Parallel universe collapsing?

by John Quiggin on May 22, 2012

Over the last few months, a string of seemingly solid pillars of the rightwing ideological establishment have crashed, or at least wobbled. The typical case has been one of over-reach followed by public exposure and then a rush of sponsors and other supporters for the exit. Examples include

* Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke and subsequent abandonment by sponsors

* The failed attempt by rightwing operatives at the Komen Foundation to blacklist Planned Parenthood

* The exposure of ALEC’s responsibility for the “stand your ground” laws that played a critical role in the Trayvon Martin case

* Most recently, the  Heartland Institute has seen sponsors bail and its entire Washington team (mostly focused on insurance issues) decamp, promising that their new operation will have nothing to do with climate “scepticism”

In addition to this, but arguably sui generis are

* the attempt (which looks like succeeding) by the Koch Brothers to take control of Cato, easily the most credible thinktank on the right of politics

* the denunciation of the Republican party by Norman Ornstein, long presented as the intellectually respectable face of the American Enterprise Institute

It’s striking that these things are happening at a time when Mitt Romney is running neck and neck with Obama and there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government. So, the intellectual apparatus of the Republican seems to be collapsing of its own accord, rather than because the poltiical tide is running against it.

I don’t have a fully satisfactory analysis of this, but the simple proposition that “truth will out” seems to be working at some level. As long as things are going well, these organizations and pundits benefit from the reflexive assumptions of balance, two sides to every story and so on. But they’ve lied so often and so blatantly that this requires a lot of cognitive dissonance. When they overreach and screw up in the process, the cognitive dissonance is resolved against them. And (subject to the same cognitive dissonance) people now understand that the whole Repub apparatus is like this, so that the obscurity of a group like ALEC isn’t much of a defence when they are caught redhanded.

That’s probably overoptimistic, but its good to have a few wins on this front, after years of successful Swiftboating by the other side.

{ 95 comments }

1

Earwig 05.22.12 at 11:22 am

Maybe yes, overoptimistic is right.

Ornstein, once a Sunday talk staple, can’t can get arrested in medialand today, for example.

2

Ebenezer Scrooge 05.22.12 at 11:26 am

I think that John is indeed overoptimistic. The Rs have been outed time after time again, decade after decade: McCarthy, Nixon, Bush Jr. They just come up with new mouthpieces and move on. (Or, in the case of the WSJ op-ed page, they don’t even bother with the new mouthpieces.) Voters don’t keep score for long.

3

rageahol 05.22.12 at 11:31 am

“there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government”
^^^^^ this is nonsense. the only people who are honestly offering this narrative are people in the media, who require a horserace in order to keep from either being bored or focusing on issues of actual importance.

4

Paarker 05.22.12 at 11:32 am

I’m not sure if your “people” near the end there are the general populace, but if so, I’m not seeing it. Most people have heard about, much less know much about, no more than about one of these behind-the-scenes cases. So yeah, overoptimistic indeed.

5

Data Tutashkhia 05.22.12 at 11:34 am

So, they compete for sponsors. So, the sponsors are unhappy when some of them get carried away too far. So, they found the boundaries. They’ll tone down the nuttiness, and sponsors will come back.

There’s nothing there to crash, because it’s not a real ideology. It’s a service.

6

NomadUK 05.22.12 at 11:51 am

there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government

Sigh.

7

Marc 05.22.12 at 12:35 pm

We are seeing genuine changes here. The attacks on Planned Parenthood, and a variety of degrading anti-abortion laws, have truly angered a lot of people (and not just women.) We see a steady stream of elected officials saying crazy things – and getting significant publicity. The Arizona secretary of state demanding that Obama prove he is a citizen is only the most prominent recent example.

The right really does have a Bourbon king level of detachment from reality, and I think that’s really why we’re seeing a change. It would cost little to say soothing words or sand the edges off the harsh legislation that the far right is passing in the states. But they have been able to say and do whatever they want to for so long that they’ve lost the ability to even see the problem. And the bubble is so tightly sealed that they don’t realize how bad these extremist acts look to people on the outside.

8

Steve LaBonne 05.22.12 at 12:42 pm

I’d like to side with the optimists, but it sure doesn’t feel that way to me (perhaps because I’m in one of those states that elected a rabid right-wing governor and legislator). Time will tell.

9

otto 05.22.12 at 1:00 pm

The war-mongering / muslim-killing / palestinians-have-never-missed-an-opportunity pillars of the right-wing ideological establishment seem to be doing just fine.

10

Bruce Bartlett 05.22.12 at 1:03 pm

Looks like wishful thinking to me. I will need to see a lot more data points before I believe that the tide has turned.

11

otto 05.22.12 at 1:03 pm

And remain well embedded in the Democratic party too, I might add.

12

The Raven 05.22.12 at 1:16 pm

The New Depression is certainly a factor. The collapse, in particular, of Chicago school economics is a big deal. Also, all the theoretical goals of the movement are at long last being realized in concrete ways and, not very surprisingly, now that they are being realized, the public hates them.

Also, it is now largely a movement of middle-aged and older people. Libertarianism isn’t cool any more, both because of the intellectual failure of its economics and because it’s become an ideology of rich old white guys.

All of which doesn’t mean that we aren’t in for a lot more right-wing garbage in the coming decade, alas.

13

Barry 05.22.12 at 1:27 pm

I’d add the Overton Window. Time and time again, the end result of right-wing extremism has been to regularize extremism which is one small step to the left of the most whackjob stuff.

14

Steve LaBonne 05.22.12 at 1:29 pm

The collapse, in particular, of Chicago school economics is a big deal.

Collapse? Governments all over the world continue to follow its precepts religiously, and the “news” media in the US are still full of Chicago-style crap whenever they report on economic issues.

15

David Kaib 05.22.12 at 1:44 pm

I don’t think the truth will win out has anything to do with it. For a long time, Democrats / liberals didn’t respond to this sort of thing with much energy. To the extent they did, it tended to be more of a ‘this is out of bounds’ pearl clutching than challenging it on the merits. What has shifted, I think, is that people are mobilizing in response to these sorts of things now, and mobilization facilitates further mobilization.

One of the greatest strengths of the conservative movement for a long time was that it was not generally challenged. Why is it now? It is, as Marc said @6, that people are angry. And as long as that energy refuses to get diverted into institutional channels, I think the pattern will continue. If, on the other hand, it does, the energy will dissipate and we’ll be back to the old normal.

16

Davis X. Machina 05.22.12 at 1:44 pm

No political movement based on the fundamental depravity of mankind, and dependent on appeals to the worst in people for its day-to-day support, is ever going out of business.

17

Lee A. Arnold 05.22.12 at 2:27 pm

I think the Republicans have entered into an historical cul de sac, and now they are getting more desperate, shriller and sloppier as the clock starts running out. This has long-term and short-term reasons.

In the long term, (1) their economic ideology (roughly, Chicago Reaganomics) is colliding with reality. However, (2) the party leadership must continue to spoon-feed the economics gibberish to the rank-and-file economics believers — the same people who are the Republicans’ ONLY reliable voters. So the party is locked-on to this wrong path.

In the short term, (3) any return to economic growth will LOWER the projected deficits. So the Republicans have a shrinking window-of-opportunity to win a big ideological victory on fiscal policy. The budget outlook will soon brighten and look better, and then the media will report it, and then everybody will say, “This is so boring; this is not a big deal.” So the Republicans won’t have a big stick to wave on policy; they won’t have the fear-of-debt as a political tool. At that point, (4) there won’t be much to distinguish the Republicans from the Democrats except for conservative social issues, which do not have wide support from the independent voters who decide the outcomes of elections.

Now the Republicans may do very well in the next election, as the party of billionaires unrestricted from campaign spending. Even if they do, however, their real problems aren’t going away.

18

Downpuppy 05.22.12 at 2:45 pm

Chicago Economics gave a respectability to the prejudices of plutocrats, letting them look like technocrats. Since its lack of mooring to reality has become obvious, they just sail on without it. Rather than more freshwater/saltwater squabbling, the trend seems to be running to the Bottled Water school at George Mason.

It should be fun watching. The freshwater guys at least didn’t wear their price tags in public.

19

Steve LaBonne 05.22.12 at 2:52 pm

Even if they do, however, their real problems aren’t going away.

But in the long run, we are all dead. Political prognosticators set themselves too easy, too useless a task…

20

Data Tutashkhia 05.22.12 at 2:55 pm

As long as billionaires are around, what exactly are these “real problems”?

21

mds 05.22.12 at 3:07 pm

there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government

Sigh.

Yes, yes, “two chambers of Congress” != “two branches of government.” However, Justice Ginsburg has had some health difficulties, so even if we pretend that Justice Kennedy isn’t a preening right-leaning dumbshit, gaining the White House in 2013 could well reliably swing the Supreme Court to Republican control. So the statement is still technically valid.

Still, perhaps this will motivate nominally left-leaning politicians to realize that their evenhanded appeals to reason need an overhaul. “American Conservative Movement Demonstrated to Be Completely Intellectually Bankrupt, Sees Further Political Gains” suggests that either a more emotionally-resonant message is called for, or that we might as well resign ourselves to drowning in a rising cesspool of violent willful stupidity.

22

Bruce Wilder 05.22.12 at 3:23 pm

Bruce Bartlett @10

Weren’t you a sign that the tide was turning, not so very long ago?

23

Walt 05.22.12 at 3:23 pm

Learning to swim in it is also a possibility.

24

politicalfootball 05.22.12 at 3:35 pm

Count me with the “overoptimistic” camp. Taking it one-by-one:

*Rush Limbaugh is still in business, and the Catholic Church has in no way been dissuaded from its ambush of Obama.
*Nobody cares about ALEC, even if “stand your ground” is a bit disreputable at the moment.
*Heartland et al have had victory after victory on climate change, to the point where the public is more skeptical about climate change even as the evidence mounts. If Heartland has crippled itself, it doesn’t matter because there are plenty of alternatives.
*We’ll see how the Koch thing plays out with Cato, but I don’t think that organization had a kind of credibility that can be damaged by Koch – and to the extent that it did, then Koch’s takeover is a win for extremists, not a defeat.
*Ornstein was always something of a token not-total-idiot working for AEI and, as Earwig points out, the primary impact of his treatise is on talk show bookers who have to find a substitute. Maybe Larry Sabato’s phone is ringing a bit more.

The Komen thing was pretty cool, though.

This sentence caught my eye:

So, the intellectual apparatus of the Republican seems to be collapsing of its own accord, rather than because the poltiical tide is running against it.

It’s nice that David Frum and Bruce Bartlett, for example, are feeling a bit uncomfortable about certain Republican ideas, but the intellecutal underpinnings of Republicanism, such as they are, are in no danger of collapse.

The Republican “intellectual apparatus,” has given us Liberal Fascism, among many other serious, thoughtful, arguments that have never been made in such detail or with such care. If the credibility of that apparatus were to collapse, how would we know? What would change from its current state?

25

Watson Ladd 05.22.12 at 4:01 pm

I wish I could be this optimistic. Raising individual income taxes still is a third rail of US politics, even if corporate tax revenues might be increased. Immigration reform has become decidedly politically toxic, and affirmative action is about to be struck down by the Supreme Court. (Why take it if not to overrule Bakke?). The debt celling debate does not seem to have given rise to a reaction against the Republican party for irresponsibility, even when the business class was against it. Gun rights are finally treated as rights. The health-care reform will collapse when the mandate is overturned, and the mandate is decidedly unpopular. Of course, not all of these are bad things, but they do make a narrative of collapse hard to swallow.

The collapse of the Republican intellectual establishment is really a sign that the Republican party is not simply controlled by a unified capitalist class, but rather has a real base amongst “ordinary people”. This base opposes things like the debt celling deal and abortion rights even when the party would rather they not. Gay rights are a sign of this: no doubt the people that profit from low tax rates would like to have the ability to attract skilled workers to nice jurisdictions, but lose that ability due to anti-gay hostility.

26

gman 05.22.12 at 4:26 pm

I turn on Bloomberg radio this am only to be greeted by Glenn Reynolds being treated with reverence. All of his silly claims were allowed to go unchallenged.

“Tuition is increasing today well beyond the rate of inflation because of ‘subsidies'”

27

Bruce Wilder 05.22.12 at 4:26 pm

“It’s striking that these things are happening at a time when Mitt Romney is running neck and neck with Obama and there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government.”

It is striking to me, that these things happen in a context in which conservatives control both political parties, and liberal or progressive ideas and personnel are simply not an option, not on the ballot in Arizona or anywhere else, and largely excluded from partisan talking points or mainstream Media discussions. In a country very, very unhappy with the general state and direction politics is carrying us, Obama’s political strategy, wildly successful in partisan political terms, has taken all left-of-centre possibilities out of consideration, while muting all criticism from left-of-center viewpoints, of national self-destruction.

Another big collapse recently was the effort of pro-plutocrat conservatives posing as non-partisan centrists — Americans Elect. Same problem.

Of course, the Right is splitting — it is in control of both political parties, and there can now be a partisan difference of opinion among conservatives. There’s no reason to close ideological ranks in attacks on a common enemy, because there’s no credible, anti-conservative contesting the field, any field. A reasonable centrist or conservative — say, a Richard Posner or a Bruce Bartlett — can support Obama and the Democrats. Sure, you can say that takes Reason or Integrity or Responsibility out of the Republican Party, and bemoan that development. Or, celebrate the apparent disabilities that imposes on a Republican Party, which can no longer maintain discipline, and seems even more deranged and dishonest than usual. The big picture, though, has to be a discouraging one, promising pro-plutocratic governance, and nothing but increasingly radical right-wing options for the increasing dissatisfaction of a deeply afflicted and unhappy People.

28

slim's tuna provider 05.22.12 at 4:28 pm

these are minor skirmishes that were lost because a few conservative outriders got overconfident, or tussles among elites that few people care about. the rush limbaugh/sandra fluke thing was barely a win — it just proved that you can’t call nice white girls dirty names out loud. it wasn’t a win for health care or women’s rights, just for a little bit of decency. i view the komen thing similarly– it just showed that you can’t be a jerk to white ladies, which we already kind of knew. let’s put it this way — would george w. bush have told the people who did these things that they were idiots and not to do them? i think the answer is yes. i don’t see how trayvon martin is a win — it’s disappeared from the news, it was mainly news for tabloid reasons, and anecdatally, lots of people i consider moderate are quietly grumbling how the left’s treatment of the situation annoyed them. the heartland thing is a corporate/elite level tussle that matters not to the voter.

29

Lee A. Arnold 05.22.12 at 4:31 pm

Steve LaBonne #19 — Actually I diagnosed the problem for the Republicans back in the days when Ronald Reagan inculcated it, and I have been writing the same thing here about the Republican Party for years now. So at least give me points for boring consistency… I also predicted that, in the long run, you are NOT going to be dead. News last week: It looks like a one-time gene therapy on ADULT mice (repairing telomere damage) just expended their lifespans by 24%. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514204050.htm –So hang on for another 5 years or so, and don’t get hit by a bus! Here is my next prediction: when people no longer fear old age and death, they will collect less material crap to try to ward-off that fear. Add this fact, to the widening gap in the distribution of income, and add them both to Schumpeter’s observation that “creative destruction” is becoming more and more the mechanical task of R&D departments in large and faceless corporations, and Hey Presto! we are going to throw capitalism overboard. Creativity is interesting, but capitalism is boring. This will become a standard meme, within another 10 or 20 years.

30

Lee A. Arnold 05.22.12 at 4:34 pm

Excuse me, “extended” their life spans, not “expended” them. If it only happens fast enough to save my eyeballs..

31

Steve LaBonne 05.22.12 at 5:01 pm

The big picture, though, has to be a discouraging one, promising pro-plutocratic governance, and nothing but increasingly radical right-wing options for the increasing dissatisfaction of a deeply afflicted and unhappy People.

And we’ve seen that movie before, and it doesn’t end well…

32

Jim Demintia 05.22.12 at 5:25 pm

@Lee Arnold

Wow, immortality and socialism? That would be nice!

33

js. 05.22.12 at 5:29 pm

What has shifted, I think, is that people are mobilizing in response to these sorts of things now, and mobilization facilitates further mobilization.

I’d love to believe this, but aside from PP’s awesome response to the Komen bullshit, I’m failing to think of any specific or relevant examples. Help?

34

Jim Harrison 05.22.12 at 5:49 pm

Back in the 60s, received wisdom was liberal. Today, in many circles, it’s conservative. Which means that just as in the 60s there were plenty of people with Tory sentiments who tried to convince themselves they were at least decently leftist and finally failed, there are lots of folks today who are realizing that the new rightist orthodoxy doesn’t match up with their personal values and perceptions. It may not suffice to rebalance the universe—I worry that something like an entrenched plutocracy is or is becoming the default state—but there are some restoring forces in the system.

35

The Raven 05.22.12 at 5:58 pm

Jim Harrison, #34: except reality has a well-known liberal bias. Sentiment doesn’t make Chicago-school economics valid; it’s wrong regardless of ones sentiments, and policies made based on it will be out of touch with reality.

36

Marc 05.22.12 at 6:01 pm

@33: the successful repeal of anti-union legislation by referendum in Ohio.

More to the point, there is clearly a critical mass of true believers on the Republican side – the election results in Indiana are only the latest example. Anyone who says anything reasonable is at risk of being driven out of office. This is a recipe for disaster, and it has long term consequences.

37

John 05.22.12 at 6:03 pm

I would tend to agree with Data on #5 – most of those organisations are not ideological, but serve the very rich. The very rich are fine. Realistically, the only thing that these green shoots portend is that their servants may have to speak more courteously in their defense. As Charles Pierce points out they will only actually start failing in their mission when Americans decide that some things are not for sale.

38

MattF 05.22.12 at 6:05 pm

I think there’s been a shift. A lot of small to medium-sized rethinkings, one opinion at a time.

A lot of right-leaning moderates have experienced a ‘moment of truth.’ A lot of people like Obama, even when they disagree with him. A lot of people dislike Romney, even when they agree with him. A lot of people are suspicious about the Catholic bishops’ argument that preventing women from having access to birth control is a matter of religious freedom. Whether this will all add up in time for the November elections, I don’t know. But I feel pretty sure it’s happening.

39

kharris 05.22.12 at 6:46 pm

There is culture at work here. Always is. If discipline was once the order of the day inside the GOP, then naturally they built a level of success. If overt displays of hubris, just as an example, are required to succeed in today’s GOP culture, you’d expect some level of humiliation as a result.

My assumption is that there is some progression in the requirements of culture. Political power is won through competition, so the competitors can’t stand still. They have to adopt new noises and new gestures. The competition is not necessarily going to stay on track to create ever greater success, though. Success is created over time, so the success of this political generation is built on the efforts of a prior generation. The competition for power takes place now, while the results of an earlier competition are seen now, leaving the rest of us to notice and wonder how the hell it happened. The current GOP generation is living off the hard work of earlier folks, and meanwhile doing the crazy-ass stuff needed to make a name in today’s internal GOP politics. If the GOP had not succeeded so well in earlier times, there might be less room for crazy-ass stuff now. As it happens, though, Turd Blossom is to Bush Jr what Baker was to Bush Sr. Sarah Palin is the new Dan Quayle.

And of course, suggestions in earlier comments that the new level of fratboy stupid within the GOP may not be deadly to the GOP’s prospects seems about right. Beyond that, lets remember that the really creepy guys are the ones who pay the GOP. They also happen to pay the Democrats.

40

nb 05.22.12 at 6:48 pm

Wow, this is really interesting! You folks on the Left really think you are winning the propaganda wars. Amazing! Of course, the Right also thinks that IT is winning, and also has a long list of triumphs to wave around – e.g. the ongoing collapse of the effort to push the Trayvon Martin case as a “white on black racist attack” (to name but one). I could try and make a sophisticated case that both are right – but, what the heck! I call it for the Reality Based Community!

41

John Quiggin 05.22.12 at 7:17 pm

On “three branches”, what MDS said, except that I count Kennedy as a definite Repub, so they already have the Supreme Court. If Obama loses in November (about a 35 per cent chance on Intrade last I looked), odds are that the Senate will go too.

@nb That’s the nature of parallel universes, of course. Each looks reality-based to itself. Doubtless, the right does think they are winning when they make, at their typical length and in endless detail, the obvious point that, largely thanks to the failure of the original police investigation, and “stand your ground” the evidence in the case doesn’t look conclusive under Florida law. Of course, in any sane legal regime, the only question would be whether Zimmerman could get away with a manslaughter plea.

But the defection of ALEC’s sponsors and most of its remaining Dem figleaves is real

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/national-association-of-charter-school-authorizers-issues-statement-regarding-american-legislative-exchange-council-2012-05-14

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/18/alec-lobby-politics-florida?newsfeed=true

42

kharris 05.22.12 at 7:33 pm

Oh, crap, why do I do this?

nb, could you, ever so kindly, indicate to whom it is that you are speaking? Your comment was #40 in the cue, so while some folks have posted more than one response, it is really hard to tell who you are addressing when you claim “folks on the Left” think they are winning. Just looking through the first 10 or so comments, the preponderance of opinion is that the GOP will not suffer much political cost for over-reaching. So, please, if you have the time, who are you addressing?

‘Cause otherwise, I’m gonna worry that you failed the IQ test on the way in the door to this fine establishment.

43

UserGoogol 05.22.12 at 7:48 pm

Ebeneezer Scrooge: You really can’t treat “Republicans” as a monolithic group across history. After all, if you go far back enough in time there were eras where Republicans were the good guys. The GOP is not just a cabal which exists to do evil. You have to distinguish the GOP as a political organization with conservatism as an ideology which has largely dominated that organization of late. There are a lot of connections you can make from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush, but they had fairly different ideological goals. Nixon wasn’t really much of a movement conservative in the grand scheme of things, and McCarthy had fairly few defining characteristics other than red-baiting.

44

js. 05.22.12 at 8:09 pm

Marc @37:

Fair point on the labor push-back in OH, and similar movements in other places of course. I wish I could agree with your second paragraph more though. Like other people have said above, it seems to me that every so often people predict the death or decline of The Right/Republicans/Conservatism, etc., and it just comes back stronger and crazier–and it keeps pulling the Magic Center rightward along with itself. I mean, they said similar things about Reagan, FFS.

Sort of what Barry said @13.

45

David Kaib 05.22.12 at 9:15 pm

js. @ 44,

I hope my earlier comment didn’t suggest the death or decline of the right. Only that if when the left fights, it has a fighting change, but when it doesn’t, it won’t. Whether we continue to fight, and whether those fights coalesce into something more cohesive remains to be seen. What I reject is that its inevitable that the right wins. Politics always depends on interaction.

Reagan is a useful example – people thought he pushed too far right, and there would be an automatic course correction. But course correction’s aren’t automatic, and the response of the Dems was to further embrace neoliberalism and post-partisanship, which merely facilitated an increase in the crazy.

46

TGGP 05.22.12 at 10:58 pm

What? No mention of Glenn Beck? His sponsors abandoning him seems the obvious prequel to Rush.

My understanding is that ALEC got involved with SYG after Florida had already adopted the law. And it’s questionable whether it even applies to Zimmerman’s defense since his story is that he was on his back without retreat being on option (though on the other hand that doesn’t rule out his awareness of the law having an effect on his behavior).

47

js. 05.23.12 at 12:24 am

David Kaib @44:

I heartily second everything you say here. I also agree that we’ve been seeing more and better push-back over the last year (give or take–I’m roughly timing it to the Wisconsin protests) than we’ve been used to in recent decades. Just keeping my optimism somewhat in check is all.

48

js. 05.23.12 at 12:25 am

David Kaib @ 46, sorry.

49

John Quiggin 05.23.12 at 12:44 am

@TGGP Beck was a prequel, to be sure.

More important, though, is that the talking-point style of argument exemplified by the points you note seems to have stopped working, or at least stopped working well. Who cares whether ALEC’s support for SYG predated or postdated the Florida law? They are bad laws and ALEC are rightwing thugs, and these are facts that won’t be changed by talking points.

And, given the intellectual collapse required to accept rightwing orthodoxies like global warming denialism, abstinence education etc, there’s no capacity on the right for anything more substantial than argument by talking point.

50

Peter T 05.23.12 at 1:26 am

Would be nice if it happens. I think first the left has to regain some sense that it’s in a fight, not an academic discussion – and don’t see a lot of signs of this. I have the impression that, by writing Marxism, revolution, war and revolt out of the script, and then elevating technical notions of rather bloodless competition, anglo liberalism* unilaterally disarmed. To the point where the left often looks like a rabbit trying to talk a fox into vegetarianism. I happen to share an appreciation of the virtues of peacefulness, but I also have to admit that they have their limits.

* I notice a contrast with Europe, where marxist/revolutionary traditions seem more alive.

51

Sebastian H 05.23.12 at 1:37 am

ALEC are rightwing thugs, but stand your ground is bog standard self defense law in a huge portion of the country INCLUDING the federal law on self defense. The states where a duty to retreat is mandated have never been in the majority, and most of them are so riddled with exceptions that they effectively end up as stand your ground states.

The problem in the Martin case was not the stand your ground law, but the racist actions of the police officers in not even bothering to do a basic level investigation into a homicide just because the white guy claimed self defense.

52

Sebastian H 05.23.12 at 1:39 am

That said, it would be nice if the nastiest parts of the current Republican movement collapsed, I’m just not counting on it yet.

53

Lee A. Arnold 05.23.12 at 1:41 am

Jim Demintia #32 — Good campaign slogan! “Immortality and Socialism!”

54

John Redican 05.23.12 at 2:07 am

I agree with Bruce Wilder at 27. I would only add that there is a widespread perception that all politicians are wholly owned subsidiaries of the .01%. The arguments are just theater.It is widely understood that massive changes are required, and that we won’t get them from the same old Washington Pols.

55

Jim Rose 05.23.12 at 3:19 am

“stand your ground” laws are too vague. they make reasonable force a clear cut rule. some U.S. states already had “stand your ground” law as common law.

The term “Make My Day Law” arose at the time of the 1985 Colorado statute that protects people from any criminal charge or civil suit if they use force – including deadly force – against an invader of the home. was whoever is ALEC around then?

In English common law, while there is no duty to retreat from an attacker and failure to do so is not conclusive evidence that a person did not act in self-defence, it may still be considered by the jury as a relevant factor when assessing a self-defence claim.

HT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine

56

ponce 05.23.12 at 3:54 am

Doesn’t take much money to support the entire wingnut welfare world.

20-30 milllion?

A few oil/coal company slush funds + a few bored billionaires are all that is needed to keep it going.

57

Jim Rose 05.23.12 at 4:19 am

Potential thread derailment averted – please stick to the point. From now on, I’m going to delete anything from you that doesn’t relate directly to the content of the OP

58

Bruce Wilder 05.23.12 at 5:08 am

Re: “stand your ground”

Yes, “stand your ground” is not too distorted a characterization of English common law on self-defense. The presumption in that framework of rationalization, though, is that you are on “your ground” at the time of an assault, not chasing after an innocent stranger in the public streets with a gun, and provoking, if not committing an assault.

The “stand your ground” statutes deviate from traditional norms, in not requiring reason, proportionate response, and the forebearance of ordinary courtesy in trying to avoid lethal violence, with the result that 9/10s of the law is no longer possession: it is being alive to tell the tale.

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Jim Rose 05.23.12 at 5:22 am

Does Mitt Romney have much to do with these colourful fringe groups?

do they matter to the basis of his campaign, which is ‘I am a boring safe pairs of hands who the republican base does not trust or accept as true conservative.’

Discussions of these fringe groups strengthens Mitts’ image as an republican outsider.

60

Tim Worstall 05.23.12 at 8:28 am

“Back in the 60s, received wisdom was liberal. Today, in many circles, it’s conservative. “

Well, yes, if you are defending the received wisdom of 50 years ago then you can be termed a conservative.

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John Quiggin 05.23.12 at 8:53 am

“if you are defending the received wisdom of 50 years ago then you can be termed a conservative.”

I have no problem with this. As I noted in relation to Michael Oakeshott a while back, the test of a true conservative is support for trade unions, the paradigmatic product of organic social solidarity.

As a corollary, I despise self-seeking rightwing radicals, especially when, as in the case of US “Republicans”, they besmirch the heroic inheritance of Lincoln, a man who exemplified the conservative virtues even as he fought against the evil of slavery.

62

Jim Rose 05.23.12 at 9:25 am

The party of Lincoln was part of the third party system from 1854 to 1896. the USA is now in the 6th party system. the differences between these systems are important.

The newly formed Republican Party claimed success in saving the Union, abolishing slavery and enfranchising the freedmen, while adopting Whiggish modernization programs such as national banks, railroads, high tariffs, homesteads and aid to land grant colleges. Both parties comprised broad-based voting coalitions.

The Democratic Party was comprised conservative or classical liberal pro-business Bourbon Democrats who controlled the national convention from 1868 until their defeat by William Jennings Bryan in 1896.

The fourth party system from 1896 to 1932 was made up of a majority centrist Republican Party against a minority Democratic Party from the South together with urban Catholics – a volatile brew – which soon had a ideology scarcely distinguishable from the Republicans.

In a 1912, a progressive party formed in 1912 by splitting from the republicans, not from the democrats with a rather left wing agenda see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Party_%28United_States,_1912%29

between 1901 and 1920, the Socialist Party of America was in Congress and had many elected officials. james winstein writes on them extensively.

the big parties have moved back and forward across the spectrum in the USA since its founding and overlap to the point of near swaping sides at times.

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ajay 05.23.12 at 9:42 am

61: this is going to get even more interesting in a few years when all the conservatives are busy defending the received wisdom of the Summer of Love.

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Marc 05.23.12 at 1:12 pm

@51: The madness of the NRA crowd has been rising with the rest of the right wing. It was surreal listening to the head of the NRA recently; he was on a TV show and spouting absolutely lunatic conspiracy theories with a straight face. We get NRA phone calls (because my son bought a knife at one point, which put him on their list). They seem startled when I tell them that, yes, I very much want the United Nations to take all of our guns away…

I also strongly object to the characterization of these laws as being normal and consistent with precedent. That’s absolute crap. The stand your ground laws immunize people for murder if they claim that they felt threatened – which is not remotely close to traditional definitions of self defense.

http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/23/florida-court-dismisses-stabbing-case-under-the-stand-your-ground-law/

Is a good summary. These laws are extreme.

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cleek 05.23.12 at 1:44 pm

wingnuttery isn’t going away. and now that exceedingly rich wingnuts are free to saturate the media with their delusions, i suspect it’s only going to get worse – much much worse.

the perverse notion that money = speech is going to take us down some very dark paths.

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geo 05.23.12 at 4:15 pm

Peter @50: I happen to share an appreciation of the virtues of peacefulness, but I also have to admit that they have their limits.

What, or rather where, are they? At what point is a resort to violence justified? I’m not definitely disagreeing with you (though I incline to civil disobedience and noncooperation, as expounded by Gene Sharp, as the most effective and humane revolutionary strategy). But it may be of interest, even in the present extremely non-revolutionary situation, to think specifically about the question you raise.

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Flashman 05.23.12 at 4:15 pm

This post made my day.

68

Omega Centauri 05.23.12 at 5:28 pm

I would echo cleek @65. The battle among intellectuals who make good faith efforts at intgerity has been over for a long time. But, its almost totally irrelevant. What matters is the center of gravity of the memes in the average citizen’s mind. The right has understood this for decades, and has been expending significant resources programming the public meme-space, with great success. I was flabbergasted to hear a recent poll claiming that a pluraility of the public thinks increasing political partisanship is caused more by Democrats than by Republicans. Having a nearly captive media, and endlessly repeating memes, so that they become automatic kneejerklike response among most of the population, has been exceedingly effective. Even committed R haters, parrot conservative meme’s to me these day’s.

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Emily 05.23.12 at 5:53 pm

Off topic slightly, but for US folks, where are the thresholds commonly drawn between liberalism(UK sense), libertinism, and nihilism?

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Emily 05.23.12 at 5:55 pm

Sorry, second should be libertarianism.

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rjv 05.23.12 at 5:59 pm

Whats the Vegas line on when Norm Ornstein will be Frum’ed?

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JohnR 05.23.12 at 6:07 pm

I tend to agree with the group that feels that this is all ultimately meaningless. These supposed failures and defeats of the right-wing ‘establishment pillars’ in the end seem to count for nothing. Perhaps it’s the increasingly frantic thrashings of the hydra as it nears the end of its life, but it sure looks to me more like the seemingly endless defeats suffered by the Roman Republic as it grew in strength and power. We keep seeing these ‘defeats’, and yet the GOP seems to continue to consolidate its hold on state and national government. Read any paper on any day, and think about the stories – how many of them would have been widely greeted with appalled anger 30 years ago? We have accepted quite extraordinary losses of our ‘rights’ to the point that the only ‘rights’ we have left are the ones which the government hasn’t bothered to formally rescind yet. These ‘defeats’ of the right-wing machine aren’t even as significant as the defeats inflicted by Pyrrhus, let alone Hannibal. I’d say these are merely pin-pricks to an elephant.

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geo 05.23.12 at 6:23 pm

John @70: looks to me more like the seemingly endless defeats suffered by the Roman Republic as it grew in strength and power

Morris Berman persuasively argues the analogy with the fall of Rome in his splendid “Decline and Fall” trilogy: http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/2012/05/decline-and-fall.html.

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novakant 05.23.12 at 7:10 pm

It doesn’t matter since 80% of the US has gone batsh#t crazy after 9/11 and still is.

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Barry 05.23.12 at 7:57 pm

rjv 05.23.12 at 5:59 pm

” Whats the Vegas line on when Norm Ornstein will be Frum’ed?”

I’ll take ‘it’s already happened; we just haven’t heard about it’.

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Jim Rose 05.23.12 at 11:39 pm

Obama may win the white house but he will face a republican congreess, so what will he be able to do other than veto?

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Peter T 05.24.12 at 12:23 am

geo at 66

Short answer is “it depends” – on what’s at stake, on how the challenge is made and much else. There doesn’t have to be a single response. I am personally averse to violence, but I can see analytically that demonstrations of a capacity for violence are often useful in reminding the upper classes about where the limits lie (JH Plumb’s description of Georgian England as “oligarchy tempered by riot” comes to mind). Of course that plays both ways – one historian of Russia noted that the peasantry was basically in a state of perpetual war with the regime – a war that flared into the open whenever the regime seems weakened: a cycle of revolt and repression. Who would want that?

I’m not American, so I can’t judge the context there. Here in Australia I’d like the establishment left to start by being much less careful of offending the rich.

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derrida derider 05.24.12 at 3:14 am

Jim @76, he will almost certainly get to nominate a couple of Supreme Court justices – no small thing in current circumstances. He can deliver some ringing vetoes. And he might still, if the US gets a recovery, regain control of the Congress in 2014.

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John Quiggin 05.24.12 at 3:22 am

@geo I enjoyed the linked piece, but would point out that it takes the intellectual decline of the right for granted. It’s only 20 years ago that the right appeared to most as victors in the battle of ideas and when, absurd as it may seem now, they thought of themselves as the defenders of science against postmodernist relativism.

To repeat the OP, I’m not claiming that the Repubs are politically in retreat, although I should mention that the Dems could also end up with a clean sweep. A win in the House (which would only happen along with wins in the Senate and Presidency) is possible, if still unlikely, and one of the Repub Supremes could retire or die.

My point is that the ideological/intellectual apparatus they built up in late C20, and which was very effective even 10 years ago, now appears to be in a state of collapse.

80

Jim Rose 05.24.12 at 4:11 am

I doubt a win in the house. Obama may not elected many on his coat-tails this time.

as i recall the senate is 12R:24D up for re-election this year, so the maths is better for the GOP in terms of marginal seats.

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Jim Rose 05.24.12 at 4:15 am

82

ponce 05.24.12 at 5:06 am

@68 “But, its almost totally irrelevant. What matters is the center of gravity of the memes in the average citizen’s mind”

I think it’s more that most Americans hate their lives and are attempting to commit collective suicide by voting for the nihilist Republicans.

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Jim Rose 05.24.12 at 5:17 am

ponce, the 2008 promise of hope and change was not well marketed? blaming the voters does not increase your chances of changing their minds.

people do not vote for things – they cheer and boo what they do and do not like; and vote people out leaders who no longer measure-up. the replacements may or may not have different policies

84

ponce 05.24.12 at 6:17 am

Jim,

In this case they seem to be voting by tuning out wingnut shouters.

85

Data Tutashkhia 05.24.12 at 7:13 am

the replacements may or may not have different policies

Not only that, but the replacement may, in fact, have more catastrophic and less popular policies.

Multiparty elections are supposed to work as a self-correcting mechanism, so that the people on top don’t get confused wondering ‘why don’t they eat cake?’ till it’s too late. And maybe it did work as a self-correcting mechanism in the past, but it seems that it doesn’t anymore. Now what you have is two almost indistinguishable parties, the center-right party and the center-left party, and they just change places when things look gloomy, regardless of the solutions they prescribe. Bad economy? Kick out the bastards and elect the other party. Bad economy again? Kick out the new bastards and elect the old bastards back. System fails.

86

Jim Rose 05.24.12 at 8:04 am

DT, Greece is an example where parties that never get a look-in may be in a colaition.

elections vote parties out rather than vote parties in, as Schumpeter argues. Voting is mainly retrospective rather than prospective.

Schumpeter disputed that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good, and that politicians carried this out:
• The people’s ignorance and superficiality meant that they were manipulated by politicians who set the agenda.
• Although periodic votes legitimise governments and keep them accountable, the policy program is very much seen as their own and not that of the people, and the participatory role for individuals is usually severely limited.

Schumpeter’s theory of democratic participation is voters have the ability to replace political leaders through periodic elections. Citizens have sufficient knowledge to vote out leaders who are performing poorly or contrary to the electoral majority’s wishes.

the comings and goings of think-tanks for not register in retrospective voting.

Ray Fair’s model of presidential election is mainly driven by the state of the economy:
1. Very difficult to defeat an incumbent president if the economy is reasonably strong. 2. Regardless of the personalities of the candidates, he has found that the strength of the economy — and whether it is improving or worsening as the election approaches — comes close to explaining the results of most presidential elections!

87

Data Tutashkhia 05.24.12 at 8:20 am

Schumpeter disputed that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good, and that politicians carried this out

It depends on your definition of ‘democracy’. Even the western model varies quite a bit, from the Swiss system, to the Scandinavian one, with strong organized labor and high participation, to the US model. And something like Cuban grassroots democracy is whole different story.

88

bigcitylib 05.24.12 at 2:52 pm

As someone who’s been pretty close to the Heartland fiasco, I would say that since 2009 (the CRU hack) some within the climate science community have banded together to figure out this whole “communicating with the public” thing, and have looked at various ways of getting back at some of their tormenters like Bast and Morano at Heartland. And this is one result of that. (Outting Wegman’s plagiarism is another)

There are lots of angry scientists around these days looking to kick ass, so yeah there ARE people out there that understand they are in a battle.

89

Barry 05.24.12 at 6:32 pm

Tell us more, please – whatever you can reveal.

90

Steve LaBonne 05.24.12 at 6:42 pm

bigcitylib, as a scientist who is deeply dismayed by the right-wing war on reality, I find that very heartening- thanks for sharing it.

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Steve LaBonne 05.24.12 at 6:43 pm

I think it’s more that most Americans hate their lives and are attempting to commit collective suicide by voting for the nihilist Republicans.

If only there were some way they could do that without taking the rest of us with them, I’d be happy to wish them good riddance.

92

Emily 05.24.12 at 6:46 pm

Perhaps a lunar republican colony governed by Newt Gingrich?

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mattski 05.25.12 at 1:11 am

Jim Rose, much of what you write strikes me as chaff. Typical example:

Schumpeter disputed that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good … the people’s ignorance and superficiality meant that they were manipulated by politicians who set the agenda.

Then you say that Schumpeter’s theory of democracy is that,

Citizens have sufficient knowledge to vote out leaders who are performing poorly or contrary to the electoral majority’s wishes.

This sounds incoherent to me. And if the comings and goings of think-tanks [do] not register in retrospective voting then what do you think “think-tanks” are trying to accomplish?

Re the OP, extremism can only go so far before it makes a laughingstock of itself. So there is a sense in which the failures described above are a symptom of the strength of right-wing propaganda in America.

There aren’t that many pugnacious, high-profile liberals. I think we need more of them.

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rkka 05.26.12 at 1:22 am

@Steve 91

“If only there were some way they could do that without taking the rest of us with them, I’d be happy to wish them good riddance.”

Nope. They hate librulz so much, taking you with them is the whole point of the exercise.

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Jim Rose 05.26.12 at 5:35 am

mattski , Posner applied Schumpeter the electoral victory of Hamas
– The power of the electorate to turn elected officials out at the next election gives the officials an incentive to adopt policies that do not outrage public opinion and to administer the policies with some minimum of honesty and competence.

- It was Fatah’s dramatic failure along these dimensions that opened the way to Hamas’s surprisingly strong electoral showing.

- Hamas cleverly coupled armed resistance to Israel with the provision of social welfare services managed more efficiently and honestly than the services provided by the notoriously corrupt official Palestinian government, controlled by Fatah.

- In troubled times, such as in Germany in the early 1930s and in Palestine in 2006, democratic elections provide opportunities for radical parties that provide an alternative to discredited policies of incumbent officials.

- The worse the incumbent party, the better even an extremist challenger looks.

- Fatah was corrupt and inefficient; on the other hand, Hamas by its extremism and lethal antagonism to Israel could easily bring disaster on the Palestinians.

- Democracy is a system in which the rulers stand for election at frequent intervals. Such a system tends to align policy with public opinion, but there is no reason why public opinion cannot be exploitive, discriminatory, etc.

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