Tag Archives: Sarah Palin

Red States Living on Federal Money

Here is a new article with data showing a direct correlation between how GOP leaning a state is and how much federal money it sucks down. This follows up on my posts on this very topic.

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Sarah Palin Gets Schooled on Economics

Alan Blinder wrote a column in Monday’s Wall Street Journal defending the Federal Reserve’s new quantitative easing (QE) policy. This policy has come under attack from many directions, including foreign ministers (worried about declines in the dollar) and Republicans (worried about inflation). In the latter camp was Sarah Palin, who criticized the policy, and then got her facts wrong about inflation, and then misquoted the Journal to defend herself.

Blinder is an economics professor at Princeton, and he takes a professor’s approach to the issue, explaining that the current bout of QE is pretty much the same as what the Fed normally does (printing money to buy short term Treasury bills), except that this time the Fed is buying long term securities. Blinder also notes that inflation is currently below the Fed’s target rate of 1.5-2%, so we have a ways to go before inflation becomes a problem, and the Fed can unwind this policy well before inflation gets out of hand.

Now some economists tend liberal, and some tend conservative, and Blinder is on the liberal site of the line, although not nearly as liberal as Paul Krugman. Yes, he also defends Keynes in the same column, and points out that the Republican phrase “job killing spending” is ridiculous. But Blinder is also a highly respected economist and co-author of one of the standard introductory texts, which I used in college. So if I had to choose who to believe on the likely effects of a Federal Reserve policy, I would choose Alan Blinder over Sarah Palin every time.

Alaska Loves Federal Money

Yesterday I posted about how Alaska politicians talk a big game about wanting the federal government to leave them alone, but in reality they suck down more federal money than any other state. Having just spent a week in Alaska, I brought some photographic evidence of our biggest state’s big appetite for taxpayer money.

Here is the beginning of a beautifully built and maintained trail at the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau. You can see that construction of the trail, which must have employed several people to cut brush and grade the path, was paid for by the federal stimulus package. As for the big Bob Marley joint depicted on the sign….it’s unclear if federal dollars paid for that.

Trail paid for by US taxpayers

In Gustavus, a small town which is the gateway to Glacier Bay, a brand new $20 million dock is being built with federal stimulus dollars. I spoke with the owner of my hotel and with the pilot of my whale watching boat, and both said that the dock was completely unnecessary. But it was employing a whole bunch of skilled laborers, so many that they had to come in from Juneau, since Gustavus didn’t have that many construction workers.

The new dock at Gustavus

Here is a photo of all the pickups and SUVs owned by the people working on the dock. Again, these are local workers being paid with US taxpayer dollars.

Construction worker trucks

I have no problem with stimulus dollars paying people to build paths and docks; that is how a government stimulus package works. The government injects money into the system to boost employment and spending.  My problem is with a state that talks about how it doesn’t believe in the stimulus or in federal help at all while it continues to take as much federal money as it can.

Voters are Ill-informed; Politicians are Hypocrites

The NY Times recently ran an article about Alaska, which attracted my attention since I was planning a vacation to that giant state (in fact, I am drafting this entry on my flight to Anchorage). But this article wasn’t about fishing, or the awesome glaciers, or how to avoid being eaten by bears. No, this article was about the irony of Alaska being the home of such anti-government fervor (Sarah Palin’s small government views are pretty representative of her home state) while at the same time being the largest recipient of federal stimulus money.

For example, Alaska state representative Carl Gatto called to roll back the federal government’s “entire socialistic experiment in federal hegemony.” Yet he also celebrated that “for every $1 we give them in taxes for highways, they give us back $5.76.”  Jay Ramras, another state rep, embodied the dichotomy in a single quote: “If you want to feed us federal money like it’s a narcotic and make the state into a junkie of the U.S. Treasury, O.K.,” he allows. “But we would like to be an Emersonian Alaska and just get control of our resources.”

Of course, Alaska is not alone in this irony. There is a strong correlation between conservative states talking a big game about “government out of our business” while sucking aggressively at the federal teat. This map shows how red states take more than they give, and this chart shows traditionally republican states leading the way in receiving more federal dollars than they pay in taxes. And here is a brand new map from the NY Times based on census data.

So how do we explain this paradox? I suppose it could simply be the essential greed of humanity, people feeling that they are justified in taking as much as they can while giving as little as possible. Or it could be a canny political move, trying to drain the coffers of the government in order to force it to shrink, sort of a “starve the beast” movement at the grass roots level. But I don’t think either of those explanations fly. I think, instead, that the average voter doesn’t even make the connection between small government and services provided, between taxes paid and resources received. When voters say “don’t tax me” while taking a bridge paid by other citizen’s taxes, they don’t see the irony because they don’t even realize that taxes are what pay for bridges. See this piece by James Kwak on how the whole tax & service thing works, and this piece by David Sirota on how American voters seem to lack the ability to remember what policies worked or didn’t work in the past.

The politicians, on the other hand, who vote for these policies, like Carl Gatto and Jay Ramras from the NY Times article, or Ted Stevens, a major obtainer of federal dollars for the state, should actually understand how taxes and services are related. I mean, they are professional legislators, and this is a basic part of government budgeting. They are not ignorant, like the voters; they’re just hypocritical, saying and doing whatever they must to get reelected. They recognize the irony in calling for lower taxes while trumpeting the bacon they bring home from Washington…they just don’t care. They use that irony to cynically take advantage of the electorate’s lack of understanding, and it gets them elected year after year.

I just returned from a week in Alaska, where I saw this phenomenon in action multiple times. There will be follow-on posts on this topic.

Slate Magazine vs. Sarah Palin

I had pretty much forgotten about Sarah Palin, or started to ignore the news items about her, and I had assumed that maybe she was holed up learning about policy or facts. But then Slate runs an article trying to analyze how she might come up with some of the wacky stuff  she says.  I read a quote like the one below, and it’s hard to see the issue as one of policy differences:

“Oil and coal? Of course, it’s a fungible commodity and they don’t flag, you know, the molecules, where it’s going and where it’s not. … So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it’s Americans that get stuck to holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here.”

I’m sorry, but regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, that makes no sense. Take Newt Gingrich: he is deeply conservative and I deeply disagree with him, but that guy could talk for a week straight and he would never say anything as idiotic as the Palin quote above. I want to be generous and assume that Palin isn’t stupid; that she just uses folksy idioms and is slightly misinformed. But I read what she says, I hear about the “refudiates”  and that generosity is hard to find. Can someone help me solve this conundrum?

Politics and Culture, Part 1

Cultural critic Lee Siegel wrote a great article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal describing how Republicans created the culture wars and continue to win them because Democrats don’t even understand the game they are playing. I’ll quickly summarize his argument, but strongly encourage you to read the article.

Siegel claims that Republicans view culture as something lived: your religion, your family or your sexual preferences. Liberals look at culture as something separate from daily life, something to be dipped into (e.g. opera), which means that they discuss policies as something distinct from culture. Republicans don’t even need to discuss policies…they just discuss culture, which, because it is personal and emotional, captures people’s hearts in a way that policy cannot. Culture trumps policy. As long as Democrats are talking about economic policies while Republicans are talking about a lived culture, Siegel states, Democrats will lose.

In general, I find Siegel’s argument fairly compelling. It explains why hugely qualified Democrats (Al Gore) lose to clearly unqualified Republicans (George W. Bush).  It helps explain how Bill Clinton (an exceptional Democrat in that he came across as cultural more than policy-driven) beat George H.W. Bush (who was more wonk than culture warrior). It explains the dynamic that Thomas Frank described in What’s the Matter with Kansas. And as a committed liberal, I find Siegel’s piece profoundly disturbing, because the process he describes seems to be getting more and more severe.

However, I am hoping that by unpacking some of Spiegel’s ideas, we might be able to find some ways that Democrats can integrate policy with culture and turn this dynamic to our advantage.

In the article Siegel discusses “contemporary democracy’s leveling maw.” This leveling is a key piece that Siegel touches on repeatedly but rarely addresses explicitly. He talks about how McCain “is not above us,” contrasting that with the three elite intellectuals (Gore, Kerry and Obama) the Democrats have nominated in the last three elections.

He touches on this again by discussing the growth in “vicariousness….We love people who make it possible for us to imagine inhabiting their lives.” He ties this to the growth in memoirs of regular people (e.g. James Frey); we want our lives glamorized just as the authors’ are.

Siegel combines the leveling and the vicariousness to explain Sarah Palin’s appeal. “Gov. Palin’s blatant struggles with inadequacy serve as proof of her potential to lead. She wins the vicariousness sweepstakes hands down.” But is this really where we want America to head? Where a person’s inadequate resume and messy personal life are actually their selling points? This is a problem. I don’t think society wants a race to the bottom, or even the middle, in its leaders. The person running the country should excel, rather than be average.

Finally, Siegel notes that “heartland conservatism” has a trope of “ordeal and humiliation,” in which an authority figure must be humbled before he can lead again. McCain’s torture in a POW camp leaves him pre-humiliated and thus perfectly positioned. This trope fits the classic hero pattern of descent and rebirth, which, as James Frazer and Carl Jung pointed out, is among the most common in human society. Republicans are thus able to take advantage of a very powerful mythology.

Tomorrow: what Democrats can do

Lipstick on a Pig

The Republicans are now calling Barack Obama sexist for using the phrase “lipstick on a pig,” claiming that he is subtly referencing Sarah Palin’s “pitbull with lipstick” laugh line during the Republican convention. This isn’t going to work. This CAN’T work. It’s dishonest and hypocritical and the American public is not that stupid.

Just because the McCain spin machine makes their claim repeatedly does not make it true. People will see through this ridiculous sham.