The last three on the island

by John Quiggin on May 31, 2013

There’s been a spate of recent articles looking at a group of political writers referred to as “conservative reformers”.

The term ‘reformers’ is misleading since it tends to imply a shift in the direction of liberalism, which is not what the members of this group are hoping to do. More importantly, it implies the existence of a body of orthodox conservative thought against which the reformers are reacting. In reality, US conservatism has returned to the state identified by Trilling ’ a series of irritable mental gestures. The ‘reformer’ label covers all those self-identified conservatives who would like to present some sort of intellectually coherent policy platform. These days, that’s a surprisingly small set – the typical list includes Douthat, Salam, Ponnuru, Barro, Brooks, Levin, and Dreher.

There used to be many more people in this group. But one by one, they’ve either abandoned ship and moved to the left (Lind, Sullivan, Frum, Bartlett, Ornstein) or descended into outright hackery, an absolute requirement for employment at any of the main rightwing thinktanks (and it’s hard to recall, but there was a time when people like Glenn Reynolds and the Volokhs seemed like serious intellectuals).

Looking at the remaining group, it’s pretty clear that Barro and Dreher are well on the road to apostasy, while Brooks and Levin are now reliable hacks, if they weren’t always. So, that leaves three reformers (Douthat, Salam and Ponnuru) still on the island.

The reactions of the remaining three reveal the pressure they are under. Salam more or less openly shills for the party line from time to time, as in his (now-deleted) attack on the DREAM Act. It seems pretty clear that he will stick with the team, come what may.

Ponnuru responded with the plaintive observation that, to accept the positions being urged on him from the left, he would have to concede that the majority of US conservatives were crazy. But, if craziness is assessed on the basis of stated views, this is evidently true, as Ponnuru surely knows.

Pluralities of US conservatives believe, or at least claim to believe, that:

The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
Mainstream science is a communist plot
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future

Ponnuru hopes that he can engage in serious policy discussion with conservatives while treating such delusional statements as mere shibboleths – harmless assertions of tribal identity

Most interesting is this piece by Ross Douthat, setting out what he sees as the reform conservative policy program. As he observes, it’s not designed to appeal to (US) liberals, and its full of arguments that have been demolished repeatedly by the left.

OTOH, as Douthat admits, there’s no sign that the Republican party has any interest in a program of this kind. More importantly there’s nothing there that would seriously upset a moderate conservative like Obama, or either of the Clintons. It’s well to the left of the revealed preferences of someone like Rahm Emanuel.

Conservative reform of the Republican party is a project that has already failed. The only question is whether the remaining participants will choose hackery or heresy.

{ 254 comments }

1

LFC 05.31.13 at 7:38 pm

Thank goodness JQ (w a frequent assist from Holbo and others) takes the time to read these people so I don’t have to. Nice last line, btw.

2

rootlesscosmo 05.31.13 at 7:53 pm

Pluralities US conservatives believe, or at least claim to that:

The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
Mainstream science is a communist plot
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future

I’m not sure what “pluralities” means in this context. Sincet can’t mean “majorities” (if it did, then John Quiggin would say so) it must mean something like “more believe [Obama socialist Kenya-born Muslim] than believe”–but what? Do (say) 34% believe socialist Kenya-born Muslim while 28% believe socialist Muslim not born in Kenya, 21% believe Kenya and Muslim but not socialist, etc.? Similarly with “armed revolution likely near future”–do smaller identifiable subgroups believe “possible near future,” “likely remote future,” etc.?

Disclaimer: the little I’ve read by any of the named “reformers” hasn’t changed my initial opinion that they’re a lot of chowderheads; I’m not defending any of them or any of their views, just trying to make a point about using mathematical terms in what I think is a fatally ambiguous way.

3

William Timberman 05.31.13 at 8:02 pm

Is there really no room left in the dustbin of history?

4

CJColucci 05.31.13 at 8:22 pm

Most interesting is this piece by Ross Douthat

I suppose that, in a purely comparative sense, such a statement can be true: there can be a class of related pieces so uninteresting that Douthat’s is, by default, the most interesting. Otherwise “interesting” and “piece by Ross Douthat” do not belong in the same sentence, except, perhaps, when the subject is “what the f**k is wrong with Ross Douthat and how did he get that way?”

5

BruceJ 05.31.13 at 8:25 pm

Anyone who thinks that Frum and Sullivan have ‘moved to the left’ need their heads examined.

Both are expert sailors of the winds of opinion, and right now, they’ve found their best sailing in contrarian waters, but the moment either of them gets a real nod from the Right’s power brokers they’ll sail right back to the lunatic right with all sails crowded.

Ornstein, who has authentically ‘moved leftward’ (or more accurately stayed in place as the right wind accelerated every faster into the lunatic wing), is paying for it, career-wise.

THAT is the thing to observe…any conservative who has ‘left the fold’ and isn’t shut out like Ornstein…hasn’t really left the fold.

6

John Quiggin 05.31.13 at 8:32 pm

@2 Plurality means “majority after excluding Don’t Know and similar” HTH

7

Uncle Kvetch 05.31.13 at 8:46 pm

Brooks and Levin are now reliable hacks, if they weren’t always

Brooks always was.

8

LFC 05.31.13 at 8:49 pm

@5
Ornstein…is paying for it, career-wise.
How? seems to me his career is doing ok. maybe he doesn’t get invited on certain conservative outlets as a commenter anymore. big deal.

9

Matt 05.31.13 at 8:57 pm

Thanks for linking to that Adam Serwer post on the Dream Act. He’s consistently been the best journalist writing on immigration issues for some time now. He understands the current law and the implications of proposed reforms better than any of the other non-professionals I’ve seen, and better than some of the professionals, and does a good job of providing clear explanations.

Contrast that w/ Douthat’s short bit on immigration, which is either vapid or completely unlikely to improve things. I actually really doubt that Douthat has any idea of what he’s advocating there, and doesn’t want to take the time to figure it out.

10

Bruce Baugh 05.31.13 at 9:48 pm

I’m not really familiar with Salam’s work, so no opinion there, but Douthat and Ponnuru have been slimy hacks as long as I’ve been aware of them.

Ponnuru, in October 2001: “America is guilty. America is always guilty. Even when it’s attacked. So it appears, at least, to a certain type of commentator. When the Towers fell, when the Pentagon was pierced, when thousands of our countrymen were slaughtered — the America Last pundits were there to explain how we had brought these calamities on ourselves. We were attacked, they explained, because we had angered the world.” And of course he’s the guy who wrote that book of thoughtful temperate criticism called The Party of Death.

Others have covered Douthat’s vileness way better than I could here.

11

Bloix 05.31.13 at 10:16 pm

In the US, “reform” hasn’t implied “a shift in the direction of liberalism” for at least a generation. Typically it means cutting marginal tax rates, cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid payments, replacing public schools with charter schools, eliminating environmental and health and safety regulations, doing away with collective bargaining, etc.

12

Andthenyoufall 05.31.13 at 10:33 pm

Douthat wrote a decade ago that the primary advantage of his worldview was that if he saw a fairy on his windowsill, he wouldn’t be surprised. He has always been crazy.

(I’m picturing the conservative reformers swimming to shore after the GOP crashes and burns, only to discover later that the island is an illusion, they’ve been in an asylum the whole time.)

13

Uncle Kvetch 05.31.13 at 10:49 pm

its full of arguments that have been demolished repeatedly by the left

Boy howdy, you weren’t kidding…

The core economic challenge facing the American experiment is not income inequality per se, but rather stratification and stagnation — weak mobility from the bottom of the income ladder and wage stagnation for the middle class. These challenges are bound up in a growing social crisis — a retreat from marriage, a weakening of religious and communal ties, a decline in workforce participation — that cannot be solved in Washington D.C.

That’s as far as I got through Douthat’s excrescence before heading for the exits.

So it’s more of the same old priggish scolding about the crisis of “values” among the lower orders, tarted up as The Next Big Thing. Hey, it’s a living.

14

James Wimberley 05.31.13 at 11:36 pm

Hello? Anybody out there to defend or rescue the castaways? Hello? Hello?

15

Sancho 05.31.13 at 11:45 pm

Keep in mind that even Democrat politicians are well to the right of the electorate: tinyurl.com/bepblps

The electoral system gives small, motivated voter blocs disproportionate leverage.

16

Sev 06.01.13 at 12:31 am

#13 “So it’s more of the same old priggish scolding about the crisis of “values” among the lower orders, tarted up as The Next Big Thing. Hey, it’s a living.”

#3 “Is there really no room left in the dustbin of history?”

Unfortunately, as you can see, it has been replaced with a recycling bin.

17

Brett 06.01.13 at 12:44 am

I wouldn’t write off Salam moving to the left just because of one incident (or rather, the Republican Party moving to the right of him) – I could see him moving into the Matt Yglesias Zone, albeit with a rightward tilt instead of a leftward one.

Ponnuru and Douthat, on the other hand, are fairly religious, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll shift leftward without embracing more moderate religious beliefs. As Anthenyoufall pointed out, Douthat holds rather regressive religious beliefs and bigotry, which he cloaks in David Brooks-style high-minded babble.

18

LFC 06.01.13 at 1:02 am

A glance at the Douthat piece reveals — to my admittedly ignorant eyes — some weird-sounding stuff about monetary policy (I have little or no idea what ‘market monetarism’ is and no intention rt now of reading even a short wiki entry on it).

19

Brett 06.01.13 at 1:10 am

Market Monetarism is basically using monetary policy to target a specific level of nominal GDP growth, instead of targeting something else (like inflation).

20

Consumatopia 06.01.13 at 1:32 am

I’ll come out and say that Douthat’s agenda was better than I expected. a, d, e and f each arguably represent an improvement over the status quo. c could be a reasonable part of a “grand bargain”.

The worst is definitely b, repealing and replacing ACA. The proposed replacement he links has a strange obsession with “continuity of coverage” as a moral responsibility–that if someone lets their coverage lapse, they should be locked out of the system, apparently forever. The overall system doesn’t seem well-designed–if every person maintaining continuous coverage is eligible for any kind of insurance, and there’s little to no regulation on the kind of insurance offered, why wouldn’t someone have the cheapest possible insurance until the day they need it, then switch to something better? Of course, if everyone did that, there wouldn’t be any “something better” to switch to.

But, still, if a conservative gives me a 6 point agenda, and only one item is absolutely unacceptable, well, that’s pretty good, right?

21

P O'Neill 06.01.13 at 1:35 am

Right now Levin doesn’t have to choose between hackery and heresy since he’s got that wingnut welfare thing figured out. US$250K will put lipstick on a pig for a long time.

22

Bruce Baugh 06.01.13 at 1:49 am

Consumatopia: For one piece, yes. Now tote up all his recommendations over a month or year and see how many are anything short of just vile…

23

Ken 06.01.13 at 2:26 am

John Quiggin @6: I’m not sure there’s all that much difference between people who, when asked “Do you think President Obama is a socialist Muslim born in Kenya,” respond “yes” and those who respond “don’t know.”

24

LFC 06.01.13 at 2:27 am

Brett @19
thks

25

John Quiggin 06.01.13 at 4:56 am

@5 That’s a bit unfair to Frum. He lost his jobs at AEI &NR, after all. And while Sullivan is politically agile, I think he’s burned his bridges with the wingnuts.

@23 Agreed, but I was trying to forestall more quibbles like those of @2

26

bad Jim 06.01.13 at 6:05 am

To my mind, the most injurious tenet of conservative American thought is the conviction that something which works elsewhere, like “socialized medicine”, could not possibly work here. We used to thrive by stealing shamelessly, but at some point, perhaps during Prohibition, the very notion became heresy.

27

Chaz 06.01.13 at 6:35 am

Ken,

I am in general agreement but let me throw in some qualifiers. There are a lot of people (probably a majority of Americans) who don’t know what the heck a socialist actually is, even if we generally accept any definition ranging between Hollande and Lenin as correct. And there are a lot of people who don’t know foreign born citizens are ineligible to be president, and a lot of people who pay little enough attention to politics to not know where the heck Obama’s actually from. So they might legitimately not know. The Muslim one’s more of a stretch, but there are surely folks who never paid enough attention or cared enough to know Barack Obama’s Christian, and hey, Muhammed Ali was Muslim, maybe Obama is too. So I think we can let a fair number of these folks off as very ignorant instead of crazy.

28

SusanC 06.01.13 at 7:38 am

The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
Mainstream science is a communist plot
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future

While you do hear all these things (especially on blogs…) I’m not convinced they’re the majority (or plurality) opinion.

And the left is at least as guilty of the “armed revolution” one.

It seems to be the discourse, rather than the individuals, who are “crazy”. That is, the agreed social convention for political speech is that the obvious falsity or impracticality of what you’re saying doesn’t matter. It’s possibly distinguishable from actual clinical psychosis where people act on delusional beliefs in situations where there isn’t a social agreement that you’re allowed to do that.

29

PGD 06.01.13 at 9:44 am

Isn’t Obama the ‘conservative reformer’?

30

Palindrome 06.01.13 at 9:47 am

And the left is at least as guilty of the “armed revolution” one.

Perhaps 50 years ago, but today?

Can you name a single prominent blogger or public intellectual on the left who engages in that kind of rhetoric? Revolutionary posturing now seems to be a peculiar and particular pathology exclusive to the American right. False equivalence is not useful here.

31

chris y 06.01.13 at 10:55 am

Is there really no room left in the dustbin of history?

No, the refuse collectors are on strike for better terms and conditions.

Douthat wrote a decade ago that the primary advantage of his worldview was that if he saw a fairy on his windowsill, he wouldn’t be surprised.

One again we see that a necessary but not sufficient factor in the creation of the conservative mindset is the total lack of a sense of wonder.

32

Main Street Muse 06.01.13 at 12:36 pm

Though conservative “thinkers” seem far out of touch to those reading this blog, it seems in my adopted state of North Carolina that their orthodoxy has won (at least for now.) Education funding has been slashed to the bone. Art Pope controls the budget. The idea of establishing a state religion has been floated. The state seems emboldened to seize the capital of local entities (witness the Asheville water grab by the state.)

Illinois (my home for most of my life) seems on the verge of overturning its long-running ban on carrying firearms. It is a state drowning in debt. Rahm is at war with Chicago public school teachers.

We apparently live in a state of anarchy that requires guns to protect us all from the loonies armed to kill us when we go to the movies or school. We also need guns to protect us from the government so intent on squashing our individual liberties. Abortionists must be murdered to protect “life.” Education must be “vocational.”

One party in our two party system – the GOP – has the very focused goal of destroying the president – solving extremely serious issues like TBTF is not on their agenda. They are not interested in “reforming” their mindset at all. Why would they?

33

Lee A. Arnold 06.01.13 at 2:23 pm

“hackery or heresy” — I may steal that line…

34

Uncle Kvetch 06.01.13 at 2:32 pm

And while Sullivan is politically agile, I think he’s burned his bridges with the wingnuts.

I wouldn’t count on that. When the next big push for a glorious exercise in democracy-spreading comes along (or, if you prefer, throwing some crappy little country against the wall to show we mean business), I don’t think Sullivan will be able to resist the pull. Another chance for him to be Orwell, only it’ll work this time.

The wingnuts will be more than happy to trot him out “even that degenerate liberal Andrew Sullivan thinks enough is enough and the time has come to liberate Tehran (or Damascus, or wherever) with the Bombs of Freedom.” And he’ll be more than happy to be thus trotted.

35

SB 06.01.13 at 3:38 pm

“what the f**k is wrong with Ross Douthat and how did he get that way?”

I’ve wondered this about Douthat but I think it’s clear why Brooks is the way he is and he’s no better. Privilege and the love of it combined with the desire to ensure there is no encroachment from the lesser realms. (Combine that with being very attracted to Friedman-style slipshod inferences.) With Douthat some other issue winks through–a bit more chip on his shoulder, feeling left in high school or whatnot but it’s the same fundamental condition.

In fact, that is what ties all the ‘reasonable conservatives’ together: They are the elites, they have it good, they are speaking to the other elites about how to preserve this particular hierarchical situation and still feel good about oneself. The crazies are the ones who struggle to come up from the middle and want to watch the system burn.

36

DivGuy 06.01.13 at 4:09 pm

The wingnuts will be more than happy to trot him out “even that degenerate liberal Andrew Sullivan thinks enough is enough and the time has come to liberate Tehran (or Damascus, or wherever) with the Bombs of Freedom.” And he’ll be more than happy to be thus trotted.

I expect Sullivan will turn rightward over time, but I really doubt it’s going to be in a neoconservative direction on foreign policy. You mention Tehran and Damascus, but Sullivan has been among the better bloggers out there for pointing out the absurdity of continuing neocon drum-beating.

He’s personally embarrassed about his support for the Iraq War, personally affronted by the people whose lies he bought, and intellectually engaged with the conservative realist tradition in foreign policy. That’s a bridge that is really unlikely to be crossed back.

He’s still a kind of imperialist, but I think he’s happy to be a Washington Consensus imperialist now, with gestures toward ugly race theory, rather than an aggressive neocon imperialist.

37

Bruce Wilder 06.01.13 at 4:21 pm

PGD @ 29: Isn’t Obama the ‘conservative reformer’?

Obama can use the lunatic Republican Right, to rally the Democrats behind, or reconcile Democrats to, practically any conservative policy. The conservative “reformers” would ordinarily be on the front lines, subverting the good intentions of liberal Democrats, but there are no liberal Democrats, which leaves them without obvious employment opportunities.

Obama is evil. Most liberals and progressives cannot see that or act on the knowledge . . . yet. I find it hard to believe that the Democratic Party will survive long as a thoroughly conservative party, let alone the conservative party. But, as long as it occupies that space, and keeps its liberal and progressive tendencies tame or demoralized, Republican conservatives, who are not effective crazy persons face a difficult challenge: how to find a role, audience and patrons.

The core policy issue, I suppose always, is securing an income and wealth distribution that favors the plutocracy. As things stand, much of the income funding the prosperity of the 1% rests on predation and disinvestment. That’s a policy designed to eventually run off a cliff, and to gradually build a sizeable population of disaffected and dispossessed. Generation Y must know that they are going to be poor and oppressed, and their hopes of being rescued by reality teevee stardom are forlorn.

There’s no obvious way to make a living as a genuine champion of the dispossessed. The dispossessed, by definition, have no money, and any real reform would cut sharply — indeed massively — against the interests of people, who have a lot of money and many of whom are laser-focused on keeping it, or getting more, by further dispossessing the dispossessed. Still, you don’t have to be an acute observer of politics to see that poverty is going to be a serious issue in a country in which half the population is facing an economically grim future as soylent green. If your stock-in-trade is political resentment and futility, there’s clearly potential for growth in certain market segments. How you reach those emerging audiences for political propaganda will requires some creative thinking. The conservative “reformers” are a creative bunch.

38

Uncle Kvetch 06.01.13 at 4:21 pm

He’s still a kind of imperialist, but I think he’s happy to be a Washington Consensus imperialist now, with gestures toward ugly race theory, rather than an aggressive neocon imperialist.

I suppose that does qualify as an improvement of a sort. Truth be told I don’t pay enough attention to Sullivan to know about this shift you’re describing. I proceed from the assumption that his only real core belief is in his confidence in own awesomeness, and thus he can never resist an opportunity to feel “heroic” (at no personal risk to himself, of course).

39

adam.smith 06.01.13 at 4:43 pm

I expect Sullivan will turn rightward over time, but I really doubt it’s going to be in a neoconservative direction on foreign policy.

yeah, what DivGuy says at #36. I don’t think the Iraq war is a particularly good metric for “conservative” in the US, considering that almost the entire political and opinion elite supported it (obviously you could argue that means they’re all conservative, which I don’t think is all that off, but with that meaning of “conservative” JQ’s post doesn’t make any sense). And compared to some more ostensibly “liberal” people like Keller and Friedman, Sullivan has done much more soul searching on Iraq and it actually does influence his current writing on wars.
Sullivan and co. are interesting because they really are still right-wingers (as they’ll happily attest). Sullivan is in favor of a “grand bargain” (aka let’s cut down the welfare state), regular trots out his race&genetics stuff, is a big proponent of the whole “civilizational war” against Islamism stick, he enjoys his hippie punching etc. etc. Same for Frum and Bartlett. I think that’s part of JQ’s point. Even if you’re a pretty insane right-winger (like Sullivan), if you have some standards left you get thrown out of the US conservative movement.

The interesting thing about Douthat in particular is the game theory involved in that. Douthat’s job depends to a large degree on being a bona fide member of US conservativism. The conservative movement kicks him out, he eventually loses his job. On the other hand, if they kick him out, they’ll only have half a conservative left at the NYTs (Brooks is a hack, but much less reliable than people here make him out to be). So it’s this interesting tightrope-tug-and-war.

40

roger gathman 06.01.13 at 5:57 pm

” and it’s hard to recall, but there was a time when people like Glenn Reynolds and the Volokhs seemed like serious intellectuals…” I’m still a little stunned by the idea that there was ever a time, or place, or star system, or alternative universe, where Glenn Reynolds was in shooting distance of serious intellectuality. Glenn Reynolds? Heh heh Reynolds? Are you sure you aren’t talking about another Reynolds? This is a little bit like hearing that there was a time when Doctor Pepper seemed like a credible medical authority.
JQ, I think you should save this generosity for a better cause. I’m cringing just thinking of your nostalgic reassessment of Anne Althouse…

41

Grumbles 06.01.13 at 7:27 pm

At the risk of damning with faint praise, Douhat at least engages with reality, sometimes. His cohabitators on that end of the infotainment spectrum should not be blamed on him. At the same time, color me less than interested in patting someone on the head for not being insane. I would like to continue the trend of conservatives generally finding some way to contrast with us DFH, while embracing reality. That is actually progress.

42

Bruce Baugh 06.01.13 at 8:03 pm

“He’s personally embarrassed about his support for the Iraq War, personally affronted by the people whose lies he bought, and intellectually engaged with the conservative realist tradition in foreign policy. ” Not that this motivates Sullivan to ever actually apologize to the people he accused of being fifth-column allies of Al Qaeda, or to refrain from accusing them of suspicion of treason all over again when they offend his pique du jour.

43

Bruce Baugh 06.01.13 at 8:05 pm

For examples of what really getting out of conservativeland is like, I’d point at David Brock and John Cole, people putting real time and effort into understanding what’s going on, supporting better candidates, getting the word out about recycled lies from usual suspects, and so on.

44

Hector_St_Clare 06.01.13 at 8:05 pm

Re: Ponnuru and Douthat, on the other hand, are fairly religious, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll shift leftward without embracing more moderate religious beliefs.

You could include Dreher in there too (he’s Eastern Orthodox, the other two are RC). Of course, your statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are plenty of socially conservative Democrats out there, and you can be faithfully Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or evangelical without embracing free-market capitalism or other ‘conservative’ economic positions.

Unless, of course, you think the key issues defining American politics are the ‘cultural issues’ like abortion, gay rights, etc.. Many people do believe that, liberals as well as conservatives, but I think that says more about them than it does about the actual importance of the issues.

Dreher abstained from voting in the last Presidential election, according to his blog: he’s one of those people who (mistakenly) prioritizies cultural issues, and abortion/gay marriage/contraception issues keep him from voting Democratic, while the foreign policy issues keep him from voting Republican. I could conceivably see him being a conservative Democrat someday though.

45

Hector_St_Clare 06.01.13 at 8:06 pm

Daniel Larison could be added to the list, of course.

46

Gene O'Grady 06.01.13 at 8:16 pm

I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend C S Lewis, about whom I have highly mixed feelings except for some of his academic stuff like English Literature in the 16th Century, but if Douthat really thinks that seeing a fairy is compatible with a Christian world view he certainly needs to read Lewis. Or, as a rather bad monk who was a teacher of mine some fifty years ago used to say, “God doesn’t multiply miracles.”

47

AnyGuy 06.01.13 at 9:17 pm

Only 34% of Conservatives believe Obama is a Muslim.

http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Issues/Politics_and_Elections/Little-Voter-Discomfort%20-Full.pdf

10% of those self described as very liberal believe in lizard people 15% believe that Believe Gov’t Adds Fluoride to H2O for Sinister Reasons.

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_National_ConspiracyTheories_040213.pdf

Whatever it is all just a set of shallow affections serving as an identity statement.

48

Main Street Muse 06.01.13 at 9:45 pm

US conservativism is far from a “series of irritable mental gestures.” It is a deliberate, well-planned movement with serious thought behind it. And it is extremely powerful and effective in killing the middle class, killing the economy, killing any MLK-like movement toward equality (both gender and racial equality – they want the women at home and they want the white men to rule the world.)

In this nation devoted to the idea that all are created equal, the GOP, in the last few decades, has perfected the xenophobic appeal. (http://nyti.ms/18GtgPE) What an accomplishment!

When Cheerios feels compelled to disable comments on a cereal ad that features an interracial family (compelled to do so by the vitriol and racism of the comments), it’s obvious that the GOP has a powerful base from which to build on its apocalyptic vision of this country. (http://wapo.st/1aOB54Z)

There is not one reformer within the GOP (if there are even any reformers, which is doubtful) who seriously wants to move beyond Lee Atwater’s southern strategy….

49

LFC 06.01.13 at 10:32 pm

Chaz @27
And there are a lot of people who don’t know foreign born citizens are ineligible to be president

What the Constitution says is that only “natural born citizens” are eligible to be president, but it doesn’t define ‘natural born’.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthright_citizenship_in_the_United_States#Eligibility_for_office_of_President

There are certainly circumstances in which someone born outside the U.S. would fall within a reasonable definition of ‘natural born citizen,’ eg — just to take one of several possible cases — if both (married) parents were U.S. citizens. George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, was born in Mexico, and no one, afaik, made a fuss about his eligibility when he ran, rather briefly, for president in 1968.

50

Bruce Baugh 06.01.13 at 11:05 pm

“Re: Ponnuru and Douthat, on the other hand, are fairly religious, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll shift leftward without embracing more moderate religious beliefs.” It bears repeating, often, that there are plenty of left-wing people who have strongly held religious convictions, who are doing their part to improve the world in ways that seem to them to follow quite directly from their understanding of the divine nature and will. Fred Clark and Cornel West are at least as serious about their faith in action as Douthat, Ponnuru, or Sullivan.

51

roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 11:05 pm

@37, Bruce Wilder

“There’s no obvious way to make a living as a genuine champion of the dispossessed. The dispossessed, by definition, have no money, and any real reform would cut sharply — indeed massively — against the interests of people, who have a lot of money and many of whom are laser-focused on keeping it, or getting more, by further dispossessing the dispossessed. Still, you don’t have to be an acute observer of politics to see that poverty is going to be a serious issue in a country in which half the population is facing an economically grim future as soylent green.”

I understand why you bring the money aspect into the equation — because of intellectuals for hire, shall we say? But surely, people like Cornel West are legitimate champions of the poor. And although outside the framework of conventional politics, they’re not any less effective for that. The efficacy of a movement need not depend on,deep pockets. And by the time it reaches a critical mass so as to make significant impact in terms of political reforms, no amount of money can stop it.

Isn’t that one of the lessons of the Civil Rights Act?

52

LFC 06.01.13 at 11:14 pm

fwiw (not making any comment on it, as i’ve only glanced through it) — the title is a bit misleading
here

53

Bruce Baugh 06.01.13 at 11:24 pm

Roger: The problem is that hegemonies learn how to respond sometimes, too. Look at what Reagan pioneered and Bush II perfected when it comes to mass protests: if you get your buddies managing news corporations not to cover them and simply decline to show any shame in public…you can get away with it. The US has its network of mercenaries and contractors that make it much easier to get away with Mai Lai-like atrocities. The Republicans in Congress continue to blaze new trails and convert existing ones into paved highways when it comes to things like knee-capping agencies by refusing to staff them at the top. And so on.

This isn’t to say that they are invulnerable. It is to say that they’re much less vulnerable to the kinds of tactics that people like King and Gandhi used so effectively, and so it takes a lot of invention in response to their changes.

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roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 11:46 pm

We’re agreeing then, Bruce, in that creativity and invention has got to come from outside of the realm of politics as usual. It’s part of my complaint about the OWS for example — that it failed to reach a wider audience, the blacks, the poor, the ever dwindling middle class. By focusing on a number of esoteric, which isn’t to say unimportant, issues, like student debt, it came across as lily white, and the protesters as such another bunch of spoiled middle- to upper class kids.

It was no different with the counter-culture revolution of the sixties, except that in that instance, the anti-war protests, the MLK movement in the South, the urban uprisings in the ghettos and the Black Panthers proved the necessary adjunct — a lethal combinations that the powers just had to capitulate to.

So it’s still a matter of building a critical mass, from any and all quarters.

55

Bruce Baugh 06.02.13 at 12:03 am

Oh, absolutely, Roger. I am in very enthusiastic agreement there – about the nature of the precedents we’ve inherited and current places to be working in. Sorry for misunderstanding along the way.

56

Bruce Wilder 06.02.13 at 12:24 am

The efficacy of a movement need not depend on deep pockets.Isn’t that one of the lessons of the Civil Rights Act?

No, not really.

I cannot pretend to know why a perennial vaguely-left meme puts so much stock in the purity of motive, represented by poverty and celibacy. I cannot help associating it with the traditions of the Catholic Church. The alleged aims of the Church are otherworldly, so in their context, it makes a certain, warped sense, though the perversion of priests, who cannot be trusted with youth, of bishops living in palaces, or Mother Theresa hobnobbing with the Duvaliers ought to call the whole scheme into question.

In the real world, most available leaders are ambitious, and human enough, to act from mixed motives. And, staffing a bureaucracy dedicated to public purposes, necessarily entails both a plausible, non-corrupting career path, and the ability of parents, financially, to care for their own children — there just are never enough monks, with a true calling.

The Civil Rights movement rested on the pillars of a liberal order, newly invigorated by the solidarity generated by, and the meaning assigned to, the Great Depression, the New Deal and the Second World War. They may not have had “deep” pockets, by the standards of our runaway plutocracy, but they had many reliable pockets, in the resources commanded by liberal institutions: the journalism of the high-minded municipal press (and the rents from dominance in urban-area advertising, which felt little dependence on any business interest, not the publisher’s own [noting, of course, that newspaper publishers were often real estate developers]); from an academia of rapidly expanding state colleges and universities proudly and generously supported by property and income taxes; from the liberal clergy of well-funded, establishment mainstream Protestant churches (the Episcopalians, (northern) Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.; from a cadre of corporate managers and leaders, who took great pride in the probity of their business institutions; from an array of liberal professions, including law and medicine; and something like a quarter of working Americans belonged to labor unions, working in industries, where they could wrest significant economic rents from capitalists represented by a largely indifferent or sympathetic management (autos, steel, mining, railroads, trucking, airlines, electrical equipment, electrical and telephone public utilities) — many labor unions and professional associations had liberal leadership.

And, they were not up against “deep pockets” on the scale we face today. The Great Compression of income distribution, from finally taming the financial sector in the second round of financial regulation in 1938, and from the high taxes and price controls imposed to finance the war effort, meant that there were no equivalent of Sidney Adelson or Haim Saban or Pete Peterson, to single-handedly finance an overwhelming propaganda effort. It was much closer to an even fight. William F. Buckley did finance the National Review, and General Electric gave us Ronald Reagan, but the relative scale and effectiveness of those efforts paled by comparison to the liberal institutions and their Liberal Consensus. (Remember God and Man at Yale? Buckley felt lonely and isolated at Yale!!! Imagine if he had had to take is oil-stained butt to Iowa State or Wisconsin?) Texas oilmen were reduced to financing New Dealer, LBJ — a lot of good that did them.

A strategy of non-violent protest was predicated on a significant part of the establishment, indeed of the whole society, being deeply sympathetic to the ideals espoused, and being economically secure enough not to fear the consequences of admitting another 25% of population to the circle of American prosperity, where they might have access to resources. The class of rich plantation owner, whose wealth depended on choking off development and keeping a class of worker in peonage, was very small and shrinking in the post-war boom.

The core of the Civil Rights Movement was funded initially, and for decades, by white liberals, and it grew in strength as a small, but well-educated African-American elite grew under the nurturance of liberal institutions into a self-confident and capable, professional leadership. A parallel system of college education was created in the South, and aided from northern institutions. Black businesses grew up in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Harlem. The niches were often tiny, and many were foreclosed by the rise of segregation and political terrorism, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (One critically important source of early
political funding, organization and social stability in urban ghettos was the union of porters, all black, who served aboard the sleeping cars of the Pullman Palace Car Company, run under the unlikely leadership of Robert Todd Lincoln; another was the practice of the Republican Party of appointing black postmasters, during Republican administrations.)

Armies, Napoleon told us, march on their stomachs. So do mass political movements.

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Hector_St_Clare 06.02.13 at 12:34 am

Re: I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend C S Lewis, about whom I have highly mixed feelings except for some of his academic stuff like English Literature in the 16th Century, but if Douthat really thinks that seeing a fairy is compatible with a Christian world view he certainly needs to read Lewis.

You probably picked a bad person to cite- a major theme of Lewis’ “Perelandra’ series is trying to make sense of how pre-Christian folklore about fairies, nature-spirits etc. fit into a Christian worldview. Be that as it may, while Christians don’t generally believe in fairies (no do I, personally) we do believe in other supernatural entities like angels, demons, etc.. So I’m not *really* sure what your point is. It’s not incompatible with being a Christian to believe in fairies or whatever, though it’s certainly not required.

Re: Or, as a rather bad monk who was a teacher of mine some fifty years ago used to say, “God doesn’t multiply miracles.”

Yes, but God isn’t *stingy* with the miracles, either- just look at the Gospels.

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Bruce Wilder 06.02.13 at 1:21 am

I don’t subscribe to a mechanical (or spiritual-class) economic determinism, but economics matters, and to ignore it or to deny its importance from a false idealism, is foolishness. If you are “conservative”, but idealistic enough to think that ideas matter more than money, you just end up like Burke at the Impeachment of Warren Hastings, isolated and ineffectual.

I do not think “conservative” has to be strictly and stupidly reactionary. I take it the “reformers” think that this episode, in which reactionaries lead conservatives in the Republican Party may be nearing an end. I don’t see it. Conservatives are leading liberals in the Democratic Party, and that’s a much more effective strategy in getting a conservative agenda legitimized and enacted — against the popular will. Nobody really cares that the reactionaries dominate the Republican Party, as long as they keep 25% of the electorate — very angry, ill-informed authoritarian-follower populists — corralled; the Republican Party is just a mob of useful idiots for Obama’s masterful disempowering and de-legitimizing of progressive forces and ideas.

A crash may be coming, or just a period of accelerated decline, but the “liberal” Obama will bear the blame, and the alternative offered by Republicans will be authoritarian, and the Democrats will lack all credibility on policy.

The economic situation we face is not a pleasant one: peak oil, climate change, ecological collapse, overpopulation speak to a world, where there isn’t enough to go around. Many powerful occupants of Lifeboat earth will want to throw a significant fraction of the world’s population overboard to drown (and form a carbon sink), in order to preserve their own privileged, and dominant, position.

I see some well-intentioned liberals thinking that we all just get along, and the plutocrats, though fantastically greedy and careless of consequences, can be placated, or persuaded that a less brutal hell-on-earth might be worth permitting a modest redistribution of income, or restraint in predatory or parasitic activity.

I am not entirely sure that life on earth can survive the political power and leadership of the Koch brothers or Pete Peterson. The kind of extremes of income and wealth distribution under which we labor can only be sustained by massive disinvestment and externalizing of costs. If we try to “adapt” to climate change in the style of Mitt Romney, vulture capitalist, or the Vampire Squid at Goldman Sachs, we will accelerate our own doom — or, rather, they will accelerate our doom, thinking all the way along, “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone”, except somebody (not me, personally; I’m old) will be here for the slow motion crash of human population and civilization.

There’s no liberal utopia, which can be offered as an alternative. Human population has overshot the carrying capacity of the earth by several billion. “One child” is not a liberal vision, but some things very much like it, may be necessary. Within any plausible range of technical possibilities for energy generation, we will have to conserve power, on the order of 2 or 3 or 4 of 5. We cannot be eating meat or fish on the scale preferred today by the prosperous. I think the enthusiasm for technological utopias — “breakthroughs”! — carries some very large measure of self-deception, to match the idea that we can continue tolerating an elite leadership, greedy and short-sighted beyond all reason.

I say all of this because I am disturbed by what I take to be a cheerleading for ideological progress in the idea that smart conservatives have been voted off the island, in a game of political survival that they are losing, and this indicates a cause for optimism for the zeitgeist ahead. Maybe, I am misreading the implications — certainly, there’s precious little support for this lead in the OP. So, my apologies, if I have misread the OP.

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Main Street Muse 06.02.13 at 1:40 am

“I do not think “conservative” has to be strictly and stupidly reactionary.”

Agreed. But the GOP has abandoned “conservative” in favor of “strictly and stupidly reactionary.” The GOP has abandoned rational thought. And that is why the future of this country is at risk.

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roger nowosielski 06.02.13 at 1:54 am

@ 56, Bruce Wilder

You make a great case to the effect that the situation today doesn’t come close to approximating the kind of support that was readily available in the sixties for popular, anti-establishment movements. My only retort would be — movements are organic by nature.

I think of IRA, for instance, or any example, past or present, of anti-colonial struggle. Surely, IRA needed funding, great deal of funding, in order to be able to carry out its mission. But would you be ready to say that without that funding they wouldn’t have accomplished their goals, sooner or later?

In any case, I don’t regard the fate of today’s social or political resistance to the status quo as any different from anti-colonial struggle (since it’s surely not going to be resolved by going through the channels).

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Bruce Wilder 06.02.13 at 2:42 am

Conservatives make revolutions. That’s the “organic” nature of revolutions.

The French nobility triggered the French Revolution. Oops.

If the British had not revoked Home Rule at the last moment, before its implementation, after a 70 year struggle to get it enacted, in order to conscript young Irish men, for the horrific meat grinder of World War I, I doubt that Sinn Féin would have been much more than a footnote to the revival of an Irish Parliament.

Still, revolutions also require the multi-generational, 70+ year struggle, and during that struggle to influence ideas, people still have to eat and lead their lives. Funding figured in the history of Sinn Féin and the IRA, in their various guises. De Valera’s prominence had a lot to do with his ability to attract American funding. Look up the Sinn Féin funding case, for another odd episode, illustrating the point.

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Bruce Wilder 06.02.13 at 2:51 am

Main Street Muse @ 59: The GOP has abandoned rational thought. And that is why the future of this country is at risk.

Imho, the GOP is just a pathetic bit of business in Obama’s embrace of a conservative and plutocratic agenda. Most Democrats have abandoned liberalism — indeed all honest moral principle — to support Obama in his right-wing political agenda. The ridiculousness of the GOP plays an important part in convincing many Democrats of the necessity of doing so — that’s the suspension of rational thought and moral reasoning — a suspension on the nominal “Left” — which dooms the country.

63

Tony Lynch 06.02.13 at 2:53 am

Chaz @27: “So I think we can let a fair number of these folks off as very ignorant instead of crazy.”

Let them off? For being ignorant about things of such importance to the polity they claim to hold accountable, cherish, will defend to the death, and will cheer on as it unleashes its military power on others, &c.?

Geez, I knew standards were low over there, but this is a new low in accountability and (dare I say it) “personal responsibility?

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Tony Lynch 06.02.13 at 2:55 am

Damn question mark seems to have moved!

65

Michael Sullivan 06.02.13 at 4:37 pm

susan @28: “And the left is at least as guilty of the “armed revolution” one.”

No, “the left” is not at least as guilty. Unless you define “the left” to be a group that is completely outside of mainstream politics. For any “left” you can define that is large and mainstream enough to have even a smidgeon of influence on what kind of positions the Democratic Party finds tenable to its base, this will not be a plurality opinion.

That position is held as a shibboleth among a plurality of *conservatives*, a group that makes up more than a third of the electorate.

The entire group of people who identify as “liberal” or “progressive” make up a smaller voting group, and that’s pretty much everyone who could reasonably be considered left in this country. Do you really think half of the people who identify as liberal or progressive would say that armed revolution will be necessary soon? Even when GWB was president?

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roger nowosielski 06.02.13 at 5:48 pm

@ Bruce Wilder 06.02.13 at 2:42 am, #61

Fair enough.

To take it to an even more elementary level, the success of, say, guerrilla warfare is predicated on the level of support from the larger community (in terms of such basic necessities as food, hideout places, etc). Che Guevara’s failure in Bolivia, the failure of the Philippine–American war, are prime examples (in contrast to, say, North Vietnam, with its heavy support from China).

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William Timberman 06.02.13 at 5:59 pm

The ridiculousness of the GOP plays an important part in convincing many Democrats of the necessity of doing so…

By accident, or by design? Friends argue endlessly about this, while the hours — the waste sad time, stretching before and after — puts rubber noses and oversize shoes on all of us. President Obama isn’t an enigma, he’s a perfectly predictable excrescence of an era when all the smart people find nothing better to do than congratulate themselves on their mastery of the tools of manipulation and self deception. History and Mother Nature aren’t fooled, but as long as we’ve made certain that they can’t vote, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. If I think, again, of this place, and of people, not wholly commendable, of no immediate kin or kindness…

(Sorry for the Eliot. On a more incisive day, it might be Orwell, or Sun Tzu, but I’m feeling poetic today, which despite what our movers and shakers profess to think, isn’t a sign of nostalgia, much less of weakness or paralysis, but rather a reflection on the dust cloud of politics which obscures not only vision, but plain speaking, an art all the more to be treasured for its absence from our present debates.)

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Bernard Yomtov 06.03.13 at 1:08 am

#51

But surely, people like Cornel West are legitimate champions of the poor.

Perhaps you can tell us what Dr. West has done for the poor lately that has helped more than say, a $10 contribution to the local food bank.

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roger nowosielski 06.03.13 at 2:55 pm

That depends what you mean by “poverty,” Bernard. Most of the credible analysts, bell hooks, for example, don’t think of it simply in terms of dollars and cents but of a culture. So in that vein, I wouldn’t know whether contributing great sums of money to the food bank or an increase of the food stamps allotment are precisely the kind of measures that are needed or that would make that great deal of difference. And here’s a question for you: how much did MLK contribute to these worthy causes.

My thinking is, Cornel West & Tavis Smiley “poverty tour” is more in line with what’s needed given the present political climate. Even the most “progressive” Democratic leaders, such as the present occupier of the White House, don’t even come close to addressing “the poor,” only the suffering middle class. The poor, in so far as our political practices are concerned, are “the invisible,” a class onto themselves, an outcast. They’re nonexistent in our society. That was supposed to be the message of the OWS short-lived movement, “We are the 99 percent,” but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. People like West and Smiley at least tried to bring in back on track.

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Katherine 06.03.13 at 3:38 pm

If Ross I-lost-my-boner-because-a-woman-said-she-was-on-the-pill-therefore-contraception-is bad Douthat is the best the Republicans can do for reform, then boy are they in trouble.

Also Chaz @27: “So I think we can let a fair number of these folks off as very ignorant instead of crazy.”

It’s the other way around surely? “Crazy” means mental illness, which under certain circumstances can reduce responsibility for thoughts and actions. Assholery or ignorance, on the other hand, is much less excusable.

71

Ronan(rf) 06.03.13 at 3:44 pm

“reform of the Republican party is ..”

..like diving for pearls in a septic tank?

72

Justin Doolittle 06.03.13 at 4:50 pm

It’s hard to even take any of this seriously because, as Douthat mentions, there is just no evidence whatever that the GOP has any intention of taking any of these “reform” ideas the slightest bit seriously.

I think the actual premise – that the Republican party even cares about ideas or spends any time thinking about them – is flawed. The party functions according to interests, not ideas, and until some sort of structural reform, or campaign finance reform, or whatever happens, I don’t see how or why that will change. I think this whole discussion is far too sophisticated, given that the party is just such an outlier, in terms of mainstream political parties in the West. When the party, from the top down, accepts climate change, accepts evolution, accepts Obama’s citizenship, etc, then maybe we can move on to nuanced discussions of tax reform and take them seriously. Until then, until the GOP as a whole acknowledges basic, observable facts about the modern world, it really can’t be considered a real political party as that term is traditionally understood.

73

Dr. Hilarius 06.03.13 at 5:31 pm

What Justin@72 said. Republican talk about balanced budgets, small government, and everything else posing as principles or policies is just hokum for the rubes in the cheap seats. The Republican party is about the seizure of power as a means of plundering the country, expressed ideology is means not end.

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mpower69 06.03.13 at 8:07 pm

Funny, I thought Dems were taking their turn at governing… so what’s with all the attention on (and misinterpretation of) conservatives?

Before we bash the minority with our preconcieved notions of conservitive reform, perhaps Dem apologists could attempt to establish some ‘reform’ high road from which they can justifiably whine about the minority party on the road below? But no, that would be too honest, and too difficult… it’s much easier to justify one’s immoral positions by claiming the other guy’s positions are more immoral… you know, the old lesser of two evils canard.

Guantanamo – still open for business.
Wall St. – still unreformed and unregulated.
Foriegn Policy – death from above – just as stupid, just as expensive, just as many servicepersons and contractors in theater and in harms way… still zero results.
Civil Rights – due process and individual rights thrown out the window. drone surveillence, detention w/o charges… apparently liberals love martial law – who knew!
Terrorism – we were told the bad guys would love this new guy… guess not.
Economics – punish the job-creators… great strategy. Still looking for that shovel-ready stimulus from 2009-10… guess four+ years isn’t enough time to judge poor policy and pathetic execution… oh wait, another bridge just collapsed… Bush’s fault!
Domestic Policy – still coddling corporations and wealthy farmers.
Governance – lobbyists-in-charge, backroom deals, zero transparency, and now politically-driven tax treatment.
Education – yet another gov’t initiated debt bubble. Terrible achievement record but record-high budgets & costs… no need for reform here!

So much to brag about!! How do you find time to harass conservatives?

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PGD 06.03.13 at 8:09 pm

Bruce Wilder @56 is brilliant, but then Bruce is routinely brilliant. Can anyone convince that man to start his own blog? Or write some longer papers on an SSRN page? I have no other way to get my Bruce Wilder fix but scanning comment threads on CT!

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MPAVictoria 06.03.13 at 8:15 pm

“Guantanamo – still open for business.
Wall St. – still unreformed and unregulated.
Foriegn Policy – death from above – just as stupid, just as expensive, just as many servicepersons and contractors in theater and in harms way… still zero results.
Civil Rights – due process and individual rights thrown out the window. drone surveillence, detention w/o charges… apparently liberals love martial law – who knew!
Terrorism – we were told the bad guys would love this new guy… guess not.
Economics – punish the job-creators… great strategy. Still looking for that shovel-ready stimulus from 2009-10… guess four+ years isn’t enough time to judge poor policy and pathetic execution… oh wait, another bridge just collapsed… Bush’s fault!
Domestic Policy – still coddling corporations and wealthy farmers.
Governance – lobbyists-in-charge, backroom deals, zero transparency, and now politically-driven tax treatment.
Education – yet another gov’t initiated debt bubble. Terrible achievement record but record-high budgets & costs… no need for reform here!”

This list is so hilariously inaccurate that I felt it needed to be repeated. I really liked the line about “punishing” the job creators.

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MPAVictoria 06.03.13 at 8:16 pm

“Bruce Wilder @56 is brilliant, but then Bruce is routinely brilliant. Can anyone convince that man to start his own blog? Or write some longer papers on an SSRN page? I have no other way to get my Bruce Wilder fix but scanning comment threads on CT!”

Seconded. While I do not always agree with Bruce he is always interesting!

I would so read your blog man.

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SusanC 06.03.13 at 8:59 pm

Revolutionary socialists exist, and to this day are still sometimes encountered in the wild (at least in Britain and the rest of Europe) but their numbers may have seriously declined in recent years.

The issue then, is that while the left certainly has an element that the mainstream left considers to be lunatics and tries to supress, it is a declining one, while the right is facing an increase of the element it views as lunatics (cf., in the UK, the alleged use of the term “swivel-eyed loons” by Consevatives to refer to UKIP; the Tea Party in the US).

The best theory I could come up with is an effect of a general right-ward shift of the population’s political views — as support for the left (including the moderate left) falls, the embarrasing extremist fringe also falls, while conversely the right — and its associated embarassing extremist frings — grows. (An imagined bell-shaped curve might account for faster rates of change in the tails). Continued far enough (in either a left-wards or a right-wards direction) the embarassing fringe becomes the mainstream, at least in terms of numbers.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.03.13 at 9:10 pm

MPAVirginia, don’t you see a little bit of conflict between saying Bruce is interesting and saying that mpower69’s list is hilarious? I mean, yes, Bruce in insightful, while mpower’s list has all the markers of being partisan conservative gripes, and not seriously held once the GOP comes back to power (“job creators”, the weird focus on education’s achievement record). But substantially it’s the same list as what I think Bruce referred to with:

“Imho, the GOP is just a pathetic bit of business in Obama’s embrace of a conservative and plutocratic agenda. Most Democrats have abandoned liberalism — indeed all honest moral principle — to support Obama in his right-wing political agenda. The ridiculousness of the GOP plays an important part in convincing many Democrats of the necessity of doing so — that’s the suspension of rational thought and moral reasoning — a suspension on the nominal “Left” — which dooms the country.”

I see no problem with mocking conservatives who are actually powerful. The function of mockery in politics is to be the jester throwing the pie at the king. But the Democrats really are in control of the government right now. What is so hilariously inaccurate about saying that the shovel-ready stimulus never materialized, even if it’s linked to twaddle about job creators? It wasn’t all GOP sabotage in the House that caused it not to materialize; Obama and the Democrats certainly played a part as well.

Here’s his list:
“Guantanamo – still open for business.” True.
“Wall St. – still unreformed and unregulated.” True.
“Foriegn Policy – death from above – just as stupid, just as expensive, just as many servicepersons and contractors in theater and in harms way… still zero results.” True.
“Civil Rights – due process and individual rights thrown out the window. drone surveillence, detention w/o charges… apparently liberals love martial law – who knew!” True, minus of course the hyperbole about martial law.
“Terrorism – we were told the bad guys would love this new guy… guess not.” Fake, we were never told that they’d love Obama. But whatever.
“Economics – punish the job-creators… great strategy. Still looking for that shovel-ready stimulus from 2009-10… guess four+ years isn’t enough time to judge poor policy and pathetic execution… oh wait, another bridge just collapsed… Bush’s fault!” Minus the bit about job creators — true.
“Domestic Policy – still coddling corporations and wealthy farmers.” True.
“Governance – lobbyists-in-charge, backroom deals, zero transparency, and now politically-driven tax treatment.” Minus the last scandal de jour, True.
“Education – yet another gov’t initiated debt bubble. Terrible achievement record but record-high budgets & costs… no need for reform here!”” First part mostly true! Second part false.

That seems like a pretty good accuracy record to me.

80

John Quiggin 06.03.13 at 9:49 pm

A perennial source of confusion is that Democrats, liberals (US sense) and the left (US sense) aren’t the same groups.

In US usage, “left” seems to me to refer to the Marxist/radical left, never large and now a tiny minority, altogether outside the mainstream as was pointed out above.

“Liberals” are consciously distinct (on both sides) from “left”, but overlap with Democrats, in the sense that some liberals are Dem partisans. Most of the rest (including, I guess the typical US CT reader) see the Dems as preferable to the Repubs, if only as the lesser of evils.

Democrats are reasonably well-defined since it’s a formal party affiliation.

On the specific question of crazy claims, there’s certainly a subset of the left where they are rife, but we are talking about a minority of a tiny minority here. And, at least some Dem voters are willing to assent to strong versions of the claim that Bush knew about 9/11 (as opposed to the proven fact that the Bushies were warned in general terms about the risk of such an attack, and did nothing). But trutherism has nothing like the semi-accepted status in Dem political circles that birtherism and similar nonsense does among Repubs – it would be unthinkable, for example, for Obama to make a trutherist joke, let alone for a Dem politician to be an out-and-out truther.

81

John Quiggin 06.03.13 at 9:50 pm

@Rich and others. Real Soon Now, I plan a post on why winning the intellectual argument hasn’t stopped us losing the political fights, at least not yet.

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Walt 06.03.13 at 9:56 pm

Rich, surely you’ve been on the Internet to recognize trolling as trolling, even when you can extract a substantive point from the trolling.

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js. 06.03.13 at 10:27 pm

Real Soon Now, I plan a post on why winning the intellectual argument hasn’t stopped us losing the political fights, at least not yet.

Given the quite useful distinctions you draw in the previous comment (80), I was curious what “us” meant here.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.03.13 at 11:34 pm

Walt, my basic sympathies are with the trolls. It’s really difficult to comment on a blog in which people don’t almost exactly agree with you without soon functioning as a troll. Certainly I’ve gotten banned from a majority of those I’ve ever commented on, and I’ve never set out to troll for a laugh.

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John Quiggin 06.03.13 at 11:39 pm

@js I don’t exactly fit into the US spectrum (I go by “social democrat” which is non-standard in Oz also), but the groups I’ll be writing for are liberals who aren’t primarily Dem partisans and others on the left who are concerned with the outcomes of mainstream politics.

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bob mcmanus 06.04.13 at 12:15 am

liberals who aren’t primarily Dem partisans and others on the left who are concerned with the outcomes of mainstream politics.

As one of those non-mainstream fringey irrelevancies, I do not understand why this political faction is not as totally discredited as their macroeconomic branch.

The liberal-not-quite-Democrats are those who have told me since the 60s that the system is structurally ok, they can work within it and move it gradually to the left of existing corrupt party politicians. There has been some progress (and a little regress) on social issues.

But if there is a liberal-left on macroeconomic or equality issues it should bear some or a lot of responsibility for the forty+ years of fail.

The liberal-left stakes their claim in the territory of getting something done.
We Marxists keep trying to explain why they will fail. After the next crisis, I sure hope the people listen to us, because they will not listen to you, and the alternative, as Wilder says, is horrible to contemplate.

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js. 06.04.13 at 1:32 am

the groups I’ll be writing for are liberals who aren’t primarily Dem partisans and others on the left who are concerned with the outcomes of mainstream politics.

Right, I supposed it was something close to this, but I was curious about the “winning the intellectual argument” part (should’ve made this clear the first time around). Not that I disagree necessarily—more that I don’t know what this means. Who exactly has won what argument against whom? Part of the problem is that it seems strange to say that anyone left of the Republican party as currently constituted has won the argument against the latter. Because as you yourself suggest (in the OP), there’s no argument to be had there—the party has given up on the whole intellect bit quite entirely (which is why I suppose it’s right to characterize it as a `series of irritable gestures’—Main Street Muse’s point (@48) notwithstanding, intellectually speaking that’s what it is). And it’s not clear to me that any strain of liberalism has really won the argument. (This Bhaskar Sunkara piece from the nation provides reasons for doubt.) Again, not clear what the argument is supposed to be really.

I should just wait for Real Soon Now, shouldn’t I?

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bob mcmanus 06.04.13 at 1:46 am

87: Thank you! He is a star! Excellent stuff.

“Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas.”

Well, one of them. Also a-historical, non-materialistic, and universalist.

Its sins are also its virtues, of course. As a system it has to theoretically treat a Koch as it treats me. But that will only work when there are no more Kochs.

89

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 1:48 am

I agree with Rich, that mpower69’s list @ 74, allowing for some coding in conservative-speak, instead of liberal-speak, is pretty good.

I think mpower69 was making an effort to enumerate things, and use descriptive labels, that would make them plausible as failures of a liberal reform agenda, rather than as things only a conservative would or could want. Maybe, his conservative accent was a little heavy, in articulating some of them, but is that a reason not to hear what he’s saying?

90

LFC 06.04.13 at 1:51 am

JQ
In US usage, “left” seems to me to refer to the Marxist/radical left, never large and now a tiny minority, altogether outside the mainstream as was pointed out above.

Not exactly, I think. “Left”in U.S. parlance, afaik, can and sometimes does refer to a spectrum going from, say, Dem. Socialists of America (DSA) through to the Fourth Int’l and beyond and encompassing a lot of groups I haven’t heard of. So it’s a larger spectrum than JQ’s remark suggests.

91

LFC 06.04.13 at 1:53 am

W Timberman @67
Never apologize for quoting the Four Quartets

92

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 1:53 am

Neoliberalism is a genetic disease, apparently; one, like gout, which is aggravated by too rich a diet combined with too sedentary a life.

93

js. 06.04.13 at 1:58 am

“Left”in U.S. parlance, afaik, can and sometimes does refer to a spectrum going from, say, Dem. Socialists of America (DSA) through to the Fourth Int’l and beyond and encompassing a lot of groups I haven’t heard of. So it’s a larger spectrum than JQ’s remark suggests.

This rings true to me.

94

John Quiggin 06.04.13 at 2:24 am

I guess the DSA would be about as close as anyone to my own position, so an exception to my general perception that I don’t fit anywhere on the US spectrum.

95

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 2:26 am

bob mcmanus: if there is a liberal-left on macroeconomic or equality issues it should bear some or a lot of responsibility for the forty+ years of fail

That’s an important “if”.

Neoliberals like Larry Summers, Brad DeLong, and, yes, Virginia, Paul Krugman, get labeled as “liberals”, and are as far left as most elected Democrats will admit to policy circles. Why the blogosphere treats them as liberals, or treats them as the edge of left-liberal respectability, I have no idea. If they are the liberal-left, they absolutely bear responsibility — Larry Summers left his fingerprints on several smoking guns!

Neoliberalism seeded into fertile soil, and with few gardeners in attendance to weed it out, or inhibit its spread. Somehow, the New Deal, although it attracted many contemporary economists of high repute, particularly with its heavy technocratic themes, did not establish a church within academic economics. That’s a serious problem for progressives, liberals and socialists now.

Whether you frame it as not having a left-liberal school on economic policy, or as having mislabeled and embraced a moderate centre-right school, it remains a serious handicap, of the kind that condemns even successful political revolution to economic failure — a problem Marxists may be familiar with.

96

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 4:06 am

The historic political spectrum in the U.S. encompassed sentiments and styles of political appeal broadly labeled “progressive” and “populist”, with a strong class distinction. “Progressives” could be paternalistic as well as technocratic, and come from money, as we once said, with some mix of envious admiration. Populism had more of a demagogic flavor, with resentments playing an important organizing principle.

Both Right and Left, Democrats and Republicans, have had their “progressive” and “populist” movements (outside Party) and factions (inside Parties) over the years. Major institutional reforms generally involved some kind of alliance: the Parties competing to co-opt a movement, or factions within (or across) Parties cooperating.

Traditionally, the Republicans were the “insiders” in American cultural, civic and business life — the mainline Protestants of British descent with establishment economic interests — and the Democrats were the “outsiders”, everyone else. In this scheme, the Democrats did most of the populism, and the Republicans kept the progressives in their clubhouse (where they tortured them). Wilson’s (largely unsuccessful) trick, and FDR’s (wildly successful), was to take the progressives into the Democratic mansion of many apartments to form a workable majority in the country. Inside the Democratic house, FDR renamed them, “liberals,” to make them more acceptable to Big City machine pols and union leaders, who had long fought with “progressive” do-gooders .

Nixon’s (initially unsuccessful) and Reagan’s (eventually successful) trick was to broaden the “in-group” definition of the Republican Party, more along racial lines, and less on class or ethnic lines. They were helped, both policy-wise and politically, by the declining interest among Democrats in fighting the class war. (Thank you, Jimmy Carter) Resentment against privileged progressives returned as resentment against welfare queens and limousine liberals.

To me, the interesting question in American politics isn’t where on a European spectrum from liberal to socialist, someone may fit ideologically, but in whether that person is willing to make, or be associated with, populist appeals, and what kind of populist appeals. It doesn’t matter, what the person as an individual, with private thoughts and convictions, believes in, as political or policy Truth. What matters, practically, is what they are willing to subscribe to, (or legitimate, say, by muting objections), in the interest of building or managing the Team / Tribe.

In this, I would strongly disagree with JQ on this point: “Democrats are reasonably well-defined since it’s a formal party affiliation.” That’s a serious, serious misreading of the American two-party system. It’s a slow, circular dance, in which each Party is constantly gaining and shedding voters, who identify with them or feel alienated, and it continues constantly, at both a national and local level (with considerable cross-currents between national and local), and it is strategic. Everything you do, as a politician, in framing an issue, or taking action, or spinning out a narrative is going to gain some support and lose some support, maybe to the other Party or the alienated, and those gains and losses will be gradual, blending with demographic change in its pace. Who is a Democrat, or going to be a Democrat, is a fuzzy, strategic projection.

And, at the moment, the key strategic question, with a strong bearing on policy as well as propaganda, turns on whether Democrats will make populist appeals to mobilize mass support, particularly from among the alienated and oppressed.

In the last election, the smart money in the Republican Party made a supreme effort to deliver the worst possible candidate, a man deeply unpopular with a large part of the base, particularly with that part of the base, which thrives on populist appeals. And, not coincidentally, he was the most vulnerable Republican candidate to populist appeals since . . . well, ever, really: a certifiable vulture capitalist tax cheat, in the aftermath of a financial crisis and deep recession. The smallest, softest, mildest populist appeals imaginable from a Democrat could blow Romney away, like a dandelion seed.

It was a testament to the Obama campaign, that most Democrats seemed to think Romney was an existential threat, with Obama scarcely having to make any kind of populist appeal or promise, when, in fact, Romney was insanely vulnerable and never had a prayer. Obama’s campaign calculated on a close, but certain margin of victory, to preserve Obama’s policy agenda, and most observant Democrats seemed to think that was a miracle crafted by Nate Silver!

There’s a political market for populist appeals, and bad economic policy is making its potential grow. The big money buyers actually want this to be a market for lemons, as it were, served by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, as a first choice, or Obama, the Eisenhower-Republican, as a second choice. Politicians like the security of money flowing, but will, in a pinch, go for a winning electoral strategy, even if it entails a policy agenda that might do some good, for someone, who isn’t already rich. (It’s been known to happen.)

One tricky point of strategic ideological contention — secondary to funding, to be sure — are the liberals, who love humanity and hate actual people enough to find populism, unacceptable on principle. And, of course, there are the Scott Lemieux’s, who love to punch a hippie, and are certain that any policy that would actually benefit and work for a potential populist voter cannot possibly be on a practical agenda: Medicare-for-all is an impossible dream; while PPACA will fail and alienate so few tens of millions, that it is hardly worth quibbling over.

So, that’s why I say it doesn’t matter where a person is on the theoretical spectrum. What matters is who she is willing to tolerate in the same room, particularly what kind of populist appeal will she craft, tolerate or support to win a majority at an election.

97

b9n10nt 06.04.13 at 4:31 am

left wing populism is not going away in the United States. And a policy proposal like: cap annual income at 3 million and buy social work and education. carbon tax that pays for a subsidy shift to multi-unit, walkable urbanism w parks. etc…the substratum of Hope N Change remains and manifests independently of the particular individuals born into the memeland.

whether a people will come to fight for it, there’s the rub. but it is gonna be there for the taking, with or without “the Cathedral” (sorry, it’s catchy). and polical systems are unstable. Ya never really know.

the uninsured are getting coverage, the asset class growing like a cabbage going to bolt,
another occupy coming if we make it happen, and if we dream a little we can remember that 4% unemployment was historically recent compared to the New Deal and Civil Rights.

98

John Quiggin 06.04.13 at 6:57 am

I guess this populist/progressive thing is part of what I meant by saying I don’t fit neatly on the US political spectrum.

99

bob mcmanus 06.04.13 at 10:37 am

1) I won’t link, but both Michael Roberts and Richard Seymour have good posts up on Turkey, Roberts with more of an economic analysis, Seymour with a repost of a Guardian article.

Just snippets from Seymour:

An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul… The AKP represents a peculiar type of conservative populism. Its bedrock, enriched immensely in the last decade, is the conservative Muslim bourgeoisie that first emerged as a result of Turgut Özal’s economic policies in the 1980s. But, while denying it is a religious party, it has used the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to strengthen the urban rightwing.

It has spent more than a decade in government building up its authority. The privatisation process has led to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression. But it has also attracted floods of international investment, leading to growth rates of close to 5% a year.

2) Re-reading the Bhaskar Sunkara, and I do read Jacobin and Next Left, well ok, I like the Marxist analysis, but the tactics and strategy are no longer satisfying. They feel 19th century. Something new is going on, material conditions have changed, forces and resources are new. I won’t say “Don’t Organize!” but I kinda want to. Maybe I will say:”Gather, move, communicate” instead.

3) So I look at the opposition, not just the Tea Party but like AKP. Right-wing religious populism, urban elites used and abandoned, intimate ties to Int’l finance, military pushed aside. It all feels ad hoc and chaotic or opportunistic. It isn’t just that every local situation is unique, but that there is no master plan, strategy, or method that the enemy is using.

4) And I look at the current resistance in Turkey, which is like OWS or Tahir. I look at what is actually happening and how it succeeds, not in terms of expressing demands and achieving goals, but rather “How does resistance emerge, concentrate, and accumulate?”

5) Yeah, emergence. I really couldn’t use “rhizome” in a sentence, and in any case, I think that is an analysis that has passed us by in material conditions. People I read are a little post-Deleuze: Lamarre, DeLanda, Azuma Hiroki.

100

MPAVictoria 06.04.13 at 1:55 pm

” And, of course, there are the Scott Lemieux’s, who love to punch a hippie, and are certain that any policy that would actually benefit and work for a potential populist voter cannot possibly be on a practical agenda: Medicare-for-all is an impossible dream; while PPACA will fail and alienate so few tens of millions, that it is hardly worth quibbling over.”

Bruce this is extremely unfair to Scott.

101

MPAVictoria 06.04.13 at 1:58 pm

“MPAVirginia, don’t you see a little bit of conflict between saying Bruce is interesting and saying that mpower69′s list is hilarious?”

Well I did say in my comment that I didn’t always agree with Bruce. You can find someone interesting without agree with everything they say. As to the list, I disagree with your analysis.

102

ajay 06.04.13 at 2:21 pm

The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
Mainstream science is a communist plot
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future

This reminds me very strongly of the inputs for the computer program that generated random conspiracy theories in Foucault’s Pendulum.

Who was married at the wedding in Cana?
Since
The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
and
Thirty days hath September April June and November
It follows that
because
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
The Templars have something to do with everything.
What follows is not true:
Mainstream science is a communist plot
and
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future
because
Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

103

bexley 06.04.13 at 3:45 pm

And, of course, there are the Scott Lemieux’s, who love to punch a hippie, and are certain that any policy that would actually benefit and work for a potential populist voter cannot possibly be on a practical agenda: Medicare-for-all is an impossible dream; while PPACA will fail and alienate so few tens of millions, that it is hardly worth quibbling over.

Being a Brit I’m not hugely informed on this, but wasn’t Medicare-for-all an impossible dream for the US at the time PPACA was passed? Just one example but but the PPACA almost fell victim to the ridiculous hackery of the reactionaries in the Supreme Court and only got through thanks to John Roberts. Willing to bet he would have given a pass to Medicare-for-all?

So Obama probably deserves some slack on PPACA due to such considerations whereas there are no such excuses for the neoliberalism of the British Labour Party who operate with far fewer such constraints when in power.

Also I’m pretty sure Lemieux doesn’t think the PPACA will fail – he thinks it’s an improvement on the status quo ante.

104

Justin Doolittle 06.04.13 at 4:04 pm

bexley @ 103 – The PPACA was considered constitutionally dicey because it mandated citizens to purchase a private product. Medicare for all – the government simply providing health insurance to everyone – I’m not even sure if that would be constitutionally controversial? Politically controversial, obviously, but what would be the constitutional case against it? There’s no case against Medicare, currently, so what could they say about simply expanding it?

We’ll never know if Medicare-for-all was an “impossible dream,” because major power factions in the Democratic party never even raised the idea. People like Weiner and Sanders and Kucinich occasionally showed up on TV to promote it, but nobody in Democratic power circles gives a shit what they have to say.

105

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 4:18 pm

I’d say that both Bruce Wilder and bob mcmanus are writing important things in this thread. A few random bits to comment on:

Bruce: “To me, the interesting question in American politics isn’t where on a European spectrum from liberal to socialist, someone may fit ideologically, but in whether that person is willing to make, or be associated with, populist appeals, and what kind of populist appeals.”

Yes. This is why I’m a bit skeptical of claims that the Tea Party was purely a Koch manipulation. Or rather, perhaps it was, but it was appealing to populism of a certain kind and that’s part of the reason it worked. (Racism was a big part too of course). Unless people can start to listen to the populist strand that goes along with a lot of other more or less noxious stuff, they miss a possible chance for an actual realignment.

bob: “The liberal-left stakes their claim in the territory of getting something done.”

Yes. This is why I was a left-liberal until recently. It’s only when Obama came to power and I saw how little that meant that I gave up on the whole thing. If you can’t even get anything done when you win the largest win you can have within the system, why bother? But I think that future of the left is more towards anarchism than Marxism of the old-fashioned kind; it’s not like Marxism has had a sterling record of analysis. The Occupy movement, which for all its problems was really the only non-Democratic Party action in the U.S. in recent years, was primarily anarchist in inspiration rather than Marxist. And the protests elsewhere, though I know a lot less about them, seem to follow a similar pattern.

106

bexley 06.04.13 at 4:20 pm

bexley @ 103 – The PPACA was considered constitutionally dicey because it mandated citizens to purchase a private product. Medicare for all – the government simply providing health insurance to everyone – I’m not even sure if that would be constitutionally controversial? Politically controversial, obviously, but what would be the constitutional case against it? There’s no case against Medicare, currently, so what could they say about simply expanding it?

My understanding was that the idea that PPACA was unconstitutional was laughable. It’s plainly constitutional under the Commerce Clause. The supposed unconstitutionality was trumped up by right wing hacks and the four hacks on the Supreme Court had to ignore some of their own precedents in trying to strike it down The same thing would have happened with a Medicare-for-all bill.

107

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 5:25 pm

MPAVictoria @ 100: “this is extremely unfair to [Scott Lemieux]”

Is it? I don’t think so.

On the subject of the OP, conservative reformers, he weighed in. Did you notice? And, sure, though he allows that the conservative reformers are fools, he can’t refrain from sharing his insight that the hippies are bigger fools.

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/06/hacktacular-conservative-reformer-vs-the-aca-edition

It is gratuitous and it is typical. Lemieux is running a bait-and-switch operation, politically. Most of his postings portray a American liberal viewpoint, but the partisan politics always find a reason why we can’t have good things.

108

roger nowosielski 06.04.13 at 5:27 pm

@105, Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 4:18 pm

At last, some philosophical questions worth asking and getting one’s teeth into, Rich.

But in light of your second comment, to Bob, aren’t you skeptical of the cash value of the term “populist”? I do understand that you’re posing it as just another question, but don’t you think the term has been sufficiently tainted by the neoliberal “agenda,” which to my mind consists mostly of backpedaling, that we may have to invent new kind of language that would be more responsive to our intended meanings?

109

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 6:01 pm

“Populist” always comes with the taint of demagoguery, because the target audience is vulnerable to demagoguery. That’s what makes the target of populist appeals contestable, and the contest vital; they might end up supporting fascists or worse.

110

MPAVictoria 06.04.13 at 6:20 pm

Bruce if you had any amazing ideas on the democrats could have gotten single payer through Congress I would love to hear them. Scott has repeatedly said that he personally supports single payer. He just doesn’t think it is politically realistic.

111

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 6:33 pm

It’s not possible to describe the landscape as you see it without being accused of cheerleading for one side or the other.

112

Bruce Wilder 06.04.13 at 7:32 pm

. . . he personally supports single payer. He just doesn’t think it is politically realistic.

I call that bait-and-switch.

113

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 7:41 pm

“On the subject of the OP, conservative reformers, he weighed in. Did you notice? And, sure, though he allows that the conservative reformers are fools, he can’t refrain from sharing his insight that the hippies are bigger fools.”

When Glenn Greenwald, who certainly has a lot of things on his plate to criticize, is twittering things about your blog like “LGM is a filthy cesspool – it’s the online successor of TNR circa 2002 – but I still oppose witch hunts to get academics fired” (in response to the Loomis thing) then maybe you’d think about why he’s writing things like that. Or maybe you’d just have a self-congratulatory chat with your commenters about how mean and wrong Glenn is. I don’t know.

“Aren’t you skeptical of the cash value of the term “populist”?”

Does it have a cash value? What would you replace it with? It’s pretty much a term of art in American politics, and I’d be hesitant to replace it with some other term that people understood even less.

114

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 8:05 pm

I call that bait-and-switch.

It’s a description of the landscape, not advice for an activist.

115

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 9:31 pm

Don’t want to derail whatever’s left of the thread into LGM-bashing, but come on. LGM is chock-full of advice for the activist whenever an election rolls around. That advice is shut up and vote Democratic. And the quote that Bruce mentions doesn’t mean much without the context that people were working on universal health care long before Obama. Obama seized the moment at which the power of the GOP was failing and something could be done — no thanks to him — and deflected it into doing the minimum possible that would preserve the current system and take away the impetus for anything more. And the LGM advice for the activist continues to be “Oh, those stupid hippies, they almost spoiled everything, don’t associate with them.”

No way it is some kind of value-neutral description of the landscape.

116

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 9:39 pm

No way it is some kind of value-neutral description of the landscape.

Please describe who sponsored and voted for single-payer, senate and congress.

117

js. 06.04.13 at 9:47 pm

Yeah, but there’s a problem with the “description of the landscape” though. As a snapshot, it’s quite accurate. Over time, throwing full support behind actually existing Democratic policy proposals, which are to a great extent determined by actually existing conditions, becomes deeply problematic. Briefly, the laser-like focus on “descriptions” does nothing to mitigate and almost certainly at least a bit to further entrench the (so-called) ratchet effect. (Also, SL’s parenthetical potshots at “left critics” etc. are surely beside the point when describing the landscape—this is presumably why they’re parentheticals to begin with.)

None of this is to say that I don’t find him to be a quite useful commentator in lots of ways.

118

Walt 06.04.13 at 9:48 pm

LGM is totally in the tank for Obama, and their overall attitude towards the left around elections is “Shut up and vote”. After elections, they largely ignore the left. That said, they’re right on Obamacare — it’s possible that we could have gotten a plan somewhat further left than what we got, but given the nature of the Democratic party, not much further, for reasons that are largely outside of Obama’s control.

119

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 9:50 pm

Who would have voted for single-payer if Obama had pushed it through with the same willingness to push things through that Bush used when he wanted something? Who would have voted for it if it was single payer or openly stand against the party and the new President? Why does the party leadership have to actively work to keep every horrible thing that Bush did but somehow it’s helpless whenever it becomes a matter of accomplishing anything that the oligarchs aren’t comfortable with?

It’s fine for the people at LGM to defend the system, if that’s what they like to do. But they aren’t just telling people what reality is. Their pose that they are just speaking truth to non-power is one of the most annoying things about their group effort, actually.

120

js. 06.04.13 at 9:51 pm

In other words, he’e right enough on any given issue—supporting ACA, voting for Obama, etc., but the overall strategy produces a situation where it’s terribly difficult to pass a bill once endorsed by the Heritage Fuckin’ Foundation, for fucks sake! (Or was it AEI—anyway, you know what I mean.)

121

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 9:55 pm

Who would have voted for single-payer if Obama had pushed it through with the same willingness to push things through that Bush used when he wanted something?

Yes, who? For what comparable thing Bush wanted?

I’m much more of a bully pulpit enthusiast than Lemieux is – how is it that X policy option suddenly gets on everyone’s lips and how can that be manipulated? – but I don’t see the current set of legislators as capable of producing anything other than very very weak tea.

122

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 10:00 pm

In other words, he’e right enough on any given issue—supporting ACA, voting for Obama, etc., but the overall strategy produces a situation where it’s terribly difficult to pass a bill once endorsed by the Heritage Fuckin’ Foundation, for fucks sake!

Yes. It sucks.

123

bexley 06.04.13 at 10:16 pm

Don’t want to derail whatever’s left of the thread into LGM-bashing, but come on. LGM is chock-full of advice for the activist whenever an election rolls around. That advice is shut up and vote Democratic. And the quote that Bruce mentions doesn’t mean much without the context that people were working on universal health care long before Obama. Obama seized the moment at which the power of the GOP was failing and something could be done — no thanks to him — and deflected it into doing the minimum possible that would preserve the current system and take away the impetus for anything more. And the LGM advice for the activist continues to be “Oh, those stupid hippies, they almost spoiled everything, don’t associate with them.”

Umm currently Erik Loomis is arguing on LGM that:

Labor of course should and will stay involved in electoral politics. But the question is how it should operate. How can it receive value for its dollar? I think the answer is probably supporting individual candidates instead of the Democratic Party as a whole. It needs to act more like the Bloomberg anti-gun group, making politicians pay if they don’t support union issues.

I can see why you think LGM ‘s argument to activists is to shut up and vote!

Who would have voted for single-payer if Obama had pushed it through with the same willingness to push things through that Bush used when he wanted something? Who would have voted for it if it was single payer or openly stand against the party and the new President?

So seriously, why didn’t Hillarycare pass when Clinton pushed for it? A new president (the first Dem president in over a decade) trying to pass universal healthcare as a flagship piece of legislation and it failed in the Senate. Seems to me Senators were perfectly willing to openly stand against the party and the new President.

124

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 10:18 pm

Geez, Substance, I really don’t think this the time to hash over Obama’s first term yet again. But activism has to be aspirational. You can not go into the streets or into the precincts and tell people that now they have to work really hard to get the minimal change that will keep the oligarchy from having to do anything. It’s always “realistic” to say that nothing can be done, but that’s not the spirit that actually wins anything. And it takes a certain kind of personality to apparently find one’s highest joy in scolding hippies at every opportunity, as if everything is riding on them not getting in the way.

125

Substance McGravitas 06.04.13 at 10:23 pm

It’s always “realistic” to say that nothing can be done, but that’s not the spirit that actually wins anything.

I agree, but it isn’t Scott Lemieux holding anyone back.

And it takes a certain kind of personality to apparently find one’s highest joy in scolding hippies at every opportunity, as if everything is riding on them not getting in the way.

I think you and I understand what joy a little trolling can bring. Whether it’s Lemieux’s highest joy is debatable. He seems to take inordinate joy in the antics of toothless skaters bearing sticks.

126

Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 10:53 pm

“I agree, but it isn’t Scott Lemieux holding anyone back.”

There I agree with you. None of us on blogs is holding anything back, which makes it even more puzzling that there’s a ritual around elections of telling us all how important it is that we not hold things back. And if it’s trolling … well, see way above in this thread, about mockery of people in power vs mockery of people not. Defending the President against those hippies to his left is an interesting form of trolling, sure.

As for the rest — no, I’m not going to get into yet another description of why Clinton’s situation was legislatively different from Obama’s, etc. A troll too far.

127

Kevin 06.04.13 at 11:09 pm

Re: way above in the 80s somewhere – as a committed (philosophical) liberal-democrat it really does seem like political liberals are awaiting their Foucault — i.e. someone who can articulate a coherent theory of power beyond the sphere of ‘justice’ that is not only compatible with liberal politics but which justifies it. Liberals always punt on this question – non-ideal conditions, etc. But what is a liberal theory of political power? I know (unlilke some unsympathetic critics) that liberal acknowledge that power exists and that it infect ideal politics. But who are the non-idealist theorists who link up with liberal political theory as Keynes’s economic links up with liberal political theory. This is just a really big gap in both theory and practice that needs to be fillled.

128

bexley 06.04.13 at 11:24 pm

As for the rest — no, I’m not going to get into yet another description of why Clinton’s situation was legislatively different from Obama’s, etc. A troll too far.

I haven’t seen even a single description from you so far on why Clinton’s situation was different. The only argument I can imagine you making is that Clinton didn’t have 60 democrats in the Senate to defeat a filibuster. But he couldn’t even get all of the votes of the Democrats who were there so having 60 Democratic senators wouldn’t have helped unless he could persuade them all to back Hillarycare.

129

roger nowosielski 06.04.13 at 11:46 pm

Liberalism, too, is on everyone’s tongue with no longer easy identifiable core meaning. It had taken Bruce Wilder what, five or six separate definitions to narrow it down to what we’re talking about.

I realize the term essentially connotes “what the people want” if they had it they way. or had democracy “really worked.” but is this a viable goal under the circumstances.

In any case, there’s somehow the suggestion that all would be honky-dory had the populist sentiments won the day more often than not in American political tradition, a suggestion which seems to perpetuate a myth of sorts. And it may be a “term of art in American politics,” as you say, while it’s American brand of politics that is in great need of major overhaul; so that, too, is of little comfort.

130

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 12:13 am

I have a hazy memory of Rich going over this ground so fatigue might be an excuse not to respond.

In any case I haven’t seen an argument to make me disagree with MPAVictoria up the thread about unfairness.

And if it’s trolling … well, see way above in this thread, about mockery of people in power vs mockery of people not.

What does “in power” mean?

131

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 12:33 am

“What does “in power” mean?”

Amusing, Substance, but come on. Amazingly enough, if you need to look up who is the current President … wow, Obama is “in power”! Similarly enough, who controls the Senate? Gee! The Democrats are “in power” again! Now let’s look up “hippies to the left of the Democratic Party”. Whoa.

I realize that it’s part of the schtick to pretend that Democrats in power can never actually do anything for one reason or another. But again, it’s not a description of reality that the GOP and/or Democratic centrists are all-powerful even in opposition and nothing can be done. That’s a political position.

“I haven’t seen even a single description from you so far on why Clinton’s situation was different. “

And you’re not going to — not going to waste the time. But just at the most elemental level, you’re comparing the aftermath of Bush I with Bush II. There never was a better time to make major changes, and I really doubt that I’m going to see a greater political opportunity squandered in my lifetime.

132

john c. halasz 06.05.13 at 12:36 am

Yawn…excuses, excuses… The counterpart to hippy-punching is veal-penning. So what’s news about that? That’s how power coteries and their acolytes behave. Why put any credence in such behavior?

OTOH the issue isn’t really the pathetic health insurance “reform”, in the place of health care reform, which inevitably left the corporate status quo intact, but rather the prioritization of such a “reform” in the face of a vast economic crisis, which should have been the first task of any “progressive” leader, sine qua non, else all other reforming prospects, “popularly” speaking, would come to naught. I was wondering as Obama campaigned, whether he had any idea about the extent of the economic crisis that was coming, (which first explicitly manifested itself in Aug. 2007, just as he was revving up his machine). But clearly not, as was evident in his key appointments even before his inauguration, R. Emanuel, L. Summers, and T. Geithner. He’s just an assiduously conformist, over-ambitious, and supercilious non-entity, as should be expected from the prevailing power-structure, as are all those who would support and/or claim to “correct” him.

133

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 12:39 am

roger: “I realize the term essentially connotes “what the people want” if they had it they way. or had democracy “really worked.” but is this a viable goal under the circumstances.”

I don’t about Bruce, but that’s not what I mean by “populism” at all. It’s a distinct strain of politics, not in any way a kind of contentless “what the people want”. For instance, it’s linked to ethnicity, class, and location in the U.S. It is much more defined as being against elites than being for “what people want” as if that’s a particular thing.

134

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 12:47 am

Amazingly enough, if you need to look up who is the current President … wow, Obama is “in power”!

And LGM bloggers form the Cabinet of the Internet? And mockery of Republicans is therefore also verboten or something? Not getting why Scott Lemieux is “in power” any more than you are.

135

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 12:50 am

Mockery is always by jesters, but it’s not always directed at kings.

136

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 12:55 am

Neither is everyone who wants to be victimized always confronted with their tormentor.

137

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 12:58 am

What? I can’t even begin to guess who supposedly wants to be victimized that you’re talking about and who the tormentor is.

138

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 1:00 am

You. You’re not in power, Lemieux, um, “is” therefore he’s keeping you down. Fight the power!

139

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 1:03 am

I see, I called him a jester, and I agreed that he isn’t holding anyone back, so that means I think he’s keeping me down. And, as an extra bonus, that people to the left of the Democratic party just want to be victimized.

I actually think that he’s just being a jerk, more or less, and now you are too.

140

Marc 06.05.13 at 1:18 am

@139: the far left is pretty free with abuse towards liberals. (see the long “Obama is evil” discussions in this thread.) It’s not surprising that at this point the sentiment is mutual.

141

Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 1:20 am

Obama is evil.

Just describing the landscape.

142

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 1:21 am

I agree with Bruce!

143

john c. halasz 06.05.13 at 1:23 am

@ 140:

Unlike B.W. @ 141, I don’t have any left-liberal penchant for moralizing political issues. So just: stop whining!

144

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 1:25 am

And I also agree with MPAVictoria that Bruce should have a URL attached to his name.

145

Ronan(rf) 06.05.13 at 1:30 am

I genuinely have no idea why anyone would care less what S Lemieux thinks of their politics

146

john c. halasz 06.05.13 at 1:32 am

@144:

Some people do better free-form. They might find it more inspiring or more advantageous or more topically relevant or something…

http://whatiswrongwitheconomics.blogspot.com/

147

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 1:35 am

Many thanks!

148

bob mcmanus 06.05.13 at 1:36 am

Nah, Wilder probably gets his best and largest readership possible here.

Of course, the FP posters, realizing their first-mover advantage, have the discretion over the use and abuse of their space by their parasitical symbiotic commentariat. They mostly handle their awesome power admirably.

149

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 1:40 am

Any day where Substance agrees with me twice is a good day.

Also Bruce, in my experience you are way off saying that LGM is in the tank for Obama. See bexley at 123 for one example.

150

bob mcmanus 06.05.13 at 1:49 am

LHN is not one thing.

Oh, Loomis is ok, if too nostalgic for big labor and its history.

Lemieux is a Constitutional or Legal scholar for cripes sake, and deeply invested in a theory of politics.

Bspencer is new.

Heavy Metal Farley really really likes battleships.

The occasionals are ok.

151

bob mcmanus 06.05.13 at 1:53 am

LGM sorry.

And I forgot Campos.

That damn Kaufmann is ruining film reception with his Bordwellian cognitive analysis. He is the dangerous one.

152

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 1:55 am

“And I forgot Campos”
Well if we are complaining about LGM….

153

Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 3:30 am

I like Erik Loomis, or his posts, a lot. I’m a total sucker for the historical vignettes, as you might well imagine. And, the pro-labor viewpoint is great.

Loomis is usually pretty clear-eyed about Obama, but as the election neared in 2012, Loomis got in line. No walk to go with the earlier talk. He always seconded Scott, from a slight distance, guarding Scott’s Left Flank as it were.

He has an elaborate Chris Hedges – lite version of the Long Game that he argues for: the really important vote is for drain commissioner or school board, and expect results in 35 years, or something along those lines. Meanwhile, choose your poison, vote lesser evil. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it seems shaped to direct whatever rain falls on the Loomis portion of the LGM roof into Scott’s same drainspout.

My view on all this is that liberals have no power. Social democrats have no power. The only reasonable thing is to tell the truth about that and about what that means in the world. The power to tell the truth is what’s left, at the moment. Tell the truth, and a path to doing something positive might open up, might not. Lie, and a path will open up, but it will be someone else’s path, and go who knows where. Obama is a path, owned by some people you do not want to meet in a dark alley, to who knows where (but the destination won’t be good for you — them, maybe).

There’s a lot of pressure to lie, not in the least from one’s own narcissistic needs to feel secure and able. And, there’s some very sophisticated manipulation pushing and pulling from the Media.

I think there might well have been some latent power for liberals in refusing to support Obama in 2012. There was absolutely none in voting for him. It hardly matters now.

I think there might be some power in telling the truth about what a crap deal PPACA is for the vast majority of its would-be “beneficiaries”, whose numbers will multiply rapidly. It is going to get changed. That’s for sure. Will it get changed for the better, from a liberal perspective? Not if the only ones articulating critiques, which resonate with the dissatisfied and unhappy are conservatives. PPACA is financed by higher taxes on rich folks, which is not a recipe for stability in a plutocracy. I don’t know how Scott thinks we’re going to get to single-payer, if advocates of single-payer, who criticize PPACA, do not find a modicum of respect from people like Scott. It’s that thing I mentioned earlier about who you are willing to be in the same room with, being more important that what you personally believe. It’s great if Scott “personally” wants single-payer, but if Scott cannot stand actual single-payer advocates, regards single-payer critics of PPACA as worse than conservative critics, what does his personal preference matter?

154

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 3:44 am

“regards single-payer critics of PPACA as worse than conservative critics”

Assumes facts not in evidence Bruce. I think you should read SL more often. Also, I will note that you still haven’t highlighted any realistic path to single payer in 2008. As for your lesser evil comments, that conversation has already been had at length on this blog so I will just say that I disagree with you.

155

Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 4:16 am

I love the praise I’ve gotten for my comments. I was sick for a few days, and confined at home, and so had some time. Probably, also, a mild delirium.

I don’t blog, because I don’t have anything original to say. Commenting is a way to engage with what others have written, . . . digest, consider, organize and regurgitate. Reaction, but not originality required.

The critique of economics is the closest thing I’ve come to writing — long form, as one might say — and I never followed thru. I was a professional economist at one time — not a particularly skilled one, but competent and honest at my lowly level, and with the stimulation of occasional fly-bys thru ruling class schools — injects arrogance confidence by both selective association and comparison (though with different academics). I started reading the econoblogs in 2003 or so, after a long hiatus from economics, and was pretty rusty, and naïve about the parlous state of things in my erstwhile profession.

It makes me angry to see the level of willful incompetence. From its public face, one would guess that most of a whole profession suffers from Dunning-Kruger effect, which might not be far from accurate — there’s so much useless math in graduate macro, and so little actual economics, that many well-credentialed folks, even at very high levels, have no idea what they are talking about, and demonstrate that regularly. Anger plus caffeine have produced some remarkable comments, if I do say so myself, but, also, some messes. I am really not good at being an angry person. Maybe, no one is, but I cannot sustain it, and, without it, I lack an edge or the will to cut with it.

I had to stop commenting on Mark Thoma’s blog, where I commented much more than here, for several years, because I was pissing him off, and he was really pissing me off, and not in a productive way. The accumulated pissing-off inspired an outline for an economics critique I could never carry out. Don’t worry. The world missed nothing. I expect Steve Keen, Yves Smith, Michael Hudson, Samuel Bowles, Sid Winter, my old teacher, Martin Shubik, and many others have covered the necessary ground far better than I could. There will need to be more, to be sure, as the heights, though well in sight, are far from taken or even surrounded, but my efforts would add so little as to be more impedance than aid.

156

Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 4:27 am

MPAVictoria: Assumes facts not in evidence

I put the facts into evidence at comment 107, thank you very much. Here’s the money quote: “it must be admitted that the Republican fake-reformers are still being more rational that left-wing opponents of the PPACA”, which is followed by some very heavy slanderous ridicule of said left-wing opponents. It is hardly atypical of Lemieux.

157

js. 06.05.13 at 4:31 am

“regards single-payer critics of PPACA as worse than conservative critics”

Assumes facts not in evidence Bruce

Here’s the evidence (you presumably read the blog right?):

(Although it must be admitted that the Republican fake-reformers are still being more rational that left-wing opponents of the PPACA, who also favor replacing the PPACA with nothing for the foreseeable future, only they prefer to pretend that killing the PPACA would have led to the Magic Ponies and Unicorns Act because…look, Atari brought out a game for the 2600 based on E.T.! It’ll be awesome!) [emph. mine–js.]

158

js. 06.05.13 at 4:32 am

Sorry—posted before I saw BW’s 156.

159

roger nowosielski 06.05.13 at 5:01 am

@ Kevin 06.04.13 at 11:09 pm, #127

Interesting post, Kevin.

Non-idealist theorists of “liberal political theory,” you say, non-idealist after such as Machiavelli, resulting in a Realpolitik kind of sense? Or it is perhaps people such as Rawls that you have in mind?

But to answer your question with a straight face, I don’t think you should have any problem running into such critters: most every practitioner of liberal style of politicking qualifies. Because in a nutshell, it’s my conviction, liberalism had long ceased to function as any legitimate political theory. It has long lost its bearings in the utilitarian philosophy after Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, a long discredited moral philosophy, I might add, in order for it to count as a bona fide political theory by any stretch of the term. So yes, at the hands of its modern practitioners and proselytizers, it had become nothing but patchwork, an amalgam of sentiments once grounded but no longer so, a knee-jerk reaction finding its finest expression in some kind of empathy, because in the absence of the requisite kind of grounding, empathy is all that remains.

No political philosophy or theory worth its salt can do away without a realistic philosophy of the subject, a subject qua moral agent. It is in that sense that any bona fide political theory is both practical and idealistic at the same time – practical by virtue of a realistic philosophy of the subject, theoretical or ideal in the respect that it asks: what can be done? how far can we go?

Utilitarianism was a failure from the very start; imagine now the failure of the present day “liberal theory” deprived of any philosophical theory, right or wrong, based on nothing but sentiment!

160

bexley 06.05.13 at 7:37 am

@ 131

And you’re not going to — not going to waste the time. But just at the most elemental level, you’re comparing the aftermath of Bush I with Bush II. There never was a better time to make major changes, and I really doubt that I’m going to see a greater political opportunity squandered in my lifetime.

But isn’t this far more of a criticism of the lack of regulation/prosecution of the financial sector? There had just been a massive balls up by the financial elites, so if there was a political opportunity for reform it was of Wall Street accompanied by some bankers being prosecuted.

Other criticisms of Obama are his failure to use the powers available to him under the constitution that don’t require approval from Congress (platinum coin, failure to nominate judges below the SCOTUS level, prosecution of Bushies for war crimes). But it doesn’t seem obvious to me that there was an opportunity for better healthcare reform.

161

Marc 06.05.13 at 12:35 pm

@156: We live in a country where more than 40% of the population thinks the ACA went too far and about 15-25% want it to go further. There was never majority support for for universal single payer in Congress, let alone a supermajority. There was enormous backlash to what was achieved in the 2010 election.

162

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 1:10 pm

“(Although it must be admitted that the Republican fake-reformers are still being more rational that left-wing opponents of the PPACA, who also favor replacing the PPACA with nothing for the foreseeable future, only they prefer to pretend that killing the PPACA would have led to the Magic Ponies and Unicorns Act because…look, Atari brought out a game for the 2600 based on E.T.! It’ll be awesome!”

You both need to read this again. He didn’t say they were worse. He said they were less rational. Not the same thing at all.

163

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 1:45 pm

Hmm, MPAVictoria, I’ll keep that in mind for the next Occupy-like thing I do. The next time someone comes up to me and starts going on about, I don’t know, how the problems of the fiscal crisis are all because we don’t have a universal basic income, I’ll look at them in disbelief and exclaim “Whoa, you must be crazy! Look at this magical pony guy over here!” followed by the “kook” hand-gesture of twirling my finger near my forehead. And then when other people look at me and say “Whoa, Rich, I don’t know what the problem is” I’ll say “Hey, I didn’t say he was worse than the banksters. He’s only nuttier.”

This will make me a big favorite everywhere. And even better, if someone comes up to me for one of those painful why-are-you-being-a-jerk talks, I can say “Ha ha, that guy just wants to be victimized, and thinks that I’m his tormenter.” After which my popularity will absolutely soar.

164

Uncle Kvetch 06.05.13 at 1:49 pm

My view on all this is that liberals have no power. Social democrats have no power. The only reasonable thing is to tell the truth about that and about what that means in the world.

I fail to see where this diverges from what Lemieux is saying. I think he’s laid out a very strong case that the inherently dysfunctional nature of our political system makes something like single-payer health insurance quite simply impossible. You and he diverge on what conclusions to draw from this, but I really don’t think you’re all that far apart in your premises.

165

PGD 06.05.13 at 1:57 pm

Anyone who believes there was no opportunity for better healthcare reform in 2008-2009 has so internalized the limits of the existing system as natural that they have almost disqualified themselves as far as political imagination goes. On the other hand, if you do think of the limits of the existing system as natural then you can understand at each step why Obama/the Democrats took the course they did.

I don’t even mean anything particularly radical by this — you have an existing single payer system for 65+ (Medicare) with a ton of popular support, although policy elites are ambivalent about it. If you turn away from the elites and put a significant expansion in Medicare on the table, trying to enlist the public on it, you have transformed the debate from what we had.

166

bexley 06.05.13 at 2:03 pm

Whoa, you must be crazy! Look at this magical pony guy over here!” followed by the “kook” hand-gesture of twirling my finger near my forehead. And then when other people look at me and say “Whoa, Rich, I don’t know what the problem is” I’ll say “Hey, I didn’t say he was worse than the banksters. He’s only nuttier.”

Strawman much? He isn’t saying that people are irrational for wanting single payer but are irrational if they were willing to see PPACA die in the hope that single payer would pass instead when that wasn’t on the table.

The analogy would be if someone came up to you to say that the minimum wage should be abolished because that would then open the way to a universal basic income.

167

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 2:05 pm

“I don’t even mean anything particularly radical by this — you have an existing single payer system for 65+ (Medicare) with a ton of popular support, although policy elites are ambivalent about it. If you turn away from the elites and put a significant expansion in Medicare on the table, trying to enlist the public on it, you have transformed the debate from what we had.”

Isn’t this just the Green Lantern or Jedi Theory of politics all over again?

168

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 2:06 pm

“Strawman much? He isn’t saying that people are irrational for wanting single payer but are irrational if they were willing to see PPACA die in the hope that single payer would pass instead when that wasn’t on the table.

The analogy would be if someone came up to you to say that the minimum wage should be abolished because that would then open the way to a universal basic income”

I had a response written that was less clear than this one. So I will just repost what bexley wrote.

169

PGD 06.05.13 at 2:10 pm

Isn’t this just the Green Lantern or Jedi Theory of politics all over again?

no of course not. To be clear, by ‘transforming the debate’ I don’t necessarily mean a leap to single payer/Medicare for all, but a version of health care better than what we got (e.g. a strong public option). Putting a Medicare option for everyone 50+ or 55+ on the table would have made a real difference, and would not have been out of the mainstream with the public. The point is, utterly delegitimizing single payer because you’re terrified of the socialist cooties weakens your bargaining power, it doesn’t strengthen it.

170

Uncle Kvetch 06.05.13 at 2:18 pm

you have an existing single payer system for 65+ (Medicare) with a ton of popular support, although policy elites are ambivalent about it

The elites aren’t “ambivalent” about Medicare — they’re going all-out to convince the public that it’s bankrupting the country and needs to be scaled back sharply in the name of “entitlement reform.”

And yes, I truly do believe that the structural defects in the system at this point are such that “popular support” doesn’t mean sweet FA if it runs counter to the wishes of the elites.

171

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 2:24 pm

I am perfectly comfortable with you replacing my example with one in which the person wants minimum wage to be abolished to clear the way for universal basic income, since you think that makes a really important difference.

172

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 2:31 pm

“no of course not. To be clear, by ‘transforming the debate’ I don’t necessarily mean a leap to single payer/Medicare for all, but a version of health care better than what we got (e.g. a strong public option). Putting a Medicare option for everyone 50+ or 55+ on the table would have made a real difference, and would not have been out of the mainstream with the public. The point is, utterly delegitimizing single payer because you’re terrified of the socialist cooties weakens your bargaining power, it doesn’t strengthen it.”

Would I have liked those things? Yes. Do I think they were politically possible. No.

173

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 2:33 pm

“I am perfectly comfortable with you replacing my example with one in which the person wants minimum wage to be abolished to clear the way for universal basic income, since you think that makes a really important difference.”

Well rich I would oppose someone looking to do that and I would also think they were crazy. So I guess I am just a hippy puncher.

174

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 2:36 pm

“Well rich I would oppose someone looking to do that and I would also think they were crazy. So I guess I am just a hippy puncher.”

Yep. You would be going around mocking various powerless people to your left, instead of mocking the banksters, who are actually carrying our their plans. This wouldn’t make you an oppressor, as Substance would have it, but it would make you a complete waste of time to be around, and an annoyance wherever there’s actual political work to be done.

175

PGD 06.05.13 at 2:37 pm

Look, say that in 2008 you get rid of the filibuster. Then all you need is a simple majority in both House and Senate. Then you put on the table a bill which expands Medicare to everyone, say funded by an increase in the payroll tax, with an opt-out option. (I.e. people can opt out of both Medicare and the tax in exchange for a voucher equivalent to the Medicare tax amount that they can use to buy private health insurance). It would have been a short bill, maybe 10-20 pages vs. the thousand page technocratic extravaganza we got. It would have been much easier for the public to understand and much harder for the Republicans to demonize. Do you really think that bill would have had no chance of getting simple majorities in the House and Senate?

176

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 2:51 pm

“Yep. You would be going around mocking various powerless people to your left, instead of mocking the banksters, who are actually carrying our their plans. “

I contain multitudes. I can mock both.

177

Walt 06.05.13 at 2:53 pm

What possible reason do 50 Democratic Senators have in 2008 to get rid of the filibuster? Because PGD is going to complain on the Internet 5 years later?

178

roger nowosielski 06.05.13 at 2:59 pm

@170

“And yes, I truly do believe that the structural defects in the system at this point are such that “popular support” doesn’t mean sweet FA if it runs counter to the wishes of the elites.”

QFT.

And I’d put “political imagination” that PGD is so fond of to better use than trying to propagate what has become a dysfunction and utterly corrupt system by scoring a point or two on behalf of the hoi poloi. It’d only perpetuate the illusion.

179

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 3:03 pm

“but it would make you a complete waste of time to be around, and an annoyance wherever there’s actual political work to be done.”

Like you have accomplished so much Rich.

180

Uncle Kvetch 06.05.13 at 3:07 pm

Do you really think that bill would have had no chance of getting simple majorities in the House and Senate?

I think the insurance lobby and other interested parties would have had little difficulty peeling off enough Blue Dogs to defeat it. I could very well be wrong about that, as I’m not much of a Washington wonk. (But Lemieux is, which is why I tend to defer to his knowledge of the inside baseball stuff.)

181

bexley 06.05.13 at 3:24 pm

@ PGD

Pretty much. You wouldn’t get 50 Democratic Senators supporting such a bill because too many of them would have been bought off by insurers.

This is why I disagree with Rich, who seems to think that if Obama had really wanted it single payer was out there. This just focuses on the wrong person. The real issue was the terribleness of quite a few Dem senators.

Although as you say, one way to mitigate the impact is to nuke the filibuster completely.

182

Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 3:25 pm

It was politically impossible to get a public option (much less a single payer) in 2009-10. Obamacare does the next best thing, which is to make a public option, then a single payer, a politically inevitable outcome in 5-10 years. There is no stopping it now. What is remarkable is that some people who characterize themselves as on the left wing, do not understand why and how this will happen.

183

Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 3:29 pm

bexley @ 160: “isn’t this far more of a criticism of the lack of regulation/prosecution of the financial sector? . . . But it doesn’t seem obvious to me that there was an opportunity for better healthcare reform.”

finance, health insurance, hmmm . . . could there be any connection?

184

Ronan(rf) 06.05.13 at 3:40 pm

God bless ya MPAVictoria, for making the case for marginal policy improvements at the day to day level where people actually live their lifes.

185

js. 06.05.13 at 4:10 pm

He didn’t say they were worse. He said they were less rational. Not the same thing at all.

If you weren’t being disingenuous, I’d suggest pretending like you were.

186

bexley 06.05.13 at 4:17 pm

finance, health insurance, hmmm . . . could there be any connection?

Well its easier to use a financial crisis brought on by the actions of bankers to drive forward regulation of big banks. Less easy to use it to drive forward healthcare reform.

Earlier in the thread you said “My view on all this is that liberals have no power. Social democrats have no power. The only reasonable thing is to tell the truth about that and about what that means in the world. “.

How have you gone from there to agreeing there was a political opportunity for better healthcare reform?

187

PGD 06.05.13 at 4:37 pm

182: I understand the idea behind Obamacare quite well, thank you. The question is why you believe that the three-dimensional chess, it will happen in ten years, outcome is actually ‘inevitable’, especially when the Dems backed down on all kinds of incremental elements that would have helped with it.

188

Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 4:46 pm

“How have you gone from there to agreeing there was a political opportunity for better healthcare reform?”

Not to speak for Bruce, but I’m guessing that he doesn’t class Obama as a liberal, or liberals as having power within the Democratic Party. A whole lot of this “But what was the real path to single payer?” amuses me, because it’s like asking “How do we get Social Security through, given that FDR opposes it? It’s impossible, the conservatives will say it’s socialism, the Supreme Court will stop it and there’s no way to put pressure on them, there’s no way to get the party to fall into line… but if you get the votes lined up, the President may go along with it.” Yes, yes, the hero-theory of government is bad, FDR had a much stronger political position than Obama, I think we can take that all as read. But we never got to find out how far we could go, because Obama has always openly said that he just didn’t support it. It was held as a possible threat to get people to go along with Obamacare, but he was careful to sabotage any actual chance of it passing.

And it’s the all-purpose excuse, as with what the Obama administration did with global warming. “Where are the votes?” But then when it came to Keystone, for which there were no votes needed … why, somehow it turned out that the votes weren’t the problem after all. But those stupid hippies, asking for something — what did they ever accomplish?

It’s an interesting experiment in governance.

189

William Timberman 06.05.13 at 4:49 pm

When you divide a general political critique into a series of analyses of individual issues, which as a practical matter you must do, it seems a bit crass to then pretend that the relationship between them embodied in the general critique no longer applies. The evils of a top-heavy financial sector, and the evils of a health insurance industry which blocks even a discussion of the benefits of single-payer universal health care plans are indeed related. The valves everyone is trying to turn may look very different, but the plumbing behind the walls has a common source. Revealing that source, and keeping it in mind when discussing this or that manifestation of the general evil is essential, it seems to me, if we’re actually supposed to get anywhere with anything. If not, then all Fox News all the time will probably be good enough.

190

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 5:02 pm

“If you weren’t being disingenuous, I’d suggest pretending like you were.”

Why? What exactly in my statement do you disagree with?

191

bexley 06.05.13 at 5:08 pm

But then when it came to Keystone, for which there were no votes needed … why, somehow it turned out that the votes weren’t the problem after all. But those stupid hippies, asking for something — what did they ever accomplish?

I refer you again to this:

“Other criticisms of Obama are his failure to use the powers available to him under the constitution that don’t require approval from Congress (platinum coin, failure to nominate judges below the SCOTUS level, prosecution of Bushies for war crimes).”
(emphasis added)

Obama should absolutely be attacked on issues where he had the power to advance the ball but chose not to. It just doesn’t seem obvious to me that PPACA is one of them. Similarly Demoacratic Senators need to be criticised and encouraged to kill the filibuster.

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Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 5:23 pm

Marc @ 161: There was enormous backlash to what was achieved in the 2010 election.

Or, there was an enormous demoralization, when nothing changed. (best recheck the list at mpower69 @ 74)

There are competing narratives, here. One of the narratives rests on the idea that politics is not actually about choice, because the only possible course is the one Scott Lemieux identifies as politically possible, and anyone, who doesn’t like that course and support it and the leadership that takes us there, is a fool or worse.

There is something seriously wrong with that way of thinking. It tries to make a virtue out of powerlessness. And, scapegoats out of people, who would try to exercise their power to make things better.

Here’s the truth. Obama is evil. And, we are powerless. And, we become more powerless, if that’s possible, when we follow Scott Lemieux in supporting and legitimating Obama and the evil. And, if you don’t like the “evil” part, fine, just look at the mechanics of political power — there’s none in being penned veal. There’s no power in being good little boys and girls and dutifully voting for whatever supposedly lesser evil is offered; power lies in being able and willing not to go along, not to cooperate.

It is true that the option you want is probably not on the menu, and refusing an option that is on the menu, might mean that you get nothing. I’m sure there’s a clever game-theory name for that circumstance. What it means is that you have no power; the guy, who wrote the menu has the power, and you choosing from the menu is the illusion of power given to you to keep you quiet. Scott likes what it is on the menu, likes the guys who wrote the menu, no matter what else he says; and so, he says, STFU to people, who object to being handed a menu that doesn’t have any of the options they asked for or were promised.

The people who write the menu, write the menu with their own preferences and interests in mind. Asking that the menu be re-written is going to require a threat to not-cooperate, to strike in labor parlance, to resist or to fight. And, the people, who write the menu know this, and it is in their interest to arrange things so that the option to strike is more costly than the option on the menu, which they want you to acquiesce to. To always acquiesce, on cost-benefit grounds, is to ask to be herded into the veal pens. (Scott aspires to be a herder.)

Politics is about writing the menu, and then choosing an option from the menu. Notice the “and”. Both parts are politics. The menu never goes away. It is part of the process, part of the procedure, by which we narrow choice down to the choice we, collectively, make. In a democracy, you can certainly hold politicians responsible for writing the menu. Scott thinks you should not hold Obama, or the Senate and their precious filibuster, responsible for what’s on the menu. What’s on the menu is on the menu, nothing else was ever possible, so STFU.

Most of politics, most of the time, is not about writing the menu, or making choices from the menu, but about throwing up a lot of dust, to disguise the fact of the choice, which has already been made, while the consequences play out. Or, alternatively, putting forth a critique of the choices previously made, highlighting their consequences, to prepare minds and potential political coalitions for making a different choice, at some point in the future. During the long dust cloud periods, the political system just defends or reinforces or reproduces by repetition and elaboration, choices already made; it might look like consensus or stalemate — the dramatic meme is not important. Two-party, parliamentary democracies are very good at it. It is actually a political virtue, a collective version of commitment by an individual. That parliamentary systems are so good at it is one reason why they displaced monarchies from power; you’d think monarchies would be good at commitment — will of one individual and all — but monarchs (and their intriguing courtiers!) are not good at it, in fact, while parliaments are.

But, I digress. Well, not really. It was just my way of saying that we are in a dust cloud period. There was a moment of choice after the 2006 and 2008 when the political system could have responded, given the change in partisan personnel and the heightened expectations of the country, with a change of course. Obama is the most masterful politician I have seen in my lifetime, with the possible exception of LBJ, whom I am too young to remember all that well. He came into the Presidency in the midst of a global financial crisis; the Presidency has all the powers of the Roman Republic’s Dictator, in a crisis; the plutocracy of finance was completely dependent on him, not the other way around, if only in that moment.

Obama took the promised “hope and change” and betrayed the country and the future; he legitimated every thing Bush had put into place. And, then, with the same finesse with which he had won a landslide election, he returned the country to political stalemate, sealing his choices in concrete. All the pseudo-crises in Congress since, over the debt ceiling and the Bush taxcuts, were put on the schedule by Obama, when he had overwhelming majorities in Congress. He’s really good at “writing the menu” or “setting the agenda”.

There’s so much dust in the air, so much cacophony from all the pundits, it can be hard to tell that any choice has been made at all. A lot of my attention is focused on economics, where this confusion is expressed by talking about the economy with a meteorological metaphor, as if there was economic weather, and we’re hoping for sunny economic days to happen spontaneously and mysteriously. And, pretty soon, we’ve got a cargo cult mentality that says that appeasing the gods of “business confidence” with deregulatory reform and low taxes will bring us prosperity.

Ian Welsh has an excellent post up, about the choices that were made, in electing Reagan (and Thatcher), and how society and politics changed as a result. It is all about backing away from the dustcloud a great distance to get some perspective.
http://www.ianwelsh.net/the-decline-and-fall-of-post-war-liberalism/

Did people in 1980 or 1984 or 1987 know what was on the menu? Did it seem that the course chosen was the only one possible?

It is painful, but I think the only realistic option today is to step back and recognize that things are bad and getting worse, and we are powerless. Going along with “lesser evil” or getting bollixed up in political counterfactuals and details of the moment is a useless distraction. It is not clear what is to be done, but getting bogged down building and legitimating the fascist state for Obama isn’t going to help.

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MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 5:31 pm

Bruce, I don’t know what happened between you and Scott but I think you are attributing malice where there is only disagreement. As to the rest of your post I will only say that the “lesser evil” argument has already been hashed out here at great length and that I disagree with you in the strongest possible terms.

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Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 5:43 pm

MPAVictoria, you’ve “disagreed” several times in this thread, without actually explaining yourself, when we’re trying to have a discussion over a common set of facts. I am fine with you having a differing perspective on facts, but when you simply “disagree” with out further explanation, it is hard to know if you are saying, “I see what you see, but I value it differently” or “I do not see what you see at all; your facts are wrong.” or something else entirely.

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roger nowosielski 06.05.13 at 5:44 pm

@189

The problem is, not everyone shares your view as to the evils which emerge from “a general critique,” or the extent to which they’re debilitating.

Which is why the discussion of individual issues is disjointed, there being no rhyme or reason.

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Bruce Wilder 06.05.13 at 5:45 pm

The demand for “proof” that single-payer or public option or some other variant was “politically possible”, while “politically possible” is being defined as whatever Obama did, really doesn’t deserve an answer.

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Ronan(rf) 06.05.13 at 5:50 pm

““How do we get Social Security through, given that FDR opposes it?”

Not being facetious, but wasn’t that coalition built on disenfranchising African Americans?

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MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 5:53 pm

Bruce, this discussion has been rehashed so many times that if you want my views in detail I encourage you to look at any of the previous threads in which the “lesser evil” question has been debated on this blog. There are many examples to choose from.

However if you would like a summary of my views I think that Ronan summed it up pretty well with the phrase “marginal policy improvements at the day to day level where people actually live their lifes.”

Bruce I am not your enemy and I am not some neo-liberal squish. In fact, I am a card carrying member of the only major social democratic party in the United States and Canada. I just disagree with you about how bad Obama is and how much worse his opponents are.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 5:53 pm

The demand for “proof” that single-payer or public option or some other variant was “politically possible”, while “politically possible” is being defined as whatever Obama did, really doesn’t deserve an answer.

Single-payer advocates do actually need to lay out some sort of roadmap as to how it gets done. “Politically possible” is obvious: it happened. Other things might have been possible: what were they? What prevented Intrepid Congressman D from getting together a bill – written by Rich Puchalsky – and introducing single-payer? What prevents D now?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.05.13 at 6:08 pm

“Not being facetious, but wasn’t that coalition built on disenfranchising African Americans?”

I’m not holding up FDR as maximum superhero. I’m just inviting people to imagine doing the New Deal while FDR was opposed to it. There would have been a whole lot of mysterious failures, strangely enough happening both in areas that the President could do directly and in areas where legislative approval was needed. People like bexley would be saying “You can absolutely attack FDR for not declaring a bank holiday, but I don’t see any path to a Banking Act.”

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Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 6:11 pm

PGD 187: ” “I understand the idea behind Obamacare quite well, thank you… three-dimensional chess…”

Probably not the best way to win an argument around here. Obamacare is going to lead rather directly to a public option and then perhaps a single payer, and both sides of the aisle in Wash, D. C. already knew it, when they passed it. The real signal to the private “insurers” is: take the money, and get out, now. 

Why does it lead to public option then single payer?  Logic, and psychologic:  Because the listing of all prices, for standardized coverages, on a single page, drives the price down by competition.* At that point, only a few health “insurers” will remain standing, due to the need for a large risk pool to stay in profitable business.

AND AT THAT POINT (sorry I don’t do italics), it will be obvious to everybody that the healthcare “insurance” industry is simply performing a computerized accounting function that is worth almost nothing (or, worth basically the Medicare administrative overhead, around 1-2%), but the “insurance” industry is STILL taking 20%.   For NO value-added.

*(There is an intermediate step here, though so far as I know, no one seems to have noticed it yet: the “insurance” lobby will now try to influence the state insurance commissioners and the state legislatures on the price listings, to protect their profits while they still can. Here, the Achilles heel for the “insurers” is that the liberal-voter states are going to refuse to protect them from open competition, while prosecuting collusion — and indeed, may set up their own state public options — and all of that is going to be NATIONAL news for the voting consumers and their purses.)

Actually, the U.S. will end-up with a two-tier system, (1) basic public coverage for everybody + (2) private insurance coverage, addable on top, for elective surgeries and rhinestone-encrusted lifestyles.

It gets even more delicious. Most people in the country have NOT been paying serious attention, as of yet. That is about to change for everybody: They are going to have to deal with the new system practically. They are going to follow their own logic about the “whys and hows”. They will learn a little more about all the separate issues involved in policymaking for ANY healthcare system. The ensuing inundation of dinnertable discussion is going to bring almost everyone to a better appreciation of the kinds of things that were discussed between Ezra Klein and his comments sections, four years ago.

I hereby predict that things will go strongly in the other direction: As people begin to understand more about what the reform is trying to fix, and about the various flaws remaining in Obamacare, we are going to see a very quickly growing movement for a public option or single payer.

This is not such a daring prediction, insofar as around 59-60% of the population already wants “Obamacare, or something more liberal” (my own reanalysis of last week’s CNN poll. This number is about 4% higher than all the other polls in the last four years, so it may be an outlier. Or it may just be the beginning of the move toward a “more liberal” system.) Of course, about 45 Senators already signed a letter asking for a public option before Obamacare was passed.

The key information-point will be that the private insurers are still allowed a 20% markup for no-value-added, while Medicare’s administrative costs are in the 1-2% range. For the 25% rump of the population that is composed of the freemarket religionists + the FIRE sector, the game will be lost: three-dimensional checkmate.

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William Timberman 06.05.13 at 6:14 pm

roger nowosielski @ 195

I would say that a lack of agreement on rhyme and reason is insufficient cause to pretend that none exists, or worth trying to establish and explain to potential voters. Context is difficult, but when we try to operate as though there isn’t one, falling prey to panderers like President Obama isn’t the worst that can happen to us, not by a long shot.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 6:15 pm

And here is my take on the economics crisis:

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Ronan(rf) 06.05.13 at 6:15 pm

Ah okay Rich, I see your point.

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roger nowosielski 06.05.13 at 6:23 pm

Perhaps I am digressing, but in light of Bruce Wilder’s #192 (and that’s regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with his analysis), not to mention a countless number of likewise pointed comments, I propose that he be allowed to post original articles on CT, if only as a guest contributor/blogger.

What are the qualifications, anyhow? Does one have to teach at a university level?

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MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 6:25 pm

” Perhaps I am digressing, but in light of Bruce Wilder’s #192 (and that’s regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with his analysis), not to mention a countless number of likewise pointed comments, I propose that he be allowed to post original articles on CT, if only as a guest contributor/blogger.

What are the qualifications, anyhow? Does one have to teach at a university level?”

Agreed! Though he already said up thread that he wasn’t really interested. Though maybe I misinterpreted him.

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Cranky Observer 06.05.13 at 6:26 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 6:11,
That is essentially the same argument Brad Delong made in 2004 describing how Wall Street could & would self-regulate, and that Geither made in 2009 for why criminal investigations of the failure to self- regulate were unnecessary. People with that amount of power and wealth simply aren’t going to give it up in the New Gilded Age.

Cranky

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b9n10nt 06.05.13 at 6:29 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 192:

There was a moment of choice after the 2006 and 2008 when the political system could have responded, given the change in partisan personnel and the heightened expectations of the country, with a change of course.

I would have loved to see substantial “reform” of the financial system as a left-wing implementation of “a crisis is an opportunity”. But the risks were as real as the opportunity: an “independent” Fed, a defiant Congress, a reactionary Court. The left is not institutionally strong: all the institutions through which the Elite work their influence would have power to fan the flames of counter-revolution. I can understand why a committed leftist would’ve shied away from our own version of The Shock Doctrine. Probably major political advances require broad-based democratic support to take root and establish the intended new order. Change is a long hard path, we the People are the ones who will initiate the change. No quick fixes, and no heroic leaders.

It is painful, but I think the only realistic option today is to step back and recognize that things are bad and getting worse, and we are powerless.

Off topic perhaps, but the curious thing about taking a step back is that it can be incredibly inspirational for an atheist. For all the mute brutality of Nature, here we are gaining in health, wealth, pursuing happiness. Taking a step back, we are extremely privileged to enjoy our civilization. Nothing owed us This! Can you not wonder at the myriad marvels born by our dynamic social order? And can this wonder and gratitude be as much as an emotional platform for left-wing politics as depression, despair, and resentment?

When I step back and look at the technology, culture, and opportunities for personal growth afforded most participants in our society, I see the myriad successes of left-wing cultural libertarianism and economic policies that have successfully overwhelmed capitalist, market-based orders. Our victories are everywhere. We were promised none of them by our God, and more yet can be achieved.

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js. 06.05.13 at 7:17 pm

Single-payer advocates do actually need to lay out some sort of roadmap as to how it gets done. “Politically possible” is obvious: it happened. Other things might have been possible: what were they?

Oh, come on, Substance, surely you understand enough about bargaining to understand how Obama (and associated Democrats) could’ve done more to get a stronger version of the reform passed. Forget roadmaps, if these people were actually interested in passing a significantly more liberal/progressive version of ACA, they need elementary classes in bargaining. (This has shit-all to do with bully pulpits and jedi bullshit, by the way.)

And anyway, as BW keeps pointing out (others too), it’s not about the ACA in particular, or any other single policy measure. It’s about a consistent and undeniable pattern that’s been in effect for decades now and about a political strategy (if you want to call it that) that focuses on a narrow conception of the “art of the possible” or whatever. Maybe you all think these two things have nothing to do with each other. They seem to me pretty deeply interrelated.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 7:27 pm

Oh, come on, Substance, surely you understand enough about bargaining to understand how Obama (and associated Democrats) could’ve done more to get a stronger version of the reform passed.

I DO actually think they could have done more, personally, but I’d class that as a personal suspicion: the votes for what passed were extremely close. Whatever I think in my heart of hearts about the will of Democrats – weaklings! – or the evil of Obama – evil as every other president! – “politically possible” seems like a good definition of such marginally accepted legislation.

Forget roadmaps, if these people were actually interested in passing a significantly more liberal/progressive version of ACA, they need elementary classes in bargaining.

And I see you agree: I think this sentence means the votes weren’t there.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 7:28 pm

Cranky #207 “That is essentially the same argument Brad Delong made in 2004″

Sounds like two completely different arguments. No one is expecting the health “insurers” to “self-regulate”. And on the other hand, DeLong (after Greenspan) wrongly argued that Wall Street would “self-regulate” because they would be smart enough not to crash their own system thus destroy their own wild party — NOT because their prices (charged for performing an accounting function) would come under the personal scrutiny of everyone.

The whole game is taxpayers’ understanding, and that is going to be much more difficult to subvert in healthcare.

Look at how important it was to the financial system (and the politicians) to promote the fiction that they had “paid back” the TARP money. We do have to avoid another swindle like TARP, because it may be too difficult for the public to understand how the TARP money was paid back out of the taxpayers’ own pockets:

Axel Leijonhufvud, “Debt, Inflation, and Austerity”, talk at INET, April 13, 2012:

“… central bank policy definitely does rob Peter to pay Paul, it has fairly dramatic redistributive effects, those effects are blissfully ill-understood by the public and go largely unnoticed. As an example of what I mean, take the TARP program. You know that the expenditures of the TARP money met with a lot of popular opposition. Subsequently the Fed went to basically a 0.2% repo rate and made money available to the banks at this zero rate, (infinitely elastically practically), which the banks could use at one time to invest in government securities, first at 4% and now down at about 2%. You get money for free, and you earn a couple of percentage points on it, it’s good business, it doesn’t take highly technical portfolio management to profit from it. Then the earnings on those securities is used to pay back the TARP money, and the government then turns to the public and says, “Look, the TARP operation was very successful. It’s true we gave the banks money to begin with, but they have paid it all back.” Except how has it been paid back? Well, with earnings from the liabilities of the taxpayers that are now held by the banks. So this is a kind of shell game with a distributional outcome of these policies of which the public even today remains fairly ignorant.”

And it is just as difficult to understand the large personal favor that continues to be awarded to Wall Street in the form of monetary easing, which continues to save their careers.

On the bright side consider that (1) it is going to be very difficult (I would argue, impossible) to overturn the safety-net state; (2) Wall Street has fallen from its brief ascendancy as the shining saviors of civilization, back down to their regular long-time cultural status as dirty crooks; and (3) the wild financialization of the economy never did increase real economic growth and innovation, higher than might have been expected OTHERWISE, and everybody knows it. I think we are going to see a fair amount of “financial repression” (e.g. upper-income tax increases, increased capital reserve requirements) to “save the system”.

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js. 06.05.13 at 7:44 pm

And I see you agree: I think this sentence means the votes weren’t there.

I have no idea what you’re seeing. I also have no idea what votes there were or were not for any given real or possible policy measure. What I was saying was that there was never a real attempt to bargain for the strongest measure possible. So either they’re a bit stupid and don’t know how to bargain or they didn’t care that much about getting the strongest possible measure passed. (Note that I am making absolutely no speculations about what was or is in anyone’s hearts—mostly I don’t give a fuck. I’m going purely by their publicly known actions.)

That though is the very last I’ll say about the ACA. The studious ignoring of what multiple people are insisting is the important point is not the most fruitful strategy.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 7:46 pm

What I was saying was that there was never a real attempt to bargain for the strongest measure possible.

And from that you gather that the votes were actually there?

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 7:49 pm

I mean, I sympathize with the position, and I too don’t think there was a decent attempt at selling the concept. But there’s a conspicuous absence of more sensible measures making it onto the floor of the house.

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john c. halasz 06.05.13 at 8:01 pm

@208:
” I can understand why a committed leftist would’ve shied away from our own version of The Shock Doctrine.”

What part of “committed leftist” don’t you understand? But, of course, Obama was never any such thing. It should have been clear to anyone who bothered to look that he was a center-right neo-liberal corporate Democrat. Still, he did win by 10%, despite being black, and had a 70% approval rating during his honeymoon phase, amidst an economic crisis of epochal proportions. Further, he had developed a large active small donor base, (which he proceeded to roll up forthwith). Certainly, the opportunity for “transformative leadership” was there, but the backbone and spirit were entirely lacking. (Obama’s “progressive” gestures are on the order of the “flopping” of a soccer/football player). So, as I already said above, picayune arguments over the ACA are beside the point, since the priorities were all wrong: attack the financial crisis and the unemployment problem full on, first second and third, and other possibilities open. Fail to do so, then your consigning the whole society to stagnation. Whether that failure was evil or stupid or just narcissistically craven matters less than that it was momentous, which it is all three to rationalize away or blithely deny.

Obama was so lightly seasoned as a politician that it was impossible to estimate just what we’d get. (Though the delusional mania of his fans was utterly obnoxious). My sister said before the election that he’s just another empty suit, like Bush. I objected that at least he has to be more intelligent than that. Only a hair’s breadth separated him from Clinton policy-wise, (and there it was his penchant for “libertarian paternalism” a la “nudge”, which is more to the right), but I reasoned that at least his name isn’t Clinton, so he might pitch his tent with a broader base in the Democratic Party. That small expectation was quickly dashed; my sister was right.

“For all the mute brutality of Nature, here we are gaining in health, wealth, pursuing happiness. Taking a step back, we are extremely privileged to enjoy our civilization.”

Well, that’s an utterly loopy, weirdly inverted form of theodicy. Unless fundamental changes occur, there will be precious little of our so-called civilization left to “enjoy”.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 8:10 pm

Substance: “I too don’t think there was a decent attempt at selling the concept”

Yes, but what does that mean, practically? (1) You have to change the social preferences of the voting public, in the face of big intellectual inertia in favor of freemarket libertarian crapola that includes massive distrust of politicians as well as big business. So you really are talking about two election cycles at least. (2) After that new understanding has been secured, then you have to get the voters to kick out the Senators and Representatives who have taken positions contrary to the new social preference, in the face of massive campaign spending, disinformation, voter forgetfulness, and the states in the country who still don’t accept your new social preference. (3) After that, then and only then do you get to craft your preferred utopia while trying to avoid any additional pitfalls.

I don’t understand why people here think that social preference can be changed purely intellectually. Emotions can be enlisted in support of any preference. Or indeed why people here believe that they are typical of most people. The only way to do this is to take what you can get, make sure it gives a few handholds to push in the proper direction, and then keep pushing. This is exactly what the right does, and it is why they have been winning until now. The idea that it is all for naught because it is not an immediately ideal outcome doesn’t make any sense.

217

Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 8:11 pm

Yes, but what does that mean, practically?

A whole lot of what you just wrote, I think.

218

MPAVictoria 06.05.13 at 8:16 pm

” The idea that it is all for naught because it is not an immediately ideal outcome doesn’t make any sense.”

This is a good point. Obamacare is not perfect (far from it!) but millions of people who didn’t have healthcare will now (or soon) have it. That has to be worth something.

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Lee A. Arnold 06.05.13 at 8:47 pm

MPA Victoria #218, That too, and that alone is going to inculcate a very interesting change in the social preference, and make it that much easier to defend other parts of the safety-net. Social democracy, here we come! At the same time, it will increase the per capita rate of small-business start-ups in the U.S. (which currently lags BEHIND most of the European social democracies, something I just found out), thus will increase the per capita GDP growth rate, thus will increase the tax base to support that gov’t spending.

But the points I was trying to make are (1) that Obamacare is a passage that continues to go somewhere else, if we want to make it do so; and (2) the complaints that Obama is not a knight in shining armor but (horrors!) a politician, or that the forces of evil will always win if you don’t get utopia handed to you on a silver platter, sound like a combination of laziness and fatalism.

220

Ronan(rf) 06.05.13 at 8:54 pm

“Social democracy, here we come!”

This is what I’ve been thinking, looking at the US from afar, but I never wanted to say it. (Didn’t seem like it was my place)

221

b9n10nt 06.05.13 at 11:26 pm

john c. halasz

What part of “committed leftist” don’t you understand?

The part about throwing the baby of possible incremental positive change out with the bathwater of possible revolution.

Well, that’s an utterly loopy, weirdly inverted form of theodicy.

I’m not sure I understand. I’m trying to convey my experience of gratitude and wonder: as a biological organism I imagine I am owed nothing but fleeting moments of pleasure which break out like lightning amid a storm of pain & discomfort, fear and anxiety, numbness and sleep. If I take a step back, I realize that I enjoy incredible abundance.

Unless fundamental changes occur, there will be precious little of our so-called civilization left to “enjoy”.

Yes, but why “enjoy” in quotes? If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention. & this awe, this gratitude without any proper object, this recognition of abundance: isn’t this the actual emotional catalyst to left-wing ideals of equality, prosperity, and sustainability?

Could effective left-wing activism take the form of public celebration?

I don’t know. This thread, for me, points at the evolution of right-wing politics into mere entertainment (Quiggin). This potentially reveals the centrist Democrat as the effective force of reaction and privilege (Wilder). I can agree to all this, and have reasonable basis to believe that millions of dis-empowered Americans have gained a great deal with health insurance, and see that much much more needs to be done…all this is perfectly compatible with Celebration. None of it necessitates gloom.

.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.13 at 11:32 pm

223

Roger Nowosielski 06.06.13 at 12:24 am

@221, B9

Since when are you the spokesperson for “dis-empowered Americans”? What qualifies you?

It’s one thing to say that we’re being fucked over, and royally so; but it’s another thing entirely to argue to the contrary, to the opposite effect in fact, that things are getting better.

In the first instance, all that’s required is a measure of empathy, of being able to put oneself in the other person’s shoes; in the second, an unwarranted presumption.

Are you an American Indian, or an indigenous person perchance, to be able to speak so clearly and with such conviction to the plight of the “dis-empowered”? For unless you are, why should anyone pay you any heed?

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 12:38 am

Holy crap substance has a blog! How come I was not notified?

225

Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 12:55 am

Notice was delivered in the form of an obscure in-joke.

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Bruce Wilder 06.06.13 at 12:57 am

Substance McGravitas @ 199

I do not see what the information content is, of “politically possible”, when someone like Scott Lemieux uses the phrase, as a club to bash people to his Left. If someone needs to explain “politically possible”, then it is Scott. I am not the one, who wants to declare what is “politically possible” instead of respectfully debating what should be done and how to do it.

I do see the rhetorical function of “politically possible”, and it is ugly. It saves Scott from having to explain why he supports proposals, which are counterproductive to what he claims he wants. It shuts down discussion with people to his Left, silencing their critiques and ideas.

I am a liberal, not a radical, not a socialist, not a populist. (OK, maybe a little bit of an idealist.) And, I have some acquaintance with how politics works, both historically and from personal observation. Liberals get what they want, by allying with radicals, bringing the radicals in from the wings, to scare the reactionaries and conservatives. That’s how it is done.

Socialist radicals and populist radicals are the friends of liberalism. Respect them. Love them. Legitimize their protests, their strikes. Get them in the conversation. Make them your primary interlocutors. If you are going to scorn someone, scorn the greedhead conservatives, the authoritarians masquerading as libertarians.

So-called liberals in the U.S. have been hobbling themselves since the Red Scares of the 1950s by habitually doing just the opposite of what makes practical political sense. And, the result has been steady movement toward neo-feudal plutocracy. And, then, they lecture on the “politically possible”?

It’s way past time to get real.

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Bruce Wilder 06.06.13 at 1:02 am

b9n10nt @ 221

“I love my iPhone” as a political creed?

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Bruce Wilder 06.06.13 at 1:14 am

Obamacare is not perfect (far from it!) but millions of people who didn’t have healthcare will now (or soon) have it. That has to be worth something.

“Healthcare” or “health insurance”?

Because “health insurance” is nothing, but another (and very large) bill you have to pay.

And, now you are “mandated” to pay it, and for many people, who already bought insurance in the private market, it turns out that it won’t be cheaper, it will be more expensive. Ooops. Must be one of those minor imperfections, which I am sure were worth it to some insurance executive somewhere.

But, hey, it was politically possible! And, it will remain so, until it isn’t.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 1:27 am

I do not see what the information content is, of “politically possible”, when someone like Scott Lemieux uses the phrase, as a club to bash people to his Left.

I don’t think the content changes if you’re mad about it.

If someone needs to explain “politically possible”, then it is Scott. I am not the one, who wants to declare what is “politically possible” instead of respectfully debating what should be done and how to do it.

Does “how to do it” have more or less information content than “politically possible”?

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b9n10nt 06.06.13 at 1:41 am

Roger @ 223:

Poor people are dis-empowered. All of the things that would create equality of opportunity (equal access to education, equal access to health care, equal access to leisure, equal access to dynamic, responsive government support) dis-empower you if you don’t have them. Having health insurance could empowers one in myriads of ways.

That’s all I mean when I say dis-empowered.

I do not mean to say that better access to health care and PPACA act specifically renders ANY concerns about inequality moot. Not even health care.

& I’m not saying that things are getting better. There’s reasons to hope, but more reasons to act.

But I am saying that things are Good, in a kind of deep way that is trivial but for it’s being under-acknowledged. And that a celebration of this truth is or could be as much as an inspiration to radical left activism as the idea that we are reacting to an injustice, that we are scolding the Evil, that we are mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. We want followers? Let’s throw a party.

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Marc 06.06.13 at 1:46 am

Reading this thread is akin to watching an alien anthropologist describing your society. There are both interesting insights and bizarre disconnects; the latter are tied to viewing the US system from a very different perspective than the norm. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But you have to also accept that being extremely far from the mainstream also can leave you without a good set of guidelines about how things work.

For example: Bruce, it’s possible that you’re wrong about what is politically possible. And the people that you disagree with actually have positive goals, rather than being undiluted evil. They might just be trying to work a system that they understand a good deal better than you do. I think the evidence at hand supports this thesis pretty strongly.

More to the point, I see a lot of vague words and sweeping gestures, and very little in the way of concrete advice. A lot of real people – my daughter, for example – have benefited from the Obama health plan in very specific ways.

And when I see so-called liberals parroting reactionary rhetoric against it I become really suspicious. The bit about health plans being “more expensive”, for example, is only true if you compare crappy, minimal plans to the higher standards that the new law enforces. And it’s being used in the current context to argue for the status quo ante, not for something better.

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b9n10nt 06.06.13 at 1:48 am

Bruce Wilder @ 227:

“I love my iPhone” as a political creed?

I love my clean drinking water as a political creed.

But, yeah, smart phones are pretty amazing.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 1:51 am

From Substance’s blog: “People – myself included – can be as disappointed with Obama as they like, but a plan passed under him will provide more people with those pills.”

(I’m going to reply here; if you’d really rather I replied there, I can.)

My family has depended on government-subsidized health care for some time. It was a plan passed under a Republican, Mitt Romney. You can be as disappointed in Mitt as you like — the poor man had to disavow his own plan, under pressure from his right — but his plan has provided people with those pills.

And that’s where the difference between the Presidential candidates in the last election just begins. Unlike Obama, Romney took a long period of left activism by very many people and then a plan was “passed under” him — wait. That’s not it. Romney, unlike Obama, responded to an increasing breakdown of the health care system, under which large businesses had to pay costs that they didn’t want to pay. No, hold on. Obama differed from Romney in that both of them watered down plans by the legislature — let me just start a new paragraph.

Here’s the difference. Obama got as little as he possibly could get given his promises and the political situation and the desire of influential political actors to escape those costs, while Romney got as much as he could get. No, I’ve got it backwards again! *Romney* got as little as he could get, while *Obama* got as much as he could get. Neither one responded to an elite consensus that this was the future of health care. No, I mean, both —

This is just too confusing for me. Yay?

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 1:59 am

“If someone needs to explain “politically possible”, then it is Scott.”

He has done this Bruce. At great length.

“for many people, who already bought insurance in the private market, it turns out that it won’t be cheaper, it will be more expensive”

This is actually untrue Bruce.

“A lot of real people – my daughter, for example – have benefited from the Obama health plan in very specific ways”

Sorry Marc, your daughter can’t be real because Obama is the worst president ever times a million.

Look Bruce you are obviously a VERY smart guy and you write very well ( better than I do in fact) but I really think that you misunderstand some truths about the American political system. Specifically about the senate, the differences in party discipline between the democrats and republicans, and exactly how much power the president has.

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 2:01 am

Rich saying that Obama and Romney are equally bad is below a person of your intelligence.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 2:03 am

Thanks for the response Rich, but I don’t get it. If my American family is better off under the health care plans of either Romney or Obama – happy to grant that in a just world both would be in prison – what emotion is the right one to feel?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 2:23 am

“what emotion is the right one to feel?”

I’m not really much for telling people which emotions to feel. I do think it’s ridiculous to say they should both be in prison: unlike Obama, Romney hasn’t had anyone assassinated. Maybe he should be in prison for shady business practices, but he’s not a killer. He didn’t protect torturers either.

But that’s a distraction. Perhaps, unlike MPAVictoria, I’m not trying emotional blackmail of the form “You don’t support Romney? My daughter was helped by Romney’s plan, so you must not even think she exists.” Perhaps instead I’m trying to get you to think. American health care was broken in specific ways that, unlike many broken things in America, were costing important people more and more money. Unlike the drug war, people couldn’t indefinitely just shrug and do nothing. Maybe the Tea Party wishes that they could, but they really don’t have enough power to force that. Hillary had a plan for universal coverage, even McCain had his tax rebate thing.

So if something had to be done, what was done was the conservative plan that the elite agreed on. And yes, I think that it is better that this happened than that it didn’t happen. It’s possible that with the GOP resentment at everything Obama, nothing at all could have passed, and that would have been worse. But I don’t see any reason to give Obama any particular credit for doing anything but avoiding the worst possible screwup. And yes, it’s annoying that all the people whose work went towards health care reform, and who helped make it so that something had to happen, are now being scolded by people who know better than those hippies what political reality is.

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 2:33 am

” unlike MPAVictoria, I’m not trying emotional blackmail”

Not blackmail as I do not need anything from you Rich.

” My daughter was helped by Romney’s plan, so you must not even think she exists.”
Not my daughter, Marc’s daughter. I am glad she has health care though.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 2:40 am

No, I was referring to my actual daughter, who is getting actual meds from Romney’s health plan. But you must not believe she’s real because Romney is the worst person ever times a million.

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 2:44 am

Wait so you said that you weren’t referring to your daughter and then immediately referred to your daughter? And hey if you think Romney is fantastic I hope you voted for him.

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MPAVictoria 06.06.13 at 2:45 am

Also I am not sure where your anger at me is coming from Rich.

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Marc 06.06.13 at 3:04 am

@239: Some of us, mysteriously, paid attention to what Romney and Obama were actually campaigning on doing in 2012. The 2012 Romney was about all sorts of things, but Mass-style health care was not one of them. What precisely is your point?

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 4:34 am

Rich, I don’t think I disagree much with your assessment of what got enacted and that it’s an incremental change for the good. It does interest me that scolding is such a bad thing, but oh well. I really hope you and your daughter get better results and that Lee Arnold’s optimism is the correct way to think about it. Good luck.

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john c. halasz 06.06.13 at 4:48 am

@221:

“The part about throwing the baby of possible incremental positive change out with the bathwater of possible revolution.”

Well, I didn’t find the exact quote above, but the standard liberal trope/meme to the effect that small benefits to “ordinary” people are of greater worth than holding out for broader, more basic changes, is old hat. “Love me, love me, I’m a liberal!”, as Phil Ochs sang it, back in the day. It’s utterly condescending and self-regarding, as well as, privileged/entitled. Lotsa people, quite legitimately, would rather endure their continuing suffering, rather than beg for peanuts. That’s something that bog-standard liberals have signally failed to understand, to their intentional detriment least of all. And it’s not actually “irrational”. Because putting band-aids on gaping wounds and holding things together with duct tape and bailing wire is scarcely an inspiring prospect. Though I have no preference between radical reform and “revolution”, as the circumstances may require, at the vanishing-point on the horizon. But remaining captive to the status quo (ante) through piece-meal “reformism” *is* throwing the baby out for the sake of the bath water IMHO for anyone with the capacity to understand the epochal juncture we are at. (ACA is a peculiarly American issue, so I don’t understand why any foreigners should care, but the decline and untenability of left-liberalism/social democracy, as other countries regress toward American standards of neo-liberalism, at the very point of its epochal failure as a “regime of accumulation”, in which it has paradoxically extended its zombie hold, is something that too few of the CT commentariat seem willing to contemplate).

So the “enjoy” scare quotes indicate your implicit adherence to utilitarian hedonic “calculus”, by which pleasure and pain are simply mechanical/”logical” opposites, and care and responsibility (for the world and others in it) are secondary to the “liberality” of one’s own intentions. (Yes, I’m trained up in the tradition of the critique of ideology and dis-intentional hermeneutics). And as to your appeal to the ancient thaumazein, while I suspect that the formalization/specialization of modern science has drained much of it from the world, I also suspect that it should lead in directions quite other than you might want to expect or countenance. I’m all in favor of big bright jazz brass bands, (especially with aggressive tubas), but I haven’t forgotten that they originated in a funeral march tradition and who and what they were playing for.

As for the ACA, (which wasn’t the topic of the OP), the basic case is fairly clear and simple. HEALTH CARE IS A NON-MARKET GOOD. A universal system of coverage is functionally required to contain costs. Any further welfare gains, including equity gains, follow from that. (Every other advanced industrial country has figured that out, by hook or crook). So I basically agree with Lee Arnold, backhandedly, that the ACA will inevitably lead to its replacement by something better, though not because of his surfer dude optimism that it will bring enlightenment to the masses about the bleeding obvious anyway. At least, a law that effectively just codifies prevailing corporate rents would be an exceedingly odd way to bring about such an “enlightenment”. That’s a bit like arguing that the increasing investment costs of increasingly scarce oil resources will eventually guarantee their substitution/replacement by standard economic “principles”. Yeah, whenever, whatever…

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 5:35 am

Substance, yes, I think that we’re substantially in agreement on many things. I do think the idea of basic differences between Obama and Romney is pretty silly other than the pressures from their respective party bases; you can’t blame Romney for denouncing his own plan because that was just “political reality”, right? He didn’t have the votes to become his party’s candidate otherwise. I do think that the Democratic Party base is better than the GOP’s, so because of that Obama is the lesser evil, but it’s not a personal characteristic of his.

And I’m not one of the imaginary pony-people who Scott was talking about who apparently thinks that Obamacare should be cancelled now because that would lead to single payer later. But I don’t tend to mock people who I have to work with, do you? Read what Bruce has been writing if you don’t understand. My example up at #163, as later modified, is a real example: the kind of people who go out and do activism tend to have wildly varying opinions on all sorts of things, and there’s always someone who has to stop and mock other people for being crazy.

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b9n10nt 06.06.13 at 6:21 am

I agree with so much of what you write. flattered for the attention. Bruce, likewise.

Here’e the word that closes like a coffin: maybe.

Even then, the dream of a Smokin’ Savior (Barack/Martin) is alive in my soul, an ally on the inside, who screams to the moon Why Aren’t they Organizing ! What happened to Occupy!

I think PPACA is maybe a tool. It’s not reforming the institutions, but it may be a tenderizer. Meanwhile, I say there’s a strong likelihood poor people will materially benefit. and I already do: subsidized coverage when you hit poverty is an emotional security blanket, with probably secondary economic benefits.

& Now for some Tendentious B9 Propaganda: The way most families treat children in the new world is a beautiful amazing evolution. By who nows how many artists and philosophers, we created that. The pride that the medical community and scientific research community take in their institutions. Academics too. Look what humans did. A sort of flower, blooming towards the cold universe. Absolutely incredible. With most institutions, we see how frail and strong the market system is simultaneously: you must have a strong code of ethics to resist it its force and yet institutional health is quite independent of market exchange.

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Ronan(rf) 06.06.13 at 10:38 am

I guess my only problems with Bruce’s analysis are that (1) it’s built on the existence of a romanticised past that we have lost and could potentially return to, which never actually existed (and so we can’t return to it, as it was never actually ‘politically possible’) and (2) there is no (from what I can see, though perhaps I missed it) actual description of what is ‘politically possible’ in his narrative.
I wouldn’t doubt Obama had more space, politically, to work within in 2008, but so what? Unless you can show that that space was substantial then you’re still only talking about marginal improvements.
On national security issues I think Rich is right, there is no difference worth talking about between the parties. But there’s no significant proportion of the electorate that cares about these issues so that will, I’d imagine, always be the case, and so there’s no real use working through the political system on those specific issues. (Obama propagandists protestations notwithstanding)

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Ronan(rf) 06.06.13 at 10:42 am

..no point working through the party system rather than political system

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Ronan(rf) 06.06.13 at 11:10 am

Last thing, I’d also agree with Rich that certain moderate leftists have an unhealthy grudge against radicals (based on simplistic caricatures) that’s largely obnoxious. I guess b/c I’ve never been involved in left politics I cant see why passions run so deep on this

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 2:28 pm

And I’m not one of the imaginary pony-people who Scott was talking about who apparently thinks that Obamacare should be cancelled now because that would lead to single payer later. But I don’t tend to mock people who I have to work with, do you?

I think sometimes the both of us do, and in some cases it’s warranted. There’s been a lot of anger over Scott Lemieux in the thread and you have to work with that guy too.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 3:14 pm

If he lived in my town, I’d never write anything about him. If he was active in any form of activism that I ever encountered him in, I’d never write anything about him. Even in this thread, I didn’t particularly want to (c.f. #115 “Don’t want to derail whatever’s left of the thread into LGM-bashing”) but, yes, in any case there’s a difference between being annoyed and mocking someone.

Some people at LGM were very angry when I commented that maybe the Loomis Twitter thing, while harmless, was really kind of objectionable. (Not because I think that someone’s head is going to be chopped off, but because rhetorically calling for a lobbyist to be jailed for being a bad man / terrorist is … well, never mind.) But I do work on chemical accidents, and may run into Loomis some day, and so that’s enough of that.

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PGD 06.06.13 at 4:38 pm

Whenever I read these kinds of threads I am astounded by the level of grass-roots damage Obama has done. So many people who should be enthusiastic liberals are spending their mental energy and shaping their political visions around making excuses for his embrace of an essentially pro-business agenda. It is just naïve in the extreme.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.06.13 at 4:47 pm

“Whenever I read these kinds of threads I am astounded by the level of grass-roots damage Obama has done. “

That’s the least of it. All of the energy that went into Occupy would have gone into the Democratic Party if there had been any sign that populist concerns could be pursued within the party. Instead the best that we got was Federal non-interference instead of active Federal cooperation as various mayors rolled us up. Unions were literally the only mainstream form of organization that even attempted to work with Occupy.

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Substance McGravitas 06.06.13 at 5:20 pm

So many people who should be enthusiastic liberals are spending their mental energy and shaping their political visions around making excuses for his embrace of an essentially pro-business agenda. It is just naïve in the extreme.

Can you list the excuses made in the thread?

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