After much consideration, The Rational Middle will be switching to a completely donor-supported business model. No more advertising (with the notable exception of my upcoming book) will be allowed on these pages. I have danced the dance for too long; if the ads don’t match my readers, I have little chance of being paid. However, if I indulge in ad screening, I am exercising an editorial censorship that I have committed to avoid. Loyal readers will know my comment policy well; so long as it isn’t crude or abusive, it will stand (whilst I reserve the right to comment on it). Should the commercials that support the forum be any different?
At the risk of sounding like a PBS pledge-drive (where are Rick Steves and Burt Wolf when you need them), this move could not be made without the support of those who have been willing (and in these difficult times, able) to donate. I hope to continue to earn your financial support, but there is another kind of support at least as important. Nothing drives this process as resolutely as your comments and your efforts to share this blog. Your efforts have moved articles to the top of social media platforms, and gained this space a readership beyond my wildest dreams. More so even than money, your conversation (regardless of agreement) and your tireless promotion of this space are contributions beyond value. It has become something of a farce in our society, the notion of new media, but regular readers have the capacity to elevate these little spots to places barely dreamed.
In the summer of 2009, perhaps a dozen people read this blog from time to time. Friends and family were the only members of The Rational Middle for some months. I can recall wondering if this idea would ever grow into something worth the time invested. I wondered whether I would ever get more than friends and family to read these sometimes pedestrian essays. Tens of thousands of readers later, I have learned that this blog has not grown beyond friends and family, the list of friends and family have grown with this blog. To all of you; the liberals with whom I share a common point of view, and the conservatives with whom I may share only a love of country, I thank you. (And yes, even you libertarians!) There are many more important sites on the web (and perhaps thousands with better writing), but this space is ours.
Thanks to you, The Rational Middle is listening…
We saw, supposedly, a budget cutting smack-down in the 2010 midterms. The talking heads and deficit hawks have said repeatedly that the heavy Democratic losses were a rejection of heavy spending, a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s “weak” job-creation, and a massive dose of humble pie. We were told that the biggest threats to our nation were government spending and government debt. The Tea Party, we were promised, had the solutions.
This song sounds strangely familiar. Without overindulging in policy debates previously covered in this space ad-nauseum, the initial legislative priorities of the Tea-publicans don’t seem to have much to do with the problems at large. In the Congress, and in state houses across the nation, these folks seem Hell-bent on addressing Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and union-busting. Efforts at ending “reckless spending” have been exclusively (yes, exclusively) limited to cutting salaries and benefits for working Americans, attacking education, trimming indigent health care, bludgeoning Sesame Street, putting the cuffs on law enforcement, and of course, making the homes of the poor a little colder next winter.
I have always harbored a vague suspicion about economic populism. Any idea that has the capacity to unite the Tea Party and union activists is more than a little unsettling. But populism is, well, popular. The notions that drive the ideology have a general appeal that, like much of today’s politics, come from the general direction of the gut rather than the brain. What makes the idea so especially popular, however, is that today’s media is unable to see through the nonsense and report the truth.
If it sounds like I am raising an alarm on populism, it is because I am. The guiding principles of populism, on their own, pose a real danger to the economy of the United States. Taken together, the guiding principles of populism could bring our economy down. Is it really that bad? Is populism really that dangerous? Yes. Populism is about vanity, simplicity, and the pride of the working class perverted for power. Happily, the philosophy is easily set aside, and is not linked to either the Republicans or the Democrats.
Much of the world we know is defined by its mythology, and politics is no different. Perhaps my favorite bit floating around the ether goes something like this; “The recession was caused by greedy Americans who make too much money and demand unsustainable benefits, while producing little of value. These people are not Wall Street brokers or big ticket bankers.” That’s right friends, the enemies of all that is good and wholesome, apple pie and baseball, are no longer poor people with no prospects and less work ethic. Step right up into the modern world, where working folks who have solid wages and benefits are the bad guys.
This brave new world we live has a really neat new math to power it as well. It would have to though, wouldn’t it? Basic arithmetic just doesn’t support the common contention, in both conservative thought and a brain dead national media, that purposely deflating wages would be the economic wonder drug that works wonders. The basic arguments that conservatives seem to be making on this subject are difficult enough to swallow, but the follow up arguments they are forced to make when their math breaks down are priceless. This isn’t high powered stuff here either, this is basic arithmetic…I promise.
The other day I was browsing the headlines on my homepage when my attention was caught by a stunning pronouncement; “Ronald Reagan Restored Faith in America“. The singular fact of an opinion piece given a banner headline is, regardless of the ideological leanings, a major point in the decline of American democracy. But beyond the media commentary, the piece intrigued me. The writer of the column, Ed Rollins, is one of the few political operators still in the game who worked for our 40th President. And while I have no major issues with someone writing from a position of love and loyalty, the tenor of the column, and the tone of today’s political debate, raise some interesting questions.
The notions of American pride, faith in the nation, and American exceptionalism are common themes in today’s often vapid political conversation. Why, after all, talk about substantive policy points when you can hammer away with sexy and easy to digest soundbites? But this issue has some compelling and relevant points worth considering that depart from the quantitative discussions I normally embrace. What does it mean, for example, to believe in American exceptionalism? What does it say about a nation, or a subset within the citizenry of a nation, that “faith” needed to be restored? How far from the reality of President Ronald Reagan does the mythology of Saint Ronnie the Gipper reside?
We the people support democracy. We the people support individual rights. We the people are deeply committed to the twin concepts of liberty and freedom. We the people believe that a world carved in our image will be a better world. We the people, secure in our shared history and insulated from the bloodletting that served as the crucible of our democracy, have never had any real idea of how to bring these dreams to reality in a diverse and often dangerous world. And so we are now confronted with our inability to turn dreams into practical actions by the inconvenient political drama that is Egypt.
We should, in the spirit of our own founding documents, rally to the aid of those rising against Hosni Mubarak. He is a dictator in the most basic and pure definition. Those millions who have conducted mostly peaceful protests over the last week, represent an oppressed majority clamoring for self-representation. But we are forced to play a dangerous game of revolutionary chicken; we can’t swerve until we know which side will win. President Obama, by the accounts of the overwhelming bulk of foreign policy experts not employed by Fox News, has played the game to near perfection…so far. But this won’t be the last game that this President, or any President, will have to play. The Egypt Paradox is already warming up in a number of other countries.