The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd and Friedman

Mr. Blow and Mr. Kristof are off today, so we’re left with the dregs.  In “Our Enemy, The Payroll Tax” the Pasty Little Putz gurgles that both parties should do everything they can to make the payroll tax holiday permanent.  He loves the idea, because then the Republicans can then start chipping away at the safety net all the while squealing that they’ve done wonderful things for the non-1%.  That screeching harpy MoDo has a question:  “But Can They Eat 50 Eggs?”  She hisses that there are two Cool Hands with a grip on the nation’s capital. The president should take some leadership lessons from the new football wunderkind.  I think her leftover turkey gravy has started to ferment, or her rolls had ergot in them…  The Moustache of Wisdom takes a look at “Morsi’s Moment” and says the latest Israeli-Hamas conflict was as much a test for Egypt as anyone.  Here’s The Putz:

We have two political parties in America, runs a saying that conservatives like to quote. One is stupid, the other is evil. And when they join forces to do something that’s both stupid and evil — well, that’s what we call “bipartisanship.”

[warning from the blogger — that link will take you to the Washington Times.  If you go there you lose 50 IQ points.  Back to The Putz:]

The payroll tax holiday that passed Congress in the winter of 2010 was a rare exception to this pessimistic rule. Cutting the payroll tax was good short-term politics for both Democrats and Republicans: it was a tax cut that liberals hoped would double as stimulus, and a boost to the middle class that conservatives could support without embracing new federal spending. But more important, it opened the door to what would be good long-term policy as well — because more than almost any feature of the American tax code, the payroll tax deserves to be pared away into extinction.

But now Washington is in danger of practicing payroll-tax bipartisanship of a more destructive sort. While the White House and Congressional Republicans wrestle over where to set income tax rates and how and whether to cut spending, the payroll tax holiday has been orphaned. Lacking noisy champions and press attention, it’s in danger of expiring at the end of the year out of political indifference.

That outcome would be unfortunate. Payroll taxes are a relic of New Deal Machiavellianism: by taking a bite of every worker’s paycheck and promising postretirement returns, Franklin Roosevelt effectively disguised Social Security as a pay-as-you-go system, even though the program actually redistributes from rich to poor and young to old. That disguise has helped keep Social Security sacrosanct — hailed by Democrats because it protects the poor and backed by Republicans as a reward for steady work.

But the costs of this disguise have grown too great to bear. Whatever its past political advantages, the payroll tax now imposes an unnecessary burden on a stagnating economy. In an era of mass unemployment, mediocre wage growth and weak mobility from the bottom of the income ladder, it makes no sense to finance our retirement system with a tax that falls directly on wages and hiring and imposes particular burdens on small business and the working class.

What’s more, the payroll tax as it exists today can’t cover the program’s projected liabilities anyway, and the pay-as-you-go myth stands in the way of the changes required to keep Social Security solvent. All of the components of a sensible Social Security reform — means-testing for wealthier beneficiaries, changing the way benefits adjust for inflation, a slow increase in the retirement age — become easier if the program is treated as normal safety-net spending rather than an untouchable entitlement with a dedicated funding stream.

By cutting the tax rate and promising to make up the difference out of general revenue, the payroll tax holiday took a big step in this direction — and letting it expire would take a big step back. Republicans have every reason to recognize this reality: their long-term size-of-government goals require Social Security reform, and the illusions fostered by the payroll tax are an obstacle — originally created by their political enemies! — to any restraint in what the program spends.

Instead, a mix of ideology and cynicism has tilted Republicans against the payroll tax cut. The party’s ideologues regard the issue as a distraction from the more important debate over income taxes, and some of them fret, à la Mitt Romney with the “47 percent,” about taking too many Americans off the tax rolls. The party’s cynics, meanwhile, have seized on the opportunity to imitate liberal scare campaigns on Social Security, and posture as staunch defenders of the retirement status quo.

It’s been left to a few prominent Democrats, including Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, to make the case for letting the holiday continue. This is a positive sign for liberalism, since it suggests a preference for middle-class paychecks over middle-class entitlements, and a willingness to recognize that the ideals of work and thrift and upward mobility aren’t necessarily well served by the way we tax and spend today.

It will be a discouraging sign for conservatism if these Democrats don’t find Republican allies. Nothing cost the Republican Party more dearly in the last election than the sense that the party didn’t care about the struggles of the middle class. The payroll tax cut is addressed directly to those struggles — and it’s also a case where the short-term interests of Americans living paycheck to paycheck align with the long-term conservative interest in entitlement reform.

That combination doesn’t often come around. So there is only one question conservatives should be asking about the payroll tax holiday: How do we make it permanent?

I love how they keep calling Social Security an “entitlement.”  Yeah, you stupid putz, I’m “entitled” to it because I paid into it for about 49 years.  Asshole.  Here’s MoDo, FSM help us:

The two electrifying rookies exploded onto the scene with killer smiles, undeniable gifts, an affinity for superheroes, poise beyond their years and the ability to play at top form when it’s all on the line. Both stay so calm under pressure that they have evoked comparisons to Cool Hand Luke.

The capital of winning and losing now revolves around two natural-born world shakers: the president of the United States and the quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Only one of them, however, is old enough to appreciate the compliment of being compared to Paul Newman’s character in the 1967 classic prison drama “Cool Hand Luke.”

   “Coach said you’re just like Cool Hand Luke,” a reporter said to Robert Griffin III, after the Baylor graduate and Heisman Trophy winner returned home to Texas on Thanksgiving and scored four touchdowns to lasso the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins’ biggest rival. “Do you know who Cool Hand Luke is?”

   The 22-year-old Griffin did not. But he laughed, shaking his braids held back with a silver headband, and observed, “He must be pretty cool.”

   RGIII has made the Redskins vibrant again and coalesced the city around football. The Redskins have only a 5-6 record — that was the first Thanksgiving game the team had won since 1973 —  but the city has gone wild for the charismatic Griffin, who is as fleet on the field as an unopposed incumbent with a super PAC.

  Comparing him favorably with the “impossibly wasteful” Tony Romo, The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wrote that RGIII is the “one with flash and beauty, and substance, and urgency.” He is having less a rookie season, The Post noted, than a coronation.

Even the crowd at Cowboys Stadium could not resist, chanting “RGIII!” and booing their own team off the field at halftime. “The most valuable player in the entire National Football League,” declared Jimmy Johnson, the former Cowboys coach, on the Fox halftime show.

 My family of rabid Redskins fans stopped talking to me about football back in the 70s, when they took me to a game and I didn’t recognize Roger Staubach. So they’re stunned now at my sudden desire to dissect RGIII’s mastery of the bootleg.

His passes thrill, and his partnership with another unpretentious rookie, the compact but fierce running back Alfred Morris, dazzles. But what is really endearing is his spirit: a zeal to make every play count, a work ethic and self-effacing charm that has everyone rooting for him, a leadership style that causes teammates to lift their games. You can see RGIII going up and down the sidelines patting his teammates for encouragement. And in a rare move, the team voted to make the rookie quarterback a captain.

  In a sports world dimmed by fallen heroes like Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong, RGIII offers values on and off the field that make us feel that it’s O.K. to believe again.

   The Bears fan in the White House has talked about inviting RGIII (who got his degree in political science) over for a basketball game, as long as they are on the same team. The president should take the opportunity to absorb some leadership lessons from the new wunderkind.

  While Obama has developed an unnerving and enervating pattern of going into a prewin slump — as in New Hampshire and Texas in the 2008 primaries or the first debate with Mitt Romney — RGIII never allows his batteries to run down while he’s playing. His parents were Army sergeants — he was born in Okinawa, Japan, and his father served in Iraq — who imbued their son with the ethos of hard work and discipline. The only time Griffin drooped was when he got a concussion in the game against Atlanta.

  While Obama prefers to preen as the man alone in the arena — keeping other pols at a distance on stage, parsimoniously handing out thanks and failing to mention his party or top surrogate Bill Clinton in his last victory speech — RGIII never passes up a chance to share credit.

  While Obama — who has had a failure to communicate — finds media a bother, Griffin has an easy charm with the press. He never shows aggrievement.

  While Obama gets tangled up in his head — trying to decide if he’s too noble to play politics or if spending some evenings schmoozing with pols and flattering them to further his agenda will leave him too depleted — RGIII keeps the joy, intensity and bonhomie in his game.

  As a Democratic senator recently told me: “If only the president would have us over to the White House sometimes and talk to us, it could really help. When Bill Clinton called and asked if he could have my vote, I was more prone to do it because we had developed a rapport.”

  Let’s hope that as Barry watches Robert, he’ll learn that stunning opponents with big plays, and then building on that excitement, can energize his teammates, scare his opponents and lead to big wins.

I don’t follow feetsball, so I have no idea what she’s babbling about, but I do think I’ve heard that her Redskins are about as likely to be in any post-season games as I am.  Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

The Israeli-Hamas miniwar last week was the first test of the post-Arab awakening order in the Middle East. Hamas, by getting embroiled in a missile duel with Israel and then calling on Arab countries for support, particularly Egypt, was testing Cairo as much as Israel. And the question Hamas was posing to Egyptians was simple: Did Egypt have a democratic revolution last year to become more like Iran or more like China? In other words, is Egypt ready to sacrifice the Camp David peace, U.S. aid and economic development to support Hamas’s radical, pro-Iranian agenda, or not?

The answer from Cairo was no. President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party did not want to get dragged into a total breach with Israel on behalf of Hamas, and instead threw Egypt’s weight into mediating a cease-fire. But that raises an even more intriguing question going forward — whether Morsi, having shown himself, for the moment, to prefer being more Deng Xiaoping than Ayatollah Khomeini, has any inclination to also be Anwar Sadat, that is, to use his clout to forge an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough so that Egypt isn’t caught in this vice again.

It is impossible not to be tantalized by how much leverage Morsi could wield in the peace process, if he ever chose to engage Israel. Precisely because he represents the Muslim Brotherhood, the vanguard of Arab Islam, and precisely because he was democratically elected, if Morsi threw his weight behind an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, it would be so much more valuable to Israel than the cold peace that Sadat delivered and Hosni Mubarak maintained. Sadat offered Israelis peace with the Egyptian state. Morsi could offer Israel peace with the Egyptian people and, through them, with the Muslim world beyond.

Ironically, though, all of this would depend on Morsi not becoming a dictator like Mubarak, but on him remaining a legitimately elected president, truly representing the Egyptian people. That is now in doubt given Morsi’s very troubling power grab last week and the violent response from the Egyptian street. President Obama has to be careful not to sell out Egyptian democracy for quiet between Israel and Egypt and Hamas. We tried that under Mubarak. It didn’t end well.

No doubt Morsi’s price for engaging with Israel would be the Arab Peace Initiative — full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, save for mutually agreed-upon land swaps, and some return of refugees, in return for full normalized relations. If Morsi advanced such a proposal in direct talks with Israelis, he could single-handedly revive the Israeli peace camp.

Do I expect that? No more than I expect to win the lottery. The Muslim Brotherhood has long hated the Jewish state, as well as political and religious pluralism and feminism. Therefore, here’s what I do expect: More trouble between Israel and Hamas that will constantly threaten to drag in Egypt. Hamas is a shameful organization. It subordinates the interests of the Palestinian people to Iran (and earlier to Syria), which wants Hamas to do everything it can to make a two-state solution impossible, because that will lock Israel into a permanent death grip on the West Bank, which will be the undoing of the Jewish democracy and will distract the world from Iran’s and Syria’s murderous behaviors.

Israel left all of Gaza in 2005, and Hamas had a choice: It could recognize Israel, have an open border and import computers, or it could continue to deny Israel’s existence, keep the border sealed, and smuggle in rockets. It chose rockets over computers. With each rocket that lands near Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, another Israeli says, “How can we possibly let go of the West Bank and risk our airport being shut down?” That is just what Hamas and Iran want — a permanent, grinding, democracy-eroding, legitimacy-destroying, globally isolating Israeli occupation of the West Bank — and they are very happy to use the Palestinian people as a human sacrifice for that goal.

The best way for Israel to undercut Hamas is by empowering the secular Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank to gain greater independence and build a thriving economy, so every Palestinian can compare which strategy works best: working with Israel or against Israel. This Israeli government has failed to do that. It is so shortsighted. But Hamas makes it easy for Israel to get away with that by ignoring what we know from history: that whoever makes the Israeli silent majority feel morally insecure about occupation, but strategically secure in Israel, wins. After Sadat flew to Jerusalem, Israelis knew there was no way morally that they could hold onto the Sinai and strategically they no longer felt the need. When King Hussein of Jordan and Yasir Arafat did the same, they each got land back. Today, nothing makes Israelis feel more strategically insecure and morally secure with occupation than Hamas’s stupid rocket attacks, even after Israel has withdrawn.

So, as you can see, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Egyptian democracy and the U.S.-Israel-Arab struggle with Iran and Syria are now all intertwined. Smart, courageous leadership today could defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, advance Egyptian democracy and isolate the Iranian, Syrian and Hamas regimes. Weak or reckless leadership will empower all three. This is a big moment.



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