Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

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Senate Set to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Legislation

12.18.10

For nearly two decades, homosexual Americans haven’t been able to serve openly in our armed forces due to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation passed in 1993.

Despite opposition from much of the Republican Party – spearheaded by a cynical Sen. John McCain – and the glacial moving by the Democrats to act in the way that a majority of Americans want them to, the Senate voted today, 63-33, to move toward a final vote on the discriminatory law’s repeal.

Enough has already been said, at length, about this.  Suffice to say that it’s time.  It’s beyond time for this law to be sent into the history books.  It’s frustrating to feel like we’re so behind the times with these things — compared to other first-world countries like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom — who already allow gays to serve openly in their militaries.

I’ve heard the reasoning against repeal, namely that we’re at war and that we need to make sure that we can do this without affecting the troops in combat.  To which I reply: how could repeal possibly affect anything? It’s pathetic that some people truly believe that gays will all of a sudden show up in drag to the front-lines or something, as if the repeal would cause people to stop being the extremely well-trained, professional military troops they are and have been due solely to the openness of their sexuality.

What’s going to happen is that these men and women who fight wars for those politicians who choose to go to war will be able to do so without having to pretend that they don’t have loved ones for whom they care deeply about simply because they’re of the same gender.  The indignity and emotional trauma of having to call their partners “friends” to avoid losing their jobs will finally come to an end.

It’s about time.

Image courtesy of vassego’s Flickr Photostream.

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Think for Yourself: Political Affiliation Not Determined Solely By Pundits and Extremists

12.16.10

With our polarized political climate comes the inevitable cases where specific groups lay claim to being the “true” party, leaving others as being “in name only.”  Not only is this annoying and arrogant in principle, it also leaves a wide swath of people in political no-man’s land wondering: what party do I belong to?

Boiling complex issues down into a strictly “Democratic” or “Republican” viewpoint losing much of the nuance that is required when dealing with real-life scenarios.  And unless you’re just a blind follower who agrees with everything that your chosen party tells you to believe, you’re going to disagree with some aspects of their policies.

Let’s say you’re fiscally conservative but socially liberal — you want low taxes on the rich and low spending all around but are all for gays getting married and gays serving openly in the military.  You’re going to find yourself finding it tough to vote for a representative that shares those views, who would be willing to truly implement policies to those ends.  (Then again, finding anyone to actually lower spending is quite a feat these days.)

Everyone claims to be the “right” version of something.  It’s like middle school all over again and I take no part in it.  Who am I to say that you’re not “really” a Republican or not “really” a Democrat, as if I am the Definer of All Things Political? Who does get to determine?  Rush Limbaugh?  Glenn Beck?  Olympia Snowe?  Ben Nelson?  Keith Olbermann?  NPR?  Fox News?

Suffice to say if anyone tells you what you are or aren’t based simply on themselves as the defining characteristics of a group, they’re not worth listening to. People like that are the geocentrists of political theory, thinking that whatever they’re version of being a Republican/Democrat/Centrist/Libertarian is the right one — and only one. It’s closed-minded, exclusionary, and based on fear. Fear of being wrong and not being able to handle the reality that life and thoughts exist on a spectrum.

It’s why I prefer to voice my stances on issues, not on broad strokes. I do consider myself a Democrat because that is how I tend to vote and usually with whom I relate the most in terms of both fiscal and social issues. But it doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the Democratic President says or the Democratic Congress does.  It also doesn’t mean that I can never agree with anything a Republican says or wants to do politically, either.

Same for most people who choose to think about the issues and not just listen to what’s being told to them to believe.

Another thing: it’s okay to not be sure quite where you stand. In fact, I find it extremely refreshing when people say, “I don’t know about _____” because it means they’re thinking about it, and not just regurgitating what they think they’re supposed to say.  I haven’t yet written about WikiLeaks and the whole Julian Assange saga for this very reason: I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, trying to figure out quite where I stand.  It’s not easy.  It’s not cut-and-dried. There are valid points to all sides — except for the ones who call for his execution without so much as a trial.

It’s okay to have wavering ideas. It’s okay to change your mind on things.  It’s okay to be skeptical of those who so clearly think they know what’s right or what’s wrong.

Don’t let someone tell you that you’re not something just because they don’t think you’re up to par. In fact, I’d say defend your stance and say that is your party and that you can be one yet also agree with ______ or ______.  Too much of our society right now has lost all sense of nuance in favor of straight-line ideology.

The more people who bring the reality back into it, the better we will all be for it.

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On Presidential Approval Polls: Way Too Early to Worry about President Obama’s Re-Election Bid

12.14.10

Despite being still two years away from the next general election, pollsters can’t help but read into their findings to determine that President Obama may be in danger of losing his re-election bid.

A new McClatchy/Marist poll finds that Obama has the lowest approval ratings of his presidency thus far: 42 percent.  And while it might seem low compared to the relatively high levels he was at, it’s not the travesty that should be making headline news. (It’s worthwhile to note that this poll has a history of showing a roughly 4-point lower approval rate across the board for Obama than the corresponding Gallup poll — meaning that, like any survey or poll, it’s best to be used as a very rough estimate at best.)

To put the number into context, if we look at the Gallup poll history (I couldn’t find an easily accessible history of the McClatchy/Marist polls) of President Clinton’s approval rating at the same relative time — December of his second year in office — you’ll find that he had the exact same percentage of those polled approving of his job: 42 percent.

Also, let’s look at today’s political climate to see why he would’ve taken a 9-point dip: he just supported a massive tax cut for the rich, so it’s no surprise that he’d take a hit from liberals.

And the stats support this:

Among self-described liberals, his approval rating has dropped from 78 percent to 69 percent since November.

There’s your explanation.

What is telling, though, is that he didn’t receive any uptick from Independents despite his centrist stance on the tax cut package.

It could be a few reasons:

  1. He’s already lost the Independents, who think that he’s too left-wing for their tastes no matter what he does.
  2. Independents aren’t as quick to switch their feelings as the liberals, who responded to the tax cut deal with vicious disagreement.
  3. Independents like the move – hence why their approval didn’t drop – but, are concerned about the debt and want to see what he does with that policy before increasing their approval.
  4. Polls are inaccurate at best; misleading at worst so why are we even bothering to dissect this?

Either way, it’s much too soon to be worrying about the 2012 election as far as polls are concerned.  Look at what’s happened in the past two years already — Obama went from sky-high approval ratings to steady, middle-of-the-road approval ratings that were comparable for other recent presidents who were re-elected (Clinton, Reagan) for most of 2010 until the noticeable dip now, mostly to do with unhappy liberals who are furious at cutting taxes for the rich.

That sting will wear off, especially in two years with the prospect of a Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich, or a Palin running the country.  It’ll most likely wear off sooner than that if DADT gets repealed anytime soon, too.  There’s also the chance that Obama goes down the debt-reduction route — which might shore up some Independent support, but could lose even more favor with Democrats if it cuts entitlements as heavily as it most likely will have to in order to change the course of our spending.  And, I highly doubt that even if he were to support something like the Bowles/Simpson plan he’d be able to win over any Republicans.

But no matter what happens between now and then, faced with the alternative, the Democrats will support him.  Just like the overwhelming majority of Republicans won’t find themselves supporting Obama in 2012, vice versa for the Democrats.  Even if he’s not their favorite option, he’ll be the lesser of two evils.

Which means it comes down to the Independents again.  Making this poll — and probably all others until we get much closer to the election and see how all of the uncertainties of the future play out — pointless and only good for keeping pollsters employed and pundits talking.

And me blogging.

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Who Won in the Political Battle over Tax Cuts; and the Nature of Compromise

12.07.10

After scoping out the vast spectrum of reactions to the tax cut package that just passed through government, I’m left wondering where I stand on things.  I am still relatively new to this whole politics business and I find myself going “yeah, but” to both sides of the arguments (on the factual stuff, not the value-based ideology that gets tossed around a lot these days).

From what I can see, these are the major elements of the legislation:

  • 13 months of unemployment extension
  • 1 year of lower payroll taxes
  • EITC expansion
  • College tax credits
  • Estate tax reinstated but only affects the.25 percent of estates – those inheritances that are worth over $5 million
  • Tax rebates for the middle and lower classes

All of it adds up to about $700 billion added to the deficit.  For those keeping score at home, that’s roughly the size of the Recovery Act (aka, the stimulus).

So, where do I stand on this?

Good question.  Clearly there was compromise on the side of the Democrats in that they were against extending the tax cuts for the rich (who still would feel some of the effects of those proposed tax cuts, regardless, since all of their income under $250,000 would’ve continued to be taxed at the lower rate) and yet the tax cuts across the board is what got passed. Also the estate tax being reinstated but at a lower rate than before and only for a small amount of inheritances. Mark a couple in the win column for the GOP.

But there was compromise on the other side, too.  13 months of unemployment extension is a big deal, especially considering that it was paid for by the deficit, which is precisely what the Republicans did not want.  Throw in the college tax credit and the rebates to the middle- and lower-classes, and those are some wins for Democrats.

For those truly worried about the debt, well, it seems like those are the ones without any real silver lining other than perhaps the Bush-era tax cuts were extended temporarily instead of permanently, so there’s still a chance that the deficit-funded cuts could expire in two years.

There will be Democrats angry about this.  There will be Republicans angry about this.  It seems like from what I’ve read, the Democrats feel the most shafted.  Part of me agrees with that group; but, then part of me wonders: what exactly is compromise? You give up something and the other party gives up something, so you each get something but not everything you want.  Does it have to be an even split to be a successful compromise? Do you still have to feel like you “won” for it to be a negotiation you can live with?  And when it comes down to things like tax cuts versus unemployment benefits, are these exactly apples to apples?  Meaning: can you really trade one for the other and have it even be something you can weigh as one being equal enough to the other for their trade-offs to feel fair?

You can also define compromise as everyone being equally as disappointed.  It’s the cynic’s view of everyone getting something: everyone didn’t get something.  Which is fine so long as you also note that you’re not the only one who didn’t get something rather than just focusing on the items that you wanted but didn’t receive.

Either way: what’s done is done.  Some see a long-term strategy at play that, when spelled out, does make sense. But, is it a planned method to the madness, or is it just an attempt to find a pattern in the chaos?  I guess we’ll find out in a couple years, won’t we?

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Our Current Political Discourse: Time for Critical Thinking, Not Selective Listening

12.04.10

If we consider the endless debating on the 24-hour-news TV channels, in the blogosphere, and on talk radio as healthy political discourse, we’re lacking the “healthy” and “discourse” parts of it.

Instead of focusing on facts and figures to influence a “this is the best course of action” decision, all of our time “discussing” is really just making sure that every single person’s view on things – regardless of how informed it may be – gets its validation in the world.

I suppose the idea is that offering different viewpoints allows the reader/viewer/lemming to determine on their own which one is right and which one is wrong.  Or, more likely on the complex issues not as cut-and-dried as something like the Birther insanity, that each side would offer something valuable to the discussion (and by that I mean factual knowledge, not just personal belief) that would help the reader/viewer/lemming to come to their own conclusions.  Instead, though, people tend to just latch onto whichever person already coincides with their own beliefs (not facts or conclusions) and just accepts everything that person says as truth.  Our news has become simply about offering an outlet to validate everyone, not to empower them to come to their own conclusions.

So what ends up happening? People immediately become defensive when debate occurs because it’s not a discussion of independent facts and points of view; it’s become a personal attack on beliefs.  And, of course, people just reiterating the same talking points over and over.  It’s like we’re all just in one camp or another, following the leader.  That’s not informed debate.  That’s not engaging, educational discourse.  That’s not examining complex issues. It’s just finding someone that is a supposed authority to make you feel like, “Yup! I knew it: I’m right!  See, he said so, too, so that means whatever I think it’s the truth!”

The reality is that everyone lives life in a gray area, even if they claim to – or want to – live in an ideal world where there are clearly defined rights and wrongs. Recently in a Facebook thread, I had a discussion with two Republicans who can’t stand Obama and it came down to this: no matter what Obama does, they won’t agree with him. For example: despite the fact that Obama increased the military campaign in Afghanistan — which is something that one supported — she marginalized it by saying that Obama has merely “supported” the effort there.  I countered that factually that was inaccurate — Obama drastically increased the troop levels in Afghanistan — but, it didn’t change her opinion that he was a “pansy.”  Since she already had established that as her belief of Obama, everything had to be spun to fit that image rather than amending her belief; in this case, marginalizing Obama’s surge in Afghanistan as simply “supporting” what had already been started by his predecessor.

The other commenter in the discussion summed it all up rather succinctly:

“He is slithery and two faced, that is the bottom line.we will never agree on what he has done or not, but he is a fake for sure. [sic]”

Notice that phrasing — implying that even the facts are debatable and up for personal interpretation.  We can certainly disagree on the value of his actions, but to not even be able to see eye-to-eye on what actions he’s done… I mean, that’s outside the boundaries of rational thought. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s where much of our discourse exists today.

We’re at a point where people stick to their preconceived notions in the face of facts that may run contrary, seeking out and listening to others to reaffirm and support those notions rather than absorbing the facts and using those to influence our opinions.  Coming to conclusions based on the evidence seems to be an outdated concept having lost favor to everyone needing validation that their own view of the world is the right one and everyone else is wrong.

Except for those chosen political pundits that share those same beliefs of course.

I mean: what’s so good about all sharing the same feelings on politics as Glenn Beck?  So you can have the exact same political opinions as every other Fox News Channel viewer?  Or every other talk radio listener?  Every other self-proclaimed Republican?

We should all be as skeptical of opinion writers/pundits/hosts as we are of the public figures they themselves are criticizing.  We should all also accept that:

  1. our initial opinions might be wrong;

  2. accept that we won’t share the exact same opinions that we’re “supposed to” have given our political affiliations; and

  3. we will not know what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” on every single issue or policy or maneuver or bill that comes down the pike and is discussed exhaustively in the public eye.

There’s not nearly as much security in accepting those three realities — it’s easier to sleep at night knowing that we’re right and they’re wrong.  The biggest impediment to acceptance is that the pride that has been established already in the polarizing discourse has meant that no one can handle the ego blast that one would endure at this point if a die-hard Republican admitted that – gasp! – Obama did something they agreed with for once and didn’t spin it to still retain their comforting disdain for him.

To universally dismiss and disagree with everything that someone does simply because they did it is the exact same fallacy as universally celebrating and agreeing with everything that person does simply because they did it. It’s the flip side of the same misguided coin.  We need to accept the gray area.  We need to accept that Republicans will sometimes favor (insert traditional Democrat stance here) and Democrats will sometimes favor (insert traditional Republican stance here).  This shouldn’t be surprising nor unforgivable.

It should be encouraged that we think for ourselves and have diverse stances on things rather than stick to partisan talking points.  It’s time to validate critical thinking, not selective listening.

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More Politics, Less Governing: Obama Attempts to Appease GOP Yet Again

12.02.10

In another effort to work with the lock-step Republicans on balancing the budget and cutting spending, President Obama unveiled a plan to freeze government workers’ wages for two years.

Apparently this move would save $5 billion out of the $1.3 trillion annual deficit.  If I do some quick math, that amounts to a whopping .38% spending cut.  (Yes, that’s a decimal point in front of the 38.)

So since this is clearly not remotely going to make or break us in terms of the budget given the massive hole we’re in — and it’s also a temporary fix so it’s not something that will cure the long-term debt — there can only be a couple reasons to do this:

  1. Appeasing the Republicans.
  2. Showing the American people that Dems/Obama are serious about our fiscal health.

It’s not a big enough move to actually put any sizable dent in our deficit so it’s all for show.  And I just don’t see how either groups of people will care whatsoever: those who voted for Republicans on November 2nd have already said they don’t think that Obama and the Dems have any interest in doing much with regard to curbing government spending, and the Republicans have shown that they have no interest in working with Obama since they’ve already declared that their number one priority is making him a one-term president.

At the same time, a majority of Americans do want the Dems and Repubs to work together.  But over the past two years, nothing that Obama has done to appease the Republicans has worked.  I mean, he put over $200 billion in tax cuts in the Recovery Act — yes, to stimulate the economy, but also to appeal to conservatives — and yet still people believe that he raised taxes during his time in office.  It’s unsure exactly what “work together” means to people — if it means the Dems just doing things the way the Repubs want them to, well then, that’s not exactly the definition of compromise.

The issue remains: What did the Democrats get for this? It’s not like this is really helping solve any immediate problems, so the American people don’t stand to feel the benefits of 2 million Americans getting their wages frozen; it’s just a political move.  And at the moment it seems like they’ve gotten nothing except approval from the Republicans, which isn’t much of a compromise whatsoever (even if it’s been rare lately) — it’s a concession.

The idea is that it puts the ball in the GOP’s court to offer a concession of their own on the next issue.  But, I seriously doubt that this will affect the GOP’s stance on the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, which would mean that the Dems just gave up something for nothing.  Not that this is a zero-sum game even though the Republicans play it as such; so, even if it doesn’t feel like the best thing for the Dems now, as long as it ends up moving America in the right direction it could end up being the right play.

I just don’t know that it looks like that’s the case here.

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Republicans and Democrats Both to Blame for Expiration of Unemployment Benefits

12.01.10

For being the party all about the “real” Americans, it strikes me as odd that they’d be more worried about tax cuts that affect the top 1% of Americans who are doing just fine financially rather than look out for the middle class nearly 10% who are unemployed and have been for up to two years.

But, that’s just what the Republicans are doing: focusing on the things that make for good soundbites.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“I think the one thing we clearly agreed on is that first, that we ought to resolve what the tax rates are going to be for the American people beginning next year.”

Clearly more important than making sure that 2 million unemployed Americans can make ends meet in the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Remember that if the tax cuts expire, they go back to the rates that they were in the 1990s: not exactly a crushing time of economic repression.

It’s not all the Republicans’ fault, though.  The Democrats continue their ineptitude:

When asked why Democrats didn’t bring [unemployment insurance extension] up on the Senate floor, [Senator Dick] Durbin said they didn’t have the votes.

“It needs to be part of a package to attract Republican votes, and we found the last time around, I think, we had two Republican votes — that wouldn’t be enough,” he said.

Seriously?  You’re the party that is supposed to truly be for the middle class.  You have a majority in the Senate (and not just during this lame duck session; you retained control into the next Congress, too!).  And you still can’t get the votes?  No wonder your compatriots in the House lost so many seats.co

Rep. Scott Brown (R) added his two cents, which sounds like they could have come from just about anyone on the right side of the political divide:

“Make no mistake, I agree that they need help, but I look at it as: Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?”

It’s all the rage these days to point at the debt and deficit as an excuse to do nothing. But, the questions we should be asking and that our representatives should be as well are these:

  1. What happens if we don’t extend UI benefits?
  2. What are the alternatives if we don’t?

These 2 million Americans aren’t just going to magically find work simply because they aren’t getting their $400 a week safety net anymore.  The jobs aren’t there — private sector jobs went up by 93,000 last month, which is great news and shows that we’re adding more and more jobs each month; but, it’s a fraction of the 2 million needed to help those currently in distress.  If they lose their benefits, they can’t pay rent, buy groceries, fill their cars with gas, buy modest gifts for their kids during the holidays, or pay their utilities.  You know: contributing to our consumer-based economy. Not only will those millions out of work feel the impact, so too will local businesses.

Again, these aren’t people who are just living off the government’s dime and coasting through life.  These are people who had jobs.  Most were making quite a bit more than what they’re getting now in unemployment checks.  This isn’t welfare; it’s a temporary extension of the unemployment benefits (for which these people paid into the system) to prop up the millions of Americans who fell on hard times during the Great Recession — many through no fault of their own.  These people aren’t lazy or lacking incentive to find jobs — trust me: I’ve known people in this situation and they were depressed that they hadn’t yet found work after so long.

When America shed 8 million jobs and has only regained 3 million — do the math.  To leave this people hanging out to dry would be a travesty both morally and financially.

Which brings me to my second question: if we don’t do this, then what’s the alternative?