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Lackluster Politics

Obama’s luck continues to hold when it comes to foreign policy. When he said that the use of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a red line, he was quick to add that it would mean he would have to recalculate his options. That did not mean he would have new ones; it meant he could take slightly more risky ones because the chances of something really bad being done by the other side would have gone up substantially. But Obama can’t catch a break from the other side. They have not given him credit, for example, for how long the economic recovery has gone on. Sure, he did not punish Wall Street, but neither did all those people with retirement funds have them depleted which is what would have happened had the economy continued its plunge. And so his remarks about Syria were misread to mean he would do something very dramatic as soon as Assad crossed the red line. That is the message that all the networks delivered as “the news”: saying he said something he had not said because they are out to discredit him because they think that is the common sentiment.


Moreover, Obama could have been interpreted in the past few days as having lived up to the belligerence he was said to have promised. No one would deny and it has since been confirmed that the two Israeli attacks on Syria were done in coordination with the United States. Those attacks certainly betoken an ever higher evaluation given to the possibility of WMD in the hands of terrorist organizations, even if the attacks were against delivery systems rather than the weapons themselves, were we to believe those reports. By the way, are U. S. Seals and the IDF securing the weapons themselves? The fact that there has been no need for a denial that that is happening is no reason to think it isn’t happening. It stands to reason that we and the Israelis might be doing something of that sort.


But, as I say, Obama’s luck holds. Even more recent reports from the British say that it is the Rebels who may have used Sarin gas, though it is not clear, according to the New York Times, whether that was on a separate occasion than the one that prompted Obama’s comment. The State Department, in the past twenty-four hours, however, has cast doubt on those reports. Yet the Times reports today that the Rebels destroyed a Shiite Shrine. That Taliban like maneuver is certainly enough to discredit the Rebels as the side we want to be on. So both sides in Syria have crossed one or another Red Line. That puts the Rebels and the Assad regime on an equal footing and so takes Obama off the hook for his reluctance to go to war against one side when we would prefer, as we did in the Iraq-Iran war, for both sides to lose. Some of the Rebels are just too religiously motivated for their own good.


There is no reason for us to get into this war. It is not a war of liberation against a dictator, though that is what it seemed like in its early days. It is not genocide even if it is a war with a lot of civilian casualties. There is no reason not to give humanitarian aid, though that is an excuse for giving equipment that is of military benefit. Only in Washington parlance is a pair of night vision goggles non lethal aid. The goggles make it easier to kill people with guns not financed from that pocket. The war in Syria is, rather, a civil war on sectarian lines, a continuation of the war of Shiites and Sunnis that has gone on for more than a thousand years. Why is the United States morally obliged to take sides in this war? If we do, we will be hated even more by all the Muslims, as if that were possible. What are McCain’s war aims? I am so glad he did not become President, especially on issues he is supposed to know something about. The Republicans have no foreign policy but bluster.


The lack of anything behind Republican bluster is why politics at the moment is so lackluster. They are not holding up their end of the job, which is for an opposition party to find a way to establish a tug of war with the party that is in power. At least Joe McCarthy was contemplating a real enemy though in a spectacularly unreal way. But contemporary Conservatives do not have anything real to point to as the object of their outrage. Wayne La Pierre thinks the control of guns is a matter for Constitutional outrage when courts, including Conservative courts, have said otherwise. He simply lies about what is in the proposals he opposes. There is just no issue with gun control. It is what every modern country embraces and would have only limited impact on the lives of our ever to be placated gun owners. The gun lobby people find one or two people who might have been better able to defend their homes if they had a weapon when their homes were being burglarized, but there is a newspaper report every week about a young child who is shot with a gun by accident and of people who suicide with guns. And so there is no argument on the side of the gun lobby, only bluster. Gun control is an issue that should have been handled as simply a technical matter in making use of the police powers of the states and the federal government to improve public safety while Congress dealt with more serious business where there is some disagreement founded on different political philosophies and different analyses of which policy alternative to pursue.


Opposition to immigration reform is also not about anything substantial. Employers and union supporters want some kind of bill. The borders are secure against illegal immigration in that there is now net zero illegal immigration even if drug smugglers continue to operate, but that is a different problem. Moreover, the road to citizenship that has been proposed for illegal immigrants is long and hard and there is no alternative to providing some such road except deportation, and the American people will not stand for that even though Romney tried out that as the idea of self-deportation. Guns and immigration are therefore simply replacements for Birtherism and the fiscal crisis (which has also disappeared even if unemployment has not) as things to fulminate about for the pleasure of the rant against Obama.


The Republicans don’t need a new face or a better organization. They need some issues of substance. I could offer them some that are not even discordant with their overall philosophy, which is not an ideology but simply a sentiment not to trust government. It is part of the lackluster nature of contemporary politics that it takes a Liberal to come up with innovative programs for Conservatives. I may not have liked Ronald Reagan, but he did want to put an end to Mutually Assured Destruction as the basis of American foreign policy. That was not a bad idea, only one that came across as superficial because Reagan was such a superficial man. Here are two issues that can provide present day Conservatives with both energy and ballast rather than just opportunities on which to vent outrage.


Education is likely to be the most important domestic issue going forward now that the United States is back on top in being the economy that is the most stable and dynamic in the world. That is because the costs of college have put all those families who want to send their children to college in a crunch. College costs are necessary costs for starting off an adult life if one wants to be other than poor, and so families scurry around to find money to pay for the best college their children can get into. That is because it remains the case that a more prestigious and therefore more expensive education is probably a better education. Professors teach to the level of their students and so you want your child to be in class with the best students he can qualify to be among. That is why college debt is over one trillion dollars and, as is often remarked, greater than the total of credit card debt in the nation. Giant loans are the desperate measure families take.


It is a Conservative mantra to say that the national debt should not be loaded onto the backs of our children. A very clear practical implication of that is that the cost of our children’s education should not be loaded onto the costs of their later lives. One way to avoid that is to adopt a trade off similar to that which will take place in any immigration bill that may pass. A road to citizenship is traded for limitations on further immigration. Do the same with education. Trade a forgiveness of student loans, which is the equivalent of amnesty in that it deals with the problem left over from the past, for a cessation of most student loans, particularly Pell grants, which mostly just put money in the pockets of colleges that raise their tuitions with the expectation that student loans will make up the difference between what tuition was and what it will be. That may drive most colleges to be more frills free. You don’t need fancy gyms and swimming pools and Division I teams if the object of the education is to learn something.


Liberals will bridle at such a proposal. They think loans help students pay the cost of tuition, but there are no price controls on college tuition and so loans just enrich the college. They think everyone should have the opportunity to go to college, but not everyone needs or wants “the college experience” of a fancy campus surrounded by ample opportunities for off campus drinking. Conservatives should support the idea of more efficiency in the preparation of young people for life, even as they find it difficult to swallow the idea that all of that money people are committed to pay will not be repaid. But if there is anything that might spur students to another wave of rebellion it is the prospect of starting out their lives with humungous debts. Moreover, a simple refusal of students to make payments on their loans could be an economic disaster for the nation.


This issue is a way for Conservatives to make inroads on the youth vote which became alienated from the Republican Party because of its stand on homosexuality and other cultural issues that mean something to the younger generation. Moreover, a campaign to abolish student debt could have a payoff as soon as 2016 if the Republicans got moving on it now. It might also shift the balance of power within the Party. Chris Christie would make headway with this and so counter Marco Rubio’s headlining of the immigration issue.


Since the Bush and Obama education initiatives failed to solve much of anything, there is need for some fresh thinking about high school education as well. Let market economics rule there as well in that high school education does not require fancy campuses or sports teams. Storefronts will do and neighborhood recreation centers not affiliated with schools can serve those other needs of young people for communal activities. The recreation centers can even keep the names of the neighborhood high school’s sports teams. (That same proposal can work for college sports as well. As Larry Levine has suggested to me, Notre Dame can lease the use of its name to a league that prepares players for the NFL.)


Here is another oppositional idea that is waiting for development by clever Republicans and which could undermine another of the Democratic demographics. Middle class people would appreciate it if Republicans face off the Environmentalists with something other than contempt or saying, as the energy companies do, that they too are in favor of conservation, as if anybody believes those ads. Rather, the mantra should be “Let North Dakota flourish”. You can make a lot of fun of Democrats that way. They are the ones who spend oodles of money and energy on making their homes energy efficient when they could save even more energy by moving to a city apartment. Don’t be too sympathetic towards people who want to rebuild their beach front properties just as they were, without stilts, when states and cities offer them pre-flood priced buyouts. That way you turn the corner on the Democrats bashing the very rich by castigating those who are merely comfortable enough to have expensive beachfront homes. Millionaires can self insure their beach properties and the United States government doesn’t have to insure everybody else against losses which the Liberal property owners who claim that global warming is on the way say is inevitable.


And then there is room for a Republican proposal on…. But, never mind, because few Republicans have the brains or the courage to head out into new territory. Maybe Christi will because he has to try something if he is to win a primary campaign against Southern opponents.

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Issue No. 77
December 22, 2013

"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel- Part I
"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel-Part II
Earlier Issues

List Articles by Topic

The Political Ticker
The Hillary Coalition
  - November 19, 2014
Obama's Win in the Ukraine
  - April 5, 2014
"House of Cards" Politics
  - February 14, 2014
Birenbaum: The Day the President Struck Out
  - January 29, 2014
The Debate Over Inequality
  - January 27, 2014
Temporary Issues: "Stop and Frisk", Climate Change, Inequality
  - January 21, 2014

Previous Political Tickers

The Administrative President
  -January 12, 2014
Three Chronic Problems
  -December 19, 2013
Obama the Transformational President
  -December 13, 2013
"Homeland", "Alpha House" and the Tea Party
  -November 27, 2013
Off Year Election Post-mortem
  -November 7, 2013
Kathleen Sibelius and the Iliad
  -October 31, 2013
Political Impasses: 2013 and 1936
  -October 7, 2013
Birenbaum on The Tea Party
  -October 6, 2013
Fifty Years Later: The Anniversary of the March on Washington
  -September 18, 2013
The Principled Obama
  -September 10, 2013
Obama Thinks About Syria Freshly
  -September 5, 2013
Syria and the Falklands
  -August 30, 2013
Public Opinion on Syria
  -August 24, 2013
Upward Mobility Through Educational Innovation
  -August 12, 2013
The Anthony Wiener Bubble
  -July 30, 2013
Racial Issues in 2013
  -June 29, 2013
The David Brinkley Era of Journalism
  -June 5, 2013
Republican Scandal Mongering
  -May 23, 2013
Benghazi and Two Other "Scandals"
  -May 14, 2013
Lackluster Politics
  -May 7, 2013

The Cultural Ticker
A Dour Cultural Week
  - February 4, 2014
Colonial Virginia
  - January 15, 2014
Birenbaum: The Joy of Middle European Posters
  - January 6, 2014
A Jewish Nipple
  - November 28, 2013
Birenbaum: My Oral Comprehensive Examination and the JFK Assassination
  - November 27, 2013
"12 Years a Slave"
  - November 12, 2013

Previous Cultural Tickers

Pinter and Shakespeare
  -November 8, 2013
Birenbaum on "I Am Divine"
  -November 3, 2013
The Hearing Impaired Student
  -August 17, 2013
Ideas and People
  -August 10, 2013
The Weekly Roundup of Morning Joe and Chris Matthews
  -August 8, 2013
The Zen of Dishwashers
  -August 5, 2013
The Profundity of the Second World War
  -August 2, 2013
The Trayvon Martin Bubble
  -July 20, 2013
Eliot Spitzer
  -July 9, 2013
The Study of Everyday Life
  -July 5, 2013
The Zimmerman Trial
  -July 3, 2013
Le Carre's "A Delicate Truth"
  -July 1, 2013
Zucker: A Madeleine (A Memoir)
  -June 23, 2013
Von Trotta's "Hannah Arendt"
  -June 7, 2013
The Armchair View of War and Disability
  -May 30, 2013
Birenbaum's Summers
  -May 24, 2013
Old Neighborhoods
  -May 21, 2013
Jackie Robinson
  -May 20, 2013
Barbara Spun's Catskill Vacations
  -May 16, 2013
An Old Friend in Her Eighties
  -May 11, 2013


A new issue of “w. end ave.: an e-journal of culture and politics” is published once every three weeks or so. It is edited, owned, and where not indicated as otherwise, written by Martin Wenglinsky. The rights to all materials published here are copyright © 2008 by Martin Wenglinsky