Harold Meyerson

A Star Is Born

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Republican vice presidential nominee, Representative Paul Ryan, joined by his familyafter his acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. By the time Paul Ryan finished speaking on Wednesday night, Mitt Romney’s place in the new Republican order had become clear: Win or lose, he’s the placeholder for Paul Ryan until Ryan himself can run for president. In his vice-presidential acceptance speech, Ryan accomplished two distinct tasks: He delivered the convention’s first telling attack on the Obama Administration, and he seized the mantle of leader of the American conservative movement. Ryan’s Obama attacks resonated, as the other convention speeches have not, because at least some of them were partly true. To be sure, he alluded, as all Republican speakers apparently must, to Obama’s supposed dismissal of small businessmen, which never happened. He conjured the specter of an all-encompassing welfare state, a hoary Republican...

Ann Romney Coos while Chris Christie Fizzles

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applwhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applwhite) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leaves the stage after addressing the Republican National Convention in Tampa yesterday. Like Caesar’s Gaul, the first night of the Republicans’ Convention was divided into three parts: the Diversity Hour, the Caring Wife, and the Chris Christie Anti-Climax. Much of the art of the convention these days is devoted to convincing viewers that we—the elected officials and their spouses at the podium—are just like you. At Republican conventions, this means assuring racial minorities that, although they may not see people who look like them when the cameras pan the hall, there are actually black and Latino Republicans—especially Latino, since the Republicans don’t really expect to pick up more than a handful of black votes anyway. But it also means assuring working- and middle-class voters that, notwithstanding party tax policies that hugely favor the very rich, there are actually very rich Republicans who can remember times...

Where’s William Jennings Bryan When You Need Him?

(AP Photo)
The Financial Times is reporting that the Republican platform to be unveiled in Tampa next week calls for establishing a commission to examine whether the United States should go back on the gold standard. The theory behind this antiquarian fantasy, much loved by Ron Paul and his cult, is that by de-linking the dollar from the value of gold—a move begun by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and completed by President Richard Nixon in 1971—America’s leaders have debased our currency and loosed the genies of inflation, since the Federal Reserve can print as many dollars as it likes. It’s a curious time to call for a reversion to gold, but then virtually nothing in the Republican platform speaks to the America of today. For one thing, America hasn’t had a real bout of inflation since the 1970s, and in recent years, inflation has been nowhere to be found. Second, the dollar has never been stronger. The world’s investors have flocked to buy dollars in recent years. The interest payments...

“Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier”

Another day, another survey charting the decline of the American middle class. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center weighed in with “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” to which they appended the kicker, “Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.” The median net worth of the middle-tier households (Pew defines “middle-tier” as households whose income is between two-thirds and twice the national median) declined from $152,950 in 2007 to $93,150 in 2010, reflecting the sharp loss in home value. Taking the longer view, people in the middle tier made 62 percent of all the household income in the United States in 1970, but just 45 percent in 2010. Middle tiersters didn’t lose to the lower tier, whose share of the national income also declined, from 10 percent to 9 percent. They lost it to the upper tier (who else?), whose share of national income rose from 29 percent to 46 percent. It’s not so much the bottom but the middle that’s fallen out of the economy. But be of good cheer. On Wednesday, the same day...

The Man Who Hated Liberals

The custom, I know, is not to speak ill of the recently dead, but it’s not a custom to which I’ve invariably adhered. Ronald Reagan’s death evoked so many hagiographic tributes I felt compelled to write a Washington Post column noting the damage he’d done to his country and to the liberal values that, when honored, made his country great. Like Reagan, columnist and controversialist Alexander Cockburn, who died a few days ago, was no friend of liberal values or of liberals, social democrats or democratic socialists. Like Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz, he found his comfort zone on the fringes of the political spectrum, whether left, right or simultaneously both. The son of Claud Cockburn, a Communist Party journalist whose misrepresentations of the Spanish Civil War prodded George Orwell to write Homage to Catalonia , Alex never ceased casting Stalin in the best light possible, consistently downplaying the number of Russians (including virtually all the original Bolsheviks)...

Tiny Sandford Syndrome

Lately, we’re awash in Tiny Sandford Syndrome. Wha’? Tiny who? Tiny Sandford was a very big guy (6’5”, around 300 pounds) who played small parts in 1920s and '30s comedies—Laurel and Hardy’s in particular. Perhaps his best known role is that of the cop in the Laurel and Hardy classic Big Business , a brilliant comedy supervised by Leo McCarey, who was later to direct the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and other notable films. In Big Business , L&H are door-to-door Christmas-tree salesmen. We meet them as they try to make a sale to the perpetually sour James Finlayson, who slams the door in their faces, clipping off a Christmas-tree branch in the process. L&H retaliate by making a little nick in the door, as Finlayson looks on. He rips off a little more of the tree, as L&H look on. The destruction then escalates, until Finlayson has completely destroyed their car and they’ve substantially destroyed his home. But the demolition derby proceeds, as it were, by Marquis of Queensberry...

Woody, Harry, and Irving

(Flickr / mathnerd)
This past weekend, American journalism commemorated the 100th birthday of one the nation’s greatest songwriters, Woody Guthrie. Many of the articles noted that Guthrie’s universally known national counter-anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” was written as a rebuttal of sorts to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” America had too much squalor, too much disparity of wealth, Guthrie believed, to be thought of as blessed, and his song includes a seldom-sung verse identifying “private property” as the culprit. What’s far less known is that Guthrie was the second songwriter to have a critical take on “God Bless America.” The first, Harry Ruby, actually delayed its release for 20 years. Berlin wrote “God Bless America” in 1918, while he was in the World War I army and stationed at Camp Upton, in the town of Yaphank, outside New York City. It was one of a number of songs he composed for his upcoming all-soldier Broadway review, “Yip, Yip Yaphank,” among them “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the...

Bill Clinton, Book Critic

In 1991, in the early days of his presidential run, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would occasionally cite and paraphrase from what was clearly his favorite new book: E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics . The book excoriated any number of politicos, but chiefly Republicans, for posing “false choices” to the American people—as in, you’re either pro-family or pro-government (as if there weren’t a raft of government programs to help families). Clinton wove these ideas into his stump speech, now and then taking care to attribute some of them to E.J.’s book. (E.J. is a close friend, so in this blog, he gets first-name treatment). It’s 21 years later and Clinton’s doing it again. According to The Washington Post ’s Al Kamen, Clinton was answering questions at a forum put on by his Clinton Global Initiative at the London School of Economics. He was asked by Ashley Judd (who, unlike the young Mick Jagger, is not actually a student at the LSE) what he was reading, and replied that...

Why Is San Bernardino Bankrupt?

The prize for the most abjectly wrong headline in American journalism this week goes, I grieve to say, to the Los Angeles Times . Atop an article analyzing how California cities are coping with horrific budget crunches—which ran one day after the working-class exurb of San Bernardino followed its fellow working-class exurb Stockton into municipal bankruptcy—the headline writer plunked the following line: “Rising costs push California cities to fiscal brink.” The headline doesn’t really capture what the ensuing article is about, which is what city governments have done as they have approached or gone over that brink. Rather, the headline advances its very own theory of causality for why Stockton and San Bernardino got into trouble: rising costs, which feeds nicely into the rightwing narrative about municipal unions undermining fiscal viability. But that’s really not what caused the crises of Stockton and San Bernardino. Thousands of other American cities had contractual arrangements...

Clueless Kinsley

Back in the days when Michael Kinsley was the designated liberal on CNN’s “Crossfire” show, paired off against Pat Buchanan or Robert Novak, he would answer the complaints of actual liberals that he really wasn’t a liberal himself by agreeing with them. Kinsley was and still is a man of the cautious, corporate center, which means liberal on social and cultural issues and an Aspen/Jackson Hole corporate elitist on economics. Which is to say, while he’s a trenchant social critic, he hasn’t even noticed the bankruptcy of mainstream economics. For evidence of this assertion, readers need look no farther than Kinsley’s column today, which ran in both the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News . In it, he attacks the Obama campaign for going after Mitt Romney for offshoring jobs—because, he argues, offshoring is really a good thing. Well, he doesn’t actually argue it. Instead, he simply asserts that “most economists believe in the theory of free trade, which holds that a nation cannot prosper...

Fishing for Boos

(Flickr / jim.greenfield)
In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson). Make no mistake, though: She’d wanted those boos. She needed them to surge in the polls. It’s increasingly clear that Mitt Romney wanted the boos he got during his speech at yesterday’s NAACP convention, too. His...

Union Maid

Over the past several decades, at any number of public events I’ve attended, I never had trouble knowing when Joyce Miller was in the house. “Harold!” she would boom, her voice a friendly foghorn across a crowded room. Over the decades, she’d needed that voice to make herself—and the cause of women workers—heard. A founder and, later, the president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Joyce was a longtime official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a heavily female union headed by invariably male leaders who eventually made room for very talented secondary-level women leaders such as Joyce. In 1980, even the AFL-CIO executive council made room for Joyce, when she was elected to become its first female member. During the decades when middle-class feminism was on the rise, Joyce continually reminded everyone within earshot that working-class women faced doubly difficult challenges—entering, or stuck, in a workforce where “the feminization of poverty” (a term she employed as far back...

Bury Those Lines!

(Flickr / (adam) THEO)
When more than a million metro-area Washingtonians lost their power in last Friday’s superheated near-hurricane, and hundreds of thousands of them went three, four, or five sweltering days before it came back on, was Pepco—the local power company—to blame? How about Dominion Virginia Power? Would a municipally owned company have done a better job? I’m all for having publicly owned utilities, but in this case, I don’t think ownership mattered. When a storm like last Friday’s sweeps through, all that counts is whether the power lines are buried underground or strung from poles. Neighborhoods that had their power lines underground (like mine, in Dupont Circle) didn’t lose power. Neighborhoods that didn’t went dark—unless they were spared by a shift in the winds. As climate change subjects more and more cities and regions to extreme weather, one obvious response is to bury the lines underground. This probably isn’t a good idea in earthquake belts, but there aren’t all that many such belts...

Not the Issue?

If you don't think Republicans are monomaniacs, may I suggest watching Mitch McConnell's performance on Fox News Sunday. Three times host Chris Wallace asked McConnell what would become of the 30 million Americans who'd be able to obtain health coverage under the Obama administration's newly upheld health-care law if the Republicans repealed the law, and three times McConnell said that such temporal concerns were beside the point. The third time Wallace asked about the 30 million Americans, McConnell responded, "That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step by step to improve the American health-care system." An incredulous Wallace followed up with, "You don't think 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?" To which McConnell responded, "Let me tell you what we're not going to do. We're not going to turn the American health-care system into a Western European system." Ideology—maybe it's closer to theology—trumps reality. Thirty thousand, thirty million, thirty...

The Anti-Scalia Uprising

(Flickr/U.S. Mission Geneva)
I’m not the only one who has noticed that Antonin Scalia has become the Supreme Court’s crazy uncle. As I wrote here yesterday, Scalia’s dissent in the Court’s Monday ruling striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was bizarre beyond belief—arrogating to Arizona a degree of sovereignty in border (and foreign, and military) policy that law and custom restrict to nations. His willingness to let Arizona make its own foreign policy was also in sharp contrast to his refusal to grant Montana the right to put controls on campaign spending in its state elections—a decision he joined on the same day he issued his Arizona dissent. I largely eschewed Scalia’s most egregious conduct on Monday—his rant against President Obama’s recent order forbidding the deportation of young immigrants brought here without documentation as children, which Scalia delivered from the bench in reading his Arizona dissent, notwithstanding that Obama’s order had nothing to do with the case the court was...

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