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The New Moderate Shuts the Door on 2010

December 31, 2010

It’s that time of year, friends. Time for reflection, time for resolutions, time for The New Moderate to wonder what on earth the previous 365 days were all about.

First, I’m hard-pressed to believe that we’re already bidding farewell to the year 2010. When I was a kid, 2010 was the Jetsons’ world; we were supposed to be living in domed cities, whizzing around in our airborne cars, rocketing to Mars and back on a regular basis.

Instead, we’ve merely become extensions of our earthbound electronic gadgets. We depend on those gadgets to help us make sense of our bewildering world. But I suspect that the information we gather from our gadgets only makes our world seem more bewildering. (It does for me, anyway.)

Our gadgets also make us less inclined to read Don Quixote or Moby-Dick from cover to cover, at least in their original paper incarnations. Sometimes I sense that the dusty tomes lining my shelves are casting a reproachful eye on me as I click away at my chip-infested machinery.

But what about 2010 and its lessons? Most of the surviving news publications will focus on the individual events that shaped the year: the Gulf oil spill, the controversy over the Arizona immigrant law, the healthcare debates, the infamous “Ground Zero Mosque” and the rise of House Speaker John Boehner. I’m more interested in the issues that lurk behind the stories.

The Tea Party. Conservatives went on a holy rampage in 2010 —  and these weren’t your father’s (or William F. Buckley’s) conservatives. Here was an impassioned grassroots movement,  populated by small-town middle class Main Streeters shaking their collective fists at the government and the liberal elite. That much I can understand. Strange, though, that they never thought of shaking their fists at the conservative elite — the corporate and Wall Street plutocrats who have done everything in their power to wreck the fortunes and the future of the American middle class.

Instead, the plutocrats, aided and abetted by populist pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, managed to convince  the Tea Partiers that their interests were more or less identical. All those investment bankers and hedge fund managers must be chuckling at the naivete of middle-class idealists who embrace minimal government, unregulated capitalism and tax breaks for the rich. Instead of rioting on Wall Street, they spend their time accusing Obama of socialist propensities. Useful idiots.

On top of their confused ideology, the Tea Partiers made life impossible for moderates during the 2010 campaign. Anyone who didn’t get with the program was virtually accused of treason and run out of the Republican party.

And yet, for all the noise they made, the Tea Party didn’t sweep the fall elections. Yes, the Republicans gained ground, as expected. But too many Tea Party candidates exposed themselves as extremists and/or fools in front of a national audience. Their blunders can only set the stage for a moderate resurgence in 2012.

WikiLeaks. All right, we’re looking at one of the sizzling news stories of 2010, but I’m less interested in the fortunes of its pathologically self-righteous founder than I am in the sub-story: whether willy-nilly leaking of secret government documents is an act of heroism in the spirit of Robin Hood, or something darker and more sinister.

The New Moderate is all in favor of transparency in most public arenas, but war and dipl0macy aren’t among them. Imagine if a World War II incarnation of WikiLeaks had blown the cover of the Allies’ planned D-Day invasion. You can see the problem.

Even more unsettling is the fact that a single loose-cannon organization — an organization run and staffed by wet-behind-the-ears technogeeks — has assumed the authority to spill the secrets of nations with impunity. Yes, we have a right to know if governments have been acting treacherously, against the interests of their  people (or our people)– but who decides the definition of treachery during wartime? Julian Assange? Your neighbor two houses down the street?

WikiLeaks is a collection of arrogant juvenile spies and anarchists masquerading as selfless crusaders.  They’re the diplomatic equivalent of cyberpunks, attacking their targets for the sheer exhilaration of stealing power from the powerful.

The illegal immigrant question. It just won’t go away. More important than whether individual states have the right to protect their borders (I believe they do if the federal government won’t) is the issue of what happens to a nation transformed by the mass incursion of squatters from a single ethnic group. This hasn’t happened in America since the English invited themselves to settle on native Indian lands back in 1607 (and we all know what became of the Indians’ pristine domain).

The waves of immigrants that thronged these shores during the late 19th and early 20th centuries came to us from a multitude of nations. And almost without exception, they obligingly adopted the English language and American ways. They began to think of themselves — proudly and unreservedly — as Americans, and they quietly entered the mainstream of American life.

I don’t see the same pattern governing the new immigrants. They’re settling here on the sly, enjoying public benefits without contributing to the public till — and we’ve reciprocated by enshrining Spanish as our unofficial second language. Meanwhile, the government has done nothing to stop the influx of illegals, and the left has been adamant about welcoming them with open arms.

Do our undocumented Latino immigrants personally identify with the United States? Are they eager to assimilate, to learn English, to pledge allegiance to our flag? Or are they essentially pushing the boundaries of Latin America northward to the Canadian border?

What happens when the U.S. becomes the newest Latin American republic? Will we  be a two-tier society of haves and have-nots? (We’re already well on our way without the help of illegal Hispanic immigrants.) Will we lose our stature among nations? Will soccer finally become our national game? Stay tuned, friends; this story is far from over.

Obama’s ups and downs. Not since Jimmy Carter has so intelligent a president been subjected to such pervasive public doubts about his leadership ability. Here was a man who galvanized a weary republic during his campaign — and proceeded to underwhelm it as soon as he assumed the presidency.

The fault isn’t entirely his, of course: Obama inherited a bundle of ongoing crises, foreign and domestic, that even FDR would have struggled to solve. But Obama’s leadership did falter; he couldn’t or wouldn’t sell his agenda persuasively, he cozied up to all the wrong people, he weathered unfair personal attacks from the rabid far-right fringe, and he appeared to recoil from the vulgar give and take of American politics. His trademark gusto was fading; he was being Jimmified.

Suddenly, this past month, Obama seemed to regain his mojo. Maybe his party’s “shellacking” in the recent elections roused him to action. At any rate, he showed himself capable of political savvy, bipartisan bargaining and — even more important — the ability to get results. Given the obstructionist nature of  the Republican opposition during his administration, this was no small feat.

Obama ended his most difficult year on a triumphant note. I wish I could say the same for the rest of us.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Martin permalink
    December 31, 2010 8:28 am

    Terrific article Rick. You really nailed it. 🙂

    • January 3, 2011 11:59 am

      Thanks, Kathy. And I wrote it in the middle of the night! (I had a busy New Year’s Eve scheduled with my son, and I needed to get the column posted before 2011. What dedication, eh?)

  2. December 31, 2010 12:11 pm

    A truly most excellent wrap-up, Rick. I don’t agree with all of it, but you might be surprised to know that I agree with most of it, especially with regards to the Tea Party and illegal immigration. I well recall the protests in the Southwest and California a few years ago, bristling with Mexican flags, which disappeared en masse the next day when the organizers told the protesters that Americans were angry about them, to be replaced en masse by American flags. Talk about organizational discipline. But the worst of it was seeing interview after interview on YouTube in which protesters talked about a “reconquista” by demographic fiat of those states that once made up old Mexico, and that L.A. Mayor Villagrossa was sympathetic to the idea. That was a bracing dose of cold water.

    And calling the Tea Partiers “useful idiots” of the F.I.R.E sector is smack-on, and they’re not the only ones. Entirely too many people in this country believe that they may one day get rich, and so they sycophantically support the agenda of the plutocrats even as their own lives and the lives of their children are immiserated. It’s insane.

    • January 3, 2011 10:46 am

      Rob: Glad you agree with me on the immigrant issue; I won’t feel like such a reactionary now. So many Americans feel that it’s un-American to deny anyone the chance to start a new life in these states (and hey, what decent person could oppose that idea?)… yet I don’t think they’re aware of the radical transformation that’s about to take place if we allow unlimited immigration from a single ethno-linguistic group: Latinos. I know it sounds racist, and I know we’re opposing the inevitable, but I don’t see how the gradual transformation of the U.S. into a Latin American republic will be good for our country — or the rest of the world, for that matter.

      The only Latin American countries with a strong middle class (and they’re just emerging) are Brazil and Argentina. Brazil happens to be one of the few non-Spanish-speaking nations in Latin America, and Argentina has a large non-Hispanic population. Most of the rest (except for socialist republics like Cuba and Venezuela) are two-tier have/have-not societies, which of course seems to be the trend in the U.S. as well.

      As we continue to absorb all those impoverished Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America, we’ll come to resemble a feudal society: wealthy yuppies at the top, displaced middle-class Americans and poor minorities at the bottom. And I’m not just being an alarmist… it will happen unless we stop the current immigration pattern.

      As for the Tea Partiers… I think you’re right: they still buy the idea that anyone can make it big in American society. They either don’t see that we’re becoming a winner-take-all culture, or they assume that they can beat the odds. What’s F.I.R.E., by the way?

  3. December 31, 2010 4:47 pm

    I think you completely misperceive the meaning of the Tea Party. The first problem is with the label conservative. Are we talking about What Bill Mahr would conservative or what Rush Limbaugh would ? The Tea Party is only conservative in the sense that they are not liberal and the sense that the left labels 3/4 of the political spectrum as conservative. The core values that separates the Tea Party from the remainder of the political spectrum are a mistrust of government, a desire to return to more limited government and impose fiscal discipline on government. Like every other movement there are many within and outside who wish to push a different or broader agenda. Fundamentally the Tea Party represents a Civil War within the Republican Party. At the very least it demands a reorganisation of “Conservative” priorities demoting those of neo-cons, and social conservatives and promoting the fiscally conservative values that are shared or atleast acceptable to the overwhelming majority of this country.
    You can personally claim whatever political label you wish, but you can not claim to represent the center of our politics without believing that government should behave with the same fiscal responsibility as we do as individuals and families.
    Further absent solutions to insolvency of our social solutions to healthcare, social security, Medicare, pensions the Tea Party is a political Tsunami that will only grow. The only thing that will dis-empower the Tea Party is a return to prosperity. Capitalism is incredibly resilient, but the size of the government rock it is pushing forward has grown enormous. There will not be a resurgence of anything else until that is resolved. I hope that 2012 will bring in a wave of moderates – because that would require a booming economy. i would also like to win the lottery.
    The Tea Party is anti-moderate – in the terms that you define moderate, because the moderates has sold out to the left. They were enormously successful in 2012. Angle, O’Donnel, Miller …. may not have all won the general election, but they removed a significant number of entrenched politicians from the field – probably permanently. considering that they are NOT a political party and 2010 was their first outing, they were enormously successful. Equally important a very strong message was sent – we are not quite ready for Angle, Miller, and O’Donnell – but we are close, and we are disgusted with political insiders.

    • January 3, 2011 11:22 am

      Dave: I’m certainly in favor of fiscal discipline, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to limited government. If the government could start cutting back on lavish pensions and foreign spending (both aid and warfare), and restore taxes on wealthy Americans to Clinton standards (certainly more forgiving than the old Eisenhower standards), we’d go a long way toward solvency while still maintaining safety net programs for those who need them.

      Meanwhile, I’m in favor of New Deal style federal job programs until corporate America gets over its downsizing and outsourcing mania. Call it the “trickle-up” theory: once the destabilized American middle class feels more financially secure, it will step up consumer spending, which will boost the revenues of American businesses, which will encourage them to create more jobs (using actual American employees, I would hope).

      If companies continue to think more about their next quarterly profits than the long-term health of the American middle class, they’ll be losing most of their potential consumers. Oh, I forgot — they can always sell to the burgeoning Chinese middle class. Long story short… today more than ever, we need a vigilant federal government to compensate for the shortcomings of American corporatists.

      As for the Tea Party, any movement based on mistrust of government and a return to smaller government sure sounds conservative to me. And while I don’t believe they’re racist or reactionary (they’re really more like classical liberals with a populist bent), you have to agree that there are plenty of inflexible guns-and-God zealots within their ranks.

      As a “radical” moderate, I share your disdain for politics as usual (and the usual political insiders). I’m adamant about trashing our current government-by-lobby system, in which powerful interests line the pockets of our elected representatives. Some of those complacent establishment politicoes deserved to be drummed out of their parties. But I thought it was alarming that many were drummed out simply for being moderates (in both parties). Think about what that means: only extremists need apply. A Congress or Senate full of extremists will be stuck in a perpetual stalemate.

  4. December 31, 2010 4:58 pm

    You are also off base on WikiLeaks. I think almost the entirety of the country is in agreement that Julian Asange is not the best face for Openness and transparency. But WikiLeaks does not STEAL government secrets. They publish them. They are indistinguishable from the Washington Post Publishing the Pentagon Papers. The basic issue is “who decides what we are allowed to know”. WikiLeaks has become the answer because it is abundantly clear that government transparency is an oxymoron. I find it amazing that with the left in power, the one thing that the left, the right and moderates can all agree on is that Julian Asange is evil. The message i got was the left is atleast as secretive as the right. WikiLeaks is the the price of a truly free and open society. Sometimes freedom is pretty ugly, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

    • January 3, 2011 11:38 am

      Dave: You seem to be equating openness with freedom. Don’t you agree that some government secrets (e.g., war strategies, locations of intelligence workers, arms placements) deserve to be safeguarded from prying eyes? As long as we’re under attack from terrorists and other enemies, we need to maintain at least a minimal shroud of secrecy. What about my D-Day analogy in my original post? Would you have cheered an organization that exposed the invasion plans?

      WikiLeaks and their accomplices seem hellbent on exposing ALL government secrets to public view, which is reckless at best and treasonous at worst. (Yes, I’m aware that WikiLeaks depends on a network of cooperative internal spies, which, to me at least, makes its activities all the more sinister.)

      I realize that our government is far from perfect, and that it hatches too many nefarious plots in our name, but it also defends our freedoms from attack by foreign and internal threats. As long as WikiLeaks lacks the selectivity and judgment to separate necessary secrecy from covert evil, I have to regard it as a dangerous organization.

  5. December 31, 2010 10:02 pm

    Immigration – so far you are off on 3 for three. There are no fundamental differences between hispanic immigrants and the waves of other immigrants that have come before them. They come for poor possibly starving conditions and they seek a better life and future for themselves and their kids. They are imperfect as we all are. But all the trends, criinality, language adoption, … are as good or better than prior waves of immigrants from other parts of the world. There is little doubt there is a border problem – Those people owning property along the border are being overrun. But otherwise nationally and even regionally our south of the border immigrants legal or otherwise – like every other immigrant wave before are on the who an asset. For the record White Europeans did nothing to the Indians that they had not done to the people who were here before them (and …). Both the left and the right are totally off-base on immigration – and now apparently even the middle. Though I am increasingly certain if you are a moderate we have a very left of center nation.

    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

    • January 3, 2011 11:42 am

      Dave: Yes, Emma Lazarus wrote a beautiful poem, but in those days the huddled masses were tempest-tost from dozens of nations, spoke dozens of languages, and almost universally transformed themselves into Americans. I don’t see that happening in the case of the illegal Latino immigrants. See Rob’s comment and my reply to it.

  6. December 31, 2010 10:43 pm

    And finally to dispatch Obama. Yes finally after two years in office he is starting to make progress. But I will point out the obstacle is now and has always been himself and his own party. It is not the obstructionism of the GOP that caused him to flounder – but his own over reach. Do not get me wrong – I like the man. But he is and has been in over his head from the begining. He is clearly an adroit politician – but one of the points of the 2010 election is we are all getting really tired of politicians. He is a decent guy. But he is also wrong about almost everything.

    ‘You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream–the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.’

    Our president does not believe this. Most of congress – both the right and the left don’t believe this. Pres. Obama has failed as a leader, whatever you believe about healthcare reform he was not elected to bring it about. Whatever you believe about the environment, that was not his mandate. The 2008 election was about one thing – the economy. Absent the collapse of the stock market in Sept. 2008 the current President would be John McCain. Yet from the inauguration forward Pres. Obama has struggled valiantly to convince us that every liberal wet dream of the past 40 years was essential to restoring prosperity.
    Today he is getting kudos for accomplishing things that he could easily have done with the stroke of a pen in the first 100 days in office.
    This presidents critical problems is that he does not believe in American exceptionalism, the American dream. He does not believe in us as individuals, only us as a group. no matter how high the oratory, we are not going to be inspired by a leader that has less faith in this country and its people than the Mexican wetback sneaking across the border.
    There is no doubt of he oratorical and political skills. I will give you that he is well educated, I am less sure about intelligent. At the same time it is clear that will all these skills he was unprepared for the job of president. He still has less grasp of economics than the owner of a gas station – though he is learning – at our expense.
    We are now in the longest recession in our history. Longer than many depressions. Longer than ones that were far worse. Conditions at the start were far better than most other recessions. We do not have the tripple whammy of double digit interest rates, inflation and unemployment that Reagan face in 1980. yet we are experiencing the weakest recovery in our history. We are well past the point where the economy would have naturally recovered on its own. Pres. Bush deserves alot of the blame for creating this, but the blame for dragging it out lies squarely in Washington.

    Pres. Obama could still be re-elected in 2012 in one of the largest landslides in our history. But so long as he believes that prosperity comes from the government not the people that is unlikely.

  7. Priscilla permalink
    January 1, 2011 11:15 pm

    I don’t see the Tea Party as extremist in any way….most tea partiers are not opposed to government entitlement programs, they are opposed to the unsustainable expansion of them. And, for the most part, tea partiers talk about constitutionally limited government, not “small government”….We haven’t had small government since the 1930’s, and I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that we return to a pre-Social Security, pre-Medicare, pre-unemployment insurance world. I think that the effort to rein in federal government power and spending has become necessary. When you have a Federal Justice Department that is willing to sue a state for trying to enforce federal immigration law, when the feds refuse to do it…..well, that is when I start to worry about extremism, and it’s not the Tea Party that worries me.

    • January 3, 2011 11:57 am

      Priscilla: I see the Tea Party as more fundamentally anti-government than you do. (I’ve listened to a lot of the rhetoric on right-wing radio.) I’m in favor of fiscal responsibility, too — I just think the government needs to pare its spending in some areas (pensions, wars and foreign aid) and ramp it up in others (job creation and healthcare). I’m in favor of safety nets, not “entitlements” — although there’s a fine line between the two, of course. I see public medical coverage as a safety net, because nobody should have to go broke on account of illness — and current insurance premiums are absurdly expensive. (Interesting that, aside from the working poor, most of the people hit hard by costly private insurance premiums are small-time entrepreneurs — precisely the people that the Tea Partiers claim to embrace.) I also see job creation as a safety net, at least until American corporations start hiring American workers again. Nobody should have to starve because our companies have outsourced all their manufacturing, tech and customer service jobs.

      As for the federal interference with Arizona’s immigrant policy, I agree with you, of course. Extremism certainly isn’t the exclusive domain of the Tea Partiers. We’re an extremist country right now.

      • Priscilla permalink
        January 3, 2011 7:25 pm

        When you say that you see the Tea Party as anti-government, Rick, do you mean anti-government as in anarchist, or anti-government as in anti-Obama? Because I would strongly agree with the latter, but I don’t think that a single big-government liberal administration qualifies as our government. I would agree that the Tea Party is somewhat anti-consensus and purist, which, as I have mentioned before, is a potential barrier to getting things done, but is an understandable and necessary reaction to the hyperpartisan behavior of both parties over the last few years and the overreach by the Democrats when they had their supermajorities in both houses.

        As far as medical safety-nets go, I have one word: Medicaid. We already have it.

        And as far as cutting spending….I know that we totally disagree on job creation by the government. It’s not what the government was intended to do, nor does it ever work. Cut wasteful government programs and encourage private investment.

        Our companies have outsourced jobs primarily because it is more profitable and cost effective for them to do so. Corporate taxes (2nd highest in the world next to Japan) and and unnecessary overregulation have forced many corporations to seek out friendlier environments, when they otherwise would have preferred to stay. Government should never be in the business of killing business, yet that is what our government is doing….and I am not talking about important and necessary regulations that protect investors, prevent corporate corruption or protect the environment. I am talking about over regulation such as government rules setting minimum funding for defined-benefit pension programs. The government’s intent is to prevent private pensions from going bust, which happens, but is overwhelmingly the exception, not the rule. The outcome of these rules, however, has been that without the ability to use more flexible financing models, companies can’t afford to maintain pension programs at all, and so many have eliminated them. More workers would be better off without the requirement. There are thousands and thousands of examples like this. The new healthcare law is a prime example; government plans to mandate the benefits package that employers provide. Right now employers must offer options, and employees have different choices. Now the government wants to tell us what the choices are going to be as far as coverage is concerned, and, if you don’t like it….well, you know what you can do.

        I think the Tea Party is just reacting to stuff like this by saying “hands off!” I am not naive enough to think that these problems will work themselves out without the efforts of serious and dedicated statesmen, but I do agree that the current government has indulged in some very serious and threatening overreach, so I understand the reaction.

      • January 4, 2011 12:54 pm

        Priscilla: There was no “Reply” link on your last comment, so I’ll reply to my own reply. To answer your first question, I heard a lot of “government is the enemy” rhetoric emanating from the right during the 2010 campaigns. Whether this was the “official” Tea Party line I can’t say for certain; I don’t think the Tea Party had an official platform, anyway. But no, it wasn’t just opposition to the Obama administration; it was generalized anti-government sentiment.

        I agree that government (especially when led by the left) tends to overreach (I call it “meddling”). Elite liberals can be control freaks; they naturally assume that they know what’s best for the rest of us. But during a borderline depression, I don’t think it would be overreaching for the government to create job programs that put unemployed and underemployed Americans back to work full-time. The private sector just ain’t hiring, at least in the U.S.

        Of course there are multiple reasons for this hiring slump, one of which could very well be the punitive corporate taxes you mention. I’d also accuse American labor unions of shooting themselves in the foot with their often ridiculous wage-and-benefits demands.

        But figuring out the reasons won’t really help the marginalized people who need income and need it now. That’s why I’m starting to sound like a New Deal Democrat, at least with respect to the unemployment crisis in America. We need jobs any way we can get them.

  8. January 2, 2011 2:45 am

    Yikes, for a sec there I thought you were closing the door on your blog!

    Heck of a post.

    • Priscilla permalink
      January 2, 2011 11:09 am

      Most of Rick’s posts are…..

  9. January 2, 2011 12:50 pm

    Fear not… I plan to be around for a while. And thanks for all the comments (I think). Now I know how I’ll be spending tomorrow morning. 😉

  10. sicklygreyfoot permalink
    January 3, 2011 7:49 pm


    Y’all beat me to my own comments.

    Anyhoo, great post.

  11. Priscilla permalink
    January 4, 2011 1:15 pm

    Hey Rick, here’s David Brooks’s take on the big government/small government argument. I think you’ll find it interesting:

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