great deal of criticism from conservatives for his grimacing in the veep debate in Danville, Kentucky, for laughing in the face of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, for shamelessly grabbing all the attention so that even when Ryan was speaking, everyone was watching Biden’s scoffing antics on the split screen. The Democratic base loved every second.

In a practical lesson on how to hug the limelight and dominate the conversation, Biden showed President Barack Obama how he should have torn into GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Denver — and how he will have to make up lost ground in the few remaining weeks.

Chasing the Reagan Legacy

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, like so many Republicans today, continually try to grab onto Ronald Reagan’s legacy and call it theirs. They might know my father’s politics — but they didn’t know the man.

After the first Republican presidential debate last September at the Reagan Library, I wrote a piece for Time.com about how all the candidates seek to stuff themselves into my father’s image. Ironic, since he never tried to imitate anyone.

What set my father apart was his character – the very thing that can’t be successfully imitated or cobbled together in strategy sessions or rehearsals.

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