Commentary

For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses.

Guess which side has been winning.

Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as "trickle down economics." Now low taxes on the rich -- even the dead rich -- are national policy.

Some people are grousing about how most of Rhode Island doesn’t get to vote for the House speaker, though he’s considered the state’s most powerful politician.

But lawmakers elect their leaders in Congress and other state legislatures. So there’s nothing unusual about the fact that new Democratic House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello now wields more power than if he were simply representing part of Cranston.

Our political class is feuding about whether Rep. Paul Ryan is a racist. Rather than fearing that this donnybrook degrades political discourse, we should welcome it.

Ryan sparked the controversy when he blamed poverty on “a tailspin of culture” in our “inner cities,” while  invoking for support Charles Murray, notorious for postulating the genetic inferiority of blacks. Within hours, Rep. Barbara Lee rebuked Ryan for launching “a thinly veiled racial attack.”

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New York is on the cusp of adopting a campaign finance reform that would amplify small donations with matching funds, reducing the power of big special interest money over the state's politics. It would also allow New Yorkers to claim the mantle of the first state to take back their democracy in the era of Citizens United and unprecedented campaign spending.

But adopting Fair Elections would accomplish something else badly needed in our democracy: more diverse representation in our political leadership.

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

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For decades, rapid economic growth has been the norm for developed countries. An educated workforce, a large population boom, major technological advances, and abundant fossil fuels were the key components of growth, generating substantial and broadly distributed increases in standards of living in many countries. We have grown so used to such growth that we inevitably view it as a panacea for a host of economic ills, whether it's a deep recession or income inequality.

We now understand, however, that the postwar growth paradigm is not environmentally sustainable.

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When Paul Ryan talked about a "real culture problem" in "our inner cities in particular"this week, he wasn't the first American politician to be slammed for using racially coded language to get a point across. Far from it.

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Paul Ryan triggered a firestorm of recrimination this week. Speaking recently on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio program, the Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

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Economist Kenneth Boulding famously said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” But it's not just economists who believe that anymore. Such ideas are still widely accepted by thought leaders, journalists, and politicians who, together, form a strong consensus that the U.S. recovery should be bolstered by natural gas exploration and production.

"Obamacare." The right loves to hammer the Affordable Care Act with this tagline, and even the rest of us tend to us it. But we should not, for the label works at least partly as a racial provocation.