Four Billion Dollars Later: Belated Commentary on Decision 2010

Before the midterms, common wisdom held this would be a helluva year, a wave election. “If ’08 was about change, this year’s about upheaval” (Nicole Murphy). The expectation seemed to be that all incumbents were out and all Tea Party Republicans were in and the whole shebang would be one big referendum on Obama.

It wasn’t that bad, really. (Or good, depending).

House went Red, Senate lost the 60 but stayed Blue. In fact, Senate may be a little truer in hue after losing some rather purplish Blue Dogs. While Rand Paul did make it in for Kentucky, most of the audaciously unserious candidates were dismissed by voters. So long, Ms. O’Donnell. Farewell, Sharron Angle. Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Buck. And I think this speaks well for the Ordinary Americans: (a) smarter than we look and (b) not yet quite that mad or desperate. And happily, though four billion dollars were spent on the midterms (and seriously, four billion? People are starving, but whatever…), money can’t quite buy an office against the will of the people, which is maybe surprising and definitely encouraging. Or something.

But still, if you’re a left-leaning Independent, a Progressive, or a Democrat, this felt like a loss. Biggest loss of seats in the House since 1948 and all. And whether it’s true or just sounds more exciting to talk about a defeat, the Fourth Estate and the punditry have been every bit as hyped as they were before the elections and speaking of Obama’s devastation and what will this mean and, well, the usual drama. The post-mortems for the Democrats, according to the media: They lost because they lacked a strong single message. (I say anyone with a marginal grasp on the big picture who can condense it down to one message is hopelessly out of sync with reality or not being honest. Frankly, I am totally uninterested in any candidate who can pull a singular out of a complex ever-changing web of simultaneous pluralities.) Or: they lost because the best they could say was “It could have been worse.” (To which I reply, “Yep. True.” It could have been worse. It wasn’t. And there again, anyone who expected more than that is not being frank about the realities or the possibilities.) Or: they lost because it’s the economy, stupid, and President Obama frittered his time away with health care, Afghanistan, Iraq, education, financial reform, Supreme Court appointments and winning a Peace Prize. (Only: Obama worked on long-term issues while dealing with short-term crises. There is no solution for the economy or the future if the long-term issues aren’t addressed and he did the adult thing in not only acknowledging the big picture but trying to deal with it responsibly. But in 24-minute news cycle world when 10% are unemployed, these things aren’t popular. And that’s too bad because incremental actual change plus the capacity to notice the fullness and complexity of the real situation seem like positives. The economy is a negative, god help us, but reference again: It could have been worse.) In the end, though, win or loss, the midterms may result in more action. The Republicans in charge of the House will surely have to be a little compromising and active now that they officially have day jobs. And, an opposing party House worked out alright for Clinton.

As for the Republican Post-Mortem: (1.) John Boehner. I don’t know what to make of him. The people who know say that he is a deal-maker with a record of compromise and of action. He publicly says differently. Though maybe that is necessary in a time of Tea Parties and hard-line vocal Conservatism; in a time when people are saying “if ballots don’t work, bullets will” (Joyce Kaufman, Allen West’s no-longer chief of staff); in a time of apparent desperation to Go Red. So we’ll go Orange with Boehner and see where that leads and whether the John of pundits or the John of the public is more accurate. The truth will out. (2.) Curious that so many members of Team GOP claim to be Constitutional Fundamentalists but are wishing to revoke amendments and add new (to permanently, constitutionally require an annually balanced federal budget. Which is good if the federal government is Joe the Plumber paying a mortgage and bad if it is the prime mover of a country: balanced budget restrictions haven’t worked out so well for the states. See: California.) Wonder how those who speak of the sacrosanct nature of the Constitution work out the inherent inconsistency when they demand to alter it. Too, how do they decide to which Constitution they and we should adhere? The 1789 version or the 1864? The 1925 or the 1970?* (3.) And how will they fulfill promises to both cut taxes and reduce the deficit? Those two can’t belong together. As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, “this isn’t politics. This is math.” It would require magic. Perhaps the Red Team should have pulled harder for Christine O’Donnell after all.

And on to 2012. Perhaps some accidental governing can occur before we saddle up for the next election. Though I’m betting that would require magic, too.

Hoosier, Baby (Briefly)

(1.) Question One on the ballot: Hoping with all my might that those who voted yes to amend the constitution to permanently cap property taxes are not the same people who will ever kvetch about cuts in education, since Indiana education is, oh yeah, funded by property taxes. Similarly, hoping that no one who voted yes to question one expresses astonishment when local, state, or sales taxes rise.

(2.) In my little corner of the world, eight offices were uncontested. Why?

* This point about the Constitution articulated better and more fully in Andrew Romano's article “America's Holy Writ: Tea Party Evangelists Claim the Constitution as Their Sacred Text. Why That's Wrong.” Newsweek. October 25, 2010.

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The Curious Relevance of Mr. Paul

Rand Paul in the past week has ensured both that his fifteen minutes of fame will last a bit longer and under a much hotter spotlight than he might have wished, despite his best expectations for a media honeymoon, and that his election campaign will be a bit hairier than he might have supposed. And while his so-called abstract arguments regarding the rights of business have been recanted (at least on the specifics of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), his position on the rights of business and corporation matter.

Why does Rand Paul defend the rights of business and corporations?

Business enterprises have the right to exist and pursue profit within a society but they must follow that society’s rules of law (if not, they’re free to disband or move elsewhere) and, in theory, they shouldn’t be infringing on either the legal or inalienable rights of the actual citizens of that society. Here, at least and again in theory, the rights of the people supersede the rights of corporations. (Individual, you know, people making up the society in which corporations exist). Mr. Paul seems to abstractly argue that corporations share the inalienable, human and legal rights of citizens.

Yes, businesses are “corporate citizens,” but they are so by choice. And in choosing to practice their business here and to profit here, they accept the rules, standards and regulations (such as they are) which define their chosen sphere of existence here. In choosing this place, they inherently choose the rules of this place. They are free to move and profit elsewhere (though, “elsewhere” has obligations and expectations of its own). They are not free to enjoy the benefits of American entrepreneurship without paying their share of the cost of those benefits (tax shelters and various sundry evasions and loopholes aside). They are certainly not free to trade “job creation” for the right to misbehave, avoid responsibility, or violate the laws and liberties of the non-corporate citizens.

At root, Mr. Paul’s argument appears to equate corporate citizenship with actual citizenship. But they are not interchangeable. Businesses are not defined as citizens; businesses do not have the same rights as citizens. And while the kerfuffle and controversy over “misstatements” and “gotcha moments” regarding Paul’s views on the 40-odd year old Civil Rights Act make for alternatively entertaining and disturbing political theatre, the actual abstraction does matter. Reference the recent Citizens United case here. Reference BP and the Gulf of Mexico. Goldman Sachs. Reference Too Big to Fail. As it turns out, Tea Party, smirking and fifteen-minutes-of-fame aside, Mr. Paul’s Wild Media Ride is actually relevant.

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