Our recent comments at the New York Times include President Obama’s personality and governance, whether the anti-choice movement is feminist, whether inequality is due to meritocracy, deficit scolds, and childhood poverty. (More)

deficit hawks

In response to Maureen Dowd’s column Takes One to Tango, we challenged Ms. Dowd’s argument that President Obama has failed to achieve legislative victories because he has purportedly taken a “standoffish” approach to governance:

Enough with the silly claims that President Obama would be more successful if he would only engage in more of the backslapping, hobnobbing, and schmoozing that far too many in the DC chattering classes think can replace governance.

For one thing, the implication that President Obama has gotten little done is simply false. Rescuing the economy from a Depression, health care reform, DADT repeal, bringing our troops home from Iraq, doubling fuel efficiency standards to 54.5mpg by 2025, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, two good Supreme Court appointments, etc. are nothing to sneeze at.

Second, the problem in D.C. is not that President Obama is standoffish. It is that the GOP has been overrun by a group of crazies who are willing to imperil our nation’s credit rating, keep unemployment high, abuse Senate filibuster rules, and oppose things they had supported just a few years ago, all in an attempt to try to defeat President Obama.

For the past four years, the GOP has trafficked in birtherism, falsely claimed that President Obama is a socialist Muslim, spread lies about death panels, and most recently threatened impeachment over the possibility of mild steps to reduce gun violence. Yet somehow the situation in D.C. can be blamed on President Obama’s personality??? The mind boggles.

In response to Ross Douthat’s column Divided by Abortion, United by Feminism, we rejected Mr. Douthat’s attempt to portray anti-choice activists as feminists:

To call anti-choice activists “feminists” is to remove all meaning from that word.

Feminism is about providing women with the same choices and opportunities around education, careers, domestic affairs, and reproductive issues that men have always had. The anti-choice movement is about removing, through the hand of intrusive government, women’s ability to make those choices with regards to reproductive issues. The resulting impact is not only to force women to carry a pregnancy to term (even, in the fantasies of many anti-choicers, in the case of rape and incest) but would often be curbing women’s choices with regards to all those other areas of life, as reproductive freedom is critical to women having freedom with regards to education, careers, etc.

If your religion or personal values teach you that abortion is immoral, then don’t have one. In a pluralistic, secular society such as ours, however, you shouldn’t be trying to limit the freedom of everyone else to make that decision and choice for themselves. But, if you are going to impose that sort of restrictive, anti-choice agenda on the rest of us, please at least have the decency to not pretend like doing so is part of feminism.

In response to David Brooks’ column The Great Migration, we disputed Mr. Brooks’ contention that meritocracy causes widening inequality:

Mr. Brooks, if you really think that economic inequality is caused by meritocracy, you need to get out of your $3.95 million mansion more. Yes, personal initiative, skill, and talent play a significant role in success. But we also have a system that actively benefits the wealthy and well-connected and closes out people of less economic means.

Examples of how this system benefits the wealthy and closes out the poor and working class (and, increasingly, the middle class), abound. The “war on drugs,” which imprisons poor people, but not the wealthy, for non-violent drug use, has caused millions of children to grow up with only one parent. Our public school systems are great in wealthy neighborhoods, but are under-resourced elsewhere. The wealthy have shipped good jobs overseas, leaving us with low-wage, low-benefit McJobs. And while affirmative action gets attacked endlessly, affirmative action for wealthy alumni continues unabated.

Yes, the current agenda that President Obama has managed to get through Congress is inadequate to address inequality. But the solution is a more progressive economic agenda of increased minimum wages, restoring collective bargaining, progressive taxation, adequate funding of public schools and colleges, etc. But that’s not anti-meritocracy. They simply help counteract all the ways that our society helps the wealthy and well-connected get ahead.

In response to Paul Krugman’s column Deficit Hawks Down, we urged caution before we declare political victory over the deficit hysteria that the deficit scolds have peddled for the past few years:

I agree that there has definitely been a sense that deficit hysteria is fading and the deficit scolds are losing a bit of their agenda setting power. But let’s be cautious about celebrating too quickly.

The reality is that the deficit scolds still have tons of well-heeled backers with vested economic interests in using deficit hysteria to achieve their ideological goals of ending earned benefits programs, slashing the safety net, and cutting taxes for the wealthy. The deficit scolds still have an incredulous media that is happy to parrot their ridiculousness, at least whenever a Democrat is President. Far too many elected officials – mostly Republicans, but also a few too many “centrist” Democrats – see fiscal scolding as a way to gain credibility and coverage from the chattering classes. And far too many Americans have been hoodwinked into thinking that deficits are an immediate problem that must be solved through austerity.

So, Mr. Krugman, please continue the drumbeat against the deficit scolds. Because the worst thing we could do for both the economy and our nation’s fiscal future right now is to enact the types of failed austerity policies that the deficit scolds so actively promote.

In response to Nick Kristof’s column For Obama’s Second Term, Start Here, we offered some additional policy areas that President Obama could focus on to help provide a path out of childhood poverty:

Increased funding of early intervention and education programs for young children are certainly good ideas for helping to break the cycle of poverty and given young children a chance in life. Here are three other things we can do:

Increase funding for lead removal. A growing body of science shows that the removal of lead from gasoline and the removal of lead paint from houses has played a key role in the dramatic drop in crime and increase in educational attainment that has occurred throughout the US over the past 30 years. More work remains to be done, however, as many houses, especially in older and poorer neighborhoods throughout the country, still have lead paint that is impairing childrens’ development. Every dollar spent on lead paint removal is estimated to save $17 to $221 in societal costs. But the fiscal scolds have succeeded in slashing the CDCs lead paint prevention budget from $29 million to $2 million for 2013.

Improve wages and working conditions in low-wage industries. Parents would be more able to provide their children with opportunity if jobs paid enough to make ends meet. Instead, our economy is flooded with McJobs and the always low wages at Wal-mart.

End the “war on drugs,” which is mostly a war on poor men. Children would be more likely to have two parents if we weren’t throwing so many of those parents in jail for non-violent offenses.