Let the Bad Air Out

Jim, I saw you had a long post called Remove the Toxins. I didn’t read it yet beyond the first line, wanting to offer my thoughts on Washington and the cliff deal without just responding to what you said. Your title though made me think of the line from the Bruce Cockburn song with which I have titled this post.

Watching a bit of the morning shows, George Will cynically loves the cliff deal because he thinks it shows that the conservatives have won in that almost all the Democrats voted to make permanent Bush tax rates on all but the top 1/2 of 1% or so of Americans. (To be clear, that means the conservatives have won in Washington, where little that is done reflects the actual will of the people). Robert Reich sees the biggest problem with the deal being that it doesn’t do anything about our biggest problem at the moment, which is jobs. And you know what, they are actually both pretty much right.

What amazes me about Washington and the pundit class is how they act like things are permanent, where in reality they change pretty dramatically every four or certainly every eight years, and often every two years. They spend endless words about how the Bush tax cuts were set to expire after ten years and the new cliff deal makes those rates permanent for everyone making less than $400,000 (for individuals, yes, and a bit more for families–those details will hardly make a difference to the debt). In actuality, of course, nothing is permanent, certainly not in politics. Those Bush tax cuts that expired after ten years (or were supposed to until Obama agreed to extend them)? They could have been ended at any time in those ten years if congress had voted to do so and the president had signed it.

There is no permanent.
I know, I know, shhhhhh. Don’t tell that to business leaders, who simply cannot operate in the real world, but can only function when they have the needed confidence to spend money or hire if they are existing in a fictional world of stasis, where nothing ever changes. And yes, I really do believe the evidence shows that whole meme is just that absurd.

As for the deal itself, in the end it seemed little more than kicking the can down the road. Pretty much like every deal struck in Washington (especially ones struck at the last-minute with a self-imposed deadline looming), it plays around the margins without doing too much of substance and then both sides claim big victories with the margins of both parties claiming betrayal and that it is a horrid deal.

And the media is little help. Not once in all the coverage did I see or hear an explanation of how this averted us from the cliff in simple numbers. The cliff, of course, was taking too much money out of the economy too fast, sending us back into recession. Not once did I see a simple graph or numbers that said 1) this is how much money would have been taken out of the economy if nothing was done, and 2) this is how much that will be taken out (through tax increases and spending cuts) as a result of the deal. My guess is that they didn’t do that because it would show that the deal wasn’t some grand thing that really changed it all that much, and they’d all been doing everything possible to scare us for months, and so they couldn’t very well now say that a minor tweak was all that was needed to avert this most dire of catastrophes.

And kick it down the road they did, as the deal didn’t address at all the spending side of the equation, or, as Reich pointed out, do anything about jobs. And of course it didn’t touch the real elephant in the room, the coming debt ceiling. The Republicans insist they will again hold the country hostage. President Obama insists that he will not have another fight about it. Does that mean he’ll invoke the 14th amendment, or that he’ll have the Treasury mint a trillion-dollar coin, or is it just talking tough and hoping the other side blinks? I guess we’ll know in a couple of months.

I think history shows that any time our congress plays chicken with itself–and that is all this was, as the cliff problem, whatever it was, was purely self-inflicted–what we get in the end is minor change that lets both sides walk away with their spokesmen declaring victory and the fringes of the parties crying foul. The markets seemed to understand this, barely reacting to the deal despite all the dire warnings. If we default on our debt, refuse to pay bills that are due on money we’ve already spent (which is what the debt ceiling is, despite some Republican congressmen going on TV and saying otherwise, whether out of ignorance or for political scare theater isn’t for me to say), that would have huge consequences and could do great harm to the world economy.

The whole cliff thing in the end was much ado about little, simple political theater, or as they call it in Washington, business as usual. And that is the problem.

To change subjects, as we enter Obama’s second term, I want to say God speed Hilary. I wish you a full recovery and a wonderful next few years, success in writing your memoirs, teaching, whatever you want to do. Right now you say you have no plans to run for president. I hope you hold to that. Not that you couldn’t have been a great president; just that your time has passed. Not everyone gets to be president. And America is not well served by having two families as political dynasties with so much power. Mostly, however, I hope you don’t run because I believe you would lose. Let’s look at the races since Reagan’s days, in which I include Bush 1. That was the last time we elected the older of the two candidates, and the last time we elected someone over 60. We are no longer a baby boomer society. Gen Xers and beyond have taken over (and I say that as one born at the peak of the baby boom).

(I didn’t look at birth months, just years, so some of the ages and differences could be off by one, depending on the month of birth. Close enough for my purposes.)
1984; Reagan, age 73 vs. Walter Mondale, age 56–age difference, 16 years. Age won. 1988; Bush 1, age 64 vs. Mike Dukakis, age 55–age difference, 9 years. Age won.
1992; Bush 1, age 68 vs Bill Clinton, age 46–age difference, 22 years. Youth won.
1996, Bill Clinton, age 50 vs. Bob Dole, age 73–age difference 23 years. Youth won.
2000; George Bush, age 54 vs. Al Gore, age 56–age difference 2. Close enough to call it a wash.
2004, George Bush, age 58 vs. John Kerry, age 61–age difference 3 years. Close enough to call a wash, yet in both cases, even though close, youth won.
2008, Barack Obama, age 47 vs. John McCain, age 72–age difference 25 years. Youth won.
2012, Barack Obama, age 51 vs Mitt Romney, age 65–age difference 14 years. Youth won. 2016; Hilary Clinton, age 69 vs ?

We can’t count on the Republicans to nominate another fossil like McCain. I’m not saying it is right that since Reagan we won’t elect anyone over 60; I’m simply pointing it out as a fact. Hilary Clinton vs Rubio, Haley, Jindal, or whoever would likely result in a Republican win. It is hard enough for a party to hold the white house after a two term president. The Democrats will need everything going for them to have a chance.

Nominating Hilary would be throwing in the towel before the fight began. I don’t know who the younger Democratic nominee could be, and after the election of 2004, despite his star-making convention speech, no one thought Obama would run in four years, let alone win. There is plenty of time.

Bill Clinton; 1946
George H. W. Bush; 1924
Bob Dole: 1923
Mike Dukakis, 1933
Ronald Reagan: 1911
Lloyd Bensten: 1921
Al Gore: 1948
George W Bush: 1946
John Kerry: 1943
Barack Obama: 1961
John McCain: 1936
Mitt Romney: 1947
Walter Mondale; 1928
Hilary Clinton, 1947

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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