Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grab A Mop

Two recent posts that got my attention:
Lately I seem to be having conversations with wonkish right-of-center types who have this-or-that idea about how to design a simpler, more efficient, and more effective policy to deal with taxation, climate change, health care, whatever. But it always stops there. No one talks about managing the transition. No one talks about convincing Mitch McConnell to back these ideas. No one talks about sixty votes. No one talks about the interest group dynamics in Washington. No one even talks about working for a decade to elect members of Congress who might be more amenable to these sorts of policies. It's just policy in a vacuum. Which is an interesting intellectual exercise, but not a legitimate substitute for governance, an ultimately messy endeavor.
"What I reject is when some folks say we should go back to the past policies when it was those very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Another way of putting it is when, you know, I'm busy and Nancy is busy with our mop cleaning up somebody else's mess --- we don't want somebody sitting back saying, you're not holding the mop the right way. Why don't you grab a mop, why don't you help clean up. (Applause.) You're not mopping fast enough. (Laughter.) That's a socialist mop. (Laughter and applause.) Grab a mop -- let's get to work," - Barack Obama.
The New Hampshire state motto is "Live free or die!" Every state has a motto, but we take a perverse pleasure in ours. It is something of residency requirement that New Hampshirites make this bombastic pronouncement of personal liberty at every opportunity. I claim no exception. We have no state sales or income tax. This state was founded upon conservative principles low taxation, economic opportunity, and individual freedom. I am not opposed to, and have come to appreciate, the notion of sound governance based upon these principles.

A central problem we face, as a nation, is that the self-styled conservative party, the Republican party, no longer appears to be committed to governance based on these principles. In fact, sound governance is no longer central to the party at all.

"Government is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem." This is a cute slogan. It is a ruinous governing philosophy. Under George W. Bush we saw this philosophy in action. They believed in military power, but not nation building. So we launched two wars with no plans for the aftermath. They appointed political hacks to run FEMA and the were flatfooted and absent while New Orleans drowned. They cut taxes while increasing spending. They launched new entitlements with no funding mechanisms and created massive structural deficits. The Bush administration abrogated and ignored international treaties, offending allies and squandering international good will. They denied the science of climate change and dithered in the face of global warming. They defended the status quo and insulated insurers against intervention while health care costs escalated and the ranks of the uninsured expanded. They didn't believe in financial regulation, federal enforcement, or strong regulatory oversight, and oversaw a massive financial collapse, the ruin of our financial institutions, and a global economic meltdown.

Faced with this record, you might expect the GOP to change tack a little. Wouldn't this be a good time to reflect on some lessons learned? Wouldn't this be a good time to embrace intelligence, competence, prudence, and talking necessary action as central to who they are, or seek to be? Wouldn't this be a good time to recognized the scope of the challenges we face and get serious about solving them?

In the 2008 campaign John McCain's primary win-by-default seemed like step in the right direction. McCain's reputation was centrist and sensible. Then he picked his running mate. Sarah Palin had poise and folksy charm. But she clearly lacked the requisite intelligence, experience, or character to be on a national ticket, much less be entrusted with the powers of high office. Palin was a big hit with the Republican base.

Since the election, having faced electoral defeat, and facing a steep drop in party identification, the GOP still has not gotten serious. It's gotten worse. From economic stimulus to health care reform the Republicans leaders have been opposing any legislation, and openly hoping for failure by the Obama administration, regardless of the cost to the nation. They hope to breed further disaster and ride discontent to future electoral victory. What they have not been doing is rebuilding their brand. They have yet to start to present themselves as party with solutions to problems that face this nation.

The absence of intellectual and policy leadership on the right has created vacuum. The entertainers and propagandists have rushed to fill it, leading to rise in prominence of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News on the Republican right. All they can offer is partisan sniping and incoherent rage. They do more damage to the ideology they claim to espouse.

As a country, our troubles persist. Health care costs continue to rise, unemployment remains high, we face the prospect of catastrophic global climate change, and have a jaw-dropping 1.4 trillion dollar budget deficit. Its time for everyone to get real about confronting these issue. There's plenty of work to be done.

Grab a mop.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ode to Andrew Sullivan

My inspiration for writing the blog comes, in no small part, from reading the work of uberblogger Andrew Sullivan. I am not, and could not even attempt to do what he's doing. I would like to take a few words to sing his praise.

On his blog the Daily Dish, Sullivan posts constantly (20+ times a day), linking to the best arguments, and insights from around the web, and contributing his own keen commentary. His list of topics is extremely broad, bouncing from politics, to religion, to human rights, to cultural issues, to humor like a mad cultural/intellectual DJ mixing up the collective works of others into his own signal.

Despite the broadness of his topics, Sullivan brings great honestly, clarity, courage, tenacity, and probing intellect to each of them. The Dish is not quite a one man show. I believe he has a handful of researchers and aggregators working behind the scenes. But it is a tiny operation. Nonetheless, on a number of critical issues-- the Iranian election, Bush Administration torture policies, all things Sarah Palin, gay rights, any many others the Daily Dish has collected content that rivals, in both quantity and quality, what can be obtained from any source, in any medium.

Andrew Sullivan is gay, HIV positive, British and conservative. Despite all his applicable labels, Sullivan rigorously pursues intellectual honesty and savages pure identity politics. He's also clearly, fueled by a powerful journalistic drive. His blog is well worth reading every day, all day.

In addition to being a personal inspiration, I have also found Sullivan's work to be intellectually formative. His pull is sufficiently powerful that I find myself steering away from pure punditry to try and avoid writing that is pale shadow of the work of others. Still so much good writing does provoke a reaction, and sometimes invite a response, rebuttal, or extension. As much I try to draw upon my own thoughts, personal history, and experiences, I am certain that I will also do a fair bit of linking to and responding to items from The Daily Dish. Now you know why.