Our Democracy Is at Stake

Op-Ed Columnist

Our Democracy Is at Stake

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Published: October 1, 2013 310 Comments

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.

This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ” Continue reading “Our Democracy Is at Stake”

Analysis: Next fiscal fight shifts focus to spending cuts

Analysis: Next fiscal fight shifts focus to spending cuts

Shebeko//Shutterstock.com

Nearly everyone views the year-end fiscal-cliff fight as a debacle, but once that is accepted as a given, opinions tend to diverge. While one can say that the vast majority of Bush-era tax cuts were not just extended but made permanent—something that Republicans and conservatives should like—there were effectively no spending cuts, and in no meaningful way were entitlements trimmed or reformed.

People on either side could view the cup as either half-full or half-empty. But as a practical matter, the only area where the Left caved was to pick whom not to raise taxes on, giving in by allowing the definition of “middle class” to rise to $400,000 in annual income ($450,000 for a family), with the higher rates kicking in for income above that level. If only a family earning almost half-a-million dollars a year really were middle class. Other key provisions set the estate-tax rate at 40 percent (it was scheduled to rise from 35 to 55 percent), with an exemption on the first $5 million; created solutions for the alternative minimum tax and the “doc fix”; and increased the capital-gains rate from 15 to 20 percent. Continue reading “Analysis: Next fiscal fight shifts focus to spending cuts”

Obama’s a Good Bet

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Obama’s a Good Bet

By this time next week, there should be enough national and state-level polling data to present a pretty clear picture of where this election stands, post-Labor Day and after whatever bounces the candidates may have gotten from the conventions. But we have seen enough data in recent weeks to draw some preliminary conclusions about the contests for the White House, the Senate, and, to a lesser extent, the House.

The presidential race is still close and, in a tight election, either candidate can win. Any number of events, not the least of which are debates, campaign gaffes, and domestic or international developments, could put President Obama or Mitt Romney over the top. Although it is pretty clear that Obama has an edge over Romney in national and swing-state polling, the size of his advantage remains in doubt. Every event or development should be judged on whether it might change the path of this election.

My view is that if Obama is reelected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign; if Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign. This economy is an enormous millstone around Obama’s neck, yet he and his campaign have managed to secure the upper hand—albeit with a very tenuous grip. At the same time, despite an enormous advantage that the sluggish economy and the sentiment for change affords him, Romney and his campaign, to an astonishing degree, seem to have squandered too many opportunities and undermined his chances of winning. Continue reading “Obama’s a Good Bet”