Thursday, August 17, 2017
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Andy Schmookler

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Strike While the Iron Is Hot

How We Can Hear Opportunity Knocking in These GOP Poll Numbers

Everybody knows: the polls show a huge drop in the poll numbers for Republicans.  What that means is that millions of people are in the process of changing their image of the Republican Party. For the worse. Maybe much worse.

But people have short memories. The image of the Republicans recklessly taking hostages over the shutdown and the threat of default will soon begin to recede.  When the ugliness that this episode has revealed recedes from view, these millions of people whose views of the GOP are in flux will likely shift back in the direction of their old views, as when the GOP polled better.

Unless the Democrats strike while the iron is hot. That means taking every opportunity to highlight what will doubtless be other Republican conduct in the future that confirms what these millions are now coming to see.

Almost two-thirds of Americans now see the Republicans as promoting their own agenda at the expense of the public good.  They've been doing this for years, and they're not about to stop.

The job for the Democrats now is to call them out on their power-hungry disregard of the nation's welfare every time it's on display.  That will reinforce what so many Americans are now more receptive to seeing.

People have seen that the Republicans do not speak the truth. Democrats should call them on their lies, every time.  They see that the Republicans run roughshod over the norms of our democracy.  Call them out.  They see that the Republicans are unhinged from reality (default would be no big deal). Keep the focus on how dangerous it would be to let such unhinged people steer our nation.

The Power of Standing Up to Bullies

As I write this, there is a shred of uncertainty about whether President Obama will continue until the end standing firm on his position that there will be no concessions made to hostage-takers. I hope he gives not an inch on that.

Regardless, the unfolding of this crisis proves quite clearly that the best way to disempower the dark spirit that drives these right-wing bullies is to take the right stand and then stand one's ground.

Here once again we see a recapitulation of the drama leading up to the Civil War.

It would be very easy to document, extensively, the proposition that the South of the 1850s, in its conduct toward the North, and the Republican Party of the past fifteen years, in its conduct toward the Democrats, have been bullies.

Arguably, the Northerners of the years before the Civil War were less cowed by the Southern bullies than the Democrats of our times have been by the Republicans. But the Southerners believed that, though the North might complain about the South's breaking up of the Union, when push came to shove they would back down. The Yankee might get upset and sue you, one Southerner said, but he won't fight.

What they hadn't counted on was the extraordinary quality of character of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was an unusually humane and conciliatory person. That came through in all his communications to the South prior to the outbreak of the war. But he was also resolute.

Cutting One’s Losses Comes Hard

There is apparently a human aversion to accepting the certainty of a loss, and that aversion helps illuminate the behavior of the Republicans in their present quandary.

That's one of the things I've learned from a quite brilliant book I'm reading. Titled Thinking, Fast and Slow, it is written by Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for work he's done on the non-rational aspects of human decision-making.

One piece of this book deals with how, contrary to much previous thinking of economists, humans do not make their decisions in a straight-forward rational fashion based on calculations of probabilities times magnitudes of possible gains and losses. People place an inordinately high weight on small possibilities, and they place a great value on the move from highly probable to certain. Add to that the fact that people feel more painful impact from losses than they feel pleasure from gains of the same magnitude, and one ends up with a two-by-two matrix that is relevant to the explanation of the Republicans' recklessness in the current crisis. (The Republicans also have some other craziness problems, but I'm setting that aside for now.)

In this two-by-two matrix, there is either a high or a low probability of a gain or a loss of either a large or a small magnitude. In each of the four cases, people are given the option of taking a deal that gives certainty of a smaller gain/loss, or taking their chances of getting the whole thing.

What studies find is that people will take their chances on getting a big gain with a small probability (like buying a lottery ticket), and they'll also gamble when it comes to the possibility a large loss for which there is a large probability. When there's a large probability for a large gain, they'll take a smaller gain to make it a sure thing. (People will take $900,000 for certain, for example, in preference to a 95% chance of winning a million.)

The quadrant the Republicans are in is the one where there's a very high probability of a very large loss. When people are in that situation, will they accept a somewhat smaller loss for sure, or will they take their chances that somehow they can come out of the situation unscathed?

Here’s How to Keep Defeating These Republicans: Open Letter to President Obama

Good for you, Mr. President, for standing your ground. I hope you've noticed how useful, for the overall political picture, it has been for you to hold firm and leave this Republican Party exposed as the reckless, anti-democratic, warlike force it has become.

Helping the American people see clearly the nature of the force that's taken over that Party is and remains Job One, because none of the other important tasks that confront us as a nation can be tackled successfully so long as they retain the power to prevent good things from being accomplished.

If you're going to be able to accomplish anything with what remains of your presidency, therefore, it is essential that after the 2014 elections, either the Republican hold on the House has been broken or the Republicans have been compelled to become a normal political party again.

Your top priority, therefore, must be to continue to press the attack on the destructive and dishonest spirit that now drives the Republicans.  

I Think I Know What the President Will Do If Congress Fails to Raise...

Having just heard President Obama's press conference, I have an intuition of where he's heading if Congress fails to raise the debt limit.  

He's prepared to take unilateral action to keep/get us out of default. (My advice would be to GET us out, after there's been enough of an earthquake for the American people to understand just how reckless the Republicans have been.)

I draw this conclusion from what I saw the President doing in that press conference that leads me to that belief. Interestingly, some are interpreting his remarks as "dismissing" those possibilities, or ruling them out. That's not how I saw it.

Here's what the President actually said:

I know there's been some discussion, for example, about my powers under the Fourteenth Amendment to go ahead and ignore the debt ceiling law. Setting aside the legal analysis, what matters is is that if you start having a situation in which there's legal controversy about the U.S. Treasury's authority to issue debt, the damage will have been done even if that were constitutional because people wouldn't be sure. It would be tied up in litigation for a long time. That's going to make people nervous.

So a lot of the strategies that people have talked about, well the president can roll out a big coin, or he can resort to some other constitutional measure. What people ignore is that ultimately what matters is, 'What are the people who are buying treasury bills think?'


And he went on to talk about how someone would hesitate to buy a house, or require some kind of premium, if there were some uncertainty about the owner's having title to the house.

So what is President Obama doing here? It's true that he's expressing dissatisfaction with the presidential-rescue solution, but he's not ruling it out.

He's saying that it would be far better for the Congress to raise the debt ceiling and remove all uncertainty about default. He's saying there's a cost --the premium we'd have to pay to compensate for the uncertainties that buyers of U.S. debt may feel-- if the debt ceiling were to be raised by means that could face a constitutional challenge. ("It would be tied up in litigation for a long time. That's going to make people nervous.")

By this means, he keeps the pressure on Congress to raise the debt ceiling.  And rightly so.

Rightly, first, because that pressure is politically appropriate. No good would come of his showing, while the burden rests on Congress, any readiness to rescue the nation from the Republicans, and thus the Republicans from the consequences of their recklessness. (For that reason, I'm glad to see commentators interpreting his remarks as "dismissing" the presidential-rescue option.)

And rightly, second, because Congress passing an increase in the debt ceiling is in fact better for the American and world economies, and for the American polity, than his having to take an action that would likely be challenged and thus create some financial uncertainties as well as political distractions.

But the same argument also sets up his taking such action if Congress fails to respond appropriately to that pressure, and to act responsibly on the "full faith and credit of the United States."

Uncertainty may be bad, but the certainty of disaster is even worse.

So if the choice is between "FOR SURE the United States defaults NOW" and "MAYBE the United States defaults IN A FEW YEARS" (if the Supreme Court somehow were to uphold the Congress's right to destroy the country and not the President's right to protect it), it is clear which is the better option.

With this presentation, I think President Obama has gone as far as he's going to go --or should go-- prior to Congress's actual failure, to open the door for his rescuing the country. But he's gone far enough to set the stage for taking that action and then defending his action in court if or when it's challenged.

No concessions. And a readiness to act unilaterally. That's the combination I recommended in 2011, and again in recent months. After today's press conference, I'm feeling more confidence that before that this is the policy President Obama has embraced.

A Hopeful Sign (in a TIME Magazine Cover)

This TIME Magazine cover is, for me, a hopeful sign. It comes from a very mainstream publication, and it is conveying that sense of menace (storm clouds) to our national institutions (Capitol dome) and to our fundamental democratic principles ("Majority Rule").  

The nation knows who's putting that principle in jeopardy:  it's the Party that refuses to accept that when they lose elections, they don't get to call the shots.

Obama Should Say, “My Oath of Office Tells Me, No Concessions to Blackmailers”

"I've taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  When I say that I will not negotiate concessions in response to blackmailers' threats, I'm fulfilling that oath. I understand, as I regrettably did not in 2011, when I thought I was protecting the nation by making such concessions, that the constitutional order of the United States requires that I send the message loud and clear:  government by hostage-taking -- saying to the nation, 'Meet our demands or we'll hurt America'- cannot be tolerated.  It cannot be rewarded.

"So I repeat now what I've been saying all year, and the hostage-takers should have no doubt that I mean what I say:  I am not going to negotiate with people pointing a gun at our nation's well-being. Not on this shutdown. Not on the debt ceiling.

"That's not how government is supposed to work in the United States of America.  

"The Constitution gave us elections and a normal legislative process to decide on the laws that govern us.  I'm going to protect the Constitution against those who would sweep all that aside and replace it with blackmail."

A Face-Saving Way Out for Republicans? No Thanks.

There's been some talk about whether the Democrats might provide the Republicans with a face-saving way out of the corner they've painted themselves into with this government shutdown shakedown effort of theirs.

Should they?  Or should they work to make this episode as disastrous as possible for the Republicans, shaming the Republican Wrecking Crew as much as they can?    

My own inclination is to use this as a moment to inflict as much damage on the Republicans as possible.  Given their conduct over this past decade plus, I think that driving out the destructive spirit from the Republican Party (or, if that spirit cannot be driven out, the destruction of the Republican Party) should be the number one political priority for those who care about the nation.

When the opponent is on the ropes, but the fight is hardly over, is NOT the time to back away.

To give them a face-saving out would be like a prize fighter working to make his punches glancing rather than full-on impact against the opponent.

Will Anyone Fight to Bring Sanity to the Republican Base?

"We have to do this because of the Tea Party. If we don't, these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary." (Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee)
The Tea Party tail wags the Republican dog in the House because the base has been rendered, over the past twenty years, so detached from reality that any Republican who acts sanely and responsibly reasonably fears he's committing political suicide.

These are people for the most part sane, but having been persuaded over the past generation of so much that is false, about a dimension of the world about which people lack for the most part enough knowledge to understand on their own, that in the realm of political beliefs, they are effectively insane-- substantially detached from reality, ruled by falsehoods and delusions.

Either the false worldview that's been inculcated in the Republican base by people like Limbaugh and Murdock and the rest of the propagandists must be corrected, yielding a sane conservative party. Or the continuation of a base inflamed with the dangerous combination of false beliefs and rabid insistence on enforcing them on others will continue to wreak destruction.

If we're lucky, what they destroy first will be the Republican Party. But even with that luck, the process will be destructive also of the well-being of our nation, as the present unnecessary government shutdown illustrates.

But who will fight to bring sanity to the Republican base? Are there Republicans brave enough to take on the job? Can anyone get them to listen?

It’s Deeper Than You Think

We've been hearing a lot about the Republicans' deep opposition to Obamacare. It's not about Obamacare.

We've been hearing a lot about the Republican's ideological positions. It's not about ideology.

It's way deeper.

Does it make sense that an idea that came out of the Heritage Foundation, and was put forward in the 1990s by the Republican caucus in the Senate, that today's Republicans would find it so profoundly objectionable --that they'd truly believe it represented such a monstrous a threat to America -- that they'd launch this kamikaze war to oppose it?

(That makes as much sense as that Wayne LaPierre, who supported universal background checks in the late 90s, would truly believe now that such checks would represent the intolerable assault on American liberty he lately declared them to be.)

Does it make sense that if Obamacare were really what's driving the Republicans, they'd have to wage their campaign against it with so many lies about what it is and what it does?

If they were really against "big government," if they were really ideologically opposed to government involvement in the American people's medical process, would this same Republican Party, around the country in the states under their control, be passing versions of the "transvaginal ultrasound" requirement-- a politically imposed, medically unnecessary procedure?

No. None of these things makes sense in the terms in which they are presented by the Republicans, and generally discussed in the media.

It's way deeper.

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