Thursday, June 30, 2011

It takes one to know one

This morning, little Moe Lane is as delighted as a school boy that Mark Halperin called President Obama "kind of a dick."

First of all, it takes one to know one, Moe. And secondly, the president was not being a dick; you're being a dick, Moe.

Moe Lane's approach to blogging involves a now-familiar combination of assholery and asshattery.

In "Obama’s class warfare… against Obama’s stimulus program," Lane attributes the following statement to President Obama: "I've said to Republican leaders, 'You go talk to your constituents and ask them, "Are you willing to compromise your kids' safety so some corporate-jet owner can get a tax break?"''' Obama uttered these words during his press conference yesterday. (But in what context? More on that later.) Lane's source,, argued that Obama is engaging in class warfare:
If President Obama's news conference accomplished anything on Wednesday afternoon, it underscored, in striking tones, his strategy for winning the debt ceiling fight with Republicans: Make it a clash of classes.
  • Rich versus Poor.
  • Us versus Them. 
  • Those who support children, food safety, medical research and, presumably, puppies and apple pie versus the rich fat cats who don't.
In Obama's world, Democrats are for kids and Republicans are for corporate jets. 
As a sidenote, I should point out that if Obama is engaging in class warfare, it's not as if he fired the first shot. The class war has been in progress for decades now, and the plutocracy is unfortunately winning. Republicans accuse Democrats of engaging in class warfare in order to get public opinion on their side and thereby manipulate Democrats into laying down their arms. In general, Republican politicians think that sacrifices for the general welfare must be borne by the middle class. Do they really expect us to take this lying down?

In any event, if you want to know what Democratic and Republican politicians are for, just look at what they want to spend money on.

Anyway, Lane calls the president "shameless" and "clueless" for making the statement:
It’s shameless because President Obama has only one rhetorical trick, and that’s to demonize everybody who disagrees with whatever faux-Hegelian position he’s ended up taking on any given day.  It’s particularly clueless because what the President apparently doesn’t know is that the latest iteration of the tax break in question was put into place as part of Barack Obama’s own 2009 “stimulus.”
First of all, I actually read most of Hegel's The Phenomenlogy of Spirit, and I have no idea what Lane is talking about. What is a "faux-Hegelian position"? That sounds like pseudo-intellectual bullshit to me. Secondly, how does Lane express factual disagreements without demonizing the people with whom he disagrees? What advice would he give the president? Is Obama being too "uppity" for his taste? Republicans want to cut government programs and hand out tax breaks to wealthy people. That's a fact. Lane needs to learn the difference between challenging Republican positions and demonizing Republicans.

Lane accuses the president of hypocrisy. He cites a Fox News story from February 2009 as his source, though I quote it at greater length than he:
Just a few months after lawmakers scolded auto executives for flying to Washington in private jets, Congress approved a tax break in the stimulus package to help businesses buy their own planes.

The incentive -- first used to help plane makers recover from the 2001 terror attacks -- sharply reduces the up front tax bill for companies who buy assets like business planes.

The aviation industry, which is cutting jobs as it suffers from declining shipments and canceled orders, hopes the tax break in the economic-stimulus bill just signed by President Barack Obama will persuade more companies to buy planes and snap a slump in general aviation that began last year.

"This is exactly the type of financial incentive that should be included in a stimulus bill," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., in an interview. His state lost at least 6,900 jobs at Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft, both based in Wichita. 
So, according to Lane, the president is a hypocrite for supporting tax breaks for businesses that buy aircraft in 2009 and condemning similar tax breaks in 2011.

Has Lane been living under a rock for the past two years? Though many Americans are still hurting badly, the recession is over, and the domestic political focus has shifted from stimulus spending to cutting the deficit. Lane assumes that the present political and economic climate is more or less the same as it was over two years ago. That's just stupid.

Further, Lane seems to assume that if a person supports a tax break at one time, that person must support that tax break at every time or else be a hypocrite. That's also just stupid. The fact that a tax break is appropriate at one time doesn't show that it's appropriate at every time.

For whatever reason, Lane is reasoning like a child or someone who is brain-damaged, not because he himself is a child or brain-damaged, but because it serves his political purposes to simplify this debate.

Lane points out that Republicans did not support the stimulus bill that contained tax breaks for aircraft purchases. So it seems odd to him that the president is scolding Republicans for supporting tax breaks for businesses now. But Republican politicians were against the stimulus then (even though one third of it was in the form of tax cuts) and in favor of tax cuts now because their default position is to be against whatever that black guy in the White House advocates.

Before I finish, I should provide you with the context of the quotation from the president's press conference that Lane is moaning about:
So the question is, if everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we’re not willing to come to the table and get a deal done. Or, we’re so concerned about protecting oil and gas subsidies for oil companies that are making money hand over fist — that’s the reason we’re not going to come to a deal.

I don’t think that’s a sustainable position. And the truth of the matter is, if you talk to Republicans who are not currently in office, like Alan Simpson who co-chaired my bipartisan commission, he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position.  Pete Domenici, Republican, co-chaired something with Alice Rivlin, the Democrat, says that’s — he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position. You can’t reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix.

And the revenue we’re talking about isn’t coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling. It’s coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax rates since before I was born.

If you are a wealthy CEO or a . . . hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They’re lower than they’ve been since the 1950s. And you can afford it.  You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have to pay a little more.

And if we — I just want to emphasize what I said earlier. If we do not have revenues, that means there are a bunch of kids out there who are not getting college scholarships. If we do not have those revenues, then the kinds of cuts that would be required might compromise the National Weather Service. It means that we would not be funding critical medical research. It means that food inspection might be compromised. And I’ve said to some of the Republican leaders, you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break. And I’m pretty sure what the answer would be.
Look, I'm not in love with this president. He hasn't been as liberal as I would have liked. But Lane is just being a dick. If you read the quotation in context, the president's position on deficit reduction is actually quite moderate: cut government spending, but tax those who are doing extremely well in this economy so that we don't need to cut programs that huge numbers of Americans rely on. The position is obviously more moderate than the Republican position, which appears to be to address the deficit merely by crippling and eliminating whole government programs.

Moe, stop being a dick.

Republicans sense that they now have an opportunity to turn back the clock to pre-New Deal America, and they're attempting to seize it. I think that they're actually making a huge mistake. Even Paul Ryan acknowledges that failing to raise the debt ceiling will result in cuts to "vital programs."  And consider the following diagram:

Everyone knows someone who has benefited from at least one of these programs. I've benefited from three of them. But as the diagram shows, many people don't know that they have benefited from government social programs. One way to inform them of that fact is to start hacking away at their budgets. Do Republican politicians really believe that their party won't pay dearly one day for the kinds of cuts they want to make? Have they forgotten those Tea Partiers who urged them not to touch their Medicare? While their ability to alter our perceptions of reality with political spin is impressive, it is not unlimited.

Update. Here's Andrew Sullivan's reaction to Halperin's (and Lane's) claim that the president was being a dick:
In the negotiations with the Republicans, Obama and the Dems have offered a couple of trillion in cuts. The Republicans have refused even to discuss increasing tax revenues in return. For the president to react with understated anger strikes me as perfectly natural and overdue. 

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson