Friday, October 31, 2014

5 Things on a Friday: Looking Forward to 1992

There was lots of interesting news this week.  I could easily have put together ten things for this particular edition of “5 Things”, but my goal isn’t to make this a weekly treatise on the crap that I personally find fascinating.
Fair warning: with next week’s elections, this week’s column has a lot of politics.  I tried to keep it non-partisan, but my own views are slightly left-of-center, and that my well come through.  You’re more than welcome to drop competing viewpoints in the comments.
“If you were eagerly awaiting the start of the Jeb Bush for President campaign, you may be in luck. Yesterday, Jeb’s son George P. Bush appeared on ABC’s This Week and said that his father is getting ready to run for president…
Some in the GOP may see Bush as someone who can perform that ‘reaching out to Latinos we’ve been hearing so much about, not least because his wife was born in Mexico and he speaks Spanish. The problem is that Bush has not only advocated for comprehensive immigration reform — a position that makes base Republicans recoil in horror — even worse, he has spoken sympathetically about undocumented immigrants.”
He’s also in favor of Common Core educational standards.  
It’ll be interesting to see if that’s enough to get the base to turn against him despite his family legacy.  If the Republicans ever want to win the Presidency, they’ll have to move towards the center ala Mr. Bush, but whether they will actually do so is very much an open question.
For what it’s worth, I would personally vote for Bush (version 3.0) over any of the other choices currently floating around the Republican Party.  Maybe Bobby Jindal from Louisiana could change my mind, but he’s the only other contender I can think of, and I think he’s an extreme longshot as far as the party itself is concerned.  I very much fear another stillborn Republican presidential candidacy during the 2016 electoral cycle.  If Republicans can’t compromise enough to vote for a guy like Bush 3, that’s exactly what we’re going to get.
“Republicans enter the home stretch of the 2014 campaign favored to retake the Senate, based simply on the number of paths they have to 51 votes.”
If ABC News’ analysis is right—and it may not be—then Democrats need to win Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and Louisiana to retain control of the Senate.  Despite the dysfunction in the current Republican Party, this seems highly unlikely.  
What’s more interesting is that none of the Democrats have wanted the president to come in and campaign for them.  I’d have thought that their base, at least, would come out strong for President Obama, but I guess folks have finally had enough.  That’s hardly unusual for a second term president, but it presages an interesting presidential electioto come.  Nobody’s going to be running on Obama’s coattails, that’s for sure.  Indeed, Ms. Clinton has already enunciating her own distinct world view.  That’s not a negative from where I sit, but it is a little surprising, especially for a woman who served as Secretary of State to this administration only two years ago.
Assuming Jeb Bush does in fact run, this election will look like a re-run of 1992—at least in terms of its ideology.  It’s depressing to think of American democracy moving along dynastic lines, but as a matter of public policy, we could do worse.
3. Grunge Metal Interlude
Since we’re already all about the 90s today…

“North Korea is embarking on a full-scale campaign to neutralize allegations of human rights atrocities, apparently alarmed that snowballing international pressure will lead its top officials — including Kim Jong Un — to be charged with crimes against humanity.”
The UN is set to release a scathing report covering North Korean human rights abuses, which could ultimately lead to a referral for North Korean leaders to the International Criminal Court—if such a referral can be passed through the UN Security Council.  Observers expect the motion would not pass, that either Russia or China would veto the move, but North Korea is not as close as it once was to either country.  As a result, there’s no guarantee that the Chinese or Russians would come to Kim’s aid, and this has left Pyongyang scrambling.  One can imagine Putin vetoing any kind of Western sanctions just for the chance to give the finger to NATO, but it would be politically savvy for China to let this go in exchange for some kind of concessions on its own record and/or a shot at changing world opinions about its government’s intentions going forward.
The very existence of this campaign by North Korea almost assures us, unfortunately, that Kim is still alive.  The South Korean press reported recently that Kim has been out of action due to some kind of surgery on his ankle.  I have no reason to disbelieve that, but if it’s been corroborated, I’ve not seen the evidence.
5. Why young people don’t vote (The Economist)
“[Y]oung people today do not feel they have much at stake in society…  If they settle down at all, young people are waiting longer to do it…  People who have not settled down are not much affected by political decisions, and their transient lifestyles can also make it difficult to vote…
“Yet perhaps the most depressing explanation is simply that… many young people do not feel that there is anyone worth voting for.  A long-running European survey found that in 2008, 22% of French 15- to 24-year-olds said they believed society’s problems could be fixed only by revolutionary action.  In 1990 the equivalent figure was just 7%.”
This is what happens when wealth distribution gets severely skewered.  We have a whole generation who hasn’t bought in because modern society isn’t offering them anything.  They see corruption and privilege where there used to be competition and opportunity.  The status quo has become non-beneficial; we now have an entire cohort of folks who don’t care anymore.  They’d rather just sit on their asses; there’s no reason to do anything else.  Regardless of the reality, the perception is that they can’t get anywhere, so why bother trying?  
It’s not hard to see their point.  Tuition has gone up, good jobs are hard to come by, and an advanced degree isn’t any particular help.  Social mobility is at a hundred year low.  Sure, there are still some success stories, but many are getting left behind.  Most of these will never catch up.  And now a full fifth of this generation is ready to burn society to the ground and start over from scratch.  It seems obvious that these folks don’t understand what they’re advocating, but in case you have noticed, competing ideologies are successfully vying for the attention of the listless and disillusioned.
This is a serious problem.
At the same time, the U.S. Army recently released a report stating that only about 30% of today’s young people are even qualified to serve much less interested.  Army drawdowns have kept the issue from emerging in any larger context because in an Army that’s actively laying soldiers off there’s less call for new recruits.  However, the future looks grim.  Americans are fat, they have widespread health problems, and outside of those families for whom a military tradition is an important reality, nobody gives a shit.  The abstract idea of patriotism may still have some appeal, but for most Americans patriotism involves little more than buying a bumper sticker with a yellow ribbon on it.  Most Americans won’t even give blood, much less a full and honest accounting of their incomes for tax purposes.  Forget about asking for more money.
People may argue priorities, but nobody is talking about trying to tackle our long-term issues via widespread shared sacrifice.  Given the way that income is distributed, reality is that there are only so many folks who could even consider giving more, and those folks are fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid exactly that.  It’s enough to make a guy disillusioned all on its own.
For what it’s worth, Theodore Roosevelt noticed these same trends in American society in the earliest part of the 20th Century.  He put a stop to them with aggressive reform.  American’s anti-trust laws are the most obvious piece of these reforms, but he also allowed for collective bargaining and a variety of other items of legislation that together re-knit the framework of American business and labor.  Roosevelt’s reforms left America’s nascent Communist Party dead in the streets, setting the stage for America’s rise later in the century.  He helped unify America and set her on the course towarda peace and prosperity at a time when Europe was descending into chaos.  
I mention it because as a society we have a tendency to believe that nothing ever changes, that our problems are bigger than we can manage, that’s there’s no reason even to try to tackling them.  This is political nihilism.  It’s not supported by history.  If all we see is our own short-term self-interest, then yes, we will fail.  But we can be better.  We usually are.  This generation--our generation, Generation X--must simply show the same kind of commitment that past generations have shown.
We’re in our forties now.  Whatever this world is or isn’t, there’s no one to blame but ourselves anymore.
One last thing: my buddy Jerry is writing for HNGN these days.  I mention it because there’s been a lot of coverage this week about Marvel’s movie slate announcement.  I’ve seen several articles on the topic, but this one was my favorite.  If you want to read more, go follow Jerry and click the ads on his various articles.  I don’t know if that this will put money directly into Jerry’s pocket, but I’m quite sure that it won’t hurt him.
That’s all I’ve got.  Go Army!  Beat Air Force!


  1. So what should America (we) be doing now. Teddy did it then so can we. PS I only read #5.

  2. I've been meaning to come back to you about this all week, Robin. As I said in the post, I hardly feel like I have all of the answers. But we need tax reform, and we need to have a strong, focused foreign policy.

    We've seen in the past year or so that when the US lets international leadership slip, crazy things start to happen. As a matter of reality, then, we MUST stay engaged. It's in America's interest to maintain the status quo. But that requires commitment and shared sacrifice, neither of which is even asked for by today's leadership on either side.

    We need tax reform because this idea that we can somehow have a great nation without people paying for it is idiotic. I hate that it's like that, and I realize that I'm liable to wind up paying more personally, but it is what it is.

  3. Thank you for your follow up. I'll continue to vote (seems like everything I voted no on, passed! grr... ). And of course pray for tax reform and stronger foreign policy.