Mornings at the Markets with My TV Family

It’s Monday and I am toggling between the wake-me-up news shows, from Late Night Charlie to Morning Joe to whomever those other lightweights are. But occasionally I take a swerve to Squawk Box to see if a financial cataclysm as occurred overnight.

I admit I found this detour far less annoying before Mark Haines died. He was a bluff, old-fashioned, far from a progressive newscaster, but he seemed reasonably intelligent, reasonably fair-minded and had enough mileage to be skeptical of a lot of the guff his Washington and Wall Street guests were spouting.

Ever since his dimmer sidekick, Joe Kernen, was given the big guy’s chair, trying to learn what the markets are up to has been a lot more trying. It’s as if Ed McMahon were given the job when Johnny left or Pancho took over for Cisco. Can we say, out of his depth?

Presumably Andrew Ross Sorkin, a really smart journalist, was hired to provide some intellectual heft, but he’s forced to endure boneheaded locker room banter. Becky Quick tries to play along with the boys, as smart women in a world of stupid men are forced to do. And then there’s the even more grotesque supporting cast. Grim.

But the other morning everything changed when it dawned on me what I was really watching – “All in the Family.”

Kernen is Archie, a man several decades out of date but completely unaware he’s a fount of politically, economically and morally wrongheaded views. And perhaps dimly aware that all the powerful and obscenely wealthy people he’s covering have won the brass ring while he’s never even located the merry-go-round. They aren’t going to be his pal, either, once the red light goes out.

Poor Sorkin is the college boy, Meathead to Kernen, who gets no respect. Quick is Gloria (it’s surprising Kernen doesn’t call her “Little Girl”), who tries to keep the peace without getting in Daddy’s line of fire.

Steve Liesman appears actually to be a reasonable, analytically-minded economist who is regularly overpowered or interrupted or ignored by Kernen and the even more dismissive supporting cast. Obviously he is Edith.

As to those supporting cast members, Rick Santelli can only be George Jefferson. Of course on the original “All in the Family,” Jefferson was way to the left of Archie. But that was then; this is now. Today the place for touchy, aggravated people is clearly to the howling-dog right and Santelli is the anti-government ranter who has become a darling of the Tea Party. He is allowed to pipe up from Chicago now and then to add some real extremism to the show.

Jim Cramer, the king of incomprehensibly fast-talking blowhards, isn’t really a part of the family. He follows Squawk Box on Squawk on the Street. But he sticks his head in often enough to deserve cameo billing as, who else? He’s the overbearing, unbearable Maude.

Ever since I understood I was watching a sitcom and not a financial news show, I’ve been more able to tolerate the squawking on Squawk Box. In fact, I can’t wait for the spinoffs.

Cramer has already got his, shamelessly touting stocks at night. I think there might be room for Meathead and Little Gloria to go off on their own and actually cover the news.

With any luck that would leave Kernan to end as Archie did, alone at a bar in Queens. Preferably, not televised.

When RINOs Roamed the Earth

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has included a lot of hand-wringing about how the country could accomplish big things then and is stuck with small ball now. Was Lyndon a genius, a bully or both? Was the Democratic Party more courageous then? Well, a little bit of each, perhaps, and a lot of courage and shrewd calculation from the leaders of the Civil Rights movement themselves.

But there has been some pushback from Republicans who rightly object to the Democrats spiking the ball since the legislation was as much due to Republicans as Democrats. Didn’t then-Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen get his party aboard because he thought Civil Rights (for people other than white men) was an idea whose time had come?

The problem with drawing attention to that history is that the closer you look, the better Republicans of 1964 and the worse Republicans of 2014 look.

Of the 415 votes cast in the House, the Democrats accounted for 244 so could have passed the Civil Rights legislation without a single Republican vote. In the much more evenly divided House of today, such easy putts are unavailable.

But that isn’t what happened because Johnson could not deliver a huge Democratic majority. This was the Democratic Party of the solid South. That is, solidly segregationist, evangelical, state’s rights and anti-Washington. So the Democrats only provided 153 of the House votes to pass Civil Rights with 91 members voting nay for only a 64 percent aye vote. By contrast, Republicans voted 80 percent in favoring, providing 136 votes and only 35 nays.

Same story on the Senate side where the vote was 73-27 in favor. Only 46 of 67 Democrats were in the majority while the Republicans voted overwhelmingly for the measure, 27-6.

Why can’t Barack be more like Lyndon? The real question is why are the parties so altered? The solid South is still conservative, even reactionary on many social issues. It just isn’t Democratic. All those segregationist, state’s rights, anti-feds became Republicans rather than stay in a party in favor of Civil Rights. They painted the map red from Virginia to Texas and on into the West.

Even more to the point, Eastern and Midwestern Republicans who were fiscally conservative but socially moderate have gone the way of the dodo. New England is bright blue, but in the heartland the strain of Republicanism that is increasingly ascendant is red-in-the-face right wing, tea party loony. People for whom compromise and cooperation are anathema and succession an option.

To them, the old-style Republicans who helped pass Civil Rights are RINOs, Republicans In Name Only. To them, anyone who didn’t think Sarah Palin was presidential material is a liberal, leftie, socialist. Anyone Progressive, in the sense of Teddy Roosevelt is equally unacceptable. The Chad Mitchell Trio 50 years ago sang about Goldwater fans as “the nice young men who want to go back to 1910.”

Today that wouldn’t cut it. Red Meat Republicans want to go back to 1880, maybe 1850 — no minimum wage, no Social Security, no Medicare, no eight hour work day or 40 hour week, no women in the workplace but plenty of child labor. No Civil Rights. No FDA, EPA, OSHA, FEMA.

I think a lot of us could get behind a Republicanism able to provide a moderating alternative to the Democrats on budgetary issues if it didn’t entail fraying the social safety net, neo-con foreign adventures and the free market as final arbiter of all of life.

There once were Republicans like that beginning with Teddy and including Ike, Dirksen, Rockefeller, Willkie, Colin Powell, Domenici, Lugar, Scranton, Percy, Danforth, Howard Baker, the first Romney, and the first Bush, Prescott, who didn’t mind government spending as long as government raised the taxes to pay for it. Read his lips, no stupid slogans just fiscal probity. Today, he’d be exorcised as a RINO apostate.

And that’s why Civil Rights and much else we take for granted couldn’t pass today. The middle of the political spectrum, like the middle class, is a vanishing species and we are left with a choice between Democrats who want government to tend to the common good but aren’t willing or able to make it run efficiently on a budget and Republicans who want government to do nothing while the free market creates a winner take all dystopia. Some choice. But not a hard one so long as one party favors equal justice under the law and the other is nostalgic for the Fugitive Slave Act.

A Special Report from Podunk News

This just in.

A day or two ago I received a bulletin on my mobile device. Thank God for modern technology. In the old days I would never have known that a news service had a breaking story that I could not afford to be ignorant of for even one minute.

Chelsea Clinton was with child.

There followed a number of commentaries discussing the political, eleemosynary and metaphysical implications of this momentous development. But these were all little more than snap judgments, delivered in the heat of the moment.

Now that we have had time to soberly assess this profound story, I am pleased to bring you the following in depth report on everything you need to know about the Clinton pregnancy and all it may portend for the future of this great country we all love and indeed for the complicated world we inhabit.

Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

You’re welcome. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Hold the phone. Here’s another flash just in.

Some Republicans are now insisting the Clinton pregnancy has been engineered by Bill and Hillary to advance her 2016 presidential campaign by giving her neat baby pictures to show the public.

Polls show the number of sane people who believe this latest GOP conspiracy theory is: none, zero, zilch.