On the Brink of the Florida Primary
The pace of politics was quick at the beginning of the month and then settled down because the South Carolina Primary, which now seems so long ago, because, as I said at the time, the political personas of Mitt and Newt had gelled for all the American people to see. They both emerged as fatally flawed and incapable of changing what they were: Mitt the chameleon who has no vision to ride on except his reputation as a rich businessman. He does not argue or explain programs; he just repeats that a businessman knows things a politician does not, which is so terribly superficial a diagnosis that it is hard to believe people will fall for it.
For his part, Newt, and I use the first names of the two leading Republican candidates as a show of disrespect rather than affection, claims to be a man of ideas but doesnít spell out his programs either. He says he wants a Moon colony within ten years and defends that by saying that Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy were bold in their plans, while Mitt, Newt says, is not bold. But there is no substance to Newtís plan. He hasnít even had a low level assistant fill it out. John Kennedy knew that he was embarking on a time bound set of missions to the Moon because he wanted to beat the Russians there. He therefore neglected the careful development of the X-l and other such manned forays into near space and instead went to adapting military rockets for the task. This guaranteed that there would be no significant manned space journeys after the initial set of landings. But that was not the problem he had been out to solve. The space program has been looking for a mission ever since Apollo ended. The space shuttle and the international space station were stop gap measures to buy time until something worthwhile came along to do. Nothing has arisen, probably because nothing much can be done without a new propulsion system: photon power using giant sails, atomic power (egad!) or something else than the extremely difficult to load chemical fuel engines, not to speak of vehicles that are more resilient than the fracture prone skins of the present ones. Newt is not talking about such issues, only that the private sector can do what has to be done better than the government. Really? The government built the A-Bomb. The government built nuclear submarines and carriers. The government invented the Internet. What is Newt talking about?
It is just going to be a long slog to November, and the Republican primary battles make me, like most Democrats, optimistic about the outcome. Who would want either Newt or Mitt as President? Obama at least seems to be a serious person. It follows that nobody had much of anything new to say on the Sunday talk shows yesterday because it is just more of the same old from now to Tampa. Meanwhile, as even the networks are willing to say, Obama has his groove back, a sign of which is that the best David Brooks can do to oppose him is to say Obama doesn't think big enough, and David Axelrod answered back on that, successfully, to my mind, by saying there were very big things in the Obama State of the Union: education, jobs, tax relief for the middle class.
Two things were happening in the State of the Union Address. First, Obama was flanking the Republicans on the right by calling for a number of programs that they putatively support but which they can get called out for not supporting now just because they are now supported by Obama. That is a way to get reelected just as Clintonís adoption of Welfare Reform was a way to get him reelected. Second, Obama still has a hankering for a very big bargain, even if now he presents it as a way to show up the Republicans as running on a platform of say ďnoĒ to anything reasonable. After all, if he could pull a big bargain off, it would be the greatest act of a Presidency already containing a number of important pieces of legislation and be what the history books most remembered him for other than the fact that he was the first African American President. But the Republicans are not about to cooperate, even if it would make them look good in the history books. They care more about the next election, which is a good thing. Who can trust to the grandiosity of a person who has his eye on the history books? Statesmen have history thrust upon them.
I still don't get Obama on education, maybe because I know that field better than most of the others. The reason the national college system is of tsuris is because of cuts in state funding and because it produces too many business, communications and sociology majors, which are disciplines where you don't have to learn anything much to get by. And if all those kids can learn, as Obama suggests, to measure nano-tolerances in junior college, how come they can't pass even the diluted version of algebra that gets passed off as learning in high school? I am more inclined to think every kid should get a computer and stay home and move at his own pace through self-learning and computerized testing programs, and go off to recreation centers for exercise and hanging out with friends. You would save a lot of money on school buildings and earn a lot more by selling them off. It is time to get past the community high school and its offshoots. They have dominated education for over a hundred years because they supplied a place for people to pass their adolescence rather than a place that required them to get educated if they were going to stay enrolled, much less graduate. But that is another story.
What went wrong last summer, when there was supposedly some possibility of crafting a great bargain that allowed for gigantic cuts in entitlements as well as gigantic tax increases? The Republicans say that Obama should endorse Bowles-Simpson. But Ezra Klein has pointed out that the Republicans havenít agreed to the tax increases in Bowles-Simpson, which is half the deal. And the grand bargain put on the table last summer was a Bowles-Simpson slanted in the Republican direction because it had smaller tax increases. The Republicans are not to be trusted. All they want to do is drag Obama into another face-losing battle in the hope that more of the tarnish will form on Obama than on them.
I think the historians will regard that set of negotiations as an important crux, whatever happens next. Those negotiations showed that Republicans and the Democrats just can't do business with one another so long, at least, as the Tea Party wags the dog and that unless, perhaps, there is something of a grand realignment or a major defeat for the Republicans, a truly major initiative on taxes and the budget is not likely to take place, however much Congress may well be able to get through various measures that help the economy by stimulating industrial growth and increasing consumer demand. It is the same in Israel. There is no prospect of a peace settlement so long as the party structure there does not evolve into a two party system rather than the present set of personality driven parties which always need the religious parties to supply a majority. The public, there and here, has to make up its mind, create a consensus, before the countries can move forward on their domestic agendas.
The press has been reporting that Chuck Daley was the one to be blamed for last summerís failed negotiations. So Daley is praised and given a big sendoff, but he is also the scapegoat in that I assume those leaks to the press came from the White House. Such is politics. It is necessary to move on or to revisit the past more successfully than was the case last time.