Wednesday, December 26, 2012

America’s Real Problem isn’t the Fiscal Cliff, it’s the Fiscal Canyon

The current Congress may or may not address the Fiscal Cliff before 2012 ends.  But even if it does, the odds are that any solution it affixes will fail to solve a problem that has been at least 30 years in making.  The real Fiscal Cliff, or rather the Fiscal Canyon, is the longer-term disinvestment and neglect this country has made in education, infrastructure, and attending to the structural inequalities in the United States that are driving most of the problems we face in the short and long term.
    The Fiscal Cliff is actually a four-fold set of problems that Congress and the president immediately face.
    There is first the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts.  These were the massive and fiscally imprudent tax cuts President Bush and Congress pushed though in 2001.  They occurred at a time when the Clinton presidency and the economic growth of the late 1990s left the country with successive budget surpluses and the belief was that the government had more money than it needed and that the tax cuts would stimulate the economy.  The tax cuts included cuts in the top rates on income as well as capital gains.   They were sold as cuts to benefit the middle class when in reality the vast majority of the benefit went to the wealthiest who did little to invest them in job and economic growth.  The first decade of the twenty-first century witnesses the worst record  in job production in decades.
    The biggest focus of the this aspect of the Fiscal Cliff is that if nothing is done, a typical middle class family of four would experience a tax increase of $2,200 if the Bush era tax cuts expire.
    Second, there is the budget cuts that are due to kick in.  These budget cuts are a result of a deal that Congress and the president reached in 2011.  They agreed, or better yet, kicked the can down the road, to a budget framework that declared that if they could not agree to a budget agreement to reduce America’s $1 trillion+ annual deficit and begin to pay down the nearly $16 trillion nation debt, certain automatic cuts would take place.  Over 1,000 government programs would face significant budget cuts totally in excess of several hundred billions of dollars over the coming decade.  These cuts would come in terms of both military and other discretionary spending.
    The tax increases and spending cuts are the most immediate problems of the Fiscal Cliff.  If no action occurs most economists think that this cliff would throw the economy into a recession.  The reason for this is simple Keynesian economics–a rapid decrease in demand as both consumers and the government cut back on purchases and demand, thereby slowing down the economy.
    But there are really two other aspects of the Fiscal Cliff that are coming due too. 
    The first is that the debt limit for the US government also expires around the beginning of the year.  If that is not extended the US government runs out of money.  That too is a big problem and must be addressed.  If we do not extend the debt limit the United States technically defaults on its loans.  It also means it runs out of money to finance the government, thereby forcing a shutdown  or curtailment of funding for many programs. 
    Finally, the original economic stimulus program that the Obama administration passed in the beginning of 2009 runs out.  Despite all the noise to the contrary, the stimulus did preserve several million jobs according to most credible economists.
    Failure to address any of these four prongs of the Fiscal Cliff is enough to damage the US economy, but letting all four go unintended is a major recipe for disaster.  So what do we do?  Here are the options.

1.  Do Nothing.   This is the disaster just mentioned.  It hurts the US economy both short and long term.   

2.   Kick the can down the road.  Extend the tax cuts for all for another short period of time and delay the spending cuts too.  In effect, “kick the can” down the line for another few months so that the next Congress deals with it.  Congress already did this once back in 2011 and it possible they do that again.  However, this kicking of the can is very temporary and does little to address the short-term jitters in the US economy (companies failing to invest because they want a stable economic picture) or long term to address the broader structural problems in the US economy.

3.  Extend Bush Era tax cuts for the middle class. 
   Enact tax cuts for everyone except those with individual incomes over $200,000 of family incomes of $250,000 per year.  This solves the tax increase problem but does not deal with the automatic budget cuts.  It also fails to deal with the debt  limit and an economic stimulus.
    Republicans in the new Congress may be able to live with part of this since they would be voting for tax cuts for the middle class and could say they did not vote for tax increases.

4.  Enact Simpson-Bowles Commission Recommendations.  The Simpson-Bowles Commission offered proposals on how to deal with long-term debt. This proposal includes reforms (cuts) to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. It was DOA when its ideas came out but some still this is a framework for addressing problems.
    Beyond the fact that politically it is DOA, it does not really solve economic problems in the long term.  Raising retirement ages or cutting benefits hurts the poor and the young, and in many ways, for those in blue collar jobs, raising the retirement age discriminates against those who do physical labor and will not last long enough.  Moreover, cutting benefits when fewer and fewer people have pensions and serious retirement income options condemns a new generation of people to poverty.

5.  None of the above. In reality, none of the ideas above really solve or address the bigger economic problems facing the United States.  All at best are band-aids or whitewashing over more fundamental  problems facing the economy.
    The key to addressing America’s short and long term debt is by revitalizing the US economy.  In part the reason for the budget surpluses in the 1990s was a rapidly growing economy (with higher tax rates than today) and increasing worker productivity as a result of taking advantage of the new computer and information technologies.   The first priority should be strengthening the economy by increasing employment, productivity, and wages as opposed to worrying about debt reduction. 
    But there are challenges to do this.  The growing gap between the rich and poor and across races has created structural inequalities that compromise mobility and economic productivity.  There  are performance gaps in education, significant affordability for college, and an overall declining position in the US vis-a-vis the rest of the world when it comes to education and training in general.  The country needs to address this issue for long-term growth and sustainability.  This is the Fiscal Canyon–the enormous gap between current expenditures and the investments we need to make in America’s future.
    There is also an imperative to invest in our aging road and highway infrastructure, with some estimates placing the need at over $2 trillion to make repairs.  This does not include investments for the future to modernize telecommunications and energy.
    Finally, there is a demographic issue.  Our population is aging and we need to figure out not only how to pay for benefits promised, but also how to ensure that there are sufficient workers for  the future.  In terms of benefits, the US spends 18% of its GDP on health care–by far the most costly in the world–and it does not have universal coverage or the best marks in terms of outcomes.  The issue of course is still how to reduce costs but simply cutting spending does not solve anything if people are sick.  Conversely, the aging population means fewer younger workers, but those workers need the skills to do the jobs needed over the next 50 years.
    Yes, the Fiscal Cliff is a problem, but the Fiscal Canyon, two generations in the making, is the real issue that Congress and the President should address, but will not.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Safety in Schools, Embassies, and Prisons: What do we know what works

Safety is on our minds as we receive two reports this week.  The first is the NRA long-awaited press conference on how to promote school safety in light of the Newtown shooting, while the other is the final report regarding the attack at Benghazi.  But what actually works in terms of promoting safety?  We have some good information that addresses question.

School Safety and the NRA
Not surprise the NRA found that the problem regarding school safety was anything but guns.  It was video games, mental illness, and perhaps who knows, gun-chewing.   But it certainly was not that there were guns in school that caused the problem.  Their proposal  was for at least one armed guard to be located in every school in the United States.  First, let’s think about the cost issue.

According to the Financial Times, there are approximately 140,000 schools and colleges in the United States.   The average salary for a police officer in the U.S. is $51,000.  Assume one armed guard per school at a cost of approximately $51,000 per guard.    Now no school is going to hire only one guard.  One has to factor in vacations, sick time, before and after school events. Additionally, most schools may need more than one guard since many have more than one building or you need more than one guard for a very large building.  Plus also assume logistics or support services for the guard. 

Let us assume a minimum of about three guards per school.  Thus, $150,000 per year per school is an approximate.  Now multiply this by 140,000 and the total bill for the NRA idea is $21 billion dollars per year.   I am sure with Fiscal Cliffs and tight budgets, coming up with an additional $21 billion per year will be a snap for the federal, state, and local governments.

Hiring an additional 280,000 to 420,000 guards is more than the 100,000 Clinton cops hired in the 1990s. Keep in mind that there are currently 800,000 individuals already working in law enforcement.  We are talking about nearly increasing by 50% the number of gun carrying law enforcement officials in the country.  Yes gun carrying, and that is the beauty of the NRA proposal–more guns.  Think of how many more guns that will need to be sold to supply all these armed guards.  This is an amazing boom to the gun industry.

Of course, it will not just be handguns sold to these guards.  No armed guard with a side piece will be able to take on someone with semi-automatic guns.  They too will need these kind of toys.  Additionally, image the shootout in schools between guards and killers.  It will look like the O.K. Corral.  Even more, assume someone enters a school to kill, the guards still may not be able to respond in an instant.  There is no guarantee that they will be able to intervene immediately.  On top of which, school shooters may target them first in schools, thus escalating the violence.  Finally, believe it or not, schools are actually safer now than 30 years ago.  Schools are not safer now because of more guns.  Other factors such as screening out weapons, less violence in society in general, and other factors are making schools more safe. Spending all this money on more guards and guns makes little sense when perhaps lost costly alternatives exist.

What amazes me is the transparency of the NRA position.  It is not about a principled position for the Second Amendment or advocacy for the rights of individuals.  It is shilling for the gun industry.  The NRA has to be the only special interest group that I know that is captured by a special interest.

But beyond the fact that the NRA proposal is pricy, it is simply a dumb idea.  What made me think about how dumb it was, was to contrast security in schools, prisons, and embassies.  I have been in all three institutions.  I have toured prisons for research and taught undergraduate criminal justice for nearly a decade.  I have been in several US embassies around the world on assignment for the State Department.  I have taught in or attended many schools.

Embassy and Prison Safety
First, do we really want to turn schools and embassies into prisons?  Prisons are expense to maintain, costing more per capita to incarcerate an inmate than we presently spend to educate students, at least at t he K-12 level.  Second, few people realize that guards in prisons do not carry guns.  The absolutely last thing you want a guard to do is carry a gun.  There is no way armed guards could ever subdue a mob of prisoners.  You would literally need such a high ratio of guards to prisoners that the current prison costs would fly through the roof.  Prisons maintain security by keeping guns out, not bring them in.  Perhaps we should learn from that.

Second, in a post-9/11 world the State Department has moved to redesign embassies to be more secure.  They are more prison-like, but their size and populations compared to schools is very small.  They are easier to defend but even then, there is no way we can protect them against a massive mob or attack unless we have a massive military presence at them.  Again, an impossibility. Security for our embassies is provided by good diplomatic relations, cooperation with a host country, and ultimately, we close facilities if we do not believe them to be safe.  Moreover,  Congress, in its infinite wisdom last year. Dramatically cut back on the State Department budget for security.  If Congress was unwilling to spend a few hundred million for embassy security, what makes the NRA think that Congress will come up with $21 billion for schools.

What is my point?  We have a lot of research on how to promote safety and security and the answer is not more guns.  Even on the streets we know that it is impossible to place an armed police officer on every street and that the reality is that this tactic does not prevent domestic in the home or other crimes that take place off the streets.  Additionally, we know that a gun in the house is far more likely to be used against another member of the household than an intruder.  We can cite more facts, but the reality is that more guns is hardly the solution to safety in most situations.

The NRA position is thus either a fantasy that the world is safer with the threat of shootouts or it is merely a shield for the gun industry. But it is not a viable plan for security.  The NRA solution to everything is more guns.  This is just like some arguing that tax cuts are the cure for everything.  Tax cuts to help when the economy is doing well, or badly.  One idea cannot be the same answer to every problem and the same is true with guns.  There are no one size fits all answers.

Quick Thoughts on the Fiscal Cliff
    When it came to Congress and the president acting to solve the fiscal cliff issue, I was always an optimist and pessimist.  Optimistic that an agreement would occur, a pessimist in thinking the deal would be lousy or simply be no more than kicking the problem down the road.  I may be half right.  The deals being discussed was bad.  It would hurt the poor and damage America’s long term  investments.  It would still damage job production at a time when unemployment is high.  The possible deal was bad and deserved to die. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Case for a Federal Uniform Voting RIghts Act

Note:  This blog originally appeared in my October, 2012 PA Times column.

The Electoral College met on November 17, and formally wrapped up the 2012 elections.  Yet while the results were conclusive, the time is ripe to consider and address the problems with elections administration and voting rights in the USA.
   Election administration is perhaps the most important function performed in the United States.  Yet as it has becoming increasingly clear after the 2012 elections, even after all the reforms that have been undertaken in the last 20 years, that the time has come to create a national law to regulate federal elections in the United States.
    The constitutional framers largely left to the states the authority to determine voting eligibility and the administration of elections.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it prescribe a right to vote, even for federal offices.  Originally senators were chosen by the state legislatures, and the president by the Electoral College and electors were also chosen by state legislatures.  The Seventeenth  Amendment in 1913 gave the people the right to vote for Senators.  In 1941 the Supreme Court in United States v. Classic ruled that Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution gave individuals the right to vote for members of Congress, and in the 1964 Reynolds v Sims it declared that the First Amendment established a right to vote in state and local elections.  But to this day, the Court reminded us in 2000 in Bush v. Gore, there is no right to vote for president and state legislatures could decide to make the direct selection of electors instead of letting voters do that.
    But even with these changes, elections are still run as local affairs.  States still get to determine eligibility to vote, as well as the time, place, and manner for running elections.  Across the country states vary in their voter eligibility and election administration practices, designating varying standards for who gets to vote, the technology used, whether absentee or early voting is permitted, and how ballots are counted and elections run.  The result has been far from specular.
    Over time states have adopting varying practices to franchise or disenfranchise voters.  Despite the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to grant freed male slaves the right to vote, Jim Crow laws in the south prevented most African-Americans from voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1966.  Women were denied the right to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment, and various other techniques were deployed by states to limit franchise.
    Yet Congress is not without authority to act.  While Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution  gives states the authority to regulate the time, manner, and place of elections, it also gives Congress the power to make laws to change these regulations, but as the Supreme Court said in  Oregon v. Mitchell (1970), that authority extended only to federal elections.  The Voting Rights Act was one of the first modern federal efforts to regulate elections, imposing standards upon specific states that discriminated against minorities.  The VRA has largely been a success in extending franchise rights.  In fact it is so successful that the Supreme Court this year may well declare portions of it unconstitutional because its need is allegedly past.  The 1993 Motor Voter Act was a major boom  to voter registration.
    But the 2000 election dispute in Florida changed everything.  While the Bush v. Gore case revealed significant problems in application of election official discretion in ascertaining voter intent,  the American public witnessed instances of politicized election administration, bad ballot design, and a host of technological and other allegations of voter suppression.  To remedy some of these problems the 2002 Help America Vote Act made money available to states to upgrade voting technology, and it also established the Election Assistance Commission, yet these changes were not enough. The 2004 elections witnessed significant allegations of voting irregularity and sloppy administration in Ohio and across the country, and in the last decade a wave of voter Identification election has been imposed in many states, even though the evidence of voter fraud is negligible.  Pre-election activity, including in 2012 , is marked by litigation and lawsuits, and charges that states continue to set confusing rules up to vote and run elections persist.
    The time for federal action is now.  The public administration of federal elections and the right to vote should not vary across states.  There needs to be uniform rules regarding voter eligibility  and qualifications, ballot design, technology, and discretion ascertaining voter intent.  A Federal Uniform Voting Rights Act would set national standards for voting and administration of federal elections, thereby effectively defining the standards for state and local ones too.  Such a law would  perhaps also enhance the professionalization of election administration, moving it away from largely party and partisan control to field with educational training and requirements.    With uniform standards votes could move from state to state and not worry about confusing registration issues, and the concerns about fraud would diminish with the development of national voter databases. Deployment of other national standards for voting machines, or the introduction of new technologies such as Internet voting could bring the administration of elections out of the eighteenth and into the twenty-first centuries.
    The ideals of American democracy are too important to be left to the current federalism of election rules and administration.  Election laws are the rules that make democracy work and the current rules and practices have demonstrated their inability to serve the important needs they are supposed to address.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

After Connecticut: Excuses and Lessons Still Not Learned

Another shooting, life goes on.

We saw it before Newtown, Connecticut.    Just a few moths ago in the heat of the presidential race there was the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie.  Before that the shootings in Columbine, or at Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood, or even that of Representative Giffords failed to shift the dialogue and create and opportunity for a serious rethinking of gun safety in America, the same will happen again.

Yet again the predictable lines of debate and posturing emerged, with the NRA and other pro-gun organizations retorting with the usual litany of arguments. 

*     Gun control will only keep guns out of law-abiding citizens’s hands. 
*    The shooting was an act of a crazy person.
*    Better enforcement of current gun laws would have prevent that tragedy.
*    Had everyone been armed that day then someone could have taken the shooter out. 
*    Guns don’t kill people, only people kill people.

All truly terrific policy responses, but they don’t raise the dead.

Or now one hears in response in claims to make it more difficult to purchase guns: “Have you ever  purchased a gun to see how difficult is?”  An argument about as cogent as arguing that you need to attempt to rob a bank to realize how difficult it is.  Terrific logic.

Even if true that it is difficult to buy a gun this response is besides the point that the guns in Newtown and many other cases were legitimately purchased yet still used for evil purposes.  They were not stolen by criminals but fell in the hands of family members who used them against one another.  This is typical of what happens with many guns–more likely to be used in domestic violence or against those we know than intruders or for self-defense.

Or there is even the blame the liberals argument.  I wonder what the partisan affiliation and voting preferences are of the shooters and victims?

Of course, when all else fails, the response is “We pray for them or the victims and families are in our prayers.”  Prayer is the least one can do when you do nothing else.  Shootings in Newton also raise horrible theological questions about why God would allow innocent children to die.  I should  like to see the Catholic Church and pro-lifers express as much rage and take as much action to protect the sanctity of life once born as they do for fetuses in the womb.  I see no major push from them to do anything substantial regarding gun violence.

Why can we not have a meaningful debate about guns in America?  Yes, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms means something, but it ought not to be an impediment against reasonable regulation of guns and weaponry.  

It should not make it possible for Adam Lanza to secure the stockpile of guns from his mother and then use them against her and children.  It should not have shielded the ability of James Holmes, the alleged Aurora shooter, to stockpile ammo, booby trap an apartment, and blow away 12 people with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. Some tradeoff between individuals rights and collective security needs has to be read into the Amendment, yet instead its meaning has been hijacked by an extremist reading by the gun lobby and industry which has been able to scare primarily Republicans and secondarily Democrats into cowardice.

Had Newtown been an act of terrorism there would have been calls for more security protections much like we saw after 9/11.  Granted many post 9/11 actions were unwarranted or merely symbolic,  if not unconstitutional.  Yet why do we not call what happened in Connecticut an act of domestic terrorism?  Surely the Second Amendment and the Constitution can accommodate reasonable gun safety measures.

No other constitutional amendment is read in such absolutist language.  Not should the Second Amendment.

The NRA and the gun lobby are a potent force in American politics.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, they spend between $5 and $6 million per year lobbying Congress.  Since 1990 they have contributed $27.7 million to Republican and Democrat candidates for federal office with 86% of it going to the former.  They have turned Republicans, the part of law and order, into a tody of the gun industry, supporting legislation that law enforcement officials often oppose.

The gun lobby also expends at the state level.  In Minnesota the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance has expended at least $160,000 in the last decade lobbying for gun rights, successfully advocating for conceal and carry legislation that would have forced schools and churches to allow guns were it not for amendments to the law and a state Supreme Court decision  that overturned that.  They take pride in preventing gun registration and the fact that now more than 100,000 Minnesotans carry guns. The gun industry has probably spent even more to influence legislation through hunting, outdoors, and other ideological  groups, yet current state disclosure laws make it difficult to calculate.

What have the purchased with their investments?  The have browbeaten the government and scholars and academics who wish to investigate gun issues.  It is virtually impossible to study anything related to gun violence because government funding for that purpose has dried up.  The NRA pummeled historian Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture who argued that gun ownership was the exception and not the rule in colonial America.  It successfully convinced a Supreme Court to adopt a theory that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms and not one tied to collective self-defense through the military.

But beyond that it has argued that bans on armor piercing bullets are excessive government regulation.  That Americans should have a right to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons for the purpose of self-defense or hunting.  Guns such as those used to kill JFK or wound Ronald Reagan are entitled to constitutional protection.  In fact the logic of their arguments seems to be that each red-blooded American has a right to own a tank and an atomic bomb.

But that is not where the lunacy ends.  They have defined a political agenda where even what once seemed absurd now is debated.  One always had a right to defend one self with deadly force in  your home, but in Minnesota and other states “stand your ground” legislation would give individuals the right to use deadly force at first instance (and not as a last resort) even out in public.  Such a law in Florida may make it difficult to secure a conviction against George Zimmerman who is accused of killing Trayvon Martin. In Indiana a law lets citizens shoot at police officers if the later engage in an illegal act or raid.

The gun lobby will assert that arming this country has produced a kinder and gentler America.  Arm us all they say and that will be a deterrent to crime. Yet there is no evidence that increased gun ownership has reduced crime in America.  States with more lax gun laws do not reveal lower crime rates than those with more strict laws.  Moreover, the idea of self-defense is largely a myth.  In households with guns, those weapons are more likely to be used against a family member in domestic violence than they are to be used against an intruder or to prevent a crime.  Maybe guns don’t kill people, but people with guns are more likely to kill people than those without guns.  Go ask the people of North Minneapolis about this.

It is not just the crazy and insane who use guns.  Law-abiding Americans in fits of passion misuse them, or they are stolen from them and wind up in the hand of others who misuse them.

The NRA has been brilliant in crying wolf.  They decree that Barack Obama is public enemy number one to guns rights in America, describing first the 2008 and now the 2012 election as a major battle for liberty.  Gun sales have shot through the roof with Obama as president on fear they he will disarm America.  The fact is that the only thing Obama has done about guns is sign a law allowing for individuals to carry them in national parks.  In the next few days gun sales will against soar as fears of regulation will mount. 

But don’t count on it. Politicians are afraid to act. The public has grown numb to this violence.  It is the price of a free society.  Life goes on.  So does death.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It’s Worse than you think: Quick Thoughts on the Minnesota Fiscal Forecast

Official reports list the upcoming budget deficit for the State of Minnesota as $1.1 billion.  This according to the state economist and the fiscal forecast.  Yet while $1.1 B is bad enough it is really worse than that, and could deteriorate.

Consider some basic facts.

When the 2011 government shutdown was averted $2.4 billion was borrowed from K-12 and the state also borrowed approximately $700 million from the tobacco endowment.  These were both one time revenue sources that need to be paid back.  Add these two obligations to the $1.1 and the real deficit is closer to $3.8 B.

Critics will say that the $3.8 B figure is wrong, asserting that the fiscal forecast does indicate that about $1.3 B will be shifted to pay back K-12 from current surplus.  this is on top of $3.2 M already paid back (but for the sake of argument we will ignore this even though it should be counted toward a larger state obligation for revenue).  But as my grandmother used to say money does not grow on trees and it comes from somewhere.  That $1.3 is coming out of something,a present one time surplus in the current budget cycle that one cannot necessarily count on in the next cycle.  This money represents an obligation to the state and therefore money is stilled owed and must be paid back.  The same can be said about the tobacco bonds.  Thus the $3.8 is a fair figure on the obligations owed by the state beyond current projected revenues to meet spending in the next budget cycle that is roughly the same as it is now in the current one.

It gets worse.  The forecast also notes that the anticipated gaming proceeds to help finance the new Vikings stadium are significantly behind projections.  If they do not pick up then the State (taxpayers) are also on the hook for this additional obligation which could potentially been a few hundred million dollars.  This makes the bad deal for the state look even worse.  Stay tuned on this.

But it gets even worse.  If the fiscal cliff kicks in and hits the state or even if the economy simply slows down, revenues decrease and the deficit gets even worse.  Even the fiscal forecast tells us that.

Thus, the $1.1 B deficit may very well really be one that is over $4 B.  We are back to where we were two years ago.  No surprise.  The last budget was done with gimmicks and tricks.

 We cannot continue to repeat the mistakes and tricks of the lack decade and continue to push the problem down the line.  Yes tax increases may be needed to address the problems here but that is probably not enough.  New revenue sources are needed but cuts may also be needed.  The question will be who carries the burden or takes the cuts.  Will it come from the poor?  Healthcare?  Education?  Higher ed?  Cities?

The issue now is how honest does the DFL want to be in confronting the reality of the budget.  Will it use real numbers, eschew gimmicks, and base projections on realistic assumptions?  This is the challenge for the Governor and the legislature.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Republican Kübler-Ross Moment

Note:  This essay appeared in the November 30, edition of  Politics in Minnesota.  Please consider subscribing to that publication.  Also, for comparison, the December 3, 2012 "Talk of the Town" section of the New Yorker references a Kübler-Ross feeling among House of Representatives Republicans.  I wrote this piece before seeing the New Yorker essay.

Republicans and conservatives in Minnesota and across the United States are having their  Kübler-Ross moment with the 2012 election results and their aftermath.  As they confront their political mortality, their reaction to their failures parallels that of the psychological state of individuals facing their own deaths.
    Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss doctor whose book Death and Dying outlined a seven stage process that patients often go through when confronting death.  Her book became famous in the 1979 Bob Fosse movie All that Jazz, featuring Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon.  The stages–shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance–represent the psychological states that individuals go through as they confront their demise.  Individuals move through these seven stages to acceptance, but often get s truck at a stage and never move on. Politically, Republicans and conservatives across the country are similarly facing their own mortality, psychologically traversing the same path, or worse, getting stuck in one stage and unable to move on.
    Shock.  Many Republicans have yet to accept the fact that they lost the 2012 elections fair and square.  They were out-hustled, out-organized, and most importantly, out-voted.  Obama received more votes than Romney, Democrats have more US Senate seats than Republicans, and for only the fourth time in American history, the minority party in the House received more votes than the majority.  Democrats also made big gains in the state houses, including Minnesota, and here the two Republican-prized constitutional amendments failed.  Romney, as it is now known, was so assured of victory that he did not write a concession speech.  Karl Rove, similarly convinced of victory, had a meltdown on Fox news when that state was called Ohio for Obama on his beloved network.
    Denial.  We could not have loss had it been a fair election.  But for the voter fraud we would have won.  But for Obama giving gifts to minority voters we would have won.  For Kurt Zellers, it was not the two amendments and the social issues, the government shutdown, or bad politics that cost them the control of the legislature.  For Mary Kiffmeyer and Jason Lewis, were it not for the lies and distortions by their opponents, the Elections Amendment would have passed.  For Dan McGrath of the Minnesota Majority, expect him to yell fraud, contending that were it not for the voter fraud that the Elections Amendment was meant to prevent, it would have passed.  Of course, Romney did not lose because he was a bad candidate, with a bad message, appealing to an aging, white, party and demographic that is dying off and which is to the right of mainstream America.  Of course Republicans did not lose Senate races in Missouri and Indiana because candidate remarks about rape and abortion turned off female voters.  No, the problem is not the candidate, the message, or the messenger, it is simply we did not move far enough to the right or that we need to repackage the same ideas in a new way.
    Anger.  We just cannot live a country with Obama as president so we need to succeed from the union, so says those folks deep in the heart of Texas.  Similarly conservatives and Republicans are lashing out against the biased media, lying liberals, and thuggish unions, all to blame for their losses. But as if anger and blame were not spread around far enough, turn inward.  Blame moderates such as Romney, Christ Christie for doing his job in New Jersey, or Clint Eastwood for talking to an empty chair for squandering the chance to win.
    Bargaining.  The president wins, we lose. Democrats gain seats in Senate and House and Minnesota turns true blue in the legislature.  What shall we do?  Stand our ground and force Obama and the Democrats to bargain.  John Boehner claims a mandate and says maybe we shall compromise, but we refuse to raise income taxes, we refuse to make the wealthy carry their fair share, we refuse to give to avoid the fiscal cliff.  Best of all, Mary Kiffmeyer, after refusing to negotiate with the governor and the DFL on voter ID, now generously tells both that she willing to compromise on it.
    Depression.  Oh to have the Prozac concession for Fox News, AM talk radio, and in most of the south.  Depression rings across the red parts of the United States now.  The despondence of having lost a presidential race that should have been won, a US Senate ripe for the picking, or realization  that Obama gets probably to pick several Supreme Court Justices or that same-sex marriage as a legal reality is near is enough to make any Conservative Republican depressed.  How can one live four more years with a president whose middle name is Hussein, who is probably not a US citizen, and no doubt Muslim.
    Testing.  But just maybe there is a way to go on.  Maybe there is a way to let taxes go up without raising taxes.  Perhaps it is by letting the Bush era tax cuts expire and then vote for a tax cut for the middle class.  That’s not raising taxes is it?  Or perhaps eliminate tax loopholes or raise the rates on capital gains.  That’s not raising taxes is it?
    Acceptance.  Ok, so Obama did win and the Democrats did take control of the Minnesota legislature.  But the midterm elections are less than two years away and the next presidential race barely four.  Maybe there is a way to survive, maybe we can obstruct some more, hold on to some old outdated ideas on gay rights and immigration, or maybe Obama and the Democrats will overreach.  Yes we lost, but perhaps there is a silver lining.  It will be purity of message and candidate in 2014 and 2016.