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Entries in Paul Ryan (4)

Thursday
Apr032014

Lee Atwater: 'A helluva lot more abstract than [saying] 'N----r, n----r'."


Lee Atwater, Southern strategy master mind.

In case there is any doubt that the Republican party still relies on stoking voter prejudice for political gain, let all doubt die a decisive death.

The latest high profile figure to ply the Southern strategy is Rep. Paul Ryan (WI).

The chairman of the Congressional Budget Committee still weathers excoriating criticism for what he has since called “inarticulate” remarks made as a guest of Bill Bennett’s radio show.

The two of them chewed over the congressman’s speech delivered at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It took little prodding from Bennett for Rep. Ryan to launch his platitude-laden harangue on the “poverty trap” (in his budget it’s reason enough to cut social safety net funding).

Let’s be clear—when you’re a Republican and happen to be talking about poverty, it’s rarely ever in reference to low-income white residents of regions like Appalachia.

Still posing as the GOP’s intellect and conscience, Rep. Ryan let loose a rousing rhapsody on the “tailspin of culture in our inner cities… of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and culture of work….”

Leaving aside his paternalism, as well as the question of whether or not Rep. Ryan consciously referred to communities of color, it would be far more useful to consider the messaging angle of such a screed. Without question, it aims directly at white middle class voters. It is a rhetorical device that has been deeply ingrained in Republican campaign messaging over the last five decades.

A crass explanation of such thinking was once formulated by President Lyndon Johnson in the mid 1960s: “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”

Years later, in a 1981 interview with political science scholar Alexander Lamis, the scorched-earth campaign tactician Lee Atwater gave away the key to winning the votes of white Southerners.

You start out in 1954 by saying, "N----r, n----r, n----r." By 1968 you can't say "n----r"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "N----r, n----r."

This campaign messaging scheme—originally appealing to the hostility of white Southerners toward the black community—became known as the Southern strategy. Its use by Republicans shows no signs of fatigue. As recently as the 2012 presidential election, Gov. Mitt Romney wielded the Southern strategy in a television ad that accused President Obama of hatching a plan to end the work requirement in welfare. The story was untrue, but that did not stop the Romney campaign from doubling down on the lie.

Both the Romney ad and Rep. Ryan’s poverty double-talk strove to stoke white middle class voter resentment toward a minority segment of our nation that is somehow “getting something for nothing”, while hardworking folks struggle to get by.

Ginning up white middle class antipathy against communities of color merits the classification of con job; especially when Republicans refuse to lift a finger of reform on matters like tax breaks, government subsidies and the privileged treatment they lavish upon their big business clients.

Again, in case there is any doubt about the Republican rhetorical appeal to the enmity of white middle class voters toward minorities, consider a very telling statement made by Sen. Lindsey Graham. It appeared during the 2012 Republican National Convention when GOP bosses were falling over themselves to exhibit an open, more inclusive party to the nation.

"The demographics race we're losing badly," the senator lamented. "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

So far this writing has only covered the "convince the lowest white man that he's better" factor of the Johnson equation. What about the part that mentions "picking his pocket"?

It stands to reason that the white middle class, when whipped into frenzy over trumped up threats posed by minorities, won’t give much thought to hedge funds siphoning their pension or 401K assets. Is it just the most head-smacking coincidence that the very same elected leaders who spin campfire stories about the leeching entitlement horde, would also pass out hoarse from arguing for further deregulation of Wall Street?

If the 2008 financial crisis failed to illustrate in Technicolor strokes that voters had entrusted this republic to a malfeasant class of elected leaders, what else possibly could?

In the aftermath of 2008 it hadn’t received much consideration, but a conversation about campaign finance finally emerges—especially now that the Supreme Court has removed the limit on aggregate amounts that an individual can contribute to federal candidates. Will the white midde class take part in the discussion about how to counteract the tsunamic financial force of wealthy campaign contributors? The McCutcheon decison has trimmed election finance's regulatory fig leaf of accountability down to button size.

In election season this will mean a greater volume of television and radio campaign ads, probably … at greater volumes, saturating the airwaves and internet with Southern strategy themes. Won’t someone please alert white middle class voters to stop trading their economic interests for the illusory comforts of superiority? That no matter how promising Rep. Paul Ryan’s path to prosperity appears, it is paved to penury with the campaign contributions of elite financial interests.

Thursday
Sep062012

Atlas Schmuck

If there is one word that invalidates Ayn Rand's blubbering worship of individual achievement, it would be "exposure". It is a term used in the investment and finance worlds, describing the vulnerability a portfolio, institution or industry can endure in times of uncertainty. It conveys a relative link between two parties that can chain react adversely throughout entire industries, even economies. It wields no stoic or heroic connotation--unlike the feigned bravery of Ayn Rand's discourse.

How ironic that it is a word used or applied by her most influential, most well-known acolyte: former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

He used the term whenever updating the US government on the state of the economy. Pointedly, he used it when making the case to bail out hedge fund Long Term Capital Markets back in Sept. 1998. Failure to prop it up would have caused the collapse of several sovereign economies. That is interdependence at work.

Day in and day out, the market--that oracle of capitalist virtue--bears this out. Trouble in Iran sends oil futures through the roof, spiking the price of gas; Greek debt turbulance reverberates throughout the bond market.

Think of the mortgage securities meltdown: if those toxic investments had stayed with the originator of the loan, the damage would have  remained localized to a region, even possibly within a few industries.  It wasn't the case, here. They were sold to pension funds, mutual funds  and various other institutional investors who saw their assets circle the drain of the hemorrhaging pools of loans. This explains why lots of individual 401ks took such a devastating hit: because of their exposure to the high-risk mortgage assets.

Take reality at the interpersonal level--there are any number of factors that shape how much success an individual can achieve: personal aptitude, financial status, quality of education, social mobility, economic enviromment are just a few. Because some have achieved much working against the greatest odds, it is deeply naive to argue that all can--and stupid to call lazy, those who can't.

President Obama was right to give the business world a reality check--no, you didn't build that (on your own)--as was candidate for US Senate, Elizabeth Warren, when she spoke of a "social contract" businesses enter when launching and operating. They benefit from an infrastructure and labor pool all citizens and businesses pay into through taxes.

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last night, made the case for cooperation far more succinctly: we're in this together if the whole country is to succeed again.

Leaders like Republican VP nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, should take responsibility for arguing otherwise: you're on your own (words, by the way, never uttered to corporate welfare recipients like oil and defense industries). They have no interest in the whole country succeeding. Like Ayn Rand, they're caught up in the adolescent fantasy of living in a world that bends to the force of their individual wills.

Tuesday
Sep042012

Because they can

By now it's been widely documented by fact checker, news report and blog--the amount of deception seasoning Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan's acceptance speeches at the GOP national gathering in Tampa. However, there has not been a lot of talk about why.

The answer as to "why" centers on that elusive swath of swing voters: the ones who may not pay much attention to election season, much less fact check convention speeches. A campaign in Romney-Ryan's position figures that monkey wrenching the truth is worth the risk of public excoriation; to influence those citizens described as "low-information voters", people who have things on their minds other than the names Romney or Obama.

Former Capitol Hill staffer Mike Lofgren described this class of citizens as "voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic."

Given the close outcome of recent presidential elections, and that such voters number in the tens of millions (by Lofgren's estimation), probability dictates that the Romney-Ryan campaign can capture enough "low-information" votes to prevail over President Obama.

At this point it is far too late to do anything to improve the decision making quality of underinformed voters. Essayist Lewis Lapham has suggested that education holds a significant bearing over the choices voters make. Quoting Thomas Jefferson in a piece called "Playing with Fire," Lapham laments how far this country has drifted from the founding father's dream of a "citizen schooled to the tasks of self-government and encouraged 'to judge for himself what would secure or endanger his freedom.'"

In the current political environment there seems to be no end to the talk about what may secure or endanger a citizen's freedom--for which there is no prevailing consensus. Generally speaking, the "low-information" voter bloc represents a key obstacle to any kind of consensus taking shape--over jobs, taxes, etc.

As the country remains split down the middle, ideologically speaking, the tasks of self-government must include an ongoing conversation voters have with one another, especially with those less likely to pay attention or participate. This is the full meaning of being a citizen--a voter who is not so much an individual as he or she is a crucial refence point; one among a vast network of electors rendering what Abraham Lincoln called the "consent of the governed."

Sunday
Sep182011

Get by gridlock with a little help from voters

Former president Bill Clinton appeared on ABC's This Week With Christiane Amanpour on Sunday (Sept. 18) to talk government gridlock and the economy. He imparted two points that capture the crisis of our times.

Speaking to the question of what it will take for Washington decision making to break through the stalemate, he replied that it would require “a little help from the American people.” His answer followed with a reminder to voters of the crop of freshman Congressional nay-sayers elected in 2010--those who impeded such matters like raising the debt ceiling and opposed a balanced approach to the federal budget deficit. Clinton elaborated by saying, "It's very hard for the people in Washington who got there based on pure conflict, pure attack, pure ideology to take it seriously when their same constituents are saying please do something positive."

This is especially true of elected legislators who behave as if their sole mandate is to oppose President Obama. As far as anyone can measure, this agenda has yet to have any direct impact on creating jobs.

On that note about jobs and their 'creators' Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the same day joined the Fox News Hour discussion to cry 'class warfare' at President Obama's suggestion of raising taxes on millionaires (the White House calls it "The Buffet Rule"). Rep. Ryan also repeated the usual, fraudulent claims against raising federal levies on the wealthy and their impact on how jobs get created. Such arguments loop in the multi-million dollar S-corp. companies among that sacred class of small business owners that must be spared any increases.

His reasoning mashes down to "if you tax more... you get less. If you tax job creators more, you get less job creation." Rep. Ryan would be in the oddest position to explain with a straight face why Bank of America, a beneficiary of Bush-era tax cuts, is fixing to lay off 30,000 employees. All that may remain of Ryan's once-fervent audience is the low information voter.

Speaking of the low information voter, Bill Clinton's second important point emerges. In an attempt to account for the few bright spots of economic development around the country, he emphasizes how crucial "networks of cooperation" are to the success of a local market. As for the rest of the country's lagging economy, a significant disconnect prevails between "the way the economic system works and the way the political system works." In other words, we cannot expect economic success when the political system endures the legislative standstills of the magnitued we witnessed this past summer.

As for other disconnects that figure prominantly into our political dysfunction, the influence gap is one that rarely receives attention. Yes, there are those whining references to "campaign finance reform" that pepper some conversations about how to improve government, however, rarely, if ever, does anyone name the players or what is at stake. 

The influence gap occurs between two classes of citizens distiguished by their earning power. As troubling economic times have ginned up talk about class conflict, increasingly the two groups have been referred to as the elite 2 per cent and the everyone-else 98 per cent. Each election they enter into what has been  called here a zero-sum faceoff--the 2% being in a position to finance the media resources necessary to reach the remaining 98% through television, radio and internet ads.

Conventional wisdom drives Bill Clinton's caution that "until the American people make it clear that-- however they voted in past elections--they want these folks [Democrats and Republicans] to work together and to do something, there's going to be a little ambivalence in Washington."

For the millions of unemployed or foreclosed-upon Americans hanging to their wits by a tattered thread, relief will require something far bolder than conventional thought. 

What voters too often forget or fail to understand is the influence they wield when working in concert. If the 2008 economic meltdown has anything to teach us, it has to be how interlinked or mutually dependent our occupational and financial destinies are. Given that interdependency, won't survival require a serious reconfiguration of the influence gap? It would be up to the 'lower' 98 per cent to insist that candidates and elected officials alike, must honestly bear their concerns.