But first . . .


I don’t believe in Santa Claus, or the other stuff, but I sure believe in Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men and Women.  Here’s wishing you incense and mirth — demyrrh at your peril — and an even better 2013.

And now . . .


Chris Hayes is the brilliant and relentlessly fair-minded host of what may be the most substantive show on television – certainly it is among the top few – “UP With Chris Hayes” Saturday and Sunday mornings from eight to ten (which is why God invented TiVo).

Full disclosure: we went to the same New York public school, decades apart; his amazing wife, Kate Shaw, worked in the Obama White House for a time; and we got to bond with the two of them over dinner on the high seas a couple of weeks ago.  That — and the afore-apotheosized smoked salmon — were the highlights of the cruise.  (Well, and the afore-swooned pat on the cheek from Joan Baez.  And did I mention the sexta-lingual guy from Metz with the world’s second largest collection of cigarette packages – 92,000 of them?)

The overarching point Chris makes in The Twilight of the Elites: The Decline of America’s Meritocracy, is that well-intentioned meritocracy leads to winners and losers . . . and the winners find ways to entrench themselves (and their sometimes less meritorious kids) and grab ever more power and wealth . . . and after a few decades the inequality becomes deeply corrosive, corrupting the political system and squeezing the middle class (who, as so cogently explained in this brief video I keep linking to, are the TRUE job creators) . . . and with the breakdown in competent, effective governance comes – in this era – our truly catastrophic inability to deal with the species-threatening climate crisis (thus far, at least, and time may already, to some degree, have run out).

Chris’s view is a bit gloomier than mine.  We agree on the problems and their gravity; but I am just chumpish or sappy enough to think that, in electing President Obama – twice now – we could, just maybe, be at the beginning of the sort of virtuous cycle we (desperately) need to get back on track.

Imagine (in this season of miracles) that within the next month Senate rules are changed to require Senators who wish to block a bill or an appointment . . . to filibuster.  To actually do it.  To stand on the floor of the Senate hour after hour explaining why it’s so important not to have anyone head the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (which has been leaderless for six years now).  Etc. That alone would likely sweep away 90% of the filibusters, while still leaving open the opportunity for a minority of Senators to block something about which they feel passionately.

And so imagine, further, that we are able to raise taxes on the best-off – and keep a robust estate tax in place on the enormously wealthy – using some of that revenue to reduce the deficit but some to invest in the infrastructure that will put people to work rebuilding our country and assuring our future shared prosperity. I could go on, but that’s the big idea: a decade or two of modestly higher taxes on the wealthy; modestly more public consumption (on things like bridges and sewage systems and dredging); modestly less private consumption (on a fourth car or a third home).

Imagine a decade or two of smart incentives that lead to energy efficiency (weatherization, the smart grid, ever-falling alternative energy prices) which leads to prosperity, energy independence, and more robust national security.

These things are possible, and with them come a growing pie — which would make compromise easier.  It’s much easier to come to agreement on who gets what when there’s more for everyone.

So a virtuous cycle is possible, I think, and may be in its early stages.  And could serve, at least somewhat, to shrink the inequality of which Chris writes, even as the rich continued to get richer — just not as fast, and not at the expense of the poor getting poorer.

But there’s a lot of repair to do.

What the right did to demonize and destroy ACORN – a worthy advocate for poor citizens – based almost entirely on misinformation, was bullying of the worst sort.

What the right have done and continue to do to destroy unions is another piece of this. And I say this as a guy who, growing up, saw unions destroy his family’s business and who thus knows that – as with most things – a balance is required. The unions were for a time too powerful (and themselves too often corrupt).  But enlightened unions are a good thing, just as enlightened corporations are a good thing. (But not “people,” and very much in need of enlightened regulation.)

Finally, what the right did to slash taxes on the millionaires and billionaires wrecked our national balance sheet and widened inequality.

Will we now, finally, have a decade or two of enlightened self-correction and rebuilding?  Of more competent, more vigorous enlightened regulation?

A good start would be redrawing our electoral districts so that moderate, centrists once again have a chance to win and thus a reason to run for office. I would argue that’s what most Democrats already are: progressives in the center or slightly left of center (we have one Socialist? and boy does he — Bernie Sanders  — ever make a lot of sense on most issues) . . . whereas,  by contrast, most Republicans – with their few moderates retiring or getting primaried out — are not centrists. The whole political landscape has shifted dramatically to the right.  Today, Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan, could not win a Republican primary.  Today, Andrew Sullivan — a lifelong conservative — says of the Republicans . . .

. . . This party, not to mince words, is unfit for government. There is no conservative party in the West — except for minor anti-immigrant neo-fascist ones in Europe — anywhere close to this level of far right extremism. And now the damage these fanatics can do is not just to their own country — was the debt ceiling debacle of 2011 not enough for them? — but to the entire world. . . . Enough. This faction and its unhinged fanaticism has no place in any advanced democracy. . . .

Whether or not they are comfortable acknowledging it, the positions of my moderate Republican friends are largely today’s Democratic positions. Welcome one and all.

And pass the plum pudding.



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