Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Retracing Steinbecks Footsteps: America's Homeless Middle-Class

"The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it." John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck's historic novel chronicles the harrowing journey of the Joad family after they are forced to leave their home in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Trapped by the Dust Bowl, their poverty and the social injustices of the time, they leave Oklahoma City and travel west along Route 66 to Bakersfield, California - looking for jobs, justice, land, and a little dignity for good measure.

BBC Newsnight Economic Editor Paul Mason decided to retrace the Joads' route along the Mother Road. Of course, I-40 has replaced Route 66, but the forlorn two-lane highway of blues legend and folklore weaves along side the interstate. And this Brit has some choice observations about our American culture - or sub-culture. This article is basically a transcript of his very excellent film that is included in his article and which has a lot more color but can't be embedded.

Mason writes that with the Southwest in the grip of the worst drought in over 60 years, old-timers are beginning to revisit those Dust Bowl years in the Dirty Thirties. "To the red country, and part of the gray country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. . ." begins Steinbeck in his novel.

Mason comes across Brett Porter, who farms over 7,000 acres, as he unrolls the last of his hay in front of prime Angus cattle. When he runs out of the 18 bales he has left, at $200 per bale, he will have to sell the cows. "I already sold my mamma cows and I sent my calves to market early," say Porter who has been working on the herd's DNA for 12 years. If the rains don't come, he'll have to sell the rest for hamburger meat.

The percent of contiguous U.S. land area experiencing exceptional drought in July reached the highest levels in the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Mason drives through the Texas panhandle, which he describes as "scorched by drought so white that the grass crunches underfoot like a deep frost."

He drops into Albuquerque where he visits Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency shelter and where 300 homeless families are staying. Founder British expat Jeremy Reynalds says that the mainstay of the place used to be people with drug, alcohol and domestic violence issues. "But as the years of crisis have dragged on," writes Mason, "there is a new phenomenon -- the homeless middle class."

Mason meets a few of the families who reside on about 80 mattresses on the gym floor.

-- Maurice Henderson and RoseAnne Ortice and their three kids. When Maurice lost his job as the manager of a car dealership, they moved to a motel. When his unemployment checks ran out, they came to the center.
-- Sonya and Tim, a former manager of a McDonald's branch and a Subway employee, lost their home and moved into an apartment, but they lost that when their unemployment ended.
-- Larry Atista and his 14-year-old daughter are bedding down alongside people they don't know. Does her school know she's homeless, asks Mason? "I didn't tell them. I stay there until six o'clock to do my homework."

Mason describes the anger these unwitting victims of a bad economy have -- something that gets lost in the mainstream media among Republican claims that the unemployed are just lazy. "They're wasting money on wars." "I'm Native American. My tribe runs a casino so where does the money go? Why don't they help their own people?" It's a safe bet these people would jump at the chance to go to work - if the jobs were there.

Motel Hopping

All along I-40 Mason curses the motelscape. "The inedible sludge of reconstituted egg, 'biscuit' and gravy that allows them to advertise 'hot breakfast' -- the coffee weak enough to read the Wall Street Journal's markets pages through." I don't think Mr. Mason understands that this is a staple all across the southern sections of the country, rich or poor. The greasier, the better. Just stop at a Cracker Barrell Old Country Store, Shoney's or Waffle House.

Jeremy Reynolds takes Mason to a line of cheap motels by the interstate where rooms are $29 a night. "These places fill up in the first two weeks after the benefits cheques are paid and then they run out, they empty out and people drift over to Joy Junction."

This is where America's hidden homeless live, says Mason. A 60 Minutes segment, Hard Times Generation: Homeless Kids, recently provided a close look at modern day motel living where school buses stop to load and unload children.

Mason leaves Albuquerque and drives beneath the mighty Mogollon Rim and into the pine forest and then the cactus-strewn desert on his way west. Steinbeck doesn't stop to enjoy the scenery, which must have seemed as "alien as the moon" to the 350,000 real life migrants during the Dust Bowl years. Steinbeck's landscape, biblical though the book reads, is about the conflict at the end of the journey. ". . . today you don't have to go to the end of the journey to find conflict."

Tent City Jail

Maybe because he gets bored with traveling along Route 66 that is now I-40, Mason cuts south for a guided tour of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's notorious Tent City Jail in Phoenix -- as good a place as any to see "conflict." Prisoners are forced to wear stripes, pink socks and underwear, and live in Korean War era tents. Even when the thermostat reads 114F, prisoners must remove their pink towels from their heads.

Mason writes: "One in five of the male prisoners is a detained illegal migrant. After their sentence, they will go into the deportation process. The jail -- like the border fence and Arizona's famous new law SB1070 -- is deigned to deter migration. But neither deter it."

Leticia Ramirez, an activist with Puente Human Rights Movement, says the effects of the new immigration law is chilling. "Kids say to their moms, 'Mom, don't go to the store. Don't leave the house.'" Thousands stay home in fear, she says.

At a West Valley Tea Party Patriots meeting, campaigners for migrants are accused of being "communists." These patriots have documents proving that Obama was born in Kenya. They don't think deporting illegals will harm the U.S. economy.

Maybe if these good patriots would quit watching Fox News, they might learn about farmers in states with strict immigration laws who are crying for workers to harvest their crops, like this small town Republican mayor in Georgia who has nothing against immigrants anyway -- seriously. Or the problems associated with using another kind of slave labor -- convicts.

Meanwhile the economy declines and crops burn up on account of the drought or they rot because farmers can't find workers to harvest them.

Morning Glow

Mason gets back on track and heads out across the Mojave desert, sliding into a truck stop in neutral. "The shop is full of stuff that is emblematic -- the stimulant drinks in yellow bottles that keep truck drivers going all night, confederate flag-themed headscarves to wear on your Harley instead of a helmet, Route 66 stickers. Like so much of American culture, the subtext -- if you dare admit it -- is 'we were great once.'"

Crossing the Mojave by night he gets to Bakersfield at midnight. "The economy of Kern County, where the Joads ended up, is dominated by the Air Force, naval weaponry, big oil and private healthcare." But the town still has an unemployment rate of 15 percent. It grew by 25% in the past ten years but now 156 homes out of every 1,000 are repossessed. A Mexican valet tells him that agriculture is drying up, the farmers are selling their fields for property, and a person can only earn a minimum wage.

Mason goes in search of the spot where Steinbeck must have seen this: "They drove through Tehachapi in the morning glow, and the sun came up behind them and then suddenly they saw the great valley below them . . ."

But the interstate obliterates the Mother Road here, so he drives into a vineyard to get the view that must have greeted the real-life Okies as they crossed the mountains into the San Joaquin Valley. "It is still beautiful. But hidden away from the mainstream media you can still find stories of social conflict and poverty that tell the other side of the story."

San Joaquin Valley
April 2011

Note: Mason writes that Steinbeck, who had lived in California most of his life, was oblivious to the camps on his doorstep until he was alerted by Dorthea Lange's husband, an academic, who wrote one of the first field reports about the migrant problem. "Then as now, the poor had only a walk-on part in the mass media, and their script lines rarely reflected what they actually thought."


  1. Les, this is a consummate post. And I feel like a jerk: we had a big rain today and I posted something about being spared the Dust Bowl, if nothing else. My first response was from a friend in Texas.

    What is it, this cycle of Dust Bowl, Depression, and roiling global instabilities (well, okay, those have roiled on pretty steadily)? We who love Steinbeck and history are having the worst nightmares!

    p.s. I keep a copy of Travels With Charley by the guest room bed. Come on down.

  2. So many Americans who never thought they would be jobless, maybe homeless too, either didn't pay attention and vote in their own best interest, or they bought into Republicans' free-market religion, into notions that amount to applying the law of the jungle to our economy and society, and calling it just. Others just as culpable rejected liberal do-goodism and Democrats' embrace of civil rights, of unions and lifting up the poverty class, and just voted for the man — Ronald Reagan with his smooth, charismatic style; the two Bushes because they liked them better than a wonkish Dukakis Taxachussetts liberal with a Boston accent, or twangy Al Gore with his incredibly disjointed approach to campaigning, or John Kerry, who was plenty smart and experienced but didn't seem like he'd be that much fun to go with for a beer.

    In the Grapes of Wrath era, most Americans knew who was on their side — uncompromisingly on their side — and they supported Roosevelt and New Deal Democrats through thick and thin. FDR declared in 1936, speaking of Republicans and their rich patrons, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred." He brought the house down with that defiant, defining line.

    Roosevelt did what was right because it was right. He reassured the hurting and fought those who tried to stand in the way of making the hurt go away. His political capital grew by the year, through an unprecedented four terms. No president since has been more trusted from his first day as president to his last. Those who hated him came to respect him as a resolute and powerful foe.

    And over time, together, Depression-devastated Americans and their shattered economy got better. The rich didn't do that. The free market didn't either. Pragmatic, resourceful and determined liberal leadership, and people willing to put their faith in, their meager money and individual votes behind, brilliant, defiant and determined leadership did that.

    Would that these things were so today. Our grandparents and great-grandparents could teach us a lot.

  3. This post is worthy of any journalistic awards offered to high-paid media types today. Frankly I am numb at the inattention our dear elected leaders pay to the unemployed now. The republicans make me sick with their microsecond brief platitudes about "jobs" while they spend most of their time working to deny voting rights to Americans that normally do not vote their way.

    Frankly, Obama is highly ticking me off to the point I can't defend him anymore. I know he caught Hell over the debt issue but his lack of attention on the jobs issue is Bush-like. I agree with others that say it takes a near collapse of the government to get him engaged.

    Chris Matthews said the other night Obama needed to get a list of all the unsafe bridges and other parts of the American infrastructure that desperately need repair and purpose a jobs bill that would rebuild it. Matthews then said Obama should show pictures of the crumbling infrastructure on television and defy the republicans to oppose it.

  4. I’m going to be right up front here – for a change. I think a lot of folks don’t seem to see the subtleties that make up the whole of Obama, nor are they willing to see the current times as they are, especially as they relate to the GOP and the TP, nor do they always have a factual and objective knowledge and appreciation of history. Personally, and for many reasons, I’ve grown a tad weary of those who are always comparing Obama to FDR, HST and LBJ. I’ve found the following article which pretty much expresses my views and offers up some good historical perspective that I think a lot of us are missing. It is long but well worth the read. I’m not suggesting that you have to agree with all of it, just that you read it with an open mind.

    I’m also beginning to think that a lot of people, including yours truly, misread Obama from the get-go, attaching mythological characteristics way out of proportion to reality. Had we bothered to look beyond the headlines, we might have seen that none of these characteristics existed at the time and don’t exist today. As proof, I offer up yet another lengthy article that was written by Ken Silverstein back in 2006.

    FDR, HST and LBJ certainly had their detractors but I don’t believe they had an opposition party that was so dedicated to ideology that it was willing to bring the government to its knees. And I’m not sure there’s anyone around who could do any better. Hillary would have faced the same kind of opposition because she is a woman. It’s always easy to give speeches about what he or she should do when we don’t sit in his or her chair and have all the information that is available to him or her.

  5. I am well aware of the homeless problem because I've been, for all practical purposes, homeless. Like many elders, I'm a person who is one SSD check away from it. You don't know how terrified I was last week!

    And yeah, I don't know what POTUS or John Boehber is thinking. I do know that people at the bottom aren't really part of it as has been demonstrated recently. When something that used to cost three bucks now costs five bucks, it's a huge problem.

  6. Coming down from my podium.

    @Nance: Thanks as always for your kind thoughts. I always appreciate them.

    @SW: Basically, I don't disagree with you. I just think we always tend to put former leaders who we adore and respect on a pedestal - forgetting they had their warts, too. This is especially true during times of upheaval such as we're experiencing right not.

    @BB: I have a real-life friend who I was communicating with right after that wonderful interview with the former Bush economist. My friend and I don't always agree. He's a devoted fan of Greenwald, who I absolutely detest - along with Jane Hamsher. Anyway, we both thought this was a hell of an interview but neither of us cares for Matthews, rarely watching him. We think he inserts himself too much into his interviews and doesn't allow his guests to answer his questions. In this particular case, while showing pictures of our crumbling infrastructure sounds all nice and dramatic, it is more than simplistic. Hasn't he gotten it yet that Republicans don't give a damn? At the same time, I'm all for putting people to work repairing them. It just makes sense.

    @Kay: I'm right there with you and looking around to see which tent city I want to inhabit.
    Went to the food bank Friday but mine was closed. Didn't have the money/gas to drive to another. I'm looking at one chicken breast, two legs, pasta without meat sauce, 1/4 quart of milk, 1/2 loaf of bread and oatmeal, which at this point I have to force down my gullet. And some beans - always beans. My check, hopefully, comes between the 9th and 15th. Of course I'm already so fucking overdrawn that I'm going to be lucky to pay rent and utilities. But you know what? I am truly better off than some of my friends - by a long shot. They have it a hell of a lot worse than I do, trust me.

  7. Did he say anything about a turtle?

    Forgive Frodo for being away, but he's been busy and has had a lot on his mind.

    The turtle is just as relevant today as he was when Steinbeck inspired every English teacher to-be to compose an essay question or two. There is a lot of turtle in the Hobbit, and in his President.

  8. L.P., I read that article at The Liberal Lamp Post and found it very interesting. It provides some worthwhile reminders of Obama's accomplishments as president. It also offers good perspective on presidents with whom Obama is often compared. That said, I found the article strains a few points to find glasses half full.

    Not long after reading that article, I came across an op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review, What Happened to Obama, that for my money is the best assessment so far of Obama's presidency. It offers some educated guesses as to the why and wherefore of the president's modus operandi. I urge you and everyone here to invest a few minutes in reading and thinking about what it has to say.

  9. I'll read it again - in the morning when I'm not so tired and can be more objective.

    Here's another. The original author was blocked on FB???

    Frodo. I have to confess that I'm a bit confused about the turtle thingy.

  10. First of all, I rank Westen right up, or down, there with Greenwald and Hamsher. I'm not enamored with his writings on AlterNet, a site - along with They constitute nothing but a long list of Obama-bashing type negativity. Never ever do any of these critics say anything at all remotely positive about Obama nor do they ever give him an ounce of credit for doing anything right. Therefore, they have zilch credibility as far as I’m concerned. And let’s don’t overlook the slanted articles, omissions and “misinterpretation” of facts or the conspiracies that lurk behind every door.

    But to turn to the article under question. Bunk. Storytelling? What the hell is this guy talking about? What does storytelling have to do with being an effective president? I know I’m simplifying this but it’s a silly argument no matter how you approach it.

    To me, either Westen can’t see, or won’t see, all the subtleties of Obama. In fact he, and the aforementioned, don’t know or understand him and never have. Maybe they were expecting an angry black man, which he isn’t and never has been. The headline on this article was changed in some places to “What happened to Obama’s passion?” Well, you know, I don’t want passion. I want cool, calm, smart, deliberate long-range decision making, reasoning and strategy. If I want the best surgeon in town, I don’t give a damn whether or not he has good bedside manners. That’s irrelevant.

    I also think both sides/extremes of the equation can’t comprehend that the great majority of people are in fact centrist to conservative, with some tilting to the left of center. Strategically it would be political suicide to bend to either extreme, which should be evident after watching the havoc that the Tea Party has created. While we might agree with many of the goals of the far left, it should be obvious that a minority of “extremists” makes folks uncomfortable. Besides, nothing at all can get accomplished. Whether we like it or not, politics and governing are kind of like a team sport.

    Here are some articles that are very critical of Westen’s “reasoning.”

    One of the best is by Andrew Sprung at Xpostfactoid.

    This one by Jonathon Chait at The New Republic is absolutely brilliant. Pay close attention to his remarks re Westen's use of FDR as an example of "a president successfully employing his desired combination of 'storytelling' and ideological purity."

    And this one from Oratorical Animal. I particularly like his take on "experts" who stray outside their areas of expertise.

    The American Prospect:

    Andrew Sullivan:

    Another by Sullivan that is indirectly related.

    These articles don't exactly overlap in their criticism. Each has something different to offer.

  11. Ezra Klein has written quite a few pieces critical of Westen's article. Here's the latest.

    "One other point on Drew Westen’s Sunday op-ed: Insofar as it has much in the way of policy prescriptions, they boil down to more stimulus. A lot more.

    The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy.
    Let’s get more specific than “big stimulus.” The proposal Obama backed away from was Christina Romer’s preliminary calculation that we needed about $1.2 trillion in stimulus. More recently, Romer told me that we probably needed something more like $2 trillion in stimulus. And more recently than that, we learned that the GDP dropped by much more than we initially thought, which implies that an update to Romer’s calculations would have returned results recommending far more than $2 trillion in stimulus.

    The Obama administration backed off of the $1.2 trillion stimulus because it couldn’t pass Congress. But let’s put that question — and its $2 trillion+ cousin — aside. Imagine we could have passed such a stimulus. Could we have implemented it?

    Last month, I spoke to Christina Romer, Larry Summers and Jared Bernstein on this question. The three of them were arguably the administration’s most persistent and consistent advocates for more stimulus. But they all said the same thing: The bigger the stimulus became, the harder it got to spend.

    “We had a hard time spending $800 billion quickly, and with that much stimulus, the issue of diminishing returns could be important,” said Romer. “I don’t believe we could have efficiently and effectively put that large a stimulus to good use with requisite accountability,” Bernstein said. “It would not have been possible to move vastly more money into quick trigger infrastructure projects,” Summers said.

    You could have pumped more money into a tax cut — say, a full payroll tax holiday — but Westen has ruled tax cuts out as “inert.” You also could have pushed more money into aid to state and local governments, but not a trillion dollars more. So even assuming you could have passed a much larger stimulus through Congress, it’s not clear you could have spent all that much of it on non-tax cut initiatives. The system isn’t equipped to handle such a hefty infusion in funds.

    Which isn’t to say that we didn’t need a bigger stimulus. But the conclusion I’ve come to is that the stimulus should have been broken into three different bills: A much larger and more visible tax cut, along the lines of a full payroll-tax holiday; a bill supporting state and local governments, which would have included Medicaid and unemployment insurance; and a bill with infrastructure and investment funds, which wouldn’t have been on a two-year timetable. I’ve also come around to Peter Orszag’s view that it would have been wise to add a significant long-term deficit reduction package, but that’s a post for another day."

  12. My last post, which came from Facebook and is terribly long, is an excellent piece delving into the presidents mind. It states why he made the choices he made and why ordinary citizens like myself can't see the intelligence in his long term planning. But I can read and I can comprehend, and I know President Obama is doing everything IN HIS LIMITED power to be the best president, for the whole country, that he can be.

    I don't know L, I'm puzzled by the criticisms coming from our bloggy friends. I'm far from the smartest cookie in the jar but even I can see the man for who he is. I must trust his decisions because like the post says, I am no expert on the inner workings of our government so I can not get all upset and start giving advice! LOL. I'm pretty sure my advice would not be considered!

    BB is right your post is excellent, and mine is so friggin long I still have a quarter left to read!

  13. Sue, I thought it was an excellent post. The criticism in and of itself only bothers me to a certain extent and most of the time I just ignore it anyway. It is this petty, snippy, nonconstructive, same-ole, same-ole, 24/7 criticism that has been going on since the election - and the absolute refusal to recognize the obstructionism of the right and the media's help in playing up the right. It's as if those ass-hole in the Republican have brains and hearts. And despite all this, Obama has accomplished a hell of a lot - but creeps like Westen don't see it and don't want to see it. All I can say is vote for a 3rd party candidate or stay home in a sulky snit and see what happens. You think this last year's been a bad, you haven't seen nothin' yet, baby.

  14. Leslie, you don't need my help or anyone's in making your points. Girlfriend, you are doing just fine on your own. I am totally in accord on your assessment of the President and his courses of action that you discuss in your comments to your post.

    Btw, this is an exquisitely written post.

  15. Leslie:

    Leave it to you to call our attention to the stories we don’t need to miss. You put a lot of hard work into this post, and it’s appreciated. When the comments are all in I will copy all of it to save.

    I am listening to all of John Grisham’s books in chronological order and, while they are fiction, two of them give exceptional coverage of the plight of both the homeless and the migrant worker (as well as those who need the labor): “The Street Lawyer” and “The Painted House.”

    I am going to copy here a joke I received from a conservative cousing this morning:

    “The year is 1947 > Some of you will recall that on July 8, 1947, a little over 60 years ago, witnesses claim that an unidentified flying object (UFO) with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and mule ranch just outside Roswell , New Mexico . This is a well known incident that many say has long been covered up by the U.S. Air Force and other federal agencies and organizations. However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of April 1948, nine months after that historic day, the following people were born: Albert A.. Gore, Jr.. Hillary Rodham , John F. Kerry, William J. Clinton, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelos, Dianne Feinstein, Charles E. Schumer, Barbara Boxer, See what happens when aliens breed with sheep and jackasses? I certainly hope this bit of information clears up a lot of things for you. It did for me. No wonder they support the bill to help illegal aliens!”

    This is just an example of attitudes toward the less fortunate. On the one hand conservatives embrace Christianity; on the other they ignore its teachings. I will send him a copy of your post and comments.


  16. I just knocked Tom off my roll and he is not welcome here. It is okay to criticize the President of the United States but it is not okay to tell him "to get off his fat ass."

  17. This is the very first, and I hope only, time that I haven't seen eye-to-eye with SW. My response in no way diminishes the respect and admiration I have for him, personally and "professionally" and I am pleased to count him among one of my favorite blogging buddies.

    However, what has been diminished is what this post is about, so I've done some deleting, which I should have done in the first place. My apologies to everyone.

  18. L.P. I read Chait and Serwer's pieces. Each makes valid points and criticisms of Westen's op-ed. However, neither won me over to the idea Westen perpetrated pure nonsense.

    Of the Chait and Serwer critiques, I find the latter makes a better case. But I have to comment on this, which IMO kind of undermines the sense Serwer made elsewhere:

    "But on most domestic policy matters, it's important to understand that the president can only be as progressive or conservative as Congress. That's the story liberals need to keep telling themselves . . ."

    If that were true, Dwight Eisenhower would've had to go play golf while black high school kids in Little Rock were sent packing, back to their supposedly separate but equal schools on their side of town.

    Likewise, if that were true, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voter Rights Act of 1965 would never have passed. What's more it's unlikely Congress would've passed the Great Society programs that nearly cut poverty in half in four years.

    A combination of going out and explaining the need to the public, drumming up interest and support, followed by relentless presidential schmoozing, horse trading and arm twisting, were critical to making three of the most important pieces of 20th-century legislation realities.

  19. I'm having a hell of time with Blogger. Hang in there.

  20. SW: I agree that Obama's "messaging," as opposed to "story telling," could use some work, but here's another thought from Ron Chusid at Liberal Values. Please overlook the misspelling of Westen - the good doc goes in 6 directions at once.

    "There might be room for improvement in the manner by which Obama gets his message out, but we must also keep in mind the obstacles he faces from Fox, right wing talk radio, and conservative dominance over much of the mainstream media. Obama’s position as president and his strategy of pushing to move beyond partisan gridlock limits his ability to engage in harsher rhetoric which some on the left expect. This role is better filled by supporters on the left who do not have the constraints which Obama has. It would be far more effective if leftists such as Weston and Paul Krugman used their energy to make the liberal case for Obama’s policies, and point out those liberal statements which Weston ignored, rather than making specious attacks. Instead they sometimes even utilize remarkable mental gymnastics to argue that Obama is as conservative as George Bush.

    Weston, and many Obama critics from the left, fail to recognize the difference between the president and other political leaders. The president, who must govern within the realities of what is politically achievable, cannot be as dogmatic about principle as a Senator on one of the extremes of his party. Liberals with buyer’s remorse fail to recognize that any other president would be limited by similar constraints as Obama. . ." and follows with quote from Chait.

    Ron expands on this in another piece where he quotes Fareed Zakaria:

    "I wish Zakaria had also pointed out that such pragmatic centrism is largely a result of the differences between being in the legislature and being in the executive branch. A president must govern and cannot stick to the pure principles of one side. A member of Congress can stick to principle on what they vote for while a president is limited to governing based upon what can actually pass Congress. In failing to understand the limitations our our system, some on the left express ignorance comparable to what we regularly hear from the tea party supporters."
    Cont'd . . .

  21. Part 2

    Now, as to LBJ. Quite simply, he never would have gotten the voter and civil rights legislation passed had it not been for Republican support - a luxury that Obama doesn't have. Remember that the stimulus bill passed with only one vote even with a House majority of Dems.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 as voted for and against by party, and only after 54 hours of "filiblustering":

    Totals are in "Yea-Nay" format:
    The original House version: 290-130 (69%–31%).
    Cloture in the Senate: 71-29 (71%–29%).
    The Senate version: 73-27 (73%–27%).
    The Senate version, as voted on by the House: 289-126 (70%–30%).
    [edit]By party
    The original House version:[12]
    Democratic Party: 152-96 (61%-39%)
    Republican Party: 138-34 (80%-20%)
    Cloture in the Senate:[13]
    Democratic Party: 44-23 (66%–34%)
    Republican Party: 27-6 (82%–18%)
    The Senate version:[12]
    Democratic Party: 46-21 (69%–31%)
    Republican Party: 27-6 (82%–18%)
    The Senate version, voted on by the House:[12]
    Democratic Party: 153-91 (63%–37%)
    Republican Party: 136-35 (80%–20%)

    For a look at the many obstacles and steps involved in its passage:

    The votes for the 1965 Voting Rights Act were as follows:

    The two numbers in each line of this list refer to the number of representatives voting in favor and against the act, respectively.
    Senate: 77–19
    Democrats: 47–17 (73%-27%)
    Republicans: 30–2 (94%-6%)
    House: 333–85
    Democrats: 221–61 (78%-22%)
    Republicans: 112–24 (82%-18%)
    Conference Report:
    Senate: 79–18
    Democrats: 49–17 (four Southern Democrats voted in favor: Albert Gore, Sr., Ross Bass, George Smathers and Ralph Yarborough).
    Republicans: 30–1 (the lone nay was Strom Thurmond; John Tower who did not vote was paired as a nay vote with Eugene McCarthy who would have voted in favor.)
    House: 328–74
    Democrats: 217–54
    Republicans: 111–20

    Again, he had needed Republican support in the House. I dare say that if all the Great Society legislation were examined, we would see this same trend.

    Obama has received no support from the GOP for any of his major bills and even from some Dems. In the case of the Republicans, who are obviously on a mission to destroy his presidency, I don't think all the messaging and story telling in the world would make any difference. I think maybe his golf game with Boehner, the significance of which may or may not have been overly inflated, might have had some positive outcome if the Tea Party hadn't clipped Boehner in the back of the knees. All indications were that he and the president were reaching an accord.

    FDR, LBJ, and HST did not have to contend with anything close to the Tea Party terrorists.

  22. Thanks to Sue for trying to help me out. Maybe I'm too long winded.

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  25. L.P. that's an excellent and informative rundown. I've seen the voting statistics before, but it's been awhile. Probably more telling at that time than the number of Republican votes was the critical support LBJ won from Deep South Democrats. That was nothing short of miraculous because he was calling on them to put their career on the line.

    I have maintained all along that Obama was dealt the nastiest hand of any modern president. A little appreciated aspect of his difficulties was that the ranks of congressional Democrats was expanded in 2006 and 2008 with rookies from purple and even red states and districts — people who didn't want to risk their new career on strongly progressive initiatives many of their constituents wouldn't like.

    For all of that, Obama has repeatedly begun his deal making by seeking too little going in, giving up something major before the haggling even begins and being much too willing to cave early and often in the face of bullying and resistance. I think he's also been more inclined to rein in progressives in Congress than to work on getting conservadems to put country ahead of their own politics and career.

    I have problems with the advisers he's surrounded himself with, especially on the economy. If his political advisers steered him away from job creation and toward deficit reduction late last year, or failed to talk him out of that shift, they are beyond incompetent and should be replaced before they do any more damage.

    L.P., I like Obama as a person and want him to succeed as president. I never took him for a hard-left liberal, but didn't expect him to be another Republican-lite who's comfortable with so many of George W. Bush's toxic leavings. He has an exceptionally rough row to hoe, but he had to know what he was getting into when he ran for the office.

    My bottom line is that we can't afford a president who's willing to deal away Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and in order to get along with Republicans do all the things guaranteed to reduce demand and increase unemployment. Those things are absolutely unacceptable for the country and the surest way to end his career in a hurry. If that makes me unreasonable, I'll have to wear that label.

  26. SW: "Probably more telling at that time than the number of Republican votes was the critical support LBJ won from Deep South Democrats."

    I don't see where you're getting this, at least on these two bills. The Southern Congressmen did not support Johnson; they voted against him and did so on many other bills. In fact, because of Johnson, many left the Democratic Party altogether.

    I don't totally disagree with some of the things, mainly with his choice of advisers. As far as SS, Medicare and the like, we simply don't know absolutely for sure if he's willing to make cuts. A lot of this is based on rumor and pushed by the progressives. Even if it is on the table, we don't know the details. If it cuts out fraud - and there is fraud - I'm not going to be all that unhappy.

    I may be wrong, but I think we're going to see some changes in how Obama deals with the Republicans in the near future. I sense a huge frustration and quite a bit of anger in him, which is not a bad thing. I'm afraid we're just going to have to agree to disagree as I'm not ready to jump ship yet for all the same reasons I've stated in the past.

  27. I hate how the left is giving in to hard left rantings about SS, Medicare, and Medicaid! There is not a shred of evidence stating Pres. Obama will touch them to the point it hurts seniors and disabled. He said the cuts will be to the providers and that makes perfect sense. For the Dems to continually misquote Obama and put words in his mouth is very disheartening. We are supposed to fact check and not jump when the hard left progressives speak. They have an agenda, remember?! If you are a loved one is on Medicare then you should know first hand the fraud, I know it because my Mother lives with me. Every time she goes to the ER for out of control blood pressure they admit her, give her chest x-ray, brain scan, etc's at the point we say NO! The doctors don't like it but tough shit! Whew...thanks L!!

  28. Sue: I understand what you mean but in cases of something like high BP these tests, as tiresome as they are, are necessary because BP is so volatile and can indicate something going on that wasn't there before. It's hard to tell when to draw the line and say no more. But, in general, there are a lot of tests and procedures that are unnecessary. I can say this from personal experience.

  29. Damn it, I hate to do it. If everyone scrolls up, buried somewhere in the middle of the comments, Mr. Anderson recommends reading an article.

    That article is fantastic, whether you agree with it or not.

    Why? Is it because the author unravels a mystery before us? Is it because the author has made a discovery we didn't know was available or answers a question that we did not even think to ask? Has the author cured something, perhaps a disease we mistook for gas?

    No, not really. It is because he says things like this:

    THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit.

    ... and he makes other very cogent arguments while he does it.

  30. Matthews then said Obama should show pictures of the crumbling infrastructure on television and defy the republicans to oppose it.

    Beach, it wouldn't work. The Republicans would laugh, tell us how stupid we are and explain how if we would only let them McDonalds or our neighborhood barber would fix them.

  31. One more thing, people, regarding the article: "What Happened to Obama."

    Don't wear out your welcome or it will force you to log in with the log in you probably don't have.

    The NY Times recently decided that the online publication is only partially free, which is a huge problem for me, as it was one of my favorite free publications, so I tended to wear out my welcome.

    I am a democrat. I am not going to pay for the damn thing!

    If you go there an it asks you for a login, you can probably use a different browser to access the page (that's what I did and it worked).

  32. @John: I don't know. I've always had a little problem with saying something is fantastic when I don't agree with it or think it's mostly bunk. ; ) But since I've already indicated why I didn't care for the article, with the exception of a few details, I'm not going to rehash.

    However, I do appreciate the tip re the NY Times as it is my paper of preference, especially since the WaPo has turned into a piece of journalistic swill.

  33. Let me clarify a few things in Mr. Mason's article:"is dominated by the Air Force, naval weaponry, big oil and private healthcare."-Bakersfield's main economy is driven by oil and agriculture. The AF and naval weaponry is a long way up and over the Tehachapi Mt range and down into the there aren't too many folks willing to make that drive from Bako.

    Bako is also one of THE most red sections of Cali. Most of the inland part of Cali is red as hell, but Bako prides itself on being red. So much so that usually the Congress rep runs unopposed, but not always. But the R guy always much so that Bill Thomas was Speaker of the House before he retired to become a lobbyist for the healthcare industry.

    With the drought we have had for years now, the AG industry has planted less and less each our unemployment numbers have soared, and that was long before the recent recession hit. Currently its around 15-16%.

    The biggest employer by far is Big Oil. They make sure their boy gets elected every year. They get out the vote like you wouldn't believe..Kern County extracts 65% of the state’s natural gas so that industry, which is part of the Big Oil industry in my mind, should be included as well.

    We have the most horrible percentage of our kids that go on to college, even though we have an excellent UC campus right here in town.18% of our high school kids drop out..the number that go on to college is depressingly low as I said.

    But these folks will vote against their own self-interests every. single. time. The Democratic Party here is a joke and I tried for years to work w/them, but to no avail.

    "But hidden away from the mainstream media you can still find stories of social conflict and poverty that tell the other side of the story."-Joad's Bakersfield is still alive and well..decades after the Dust Bowl ended.Our number of folks at or below the poverty level leads the state. With a crooked DA that is finally retiring, one would think that is a good thing..but it's not as his hand-picked successor prevailed in the last election. Only once did someone run against that sumbitch and that person paid dearly for it. The labor camps still exist, they are just called 'communities' now, like Oildale as an example and no...they aren't hidden from the Mainstream Media, the MSM just doesn't want to see them..that means they would have to write about them.