George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘President

EMOTION AND POLITICS

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Much of the rancor one sees in political life is basically rooted in emotion, and therefore irrational in its fundamental state. Ideology stems from the same root, which is also not rational, and hence the more ideological things become the less reason prevails and the more susceptible people become to nonsense claims, usually about the other “side.”  Now since the response is emotional it is also personal, which frequently involves projecting personal concerns or deficiencies out onto others, or society. That being the case it can never be ameliorated as long as that false understanding prevails, and so such people are never happy, and seemingly always angry about something someone else is doing. 

There have been many academic studies purporting to explain irrational political behavior, but it is always ends up as characterizing only the right, thus betraying the left-wing bias of their world view, especially in fields like psychology. For while there is an emotional basis for ideology, it applies to both sides, and in fact there is arguably more intense emotion on the left. This is evidenced in the remarks of an actress suggesting that the new President hates “foreigners” among other things, irrespective of the fact that he is married to one, thus attacking a yahoo straw man that does not exist.  It was a perfect example of an emotional argument making absolutely no sense. The angry response was also beneath the dignity of a President, along the lines of: you attacked me so I’m going to attack you.

Nevertheless, the emotional component is far more prevalent among those on the left. They are forever trying to shut up and silence anything they don’t like, or preventing others from speaking. Failing this they will attempt to organize boycotts that never gain any support, and indeed often provoke a reaction that is the opposite of their intent. They will also threaten and blacklist, i.e. entertainers who have the temerity to try and appear at a presidential inauguration. If they can’t get their way directly they will try and get in indirectly, i.e. by trying to boycott advertisers on a medium they dislike. It is true that corporations have folded with this kind of pressure from the left, though whether that will continue in the age of Trump is another question. There is thus a disturbing totalitarian proclivity to shut others down, cause them to lose business, or even to ruin their lives. 

Surveys also show that those on the left are three time more likely than those on the right to “defriend” someone on Facebook over political matters. The reason for this disparity stems from a world view, unique to the left; one that believes that all aspects of life have a “political” dimension, and are therefore fair game for political action. That vast array of activities and circumstances that exist for most people in the private sphere are an inconvenience for them. If something is not perceived as political they will politicize it, and obsessed with symbolism, they will seek removal of the most innocuous  item that offends their sensibilities, even if totally innocent of their mischaracterization. 

This does not necessarily apply to true “liberals,” at least to the extent that they are true to liberal principles regarding freedom of speech and thought, although they are more likely to cave into the hard left when it comes to unreasonable demands. But this totalitarian tendency to threaten or force others to behave or think a certain way or eliminate what offends their sensibilities has to be vigorously resisted. Failure to do so undermines the legitimacy of  liberalism itself. 

Thus the more ideological the perceptions the more emotional and irrational the attitude the outlook and behavior. This does not characterize all emotional responses to things, i.e. empathizing with suffering, a swell of patriotic feelings, listening to music, etc. but rather emotional reactions that underly ideology and that are political in nature. Anyone whose world view leaves them constantly miserable and compelled to make political statements needs to engage in some honest reflection as to why they believe what they believe with such intensity, and the consequences it has for their personal life. It means perhaps recognizing that personal needs are being projected out onto society. Finally it means examining why political perceptions are so intense, and how they can cloud what truly exists in the present moment. Quo vadis.

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Written by georgesarant

January 21, 2017 at 7:14 PM

THE MAN ON THE WEDDING CAKE

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The President seems increasingly clueless as to what his job responsibilities are. It is as though all the ceremonial aspects of the presidency have superseded the substantive requirements of the position, so that being president consists of photo-ops, giving speeches, and other ribbon-cutting type affairs. He remains detached from everything else, whether it be meeting with members of congress, solving problems, or otherwise dealing with the substance of things. Whenever things go wrong he says he is “angry” about them, but does little to rectify the situation, deflecting blame elsewhere, even though many of these problems originated in his own administration. He thereby absolves himself of any responsibility for Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying revelations, fumbling over Syria, presiding over five of the six largest deficits in history, a sputtering economy, and, of course, Obamacare. It is deeply troubling that none of these things have been adequately resolved. The President may be genuinely angry about these things, but many of them, at the very least, are a consequence of who he appointed to office, including zealots who were obsessed with radical reform, based not upon empirical evidence but ideological presumptions as to the way things ought to be. As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” (in the office of the President).

But disengagement cannot be an excuse for ineptitude that is broad and consistent. One would be hard pressed to identify anything within the purview of the president that is going right these days. This is a result of some degree of competence at the superficial aspects of the presidency, i.e. ceremonial pomp, but complete incompetence at everything else. It is also unsurprising to anyone who could see through the glow of media cheerleading, given that he never ran anything in his life before. Yet he was elevated twice to what was, until he assumed office,  the most powerful position in the world, but now, at least according to Forbes, that distinction belongs to Vladimir Putin. During this presidency the US has been seriously weakened in the world, as well as at home, and it will take a lot of time and effort to undo what has transpired.

He did belatedly, and superficially assume responsibility for Obamacare, which he and his party obviously own, but he remains a true believer in his own narrative, and is the most partisan occupant the White House has ever seen. Seldom have we witnessed more confidence with less actual justification for it. He is like the man on top of the wedding cake, peering down on all below, oblivious to the meltdown that is happening. As we witness the government unraveling before our eyes he does not shoulder all the blame, but he has done nothing to fix the damage, and too often has made things considerably worse than they had to be. What is remarkable is not that his approval ratings are at an all time low, but that 41% still view his administration positively. The real tragedy is that we have to endure years more of this presidency while the situation in the US and the rest of the world remains dangerously rudderless, at least until the next election. In the interim congress may gain more power as the president becomes more of a lame duck, a prospect that is not all that reassuring. We can only pray that no serious crises explode abroad in the meantime. What we need to identify in the time ahead, is someone who is capable of competently running things, solving problems, and working congenially with the congress in order to undo all the damage that has been done. Until that happens we can’t even think about moving forward again.

Written by georgesarant

October 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM

GOVERNMENT FAILURE (AND PAST SUCCESSES)

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Now that the dust has cleared from the partial government “shutdown” the administration’s failures are glaringly clear. This would have been apparent sooner had the standoff not occurred, which also seriously damaged the Republicans as a viable alternative to incompetent government. The best thing that party could do would be to shut up and stand back until next November, and let the magnitude of failure become clear. For the administration has lost credibility on several fronts.

The disastrous roll-out of Obamacare is getting worse and worse by the day, creating havoc in the health care industry while failing to provide the promised coverage to individuals. What was unpopular to begin with is even more so today. The Health and Human Services administration appears to be clueless with regard to implementation, and few of the President’s promises are being realized. 

The President has lost the confidence of much of the rest of the world that once provided such an enthusiastic greeting when he first appeared on the scene. The Germans, French, and other Europeans, as well as the  Brazilians are outraged over NSA snooping in their countries, particularly on government officials. The Saudis are breaking away, feeling they have been misled on policy toward Syria, i.e. drawing red lines, threatening intervention, etc. and then reversing course, while also cozying up with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Iranians. The last has rattled the Israelis, who, with their very existence on the line, have no confidence in this administration. On and on it goes as much of the world’s leadership has been alienated, and the standing of the United States has been weakened.

Under this administration government agencies have been blatantly political in their actions. The IRS has been caught targeting opposition individuals and groups, yet this agency is being charged with enforcing Obamacare mandatory coverage and fines on everyone. The SEC, under a long-time Democratic party hack is levying unprecedented record fines, while the Justice Department has been shaking down banks for billions largely for lending money to people the government forced them to lend to in the first place.

Economic growth is being severely hampered by ill-considered regulations, and stalling big projects like the Keystone pipeline. Unemployment remains high and job opportunities few. Then there was a trillion dollar stimulus that appears to have gone down a black hole. Can anyone find a single new bridge or major infrastructure project out of this?

Worst of all is the leadership failure. The President, instead of being above the fray, has been insidiously partisan in his words and deeds. Rather than the promised unity he has sown deep divisions, reducing himself to being a posturing ideologue that his affability can no longer mask.  But in all of this there are lessons to be learned. You cannot ram through radical change with no input or cooperation from the other side. Government works best when there is consensus and compromise by all parties. For it is not as though differences are unresolvable.

This president does not seem to understand that he owns everything that happens on his watch. He has said he wants to be a transformational president, like Reagan. He has been transformational in some sense, but not like Reagan, as successes are pretty hard to identify. In any case, though people often wish it, it is a different world today and we don’t need another Reagan now. What we need is an Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a great president who has been grossly underestimated by historians and the press, based upon the false notion that he was stupid, largely because in response to questions he would sometimes mumble or say something irrelevant. But he was actually crafty, insofar as this  was his method of not dealing with things it was not necessary for him to deal with. Greatness does not always come from bold actions, but also from prudent inaction. For he always strove for consensus and letting things work themselves out. He never acted rashly, indeed he never acted unless he absolutely had to. This was also a man who held together the alliance of very different countries to achieve victory in World War II, and thus was very skilled in managing often sharp differences. As a result he was immensely popular and presided over some of the happiest days this country has ever known. The world would be a much better place today if we simply had someone like that in office.

 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

October 24, 2013 at 4:24 PM

STOP THE SHUTDOWN AND DON’T DEFAULT

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It is time to end the federal government impasse. One of the cardinal rules of strategy is to avoid getting involved in a war you can’t win. That is where the Republicans find themselves now. There are principled people who insist that they hold the line, but they are missing a far brighter, bigger picture. I am not suggesting that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats, as well as the administration are not more at fault, but rather that occasionally a tactical retreat in battle leads to victory in the greater war. Since the Republicans currently do not have the votes to carry the Senate, their focus should be on winning the necessary votes in 2014. Given that the prevailing narrative is stacked against them, contributing to public disapproval, there is no dishonor in a temporary retreat, when a larger gift is waiting in the wings. 

That gift is Obamacare. The rollout has been disastrous, the Affordable Care Act is more unpopular than ever, and public ire is still growing. If it were not for the partial “government shutdown” and threatened default, the leading story in the news would now be the colossal ineptitude of the Obamacare administration. A ridiculously expensive website that doesn’t work, unexpected rising health care costs for individuals, enrollment failure, administrative incompetence, etc. would be dominating the headlines. The only thing preventing that from happening is the continuing drama of the failure of the congress and administration to reach an agreement. Yes the President himself is culpable for refusing to negotiate or discuss anything, where a more skilled politician might at least pretend to consider compromise. Yes the Senate Democrats have moved the goal posts by throwing the sequester into the mix. But being in the right means nothing if the perception of it is not there. Life isn’t fair.

Unfortunately some people are too stupid to recognize when they have a winning hand. The implementation of Obamacare is the gift that will keep on giving through 2014, and perhaps beyond. As one problem after another manifests itself, it may collapse to the point where most people realize it is unworkable. The blame for this will rest squarely on the Democrats, since they forced it through when they had a majority in both houses without any input or a single vote from the other side. That would portend huge losses in the elections next year, because they effectively own Obamacare. Consequently it makes no sense to maintain a scenario where public anger is directed towards congress and the Republicans as long as this stalemate lasts. It is time to put an end to this and get out of the line of fire, and thereby reap the rewards. 

More serious is the prospect of default, which is undermining the dollar and causing deep anxiety in the rest of the world. If the US cannot maintain full faith and credit, if it is no longer perceived as being a rock solid oasis of stability, the damage will be immense, and the international reserve currency role of the dollar will be diminished. Serious damage has already occurred, and it will take some effort to repair and re-establish confidence. On this question the President has to give something, if only to avoid going down in history as the official who presided over a disastrous default that could have been avoided. Any reasonable person can see that averting this ought to have top priority over any other considerations. 

Those trying to make the government more accountable are completely right, but brinksmanship tactics are wrong and will only backfire. Far better to let the administration sink under the weight of its own pretensions and take a sober, longer-term view that is far more likely to produce the desired objectives. 

Written by georgesarant

October 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM

A TAXING SITUATION

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The congress and the President are now at an impass over just how to get more taxes out of the “rich.” The President thinks this consists of anyone making over $250,000 a year, but even some in his own party find this hard to swallow. Senator Schumer thinks it should apply only to those making over a million, apparently thinking of his high-income, hypocritical liberal constituents, given what the cost of living is here in New York. The Republicans, on the other hand, are willing to raise revenue by changing the tax code to eliminate or limit various deductions for the wealthy, while lowering rates across the board. 

 This may seem like a trivial difference to some people, especially in the affluent media, given that either way the government is going to get more tax revenue from those who are relatively well off, the Republicans having conceded as much already. But the underlying philosophies of each position stand in clear opposition. It essentially boils down to who should control other people’s money. The President’s position is that the rich should pay “more” on the basis of “fairness” and equality. Given that this kind of logic seems to appeal to a current majority of the public, he seems prepared to demagogue this issue over the “fiscal cliff,” even if alternative policies might actually raise more revenue with lower rates, calculating that with media support, he can successfully blame the consequences on the Republicans. They, in turn, argue, rather cogently I think, that this will only reduce investment and economic growth, particularly by burdening small business owners and confiscating capital from more productive uses. 

 It then ultimately becomes a question of who should spend the money- the people it belongs to or the government. It is as much about power and the direction of things as it is about revenue. The Democrats want it for social purposes, while the Republicans reject that for economic reasons, as well as based upon opposition to expanded government programs and power. The President essentially wants to maintain the current tax code and  simply raise income tax rates, while the Republicans want to maintain or reduce current rates and change the tax code. In this they have a strong argument; unfortunately they are not very good at articulating it. 

 The current tax code is full of deductions, exemptions, and benefits skewed towards particular interests (talk about fairness), that reduce the taxes they pay and raise everyone else’s. This results in crony capitalism, rewarding those favored by the government at the expense of others. The advocates of such policies mean well, to the extent that these favors are designed to get people to do things they otherwise would not do, or that make no economic sense on their own. This favorable treatment is designed to provide “incentives” to achieve various political goals, such as green energy through Solyndra-type outfits. Thus, the government then effectively controls how money is spend both indirectly, as well as directly, by taxing all those who are not favored more. It means more power over decision-making, based upon the assumption that somehow politicians and government bureaucrats know better how a business should invest, than its owners. 

 I’m not going to get into all the reasons these schemes frequently fail, or the distortion of investment decisions, but will address them on the liberals’ own terms: it’s just not fair. What would be fair is a system where the same rates apply to everyone without exception, even if they are progressive, and where no one could curry favors from the state. If all these exemptions and favors were eliminated, not only would there be less economic distortion, but then the rates for everyone could be lowered across the board. The Republicans have a strong argument here, provided they stick to it and don’t dole out favors themselves. Under the present system, to paraphrase Pericles, you may not be interested in government but government is interested in you. As long as exceptions and favors are done by the state, supposedly in the public interest, it forces organizations to be involved politically. This inevitably invites corruption.

 As bad as all this is on individual taxes, it is even worse when it comes to corporate taxes. Today the US has the highest corporate income taxes in the world, nominally, but exclusion and deductions effectively lower them for some who are favored. Eliminating the goodies for crony capitalists would allow rates to be significantly lowered across the board, thus encouraging more investment in this country. Again, by simply being fair, everyone would benefit. 

 But there are other interests at play besides the private sector, such as state and local government, and nonprofit organizations. Reducing, or eliminating deductions for state and local taxes usually leads to howls of protest from representatives of high tax states like New York. These concerns are, however, misplaced. New York sends far more taxes to Washington than it gets back. Thus logically every time a representative from here votes for more federal programs and taxes they are effectively voting against the interests of New York taxpayers. That is a strong argument that the Republicans in this state are unfortunately too inept to make, and thus keep losing elections. Reducing deductions for “charitable” contributions also results in protests from nonprofit organizations, who fear they might lose revenue. Never mind that wealthy donors often “contribute” via dinners and social events, they also get “naming” rights. In my view when a billionaire gets to plaster his name all over the place on something, usually in proportion to his ego, he should not get a tax benefit for it as well. Real charity is giving without expecting anything in return. People would still be charitable, it would just be on less of an industrial scale. 

 I’m not advocating eliminating any of these deductions or particular policies, but would insist than any increase in revenue be exclusively devoted to debt reduction. Beyond that, I would point out that any real reform also has to include state and local taxes, given how onerous, i.e. property taxes are for many people. I would suggest that we eliminate or drastically reduce taxes on all the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. There could be limitations and caps to avoid rewarding ostentatiousness. Instead let everything beyond these elements be taxed, most of which is elective and not essential to life. Thus, for example, we ought to instead have an entertainment tax, (take that Hollywood) which would be relatively painless, given that it would be based upon optional expenditures. No one can seriously argue that entertainment is an essential expense at present.  Furthermore, if society continued to prosper (and this should delight liberals) the list of nontaxables might even eventually be expanded to include some “social” goods, at least as long as it does not increase debt or raise taxes. It is far preferable that these things be provided and decided by individuals themselves rather than the government. That means individual choice instead of state direction. This is only a preliminary proposal, but accompanied by a rational tax system that treats everyone equally, we could reduce overall taxation, increase growth, and pay down the debt. After all, its only fair. 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

December 6, 2012 at 4:46 PM

THE ELECTION

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If the polls still show a dead heat by the end of the day, my guess is that Romney will win the election for a couple of reasons.  The polls chronically undercount Republican voters, who usually wind up running ahead of what the polls predict. Whatever undecideds are left usually break for the challenger not the incumbent. Right now both sides are putting their faith in the polls that show them running best, with a lot of wishful thinking that may or may not pan out. 

There is something incongruous in a system where after months upon months of nonstop campaigning and the expenditure of two billion dollars the race is still too close to call. As I’ve indicated in the past, we need election reform, or at the least some kind of limit on the amount of time in which campaigns can be conducted. As it stands now politicians must put far more effort into campaigning than into governing, especially at the congressional level, although this president has broken all records for the unprecedented amount of time he has spent campaigning. 

That is one of the biggest problems of this administration. He is far more comfortable campaigning with agreeable crowds than with the nuts and bolts of government, or with the engagement and political give and take that is required to get anything done, where he is totally clueless. He is patronizing and petulant because his self-regard, reinforced by those around him, vastly exceeds his actual abilities. He made little effort to work with the opposition, and when his party had full control of the congress he left crucial details to them and forced through a monstrous, costly, unpopular, and poorly conceived health care bill instead of focusing on the economy, job creation, and growth first and foremost. The result is that people are no better off than they were four years ago, and things are not getting significantly better. 

Given all that, his campaign has been devoid of substance, reliant on celebrities, and on attacking his opponent with little in the way of a positive message. He has avoided even the generally supportive mainstream media,  instead trivializing the office by going on late night television, talk  and comedy shows etc. where he only has to answer congenial softball questions. Meanwhile our standard of living is declining, and many of us who have been around awhile realize sadly that life was better in past decades, and the country we have known and loved seems to be slipping away. Granted the President is not responsible for all of this, and indeed blame goes across the board in terms of ineptitude. The problem is that he has shown no capacity to address these fundamental problems and has provided no vision for doing so in the future, and is completely lacking in leadership skills. Strictly based on performance, this election shouldn’t even be close. 

The House of Representatives will remain in Republican hands, and possibly the Senate, (although a couple of goofy candidates may have blown the latter). That means there would be stormy days ahead if there is divided government and the outlook will be dismal. On the other hand, if Romney is elected there is at least the possibility that some of these problems may be successfully addressed, we may begin to get out of debt, and business confidence will be restored. In that eventuality I believe the stock market will rise and more importantly we will see an economic boom in the years ahead. There will be major job growth, a renaissance in American industry, and rising incomes across the board. Even if you don’t care much for Republicans the choice you have is to continue the dismal present or take a chance on something better.  After four years of “charisma” it’s time for some competence. 

 

Written by georgesarant

November 5, 2012 at 5:35 AM

EGOMANIA AND POWER

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Today’s New York Times, of all places, contains an article about President Obama’s unbridled ego, his hypercompetitiveness, his high opinion of himself, and his need to dominate, even in relatively trivial pursuits. However, “he tends to overestimate his capabilities,” to put it mildly. For a long time I have felt that egomania is one of the most significant negative features of our time, an idea that will be developed in detail subsequently.

 Everything kids are taught and fed today is designed to build and reinforce “self-esteem.”  As a result, we have a population that views itself as the center of the universe, has a sense of entitlement, and often engages in obnoxious behavior as a result. Everything revives around “me,” and “I” is a term you read and hear ad nauseum. The world is viewed entirely through the prism of the self, so that everything is perceived in terms of how it affects or relates to that individual, which determines its place in the hierarchy of values. Everything is perceived in terms of how it relates to “me.” So, for example, in the case of an actor who was informed of the death of a friend, his only reaction was to say that he wasn’t feeling so good either, going on to describe a slight pain he had. But if everyone, or at least many people, go around thinking “I am special,” we wind up with things like aggressive driving and road rage when they are not given their proper due behind the wheel.

But the more severe the pathology, the more one is likely to fall off a cliff at some point, as limitations become unavoidable, and it becomes clear that one is not so special after all. When this recognition is achieved, it essentIally determines how mature a person is, and the best characters learn it sooner rather than later. But a few people go through life never having to deal with a larger reality, as everything they encounter seems to reinforce their special status and confirm their self-perception. It never registers that their situation has come about largely due to luck and they continue to perceive themselves as possessed with some special grace. The result is the kind of megalomania we see with stars and their entourages, or Presidents with their worshipful aides.
However, under such conditions contradictory information tends to get filtered out, reinforcing a sense of invincibility increasingly divorced from reality. That appears to be what is happening in the White House today, with a President who believes he is always right, the best at everything, and inherently great. He was anointed with a Nobel Prize before he even did anything. He was chosen as “the One” by millions around the world. He was validated by a fawning media, which only confirmed the inevitability of his rise. Thus it is unsurprising that he has an overabundance of confidence.
There are, however, “facts on the ground.” He is often described as “eloquent,” which only indicates how far our standards of rhetorical quality have fallen. For he is a mediocre man in a time of mediocrity. His idea of the Presidency is all appearance and ceremony rather than substance, so, for example, he left it to the congress to fashion his unpopular health plan, while he has spent his time almost continuously campaigning with agreeable crowds. When there is such a dynamic in Hollywood it is frivolous, but when coupled with real power in government it is frightening.
Due to the fact that his eminence is constantly reinforced, anything that stands in the way is heretical. Thus, his greatness should not be limited by inconvenient nuisance things like the the Supreme Court and congress, or an obsolete document like the constitution. Given this, we may be headed for catastrophe if he wins the election- not because he would be President again, but because he would feel vindicated to the point where he would feel entitled to rule by decree. He would issue proclamations and presidential orders contravening the other branches of government and possibly precipitate a constitutional crisis, resulting in impeachment proceedings. Then while our government is self-destructing the world would spin out of control; all because we have a man who is not as great as he thinks he is, but there is no one who can convince him of that fact. That is the truth of our situation today, which can only be rectified, perhaps, by the electorate.

 

Written by georgesarant

September 5, 2012 at 12:08 AM