Posts tagged "america"

They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.

Ronald Reagan (1964)

I don’t know if this was the actual inspiration for Kang-disguised-as–Bob Dole’s declaration on The Simpsons: “The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work again.” But then again, “twirling towards freedom” is something Reagan could have come up with too.

Post-partisan America and Obama

Something real quick on a thing I’ve thought for the past six years and am amazed folks keep missing.

Here’s Ezra Klein talking about the gap between what Obama promised for his presidency and what (and also, especially, how) he achieved:

From 2009 to 2010, Obama, while seeking the post-partisan presidency he wanted, established the brutally partisan presidency he got. Virtually every achievement Krugman recounts — the health-care law, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, the financial rescue, the stimulus bill — passed in these first two years when Democrats held huge majorities in congress. And every item on the list passed over screaming Republican opposition. The first two years of the Obama administration are the story of Obama being haunted by his promises of a postpartisan presidency, and choosing, again and again, to pass bills at the cost of worsening partisanship.

Like, accurate, but also completely missing the point.

Yeah, I know, Obama promised to be post-partisan and to bring America together. Just like George W. Bush said he’d be a “uniter, not a divider.” Obama said it in his first national speech, his most famous address, perhaps his best oratory of his life:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.

There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

Let’s be clear. Obama had — at the 2004 Democratic National Convention — just read off a laundry list of liberal priorities: health care, education, the protection of constitutional liberties. And now he was telling us in (a way that was accurate culturally but incorrect electorally) that Americans were despite all evidence to the contrary, a united people. (Americans are desperate to hear that they’re united. It’s such a fragile part of their psyche that they put the word united right into the name of their country.)

And now he proves that by saying that liberals like innocuous things like baseball and god (duh, says every liberal listening — or, more like, that’s right!) while conservatives like gay people and freedom from surveillance. (In 2004, this wasn’t so: there’s a fair argument that ballot measures opposing gay marriage drove conservative turnout to a great enough extent to ensure Bush’s re-election; the GOP was zealously promoting the PATRIOT Act during the years prior to this speech.) And that bit about patriots who support and patriots who oppose the war in Iraq? This was only radical for the use of the word “oppose”: liberals were terribly stung by Republican accusations that their opposition to the war amounted to an opposition to America. Why do you think they endorsed a Vietnam War vet as their presidential candidate?

Or look at Obama running for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008:

Because at a time when so many people are struggling to keep up with soaring costs in a sluggish economy, we know that the status quo in Washington just won’t do. Not this time. Not this year. We can’t keep playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expect a different result — because it’s a game that ordinary Americans are losing.

Here’s the thing about that status quo: it was Republican. When the Democrats listening to this speech heard about “the same Washington game with the same Washington players,” they were thinking about seven years of Republican governance, of tax cuts and deficits and disrespect. 

The Obama campaign talked about bipartisanship, about changing the way Washington works, but its genius lay in the way it imparted two messages at once by doing so. To its liberal supporters, it promised a bipartisan America where conservatives would realise that they supported Democratic ideas all along (“we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states … we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”) Not, note, a bipartisan America where Democrats and Republicans would draw together to compromise over tax reform or single-payer health care or a stimulus. Obama proposed to his liberal base that bipartisanship should mean an embrace of liberalism.

(This is radical, really, because liberals, hairshirted pricks that they are, love to tell one another about how removed from the American mainstream they are. Foolish promises that America believes in the same ideas you do is usually for conservatives. Obama convinced liberals that they might actually be America.)

That wasn’t what you heard if you were a disgruntled Republican or a disengaged independent. You heard a president saying things about bipartisanship that stirred your American fondness for national unity.

Same with the bit about changing the way Washington works. Liberals heard that the way Washington works would change in the most important way — Republicans would no longer be in charge of it. The rest heard bromides about bipartisanship.

Obama knew who he was talking to. He was talking to liberals. So let’s not pretend like he ever promised a golden age where through sheer force of personality alone he could bring Democrats and Republicans together under the spirit of compromise. He tried to enact his ideology on the grounds that it is what the nation wanted. It’s what politicians do.

The fact that people are still convinced he really wanted moderation and compromise speaks to his political success, really.

Obama told liberals that they could be the American mainstream. He was smart enough to do it in a way that even made conservatives think he was saying he would govern through consensus.

Could you imagine tho being this woman and getting to do your next talk radio show all about how you went to the White House and the president launched this ~random attack on you~ and how he went on a ~bizarre rant~ and ~perverted the words of the bible~ and was talking about ~selling his daughter into slavery~ and ~killing his staffers~?

And then the White House press corps picks it up and the rest of the week the media is occupied with whether President Bartlet is losing the plot and whether he’s targeting the media and whether this is yet another sign of his refusal to reach across the aisle and find bipartisan solutions to the problems facing this country. I’m not saying, but the question is out there: has the recent assassination attempt affected the president’s ability to do his job?

(All this instead of focusing on the fact that Bartlet retained the status quo in the House unlike pretty much every other midterm election ever except for the one before this episode was made.)

I mean fuckin Sorkin ya know. What’s really wrong with America is that liberals can’t sit down the people who annoy them and yell at them a bit, uh-huh right.

Sam Seaborn, secret Tea Partier.

Sam Seaborn, secret Tea Partier.

Why Australia has universal healthcare and America doesn’t.


"Haha! Americans don’t have free healthcare!"

Yeah it’s actually a serious problem people are literally dying can this stop being a silly nationalistic insult?

This is very fair! Do us folks really feel so insecure about our national identities that we need to shit on poor folks in America to make ourselves feel better?

People tend to believe that the reason countries like Australia have universal healthcare and America does not is one of cultural difference. America’s individualistic culture, the story goes, encourages them to disdain a government service we have the good sense and decency to embrace. Americans themselves are wont to embrace this explanation: it satisfies their innate belief in American exceptionalism; for the left, it is a cautionary tale about the downside of capitalism*; and, for the right, it demonstrates that socializing healthcare is not worth doing because it is innately incompatible with the American psyche.

[*It also allows the American left to do one of its favorite things: use other countries that they have no real interest in learning anything about as a political stick with which to beat their fellow citizens.]

Those of us In Australia, at least, should consider that we perhaps are not too different from the United States in terms of our cultural relationship to government provided health care. Australians tend to have little understanding of the political history of our system of universal healthcare and how we have the Medicare system we consider to be yet more proof of our apparent superiority to the United States. We forget how ferocious the political opposition to universal healthcare was here, and how extraordinarily difficult it was to implement.

Australia’s universal healthcare system began in 1974 when Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party established the Medibank system. The ALP had taken power in 1972 for the first time since 1949, and set about introducing a number of reforms — it’s policies like universal healthcare that are the reason Whitlam is remembered as a prime minister who tried to do too much too quickly. 

Whitlam was unable to pass universal healthcare into law due to a hostile Senate — his party only had a majority in the lower house. He passed the bill eventually not because Australians have any particular fondness for helping the misfortunate, but because the Australian constitution has a mechanism for overcoming gridlock that the American one does not: the double dissolution. Having had his Medibank bill twice rejected by the Senate, Whitlam called a double dissolution election. Even after Labor was returned in the 1974 poll, it still did not have a Senate majority, and it could still not pass its health insurance bills. Whitlam could only enact universal healthcare in Australia thanks to the constitutional option of a joint sitting of parliament, in which the rejected bills could be considered in a single chamber that united the far more numerous House of Representatives with the Senate. This is the only time in Australian history a government has passed legislation in this manner.

It is instructive to compare this to two instances in American politics. The first is in 1971, when Richard Nixon tried to negotiate a healthcare bill with Ted Kennedy. This was not a universal system, but it did look something like what we know today as Obamacare: a mix of subsidies and employer-provided private insurance. Kennedy and his fellow Democrats rejected the deal — which he would later regret — expecting that they could implement a more progressive plan when they regained the White House. If Democratic tactics had been different in the early ’70s, America would be, at minimum, four decades further along the path to universal healthcare than it is today.

Alternately, consider the recent fight to implement Obamacare. Democrats had been campaigning on health care reform for years, and, in 2006 and 2008, they won, successively, majorities in the House and the Senate, and the White House. On the basis that election-winning parties implement the policies they took to the election, they set about expanding coverage of the US healthcare system. Activists hoped for a single payer system — which is what Australia’s Medicare is — but they lowered quickly their sights to a private system with a public option in a bid to gain bipartisan support and to neuter opposition in the Senate.

Note that, unlike Gough Whitlam in 1974, Democrats did have a majority in the Senate. In Australia, health care was consistently opposed by a Senate majority; in America, even the fall back of the public option had to be excised because Republicans — and some centist Democrats — filibustered the bill. Note that the filibuster isn’t a flaw in the American system as set out in the constitution: that document makes no mention of this method of legislative roadblock. The filibuster, which was so effective in making Obamacare as modest a reform as it was, is an accident of history. In Australia, Whitlam could overcome stronger opposition because he could use a double dissolution. The United States has no such provision; Nancy Pelosi was not permitted to dissolve the House and the Senate and call for an election, then ram through the bill in a subsequent joint sitting.

Let us now recall what happened after Whitlam passed Medibank into law. Conservatives repeatedly attempted to shut down the government (in the form of rejecting supply bills), then conspired with the representative of a foreign nation to overthrow the prime minister and have the opposition leader installed in power. They were successful. After winning a subsequent election, new prime minister Malcolm Fraser dismantled Whitlam’s universal health care system.

Labor was returned to power in 1983 and in 1984 it again created a system of universal health care — Medicare — which still exists today. It survived conservative opposition this time only because Labor held power for twelve further years, during which time Australian citizens came to view the system as a fundamental component of the welfare state and conservatives had to abandon their opposition to it to reassure the public they could be trusted in government.

Today, the Liberal Party is again trying to limit Australia’s system of universal healthcare. Australians, having had 30 years to get used to the benefits of universal healthcare, are aghast. Perhaps they will succeed in opposing the government’s planned reforms. But this is not the result of any cultural superiority Australians have over Americans. It’s because of differing constitutional and legislative quirks between our nations, and the whims of individual politicians.

That Australians have anything to teach Americans about coffee culture may come as a surprise to casual drinkers.

Oliver Strand, “Australian Cafes Arrive in New York,” The New York Times, July 29, 2014

Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha… America I love you but no. We got this.

City nerd housekeeping note.

Trying to talk about American cities can be a bit frustrating because America does this weird thing where its primary use of the word city is to indicate a governmental area rather than a socio-cultural urban space. By this reckoning, you end up with factoids like America only has 9 cities with populations over one million people and China has more than 160. This is how you end up with folks saying that Phoenix and San Antonio are among the 10 biggest cities in America, and behemoths like Atlanta and Miami are way down in the 40s — which is only interesting if you want to talk about administrative challenges at the local government level or maybe make comparisons between the history of annexation and incorporation by city governments in the west as compared to the east. But mostly it just means trying to talk about a Los Angeles in which Santa Monica doesn’t exist or a Detroit where Hamtramck doesn’t exist, and that’s just silly.

So I tend to avoid defining US cities by city population. But what to use instead?

The US also talks about the city using the far more intuitive frame of the metro area. But even this doesn’t entirely solve the problem; because there are a few definitions of metro area around, and not all properly encapsulate the city as entity. Just like I’d like a definition of Sydney that includes Parramatta (by which the city has a pop of approx 4.5 milion, I think it’s most sensible to use a measure, that, say, considers Seattle and Bellevue and Tacoma to be part of the same space, or Washington and Arlington and Falls Church to be of a piece but Baltimore to be a discrete place.

Primary Statistical Area seems too broad to me; good perhaps for discussing economic interdependence but too far-reaching to properly describe lived experience. I think a statistical measure that treats Trenton and Brooklyn as part of the same metropolitan entity is flawed for most purposes. Combined Statstical Area is likewise too expansive; Atlanta and Athens are not part of the same city in the way, say, Boston and Cambridge are. This is why I think the most useful definition is the Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Area. It’s not perfect; I do wonder if the Inland Empire is distinct from Los Angeles and San Jose distinct from San Francisco–Oakland to the extent Chicago and Milwaukee are distinct from one another — if so, Riverside–San Bernardino is America’s fourteenth biggest “city” — but its definitions usually feel right and its population figures are logical for comparative purposes. Sydney and Boston being similar in size works. Sydney being four times bigger than Dallas does not.

In other news, Serbia is now on Streetview. Exciting!

Yoga Janet would make a point of sitting with me at meals, and we would chat about the Himalayas and New York and politics. She was appalled when a subscription to The New Republic showed up for me at mail call. “You might as well read the Weekly Standard!” she said with disgust.
Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (2010)

Why Does Everyone In Australia Hate Pitbull?

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.

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