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President Obama Killed Bipartisanship September 20, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Media, Politics.
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2 comments

President Obama campaigned on bipartisanship.  We wanted a change, so he chose not to investigate the partisan excesses and likely transgressions of the Bush administration; he unhinged the pendulum and just laid it on the ground.  Instead of overcorrecting in the other direction, he tried to start anew as a united nation.  America was ready to move forward.  The Republican Party was not.

Ideally, in our two party system, each governing party has a different plan to move America forward.  When problems arise, Democrats propose to move forward slanting to the left, Republicans propose to move forward slanting to the right, and when they finally come together and compromise on necessary legislation, we as a country end up simply moving forward and addressing the problem (see graphic below).

It’s a little messier in practice.  Because one party controls the White House at a time and Congress is rarely evenly split, final legislation generally skews towards the ruling party rather than perfectly straddling the center.  It must also be mentioned that sometimes there is a right and a wrong answer.  And on a related note, a political compromise that pleases both parties is not ipso facto good policy: for example, the stimulus package contained both Democratic spending projects and tax breaks that Republicans would normally support, but it was not enough to promote a strong recovery.

Bipartisanship is not always the solution, but it is an important concept in a democratic republic like ours.  And President Obama bears some responsibility for its contemporary demise.  Although he acted with good intentions, his transcendent quest to achieve bipartisanship ironically doomed itself with partisan politics.

Had Republicans shared this bipartisan vision, Obama’s plan could well have succeeded.  Alas, insert two-way street aphorism here.

At the most basic level, in a two party political system, one party’s success is the other party’s failure.  The converse is equally true.  Again, ideally, a shared desire to address a crisis creates some middle ground for bipartisan compromise.  Yet a hyperpartisan mindset obliterates that middle ground.  Under current Senate rules that allow what should really be called a 41-member “superminority” to obstruct Congressional action, lawmaking grinds to a halt.  Problems progress, but legislation languishes.

Compromise Graphic

When both parties want to address a problem facing America, there is often (but not always) a middle path. When at least one party chooses to pursue political advantage at the expense of our nation’s well-being, compromise becomes impossible.

With surging unemployment and an anemic recovery, Republicans concluded that the painful status quo benefitted them.  They did not want to move forward.  Indeed, they were rooting against America because both America’s failures would be blamed upon the Democratic majority and administration and pay political dividends.  Sadly, in our toxic political climate, you do not earn points for bipartisan assists; all that matters is the score, Republicans vs. Democrats.

Yet Republicans initiated this confrontational scenario, so that much cannot be blamed on President Obama.  There is another variable that can.

Because Obama campaigned on bipartisanship, that middle compromise space between a Democratic policy and a Republican policy turned blue.  In that binary hyperpartisan world, cooperation became a win for Democrats and a loss for Republicans.  So via obstructionism, the GOP could now play legislative defense and political offense simultaneously.

Compromise Graphic2

Because Obama ran on bipartisanship, it had the effect of making bipartisanship a victory for him, and thus Democrats.  Therefore, it dragged the middle ground of what would be a “win” for both parties further to the right.

Of course this tactic held our country hostage and prolonged American suffering in the process.   Unfortunately, overly balanced media coverage combined with admittedly effective GOP spin (having your own network helps) enabled conservatives to pull off this maneuver without being called out for it.

So Republicans holed up.  Elected lawmakers became fulltime law-stoppers, particularly in the Senate.  They voted against a stimulus package that was watered down on their behalf and full of conservative tax breaks.  They opposed an oil spill/clean energy jobs bill that contained entire sections unanimously approved by bipartisan committees and even cosponsored by Republicans.  The conservative caucus is united in lockstep against anything the Democrats attempt to accomplish, no matter how reasonable or nonpartisan the measure may be.

Even though Obama appears to have been sincere in his hope to work together in moderation (as demonstrated by his history of making compromises that please nobody), his plan for bipartisanship backfired because Republicans continued to operate from a hyperpartisan perspective.  Obama said he would end the mud-slinging; conservatives have defeated him simply by continuing to wallow.

In the meantime, the Democratic Party has wasted two years.

Republicans have triumphed at America’s expense.  Unless current electoral indicators are drastically mistaken, they will benefit handsomely from this strategy in November.  I am concerned about that outcome, but far more displeased with the precedent this could set for our country.

The Political Climate is now on Twitter!  Follow @PoliticalClimat for updates as well as daily tweets linking to important and under-reported environmental news.

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There is No Common Ground between Different Realities August 27, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Congress, Media, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
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2 comments

To call Republicans “the Party of No” is not quite fair – they say a lot of things besides ‘no.’ But that is the full extent of their political output: speech. Currently, Republicans are more accurately the Party of Rhetoric.

Now this is partly because they are in the legislative minority, but I can’t think of any other period in our history during which the minority party decided to so fully abstain from policymaking.  You can count on one hand the number of GOP senators willing to substantively work with the Democratic majority.  It makes you wonder what the rest of them are doing with their time.

In the past, when our country faced a problem, our two political parties fought about which policy was better to address it.  That is how our legislature is supposed to function.

You may have noticed that this occurs less today.  Increasingly, the political debate has devolved into an argument not of HOW to act but rather IF any action is even warranted.  Instead of debating solutions, we find ourselves arguing about whether or not a problem exists at all:

  • This is true of climate change: conservatives don’t have their own solution, they simply deny that the problem exists.
  • This is true of healthcare: how many times during the last year were we told that “America has the best healthcare in the world”?
  • This is true of any policy that involves regulation (finance, pollution, offshore drilling etc.), because a push for deregulation instead of better regulation contains the implicit assertion that no problems exist (or that regulations somehow cause what problems there are).

Republicans deny that these problems exist altogether, and that is problematic because they are quite real.

Historically, even policies supporting inaction were not based on denial.  Consider America’s now defunct isolationism.  Advocates of non-intervention did not dispute the existence of foreign wars, they simply determined that staying out of them was a better course of action.  At least everybody was still operating in the same reality – they debated the merits of different solutions.

In 2006, Stephen Colbert told President Bush that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”  So conservatives simply left.  Today, Republicans occupy their own reality.  They get their own news tailored to that reality, and anything that contradicts this fictitious worldview is simply denounced as biased, even empirical science.  No policy debate can occur because the conservative reality has its own facts and they distrust “ours.”  Experts are just elitists anyways.

But this planet and this country face real challenges, even if conservatives refuse to believe them.  Unfortunately, by the time they become full, immediate crises, it will be too late to act.  Think of America as riding in an SUV speeding towards a cliff: everyone in that car is in trouble – even the kid in the backseat with his eyes shut tight, plugging his ears and singing loudly to himself (presumably Mellencamp’s “[This Is] Our Country”).  But once the wheels leave the pavement, and likely well before then, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.  That kid is only forced to finally acknowledge the outside world upon impact.

So how we can bridge this inter-reality chasm?  It may not even be possible.  But there is one way we can try (and the Daily Show has been attempting this valiantly).

The Party of Rhetoric, especially now that it has started drinking Tea, has begun to make some wild claims.  Conservatives won’t listen to our words, so we must hope that they still believe theirs.

As Republican politicians increasingly resort to fear-mongering, they make ridiculous extrapolations and predict devastating futures that result from liberal policies.  So when these disasters do not occur, we must repeat their words back to them.

It will be a while before we can utilize this strategy for most issues, but we can start small with offshore drilling now.  Conservatives and the oil industry railed against the Obama administration for its perfectly justified temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.  They insisted that this most minimal safeguard against another massive oil spill would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and more economic devastation than the BP spill itself.

As the New York Times reported this week, that simply has not happened.  Even the administration’s estimates were overly pessimistic (to a much lesser extent).  Instead of hundreds of thousands of laid off oil workers, unemployment claims attributable to the moratorium are currently just in the hundreds.

I’m sure that the conservative reality has an explanation for this development or simply rejects it altogether.  But if we can’t even look over our shoulder and agree about what just happened, how can we possibly look ahead and safely navigate the future?

Ocean Acidification (Climate Bill Skirmishes Pt. 2) June 21, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Congress, Politics.
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5 comments

Fossil fuels threaten our oceans with dangers beyond just catastrophic oil spills.   Many people understand that carbon dioxide warms our atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.  It is much less publicized that carbon dioxide is also a critical pollutant in our oceans.

We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail.”  -Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Some people may be more familiar with ocean acidification than others, so I will start with the basics.

Because carbon dioxide is a gas, one might think that it resides predominantly in the atmosphere.  In actuality, about 93% of the world’s carbon dioxide is found in the ocean – 50x more than in the atmosphere.  In fact, the oceans are estimated to contain approximately 10x as much carbon as our remaining fossil fuel deposits. We don’t release it into the water, but it gets there nonetheless; like other gases, carbon dioxide can move easily from the air into the water.

When the atmospheric pressure of carbon dioxide is greater than the local pressure of carbon dioxide in surface water, molecular diffusion will transport the gas from the atmosphere into the water.  Therefore, as more carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere (and the atmospheric pressure increases), more carbon dioxide ends up in our oceans.

Upon entering the water, CO2 undergoes some significant chemical reactions.

When carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, much of the gas reacts with water to form carbonic acid (H2CO3).  Carbonic acid is a weak acid that is not dangerous in and of itself – after all, we drink carbonated water and carbonic acid is actually formed in an intermediate step of human respiration.  However, if enough of it accumulates in the oceans, it can have severe indirect effects.

Carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid when dissolved in water.

On the 0-14 pH scale (in which lower numbers = higher acidity), ocean water has historically had a pH of about 8.16.  As a benchmark, “neutral” solutions like pure water and blood have a pH of 7, so our oceans are less acidic than pure water.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have absorbed almost half of the CO2 we have released into the atmosphere from fossil fuels and cement-manufacturing, and the pH has dropped by almost 0.1.  The pH scale is logarithmic, so each 1 point on the scale indicates an order of magnitude change; 0.1 may not sound like much, but it indicates about a 25% increase in ocean acidity so far.  It is estimated that the pH will drop another 0.4 by 2100.

That acidity would decrease the availability of the vital shell-building compound by 60% (explained below).  While the current pH levels are not record-breaking, the damage has already begun and the rapid rate of change is unprecedented and foreboding.  Ocean systems are remarkably sensitive to water acidity (which had remained relatively constant for millions of years), and marine biologists are very concerned that many species will not be able to evolve quickly enough to cope with this sudden, drastic change.

Ocean systems are remarkably sensitive to water acidity (which has remained relatively constant for the last , and marine biologists are very concerned that many species will not be able to evolve quickly enough to cope with this change.

Ocean acidification is occurring at an unprecedented rate. The scale of this graph is millions of years, that's why the last 2 data points and projections for the next century appear like a vertical line. Anywhere else in this record, 300 years would look like one overlapping, unchanged dot.

Sediment cores reveal that our oceans are acidifying at a rate not seen in 65 million years (since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth).  55 million years ago, virtually all shelled creatures in the ocean disappeared so quickly that geologists would consider it “overnight”.  Scientists attribute this die off to ocean acidification.  It took hundreds of thousands of years for shellfish to return to the oceans, and scientists estimate that we are now acidifying our oceans at a rate 10x faster than that which caused the last mass extinctions of shellfish.

How does ocean acidification affect marine life? Increasing acidity most directly affects aquatic organisms that form shells, such as corals, some algae, and the whole range of shellfish – as well as all the organisms and habitats that rely on those creatures.

Warning: chemistry content!
Shells are created out of calcium carbonate (CaCO
3).  Calcium carbonate structures can actually dissolve in water unless the surrounding water is saturated with carbonate ions (CO3).  If the carbonate concentration of ocean water is too low, shells will be deformed.  It’s like osteoporosis for shellfish.  If the carbonate concentration drops enough, their shells will literally dissolve, and the animals will not be able to survive.

Shellfish require carbonate to build and maintain their shells. In acidic water, they can't get the materials they need.

If you’ve ever taken chemistry, you may recall that acidic solutions undergo “partial ionization” – acidic reactions are reversible and form an equilibrium between the intact acid and its separated ions.  That’s why acid formulae use that double arrow (as in the formula above).  When carbonic acid dissociates, it breaks down from (H2CO3) into:

1)    hydrogen ions (H), which cause acidity, and;

2)    carbonate ions (CO3), upon which shellfish rely.

Carbonate ions can also bind with single hydrogen ions to form the bicarbonate ion (HCO3), which cannot be used for shell construction.

The amount of carbonate available in water is determined by the pH of the water. In more acidic solutions (lower pHs), there are more free hydrogen ions to bind with carbonate to form bicarbonate – and therefore there is less carbonate available in the water.

This is what is happening to our ocean water.  As you now know, that is very bad news for shellfish.

As water becomes more acidic, there is less available carbonate (CO3) for shellfish to use. This is happening today. The black line compared to pH is the one we care about.

A 2005 study examined the impacts of ocean acidification:

“Sea creatures such as corals, shell fish, sea urchins and star fish are likely to suffer the most because higher levels of acidity makes it difficult for them to form and maintain their hard calcium carbonate skeletons and shells. For example, even under the ‘low’ predictions for future carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, the combined effects of climate change and ocean acidification mean that corals could be rare on tropical and subtropical reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef, by 2050. This will have major ramifications for hundreds of thousands of other species that dwell in the reefs as well as for the people that depend upon them, both for food and to help to protect coastal areas from, for example, tsunamis.”

The “tipping point” for reefs, ensuring reef erosion and even eventual extinction, could come as soon as 2050.

Mind you, this will be a separate, additional stressor on vital coral reefs (albeit with the same cause) as coral bleaching in warming waters.

Ocean acidification presents a clear threat and a compelling economic argument, even independent from climate change.  U.S. commercial fishing brought in $4 billion in 2006.  Coastal tourism just in the Florida Keys, which is driven by coral reefs, contributes $1 billion to the economy every year.  These are all jeopardized by ocean acidification.

So, in December of last year, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced House Resolution 989:

“Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should adopt national policies to prevent ocean acidification, to study the impacts of ocean acidification, and to address the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and coastal economies.”

Simple enough, right?  It finally came up for a vote this month.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who clearly has a lot at stake in regard to our nation’s oceans, voiced his objections: Why, he asked, do we need this resolution if Congress allocated $76 million to researching and monitoring ocean acidification as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009?

Because, as Rep. Inslee explained, merely monitoring is not enough.  A threat we see coming will materialize whether we watch it arrive or not. We need to act.

Now, H. Res. 989 was never going to be that action we need.  Such nonbinding resolutions are largely inconsequential.  If passed, H. Res. 989 would have done nothing but publically acknowledge that this is a problem we need to address and possibly raise some needed public awareness.  But it’s difficult to rationally oppose such a motion because it has literally no drawbacks.

Mr. Chaffetz finally arrived at the crux of the conservatives’ concern:

“It talks in the very first sentence, ‘Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should adopt national policies.’ By ‘national policies’ does the gentleman mean the cap-and-trade?”

I could relay to you the rest of the congressional debate about this resolution, but I don’t think I have to.  Earlier this month, 241 representatives voted for the resolution, including 19 Republicans and those from the vast majority our nation’s oceanic coastline.  However, such resolutions require the support of 2/3 of the House to pass.

A minority of conservative representatives (including 20 Democrats) defeated H. Res. 989 – about ocean acidification – because they didn’t want to be bound to a non-binding resolution that could potentially be interpreted to offer written encouragement for a cap-and-trade solution to our global warming emissions.  Partisan politics at its finest.

I wrote last week about one of the first skirmishes in this year’s congressional climate battle: the Murkowski Dirty Air Amendment.  This debacle was another.

Like climate change, ocean acidification poses a threat that we must essentially address now or never.  In blocking urgent energy reform, irresponsible congressional conservatives are imposing unprecedented costs and burdens upon younger generations.  As a member of one of those younger generations, I would very much like to take this opportunity to tell those conservatives what they can go do to themselves.  …But I’ll restrain myself for now.

Just for the record, ocean acidification and climate change have more in common than just the same cause: ocean acidification is actually one of the amplifying positive feedback loop that will accelerate climate change if we do not stop it now.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ocean Acidification, check out this great video by the Natural Resources Defense Council:

I’m Back! | Are Campaigns Just Games? January 20, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Election, Media, Politics.
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I’m back.  I haven’t posted for a few months because I was working in a political internship where I was not allowed to blog.  That has ended, so I will be writing again.  Please read on:

Campaigning and governing are two very different things.  The obviousness of that statement is a serious problem.  Yesterday’s “surprising” special election in Massachusetts is a case study in why the separation between these two processes is detrimental to our country.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley was a terrible campaigner.  Gaffes drive election coverage, and her short campaign had media outlets drooling.  But is she any less fit to govern now than she was when she clinched the Democratic nomination?  No.

Massachusetts is fairly considered a Democratic state.  Currently, voters have elected Democrats into every state executive office, 89.5% of its state legislature and, until Senator-elect Scott Brown is sworn in, 100% of its congressional representatives.  It is safe to say that a majority of Bay Staters embraces the Democratic policy agenda.

Voters favor the Democratic Party in Massachusetts (click for larger)

The first poll after the primaries showed Coakley 15 points ahead of Brown.  Eleven days later, the final poll showed Coakley 9 points behind Brown.  Yesterday, she lost by 5 points. Polls are inaccurate, but during those two weeks a significant portion of voters changed their minds, either about the candidates or about their decision to vote.

In a democratic republic, citizens elect representatives to legislate on their behalf.  It is clearly within a person’s interest to vote for someone who shares his or her policy perspective.  So congressional elections should be about policy, the laws each candidate will support.  Unfortunately, campaigns have lost sight of this because we, the voters, have let them.  The media enable and cultivate this electoral perversion.

The Coakley-Brown campaign was largely devoid of policy.  Yes, Brown was going to (and now will) vote to block healthcare reform.  What will he do after that?  He ran a campaign ad featuring his truck.  Not one of Coakley’s “gaffes” was policy-related.  Some might point to her Afghanistan comment, but that was a defensible opinion.  All we heard about in the news was an admittedly egregious typo of her state’s name.  Not a word about what she would do as a senator.

We as a country neglect policy in campaigns.  Since 2004, it is political suicide to reverse a policy position, even in the face of new, better information; “flip-flopper” is a politician’s death knell.  Brown actually did successfully flip his stance on climate to pander to Tea Partiers, but that was before the primaries, and this election was not about climate change.  None of the drastic poll movement over the last two weeks can be attributed to policy positions because they didn’t change.  So what did?  And can it possibly be more important than policy?

“Reducing carbon dioxide emission in Massachusetts has long been a priority of mine” -Scott Brown in 2008, after voting for RGGI, the regional cap and trade system among Northeastern power plants.

“It’s interesting. I think the globe is always heating and cooling.  It’s a natural way of ebb and flow.”  – Scott Brown in 2010, pandering to the ignorance of the extreme right.

Campaigns have become a sport of their own.  Candidates are being evaluated on a scale separate from how well they would govern.  It’s like drafting a basketball player based not on his skill but rather on how many people would want to come to see him.  Sarah Palin comes to mind.  President Obama does too, but he can dribble and shoot.  Still, campaign prowess and governing ability are not inherently correlated, and we cannot continue conflating the two.

Scott Brown definitively won his campaign.  Or rather, Martha Coakley definitively lost hers.  But I challenge the notion that Senator Brown will represent the majority opinion of the state of Massachusetts.  And if that’s true, the system is flawed.

So what to do?  If most of the state’s registered voters had turned out last night, the state would be more accurately represented.  Perhaps voting should be mandatory, an official civic duty instead of a “freedom” to be celebrated and then apathetically shirked on election day.  A Massachusetts election official projected last night’s “explosive” turnout to be in the 40% range.

It is hypocritical for us to hold up our democracy as the model government while recording unremarkable if not weak voter turnout on an international scale (check out this website for some interesting international election statistics).  Yet unless people take much more time to educate themselves about the issues, mandatory voting would be no solution.   At least today’s voters care, even if some opinions are based on the distortions of demagogues.

If elections are truly about selecting the best people to govern, I propose we completely remove the pageantry from the campaign process.  Congressional representatives, unlike presidents, have essentially one task: creating legislation.  So we should vote for person who will enact the policies we support most.

Therefore, let every candidate write down his or her ideal prescriptions for each major policy area.  Compare and contrast the answers.  Publish and widely circulate that document.  Then let us choose the best person for the job.  Who cares what kind of car they drive?  What does it matter which sports teams they support?  These are unnecessary distractions.  Let the media provide the electorate with enough information to pick an effective legislator and then go report real current events.  Surely there’s a little boy in a balloon somewhere.

We should vote for the right reasons.  And we should all vote.

Dear Abby: Comment Response March 17, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Politics.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

*UPDATE*

Thrust, parry.  Instead of reposting, I will just redirect you once again to my good friends at NextGenGOP.

 

A bored google image search just led my to this gem.  Thought I'd share.

A bored google image search just led me to this gem. Just thought I'd share.

 

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Original Post:

A fellow Duke student posted a comment on my column today.  While I cannot engage her criticisms about my column (and was happy to see that other people basically said what I would have anyways), I did decide to check out her blog, NextGenGOP.  She also posted today, on the topic of youth liberalism.  

After reading her piece, I decided that I ought to return the favor and leave her a similarly helpful albeit longer comment.  Below, I have reposted her piece “Kids These Days,” followed by my response.  Alternatively, you may read her post (and my response) on her blog (here), which I actually recommend – it is very nicely designed.   Enjoy:

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Kids These Days – Abby Alger

The question I am asked most often is why I am a Republican. It’s a query accompanied with a smirk by liberals, particularly Baby Boomers. (They hope my answer will contain overtly racist, sexist, classist, ageist, heterosupremacist, insertcategoryhereist opinions or—better yet!—upbringing of the same type so that I can be made to recognize my sins, repent, and achieve salvation/redemption/eternal life on the government dole.) And it’s a query increasingly accompanied with a bit of anxiety, edge, even desperation when it comes from Republicans mainly—conservatives, less so.

I’m in the generation that’s the least Republican since Pew started tracking such things. Depressing, not dire as a statistic, but indicative of a broad force at work. It’s something in the cultural water that turns the kids these days into knee-jerk Democrats of the leftist stripe. And it’s got to be in the water—and not just in being liberal at 20 because you have a heart etc.—because it’s a sort of blind, stupid activism that delights in conformity to the (now-confirmed) left-wing echo chamber, rather than overthrowing The Man to bring in a new era of enlightenment, happiness, peace, and drug legalization.

So what is it about Generation Me/Generation Next/Millennials that makes us so blindly leftist? Below are my initial thoughts. I invite fellow writers here to join in the chorus.

I think the answer, at that abstract, 30,000-foot view, is simple and explainable by characteristics of the era. The story goes something like this: being a limited-government, fiscally conservative Republican is, well, kind of boring. You let people do what they want to do. You provide for the common defense, the national infrastructure, some social goods (e.g. education), and enforce laws that keep people from stealing, killing, and the like. It is remote, even impersonal. The government does not care who you are or what you do. It just gets out of your damn way.

But I’m in the generation that believes it is amazingly interesting. The internet, which brought to us delights like LOLcats, rickrolling, and Rathergate, also brought us navel-gazing on a scale unseen before now. As Matt Labash put it in this week’s Weekly Standard, “The very fact that they are on Facebook has convinced people that every facet of their life is inherently interesting enough to alert everyone to its importance.” In other words, me me me now now now pay attention pay attention pay attention to me me me.

Unsurprisingly, this also affects political discourse. What I feel is infinitely more important than what I know or what you can prove with logic or numbers. “That offends me [or aggrieved groups X, Y, and Z]” is a sufficient answer to settle any intellectual debate. Take away your cold facts; my intuition and desires are enough to settle complex debates. Sound familiar yet?

And I’m in the generation that believes it depends on what the meaning of is…is. However young we were during Bill and Monica, we got the lesson. There are no moral absolutes, no unimpeachable standards of right and wrong. There is only legal and illegal. What the law prescribes is allowed; what it does not discuss is a black hole. (Here there be anarchy, so we never go there.) But then, even that is flexible. A tax cheat collects our taxes, a corrupt crook stayed governor of Illinois for weeks, and a perjurer held the highest office in the land.

This whole process makes us curiously dependent on the government and our legislators to decide what is good, what is bad, and what the penalties are for transgressing those boundaries. We dwell, quite literally, in the nanny state. Even worse, we enjoy it. We press for its growth and slow encroachment on each part of our lives.

As Republicans and conservatives, how do we communicate to this generation? We tell them to grow up or we wait until they do (i.e. when they get their first paychecks). The only upshot of Obama’s budget is that he may hasten that process nicely…

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Dear Abby – My Response

As much as I hate to add a discordant voice to your one-woman “chorus,” I accept your invitation. 

Do you honestly believe that young people lean left just because we seek conformity?  Or because fiscally responsible governance is “boring?”  Wake up.

Liberalism is not in the water (that apparently only young people drink).  It is a product of an open mind that cares about the world it lives in.  The free market and <6 year election cycle are ill-suited to addressing long-term challenges.  Yet somehow I still care about my long-term future.  I’d like the world to be a clean, safe place both for myself now and my kids later.   And sadly, that makes me a Democrat.

We’re liberals because we think everyone deserves a chance.  And we’re liberals because we think everyone deserves a choice.  For a party that prides itself on government “getting out of your damn way,” you certainly enjoy legislating your values.  But if you really want to know why our generation is so “blindly” Democratic, I’ll tell you the answer, but you’re not going to like it:

We are Democrats because of Republicans.  Our generation awoke politically to the travesties of the Bush administration and its Congressional accomplices.  I don’t have to list the deeds of that gang, you know them well.  And we’re still paying for them today in money and blood. 

Growing up in that climate, how could we become anything but Democrats?  Even if we DIDN’T support the liberal policy agenda or happen to care about the environment, in a 2-party system we really had little choice BUT lean left.  Our generation wasn’t born Democratic, we were pushed there, away from the Republicans abusing our government and hijacking our country. 

And do you really want to talk about criminal politicians?  People in glass houses, for god’s sake.  Our guy got a blow job.  Your guy deceived us into an unending war et plenty of al..  You do NOT want to go here.  If our country were as interested in transparency as you claim to be (in your profile) and our current president wasn’t trying to turn a new leaf and leave the past where it is, we WOULD have to legalize drugs – to make room for Republicans in our prisons (perhaps not for quantity, just quality). 

Also, it’s cute that you scoff at Democrats for wanting peace.  You’re right, it IS confusing why more young people aren’t Republicans.

Unrelated point but worth mentioning: it’s a little hypocritical to disparage our generation because it “believes it is amazingly interesting” and draws undue attention to itself…on a blog that you started so the whole world can access your personal insights.   Yes, I know I have a blog too.  But my life and opinions are amazingly interesting.

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I lamented during the election about my inability to find active young Republicans.  It is nice to have finally found them.

Power Vacuum March 17, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Media, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
3 comments

Chris Rock can predict the future.  During Spring Break, I listened to a recording of his stand-up in which he identified the need for a charismatic black leader who could make people believe in themselves.  That 1999 routine was just meant to generate laughs, but a decade later it is eerily prophetic.

After years of mismanagement, the Democratic Party finally has a capable, charismatic leader.  The Republican Party does not.

With the political tides so thoroughly turned, parallels can be drawn between early Bush II Democrats (especially in 2003-2004) and the current Republicans in how they’ve handled their full minority status.  It is early to judge the Republican response, but recent events and polling statistics can still offer insight.

During the last administration, Democrats faced an America that had [at least once] elected a “man of the people;” no Bush-bashing is necessary to establish that Republicans were benefiting from a simple, straightforward message and a president capable of little more.  Oops.

Throughout that ordeal, though, the Democratic Party stuck to its goals instead of hopelessly recreating the contemporary success of their opponents.  People liked Bush because it seemed like you could have a beer with him.  Anybody could envision that a similar experience with John Kerry would be tedious, but Democrats rallied behind him to champion their message anyways.

Today, in a roughly comparable position, Republicans have adopted a different strategy.  Ignoring the possibility that voters support President Obama’s policies and not merely his physical qualities, the Republican Party has been trying to emulate just the facade of the recent Democratic success.

During the campaign, the media and public were enthralled by Obama’s youthful vigor and followed each of his daily visits to the gym.  The Republican response?  Elevate young conservative rising star, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.  Only they appear to have picked this fruit a little early.

Despite Jindal’s relative youth, the unpolished, childish simplicity with which he talked down to the nation in his rebuttal to Obama’s speech to Congress was unfortunately familiar.  That speech showed that Jindal’s age will have little impact on his party’s preference for the failed policies we voted against in November.  And he clearly wasn’t ready for the national stage.

Sidenote: Jindal was so…underwhelming that immediately after his speech people around the country decided that he sounded exactly like Kenneth the Page, the dim country boy character from NBC’s 30Rock.  Apparently he thought so too, and actor Jack McBrayer recorded a response to Jindal in character (video).

Similarly, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s performance to date casts doubt on the argument that he was selected simply because he was the most qualified candidate.  It is perhaps fortunate, then, that neither of these men are really viewed as the party’s current leader.

According to many pundits, Rush Limbaugh is the de facto leader of the Republican Party.  And while Limbaugh does have influence, he also has a penchant for saying things respectable people don’t.  Steele briefly condemned his remarks as “incendiary” and “ugly,” only to grovel a day later when King Limbaugh got mad.  That hierarchy seems clear, but the country is remarkably divided about Limbaugh.

A Rasmussen poll recently found that 44 percent of Democrats but just 11 percent of Republicans view Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party.  How did that happen?  Well, we appear to be witnessing the return an ancient phenomenon: Democrats controlling a media narrative.

Last October, Democratic strategists discovered that only one in ten voters under age 40 views the talk show host favorably.  Since then, many Democrats and now even White House officials have engaged Limbaugh directly, propagating this unflattering caricature of conservative America.  But while happy to bask in the spotlight, Limbaugh rejects any leadership responsibility.

This guy's been divorced three times and addicted to pain killers, but what the hell.  Why shouldn't he be a figurehead for the party of "values"?

This guy's been divorced three times and addicted to pain killers, but what the hell. Why shouldn't he be a figurehead for the party of "values"?

So while there is confusion about exactly who is leading the party, a January Rasmussen poll shed some light on the type of leader Republicans want; 43 percent of respondents thought that their party had become too moderate, and 55 percent said that Sarah Palin should be the model for the future.  A scant 24 percent thought Sen. John McCain was the correct model.

And that’s fine with me.  Not because I could tolerate a President Palin (that hurts just to type), but because the harder she pushes, the harder we push back.  As David Plouffe explained, “[Palin] was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall.”   Extreme conservatives certainly mobilize their base, but it is clear that when these figures act on the national stage, they galvanize Democrats by alienating moderate, young, and minority voters.   And this could explain why the Republicans have responded so differently.

The current Republican retreat to the right could yield wonderful results (for me).  With many minorities and especially young voters heavily favoring Democrats, the Republican future is grim.  At this rate, the current Republican recession will long outlast the financial one they bequeathed to us.

Recent Republican bumbling reveals an admission that something must change if the party is to have a future.  But it must go more than skin deep.  If conservatives aren’t prepared for this makeover, they will remain powerless.  At least until a Democratic president trashes the country.

A version of the post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.

Unfortunate Evolution February 24, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Media, Politics.
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On the cover of its November 2004 issue, National Geographic posed the question “Was Darwin wrong?”  But when you flipped to the article inside, the answer was printed in big, bold font: NO.  Even the main evolution page on Wikipedia doesn’t mention any controversy, and for all of the free encyclopedia’s faults, that’s saying something.  Yet just in time for Darwin’s 200th birthday, Gallup released a new poll showing that a scant 39 percent of Americans “believe in the theory of evolution.

darwin

That’s appalling.  This shouldn’t need explaining, but there is no substantive controversy about evolution.  There are still questions to be answered about some of its mechanisms and intricacies, but within the volumes of predictive, verifiable data we have gathered, there is not a single piece of evidence that refutes the theory.  And for clarification, that’s scientific theory, rigorously tested and tantamount to fact, like the theories of gravity and plate tectonics.  This differs from the colloquial “theory” you might use to guess how you made it home from the bar without remembering.  To paraphrase physicist Murray Peshkin, saying evolution is “only a theory” is like saying it’s “only science.”

Yet just last month, Dr. Don McLeroy (a dentist) led conservatives on the Texas Board of Education in a renewed crusade to wedge religion into the classroom at the expense of basic education.  This review of the state’s science standards will face a final vote next month, but similar battles have already been fought in at least ten states over the past decade, often buoyed by alarming levels of public support.  In Kansas, the most infamous case, teaching evolution was actually banned for two years.  Thank goodness we aren’t trying to pass any evolution legislation.

We are, however, expecting legislation on important science-based issues like climate change, and the outlook there is just as bleak.  In my first column this semester, I wrote about a May 2008 poll showing a partisan divide among Americans who understand that humans contribute to climate change.  A similar Rasmussen poll recently found that this rift has widened: now just 21 percent of Republicans acknowledge anthropogenic climate change, compared to 59 percent of Democrats.  As Stephen Colbert once said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias” (video in this previous post).  So it is understandable that Republicans have not exactly championed our nation’s academic pursuits.  But an anti-scientific sentiment can have dangerous consequences, especially if it goes unchecked.

Watching the major congressional battles since this summer (especially on offshore drilling and climate change) I have noticed a trend: the national media, particularly on TV, have largely abandoned their watchdog role and have been covering these debates without substantive fact-checking as “he said/she said” stories.  Facts and fabrications have been placed on equal footing to avoid “taking a side.” The election was covered the same way.  But this is a terrible journalistic paradigm.

Balance is nice, but isn’t accuracy a more important journalistic value?  Calling out a politician for lying is not partisan, it’s the media’s responsibility.  Obviously it would be best if people just told the truth, but that’s not happening.  And the stimulus coverage was more of the same.

Media Matters analyzed twelve cable news programs’ coverage of the stimulus debate. Of the 460 guests interviewed, only 25 of them – that’s 5 percentwere actually economists.  No wonder the potential impacts of the bill were so vulnerable to political spin.  And  Think Progress found that savvy Republicans were only too happy to exploit this opportunity, appearing on cable news programs twice as frequently as their Democratic counterparts.  But one network took coverage to a new low.

The following may shock you, so brace yourself: Fox News has a Republican bias.  And last week, they were as tactful as a skirted starlet stepping from a limo.  On Feb. 10th, anchor Jon Scott put up a graphic showing the costs of the stimulus package that was copied verbatim from a press release by the Senate Republicans Communication Center, same damning typo and all.  “Fair and balanced” my Democratic donkey.  Kudos again to Media Matters for “exposing” such a blatant attempt to disseminate partisan propaganda as reporting.  But at least Fox had the courage to apologize – for just the typo (video thanks to Howard Kurtz).

Um, yeah...not so much.

Um, yeah...not so much.

Our country is being steered by a misinformed public and polarized politicians unrestrained by accountability.  Science itself is under attack.  These are complex problems with varied causes.  Yet they have one thing in common: objective media coverage could combat them all.

But that’s not going to happen.  Believe it or not, journalism is evolving.  With the expansion to the internet and growing popularity of blogs, niche news is on the rise. People seem to want their news told from their perspective, and media outlets will provide what consumers demand; Fox News, the Huffington Post, even Jon Stewart are thriving.  And with newspapers experiencing serious financial difficulties, the days of the objective reporter could actually be numbered.  If you think bipartisanship is a myth today, try to imagine it at the bottom of this slippery slope (a logical fallacy, I know, but the point stands).

I wish I could end this column with a solution, but I honestly don’t see one.  It would be comforting to believe that some omnipotent, not explicitly Christian deity was guiding this media transformation, but judging from its current trajectory, this looks like anything but an Intelligent Design.

A version of the post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.

The Spam We Need February 10, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Election.
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For at least the next two years, the impotent Republican minority in the House of Representatives will produce nothing but drama and headlines.  And the theme of this show will be partisanship.  President Obama promised us a new era of bipartisanship, so whenever he supports a Democratic policy, Republicans are crying foul.  Disregarding the fact that liberals got “partisan-ed” pretty hard during Bush II years, let’s examine what bipartisanship really means today.

First, “partisan” does not deserve such a negative connotation; it describes how our legislature functions.  Two parties with widely differing ideologies will obviously support the solutions they believe will work, as they have for centuries.

When Obama won, the phrase ‘mandate for change’ surfaced – the sense that a clear majority of Americans trusted that this Democratic president had a better platform to fix our country.  For Obama to now embrace Republican plans for a stimulus package (mainly tax breaks) would violate the trust of every person who voted for him.  Americans elected Democrats into the White House and clear majorities in the House and the Senate.  This is not a product of random chance.

2008 election results with states scaled by population.  See all the blue?

2008 election results with states scaled by population. See all the blue?

Worthy or not, Republicans successfully cast themselves as the party of “tax breaks.”  And if that is your single, shortsighted priority for our government, it seems clear you should vote Republican.  But in November, America did not.  So last month, when Obama was asked why there weren’t more Republican ideas in his stimulus plan and he replied “I won,” his response was not only delightfully honest but informative.

Bipartisanship means understanding, respecting, and listening to the opposition.  Obama is doing that.  Sometimes it means making compromises too, but not on everything.  I’m no economist, so let’s try this from a civics perspective: in a democratic republic, citizens vote for the people they think will choose what is best for their country.  Because Republican policies and leadership failed us so spectacularly during the last eight years, we voted them out of power.  We already tried pure tax breaks – they didn’t work. And there’s a reason Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  So maybe this time our government should actually govern?

But no, Republicans want to give tax breaks another whirl.  All 188 of them in the House voted against the stimulus bill (which still passed easily).  But they are quite proud of their completely ineffective yet unanimous opposition.  They even view it as a victory because Obama spent time meeting with them.  Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) explained, “if he comes and meets with us like that and it doesn’t have an impact, it begins to hurt his credibility.”  …Or alternatively, one could interpret that to mean that Republicans are equally unwilling to compromise on their core beliefs and voted with their party.  What’s that called again?  Oh yeah, “partisan.”  Bipartisanship is a two-way street, not the unilateral acquiescence of a ruling majority.

While Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) proposes a $3.1 trillion tax break “stimulus” alternative, his fellow Republicans oppose the current $838 billion plan as wastefully large.  Highlighting minor expenditures (like the efficiency measures I last wrote about), they’ve framed the bill as a giant helping of congressional pork.  But this label doesn’t quite fit.

Legislative “pork” is normally funding for projects that benefit only a small constituency, frequently within a single congressperson’s district.  Most of the “controversial” stimulus expenditures fund broader objectives, such as anti-smoking campaigns.  These seem more like “riders,” unrelated and often contentious provisions attached to a larger, important bill that is likely to pass.  But this comparison doesn’t work either, because these expenditures themselves are the bill.  That would make the stimulus package some kind of conglomeration of self-propelling riders, or maybe “meta-pork,” but that’s a little confusing.

Given the difficulty of classifying this project and our penchant for labeling legislation as meat, I propose that this bill is most like spam: nobody really knows quite what it is, it’s probably a lot of different things mashed together, and whatever it is, it’s going to be around for a while.  It’s not your first choice, but you’d certainly eat it if you were starving.

Looks...yummy, doesn't it?

...yum.

This stimulus spam is not perfect, but our economy is famished.  Barring a government-wide “kumbaya” moment, continued debate will accomplish little.  I concede that some of the proposed expenditures would not provide short-term economic stimulus and perhaps should be removed, but the Democratic agenda has long been stifled and a crisis is indeed a terrible thing to waste.  And it’s worth mentioning that many of the “jobless” investments, like the anti-smoking campaign or computerizing medical records, would surely save money in the long run.

Regardless, the performance of our economy during this administration will be attributed to, or blamed on, Democrats; if we’re shouldering all the risk, we might as well do this our way (if we can get the votes in the Senate).  Claims of partisanship are the crutch of an intellectually bankrupt Republican party that has nothing new to offer.

Last week, Sen. John McCain sent an email to his supporters with an anti-stimulus petition.  He wrote, “With so much at stake, the last thing we need is partisanship driving our attempts to turn the economy around.”  But is partisanship really worse than a prolonged, deeper recession?  I don’t think so.

A version of this post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.