Thursday, September 6, 2012

On the DNC

"In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in." 

That's one of the many great lines from Clinton's speech last night.   This Democratic Convention, I think, marks the death blow for the Romney campaign.  Assuming Obama makes no major gaffes between now and election, he's going to win.  That's not a bold prediction, I know, but I can't help that what seems obvious to me seems obvious to everyone else.  My hope is that an utter defeat this fall will help the Republican Party reform itself into a party of viable, responsible adults.

Can anyone who has watched both of the nominating conventions believe that the Republican Party, as currently constituted, deserves--or is prepared--to be in power?  Their entire strategy since Obama came into power has been to oppose his every attempt to do anything (including an attempt to balance a budget the substance of which they agreed with) in the hopes they could defeat him.  Or, as President Clinton put it last night:

President Obama...tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn't work out so well. Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their No. 1 priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.

This was Mitch McConnell, of course.  And this, at core, has been the motivating ethos of the Republicans--not we want to govern, but we want to WIN.

Another excerpt:

When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are destined to live our lives between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy, and compromise is weakness.
I tend to value small government over large, and the private over the public sector.  I am fully persuaded that our most important challenge over the next ten years will be cutting entitlements and working out a sustainable model for balancing budgets.  I have many problems with several stalwarts of the Democratic base.  And yet for all that, I have never been so fully repulsed by the Republican Party as I am today.  I won't say they have no ideas--I think (hope?) they do.  They don't make arguments based on those ideas, however; they argue only that Obama is bad.  The entire Republican convention, last week, could be summed up in the phrase "Obama Is Bad."  It's lame dispiriting stuff.  What a contrast to what we've seen from the Democrats so far in Charlotte.


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Dezmond said...

I sympathize. But THE issue is the deficit. (With the environmental crisis as a close second). That is it. Everything else is shiny little distractors. So far, the Democrats have offered no detailed plan to address the deficit. They mention it in passing in these speeches. I don't agree with everything in Ryan's budget, but he is one of the only serious people in politics to take on the sacred cows of entitlements (including Medicare, which is an entitlement) in dealing with the deficit. Yes, Clinton gave a great speech. He usually does. But don't get distracted by the shiny things. Remember what is important.

ANCIANT said...

Love the new image.

As far as I've gotten out of Mitt-who is not much for being specific about ANYTHING, another factor that makes me distrust him-he plans to cut the deficit by
1) cutting taxes across the board, which benefits mostly the wealthy
2) fixing tax loopholes, which fixes will not only compensate for all the revenue he's losing by lowering taxes, but will also, magically, help us close the deficit.

Must be some loopholes! But what are they, Mitt, these many tax loopholes you will close? Because let me tell you: Tax Reform is big with me. Seriously: if someone could convince me they were going to succeed at serious tax reform, I'd be listening. But Mitt won't say which loopholes. No details.

So you say, well he can't be specific, he'll make enemies and tip his hand. But the thing is, he isn't specific about ANYTHING. And his generally over cautious, refusing to give anything away ever and also happy to say whatever he thinks he SHOULD say to get elected (and fire trusted campaign aides for being gay when Republican big wigs make noises about it) strain in Mitt is what makes him so unpalatable to me.

More than that, a President, despite Mitt's claims, is not a CEO. He doesn't go in to COngress and say what they have to do. He massages and finegles and manages them. Mitt has no integrity and no personal charisma. Who in Congress will want to work with him, beyond a few party stalwarts? HOw can I believe this cowardly frail little man, who has no core beliefs about any subject at all, is going to somehow go to Congress and manage to effect serious tax reform? There's no way. Even if I thought he had some good ideas about what to do as president (and there's no evidence he does) I have zero faith that he will have the ability or courage to make those ideas reality. He's a weak man, Dez. I wish it weren't so, but it is. I'd love serious entitlement reform, but at this point Obama is the better choice--for even that.

JMW said...

Except, Dez, you're eliding the fact that Clinton is the only president in our lifetime to balance the budget and that Republicans generally have seemed perfectly happy to explode the deficit while making noises about reducing it. Mitt's talk about the military is comforting to you on this level? And unlike Reagan and, gulp, even W., Ryan is a complete loon — almost everyone who seriously looks at his budget plan says it's completely pie-in-the-sky stuff. Would it be a nice pie? A tasty pie? Sure. Would the world be better if that pie were achievable? Maybe. But as you know better than most people I know, this is politics in the real world, and whoever wins is not going to magically balance the budget. Or even close.

And you call the environmental crisis "a close second"? That surprises me on the face of it, but it especially surprises me that you would say that and then warn about getting distracted by shiny things. Isn't it more or less Republican orthodoxy at this point that the environmental crisis is a scheme of some sort? (Like so many issues right now, I say that realizing that neither D's nor R's make me confident that we can solve this; but at least the D's acknowledge it as a part of reality, which counts for an awful lot with me.)

ANCIANT, I completely agree with you about not liking many Democratic stalwarts. What's to like? Reid and Pelosi; ugh. Biden is a total hack (his speech tonight was awful). I thought Castro was completely underwhelming in his keynote. But I would add (and you might, too) that I personally like Obama quite a bit. CNN (for what reason I don't know; I was busy talking to friends about other things at the moment) showed this clip of Democratic candidates since '80. Aside from Clinton (who I like on a personal level a lot more as an ex-president than I did as a president), it was such a profoundly dispiriting group: Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore. My god. Looking at them, I realized that Obama, like any charismatic, believable, seemingly grounded person -- like Reagan for the Republicans -- is a small miracle more than anything else. I liked McCain, more or less, until the totally unhinged Palin pick, which proved more than ever that he wasn't in control of the plane. But Romney? He's the John Kerry of the Republicans, and yes, that's an insult. This is not a difficult choice for me on any level.

ANCIANT said...


I too like Obama. I didn't mean to imply that I didn't. Dealt a pretty terrible starting hand, he's generally made the most of a difficult four years. I wish he'd been more successful in getting deficit reduction underway, but given Republican intransigence, I'm not sure how much of that can be laid at his feet.

What I want this fall is not only for Obama to win--I want an utter triumph. An ass-whooping, as it were. Only by suffering an abject and total defeat will the Republican Party have a chance at internal reform. In four years, when the Republicans nominate a president, i want to see real, viable candidates--adults, as it were, who are capable and qualified of being president. Of the ten Republican candidates who ran this year, two, at most, could match that description (Huntsman and Romney). The rest were clowns. It's not surprising--the Republican Party has become a sad shadow of what it once was. And we need a viable dual-party system. I don't want a Republican Party full of clowns. But until the clowns start getting beat upon, that's what we're going to have.

JMW said...

Totally agree, ANCIANT. Except that they got a decent whooping last time around and it only made them double down on the nuttiness. If Obama wins, it will be by a lesser margin than last time, I think, and that seems unlikely to change the opposition's tone too drastically. As long as the economy is sluggish (which could be for a long time, no matter who's in office), and as long as there's enough in the culture wars to make the R's pander to that constituency, they might not feel motivation to get their act together for a while. We shall see. Like you, I'm rooting for it, because two strong parties is certainly better for the country -- and lord know the Democrats aren't exactly a house on fire once you get past Obama.

Anonymous said...

You are right, ANCIANT. The Republican Party of Eisenhower (or even Reagan) seems far away. (Funny how Eisenhower, over time, can be viewed as one of our greatest presidents, yet was seen as so mediocre during his time). Different times, different times.

I can't say that I disagree with most of both of your complaints, yet the Democrats seem to take two issues even less seriously than the Republicans that are crucial for our survival as the country we are: the deficit and (related) entitlements. Republicans often come across as kooks, but they do seem to grasp the seriousness of the debt crisis. I was disappointed to hear mere lip service or passing mentions of those two issues from the Dems.

Do people not understand that we are on the road to Greece? Don't talk to me about "we're in this together" and we help each will you address the looming debt crisis? No answer. Not even much indication that it is that important to you.

Even during Clinton's speech, the most he could say about the long term viability of Medicare was that the Republicans wouldn't work with Obama to give Medicare 8 more years. Even in a speech full of conveniently viewed stats and "facts," Clinton couldn't go any further than saying Obama had a plan to keep Medicare on life support for 8 years. What about after that? Crickets.

Crushing Debt. Unsustainable entitlements. The Republicans at least understand these concepts and discuss them. The Dems hardly mention them at all, and when they do it is because the Republicans have brought them into the national conversation.

This other stuff, who can marry who and which president is more inspiring...none of that means anything if we look like Greece.


ANCIANT said...

To your main points, Dez:

1) As JMW said, as far as I've seen, no serious economist (from any political party) seems to think the Ryan budget plan is feasible. I won't claim to be any more knowledgeable about its details, but if you can point me to a reasonable analysis of the Ryan plan that shows how it will work, I will read it. This despite my profound misgivings (see above) that a Romney/Ryan administration would be able to actually negotiate their plan and bring it into law.

2) Two years ago, Obama proposed a serious deficit-cutting plan, one that DID propose to cut entitlements. He offered up 2.5 trillion in entitlement cuts; in return he asked the Republicans to allow 1 trillion new dollars in revenue increases (some of it new taxes, some of it closing up of loopholes that would effectively increase revenues). Many moderate Republicans approved the plan--even, at one point, VP Ryan himself. Then, either from fear that compromising with the President would make it easier for him to get re-elected, or b/c the Republicans are all afraid of Grover Norquist, the Republicans scuttled the plan.

My conclusion: despite what they say, they are, in fact, NOT serious about entitlement cuts. They will only accept entitlement cuts provided that there are NO CORRESPONDING REVENUE increases. None at all. Zero. During the Republican debates, the moderator asked the candidates if any of them would accept a deficit-reduction plan that featured 10-1 entitlement cuts/new revenues. TEN TO ONE--they all said no. All or nothing, our way or the highway--that's today's Republican Party. It's why I say they're not a party of adult, because that is not how government works. If they really wanted entitlement cuts they would have taken them in 2010. They didn't, b/c they are so ideological that to them all compromise is weakness. Reagan compromised with Democrats in the house to pass his budgets; Eisenhower did the same. That's what leaders do; they make small sacrifices in the service of realizing larger ambitions. Today's Republican Party, however, won't do that.

ANCIANT said...

In the interest of expanding this very interesting discussion, I've asked my brother, another intelligent Romney supporter, to chime in. Hopefully he'll post in a day or so....

JMW said...

Yes, ANCIANT, yes. The name Grover Norquist should strike fear into the heart of anyone who wants to address the deficit. Because yes, stopping spending would actually help. But we're not going to do that. And by "we," I don't mean Democrats, because I'm not a registered Democrat. I just mean our government.

Entitlements have to be addressed, but without compromise they won't be. We're not going to scrap federal spending on health care because it exists and people won't give it up. We may have to modify it, but we're not going to scrap it. This includes Ryan. Tax revenue would help, obviously, but Republicans have made any tax increases at all a complete no-go, which is kind of crazy given the state we're in. (This is not to say I'm a huge fan of tax increases as a matter of course.)

What's more, I don't see anything from Ryan and Romney that suggests they won't operate a W.-style foreign policy and military policy generally, which is a huge part of the current deficit problem. Do you see anything suggesting they won't?

Entitlements are a huge problem, but the idea that Republicans are more serious about and aware of the deficit -- I just don't see any proof of that other than blather, which counts for zilch.

And what of the environmental crisis you mentioned as such a huge issue? (I ask out of genuine curiosity; it's not an issue I evangelize about, but I find the Republican know-nothing approach an insult.)

And lastly, what about social issues? You may be right that they don't matter as much if we look like Greece, but they do matter. They also influence voters. If the R's have such a better economic plan, wouldn't it behoove them to get in office to enact it, even if that meant trying to temper some of the more medieval elements of the party on issues like women's health? Even if social issues don't have the same impact on, say, food on the table, aren't they still an important part of a party's overall respectability? (And one need not be radically liberal on social issues to be turned off by R's. They're the radicals, at least in this country.)

Actually, while we're on the subject, you can't really make a simple equation of us with Greece, can you? Doesn't the size and diversity of our economy have a little to say about things? What happened to Dez the American triumphalist?

Dezmond said...

As George Bush, Sr. said in a recent interview: "who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?"

Saxo Philologus said...

Since you've called me "intelligent," Tim (this reminds of the great 30 Rock line: "The show that Variety called 'still on'"), I have no choice but to explain my decision to vote for Romney.

Actually, Dez has already said it all for me. I agree with his opinions entirely (and let me give you another shout-out, Dex, for putting Yes 90125 so high up on your 100 best albums). I like Obama personally. He's a smart, thoughtful guy. But I can't vote for him again because:

1) I don't think he has enough experience about how the world actually works (hence his belief that the stimulus was going to flow into shovel-ready jobs rather than be mostly wasted on giveaways and foolishly spent subsidies, as it was). The president should either know how the economy works or how foreign policy works (these are necessary, but not sufficient qualifications, I hasten to add). Obama has never really done anything but 1) be an adjunct professor and get offered tenure despite having published nothing; 2) be a community organizer; and 3) run for office. As a self-hating academic, let me just say that I don't want another academic running the country.

2) He is just as much of a political trimmer as Romney is (see: gay marriage).

3) I actually disagree with a great deal of what he has done. The health care bill is an incoherent mess. Insurance cannot be made an entitlement. The Sotomayor appointment was on par with the attempted Harriet Myers appointment. He criticized the Supreme Court for the Citizens United decision in his State of the Union speech, which showed a real lack of class (think GW, for all his faults, would have done that?). He is a sop to unions, particularly public sector unions. And he just gutted the welfare reform bill (for which see Robert Rector and Mickey Kaus). The debt is a low priority for him. His domestic policies are either bad or incoherent.

4) You seem to want to chastise the Republican party as being a party of children, but the consensus seems to be that the leadership of the Democratic party is just as bad. Yes, there is much to dislike about the current Republican party, but Romney is an adult.

These are my thoughts, such as they are.

JMW said...

Apologies in advance for the length of this. It's Saturday morning and I have nothing better to do, which says something about my life more than it does about my political opinions:

Thank you, Saxo, for reminding me of Dez's albums list and therefore of his shaky judgment in general.

I kid. Obviously, I have a ton of respect for the brains of Dez and Saxo. That said, your arguments in this particular case aren't yet swaying me at all. Saxo, your entire first reason and all its sub-reasons would have at least gotten my attention in 2008. But Obama has now been president for four years, which, whatever you think of his performance, is a pretty big boost in the experience department. As for his knowing how the economy and foreign policy work, I don't have any boot-him-out problems with his foreign policy, especially given the fact that I think Romney and Ryan have the potential (at least the potential) to be a total disaster in that area. I'm an old-school Bush Sr. diplomat when it comes to most foreign policy, not a neocon. And though Romney and Ryan have pretty much zero experience with it, I'm willing to believe their rhetoric for now, which suggests more neocon leanings.

The economy: For me, this is actually key, but not for the reasons you might think. I have always, from the time I started having whatever semi-coherent thoughts I've had about politics throughout my life, believed that many aspects of economic direction (not all, but many) are beyond the president's influence. Bill Clinton wasn't an economic genius because of the tech boom and peacetime. Likewise, W. wasn't an economic fool because of global conditions that would have washed over whoever was in the Oval Office. (Though to the degree that lack of American oversight was a factor, I lean Dem on this issue. Read Michael Lewis' The Big Short, which is brilliant on several levels and hardly a foaming lefty treatise.) I don't believe that either Obama or Romney is going to "fix" the country's economics. I do believe they can manage them within reason, and I temperamentally and intellectually prefer Obama's more pragmatic approach (e.g. the gov't is not the answer to our problems, but it's not the cause of all of them) to Romney and especially Ryan's hard-line thinking -- which, again, has never really influenced the fact that other Republicans who are hard-line about the deficit on the campaign trail have had no trouble exploding it once in power. This fact is going unremarked upon by Saxo and Dez.

The economy is an enormous, unpredictable, partially (or more than partially) uncontrollable entity. Bush himself passed a stimulus of many, many billions of dollars. There are economists much smarter than I am (not that I believe everything they say) who argued for more stimulus. What the actual stimulus did is FAR from clear, and it's true that opinions about its effects differ:

JMW said...

But given those differing opinions I'm not going to say that I have the answer for how to temporarily help an economy that was on the verge of collapse (and is still far from out of the woods). I guess what I mean is that I'm reluctant to vote based purely on economics theory because I don't think a) either candidate is going to be able to implement all of the theory they espouse, and b) I have doubts about the efficacy of any and all plans, including "no plan," which seems to be the Ryan plan.

This could apply to health care as well. The reform is a mess, for sure. This can certainly be laid at the feet of both parties and their impact on its final form. But two things strike me: 1) I don't know a single person, including doctors I know, who believe our health care system was in great shape before this. So while I don't automatically dismiss the idea of severely rethinking Obamacare (repealing it rubs me the wrong way, for precedential reasons), all I hear from Romney is "I will repeal Obamacare." And then what? I don't hear a single constructive healthcare idea from the Republicans, and this is a party that isn't without SOME history of wanting liberal healthcare reform itself.

I'll read Mickey Kaus and Robert Rector on welfare. Everyone I've read so far, including some un-liberals, have said the welfare issue has been completely misrepresented by the R's. But I'm willing to learn more, of course.

But I think it's important to end this bloviating of mine on Norquist. Not because of just him, but because of what he represents, which is ideology over pragmatism. And this strain seems to run throughout much of the Republican party right now. In my lifetime, the Democrats have become more and more centrist, despite the flailing attempts of the other side to paint them as Trotskyites. And I like that they've become more centrist because I consider myself a centrist. Clinton moved way to the middle on welfare. Democrats routinely vote for military expenditures and even war powers that far-leftists would consider complete heresy. When the party is more clearly liberal on an issue, like gay marriage, it's almost always after there's a fairly significant shift in the average American's opinion about it. On the other side, the Republicans (not every last one) have proudly adopted a stance of no compromise at all on anything. Their vice presidential nominee openly champions the social vision of Ayn Rand, which I have less of a problem with it because of its "coldness" or whatever than because Ayn Rand's world (an entertaining one; I read pretty much of all her at some point) is about as real as Tolkien's. The Republicans since Reagan also simply recite the idea that government is the problem, but they conveniently leave out the fact that they're running to control a giant government that will continue to be giant and influential with them at the reins. So I'd prefer they offer me their vision of what their government will look like, rather than trying to fool me into believing that they're somehow going to dissolve the very institution they're leading.

JMW said...

Lastly, a direct question for all of us: Do any of us really think that the current deficit can be addressed at all without both tax hikes AND entitlement reforms? And if tax hikes are off the table, wouldn't the accompanying entitlement reform become so radical that it would be politically unfeasible?

Dezmond said...

I know this is a good conversation when I have to take notes in order to remember everything I want to respond to.

First of all, thanks Saxo for the complements, both on politics and for my albums list.


Look, I'm far from sold on the Ryan Plan. But what impresses me most is that it is a Plan. Ryan, so far, is the only one to present a plan to deal with our most important issue (an issue that will determine the very nature of our country very soon). The Democrats have only addressed it when pressed publicly by the Republicans. It is a starting point. And I can at least admire the hell out of a guy who put his neck out there with a plan, vs. giving doomsday speeches and nothing more. I saw a clip recently of Clinton talking with Ryan backstage at some event. It was grainy, it looked like someone recorded it on a cell phone or something, but Clinton approached Ryan and said to him the same thing I just said. Clinton told Ryan that it was a bold first move that someone had to take, and hopefully we can all talk more seriously about it from here. He even told Ryan to call him so they could talk more seriously about it all, "let me know what I can do" (or something to that effect). Even if we don't follow his plan, Ryan is a political hero in a sense for at least putting a plan out there, putting this issue front and center, and taking on entitlements that nobody else wanted to touch before Ryan made that move. Now, people on both sides are at least talking about the only real truth here that Medicare and other entitlements will need to be touched. Before Paul Ryan, that was not discussed by people who needed to run for public office.

ANCIANT, I remember the 10-1 thing in that Republican debate. That made me furious too. I almost flipped to the dark side then and there. If you could get the Dems to agree to a 10-1 like that, hell yeah you take the deal. Daddy Bush or Reagan would have jumped at that.

On the environment, neither party can really do what needs to be done. And even if we did, you need China and other industrialized nations to follow suit. I am naturally a pessimist, so I think we are all f*cked on this issue.

No JMW, social issues do NOT matter. Not right now. As I said before, they are shiny little distractors for people who cannot grasp our imminent tipping point. But, let's address some shiny things anyway.

This whole "war on women" BS is ridiculous. You think it is extreme of the Republicans to support religious institutions in their right to make decisions that do not violate key tenants of their faith (the whole issue of religious institutions having to pay for rubbers and birth control pills through health coverage). That's extreme? Forget the war on women, how about the very real war on religion as conducted by the Left. I know you are not religious (and frankly, neither am I), but this country, like it or not, was founded on firm Judeo-Christian principles and morality. The protection of religious liberty was crucial for our Founding Fathers, even a deist like Jefferson. The First Amendment protection against government establishment of religion was to prevent a Church of the United States (a la Church of England) from emerging and influencing real policy. It was not intended to wipe away any public display of faith whatsoever. Again, I'm not even religious but damn, Leftists sure are aggressive (through being ridiculously sensitive) in religious suppression.

What else is so medieval on the Republican's side? Abortion will never be settled. But it is crucial for those on the Left to understand that for those who are Pro-Life, a woman's freedom of choice is not even the issue. The issue is one of murder of another individual. But as I always tell my students when we dive into the Liberal/Conservative discussion (as we did this week, actually), Abortion really is one of those issues not worth talking about, because minds will never be changed either way.

Dezmond said...

I agree with Saxo, clearly the more politically sophisticated of the Lakes. =) Obama has shown himself to be startlingly inept at "management." His White House is a mess, and I think that ties into his surprising lack of skill in explaining his policies and principles to the American people, however great a speaker he may be.

Republicans and Right Wing conspiracy theorists have made fools of themselves on this, but his background and philosophical roots matter a GREAT DEAL. And JMW, do you really think that Obama doesn't think the government is the solution to all of our ills? That he doesn't have a profound lack of understanding of capitalism from the ground up (again, his background is key here)?

Talk to business owners. One of the reasons our recovery is so stagnant is because Obamacare has thrown so much uncertainty into the calculus of running a business. And what do you do when the future is so uncertain muddy? You cut back, don't hire, don't expand. Obama's class warfare/blame the rich/"you didn't build that"/it takes a village BS is so contrary to a fundamental American concept of ourselves, no wonder we don't have the confidence and spirit that we once did. All the way back to Westward Expansion, the rugged individual ethos that has defined us is now under attack, it is seen as simple greed and as something evil. Obama and his minions are largely responsible for the anti-business undercurrent in our politics.

And you bring up Clinton. Don't forget that Clinton was much further left in his first term. Don't forget that the welfare reform that he now proudly touts as his own was started by the Republicans and that he initially opposed it, until his excellent political instincts kicked in and he tacked center and outflanked the politically bumbling Republicans. Hey, I like Clinton.

Most accounts of the stimulus I've read show that it was a huge waste of money that it did very little good. And most crucially, Obama has made the debt and deficits a low priority, until the Republicans forced them onto center stage.

We can definitely pass blame around on both sides for the economic collapse, but the housing crisis is probably the most important, that was the Democrats' fault.

You are absolutely right, JMW. Taxes must be raised. Entitlements must be cut. The only way out is to piss off both sides and to slay the sacred cows of both the Left and the Right.

ANCIANT said...

A few respones to Dez and Saxo:

1) "Obama has shown himself to be startlingly inept at "management." His White House is a mess"

I don't see this, Dez. Proof? I think Obama could have been more forceful and effective in thwarting Republican hostility, but I don't at all see ineptness. Or a mess.

2) "Obama's class warfare/blame the rich/"you didn't build that"/it takes a village BS is so contrary to a fundamental American concept of ourselves, no wonder we don't have the confidence and spirit that we once did. All the way back to Westward Expansion, the rugged individual ethos that has defined us is now under attack..."

Dez (or should I call you "Hannity"?), I think you're almost ready for your own AM political talk show.

I'm calling BS on all of this, unless you can give me some kind of evidence. How is the rugged individual ethos that has defined us come under attack? And how is Obama responsible? Even if you want to argue for some kind of newly emergent (or resurgent) pessimism in America, surely that attitude has been caused by the recession itself--not Obama's response.

3) "Most accounts of the stimulus I've read show that it was a huge waste of money that it did very little good."

Really? Most of the stimulus was in the form of loans, most of which have been paid back--with interest. And as far as being a waste...I'd have to see some evidence on that. The bailout of the auto industry seems to have worked. Do you think the recovery would have been more rapid had Obama effected NO stimulus?

4) "... the housing crisis is probably the most important, that was the Democrats' fault."

This is also a claim I'd..uhm...dispute. Strongly. From what I've gleaned in my reading about the housing crisis, the causes were large, complex, and systemic, dating back for decades. Every American president prior to today is in some way responsible for the crisis because all of them swallowed the argument that home ownership was a positive good for American citizens. As a results, artificial floors and incentivizations (Fannie Mae, guaranteed mortgages) were put in place to make home ownership easy--easier in fact than it probably should have been. Securitization of mortgages fueled that fire, encouraging even more reckless borrowing. How you can pin any of that on Obama, I don't get.

ANCIANT said...

...Had to break this up into two parts...

To Saxo's points

1) Experience... see JMW. He's got experience now, if he didn't before. I'd also suggest that many good to great American Presidents had very little (if any) practical real-world experience before going into politics. And further that Romney's experience running Bain has probably not prepared him in any appreciable way to be President.

2) I think equating the flip floppery of Romney with Obama's changed stance on gay marriage is...uhm...what? Wrong, let us say. Romney has flipped on dozens of beliefs, and all, conveniently, at a time when doing so would help him to gain the Republican nomination. I will find and post a clip that I hope you'll watch shortly to support this claim. Obama's changed stance on gay marriage felt to me like a genuine change of heart. What political end did it serve? He was already the candidate for a vast majority of those who support gay marriage, even before he came out in favor. Maybe it helped shore up his base, but I don't see how that equates with all Romney's craven attempts to curry favor with the party's right wing at exactly the time he needed their support.

3) "The health care bill is an incoherent mess."

I don't see how this can be yet known. Most of its changes don't go into effect until 2014. Perhaps it isn't a good law, but I don't think that will be made clear until, say, 2020. I'd also agree with JMW--as bad as you may think the health care bill is, it surely is better than what was there before.

4) "He is a sop to unions, particularly public sector unions. "

Evidence? There's been several articles in the last months describing Obama's sometimes uneasy relationship with Unions. His education reforms are regularly criticized by the teachers unions; he supports merit pay AND the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. From my vantage he looks like a temporizing centrist here, as in much else.

Forgetting all of the quibbles over details, I'd put to both of you one question. Given that Obama was prepared to sign a budget, last year, that featured 2.5 dollars in entitlement cuts for every 1 dollar in new revenues (some of which revenues came from closing loopholes, not new taxes) AND given that Congressional Republicans--many of whom were authors of the same plan--ultimately refused to sign such a deal, how can you, claiming to value deficit reduction, support the Republican Party?

Do you believe
a) Republicans refused to support Obama's plan for the reasons they CLAIMED--i.e. because any and all revenue increases are inherently unacceptable, because the deficit should be managed ONLY by cutting entitlements?

If you accept that justification from the Republicans, do either or both of you guys agree with that argument? And even if this is what you believe SHOULD be the case, do you think it's a viable and realistic possibility going forward?


b) do you believe the Republicans scuttled the deal because they were afraid to give Obama what could seem like a political victory near to a re-election? And if that's the case, how can you support any party that would put its own partisan interests ahead of the good of our country?

JMW said...

I agree with a lot of ANCIANT's last two comments.

I feel like we're trying to discuss issues here, but Dez, "Obama and his minions are largely responsible for the anti-business undercurrent in our politics" is really just proof that you listen to too much talk radio. Which you've admitted in the past. (Not that you listen to too much, but that you listen and enjoy it.) That can be entertaining stuff, but it has about zero to do with reality. No U.S. president with half a brain could be anti-business because business is what drives the U.S. economy. We are not on the road to socialism, the insane claims of Dinesh D'Souza and his ever-growing ilk notwithstanding. Being a student (and teacher) of history, you should know this as well as anyone. But the fact is, there are problems that can be caused by excessive and/or unregulated capitalistic mechanisms. If pointing this out makes someone anti-business, then there's no room for rational talk. Ask Alan Greenspan, who once literally sat at the feet of Ayn Rand, only to watch over an out-of-control market. And this is not to blame R's or D's for that particular mess. It's just to say that regulation is not an inherently bad thing. It's a necessary thing.

I ask (yet again): Why do you trust Republicans on the deficit, which you say is by far the most important issue, if they are promising increased military spending and refuse to ever raise taxes? And when they've done that whenever they've been in office since we were born. Isn't that a recipe for increasing the deficit?

I'll add one thing for now on social issues. You say they DO NOT matter. I think that's insane. What you really mean, of course, is that you lean Republican on social issues. And that's totally fine. But don't say they don't matter. What about the Supreme Court? We shouldn't care who's going to nominate justices? We shouldn't care at all about social issues in general because we're in a recession? I find that patently ridiculous; it's just a convenient way for you to try to convince social moderates that they should swallow hard and vote Romney. I don't think I used the phrase "war on women," but I did use "medieval," which I know is strong. But even Romney and Ryan blanched at Akin's comment, and plenty of Republicans DIDN'T. I don't know -- I think there's certainly something like honest debate about an issue like abortion, an issue that I'm perfectly happy to debate on every philosophical and practical level because I think it's the ultimate case of compromise being absolutely necessary for civil peace. But the fact that a guy like Akin not only spouts off but continues being supported by a significant part of the base, or that Arizona passes that truly insane law about being "pregnant" two weeks before conception -- perhaps "medieval" is too strong in those cases, and maybe it's not. It's not something I'd be comfortable with my party leaders about. I know you don't achieve the current gender gap in polling without SOME factor exacerbating things. As a self-proclaimed moderate (perhaps you disagree that I am one, which would be fine), I think that factor is currently on the Republican side.

Lastly, and too briefly: I'm much more sympathetic to religion at this point in my life than you might imagine. And of course, "Judeo-Christian values" are undoubtedly a bedrock of all of Western society, whether people go to church or not. But that's an awfully large umbrella of values. So I remain completely unsympathetic to the way most politicians use religion. I only see one party willing to talk about literally amending the constitution because of their specific religious beliefs (not their "good values" generally speaking). No thanks.

JMW said...

Another question, because I'm genuinely curious. Let's say I'm someone who's ambivalent about the righteousness of every aspect of Obamacare, but I'm not crazy about either party's healthcare stance. When Romney is pressed on the Mass. situation, is the answer really simply that the plan was good for the state but would be bad for the country? And since the policy was implemented there in 2006, can we at least talk about whether it was successful, sent the state to hell, or was a mixed bag?

Dezmond said...

You are both wrong about everything. My sources for this statement are the "Complete Political Works of Evans."

One observation I have is that it is funny how liberals can point to the cold hearts and conspiracies of conservatives (JMW implying that many Republicans did not think Aikin's comments ridiculous, despite the near universal call from Republican leaders from all parts of the Party for him to step down; ANCIANT repeating the charge from the Left that the Republicans did not go along with Obama's deal because they wanted to make sure Obama did not score a victory, vs. perhaps that they had genuine disagreements with it, while the future of the country be damned) while laughing off conservative charges against the Left as patently absurd. Isn't it part of the job of the leadership of either party to defeat the other side? And not just for crass political gain, but because they truly believe that their vision for the country is the right one, and that the other side's vision will cause damage? It is all perspective, isn't it, gentlemen?

First to temper some impressions I may have given. I don't think I ever used the word "socialist", did I? I do not think Obama is a socialist, and I do not think Obama hates capitalism. What I tried to say was that he has a fundamental distrust of capitalism unleashed. Many liberals do. I believe, as Saxo seems to, that this is due in part to the fact that he never really has participated in it other than buying things as a consumer.

And come on. One of the more obvious tactics of the Dems this time around is the demonization of the businessman. It certainly is class warfare. His "you didn't build that" comment (while I grant you that the quote has been blown way out of proportion by Republicans on the campaign trail) nevertheless shows a pretty strong disregard for the capitalist business owner and his efforts. His tax the rich rhetoric is effective in hard times, but even if you taxed the wealthy at 100%, it would not make much of a dent in our deficit. So that is red meat for the base. And it does focus hostility towards the very people who can create jobs for this country. The business owner.

As to the housing crisis, Fannie and Freddie were the root of the collapse. They were the enablers. They were behind the push for securitization of these subprime loans. They created an environment where risky loans of all sorts became the norm in the housing industry. And yes, in part because of this silly notion that every American family should own a home. No they shouldn't. Not if they can't pay for it. It all worked while prices were on the rise, but once the market slowed, the house of cards fell. In 2005, I believe, the Senate Banking Committee proposed a heavy new set of regs to clean up the enormous mess of Freddie and Fanny (John McCain, by the way, was one of the co-sponsors). But Democrats opposed it down party lines, blocking a full Senate vote and making it a partisan issue. The regulation and tough clean-up of Freddie and Fanny in 2005 would have, I believe, helped to avert the housing crash of 2008, which was the catalyst of the Recession. Who were the top recipients of campaign contributions from Fanny and Freddie employees and PACs? Senators Chris Dodd (Democrat Chairman of the Banking Committee) and one Senator Barack Obama.

Massachusetts is not the United States.

OK, I know there's more. I'll address them later.

Subliminal Gary said...

The deficit, my fanny.

(Just posting so I can subscribe and receive updates automatically.)

JMW said...

"Massachusetts is not the United States." But surely you agree that Mass. is ONE United State? (I'm just looking for common ground here.)

As for "conspiracy" stuff. Mitch McConnell, U.S. senator: “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” That is but the tip of the Republican iceberg the past four years. If you're saying that Republicans have been open to meaningful negotiation with Obama, you're the one being patently absurd. If you're saying that having differences with an elected president who won a fairly significant majority means digging your heels in to represent only the most extreme tenets of your own party's governing philosophy, then you're absolutely allowed to offer that definition of democracy. And that can be a definition of democracy! It's just one that I don't love myself.

As for Akin, I could have been more clear. The most visible Republicans (especially Romney and Ryan) obviously acted with outrage at his statements. But Ryan pretty much shares the views. He was greeted with outrage, yes (though not by all), but the outrage was so easily seen through because it contradicted some of the party's official stance.

But this brings up a good point you make, which is the one about perspective. Yes, of course. I've been approaching this conversation from the perspective of someone trying to make a moderate's case for Obama and establish a preference for him over Romeny and Ryan. But if your perspective is that Obama is wrong on social issues and much more likely to hurt the economy than R/R, then of course you should vote for R/R. I'm not attempting to make an unbeatable case against your own principles.

But I'm going to ask again, just because it's fun: "Why do you trust Republicans on the deficit, which you say is by far the most important issue, if they are promising increased military spending and refuse to ever raise taxes? And when they've done that whenever they've been in office since we were born. Isn't that a recipe for increasing the deficit?"

Anonymous said...

Why would you post a link to a forum where you are clearly getting owned by the other commentors? Never thought I would view ANCIANT as a voice of reason.

To blame the housing crisis solely on Fannie and Freddie is overly simplistic, and you know it, but it fits well with your anti-Dem position. There are so many complicit parties ... Greenspan's Fed, ratings agencies, Wall Street "banks" post Glass-Stegall, Etc ..., that I find it disingenuous to blame only one political party when both were showered with campaign contributions from all involved.

I can only speak for myself, but the uncertainty related to future healthcare costs is much less important to my small business than the uncertainty of future revenues. Remember, there was a major shock to the system less than 5 years ago, so people like me are still hesitant to go all-in. We try to stay lean, keep cash reserves and avoid unnecessary costs. None of those things are good for the economy as a whole, but they are key to survival in this environment. Can we blame Obama for this uncertainty? I don't, but I'm sure you and FOX News will find a way.

I also don't see how you can place the deficit as a higher priority than the economy. The average Joe could care less about the deficit if he doesn't have a job. There are also thousands of students who graduate each year with massive (and non-dischargeable) student loan debt who end up working for people like me at $10/HR (Part-time of course, wouldn't want to pay benefits), so how do you explain to them that deficit-reduction is your top priority?

2 Cents from the Ignorant Masses

ANCIANT said...

"Why would you post a link to a forum where you are clearly getting owned by the other commentors?"

What other option does he have? It's not like he could link to a forum where he WASN'T getting owned? What such forum is there?

"Never thought I would view ANCIANT as a voice of reason."

Now I wonder who anonymous is. When am I not reasonable? I'm a boring moderate. Reason is my byword!

* * *

As things stand, I am preparing to award victory to the pro-Obama faction. That is, unless someone can give me a good answer to JMW's question. Which is, to repeat:

"Why do you trust Republicans on the deficit, which you say is by far the most important issue, if they are promising increased military spending and refuse to ever raise taxes? And when they've done that whenever they've been in office since we were born. Isn't that a recipe for increasing the deficit?"


Subliminal Gary said...

Anonymous is the guy who doesn't think Dire Straits is the greatest band ever formed. We played poker together once or twice, I am assured, but there was likely alcohol involved.

Hold off on awarding victory to the pro-Obama side until I weigh in. I'll be siding with you, but I can drag the team down pretty far, believe you me.

Jack Massey said...

ANCIANT's sister-in-law recommended that I read these exchanges. I'm glad she did. Excellent talk. At risk of butting in, I'd like to offer some arguments, mostly from the Republican side. While I’d be happy as a worm in mud to go tit-for-tat on some of the arguments I’ve read, I’ll keep this high level.

1) Romney and Obama are similar and unremarkable politicians. But these posts house a family of contentions about Romney’s moral and practical failings in comparison to the President’s virtues and successes. E.g., Romney wishes only to win, but the President seeks to cooperate; or Romney is a "cowardly frail little man who has no core beliefs on any subject at all" but the President is a "smart, thoughtful guy" whose changes of heart are "genuine.” This moral gloss extends to issues of legitimate substantive disagreement – e.g., the President proposed a serious deficit cutting plan, the Ryan Plan is magical pie. The summary point being that the Republicans, for the sin of trying to win the election by tearing down the other guy, are "clowns" who need a taste of defeat to regain their collective adulthood.

These contentions need eviction. Politics is filthy business. And at its higher levels, it's filthy business twisted by infinite money, distorted by constant scrutiny, and inflamed by the necessary (albeit usually mild) sociopathy of its practitioners. Both parties want to win and to govern. Both lie and dissimulate with readiness and ease. Both engage in stomach-turning electoral practices. It’s like a post-war European movie – there are no white hats, there is no cavalry, but the stepfather really is sleeping with the stepdaughter, whom he loves very much despite her disfiguring scar.

I don’t like Romney. He believes in very little and is an opportunist. And I detest the President, as he believes in much that I do not and is also an opportunist. They’re practitioners of a dirty art, gaining and exercising power. But both are capable enough. Rather than fighting over who’s got the better character, when neither is a villain, I prefer to relegate both candidates to the category of big-time hack politicians (like Berlusconi or Chamberlain or Truman) and think of them accordingly. I understand that I risk missing something particular about them by conceiving of them in this way, but I find it helps me avoid the tendency to traduce Obama or canonize Romney.

The same goes for the parties. The parties comprise well-meaning idiots organized and run by less-well-meaning schemers. Any view that ascribes some particular constitutional failing to one party but not the other (e.g., the Democrats don’t play dirty; the Republicans are more venal) is mistaken. The nature of politics does not change across party lines – only the substantive views of members, which are largely inherited rather than reasoned, differ. The notion that the Democrats are the party of responsible thinking people and the Republicans the party of children and lunatics is hogwash, as is its converse. Both are the parties of the confused and misled, captive to and corrupted by parochial interests, who are unlikely to find emancipation in reason. Which is to say, human affairs are complicated, disagreement is ubiquitous, agency is limited, and our impoverished political culture isn’t or shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Big institutions, civil or corporate, are golems without a rabbi to control them.

Jack Massey said...


2) Dez is right about the deficit. And JMW is right that Republicans don’t have a great record on the subject. Neither do the Democrats, of course. I won’t belabor this, as I sense that I’m already being tiresome and nontopical, but there are four main reasons I incline to the Republicans more than the Democrats on budgetary issues. They are:

a) Tax cuts are different than expenditures in how they affect the government’s fiscal outlook. They’re treated the same way for accounting purposes, but in practical terms expenditures create additional burdens, both through encouraging other spending (e.g., short term federal monies encouraging states to commit to programs that will in the middle and long terms be funded by state monies) and creating iron-clad entitlement constituencies (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, DoD). Anti-tax constituencies exist, as well, but politicians can and do raise taxes (H.W. Bush), whereas they rarely, if ever, succeed in meaningful entitlement reform. Redistribution mechanisms are a ratchet: one a sum is committed, taking it back requires great effort. So, if both parties are going to run deficits, I’d prefer the deficit to arise from a squeeze on the revenue side (i.e., refusal to raise taxes) than from commitments on the spending side (i.e., new entitlements).

b) We’re living in the era of financially strapped state actors. Dez points to Greece, and I agree we’re all on the road to Athens. But we’re already in Sacramento and Albany and Austin, and, God forbid, Lansing. We may yet avert a massive crisis arising from pension problems and municipal debt, but we probably won’t. It is instructive that the problem will hit first and worst in heavily Democratic precincts, where entitlements are most generous and the state sector strongest. The difficulty lesser sovereigns are facing in controlling their budgets is a microcosm of the federal problem.

These sovereigns will become a federal problem as they fail. The federal government already owns GM, a lot of underwater real estate and associated securities, some banks, and a substantial parcel of pension programs. I expect we’ll see requests that it bail out bankrupt municipalities, underfunded pensions, and perhaps even states in the next fifteen years. Those bailouts will be bad per se, but disastrous if they’re carried out as the last round of bailouts was.

c) Analogously, it’s no surprise that GM and Chrysler failed, considering their UAW contracts and hidebound management, vestiges of a corporatist command-and-control approach to business. I expect GM will fail again. The problem isn’t making a car in America – the Japanese and Germans do perfectly well at it – the problem is Wagner Act unionism and impossible financial promises to workers. The union and entitlement constituencies are powerful in the Democratic Party. Pace Tim, Obama is a union president. The chief beneficiary of the bailout was the UAW. Protecting its pensions required subverting established bankruptcy practices and forcing bond-holders to take a massive haircut, which the Administration did. Leaving that sorry episode aside, the President’s NLRB record demonstrates his quiet but intense commitment to organized labor. The Republicans also have constituencies who aren’t interested in deficit control, but I believe they’re less beholden to them. Obviously, the point isn’t amenable to proof, other than of the anecdotal sort (see b, infra, regarding Democratic constituencies crapping out on their financial obligations. Lord protect CALPERS).

Jack Massey said...

d) The Republicans talk deficit control more than the Democrats. Regardless of the Ryan Plan’s merits, it exists. It is scrutinized and discussed. Democratic operatives gleefully tell me that it will cause Romney to lose Florida. And, most importantly, it talks explicitly about cutting programs. That’s the key: explicit talk about cutting, as opposed to the budgetary black magic of curve bending. No more Orszag.

Obama’s 2011 proposal, in which ANCIANT places great stock, was not a silver bullet – tax increases for those north of $200,000 a year; war savings; cancellation of tax cuts; cutbacks MC and MA. Small beer stuff, $400 million a year. Maybe Boehner should have accepted the President’s proposal, maybe not, but regardless of its substantive merits the plan’s chief purpose was as a political weapon. It set the stage for showing the country Republican intransigence. The 2011 proposal must also be taken in context with the President’s actions at that time, which included pushing for additional stimulus monies and defending a significant entitlement expansion. The President need not be consistent to advance a deficit-reducing agenda, but his policy choices suggest a belief that deficits are not terribly important at present, and certainly less important than stimulus.

3) Clinton suggested that cooperation works better than conflict in the real world. Which is true until it isn’t. The interesting political question of the moment is how concerned we should be about deficits and debt. We’ve reached a dangerous fiscal situation through the actions and inactions (the collaboration?) of both parties. If we are really concerned about the debt, then intransigence is in order. Someone, regardless of party, must talk about cutting spending. Right now, that’s the Republicans. I appreciate that they aren’t shrinking defense budgets (neither is the current Administration) or proposing tax increases, but they’re framing the issue and suggesting policies.

The European situation is instructive: center-right governments are embarking on austerity programs despite political unpopularity and technocratic criticism. They’re obviously concerned. Perhaps mistaken, but certainly concerned, which is worth noting, as they aren’t self-destructive. This remarkable shift in policy – which goes beyond national budgeting into policies on unemployment benefits (in many places significantly less generous than those in America); Kurzarbeit; hiring freezes; etc. – signals an appreciation that the status quo ante cannot continue.

Jack Massey said...

And finally, continued.

In anticipation of the argument that Republicans aren’t serious because they won’t raise taxes, I can only say that entitlement control is more important than tax increase. Even if we assume healthy GDP growth in the next ten years (which seems unlikely) and marginal increases in federal tax rate, deficits persist. If we assume continued entitlement expansion, they will persist and grow.

You can only tax so much. Effective tax rates are not low. In some places, like New York, they’re quite high. And only half of Americans pay federal income tax. The government can certainly obtain more revenue through higher tax rates. But doing so in a meaningful way will mean middle class tax increases. In the meantime, higher rates will encourage: 1) more manipulation of the tax code to create loopholes and buy off constituencies; 2) more cheating on taxes; and 3) movement of sophisticated capital to friendlier climes, like London or Singapore.

Inequitable taxing causes problems, one of which is the derogation of civic duties. The Greeks, for instance, are as notable for their tax evasion as they are for their philosophy. While it is every man’s natural right to despise the fisc, I do not think the Greeks are more inclined to cheat on their taxes than the British or Americans. Rather, I think some combination of ready entitlements, corrupt government, and inequity created incentives that encouraged cheating and norms that excused it. We’re not there, but we should keep in mind the civil society implications of heavy tax-heavy entitlement systems. Everyone cheats all of the time, of course, but some systems appear better at discouraging and controlling it than others.

Subliminal Gary said...

Never mind...I'm not following Massey.

Well spoken, Jack. Later tonight, after a staggering number of martinis, I will convince you, or not, to vote for Obama anyway.

JMW said...

It's not so much that I don't want to follow Massey as that I'm physically incapable of it at the moment. Between work, hygiene, relationship maintenance and other tasks, I fear that attempting a comprehensive (or even close to it) response would result in the pulling of a vital muscle or two. Or three. But I will rally my troops, adhere to a severe diet of protein shakes and attempt to respond to at least a few of the arguments (not all of which I disagree with, btw) at some point in the not-too-distant future.

JMW said...

I will only say for now -- without the aid of even ONE protein shake!! -- that I don't remember ever calling Romney a "cowardly frail little man who has no core beliefs on any subject at all." But I forgive the otherwise wonky and esteemed Mr. Massey the slip into building of straw men. I honestly have little opinion of Romney's core character, and I'm happy to accept that he's a fundamentally good person with fundamentally earnest beliefs that are, in some important ways, no more or less changeable than those of the average politician. I did compare him to John Kerry, but that was not to paint him as a moral monster but just as a difficult-to-relate-to stiff who comes off as a political hack more than an inspiring leader. I would stand by that assessment, pending discussions about whether any leader can be inspirational or even should be inspirational.

ANCIANT said...

I called him cowardly and frail, which I concede was slightly hyperbolic. I also said he has no integrity or personal charisma; that was NOT hyperbolic. At least, in my view.

I am also in a slight hurry and not prepared to reply to Massey specifics at length. I will in the future. I hope.

For now, let me say only this.

During his term in office, Obama tried to make a budget reducing deal. The Republicans scuttled it. THis, I think, is beyond dispute. Massey claims I thought that deal was a magic bullet; of course I never said anything like that. It was a meaningful first step, nothing more. And it was shot down.

There are, as I see it, two interlocking reasons for what made the Republicans refuse that deal. They are
a) political opportunism
b) genuine philosophical opposition to increasing taxes/revenues

Let's take them in turn

A) Argument the 1st

If the deal was shot down for political reasons, in an attempt to give Obama any kind of 'victory' that he could use in an election year, I find the Republicans to be reprehensible and deserving of contempt. I don't want to support a party that engages in such tactics.

Hold on, says Mr Massey: all parties do that. All things are bleak, people are cynical. Politics ain't beanbag, as it were.

I don't accept (or want to accept, I should say) this line of argument. If that is truly the motive for the Republican behavior last term, I can't support them. Any party that would be THAT cynical is one I find too reprehensible to get behind.

Massey expects and accepts that kind of behavior because we're all of us used to it, by now. But why not stop accepting it? I'm not intending to lay all blame at the feet of the Republicans; I freely admit Democrats have done similar stuff in the past (though I would suggest that W Bush seemed to get the Congress to give him most of what he wanted).

At some point, though, why not draw the line? To me, at least, the Republican behavior last term--the way they used the debt ceiling as a threat, all the nonsense about the Obama budget--crossed a line. Massey thinks it did not; that I am a foolish naif, holding the Republicans to an unreasonable standard. I do not. That, I think, is a fundamental disagreement, one that can't be argued away. And I will say I am perhaps somewhat Panglossian by nature. I do live in California, after all. We're all of high all the time here, pretty much.

But let's put that aside, and grant Massey's point. Let's say it is entirely reasonable to EXPECT-- or at least tolerate --that the Republicans wouldn't want to give Obama a victory in an election year, even if that 'victory' also advances what they claim are their own goals. Therefore, there's no reason for me to hold the Republicans responsible for their actions last term.

But here's the problem. If I assume Massey's right--that political parties should be expected to always oppose all ideas that come from the opposition as a matter of course, despite the substance of those ideas, or the deleterious effects that such opposition may have on our country--then, presumably, I should reasonably expect the Democrats, once Romney wins, to oppose all of HIS plans. Why shouldn't they, under a Romney presidency, behave differently than Republicans under Obama? And given that foreseeable Democratic intransigence, how can I expect Romney to realize the Republican goals? How can I imagine the Republicans are going to succeed where Obama failed? Is it reasonable to think Mitt Romney is going to convince the Democrats to overcome the natural cynicism and opportunism Massey finds in all politicians and swallow HIS budget--a budget that will surely rely almost entirely on entitlement cuts? I think it is not.

ANCIANT said...

B) Argument the 2nd

Maybe Republican resistance to the Obama budget wasn't solely--or even mostly--about defeating Obama. Maybe the Republicans shot down the deal for ideological reasons, because they refuse to countenance ANY budget deal involving revenue increases. They want to go after entitlements, and entitlements alone. Obama's deal had revenue increases, so they wrecked it. What about that?

Look, I'm not a fan of raising taxes. I agree with Massey's arguments on this, at least; cutting entitlements is undoubtedly a better way to manage costs than increasing revenues. So, yes; if it were possible to manage expenses without raising revenues, fine. But is it?

Assume the Republicans win in November. They aren't going to assume a throne. They are going to have to cut deals with Democrats in order to get a budget passed. But if I take the Republicans at their words, I must assume that they will ONLY make a deal if it features NO revenue increases. Putting aside whether or not I think that's fair (I don't), I don't think it's possible. The country won't support it and the Democrats won't either. And there can be, for the Republicans, no compromise on this; we already saw Romney promise, on national television, not to accept a budge with even a 10-1 ration of entitlement cuts/revenue gains. (And we all know Romney wouldn't go back on a public promise!)

If I take them at their word, in summary, the Republican ideology on budgets is one that cannot, in my estimation, allow a budget deal to get made.
They espouse an ideology (cut only entitlements and don't increase--in fact, CUT--revenues) I find not only impracticable and fantastical but also, at some level, deeply unfair.

JMW said...

I strongly agree with ANCIANT's last two, especially about Mr. Massey's cynicism. And I consider myself a pretty big cynic. But if there isn't some ceiling to that cynicism (which there doesn't appear to be in Mr. M's view of things), then I would pay even less attention to politics than I do, and certainly wouldn't waste all of this time on it with you gentlemen, no matter how entertaining this has been. I believe strongly that many if not most politicians are hacks, but in Mr. M's view, it makes absolutely no sense to try to differentiate between candidates at all, ever. You could have Abraham Lincoln running against the most corrupt, belief-less putz, and who cares?, because they're both venal pols.

This is ignoring the fact that I simply don't see Obama as a hack. (I don't think he's Jesus, as R's like to parody it, but it's not like R's don't have a healthy history of worship in their party. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to get through a convention without constant pleading to the legacy of Reagan.) I just don't understand the idea that Obama's just like Kerry, Romney, Dukakis, Perry, Name Your Hack. This to me is an underestimation of him that works in his favor, but I still don't get it.

I was drafting many more words about the deficit, etc., but it was even less coherent than usual because I'm sleepy. More soon. Probably. 'Night, all

Jack Massey said...


I do have a low opinion of both political parties. And I would like others to share my opinion. Indeed, I do expect the Democrats to oppose Romney reflexively if he's elected (which he won't be).

A good example of political action determined by party rather than principle is the present Democratic stance on American security policy. The later Bush years were marred by incessant talk of American brutality, hubris, stupidity, and illegality. And while our policy is still discussed that way in the pages of the NYRB and the Nation, albeit in a minor key, the 'fierce urgency of moral change' that featured so prominently in the last decade's editorials and campus marches is deader than Osama bin Laden. We argued due process and the role of Article III courts in the Bush years, but that whole strange juridical saga has been superseded by drone strikes -- there's no need to worry over personal jurisdiction when there's no person over whom to assert it, just smoking remains. In 2007, Harry Reid announced the War in Iraq lost, while the troika in the current Administration opposed the Bush Administration's late war policies and aims. In 2009, the new Obama Administration carried on the previous Administration's policy and stablized Iraq. Leaving aside the merits of the Iraq war (an issue on which the President has spoken eloquently both about his opposition to its commencement and his views on how to prosecute it), a shift in zeitgeist is apparent between Bush and Obama despite theirs similar policies. For an example of Republican behavior prioritizing partisanship over principle, George W. Bush's prescription drug benefit is notable. The GOP got behind it when they thought it would stick it to the Democrats tactically and preempt a more serious bill, despite serious reservations about its cost and utility.

So, to address your hypothetical, I don't think Romney could carry out his plans if he were elected. And I expect Obama will face continued intransigence in his next term. This deadlock will continue until some intervening force changes things. Massive economic growth, spurred on by stimulus and tech development? A change in the means of production greater than any seen since the advent of steam power? A wave of pension failures and municipal bankruptcies triggering social unrest? A Chinese depression exploding the post Bretton Woods expedient of cheap credit to the U.S. in exchange for artifically favorable rates of exchange for China? Who knows. Maybe it will even be a luminary arising in one of the parties.

I think it is safe to assume, however, that inertia plays at least as great a role in politics as it does in physics. The current arrangements are familiar and comfortable, even if they're sure to lead to our plunging off a fiscal cliff (in a familiar comfortable way). When they signed Maastricht in 1992, it was only after a series of debt, deficit, inflation, and exchange rate protocols were incorporated. Keep the riff-raff out, the old Bundesbankers said. Of course the protocols did nothing of the sort. Everyone joined, everyone ignored the treaty requirements, and the scenario predicted by the pessimists of the 1980s is coming to fruition right now. What state in Europe meets the Maastricht requirements now?

Jack Massey said...


My great fear is that when entitlement reform comes it will be the child of crisis. Reaching into my inner self, not unlike Paul Muad'dib (called Usul), I can see a chain of bailouts and bursted bubbles and quantitative easings that beggar the country and rip the social fabric to shreds ('"They denied us the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," Stilgar said with ritual solemnity). As such, anyone who starts talking controlled cuts now is likely to persuade me. If avoiding unfairness is the goal, someone needs to take our policies in hand before exigent circumstances begin dictating events. Paul Ryan calls it saving the social safety net. I don't think he's there at a technical level, but he's advancing his position under the right banner.

I noted earlier that cooperation is good until it isn't. Again, if we're on the verge of crisis, as many Republicans think, then a Goldwaterian approach makes sense. Radical moves -- like tying up national credit to automatic spending decreases -- aren't radical when the hour is late. If concern about the debt is histrionics, then we should know soon enough, when the economy improves. We're a prosperous country with a lot going for us. But things can go south, potentially quickly, and we shouldn't let that old inertia lull us. The prosperous Soviet of 1975 didn't expect 1995.

Neither party is likely to give us a desirable budget policy in the near term. And neither party has a useful ideology -- Republicans talk restraint but spend like drunken sailors, Democrats valorize being drunken sailors. For fairness, however, the point isn't how the pie is sliced at the moment. The point is making sure the pie doesn't shrink too much in the coming years. Even simpler, the point is simply to acknowledge that our appetites are too big for any pie. Whatever their many faults, the GOP are signaling a stop. In the meantime, on what meat doth our little Caesar feed?

Jack Massey said...

JMW -- you and ANCIANT both raise excellent points about cynicism. I'll explain (briefly) tomorrow why I think my view doesn't render political engagement nugatory. Part of it is that I believe in meaningfully powerful politicians (e.g., LBJ; Reagan), but most of it is based on the notion that parties are more important than people.

ANCIANT said...

"Reaching into my inner self, not unlike Paul Muad'dib (called Usul), I can see a chain of bailouts and bursted bubbles and quantitative easings that beggar the country and rip the social fabric to shreds ('"They denied us the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," Stilgar said with ritual solemnity)."


This almost makes me want to cede you the argument. You are, in many ways, the desert rat. And, like Usul, you also sheds tears for the dead. Republicans.

Dezmond said...

Yeah. What Massey said.

He makes the point more eloquently than I do, but I did make that point nonetheless. It is buried somewhere in these posts. I said that I may not agree with all of Ryan's Plan, but it is a Plan. So far, the only plan detailed enough to address tough entitlement cuts that before politicians were afraid to bring up publicly because they figured it was political suicide.

As Massey said, it at least "talks about cutting" in an explicit way. Even Bill Clinton admitted as much in that video clip I referred to of him complimenting Ryan on being bold enough to at least start a serious conversation about cutting.

I can already anticipate your response that just because it is a plan that does not mean it works structurally or that it has a chance in hell of getting approved. But at least someone on one side sees the seriousness of this issue and is making a serious proposal on how to start dealing with it now instead of a severe crisis forcing us to deal with it more painfully in the not so distant future if we stay on this course. For me, that is really something to applaud. Until the Republicans forced this issue into the spotlight, albeit in some hokey (debt clock at the convention) ways, the Dems were A. happy to ignore it because the masses didn't get it and cynically waited for the other side to put their neck out on it, or B. didn't understand the impending seriousness of the crisis themselves until Republicans explained it to them, or C. were so ideologically tied to their entitlements that they could not see beyond them. None of those choices fills me with confidence in their leadership, thoughfulness or willingness to make hard choices now to avoid even tougher choices when they are forced upon us.

Dezmond said...

I also agree with Massey's point about entitlement cutting being more important and effective than raising taxes. For the reasons he stated.

But, the Republicans will need to give some on the taxes to get some movement on a solution. I admit that. ANCIANT, you rightfully keep bringing up the 10-1 exchange at that Republican primary debate. That makes me furious as well. If you can push the Dems that far back, of course you take that deal. To publicly say you wouldn't is just really, really, really stupid. I realize that and I cannot defend it.

Dezmond said...
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Dezmond said...
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Dezmond said...

BUT, as Massey said (my favorite quote of his thus far): "Republicans talk restraint but spend like drunken sailors, Democrats valorize being drunken sailors." The Republicans, at least in theory, acknowledge there is a problem. The Dems don't really even do that. Not in a meaningful way. Acknowledging there is a problem, as any recovering addict will tell you, is the first step to recovery.

Seb said...

Part the first: in which SaxoPhilologus is taken to the woodshed and beaten with a Þ

ANCIANT suggested that I should wade into this discussion, a suggestion which impugns his judgment more thoroughly than anything leveled by the opposition, valorous Fedaykin though they might be.

I submit to you all that the economy is as fucked into a cocked hat as the global environment, and as far beyond redress. I'm looking at what's going on across the pond, and I do not like what I see at all. Can things be done to mitigate the damage? Certainly. But I have yet to find conclusive, cogent agreement on what those things are - beyond taking an axe to entitlements, which have been a spectre in the national closet all my life. We all know that meaningful cuts to entitlements in the short term are so unlikely as to be dismissed out of hand. Let's agree, for the sake of argument, that Ryan dragged entitlements into the spotlight and forced the Demon-rats to acknowledge that they must be addressed. By my lights it is too little, too late. If we could buy our own ship for ten thousand, who's gonna fly it, kid - you?

I am no ideologue. I voted for Dole, much to my deceased brother's revulsion and dismay. I am married to a project accountant who is as unhappy with the facile label "Democrat" for her social views as I am for mine. But let's be honest: the Republican Party has become so incredibly noisome in its policy positions that it is alienating genuine conservatives - such as John Huntsman, for whom I voted in the primary and would have done in the general election as well, with a clear conscience. The Republican positions on women's health, the religious identity of the United States, and the definition of marriage are more than unreasonable. They are insane, and the Republicans are getting pilloried on those issues, easily, by Democrats who are only too glad to seize the rhetorical advantage. And make no mistake, advantage it is. Both parties are pandering hard to their base constituencies, but the Republican bloc of angry, privileged white people is shrinking precipitously. The Demon-rats' big tent is the bigger. So desperate are Republican strategists that they have stooped to utterly self-destructive policy positions.

And that is why I cannot respect them. If they are willing to commit political suicide, why not just come right out and say, "We have to make deep cuts to Medicare and Defense Spending, now, before the country burns to rubble"?

Seb said...

Part the second: in which Jack Massey is unmasked for the Harkonnen dog he is and killed for his water

This brings me to the crux, such as it is, to my argument. This election is not at all about the deficit. It is not at all about entitlements. All the smartest people in the room - this includes all of you, even the sub-hominid Subliminal Gary - know this. This election is about President Obama, nothing more, and nothing less.

Muad'dib is correct to point out that Messrs. Obama and Romney are very similar, consummate politicos as opportunistic as any glad-hander to disgrace the national stage. They are far more moderate than the extremes of their respective parties would prefer. Anyone who views either of them as particularly trustworthy is incredibly naïve, and needs to pass the nitrous.

But there are differences between them, and those differences portend where the lever will be pulled come November. For one, Romney gives the appearance of being a spineless opportunist. President Obama does not. Mr. Romney has less charisma than Karl Rove in a speedo. President Obama radiates the stuff so powerfully he registers on a Geiger counter. Both men have the capacity to make forceful, informed, decisive calls, but President Obama gives the appearance of being presidential, and Romney has the appearance of, well, a stockholder. He may be a well-meaning, church-going stockholder, but in the end he looks like just one more rich, aging white guy.

President Obama is a half black man in a country that views him as all black. He is the living embodiment of that marvelous chimera, the American Dream, because in America, you see, anybody - anybody can become President. He is an icon, win, lose, or draw. The importance and power of his status as an icon cannot possibly be mistaken. That it is 98% bullshit, for better and for worse, is utterly irrelevant.

Will he see America through the really scary shit that is looming on the horizon, as Israel gears up for war and Europe totters for the vomitorium? I hope so. Because even though I am voting for him, my vote as a Texan matters nothing at all.

Dezmond said...

Wow. Somebody actually did vote for Dole.

Subliminal Gary said...

A lot of my opinions have already been presented, far more eloquently than I could have hoped to, so rather than revisiting what has already been covered, I'll just offer a few disjointed points, poorly thought-out and mostly off-topic.

The Deficit, The Ryan Plan, and Why It Matters

We all pretty much agree that the deficit is Important. Neither party has a good track record, with Clinton being the sole president with a budget surplus in our lifetimes. Of course, no other president had the booming economy to frolic within. If there is a historical advantage, it leans towards the Democrats, by a pointless margin.

Team RR tell us, though, that what really matters in this case, and why they favor Romney, is that they have a Plan. The Democrats may say the word 'deficit' in their speeches, but the Republicans have a Plan. The Plan is not an especially good one and hasn't a whelk's chance in a supernova of passing through Congress, but it's a Plan!

This argument doesn't pass the sniff test. If Obama proposed a budget plan today, equally untenable and unlikely to pass, would it be a coin-flip between the two candidates? Would it matter if Obama has proposed a plan two months ago? Two years ago?

And how can you be so dismissive of tax increases for the most wealthy? Why isn't the entire country shaking its fist in righteous indignation that we pay a greater percentage of our income in taxes than those making bajillions? We can't afford CPAs to take advantage of tax loopholes. We can't hide our money in foreign investments. But we vote to help the fat cats because some day we'll be one of them and then we'll want our pleasure barges, too?

The Two Party System

I know I'm treading into dangerously zany waters here, but I just can't agree that there is anything good about a strong two party system. I, too, miss the days that I called myself a Republican. And I did so for all the reasons that many still do. I am a fiscally conservative guy. I despise unions. But the Republican party has not been fiscally conservative since, like, the 12th century.

A see the two party system as pointlessly divisive. It forces the overwhelming majority of Americans to pick a side. And worse, it somehow forces them to adopt the absurd ideologies of their team. You're a Democrat? You're Pro-Choice! You're a Republican? Global Warming is a myth, invented by Al Gore, like the Internet and the female orgasm.

Here's a terrifying statistic. 40% of Republicans watch Fox News ( Here's another one. Fox News viewers are worse informed about international current events than people who don't watch any news. (

So, is Aaron Sorkin wrong, or is nothing more important than a well-informed electorate? Right behind Fox viewers on the list of people who can't find their ass with two hands and a flashlight are MSNBC viewers.

It appears that those who choose a side are the least in touch with reality.

Subliminal Gary said...

The War On...

To say that the War on Women is BS in the same paragraph in which it is declared that the War on Religion is very real is a declaration of war upon my sanity.

The last four years have been a mind-numbing circle-jerk of pandering to Christians. Obama can't give a speech without invoking his deep religious beliefs in a futile attempt to prove that he's not really a Kenyan Muslim.

No one is trying to take away your cross any more than they are trying to take away your home defense bazooka.

But, since the War on Religion is very real, I feel quite justified in commenting upon the even more totally real

War On Science and Reason

Evolution denial isn't cute. Or forgivable. Not 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species. Nor is the denial of Climate Change.

When the Republican Party became the party of disputing overwhelming scientific evidence that stands contrary to the ideologies of a vocal minority of their voting base and their ability to make money as fast as possible, they lost me entirely.

The leaders of the Republican Party are not misinformed. They are not under-educated. And they are not, we hope, lacking the intelligence to comprehend the science. They are making a choice to believe in fantasy over reality.

Why is that ok? Why should we suppose that a politician will choose fantasy over reality in one situation, but not another? Why would we allow a person who believes in angels to make decisions with global consequences? Why would a person ignore overwhelming evidence in one case, but accept sane council in another?

Dezmond said...
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Dezmond said...

"Why would we allow a person who believes in angels to make decisions with global consequences?" So...we should only be led by atheists? You must not be a fan of...any president. Did FDR not make sane decisions? Truman? Eisenhower? Reagan? Were their religious beliefs / mental illness indicative of their abilities to lead?

Subliminal Gary said...

Did those men make decisions based upon supernatural beliefs? Did they allow their religion to influence their leadership?

Not that I've ever heard.

Would Michelle Bachmann? Sarah Palin? Rick Santorum? Mike Huckabee? Rick Perry?

Maybe? Probably?

These are not just fringe personalities within the Republican party. They are among the most popular and influential figures. One of them nearly became Vice President. That doesn't frighten you? Do you think these people have anything in common with Eisenhower, Truman, and Reagan?

JMW said...

Wow, this is really metastasizing. I welcome Seb and Gary, not only for their entertaining entries in this series but because I agree, unsurprisingly, with much of what they say. Gary's point here is one I've been itching to make: "To say that the War on Women is BS in the same paragraph in which it is declared that the War on Religion is very real is a declaration of war upon my sanity." And his plain speaking about science, etc., is great too.

I'm drafting something longer. Beware.

For now, the quick joke from Gary about bazookas does lead me to wonder if gun control isn't one more issue we could throw on this bonfire. It's one issue where I consider both parties complicit -- and if the R's are more complicit, which I think they are, it's also a subject about which Dems are truly spineless.

Dezmond said...

Hey, I'm not denying that the Republican Party couldn't use some house cleaning. But these people were not seriously going to become president. The process has a way of weeding them out. I would not call Palin a major figure in the Republican Party. She was not even invited to speak at the convention. Everyone knows what a fool she is. Perry...the debates weeded him out. Santorum faded once more info came out on him. Bachmann was never a serious contender. Huckabee is the only person in your list who still carries some weight with most Republicans, and he is the least offensive. He's actually not that bad, and he is happy with his show on Fox, I don't see him getting back in the ring any time soon.

Of course Palin frightened me. She also frightened McCain and his people once they got to know her after they too hastily picked her (read 'Game Change,' it is a fascinating account of the 2008 election from all sides...John Edwards is the biggest douchebag to ever walk the planet).

But I took your statement at face value. FDR, Reagan, Ike and Truman were all religious men. They led pretty well. I don't think they consulted their Bible for policy decisions, but I guarantee you that their faith and moral code, informed by the religious beliefs, influenced their decisionmaking. How could it not? I'm OK with that.

You picked some of the kookiest kooks in the Republican Party. But they are kooks because they are kooks, not because they also happen to be religious.

JMW said...

Dez, this is hard to take. Yes, these are kooks. But no, they are not the fringe. They are a large half (or more) of the party that is keeping the party from respectability among many people who may be otherwise disposed to many of its goals. You named the ENTIRE FIELD this year, other than Romney, a cardboard cutout who half the party is uninspired by. It's OK to admit, after admitting that it could use a cleaning, that the house is kind of filthy. It's only logical.

Comparing the religion of men like Eisenhower and Truman (and, ahem, Obama) to that of most Republican stalwarts now is just ahistorical. Even Goldwater warned about this. It's totally acceptable in the party now to combine the most extreme elements of Goldwater's libertarianism with the most brainless and pandering form of religious association. It's a Frankenstein that the party hasn't done nearly enough to fight.

JMW said...

Oh, and just to be bipartisan about it -- yes, John Edwards is the worst. I despised him long before his most despicable traits were proven on the record. He's just gross. I've always thought that.

Dezmond said...

I'm going to be Nixonian about this and say that there is a Silent Majority of reasonable, fiscally conservative and socially moderate to libertarian group of Republican/conservative moderates out there who are just as annoyed with the Tea Party element as well. There has to be. Look here in this forum. Saxo, Massey, myself. We're reasonable people. We are all annoyed by the more silly elements in this party, yet we still find it a better alternative to the Democrats.

And I didn't name the ENTIRE field. You forgot Hermann "999" Cain and Newt. Not that that helps my case.

Dezmond said...

I certainly could use more Rudy Giuliani's, though. He was my pick in '08.

Dezmond said...

And I want Gary to concede the point to me that one CAN be religious, one can have their religious beliefs play a significant role in their morality and in turn that moral code can influence their decisionmaking, yet that person can still be a good leader. A great leader, even. Therefore, even though they may believe in "fantasies," they can still be great leaders while at the same time be men of faith. Once he does that, I will stop clinging to God in this discussion and we can move on to my clinging to my guns, to quote our president.

I mean, goddammit, I'm not even religious myself. (Agnostic, the only truly reasonable course to take.) But I feel I need to defend against attacks on people just because of their faith.

Gary is right. It is stupid to deny evolution and it is stupid to deny climate change. But there are many reasonable people of faith who accept both and it is perfectly compatible with their worldview.

ANCIANT said...

1) This is getting sort of awesome. Can we get to 100 posts? Let's try! Never imagined my blog could become such a hotbed of intelligent discussion. 'But how comes this never happens when I excerpt Trollope?' he asked himself, wonderingly....

2) Thanks to Seb and Guilliams for getting off the sidelines. Very interesting to hear what you both had to say. Bryan, this is off topic, but have you and your family been affected at all by any of what I've read about the Texas textbook issues? Creationism and what-not? I ask b/c Mr Massey recently suggested to me that the textbook stuff was mostly overblown hooey.

That's not really on topic here, though.

3) from Dez:
"there is a Silent Majority of reasonable, fiscally conservative and socially moderate to libertarian group of Republican/conservative moderates out there who are just as annoyed with the Tea Party element as well. There has to be. Look here in this forum. Saxo, Massey, myself. We're reasonable people. We are all annoyed by the more silly elements in this party, yet we still find it a better alternative to the Democrats."

Ok. THIS is why I started this hare in the first place. As I've said several times my hope in the fall is that Obama will not only win, but destroy the Republicans. I want that because I think the party needs to be reformed, re-baptized in fire, as it were. Because, Dez, I think--well, hope--you're right. I'm not a bigot; I don't assume all Republicans are Sean Hannity or Sarah Palin. I know there are reasonable intelligent people in the party. Except...where are they? How come they're not fighting to keep the party from becoming what it's become. My friends and family who are Republicans would, I'm sure, disavow Fox News and Laura..whatever her name is...and Herman Cain and all the other clowns in the party. And yet...when I look at the party, it's only the clowns that I see. Where are the intelligent, reasonable silent majority? Why aren't you doing something to stop the party becoming what it has? WHy does no one ever oppose Rush Limbaugh, or call Bill OReilly the idiot that he is?

Those are not answerable questions, I know. It's just, it's hard for a voter to trust in a silent, invisible group of intelligent, adults, when he's confronted with a very loud, and very visible group of...not intelligent, not adults. Maybe you and the other Romenyites on this board should consider, at one of your next coven-meetings, trying to talk down the more rabid members of your tribe?

Also, again, for the record: I am not a lifelong Democrat. I've voted Republican in the past; I'm fully prepared to do so again. The original goal in this post was to find out if there was something I was missing--some reason that people I respected were voting for someone I found as unappealing as I do Mitt Romney. I want to be convinced, I mean--or at least, I'm open to it.

Anyway. Back to your regularly recorded mojo.

JMW said...

Speaking for myself, not for Gary, I'm attacking not faith but a certain brand of faith. Asking me not to is like telling me that I can't attack Twinkies and still say I respect food.

JMW said...

ANCIANT, at this rate we're going to pass 100 comments whistling.

And I love your take on the silent majority. It's perfect. When I start hearing just a voice or two from that majority in any significant forum, I'll start listening more closely.

ANCIANT said...

"When I start hearing just a voice or two from that majority in any significant forum, I'll start listening more closely."

Exactly. This is why we need an utter Democratic victory this fall. Not only an Obama win but a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress. THEN we'll see what's needed--rending of hair, gnashing of teeth, some old-style, Stalinist purges...and a genuine opposition. Otherwise I'm going to have to actually consider voting for Joe Biden in 2016. (Shudder). Just typing those words, I think I'm breaking out in a rash....

Subliminal Gary said...

Happily conceded. I don't think all religious people are evolution-denying nutballs. A strong, positive moral code can come from religion. Most great people's moral code came from religion. It doesn't have to, but that's a separate argument and I bow to Sebastian on that front. In truth, and please don't tell anyone else in this discussion, I really don't give a fuck about politics. I don't follow it in the news. I don't stay up at night worrying about it. I just care about science. And I want politics to stop fucking with it. Stop lying to our kids in school and telling parents it's ok not to vaccinate their children. Stop licensing pseudoscience as medicine. plkthx. Beyond that, go crazy. Fuck up the world and then give the scientists a bunch of money to develop the solution. They will. Or they won't and we'll all die and no one will be around to blame them.

But pretending I care about politics again for a moment...

When you shake away all the fluff, Ray (yes, I still refuse to call everyone by their blog code names), I think maybe the only thing you and I really really really disagree upon is the status of those reasonable, fiscally conservative and socially moderate to libertarian group of Republican/conservative moderates. We agree that they are silent. You think they are a majority. I think they have become a minority. Hell, I still think I'm one of them.

I hate that I have allowed myself to be sided with the Democrats by default. I can't really be considered liberal just because I think gays should be able file their taxes jointly, can I?

Dezmond said...
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Dezmond said...

Funny enough, I think most of us here fall within my description. Gary is right. We probably mainly disagree on how many likeminded individuals are out there.

Yeah, I've been keeping an eye on the comment tally as well. At least 100. I need me some more Saxo, though.

My two cents on your question to Gary ("we're usin' code names") on the Texas textbook hoopla (a particular obsession of our mutual friend, Big Jim). As an educator in Texas, I can say that it does not matter. The state has cut so much from the education budget, how the hell are they going to buy the new textbooks anyway? At my school, they hardly have enough of the old ones to go around.

Subliminal Gary said...

I truly don't want to derail this excellent political discussion with a Texas textbook tangent, but I am powerless to stop, because Jim is a sniveling bench-warmer. I am the Chris Kluwe in the fight against creationism in our textbooks.

While Raydez's (I'm trying) point is well-taken and indisputable, it's not really a defense. It's like what if the Constitution allows slavery. We don't have the manpower to round em all up and put em back in the fields anyway.

Some school, somewhere, gets new textbooks. Not ours, of course. But there are kids sitting in a classroom this year being taught that the Loch Ness Monster is proof against evolution because there are dinosaurs still alive today. Yes, it's a private religious school in Louisiana , but no, I'm not making this up.

If we back down for a second and allow the creationists to get a foot in the door, it's going to be miserable, miserable, miserable. This battle has been going on for a long time. First it was straight creationism. When that got smacked down, it re-emerged as Intelligent Design. Now, it's teaching the strengths and weaknesses. We want our teachers to have freedom, right? We want a fair and balanced approach to education, right? We want to show both sides of the controversy, right?

So, now the manufactroversy of evolution and climate change (and cell theory and the origin of the universe) can be challenged by teachers if the far-right extremists on the Texas State Board of Education gets their way.

Saxo Philologus said...

For some reason unfathomable to me, I have been asked to comment, but since Dez and Mr. Massey have already said everything I could say more eloquently than I can, let me make a few comments in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.

1. "The Republican positions on women's health, the religious identity of the United States, and the definition of marriage are more than unreasonable. They are insane."

I yield to no man in my esteem for Seb, and I am as rock-ribbed an atheist as anyone on this forum (okay, I yield second place to Gary), but I disagree. i am pro-choice out of necessity, but abortion is truly gruesome and I can easily understand why someone would view the million + (I think?) such procedures performed every year as a moral catastrophe. Roe v. Wade was, moreover an intellectually bankrupt decision, and the stridency with which it is defended on the left irritates me on principle. Stare decisis and all that, but at least have the intellectual honesty to admit that the ruling was smoke and mirrors legislating from the bench of the most disingenuous kind, and that it was that arrogation of the right to impose abortion as a right on all the states that has driven the pro-life movement into such a frenzy.

Here endeth this comment.

Subliminal Gary said...

A few hastily scrawled comments before I rush to work...

I don't get the vitriol aimed towards Roe. v Wade (but, then, I was not put upon this earth to get it.), but I don't think I need to. I'll take (ahem) Saxo's word for it. No one is pro-abortion. We all recognize it as gruesome, but unfortunately necessary.

However, I can't help seeing it as more of a symptom than a problem. Isn't the actual problem unwanted pregnancy? And isn't the solution comprehensive sex education and the availability of safe, effective birth control? Wouldn't that alone drop the number of abortions so low that it would no longer be a point of political contention?

It seems so obvious, and yet, while I haven't had to fight creationism at Cinco Ranch Jr. High (yet), I have had to fight abstinence-only education which is an absolute juggernaut in the public school systems in Texas and similarly-minded states.

I've looked at abortion rate statistics globally and while there are undeniable trends, even in the most liberal-minded, education-friendly countries, the abortion rate only drops to about a third of that in the US. So maybe I'm off-base. But I certainly think a less puritanical fear of penises and vaginas would go a long way.

Jack Massey said...

Various points:

1) On Religion

Almost everything Dez says is right. But he is wrong that being an agnostic is the only reasonable position in regard to religion. In fact, the only reasonable positions are: a) being an Episcopalian but not going to church; or b) worshipping Yog-sothoth (whose gratitude for your tithes is eternal).

The proposition on the floor seems to be that contemporary Republican candidates are unhinged by their faith and cannot be trusted to govern because of their belief in the supernatural. Or, to be very fair about it, because it is thought that they might rely unduly on such beliefs in making temporal decisions. I disagree.

A core aspect of politics is opposing or supporting a candidate on the basis of religion or the lack of it. One votes for a coreligionist on totemic grounds, reasoning that because all political dilemmas cannot be anticipated, it’s best to choose a representative most likely to assess and react to such dilemmas as you would. The practice is as old as time and works as well for German lords worrying over the Emperor as it does for Brooklyn atheists concerned about the Manager of the free-trade co-op. Because religion is ubiquitous, we can expect it to be in our politics, and should acclimate ourselves to it.

The insidious bit about the proposition at issue here is the suggestion that a certain kind of belief either degrades or abolishes a person’s reason. Religion develops and informs and, yes, perverts and twists reason, but it does not abolish it. The absence of religion similarly develops, informs, and twists. Is a religious person more likely to believe in fantasies than others? I doubt it. There are plenty of secular fantasies, after all, e.g., “I’m going to play professional football if I work hard enough,” or “I’m just as attractive now as I was a twenty five” or “ObamaCare is going to balance the budget in the next ten years.”

Do I oppose a politician who is driven largely by a conservative social agenda? Sure, if there’s an alternative. I’d vote HRC over Santorum (and I know Santorum). And I’d prefer not to support anyone who’s prioritized religious positions of any sort – I’d vote for a pro-death penalty blue dog over a conscientious Catholic redistribution-and-redemption Republican. Mainly, though, I vote on: 1) a track record; and 2) signs of intelligence.

Do I think that Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee are stupider or more likely to make unreasoned decisions than non-religious or less religious politicians? Of course not. I dislike Huckabee, but he was a fine governor. And Perry is an idiot, mostly, but he’s done well by Texas. Despite his faith and his malapropisms, he’s seen his state through hard times in a way that his social and cognitive betters (Paterson; Cuomo; Brown) haven’t. Jennifer Granholm may give a good speech, but in the beliefs and visions department she’s closer to John of Patmos than a hard-headed technocrat.

And I think this idea – that people believe in the numinous but get along in the mundane world well enough -- is born out over time. Most people are religious. Most people in most places find

Jack Massey said...


ways to reconcile faith and reason. And politicians naturally reflect their polities. Religion causes a lot of evil, but it does a lot of good. The absence of religion can also be notably evil: the great –isms of the last century sought to replace God (with the state [communism] or the state and the race [fascism]) and made of the world a charnel house. This century’s capitalism is thankfully changes the direction of the transmutation, proceeding more in the whore-house line.

It is desperate to compare Eisenhower and Truman to Perry and Huckabee in terms of faith. I doubt the men were all that different in practice and belief, with the possible exception of Huckabee, who had a vocation. Eisenhower was a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness who came to Presbyterianism by way of war; Truman a bush Baptist; and Perry a Methodist turned evangelical. JMW wants to put Obama in the camp of Eisenhower and Truman (grand old men who were religious but sensible!), which makes sense to the extent that Obama is seen as religious but not particularly driven by faith or directed by the church. I’ll note that I dislike the President’s involvement with Trinity United, but don’t pay too much attention it, because I believe that he didn’t pay too much attention either and, in any case, it’s his business.

I think the difference between Eisenhower and Truman and our contemporaries is that Ike and Harry would be taken aback by just how pluralistic the country has become and how much the old Anglo-Saxon norms have decayed. These days, the Christian politicians of the right are responding to a belief among their co-religionists that the apparatus of the state has turned against them, so they’re louder about their affiliations. On limited legal grounds, I think they’re right. In terms of public sphere discourse, I sympathize with their position but think they need to grow up. And on their favorite social issues, abortion and gay rights, I oppose them. Saxo’s post this morning on abortion was as good as anything I’ve read on the subject. And fighting the gay rights issue with its opponents is one of my chief pleasures. Anyway, the right politicians are speaking out to win the votes of a class and group whose power is waning. I expect that they will retool their message as time goes on.

A final note: the dangerous and corrupting role of religion in American politics tends to appear in the context of Republican doings and sayings. What about its appearance elsewhere? There are plenty of politicians heavily influenced by Catholic social teachings that lean to the progressive, reaching wrong-headed views on issues ranging from capital punishment to immigration to (evil of evils) wealth redistribution. Plenty of evangelicals come at things from the left, particularly in the black community.

We have religions, so we’re going to have religious politicians. Most just want to look good, line their pockets, and screw interns. All of them will pursue sectarian goals to some extent, mostly limited. Some will be heroes (Gandhi), most unremarkable, and others objectionable as opportunists (Milosevic) or madmen (Khomeini). Here we enjoy (for the moment) the greatest check against religious nonsense: offensive, mean-spirited, belittling, acid free speech.

A final, final note: I believe that the Christian right has been wholly defeated in its political aims over the last twenty years. Abortion is legal and widely available. The fight now is waiting period, late-term abortions, and minor notification laws, which for the Right is like struggling to hold Mystras while Constantinople burns. I don’t see much in the way of school prayers (and

Jack Massey said...


when I hear about them, it’s because they’re being litigated). HISD prevents the Boy Scouts from using school facilities because the Scouts are bigoted. Gay marriage is winning the fight, state by state, and will be universally legal in the next couple of decades. Where’s the behemoth?

Do the anti-Republicans here want to propound a broader claim that government should be run by agnostics?

2) On Schooling

Focusing on evolution in the schools is like complaining about the tea service while the Titanic sinks. Gary is eloquent in defense of science – I couldn’t agree more with his points. And I hate it when retrograde Republicans, the kind you’d be afraid of if they could get past the Poughkeepsie school board election, manage to squelch the teaching of evolution. Hell, one of the few areas where I really take issue with the GOP is on global warming – the party needs to consider the issue instead of demagoguing it. The Democratic position is also wrong, to the extent that it embodies a lot of hysteria and corporatist nonsense, but it is right in the sense that the Democrats talk about it meaningfully.

But to the main point is that the public education system doesn’t work. Certainly, there are public schools that are very good, but in many cases they can be treated as quasi-private, requiring the ownership of an expensive home in a select district. The big urban schools, on the other hand, don’t cut the mustard. Which is a shame, because they’re the very schools that we should work to make excellent. Next to the prosecution of the drug war, the slow collapse of public education in this country is the greatest cause of inequity.

My solutions are easy and reactionary, of course: crush the unions; limit nonsense courses; increase merit pay for teachers; bring back corporal punishment; and, most importantly, break the children into like cadres that are educated differently for different purposes. Who knows if it would work. But it’s got to be better than what’s happening in Chicago. Have you seen the CTU’s leader on television? Was anyone else aggrieved at her use of “kilometers apart” in describing the sides’ positions? What is this, fucking Belgium?

One more note on education. Having gone to a good private school for many years and then an appalling bad public one, I have some experience in widely (even shockingly) different educational worlds. At Sulphur Springs High School (huge text reading “Where Excelence is a Tradition” (sic) on the side of the school; (later reformed to “Excellence”) (removed entirely in 2005, perhaps indicating no tradition at all)), my fellow students regularly inquired if I was a communist or an atheist or a Satan-worshipper, basing their inquiries on what I was reading, and occasionally went so far as to suggest that I would burn in hell. Several female teachers made the same point. I didn’t find it so bad. What is high school, after all, but an extended lesson in why you should despise others and be sure to have the better of them? What I found more irksome was the constant stream of politically-correct gibberish in which were inundated. And let me tell you, it was gibberish and it was politically correct and it was really more of a deluge than a stream. Endless modules on the role of women in the French-Indian War. Listening to a four hundred pound golf coach and Baptist lay minister talk about sensitivity and the need for men to cry. I must have read “I, Rigoberta Menchu” five times between 1990 and 1995.

Jack Massey said...


Activists are an evil class. Their ill work, for the left and right, is most apparent in the schools, which, once the marvel of the world, are now an expensive mechanism for fattening up kids and providing sub-par daycare.

3) Miscellaneous

Roe v. Wade is an appallingly reasoned decision. Leaving aside the issue of its effect on our constitutional jurisprudence, which is significant and negative, its impact on the structure of our politics is notable. Essentially, it supplanted democratic processes with activist driven litigation. Among other things, this prevented the slow and painful but moderating and useful “working out” of the issue through elections, platform disputes, etc., leading to a less reasoned, more vulnerable policy. Better to fight it out and win jurisdiction by jurisdiction, planning on heroic provisions to help women in anti-abortion jurisdictions or lacking the means to obtain an abortion independently. The gay rights movement mixes litigation and election strategies. I think the willingness of ERC and others to fight it out, sometimes losing at the ballot box, will serve their constituency well by educating voters and future voters.

To Gary’s point on unwanted pregnancy, largely agree. Two observations: 1) we had sex ed shoved down our throats in high school and a lot of girls got pregnant anyway; 2) unwanted pregnancy is a problem on college campuses, which suggests that even women who are well informed and typically from higher socioeconomic strata might disregard birth control. Agree we provide birth control (at school and college) and education, but think we need to consider additional means of obtaining the best end.

I believe that there are plenty of old-line Republicans of the sort Dez describes. But I’m perfectly happy to ally myself with the Tea Partiers. The energies and beliefs of most voters are not principled, consistent, or reasonable in any meaningful way. Any given voter probably knows something about something, but little about anything else. The parties must channel these forces and fashion instruments for harnessing them. So I will not concede that I need an invisible majority to justify being a Republican. I’ll take the good and the bad and conclude, on balance, that I prefer it to what the Democrats are offering.

I don’t particularly like Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity, but I don’t think they’re drooling idiots, either. Little different than Barbara Boxer or E. J. Dionne, Jr. I’ve talked to convention goers at Republican events, who are usually excited and not that well informed and worked up, and I’ve talked to SEIU protesters down the street from my office, who are the same way. JMW and ANCIANT decry the lack of “reasonable intelligent” Republicans and suggest the GOP needs utter defeat in order to retool. Considering all that’s been said in this excellent discourse so far, I suppose I come out disliking the notion that Republicans must prove they are intelligent and reasonable. Many of them aren’t, of course, but neither are many Democrats. As a matter of rhetoric, it’s useful to summarily label the other side’s partisans as lunatics, clowns, or dolts. But it’s indefensible. Any comprehensive survey of the Democratic Party will unearth a similar percentage of the degenerate, both among politicians and supporters.

Jack Massey said...


Palin is an embarrassment. So is Boxer or Mikulski. Dan Quayle wasn’t a good VP. Joe Biden is a fool and plagiarist. Alberto Gonzalez gave some of the worst Congressional testimony in history, proving once and for all that partners from Vinson & Elkins really are dipshits, and isn’t the worst U.S. Attorney-General in history only because of the advent of Eric Holder. Janet Napolitano is a hack who has swelled into political prominence to float over Washington like a rancorous ever-watching blimp. Akin made his fantastical remark. The present head of NASA said his foremost goal is to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and help them feel good about their historic contributions to science. Politics is an endless clownfight. The Democrats are as dumb and sometimes dumber than the Republicans.

This is what I was trying to get to in my original post. I identify with the Republican party with all of its stupidities and grossness because it suits me better, to some marginal degree, than the Democratic. They’re both awful. In a way, that awfulness allows me to stick with the GOP. If I really thought the Democrats were smarter and more moral, I’d switch. But I don’t think that, and they’re not. JMW and ANCIANT, do you share the sense that the Democratic party is filthy and silly, but that it’s by-and-large better than the alternative? Or do you think there’s a case to be made that it is measurably better – in its leaders; in its membership; in its ideas – than the GOP.

Another way of putting it is this. I oppose many big Democratic policies, like the President’s continuing stimulus policies. I believe the auto bail-out, for instance, was extremely bad policy. But I do not think that the President and his ministers were unreasonable and stupid in pursuing that policy. They were self-interested and political, sure, but not stupid. It’s rare that one side or another does something that can be seen immediately as disastrous (“Peace in our times!”; returning the Panama Canal; foisting off your love child on an aide).

Where do those of you on the left come down on this issue? Are the Republicans, in fact, stupider? Some social scientists – hacks who will be punished, nacht – say so. Is Romney stupid and unreasonable? Or are there policy decisions that necessarily imply stupidity? If Romney is not a reasonable and intelligent candidate, I fear no Republican can fit the bill.

ANCIANT said...

I am skipping over all talk of religion and the war on women b/c I'm not sure I have anything to add. I find the comments interesting but on these issues I am either uninformed or relatively uncommitted. I will say, though, that I tend to share Massey's view that the specter of the religious right has been, by and large, oversold. Gay marriage, decriminalization of marijuana, and abortion are all ascendant or victorious policies in American politics. The religious right is fighting a rearguard action, to me, on these issues.

That is hilarious about the kilometers quote. I didn't see that.

To the main question of Mr Massey:
"I identify with the Republican party with all of its stupidities and grossness because it suits me better, to some marginal degree, than the Democratic. They’re both awful. In a way, that awfulness allows me to stick with the GOP. If I really thought the Democrats were smarter and more moral, I’d switch. But I don’t think that, and they’re not. JMW and ANCIANT, do you share the sense that the Democratic party is filthy and silly, but that it’s by-and-large better than the alternative? Or do you think there’s a case to be made that it is measurably better – in its leaders; in its membership; in its ideas – than the GOP."

First off, I don't think the issue is about which party is smarter or has more intelligent people in it. No one in this discussion is arguing Democrats are smarter than Republicans. We all agree that there are hacks and fools on both side of the aisle (is there anyone, anywhere, who feels excited by the thought of having Harry Reid as their leader?)

Where I diverge from of the opinions I've seen here so far is in thinking that both parties are equally bad--that no distinction can be made between the political hackery of the Democrats and the hackery of the Republicans. For me, at least, the Republicans are worse. I don't mean they've always been worse; but for the term of Obama's presidency, the Republicans in Congress have acted in a way that I, at least, find repugnant. The Democrats were no doubt bad under the Bushes--but they weren't THIS bad. The partisan gamesmanship I saw in the Republicans over the last four years marked a new low in American politics. For me, it was not just more of the same. I've already written too much about what I disliked in the budget negotiations to need to rehash, and the Mitch McConnell quote referenced earlier speaks, in many ways, for itself.


ANCIANT said...

My general belief, then, is that it's misleading and untrue to tar all members of Congress with the same brush; they're all corrupt, they're all hacks, they're all partisan actors, at root. They may all be partisan hacks, on some level, but the Republicans, in my view are MORE partisan--more intent on winning at all costs--than the Democrats. At least, they have been over the last four years.

An excellent discussion of Republican vs Democratic partisanship and hackery over the last decades can be found here:

The relevant portion comes in the 2nd half of the review, where Klein looks at a book written by Congressional scholars,Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein. Mann and Ornstein come from both sides of the political spectrum; they're not, in my view, carrying water for any one party. And their views of the Republicans over the last few years are damning.

An excerpt:

The truth, [Mann and Ornsetine] say, is not that Congress is broken so much as that one of the two major political parties is broken:

"We believe a fundamental problem is the mismatch between parliamentary-style political parties—ideologically polarized, in- ternally unified, vehemently oppositional, and politically strategic—that has emerged in recent years and a separation-of-powers system that makes it extremely difficult for majorities to work their will.

"Students of comparative politics have demonstrated that the American policy-making system of checks and balances and separation of powers has more structural impediments to action than any other major democracy. Now there are additional incentives for obstruction in that policy-making process.

"Witness the Republicans’ immense electoral success in 2010 after voting in unison against virtually every Obama initiative and priority, and making each vote and enactment contentious and excruciating, followed by major efforts to delegitimize the result.

"And because of the partisan nature of much of the media and the reflexive tendency of many in the mainstream press to use false equivalence to explain outcomes, it becomes much easier for a minority, in this case the Republicans, to use filibusters, holds, and other techniques to obstruct. The status quo bias of the constitutional system becomes magnified under dysfunction."

(this is E Klein now...block quote ended):

Mann and Ornstein argue, convincingly, that while both the Democratic and Republican parties are moving toward their respective poles, the Republicans are moving much further and faster—a phenomenon political scientists call “asymmetric polarization.” But what has made this condition doubly dangerous is that the key political institutions and actors have had trouble adapting to the change, or even describing it clearly. “It is, of course, awkward and uncomfortable, even seemingly unprofessional, to attribute a disproportionate share of the blame for dysfunctional politics to one party or the other,” Mann and Ornstein write.

Reporters and editors seek safe ground by giving equal time to opposing groups and arguments and crafting news stories that convey an impression that the two sides are equally implicated. Scholars often operate at a level of analytic generality and normative neutrality that leads most treatments of partisan polarization to avoid any discussion of party asymmetry. Many self-styled nonpartisan and bipartisan groups seeking to advance policy and process reforms are heavily invested in a search for common ground between the parties, a strategy made difficult if not untenable when one is a clear outlier."
(End Quote)

ANCIANT said...

(pt 3)

Apologies for the lengthy quote, but I saw that yesterday and couldn't help finding it relevant to the current discussion. It ably summarizes my own views; the Republicans ARE outliers in their political behavior. My hope and dream (and dream it well may be) is that we may eventually return to a time when compromise and even basic politeness were not impossible for party leaders. I don't want a minority party in Congress to openly root for the American President to fail--and to exult publicly, when they can help promote his failures. It's disgusting, and it's not how leaders should act. No, not all Republicans feel that way, and Democrats are few of them plaster saints. But, given the choice between the bad and the very bad, it's clear what must be done. After all, no less an authority then Jack Aubrey himself says that, "in the Navy, you must always choose the lesser of two weevils."

Seb said...

Responding to my esteemed friend SaxoPhilologus:

am pro-choice out of necessity, but abortion is truly gruesome and I can easily understand why someone would view the million...such procedures performed every year as a moral catastrophe. Roe v. Wade was, moreover an intellectually bankrupt decision, and the stridency with which it is defended on the left irritates me on principle. Stare decisis and all that, but at least have the intellectual honesty to admit that the ruling was smoke and mirrors legislating from the bench of the most disingenuous kind, and that it was that arrogation of the right to impose abortion as a right on all the states that has driven the pro-life movement into such a frenzy.

I am very reluctantly pro-choice - I, too, view abortion as an abominable procedure. My wife is an adopted child. But if you're wondering why the left - which presumably includes all feminists - so doggedly defends the issue of "choice", the reason is that social liberals frame the matter as one of empowerment of women in making decisions about their own bodies. It is for this reason that you hear such shrillness. Feminists literally cannot imagine why any woman would choose to have the decision-making capacity taken away from herself. The religious right's argument that "if you were willing to have sex, you should have been ready to bear the child" is Paleolithic, and I don't think that's the argument you're trying to make. But the religious right is advancing its anti-abortion agenda as an assault on all facilities that perform the procedure, regardless of the fact that such clinics can be clearly shown to advance women's health care across the board. The best tools to minimizing unwanted pregnancy are education and access to contraception. The religious right's mania to oppose abortion by any means necessary produces a policy prescription that is as pathological as it is self-defeating. No one wants to see a return to the days of coat hangars and dying young women.

I can relate to and partially understand your argument about the dysfunction of the Supreme Court that gave us the Roe ruling, but I am unwilling to grant any legitimacy at all to the parties who would see it overturned. I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that most women in the U.S. would view such an occurrence as a direct assault on their persons. Given that the basis of the "pro-life" arguments is in the main so impoverished and dependent on private religious views, it seems to me that Republican willingness to entertain such rhetoric is nothing but pandering to an extremely marginal "base". That kind of cynicism might please a Karl Rove, who wants to see his side win at all costs, supping with the Devil if he must, but I submit to you that a SaxoPhilologus has not so long a spoon.

Seb said...

*coat hangers. damn eBlogger and its inability to edit comments.

Subliminal Gary said...

I believe the point was raised, some forty or fifty posts ago, that while both sides are slimy liars, one side seems undeniably to be winning the race for slimy liar nirvana.

I'm all too aware of the Obama campaign's questionable claims, since Jim posts every one of them to Facebook, but I haven't seen anything comparable to what is coming out of the Romney camp.

Am I misinformed? Am I being unfair? Or is one side really winning the fact check battle? And should it not matter to voters?

Jack Massey said...

Gary asks a critical question about the importance of fact checkers. This is, after all, the election of fact checking: I can't listen to NPR without encountering the "Romney said, but actually the facts show" formulation at a rate of one per minute. And on the other side of the ledger, I, too, am inundated with chain emails and social media posts about the President's dishonesty.

I've already expressed the opinion that both sides are habitually dishonest, and won't belabor that point. I think most of us would like to see more frankness from our politicians.

That said, I do not think that fact checking organizations are the answer, for two reasons. First, most political disputes are too complex for objective fact checking. And second, the whole notion of "fact checking" depends on the dubious proposition that disintered objectie analysis is possible. I disagree, and think the fact checkers are prone to capture both by their favored interests and by biases inherent to their position in the political structure.

Gary's link is instructive on the first point, that politics doesn't lend itself to easy validation or discrediting. The Annenberg guys are upset that Romney's campaign lambasted the President for QE3 -- "spending your tax dollars to bail out his failed economic plan."
They point out -- correctly -- that the Fed is independent. They then note that the Fed doesn't spend tax dollars, but in fact turns a profit for the Treasury.

The Romney campaign statement is incorrect. No question. In fact, it's more than technically incorrect. On the other hand, the gist of the claim -- that the government is spending money on an ill advised stimulus program that will increase deficits -- is colorable.

What's wrong with the Annenberg analysis is that it purports to negate Romney's critique with a few flourishes of fact. In fact (heh), what it does is negate some campaign puffery. The explanation it provides in negating this puffery, moreover, is so simplistic as to be misleading to those who don't know better.

Annenberg proposition one is that the Fed is independent of the Administration. True, but there is no question that the Administration exercises both explicit and tacit influence over the Fed, and that Fed officials (e.g., Geithner; Dudley) have their own political valence, whether as apointees or through their interactions with the parties. It's also true that the Fed can typically be counted on to hew to a course not far from the Administration's. Perhaps most importantly, the Bernanke Fed's policy of quantiative easing is different in kind than "standard" open-market operations, focusing on spurring job growth and sequestering toxic assets rather than simply expanding the money supply, which suggests that the Fed is pursuing an aggressive course in line with the Administration's policy goals.

For safety's sake, I will now reiterate -- the Administration does not control the Fed; Bernanke has the right to pursue irregular measures in his pursuit of a spark to jumpstart the economy; and the convergence of Administration and Fed policy suggests a shared expert perspective that lends creedence to both parties' aims.

But the Annenberg analysis, that the Fed and the Administration are separate, period and end of story, is trash. They are, but that tells us nothing about what's really happening in Washington. The overarching Romney critique -- that QE3 is a stimulus program that will result in long term harm to the economy -- is sufficiently credible to deserve attention. So a mailer from the Romney camp used some confused and sloppy language. The failure of the flyer to enunciate the campaign's critique fully and expertly is unfortunate, though a common feature of contemporary politics, but it shouldn't be used as a lever for fact checkers to proclaim an issue dead.

Jack Massey said...

I may be so politicized that I overreact to these things. At the same time, I'm regularly checked by people relying on Annenberg analysis to substantiate their uninformed views on extraordinarily complex subjects. Like the Administration's recent change in welfare policy, for instance. I'm with Mickey Kaus and Saxo on this -- I think the change is a step backwards. I also don't find the change in any way surprising -- it's wholly in keeping with the Administration's policy on the expansion of benefits, be they SNAP or unemployment or health.

But returning to the Fed for a moment, the problem of simple analysis applied to complex problems is really evident in Annenberg's second statement, that the Fed doesn't spend tax dollars and is a net winner for the tax payer.

Annenberg writes: "And those profits have been increased precisely because of earlier “quantitative easings” by the Fed, which earns money from interest on the funds it lends to banks and other financial institutions. The Fed transferred just under $32 billion to the Treasury in 2008, but that jumped to over $47 billion in 2009, $79 billion in 2010 and just under $77 billion last year, according to figures from the Fed’s annual reports."

The Annenberg focus on the Fed's return of monies to the Treasury is misplaced. Extrapolating from the above proposition, it seems that if we engage in quantitative easing we end up with more interest bearing notes that will generate more money for the Treasury, reducing the deficit. Up yours, Romney.

But that's a free lunch. The Fed buys treasuries and gives money to banks to get money into the economy. Right now, it's doing more than that, trying to compel banks to make loans despite (and to force bondholders into the equities market) through its Twist and QE policies. To do this, it's buying both treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. At present, it's holding over 1.25 trillion in such MBS. It will hold more because of QE3.

What all of this means for the economy and the country is extraordinarily complex. But some things are clear. One is that it's foolish to describe the fed program as a budget winner. It may be, if it succeeds in causing growth. But hailing the intereste revenue generated by open market transactions that diminish the value of money isn't smart. It's also difficult to understand what the long term implications of the Fed's massive purchase of toxic assets will be. No one else will buy them, so the Fed does. So the Fed props up banks by giving them money through purchasing their bad assets with freshly printed dollars. Again, if it leads to growth, it's stupendous. It probably does help stabilize the system. But it also embodies terrible incentives in the system, increases free rider and "too big to fail" problems, and markedly increases the risk of the Fed's balance sheets. Might these factors provoke another crisis in time? Might, for instance, the Fed's move to drive money into equities in the short term backfire when the false gains of the current market are lost, provoking panic?

If I knew these things, I would be very rich. The same can be said of the Annenberg critics. The niceties and implications of Fed policy are being debated by smart and well informed people who consistently reach radically different understandings of what's happening and what should happen. In that kind of argument, the fact checkers have no place.

I've run out of time, so I can't talk about fact checkers being captured by other interests, but isn't fact checking just another term for journalism? A new layer of paint over the scratched warn out surface of the media? I'd prefer to have some journalists who really care about facts, or at least who view themselves as the permanent opposition, rather than this new priest-caste of fact checkers.

Subliminal Gary said...

Your point, Jack, is very well made, of course. There is a lot of interpretation involved in assessing political claims. Many of these subjects are too complex to lend themselves to simple, rapid fact-checking.

Yet, I refuse to accept your blanket dismissal of the practice. The psychological impact of misinformation is too well documented. We are hard-wired to remember the first thing we hear about a matter, but not to recall the correction that comes later.

Everyone remembers the Duke University lacrosse scandal. But how many recall that the accusation of rape turned out to be false? Or that the lead prosecutor was disbarred as a direct result, being found guilty on 27 of 32 charges of being a huge douchapotamus?

When a candidate engages in direct, gross misrepresentation of the facts, it should be revealed as quickly as possible, before it becomes true in the minds of those who heard it. For the first time in history, we have the resources to force candidates to campaign on the strength of the facts. If that turns presidential debates into a VH1 Pop-Up Video-style circus, well, I for one welcome it.

Autres pays, autre merde, as the other Jack was wont to say.

Which reminds me. I understand it is to you, Mr. Massey, that I owe thanks for the recommendation of The Long Ships. Fantastic book. I'm enjoying it deeply. And I recommend it to all the other brilliant and good-looking readers of this blog.

Jack Massey said...

I second Gary in recommending Red Orm and his adventures, which are recounted with a style and hilarity rarely seen these days.

Gary, I think we’re on the same page. I thought “exactly” while reading your remarks on misinformation and our tendency to prioritize what we heard first over what we learn later. My concern with fact checking stems from exactly that tendency. In the political sphere, I’ve noted that one side sometimes stymies debate of an important issue by relying on a fact check claim that isn’t at all substantial (e.g., welfare; QE3). Indeed, bad fact-checks are as rich a soil for growing vehement, misinformed, received opinions as any I know. Regardless, I’ll temper my earlier criticism in response to your post. A means of fighting misinformation is useful to our politics, and fact checks serve that purpose, so long as the fact checkers are assiduous in avoiding oversimplification.

My problem with fact checkers arises from a suspicion of the concept of institutional objectivity in politics. Reporters of unusual bias? I don’t think they exist . . . . Everyone I know in elite journalism (and that is one of the few areas where I really do have some interesting connections) concedes liberal bias. To a man and woman, they decry rightist conspiracy theories, but they all admit that the newsroom is center-left, left by custom and inclination. Even the NYT public editor agrees! This makes sense to me: people with a certain temperament like and join newspapers rather than digging mines or propagating ultamontain views on which rapper to support or running grocery stores. But we, at the level of making normative claims about what journalism should be, seem attached to objectivity, like people watching Elvis in the late 1970s, even though everyone knows it’s a soiled stretched thing on the verge of explosion. This attachment does a disservice to papers, which many think are hypocritical as well as partisan. Isn’t it better to be in Britain, where you know what you’re reading is rabidly partisan, in the bag not only for a party but often for a particular person?

A question for Gary and everyone: where do you get your news? Mine is low and high. Low arising from the great roiling internet, where the zealots try to pull down established opinion as soon as it is announced, and high from the policy and intellectual mags, many of which I read intermittently. I rarely read dailies and almost never watch televised news. A glaring hole in my political understanding? What’s best to read (or watch or listen to) and for what purpose?

Is there room for professional opposition fact checkers? Rightists checking the left and vice versa? I ask because of the aforementioned dislike of “objective” claims (go ahead and put me in the corner with the critical theories crowd . . . .) but also because I most enjoy reading rigorous attacks on right positions from fair-minded center-leftists. People like Mickey Kaus and Michael Kinsley write the kind of opinion journalism I love -- I learn more from them than I ever will from reading an idiot hack like Ezra Klein. Likewise, I adore the real left (e.g., anyone writing in Harper’s and most in the NYRB). They often write from principle, not partisanship. And their pieces are more elegant and thought provoking than any of the rummaged-through remainders that appear in a flyover passenger’s magazine like the contemporary Atlantic, full as it is with jejune bon-mots and celebrity porn. The whole notion is unrealistic, of course, but perhaps it’s less unrealistic than straight up objectivity: a professional critic fact-checking the opposition constrained by the knowledge that his effectiveness is contingent upon his reasonableness. An attack dog limited by the consciousness of his own vulnerability. In a lot of ways, this exchange has been excellent precisely because its fire is tempered with doubt. “The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with passionate desire to vote for Obama.” Or perhaps that’s not quite it. Regardless, onward to 100 posts!

ANCIANT said...

I am happy to grant that true objectivity does not exist--could anyone deny that--but unwilling to give up on a hope for greater objectivity in media. What fact-checking organizations often do is provide meaningful context. An obvious example would be the 'you didn't build' that quote which is being parroted about quite a lot by the Republican Right. Seeing the actual speech Obama gave--or merely reading it--is obviously crucial to understanding what he was attempting to say. At a more nuanced level, some of the fact-checking I read about Clinton's speech at the DNC was extremely useful to me--illustrating how Clinton managed to cherry-pick certain data points to paint a more rosy portrait of Obama's economic successes than the facts might warrant. It wasn't much of a surprise to find out Clinton had done so, but it was useful to get the details. I take your larger point, though (a very post-modern academic one, I think): truth is shaped and argued, not uncovered. Nietzsche, basically--language is a mobile army of metaphors and metonymy (is that the exact quote? Close) which all of us wield, with varying degrees of success, in order to persuade or co-opt others to our view of truth.

I read the NYRB but not Harpers, which I have always loathed. I'm not sure I respect the NYRB as much as you, Mr Massey--they are sometimes the most partisan hacks out there. I need only look at the byline for half the articles to know what will be said (has Elizabeth Drew EVER written anything but the same article?) I like Ezra Klein; I'm not sure why you call him a hack. I still read Andrew Sullivan frequently--his views on Obama hew closely to my own. Then, I read smatterings of other writers and sites. I still try to read NRO and the Weekly Standard, though I find them both fairly unpersuasive. City Journal is good, but bleak and strident. David Frum and David Brooks are always worth a read.

So, I guess my news sources are almost entirely internet and print. No--not true--I watch the PBS NewsHour about half of the time it's on. I don't think anyone could get firsthand news from Cable TV (another reason why Sorkin's new show is ridiculous--it's like a long lament, in the 1950s, for the inability of telegraph operators to work their trade. But I digress).

I'm not sure if you have the time or inclination, Mr Massey, but I'd still like to hear your thoughts about Mann/Ornstein and asymmetric polarization. I assume you reject the notion? Curious to hear why.

I'd also recommend to anyone who hasn't read it yet, Michael Lewis' profile, in the recent Vanity Fair, of President Obama. It's sympathetic, of course, but interesting, I would think, to those on either side of the aisle. It's worth it just for the scene where Lewis goes to join Obama's weekly pick-up basketball game.

Dezmond said...

I just started reading Bob Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politcs," an in depth look at the 2011 debt negotiations. Interesting I found this: he refers to the infamous interview that ANCIANT and JMW refer to so much where Mitch McConnell said that it was priority that Obama be a one term president.

He notes that later in the same interview, McConnell said this: "If President Obama does a Clintonian back flip, if he's willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it's not inappropriate for us to do business with him...I don't want the president to fail; I want him to change." Funny you don't hear that part of it as often.

Subliminal Gary said...

I believe this is the complete speech.

During the Q&A after the speech, McConnell says the second part. 'I don't want the president to fail; I want him to change'

However, at no time during the speech did I hear him say the first part.

Perhaps it's not the right speech, but it appears to be the same one that is referenced in all the short clips of McConnell saying that his top priority is making Obama a single term president.

Without irregard, it's an interesting speech. Often slimy. At times, uncomfortably inspiring. But ultimately based upon the false premise that the Republican Party has its finger on the pulse of the American voter.

JMW said...

Don't have time to get into everything I'd like to, so thought I would just focus on the what-are-we-reading question. I still check Andrew Sullivan fairly regularly, partly because he sends me to a better variety of other online sources than I would be willing to cobble together on my own time. I don't read Harper's anymore. I read the New Yorker regularly. The New Republic from time to time; maybe every third issue or so. NYRB sometimes, but more for their literary stuff than the political. I'm thinking of subscribing to Foreign Affairs and The American Conservative (the latter of which seems like an up-and-coming centrist-conservative outlet, but perhaps you guys have a better -- and less charitable -- sense of it).

I've really been trying to read books, more than magazines. It's nice to feel like I'm learning something, which I find more deeply satisfying than the horse-race stuff. This year, I've read Keegan's First World War, Hofstadter's The American Political Tradition, and K Blows Top, a light but entertaining book about Khrushchev's tour of America in '59. Masha Gessen's book about Putin. And currently Rick Perlstein's book about Goldwater. The one I can't recommend enough is Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. As readers of the periodicals we mentioned, we all know he's become kind of dull and stiff. But this was written in more of a New Journalism way, but at a high level. I thought it was incredibly entertaining and thoughtful, whether you agree with all of his analysis or not. It's kind of a tour de force, and you see him thinking a lot on the page to figure out what he really believes. Does a lot of stuff: history, biography, political theory, memoir.

Cartooniste said...

Wow. I am very sorry to be so late coming to this party. But it's made for one hell of a power skim.

Nothing much to add. I'm voting for Obama again. I think he's done a terrific job after being handed a great steaming pile of manure. I'd like it if he'd closed Guantanemo Bay as promised. The deficit will need to be addressed by lessening our involvement in expensive foreign wars, and by having investment income taxed at a level on par with salaried income. I promise, people will still invest - it pays better than saving. The end.

Mainly, I wanted to make a tiny point related to some historical assertions made at the beginning of this thread, namely:

"this country, like it or not, was founded on firm Judeo-Christian principles and morality."

North America was actually colonized out of a desire to make money. The Puritans were the lunatic fringe exception to the rule of colonial corporations which were established out of pure profit motive. And yet, it's the religious mandate of a tiny fraction of the multifarious North American patterns of settlement that gets marshaled in Republican fantasies about the past.


"All the way back to Westward Expansion, the rugged individual ethos that has defined us is now under attack, it is seen as simple greed and as something evil."

That rugged individual ethos you're talking about also didn't exist in the 17th Century North American colonies, which were small enough and vulnerable enough that social relationships and collective action were absolutely vital for their economic sustainability, and an important part of the culture. So important that *too much* individual ethos could get you shunned or worse. Our rugged individualism is a late-eighteenth/-early-nineteenth century construct intimately tied up with changing patterns of immigration. I don't disagree that it's been incorporated into our national mythmaking, but let's be clear about what's true and what's myth. Early colonial life was about interdependence and collective action in service of common economic goals.

My favorite part about the Republican fetish for imaginary American history? They lionize what they think the past was like, cherry-picking ideas in service to their ideology. One of their favorite cherries is our supposed Judeo-Christian founding principles, which of course were unique to Massachusetts for the most part. But then they turn around and say things like:

"Massachusetts is not the United States."

Anyhoo. Romney. I don't think he's a bad guy, actually. I actually believe him to be a reasonable and measured man. I think Obama was hamstrung to a large extent by, as ANCIANT said, the Republican desire to win rather than to enable government that is effective.

Obama 2012. That's my position.

Dezmond said...

Not getting involved in foreign wars, when not necessary, and changing the tax code would definitely help. But our hole is too deep just for that to do the trick. Entitlement reform is also an essential part of any serious solution. We are going to have to let go of some of the government goodies we have grown accustomed to. The only way is to slay the sacred cows of both the Left and the Right, not just the Right.

Making money was a huge part of our colonization. That is why Capitalism is our second religion. The joint-stock company that founded Virginia, the founding of much of the South, that is definitely true.

But as much as you try to deny and sweep the religious to the side as a "lunatic fringe," that is just not the case. First, the Puritans were a pretty huge part of our colonial history. This "lunatic fringe" had more to do with our earliest democratic roots than any other group who came here (the townhall meeting as the incubator of American democracy and so forth). Secondly, you have the Quakers establishing Pennsylvania, Maryland being established in part as a haven for catholics against persecution, etc. And it is silly to say it is either/or, as in, either economic motives or religious influence. Even the men searching for wealth brought their religion and morality with them. The First Great Awakening during the colonial period was a pretty big deal too.

Our early education structure and high literacy rate was directly tied to the idea of Protestant personal salvation (each individual can have a direct relationship with God, and to do that each person must read the Bible and try to give it personal meaning. To read the Bible, you've got to know how to read. Look at the founding of most of our earliest colleges and universities.)

As I said before, I'm not even religious! But I get so irritated by the bile from the Left towards our clear religious roots. They aren't the only roots, of course, but they are far from a "lunatic fringe." It's OK. You can still be considered intelligent while accepting the importance of religion and its accompanying morality in our history. I won't tell anyone, I promise.

And as for the rugged individual and moving West, you bet that was here early on. You had to be pretty self-reliant and ambitious to make the trip over in the first place, at least in the early days. And very early on, once the good coastal land was taken by the wealthier classes, colonists started to push west. And those people had to make their way in very small units and carve out a life on the frontier, wherever it was at any given time. The colonists steadfastly refused to follow the Proclamation of 1763 and pushed beyond the Appalachians. It was a land of opportunity from the beginning, and those who took advantage of that opportunity best were often those who made their own way. The Individual.

And I don't think Obama is a bad guy either, by the way. Just the wrong guy.

ANCIANT said...

Interesting feedback cartooniste. Knowledge! Didn't you just get your PhD? Of course, if that's so it makes you an avowed minion of the socialist academic juggernaut. Let's all be clear about that.

I'm not convinced, Dez, that Judeo-Christian ethics were behind the Constitution. I don't deny that many of our founding fathers and first settlers were Christian in some form or another (though Puritan/Calvinism is not exactly the same thing as today's Christianity). But I do deny that those Judeo Christian ethics were explicitly woven into our founding documents.

I am going to post nine more times just to get us to 100, at this point.

Is everyone going to watch the debates tomorrow? I'd love to hear what you all thought about them. Post your comments here, afterwards. 100 here we come!

Semi-related story: among my students right now is high school senior who grew up in Texas. I was making conversation yesterday and asked her who her favorite president was. I don't know what I was expecting (Lincoln? Washington? Or someone obscure and fun like Hayes or Chester A Arthur). Her answer: Reagan! I don't know why I found that so surprising. Maybe because, for her, Reagan is a figure from history whereas for me, he's a figure from my childhood. Anyway..that's all.

Dezmond said...

There was no one single influence behind our founding or Constitution. You also have the Enlightenment, natural rights and the ideas of Locke, Rousseau...but the Judeo-Christian ethics were also there as more than something practiced by a "lunatic fringe."

Declaration of Independence: "...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." And at the end: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence..." I guess those were typos by Jefferson? Throwaway lines to fill some space with little meaning?

The first protection listed in the Bill of Rights is that of freedom of religion. Listed even before Freedom of Speech. Have you read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address lately?

Look, it is just silly to try to marginalize religious influence in our history. Actual Truth or whether these beliefs make sense to our modern mind is a wholly different matter and beside the point. We are talking about these beliefs and ideas and how important they were in shaping the thinking of our most important leaders, as well as the American people in general. And they were huge. Not the only influence, fo course, but a major one. To ignore that is to ignore historical fact. Our Founders and other great leaders were, by and large, extremely well versed in religious thinking, and of course in influenced their character and actions.

Dezmond said...

And yes, I know the 1st Amendment can cut both ways. It protects religious freedom, but also prohibits the establishment of religion by Congress. The establishment clause, by and large, was there to prevent a Church of England-type of institution with too much political power from forming here in the States. That clause, like many parts of the Constitution, has been expanded over the years by over-eager courts in their attempts to legislate from the bench.

There, two more steps to 100.

Jack Massey said...

1. Religion

I second everything Dez said in his last two posts. Before anything else, the Founders were 18th century Englishmen. Like all men they were the product of their time. The oldest among them – Franklin; Washington – were boys when the Duke of Cumberland put down the Young Pretender at Culloden. Theirs was the era of the Oath of Supremacy, the penal laws, recusancy, and the great awakening of the dissenters. The government of Great Britain was explicitly religious; great political issues of the day hinged on religion; and the culture was religious, as well. The Founders came from an age of ubiquitous religion. Some were observant in the normal way (Washington – Anglican/Episcopal), others were established religion types friendly to dissent (Madison); some were dissenters (Hancock); others were famously philosophical on the subject of religion (Jefferson; Franklin); and even Catholics got in on the act (Carroll – hoya saxa). They certainly brought liberal political principles to bear in creating the American government. And some of what they did was in reaction to the religious excesses of the post-reformation state -- Dez’s statement that the 1st Amendment is chiefly a tool against the Established Anglican Church is absolutely correct. But as a group, they assumed and expected some significant role for the Divine, specifically the Judeo-Christian divine, in the life of the new Republic. I think it’s quite likely that we have forgotten just how tribal the Founders were. That they embraced even a conservative political liberalism in the wake of the rebellion is remarkable.

I suppose it’s also instructive to compare the Founders to their ideological successors in France, who did seek to weed our religion and who did not embrace conservative liberal principles in governance, resulting in the guillotine and Bonapartism.

Dez could marshal an impressive textual case to support his argument if he chose to do so.

2. The Socialist Academic Juggernaut

It exists. Are there any serious socialists left outside of academic departments? I pass no judgment and make only a descriptive claim. Isn’t participation in a power structure with norms, beliefs, and values different than those prevalent in the government and corporate sectors one of the draws of being an academic?

I am certainly a corporatist tool. I dislike much about it, but find other parts quite satisfying, and am not embarrassed to understand where and how I fit into the world’s machinery. Shouldn’t we all call ourselves by our right names and apply to ourselves the appropriate labels? Socialist Juggernauters, won’t you join me in declaiming truth and banishing obfuscation?

3. I intend to write on what hipsters, op-ed writers, and fools charmingly call “asymmetrical party radicalization” sometime soon, because I don’t think it’s a defensible way of thinking about political division in our country. I’ll also watch the debate and comment.

Subliminal Gary said...

I'm not seeing the relevance of the religious beliefs of a group of men in the mid-to-late 18th century upon this election. There are many outdated notions in the Constitution. Why must we cling to them so desperately? The Magna Carta was a great document, too. But is it still relevant today?

As I said before, what I find disturbing is that 150+ years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, some staggering percentage of the Republican candidates this season hold (or claim to hold) a literal interpretation of The Bible right down to evolution-denial. Is 'our Founding Fathers were religious, moral men' really the primary justification for such nonsense?

The Founder's Intent of the first amendment was not to separate church and state, but to prevent a Church of America? Pity. I guess Jefferson would have been cool with these guys then.

Was their intent with the second amendment to ensure that god-fearing Americans could keep their phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range next to the bed for home defense? Are the redskins likely to attack?

My point, as I hope is clear, is that many aspects of the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are out-of-date. And they shouldn't be used to justify the backwards views of today's politicians.

I don't see the left's equivalent of David Barton writing books twisting history in their favor.

If George Washington was running against Obama today and he held the same religious, political, and moral views that he held in the 1780's, I wouldn't vote for him. Because he would be 280 years old and all we need is for his lunatic fucking VP, Michelle Bachmann, to have her finger on the button when he keels over 4 months into office. But also because his views are, well, out-dated.

JMW said...

Let's say, theoretically, that I'm immune to either Dez's or Gary's take on the religion situation. (I'm not immune, but theoretically, so that I can ignore their most recent posts in most of their detail. Just look at this excerpt from Mr. Massey:

"The Founders came from an age of ubiquitous religion. Some were observant in the normal way (Washington – Anglican/Episcopal), others were established religion types friendly to dissent (Madison); some were dissenters (Hancock); others were famously philosophical on the subject of religion (Jefferson; Franklin); and even Catholics got in on the act (Carroll – hoya saxa)."

That tells me all I need to know, which is that -- OF COURSE -- the Founders were products of their very religious times. But just from that brief history lesson (and thank you for it, Mr. M.), I can see that the Founders -- products of their more tribal time -- had much more various and interesting individual takes on religion than the absolutely mindless, monochromatic tribe that is Bachmann et al. To my mind, whether or not religion had anything to do with our founding is far from the point. The point, rather, is that I will not be made to defend the Bachmann vis a vis the Founders just because they believed in a creator. There are days when I believe in a creator, and I'm a 21st-century agnostic/atheist. So what? Give me philosophy, intelligence and the ability to think in and around these things. And I'm not saying no Republicans offer this. But there's a branch that doesn't, obviously. If academia can be asked to acknowledge its strong leftward leaning, the religious right can be asked to acknowledge that they're more constricted (and aggressive) in its beliefs than the Founders were -- 200+ years later.

Romney was better tonight by a pretty good stretch. Doesn't mean I agreed with everything he said, but he was energized and good on his feet. Obama was mostly the opposite.

JMW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JMW said...

Please ignore that the grammar in my last post would make it seem that I left school after the second grade. It's late and I'm a little bleary.

Dezmond said...

Gary, the magna carta is relevant as a historical document. The Constitution is relevant because it is still the supreme law of this land. Most or all of the outdated notions in the original Constitution have been rectified. The brilliance of the document is just how relevant so much of it still is to how we govern.

It was in part to separate church and state, but not to take all religion and religious expression out of public life. I doubt Jefferson and Co. would have intended for a person who got their panties in a twist over a pre-game prayer at a Texas high school football game to whine loudly enough about how they felt discriminated against to where the expression was then banned. (Not that I care about prayers at football games, but making that an issue is the pinnacle of silliness).

I'd vote for a 280 year old Washington. It's George freakin' Washington. Although he wasn't the brightest of our founders, he was a brilliant judge of skill and character in choosing his subordinates. I trust Bachmann wouldn't be his choice of VP.

This religious history discussion is really a sidenote. I was merely responding to a response to one of my earlier posts. Since I do history for a living, I couldn't let it slide. That's all. It was more an interesting historical discussion to me than a part of the analysis of the current election.

Dezmond said...

I am honored, by the way, that I got us to 100. And yes, I thought Romney came out better in the debate too. He was strong.

Subliminal Gary said...

To my great embarrassment, I only caught the last few minutes of the debate. When I switched it on, Romney was explaining the importance of bipartisanship. How Obama had failed to work with Republicans, but that he, Romney, would sit down on day 1 with Democrats.

So, there's that.

What I've heard on NPR this morning is that Obama is winning the post-debate fact-check battle, but we have apparently established that facts have no place in political debates.

If you say that you can reduce the deficit by lowering taxes and closing unspecified tax loopholes, then that is true, even if non-partisan organizations claim otherwise.

ANCIANT said...

Romney said more thing that were patently untrue. Obama didn't do a very good job of calling him on some of his BS. I did think Romney came off well--as someone qualified to lead, and not just a spineless hack saying whatever he thinks his audience at the time wants to hear. Obama disappointed, not on the issues but on his general level of engagement and interest.

Someone pointed out on one of the post-debate round tables that maybe Obama suffered by having John Kerry as his Romney surrogate during the debate prep. Kerry wants to be Secretary of State in the next administration ,went the argument, so maybe he took it easy on the president. I doubt this is the explanation, really, but I repeat it b/c it was the only interesting thing I took away from all the post debate analysis.

Subliminal Gary said...

A little more analysis of their statements this morning has led me to conclude that they both spewed a relatively equivalent amount of misleading bullshit.

For me, the debate has really illustrated how similar they are. When you strip away absurd party ideologies, their moderate stances overlap quite a bit.

In summation, this.

Jack Massey said...

1. The Debate

Re the debate, I thought it was excellent and that both candidates looked pretty good. Romney looked marginally better. This is one of the few areas where the bad press that Romney has consistently received played in his favor. A lot of people I know were shocked that he could put two sentences together and didn’t have horns. Both candidates played fast and loose with their facts, but that’s essentially inevitable in debating economic cause-and-effect, which is black magic. I don’t believe that Romney’s plan can be budget neutral and I don’t believe that the President is going to bend the curve by expanding health care entitlements. But these proposals and claims tell us something about what each is thinking and where each might go. Romney and the President are shaping up to be pretty good avatars for different budgetary philosophies, which is useful.

2. Religion! (Again).

I have once again disregarded the good advice of my parents – e.g., don’t talk about religion; don’t gamble with friends; don’t sleep with your brother’s girlfriend – to my detriment. I don’t propose to justify the backwardness of today’s politicians, to use Gary’s formulation, by reference to the religious beliefs of their predecessors. Rather, my intent is to address the narrower point that the prevalent religious attitudes of the Founders had some effect on the nature of the Founding and on the country’s history. Past is prologue.

There were three main reactions to my post on the Founders and religion:

1. Gary’s contention that this doesn’t matter to the current election. I concede the point, although I disagree with his views on the comparative usefulness of our founding documents, particularly the Constitution. Discussing the role, application, and intent of constitutions might be a fun exercise for this group in the future.

2. JMW’s statement: “That tells me all I need to know, which is that -- OF COURSE -- the Founders were products of their very religious times.” I take it that the “OF COURSE” is meant to show the irrelevance of the point. That’s fair play in terms thinking about this election, less fair play in analyzing what Cartooniste frames as “fantasies about the past.”

Jack Massey said...

3. Which brings us to history and fantasy. Specifically, Cartooniste says: “North America was actually colonized out of a desire to make money. The Puritans were the lunatic fringe exception to the rule of colonial corporations which were established out of pure profit motive. And yet, it's the religious mandate of a tiny fraction of the multifarious North American patterns of settlement that gets marshaled in Republican fantasies about the past.”

Cartooniste also says: “My favorite part about the Republican fetish for imaginary American history? They lionize what they think the past was like, cherry-picking ideas in service to their ideology. One of their favorite cherries is our supposed Judeo-Christian founding principles, which of course were unique to Massachusetts for the most part.”

Thinkers will fight for suzerainty of the past. That conflict encompasses both the claims of the contemporary lunatic fringe, which we all disavow, as well as claims like Cartooniste’s, with which I disagree. Specifically, I think that Judeo-Christian founding principles followed naturally and inevitably from the Founders’ beliefs and the beliefs of their co-religionists and fellow citizens; I do not think such beliefs were localized to Massachusetts, but rather pertained everywhere, taking on a broadly Protestant and liberal flavor on this continent; and I think the colonial desire to make money coexisted nicely with prevailing Protestant sentiment (Weber?), whether among the adventurers and investors of the London or Plymouth Corporations, the Virginia planters, or on the pages of Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Consider the third paragraph of the charter that James I granted the London Corporation for the settlement of Virginia: “We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government: DO, by these our Letters Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires;” (Yale Law provides these texts online – very cool.

I began by saying I was wholly onboard with Dez, so I’ll quote him here:

“As I said before, I'm not even religious! But I get so irritated by the bile from the Left towards our clear religious roots. They aren't the only roots, of course, but they are far from a "lunatic fringe." It's OK. You can still be considered intelligent while accepting the importance of religion and its accompanying morality in our history. I won't tell anyone, I promise.” (emphasis added)

Excellent stuff. I’m still talking about religion because of the phenomenon that Dez identifies and I’ve highlighted. Paranoia on our part? Or a useful exercise in political argument?

JMW said...

We're on our way to 200. Nice.

Mr. Massey, my OF COURSE was meant to signal an agreement with Dez's point, and with your point, before you made it this way: "I think that Judeo-Christian founding principles followed naturally and inevitably from the Founders’ beliefs and the beliefs of their co-religionists and fellow citizens." That's what I think is "of course" true. But it wasn't meant to say it's an irrelevant point. It's simply to say that I take it as a given that there was the kind of widespread religious influence and held beliefs that you and Dez claim there were. That's not to say that I don't end up closer to Gary and Cartooniste in many ways. Maybe none of that makes sense.

About the debate, I'll also agree strongly with Mr. Massey that Romney benefited from the fact that there were people who "were shocked that he could put two sentences together and didn’t have horns." I was not among them. I think Romney's a very smart guy. I was more surprised by Obama's flatness than by Romney's projected strength.

I'm still an Obama voter because I think debate "performance" is only important if you truly feel torn about the more substantive visions offered by the candidates. That said, it drives me kind of crazy how the media keeps harping on how Romney "lied" because he put forth centrist positions. It's not that I believe every one of those positions; it's just that all politicians (all smart ones, anyway) tack toward the center after the primaries, so who's to say the more conservative Romney is not the lie? Obama has the advantage on this point for me just because I think his presidency has been relatively centrist, while I do harbor doubts about where Romney might lean once in office. But the idea that he couldn't be a more centrist president than he was as a nominee in, say, South Carolina, is silly.

Cartooniste said...

I am well amused that you guys conflate the Puritans, the "Founders," James I, and Poor Richard as if they were all happening at the same time. It's the "National Treasure" model of history - put enough dust on it, and it's all the same. But I'm dropping the point.

What I will say is, yeah, Romney did a better job, and I just about bust a stay laughing when he went on the record as being in favor of regulation.

And speaking of regulation - you'll enjoy knowing, perhaps, that my marital associate - known in the real world to I'm pretty sure all of you, and who, you will recall, I met in a class on Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud at a fancy left-leaning school, will be speaking tomorrow on the perils of layway plans to [long drumroll]

Fox Business News.

Fifth Column, suckers!

Obama 2012.

Jack Massey said...

All history is “National Treasure” history to some degree or another. We look for a bright arc of meaning to connect the people and things that came before and, perhaps, to show the way forward. No one commenting on this blog conflates the Puritans, the Founders, the Stuarts, and Ben Franklin as historical contemporaries. The argument is simply that they share a particular arc of meaning. The Founders spent plenty of time considering the events in England and Europe one hundred and fifty years prior, and their considerations shaped their thinking, just as we spend plenty of time considering the Founders or the Civil War, and our considerations shape our thinking. No one would conflate today with 1863, but anyone would agree that the arc having to do with race and federalism continues to describe our public life. The President rightly identified Lincoln as his “outstanding Republican endorsee” and quoted him at the convention.

I doubt the debates are all that important, for the reason JMW relates: “debate "performance" is only important if you truly feel torn about the more substantive visions offered by the candidates.” Barring a complete Obama meltdown in the next context, which I think is unlikely, the President is in good position.

ANCIANT said...

Wait, remind me again--was James I the the guy who cut the baby up to see who was the true owner? No--no. I've got it. He was the one who built Versailles! And invited Voltaire to live with him and wrote flute concertos. And was assassinated in Sarajevo, to start the 30 Years War? And the Puritans...were that band, who wrote "California Dreamin'" And "Poor Richard's Alamanac" was one of their later, concept albums, where they made up their own language and did the whole thing on bassoon? Is that right? Man we ARE stupid to get them all mixed up. How did that happen?

Of all the odd places to find interesting quotes about the founders and religion, the recently panned (on this blog) Sorkin show "The Newsroom" recently offered up a few. I am going to find the transcript if I can, but the episode involved direct quotes from various founding fathers to the effect that the US was intended to be a nation founded separately from religion. Whatever that may or may not mean.

In other news, Andrew Sullivan has just about lost his mind about Obama's poor performance in the debate. And, I'm reading Infinite Jest. I want to post about that, because I very much wanted to dislike and disregard the book. In fact, I'm becoming increasingly worried that it's a work of great genius--emotionally engaging, as well, of course, as intellectually insane.

But that bears not at all on politics. I will find some quotes soon.

Subliminal Gary said...

You're probably referring to this clip from The Newsroom.

I also found a longer one that pieces together a few other tidbits from the same episode, focusing on the Tea Party and Voter ID laws.

Dezmond said...

Why are you quoting that show?

Dezmond said...

And Jack said it exactly. I'm not sure the relevance of the National Treasure comment. Nobody said that all of these people we mentioned were exact contemporaries, or that they were all sitting in the same room having Bible study. In fact, that they were spread out over some time enforces the point. Religion was a major influence, among other influences, throughout our early days (and later days too).

JMW said...

But the point remains, Dez, that they didn't (as a rule) maniacally trumpet the strictest, dumbest version of Christian literalism. Several prominent members (not all) of the current GOP do that. And religion is not in danger in this country. So tell me again how this all influences the current election season?

Dezmond said...

I didn't say that it did. This all started as a response to a historical observation by Cartooniste.

Although I would disagree with you that religion is not under attack in some quarters.

Subliminal Gary said...

Only 13 days remain until the release of Halo 4 (and election day). The debates have ended. Ann Coulter has called Obama a retard. We have gained new and exciting memes in binders full of women and horses and bayonets. The great masses of undecided voters oscillate like undamped spring-mass systems.

So, where do we stand? Is our fearless leader, ANCIANT, still smugly confident in an Obama victory? Does the unflappable Dezmond still believe he is winning the debate? Does Jack Massey have any more book recommendations?

And most importantly, can we start a spin-off thread for constitutional discussion? I'd really like for this group to explore such exciting topics as: (1) the free speech justification for Super PACs, (2) freedom of religion and its association to social conservatism, science, and The WAR ON RELIGION(!!1!), (3) the second amendment and when do I get my bazooka, (4) and many others!

Dezmond said...

"Binders full of women" is my personal favorite. I think that phrase is appropriate in numerous social circumstances. In fact, I use it almost daily in the classroom.

I don't see how ANCIANT (and others) can be so smug about an Obama victory at this point. But that has been one of Obama's problems, being insulated on one of the coasts. He hasn't really seen the political reality in the rest of the country, until very recently. Part of why his performance in that first debate was so bad was that I think he was a little out of practice having someone directly challenging him.

And of course, Gary, I am absolutely convinced that I have dominated this 117 comment debate thus far. Absolutely. No question. Everything that I have typed out with my golden fingers strikes home like daggers of truth.

ANCIANT said...

I don't recall ever being smug, but I admit to being once more confident than I am now. I'm honestly still kind of amazed that Romney is doing as well as he is. He just seem so..well...verminous. That's an ad hominem attack, I know, and thus not part of honest debate. But, geez. I can't remember having this much honest unadulterated dislike for any Presidential Candidate...ever. Republican or Democrat. I honestly find Romney...just repugnant. He's been running for president nonstop since 2007, he's consistently shown he's willing to say ANYTHING at any time to get elected and he's basically convinced me not at all in his ability or desire to form coalitions that will solve our country's problems. On the other side, Obama is, in my eyes, a decent, honest, well intentioned man. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find, in 30 years, that he's listed as one of the great presidents of the last 100 years. So...I will say that I'm clearly not seeing all that Dez is seeing, on this issue. Or many others. But I've enjoyed discussing it. I need to have my own biases and prejudices challenged; I want to make sure I'm giving them both an honest appraisal. And I think I have.

Oh, but if I could only see like Dez. If I could see like Dez sees!

And, despite my dislike for the man, I'll say now that if Romney does win (GULP) I'll try to support him and give him an honest shake.

Binders full of women was fairly great.

Dezmond said...

Oh, my fellow Kinkadians will appreciate this. There is a History Channel series called "The Presidents" that is pretty good. They basically spend about 10-15 minutes on each of the presidents from Washington to Bush. I show a few of them in class. The one on Andrew Jackson is particularly good, at least as an intro before I dive in, that hits briefly each of the important Jackson things they need to know for AP...Bank War, Indian policy, Spoils System, Mass Democracy, Nullification Crisis and Jackson's threat to hang his VP, John C. Calhoun...all that good stuff.

It is the usual documentary style that Ken Burns perfected, photos and then various experts and professors weighing in. As we watch, one of the talking heads in the series is none other than Sam W. Haynes. Awesome.

Subliminal Gary said...

I recall Doc Haynes being a particular fan of Jackson and his saber-rattling style of political leadership. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

When Haynes is on, the caption says he is the author of some book on James K. Polk.


Jack Massey said...

I hope that you are right about the President being seen thirty years from now as one of the best chief executives of the century. But I doubt it. Perhaps we can wager? Thirty years from now, you can visit me in my hidden redoubt in northeast Texas, assuming you can penetrate the lines of the robot skirmishers and UAW MobOcc forces, to resolve the wager. I will not take Treasury scrip.

I am not as sanguine as you, perhaps because I am not as good as you. I expect Obama to win and am girding myself for the bruising political fight of the next years. A Romney victory is still possible, of course -- far more likely than the Times suggests -- but definitely less likely than an Obama victory. I don't spend much time envisioning a Romney Administration. I suspect it would be difficult, frequently disappointing, and probably one term.

Let me add a note on an area that we have meant to discuss but haven't, the so-called asymmetrical radicalization of the Republican Party. Here's Michael Tomasky summing it up in the NYRB a few weeks:

"This abrupt shift on [Romney's] part emphasized, to me, the central fact of this election: that the Republican Party is—has made itself into—a party that is (in all likelihood) too far to the right to win national elections. Romney demonstrated at the debate that he understands this, and that the only way for him to avoid the drubbing he saw coming is by running away from the party and denying its agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, decimation of the domestic budget, and global belligerence. The big question of the campaign’s final weeks is whether he can continue to pull this off."

This proposition is wrong for a number of reasons. But I want to home in on one -- that the current Democratic coalition is electable because it has embraced a traditionally Republican notion of national defense. The example is instructive because of the final debate, fresh in our minds, in which the President channeled George W. Bush. Weakness before our adversaries (or anyone else) isn't smiled on by the electorate. The President has pursued policies of strength, intervening in Libya, ramping up targeted assassinations and drone strikes far beyond the tempo of past Administrations, and deploying U.S. soldiers throughout the world on "force magnification" missions aimed at interdicting or shutting down terrorist operations. All in addition to prosecuting the ongoing wars.

This is notable because it's a substantial departure from the President's prior writings, public statements, and campaigning. One could say, in fact, that the kind of simple moral zealotry that fueled the 2008 campaign (Code Pink; the "fierce moral urgency of change"; the "Iraq war is lost" speeches on the Senate floor; the dull common ubiquitous marches of students and other non-working peoples for peace; David Cole's hysterical fulminating about international human rights) is gone, swept out by government like an embarrasing uncle from Thanksgiving dinner. The President kicks ass. He kills people like Osama Bin-Laden. It's great.

Jack Massey said...


Great politics, certainly. And pragmatic politics, too. It's easy to piss into the tent from outside, after all, when your decisions aren't life and death. I daresay many human rights philosophers would be troubled by the President's daily intelligence briefing.

But, for purposes of this argument, the President's position is radical politics. He's the progressive with a foreign policy like Clint Eastwood's. It's a policy not in keeping with the views and preferences of the old left, the real left, the student left, the media left, or anyone who voted against George Bush because they were mad about violence. That's precisely why it's a policy that wins elections. Because the democratic coalition cannot win if limited to its principles and prejudices, anymore than the Republican coalition can. This year we have a Democrat who's strong on defense. A few years ago it was Republican who was compassionate. Before that it was a Democrat who executed people and ended welfare. In 2016 perhaps we'll see a Republican who runs left on abortion or immigration.

Every election invites the party leader and his coalition to negotiate a new understanding about how they will jointly win that election and govern the country. And the notion that one party has radicalized more than the other is, I think, mistaken. Both parties appease absurd special interests that are loathed by most voters. And both parties this season have nevertheless put together formidable national coalitions from mixed interests -- the President's comprising minorities, unionists, and educated white people with principle issues (abortion; gay rights); and Romney's comprising most other white people, small businessmen, and religious conservatives.

We are rife with disagreement because the country is split evenly, not because one party has gone crazy. I imagine that situation will persist until: 1) worsening conditions create an opportunity for the rise of a new coalition that will smash all opposition (Reagan); or 2) political opportunism and necessity will force a charismatic but long-shot politician into taking risks that will result in his ascendancy to power and the formation of a new order (Clinton). It's not so hard to imagine a Republican defanging the far right by embracing some of its issues but abandoning others, all the while talking strong (e.g., I'm going to legalize marijuana but pass a law executing rapists; I'm going to recognize gay marriage but pass a federal bill superseding and invalidating all "hate crimes" laws). Likewise, a Democrat willing to break with some of the shibboleths of the old Left would likely smash any Republican trying to run with Romney's coalition -- imagine a Clinton run against Romney instead of an Obama run.

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