Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Failing Grade

Peter Hoekstra certainly launched a small to-do the other day with this ad released for the SuperBowl broadcast in Michigan.

One can see what the message goal was, that the Obama administration response to the economic crisis plunged us into hock to the Chinese. However, as the saying goes, it’s all in the execution. One doesn’t know whether to flunk the campaign for its political tone deafness, its failed advertising, or for flunking strategic thinking.

The politics, like too much of the current conservative thinking, is especially deaf (blind?) to the actual deeds. Move past 2009, and stances now condemned by Mr “Spend-it-Not” were apparently business as usual. Over his tenure Peter Hoekstra voted to add more than $5 trillion to the deficit — the dreaded free-spending Democrats, spending it now? A net increase of $800 billion (see  the chart from the Washington Post). The resulting deficits are simply the engine that drove the economy into the hands of  foreign investors. Peter “Spend-it-Not” Hoekstra? Alas, only if this isn’t the same Peter Hoekstra who once served in Congress.

One may also point out that the Senator hasn’t been sitting on her hands.

Stabenow, who’s running for a third term, has pushed for trade policies aimed at China that impose duties and penalties on countries that manipulate their currency and penalize companies that steal intellectual property from U.S. companies.

But let’s talk about the imagery used. Racist? Xenophobic? Those are the words of GOP consultant Nick De Leeuw.

“Stabenow has got to go. But shame on Pete Hoekstra for that appalling new advertisement,” De Leeuw wrote on his Facebook page Sunday morning. “Racism and xenophobia aren’t any way to get things done.”

As far as advertising goes, the image is further off. If it is about the Chinese (or East Asian) trade imbalance, it’s off target. We don’t have the trade imbalance because we spend too much on rice. Bluntly, had she been on an assembly line, or inside a factory it would have had more edge. (And there is the odd, Viet Nam vibe to the whole this something of a dog whistle to the old guard right.)

This all returns to the strategic judgement of the candidate himself. Sound advertising, particularly the high visibility, Super Bowl kind, needs to be on target all the way through. For a former vice president of marketing, this is embarrassing. Strategically one cannot say “I did this to raise visibility.” The racial question is not simply whether or not he dealt fairly with East Asians, but rather one of the future: will he deal fairly with other minorities. In today’s diverse  public, that is not something that should be risked.

Filed under: Michigan, Politics, , , , , ,

A cheer or two for political courage

The President was in Toledo Friday, making one more stop on a victory tour for the auto bailout. By most accounts, the program has succeeded in its basic goals: safeguarding workers, communities and suppliers in the great auto meltdown of a few years ago. Manufacturing is now up. GM has added a third shift at Hamtramack, and even Chrysler is showing life.

A presidential win, that not only goes to Obama but to his predecessor, as well.

Still, folks dislike the deal. For them talk of saving industry, suppliers, communities cannot overcome the actual cost — estimated at $25 billion. These issues, the reluctance and the push back can both be found in Megan McArdle’s writings at The Atlantic, here in this blog cited by Lowry in The National Review, but also in a more measured published response, where McArdle admits

The worst fears of many critics—including me—were overblown. The government did not simply leave the bloated legacy costs intact in order to protect its political friends.

What the current debate highlights more than anything else, is the uncertainty of that initial decision, and the continuing skepticism about government action generally. This continuing debate driven in part by the ascendency of the Tea Party only further highlights the political courage of those who stood up, as odd a mix of political bedfellows as you will find: Virg Benaro, Mike Cox, Thaddeus McCotter, and our own David LaGrand.

That political courage takes place amidst uncertainty accounts for why so many go silent. Practical calculus paralyzes. We may believe but we muffle our voice. As with all things political, it is one part rashness, one part calculation of benefit and one part driven principle.

All this comes to the fore with the other current instance of political courage in our midst, that of Rep. Justin Amash. His co-sponsoring of the War Powers Resolution certainly belongs in the category of political courage. And then he adds to it with the success of his Amendment to protect Freedom of Information Act requests at the Homeland Security Agency.

Like those who stood up for the auto bailout these are actions whose actual outcome is uncertain (will hindsight prove him right? Wrong?), but that is the substance of political courage. And like those who came before, Rep. Amash moves with that mixture of principle (moral and philosophical) coupled with a mix of political calculation and political rashness.

And let’s be clear: political courage deserves its honor.

Filed under: Economy, Politics, Washington, , , , , , , , ,

More Radical Than They Knew

After the President’s address, a couple of items from Pete Hoekstra and John Shadegg’s piece in last week’s WSJ stand out.  Not least, will Pete agree?

Reform Insurance

The heart of their piece, the moment when they begin to actually talk about the real human need comes when they say

” no one should go bankrupt because of a chronic disease or pre-existing conditions like multiple sclerosis or breast cancer.”

This is real common ground, and a big applause line last night.  The need is absolutely critical.

And let’s be clear, the record is clear. The  August issue of the American Journal of Medicine reports 62% of all bankruptcies were due to medical costs, of those in bankruptcies, 75 percent already had medical insurance. The survey also found that 25 percent of companies terminate insurance immediately when an employee has a disabling illness. And yesterday’s Washington Post adds further fuel, noting that insurance companies have earned more than $300 million by selectively culling claims that filed – recission.

Bottom line: some sort of insurance reform is going to be required. Abusive contracts that place families at greater fiscal risk hardly deserve the name “insurance.”  And I’m with McJoan at dailyKos, I wouldn’t especially call such insurance execs “friends.”

Build in Standards.

A second issue raised by the Hoekstra/Shadegg proposal is near and dear to conservatives.  And like insurance, it carries the seed for something more radical.

” Our tax code incentivizes employer-provided health care, rewards health insurance companies by insulating them from accountability, and punishes those who lack employer-provided care.”

And later,

“We must stop punishing Americans who buy their own plan by forcing them to purchase their care with after-tax dollars, making it at least one-third more expensive than employer-provided care. Individuals should be able to take their employer’s plan, or turn it down and select insurance of their own choosing without any tax penalty.”

Talking point blather, perhaps? Then again, a study from Dean Baker’s CEPR brings up an interesting piece of information: the United States lags other developed nations in the proportion of its workforce in small, entrepreneurial businesses. The failure of affordable single payer insurance plays a part here stalls the economic engine.

But to make policies portable, to achieve the competitive ideal, they have to in one sense be comparable.  Call it product protection, if nothing else.  And the Elephants in fact are already looking at “exhange” – some marketplace of validated plans, plans that meet minimal standards of coverage, not least being free from the abusive contracts presently offered.

Insurance exchange.  Minimum standards.  There’s actually a phrase for it: Qualified Health Benefit Plans.

And Who’s in the Pool?

Hoekstra/Shadegg also revives a proposal from the Bush days (actually goes back further).

“State-based high-risk pools spread the cost of care for those with chronic diseases among all insurers in the market. The additional cost of their care is subsidized by the government.”

“Unfortunately, some states have not created high-risk pools, and some need to be restructured to ensure timely access to care. Republicans have proposed fixing this problem by expanding and strengthening this safety net, and by creating reinsurance or risk-adjustment pools so that Americans with chronic medical conditions can get the care they need at an affordable cost.”

Of course making subsidy of insurance rates the property of states would create a large set of unfunded mandates.  Only 35 states have programs at all, and these of varying costs.  The obvious problem is that states have differing levels of willingness or even ability to respond to these types of catastrophic needs.

The reality of varying state levels of support or ability to pay demonstrates why a national solution is to be preferred.  As President Obama said:

“In the meantime, for those Americans who can’t get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it’s a good idea now, and we should embrace it.”

A John McCain idea.

In short the path to real reform is there, even in the Republican proposals.  Of course one would never know it for the hysterics.  Their failure is not in their plan.  As shown, many are substantive and worthy of consideration.  Rather the difficulty is a condition, a holdover from an earlier, less responsible era, where budgets and policy barely talked to one another.  Hoekstra and Shadegg conclude:

“If we give citizens the ability to control their own care, cover pre-existing conditions, and provide resources to the uninsured, we will have fixed health care in America. No bureaucrats. No new czars. No mandates. Just choice and coverage for every American.”

And I want a pony, too.

As the Congressman will tell us elsewhere, we can not simply wish away our problems.  Real problems require real lifting. It would be nice to have Hoekstra and Ehlers engage on this issue, but practical reality requires them to vote no, even when the ideas are theirs.

Filed under: Health care, National, ,

Visceral Reaction

This past Thursday not only marked the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but also the turning of an important page restoring constitutional government.

On the Mall in Washington, hundreds of thousands gathered for the annual March for Life.  And in the Oval Office—really within earshot—President Obama put his signature on Executive Orders closing Guantanamo CIA prisons and prohibiting “intensive interrogations” (that’s torture, as even government prosecutors concede).

Politically, the two actions seem to be going in opposite directions.  One pitched itself as a  rallying of the opposition — the vehemence of opposition made all the sharper by the actions and statements of then Senator Obama supporting the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

For the others, the closing of Guantanamo and the barring of torture fulfills a promise. Each side celebrated with their partisans: new winners, old losers.

Yet the emotional intensity of the both positions belie the straightforward political approach.

As speakers at the rally and commentary around the web make clear, abortion remains one of the first of the major political battle lines.  But for many the position is one of over-riding moral weight.  In conversation, it is impossible to see the other side.

It’s pretty much the same when it comes to the issues surrounding “aggressive interrogation” and detention at Guantanamo.  For them the issue of torture has the same prima facie moral status.  And that’s something new.

This moral outrage, this sense of moral stain gives the left something that it has been missing in political discussion.  Morally charged politics. The other (conservative) side is not simply wrong as a matter of politics or policy, but wrong as a matter of morality.  The rejection is every bit as visceral for left as abortion is for the right.

The question for the conservative and especially the pro-life crowd will be whether they pick up on this fundamental moral positioning.  For those who see it, there is the opportunity for real bridge building: the concern for detainee rights and freedom from torture is of one piece with pro-life concern, part of what Joseph Cardinal Bernadin advanced as a consistent life ethic.

But of course, the temptation to play the partisan card instead of the pro-life one.

So we get comments from Representative Pete Hoekstra and Rep. Vern Ehlers that dodge any awareness of  the moral dimension and go straight for the policy and the political. Hoekstra becomes the security hawk, and Ehlers puts forth a vague pragmatic concern.  And Democrats smile.  Answering moral concerns with this assertiveness or worse, with a wishy-washiness simply concedes the moral high ground. Worse for Republicans, it is an obliviousness which fastens the torture label to all their candidates and pushes them further into the wilderness.

Filed under: Faith, National, , , ,

Rick Warren and the Big Show

Tomorrow is the show.  The Inauguration.  And with comes the controversy of Rick Warren.

The ins and outs of this controversy may already be fading, but before Warren stands up and prays, a few words ought to be said about what this means (or does not).  After all, in the land of the Windmill, Rick Warren does have some some standing.

Let’s start with the personal. To read Barbara Hagerty at NPR, there is a real bond of friendship behind the decision.  And as even die-hard partisans will admit, they often do have friends across the philosophical aisle.  So Warren is selected being a useful acquaintance, a friend.  And of course by doing so, Obama further cements the bond between them.

As to the politics, at its most basic, the Obama invitation has the marks of other actions, such as reaching out to Sen. McCain — it’s a way to bring  an outside group into the conversation.  After all, this is one of the real powers of his office, determining who gets heard.  And again, it is not that difficult to see the political goal he is aiming for: a defusing of the culture war.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped the social conservatives who are busily  trying to ramp up vision of Obama as an arch-abortionist,  one ready to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (aka FOCA) on a moment’s notice, independent of actual action by Congress.  Even while the fires of paranoia get stoked, Obama’s selection of Warren seems to side step the issue. Rather than contest the issue, Obama moves past it with an implicit “So?”

But it is not the battle over abortion that draws the ire from the left, but rather from the controversies over the role of participation of gays in society, and especially in the ability of gays to have their relationships recognized as marriage.

The great reversal

In the wake of Prop 8, those supporting marriage rights for gays and more broadly, full inclusion of gays in society have waged an aggressive push-back campaign.  Here, Warren’s support for Prop 8, together with his general Evangelical view of homosexuality have aroused political ire from the political Left.  What is distressing for those here in the land of the Windmill is that Warren’s views are not so separate from evangelicals generally.  Far from an exemplar of homophobia, his views are much more commonplace.   In much the same way that conservatives rail against “the homosexual lifestyle” or “godless elites” so now evangelicals get the favor returned. Susan Posner gives a sharp expression of the sentiment:

Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats’ religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful.

The bitterness last month was palpable.  So where we have the President seeking to dampen the culture wars, progressives have found an issue on which to push even harder.

And for those of us who live int he shadow of the windmill, this animosity to evangelicals and religious faith generally is more than a little disconcerting.  It certainly challenges the path we have been taking.  But perhaps we should have seen it coming. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Can Palin Move Michigan?

The post-convention bounce is well underway and recent polls underscore how much the race has tightened up. The recent poll by Public Policy Polling gave Obama a rather one point lead (47/46) – a tie given the 2.9% margin of error.

This post-convention bounce has certainly troubled Democrats nationally, but should Dems be worried here in the Great Lakes State?

A look under the “hood” and at local races is in order. Fortunately the survey breaks down the results by gender, race and age.

Gender. In a breakout of the poll subsets, Palin’s likeability among women (“does McCain’s selection of Palin make you more or less likely to vote for him”) matches their preference for McCain. Gender does not seem to be in immediate play, however with one in five remaining neutral, women will be a continuing object of GOP outreach.

Turn to race and age, however, and we can see the impact of Palin.

Race. African Americans understandably are strongly for the Democratic ticket, with only 9 percent expressing a preference for McCain. Nonetheless, 13 percent find Palin attractive. The extra four percent of this segment (worth one point in overall results) may reflect a reversion to mean for the African American vote –the breakthrough status of Palin validating a return to the GOP fold for moderate black conservatives. If so, this would

Age. Younger voters (age 18-29) also may seem to be in play. While 41% are for McCain, 45% look favorably. Other age cohorts’ enthusiasm for Palin remains proportionate to their support of McCain. This of course suggests that something like the youth/celebrity of the Alaskan governor is helping her. This may be more pop culture than electoral planning. At least so far.

The danger is likely that if youth energy decreases, then this pop identity takes over, and Obama loses a crucial edge. This is the threat.

So the first brush suggests that she has earned people’s attention, even in the minority community. For local races the issue gets a little more serious: how will she affect local races?
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , , , , ,

Amy Sullivan was right

Up north, I had the opportunity to finally get to some reading, including Amy Sullivan’s The Party Faithful. There’s more to be said about the book, but of immediate interest (certainly with the election breathing down on us) was her view of the current state of evangelicals and the Democrats. The hyper-partisan nature of the previous elections hides how often the two groups actually share common views. That was certainly the case when the conversation turned to politics at our camp; two in particular stood out. Both were self-described evangelicals; both also held significant positions in Fortune 400 companies. And as each described his own confusion about the issues, what troubled him and how he was leaning, I could hear echoes of Amy Sullivan’s point in her recent book

One friend spoke about the issue of social inequality and how the poor and the middle class are increasingly vulnerable. He was unsure about Obama, and naturally trusted the perceived experience of a McCain, but this question about our society and justice — this bothered him. Something had to be done.

The next conversation was even more striking. It was the war, and its toll. He was adamant that we should be getting out; that in economic terms alone, the war was a disaster for our economy. On other issues he longed for an overturning of Roe v. Wade. But even there, pushing a bit more, the notion of reducing the overall number of abortions (birth control availability, better education, more economic security for young mothers — see the Democratic platform) was certainly appealing, and not one to be rejected.

The two conversations underscored Sullivan’s point that Evangelicals have shared many progressive attitudes. This is good news for Democrats, all the more as the Republican Party (at least at its local level) seems intent on repeating the nostrums of the political past. These issues held close to the heart, these issues that nag the conscience of even conservatives gives freedom to Dems to be bold.  All the more as the model of abortion reduction appears to be a path to dampening the usual critiques.  In short, now is no time to shut up.

Filed under: Community, Faith, , , , ,

Rumble on the Southbelt (3) — the Petri Dish

The Republican primary battle in State House District 72 (S. Kent County) pits three distinctive styles of conservatism against one another. In the August 5 primary we can begin to see the relative strength of each flavor of the party. Let’s take a look at them.

On one hand there is the conventional institutional Republicanism of Linda Steil. Her almost complete lack of external qualifications means her appeal rests on the continuation of a politics advanced by the chamber and by the Republicans in general over the past 15 years. She is the inheritor of term limits, maximal Supreme Court appointments — the sort that breed the counter action of Reform Michigan Government Now, an anti-tax theology, and generally the policy of government by lobbyist/PACs. Two difficulties arise with such a stance, First, this approach like that of its Democratic counterpart (that’s you, Mark Brewer) is largely responsible for the Legislative meltdown. Second, institutional Republicanism is generally a little sloppy as to its own discipline — they like to travel large (the peak at the finance statement shows a repeated pattern of paying top dollar).

With Justin Amash, we see the Movement Republican or Libertarian in full bloom. It is always nice to be an individualist when you already benefit from the lucky gene pool. His argument for “Principle” is little more than a guise for ignoring community concerns. It is also the viewpoint of the young (and the male): this is the classic style found on many conservative web sites; small wonder too, that Amash likes Ron Paul. Amash represents one approach to the Instititutional approach of a Steil — in essence, they are not pure enough. Oddly, in this idealism and youth, Amash taps the same cultural vibe that Obama hits.

A second alternative to institutional Republicanism is the Social Conservative style of Ken Yonker. This approach emphasizes the community — in its hard form, it is the use of legal proscription to enforce certain mores (Rep. Agema is a walking — or is it, hunting? — example of this); in the its soft form the community-focus takes a pragmatic approach. Yonker’s positions partake of both sides. His school board membership, his business history (considerably longer than the others) give a more practical air to his campaign. Relative to the Institutional, this is a focus on cooperation; relative to the Libertarian, it finally rejects it, but just barely (a fine post at The American Scene explores this tension in the Right).

These are the three organisms alive in the precinct petri dish. So what do we look for?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , , ,


March 2020