With Reformicons like this, no wonder the Reactobots always win

by John Quiggin on July 5, 2014

Sam Tanenhaus has a long piece in the NY Times, lamenting the failure of the latest attempt to convert the Republicans into a “party of ideas”. His star candidate for this role (one of only a handful of possibles) is Yuval Levin, and Exhibit A is Levin’s journal National Affairs, which he lauds for its mind-blowing wonkiness, in a way that’s impossible to summarise without parody. Here’s Tanenhaus

This was the sterile soil in which Levin planted National Affairs, which exudes seriousness of an almost antiquated kind. Each issue is the size of a small book, unleavened by illustration or even reported narrative. The typical Levin-assigned-and-edited article leads the reader through a forced march of acronyms and statistics and of formulations like this: “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (P.R.W.O.A.) replaced A.F.D.C. with a new program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Under TANF, families can draw federal aid for only five years, to underline that welfare is supposed to be temporary. And where federal funding for A.F.D.C. had been open-ended, for TANF it is fixed, so that states must pay for any expansion of welfare.”

On it goes, article after article — “Taxes and the Family,” “Social Security and Work,” “Recasting Conservative Economics,” “Reality and Public Policy.” And yet with its stodgy prose, its absence of invective and red meat for the angry right, its microscopic circulation (6,000 subscribers, though some articles reach as many as 100,000 digital readers) and its one blogger who provides links to academic writings, National Affairs has become the citadel of reform conservatism.

Wow! an article that actually names a policy and describes its central features. It’s hard to believe that anyone still does this stuff. The tone is as if Tanenhaus had encountered a tribe in some remote wilderness engaged in ritual debates about tensor calculus.

And of course this is pretty much what is going on. The Republican party is, in essence, a combination of an ethnic voting bloc (Southern whites) and an economic interest group. The latter is dominated by the 1 per cent, but including small business owners, and high income members of the “white working class”, as defined by the lack of a college education. The tribalists don’t care about policy analysis, and the 1 per cent would prefer that their policies be implemented as quietly as possible. Nevertheless, open tribalism is hard to sell to the majority of US voters who don’t fall into the core category of white, (heterosexually) married, non-poor, Christians, so some pretence of having ideas is desirable.

It’s worth looking at the pieces mentioned by Tanenhaus. “Reality and public policy” sounded promising, for example, given that the primary critique of the Republican Party is its divorce from reality. It turns out to be a bizarre panegyric to (now former) Pope Benedict for restating the fundamental importance of the differences between men and women.

Recasting conservative economics” is mostly standard blame-shifting about the causes of the financial crisis (mercifully not peddling the Community Reinvestment Act) but it gives an interesting insight into the assumed intellectual level of the readership with the following definition and gloss

Keynesian economic theory — named for early-20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes — calls on governments to step in with an active program of expansionary fiscal policy when the private economy is contracting.

I couldn’t find “Work and Social Security” but the general line is what you would expect: privatisation and raising the retirement age. This is about as close as the reformicons get to a substantive debate over policy issues.

As I said with respect to Ross Douthat, the point here isn’t to think about policy issues, but to talk about policy in a way that isn’t obviously crazy, while not saying anything that contradicts the interests of the 1 per cent or the tribal taboos of the Republican base.

It’s all a kind of cargo cult. The central dogma is that, if a suitable simulacrum of a landing strip (in this case, a policy “journal” that looks vaguely like the Brookings Papers) is constructed, the cargo of intellectual credibility will magically arrive. At least as far as Tanenhuas goes, the magic seems to have worked.

{ 88 comments }

1

Corey Robin 07.05.14 at 9:01 pm

I haven’t had any time of late to blog, though I am hoping to get to Tanenhaus’s article. I think the big problem with these reform conservatives is something I tried to get at in the conclusion of my book, but which I’d like to develop further. Like the neoliberals of the 1970s — I’m talking about the people Randall Rothenberg profiled in his book; it included people like Robert Reich, Lester Thurow, and others — today’s reform conservative is responding to failures of policy and changing demographic trends, which they view as threatening their home base: in this case, the Republican Party. From the point of conservatism, considered as a changing political ideology and philosophy, that’s a very weak point to begin from. It’s not the spur to public reason that thinkers from Burke to Hayek recognized as the lifeblood of conservatism. So that’s why you get this kind of bloodless policy talk, which doesn’t in the end really break all that much from what we had before.

There’s a simple reason conservatism is so bankrupt: it needn’t be anything but bankrupt. Some of its basic principles have triumphed, as you yourself have pointed out in your work on Zombie Economics, so why tinker with a good thing? The long-term prospect of electoral defeat b/c of changing demographic trends doesn’t exactly focus the imagination in the way that the French Revolution, abolition, the labor movement, or feminism in the 60s did. Until we see a comparable social movement from the left as these, we’re not going to see much of a new conservatism. From their perspective, if it ain’t broken — and by it, we mean the security of the social order, with all of its inegalitarian largesse — don’t fix it. Indeed, it would be strange for there to be an efflorescence of genuinely vital and genuinely new conservative thinking amid a social order like ours, which is so profoundly inegalitarian. And with liberals and left so seemingly unable — or desirous — of doing anything serious about it.

2

Corey Robin 07.05.14 at 9:10 pm

Also, I wrote about Yuval Levin a couple of years ago on this blog. Behind that sterile policy talk lurks the beating heart of…well, I’ll let you see for yourself.

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/11/20/conservatives-whos-your-daddy/

3

bianca steele 07.05.14 at 9:36 pm

I posted something about Levin five years ago. Apparently back then I was still finding something interesting between the words. Maybe Belle can tell us what she thinks about his take on Aristotle.

It also looks unlikely, from the paragraph I quoted (the site’s now paywalled, I think), that the Yuval Levin who wrote it would be going on to found a seriously intellectual magazine. But maybe he no longer believes that “practical wisdom [whatever he thinks that means] matters at least as much as formal education.” Palin lost, after all. He also doesn’t seem like the Nietzschean anti-populist Corey made him out to be. Or the Straussian going on about the modernist lowering of our sights . . . though, well, Straussanism. Or maybe Sarah Palin temporarily pulled him (like Bill Kristol) out of their proper orbig. Cherchez la femme and all that.

4

Glen Tomkins 07.05.14 at 11:25 pm

Oh ye of little faith.

5

John Quiggin 07.06.14 at 1:36 am

Some good points on Levin, but I find Tanenhaus more interesting. Republican reformism is such an obvious con job that the real problem is understanding those who fall for it.

6

Collin Street 07.06.14 at 2:39 am

Republican reformism is such an obvious con job that the real problem is understanding those who fall for it.

“Why do people fall for obvious con-jobs” is, I thought, pretty well understood.

7

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 07.06.14 at 3:25 am

Bobo likes it, so it must be good, right??
———-
On September 7, 2009, David Brooks of the New York Times reviewed the first issue. He wrote that “The Public Interest closed in 2005″, leaving “a gaping hole. Fortunately, a new quarterly magazine called National Affairs is starting up today to continue the work.” Brooks continued by noting that the magazine occupied “the bloody crossroads where social science and public policy meet matters of morality, culture and virtue.” “In a world of fever swamp politics and arid, overly specialized expertise,” Brooks wrote in his closing, “National Affairs arrives at just the right time.”
———-
Hahaha!
~

8

Tony Lynch 07.06.14 at 4:22 am

Are the Democrats a party of ideas? What, exactly, is the contrast effect here?

9

Bloix 07.06.14 at 4:46 am

Cargo cult perhaps not the right metaphor. Potemkin village?

10

Peter K. 07.06.14 at 5:05 am

Tanenhaus:

“Mere weeks before the shutdown, Lee drew favorable press for introducing a reform idea, the child tax credit, lifted straight from the pages of National Affairs. It was a big moment for Levin, “something we can really point to.”

Not much of a reform idea. I do wonder what will happen if the Republicans lose in 2016. Will they pull a Clinton/Blair? I don’t think the Tea Party will go with it seeing as they are running regularly in primaries.

Carville’s analysis of 2012: “The white vote in ’08 was 74 percent of the vote, and that’s what [the Republicans] were counting on this time. But according to population trends, the white vote should be 72 percent – and it actually came in at 72. And it will be under 70 in 2016…Every four years, the white vote goes to minus two – and it’s picking up steam. From 1948 to 1992, it went from 91 to 87 percent. From ’92 to 2016, it’s going to go from 87 to 70.

Combine that with the youth vote. It was 54 percent for Kerry, and it was 66 for Obama in ’08. This year it was 60 for Obama. Remember, the greatest predictor of how you’re going to vote when you’re 54 is how you voted when you’re 24.”

11

bad Jim 07.06.14 at 5:22 am

There’s always going to be a market for conservative intellectuals, because greedy people want a moral justification for greed. It’s not going to be a big market, though, because most of their conservative allies are not like them. Just like the rich, they want to be told that the world threatens them, that they’re being persecuted, and that they’re inherently better than the rest of us, but those who aren’t rich have to be given different reasons why this is so. Both parts of the coalition crave validation, but they’re not a single audience.

12

ZM 07.06.14 at 5:34 am

On why it is a bad idea to join Murdoch’s VICE magazine in disparaging “tribal” people and “cargo cults”

This technique is a bad idea for political-economical rhetoric, given the history of colonial and wartime violence against such people and continued appropriation of their lands resources through global market exploitation
“Cargo Cults Have Been Eating People”
http://www.vice.com/read/cargo-cults-are-not-as-harmless-are-we-thought

http://theconversation.com/violence-in-west-papua-the-vulnerable-become-indonesias-latest-target-7783
http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/05/06/killings-in-west-papua-by-australian-backed-anti-terror-police/?wpmp_switcher=mobile
http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=12117

Etc etc

13

Lee A. Arnold 07.06.14 at 5:35 am

The ideas and idea-mongers mentioned in the Tanenhaus article serve up an instructive rehash of the conservatives’ big problems. Since Clinton the centrist Democrats are willing to enact, and to claim credit for, many of the same conservative policies. And now, at the very same time, the GOP is having an internecine war between its mainstream power-brokers and the Tea Party, who are its most reliable voters.

Thus as soon as the Democrats say of a policy, “Oh, that might be a good idea,” the Republicans have turned against it, to define themselves electorally. This has frustrated the Obama Administration but it is in the long-term a huge Democratic advantage. And in the future the Dems have the advantage demographically and also intellectually because the free market has been hurting people, and governmental solutions will become more tolerable to the public as long as the Dems can defuse the debt and inflation fears of the public, which is predominantly hard-money orientated.

Most of this stuff is mentioned by Tanenhaus in his own way, but he does not draw the obvious conclusion, i.e. that the GOP is historically finished. Instead he skips to the hope that it can re-run Reagan, i.e. benefit from another circumstantial boost such as the election of Reagan, who installed rightwing wonkies in D.C. and gave them axes to start chopping, and then claimed success.

Of course, the Republicans might get a re-taste of this if they retake the Senate in November, because they can send Obama lots of stuff they think will hurt the Dems. More likely Obama can triangulate like Clinton and take credit for the stuff he likes, and use the rest as a teaching moment for the Dem base and 2016. So the Republican Party will not easily escape its current precarious condition, which is the direct consequence of Reagan’s domestic legacy of callous psychology and fantasy economics.

Thus when Corey Robin writes above, “There’s a simple reason conservatism is so bankrupt: it needn’t be anything but bankrupt,” I think it should read, “it CANNOT be anything but bankrupt.” It’s true that the U.S. liberal left is intellectually lazy, and that the public understands very little that is not emotional, and so conservatism has been able to predominate since Reagan by running on mere gas fumes. But conservatism has run into an intellectual cul de sac of historic proportions. It cannot depend on the Reaganic alchemical formulary in the future, and our increasing inegalitarianism is hardly a fait accompli.

14

Bruce Wilder 07.06.14 at 6:25 am


Since Clinton the centrist Democrats are willing to enact, and to claim credit for, many . . . conservative policies. . . . as the Democrats say of a policy, “Oh, that might be a good idea,” the Republicans have turned against it, to define themselves electorally. This has frustrated the Obama Administration but it is in the long-term a huge Democratic advantage. . . . . in the future the Dems have the advantage . . . . intellectually because the free market has been hurting people, and governmental solutions will become more tolerable to the public as long as the Dems can defuse the debt and inflation fears of the public, which is predominantly hard-money orientated.

The trouble with being a weak conservative party that liberals and progressive vote for, and which enacts a conservative agenda by means of cynical cooperation with a radical conservative party, is that the conservative policies have consequences for the country.

In a Presidential year, higher turnout favors the one moderate and arguably sane conservative party over the obviously crazy one. But, in off-year elections, it just leaves people of good-will to despair, feeling betrayal and impotence, wondering whether voting is pointless. A Democratic Party, which is bound and determined to avoid winning control of Congress, because it would interfere with the party establishment’s conservative policy agenda is a Party that will ride demography into a ditch at the first opportunity, making up with declining turnout whatever advantage it gains from the loyalty of ethnicity or youth.

The persistence of the Democratic corrupt conservative lock on power, even as the Party’s base, both electorally and in office shifts to the left portends a breakdown of the Democratic Party coalition over policy, policy’s consequences, and declining voter turnout. Hooverizing a Democratic President has been a dream of Republicans for decades. Policy is weak enough that they may yet get their wish.

15

Sancho 07.06.14 at 6:49 am

Not much of a reform idea. I do wonder what will happen if the Republicans lose in 2016. Will they pull a Clinton/Blair? I don’t think the Tea Party will go with it seeing as they are running regularly in primaries.

James M. at No More Mister Nice Blog commented on this recently:

The lesson is that when Republicans win the presidency, they really win the presidency — they just go out there and govern as they see fit — and when they lose the presidency, they work every possible lever to make sure Democrats don’t govern.

So the lesson they’ve learned from the four victories of Clinton and Obama, and Al Gore’s popular vote win, is that a Democratic win isn’t a win if Republicans say it’s not a win.

The Republicans have a lot of levers to work. They’ve got House districts drawn just the way they want them in much of the country. They have the filibuster in the Senate. They have Fox News and talk radio to rally angry white America. They have years of experience intimidating the mainstream media with allegations of liberal bias. They won seven out of ten presidential elections between 1968 and 2004, so their judges, most of whom walk in ideological lockstep, can undermine any legislation at the local, state, or national level that right-wingers don’t like. Their voters vote, which makes it relatively easy for them to take over state legislatures and governorships in off-year elections, even in states that regularly vote for Democratic presidential candidates.

http://nomoremister.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/republicans-learned-lesson-from-bill.html

16

bad Jim 07.06.14 at 7:59 am

Um, ” It’s true that the U.S. liberal left is intellectually lazy”?

Intellectuals in general are on the left, and given the spectacular success of American arts and letters, science and technology, that’s not a tenable assertion.

We have an ugly situation we’ve been struggling with since before the founding of the country. “Exterminating the brutes” is where we started, then we brought in slaves, and now immigration is refreshing our sentiments.

But since the world’s greatest nation can’t admit mistakes we’re stuck making what improvements we can, “playing little ball”, advancing players around the bases. Amelioration, making things better where we can, is sort of the definition of liberalism.

What’s the alternative? A general strike? It’s far more likely that a statuesque woman will lay hands upon you and insist you make love to her. That happened to me. What some of you imagine is an impossible fantasy.

17

Sancho 07.06.14 at 8:53 am

Making Love to Statuesque Women: a Leftist Roadmap to Incremental Reform in the Modern Era, by B.Jim.

18

bad Jim 07.06.14 at 9:24 am

I have to admit it was embarrassing that morning to emerge from the wrong bedroom in our communal household, but gratifying to be obliged to return that evening.

The response of the US government to the Great Recession was inadequate, but the responses of most comparable countries were worse (neglecting structural differences which muddy the issue). Bad as we are, at least we’re not as proudly austerian as some of our trading partners. We unpredictably out-performed the socialist hellholes for once. Hail Keynes! My country, not quite as bad as the rest!

I had a glimpse of Netherlands v. Costa Rica while snarfing a soggy pepperoni pizza right from the oven and wondering whether I should root for the Red, White and Blue or the Blue and White and Red, White and Blue. Orange won, apparently.

19

Peter K. 07.06.14 at 1:29 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 14

“The trouble with being a weak conservative party that liberals and progressive vote for, and which enacts a conservative agenda…”

But Obama rescinded the George Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy and enacted tax hikes within Obamacare, not a conservative agenda. Then there’s the Supreme Court and Federal Reserve Bank.

Conservativsm’s strategy for getting its ideas enacted at the policy level is mostly twofold: voter disenfranchisement over supposed fraud, etc., and the rollback of campaign legislation so that money buys more votes. “Reformers” appealing to the middle and lower classes with new ideas has little to do with it.

However if the Supreme Court becomes a 5-4 Democratic court; if the Senate starts pushing back on the filibuster as they did over appoinments this past year; if Yellen turns out to be a Democratic Fed Chair much different than Greenspan as her emphasis on “macroprudential” policies suggests she might be – the test will be if she allows real wages to rise – then conservatives will be faced with the fact that elections do have consequences.

Then they might make a token effort appealing to voters with new ideas a la Clinton/Blair and allow the Overton Window to be pushed to left as Clinton/Blair allowed it to move to the right. Then the Tea Party/white southern base might split and form a third party.

Conservatism has successfully enacted its policies on the economic front for 40 years. They don’t work, i.e. don’t serve the base. So the Tea Party double downs and demanding more purity (no debt ceiling, kill the Ex-Im bank, boot Cantor) Plus culturally the U.S. and wider world is moving away from them (gay marriage, legalized marijuana, Communist Pope)

Those conservatives seeking electoral success like John Boehner are caught in a bind. If they moderate they lose the base, but they need the bases votes to win elections.

20

Peter K. 07.06.14 at 1:38 pm

But I agree that if Obama and the Democrats lose the Senate it will be because they didn’t do more to encourage a strong economic recovery thereby demoralizing their base.

Obama chose to go the Summers/Geithner route. The stimulus was too small. They turned to deficit reduction too quickly. With the savings and loan crisis, the government set up the RTC to sort out bad debts and get the economy moving again. Obama and Geithner did very little regarding mortgage debt relief. The question is whether in the next year or two the economy improves despite the governments’ malfeasance.

21

Peter K. 07.06.14 at 1:47 pm

@ Sancho

“They have years of experience intimidating the mainstream media with allegations of liberal bias. They won seven out of ten presidential elections between 1968 and 2004″

I do wonder if 9/11 helped extend the conservative’s reign with its distracting focus on fear, foreigners, terrorism and war. Likewise the end of the Cold War seemed to somewhat vindicate conservatism’s ideas about how central planning is bad and Amurica is the best. But that’s fading from memory as Piketty demonstrates.

What was curious for me was Megyn Kelly on Fox News dressing down Cheney recently about how he was all wrong about Iraq. Part of conservatism’s base may have lost patience with going along with the leadership’s foreign adventures in nation building.

22

Lee A. Arnold 07.06.14 at 2:22 pm

Bad Jim #16: “Intellectually lazy?… not a tenable assertion”

Switching the discussion of the Left’s achievements from political argument to “arts and letters, science and technology” would be another indicator of that laziness. Yes, it’s an “ugly situation we’ve been struggling with since before the founding of the country.” –Gets you off the hook, much? Well yes,– “since the world’s greatest nation can’t admit mistakes we’re stuck making what improvements we can…” — “Bad as we are, at least we’re not as proudly austerian…” — “A Democratic Party, which is bound and determined to avoid winning control of Congress, because [of whatever...]” –What?!– “What’s the alternative? A general strike? It’s far more likely [that whatever...]” —Perfect examples of Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, all the whining straight out of The Rhetoric of Reaction… I rest my case.

23

Davis X. Machina 07.06.14 at 2:53 pm

“…and also intellectually, because the free market has been hurting people.”

This simply demands that we attempt a re-definition of ‘hurt’, and, if necessary, ‘people’.

Constants are constant. Variables vary.

24

Lee A. Arnold 07.06.14 at 3:06 pm

The Tanenhaus article shows that they are on the case, and down the road!

25

P O'Neill 07.06.14 at 3:12 pm

Why did Tanenhaus fall for it? Partly he went looking for a narrative — there really can’t be no Republican policy analysis, right? – and he found it. Then there’s a wingnut sector version of Say’s Law at work. There was no obvious market in Republican politics for policy analysis. But with some expensive educations (Princeton, Chicago), connections, and grant money, they’ve supplied the policy analysis and a few Senators looking for product differentiation from Ted Cruz (Lee, Rubio) have demanded it. Which brings up one of the gaps that Tanenhaus should have picked up — there’s no evidence of any state-level traction for this stuff, unlike the early 90s Democratic version of this phenomenon when the policy analysis was tied to state-level examples like Bill Clinton. But the current crop of Republican governors is 100 percent bought in to the national Republican agenda — Obamacare nullification, unfunded tax cuts, guns-for-all, and “voter fraud” and could not care less about policy journals.

26

Lee A. Arnold 07.06.14 at 4:48 pm

P O’Neill #25: “There was no obvious market in Republican politics for policy analysis. …one of the gaps that Tanenhaus should have picked up — there’s no evidence of any state-level traction for this stuff… Republican governors…could not care less about policy journals.”

1. Quiggin’s question is why Tanenhaus should write of their policy ideas as appearing to be valid.

2. Tanahaus clearly says the reformocons have a tough job selling their meliorist swill to the Tea Party, which is battling state by state.

3. Every governor (and every other pure politician) knows the precise and inestimable value of having confusing propaganda at the ready, especially when it has the stamps of seriousness and previous vetting, and when it appears (to the gullible voters) to be already widely accepted by others. If it is “new”, all the more reason to vote for the bum: “let’s try something different.”

27

Peter K. 07.06.14 at 5:21 pm

@25 P O”Neill

What about the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare? That didn’t come up in the Tanenhous piece.

28

Bruce Wilder 07.06.14 at 8:23 pm

Sancho: “They have years of experience intimidating the mainstream media with allegations of liberal bias. They won seven out of ten presidential elections between 1968 and 2004″

Peter K. I do wonder if 9/11 helped extend the conservative’s reign . . .

Conservatives won every election between 1968 and now.

The fact that the partisan division has evolved in the direction of an ideological divide is a symptom of plutocratic domination. The conservatives in the Bush Administration struggled to control the reactionaries and radicals in their midst; I only wish Obama had to struggle with the liberals in his Party or Administration. But, conservative policy continued largely undisturbed by the historic wave elections that carried the Democrats to power in 2006 and 2008. And, now partisan gridlock and Tea Party craziness is just an excuse for continuing conservative policy.

As Corey Robin observed, new conservative thinking is usually a reaction to liberals and left doing something, and in our plutocratic order, liberals and left are quiescent, impotent.

I think the problems with conservative governance on behalf of a plutocracy run deeper than my personal distaste for it. So, I do not understand this enthusiasm for speculating that a Democratic Party controlled by corrupt centrist neoliberals may achieve dominance over a Republican Party in danger of takeover by crazed reactionaries.

We ought to be worried about what happens, should an increasingly sclerotic set of political institutions drive the country and the world over a cliff, in service to their plutocratic masters. The idea that the mummified forms of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid might offer effective leadership or that Barack Obama is not a neoliberal, intent on subverting any hint of reform just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

That conservatives evidently don’t feel the need for effective arguments shouldn’t cheer anyone. They like their stupidity undisturbed, and it is a bad sign when they get their druthers in that respect.

29

Lee A. Arnold 07.06.14 at 9:00 pm

Bruce Wilder #28: “I do not understand this enthusiasm for speculating that a Democratic Party controlled by corrupt centrist neoliberals may achieve dominance over a Republican Party in danger of takeover by crazed reactionaries.”

You appear to mistake tactical analysis for enthusiasm. You may begin to understand the difference between them, if the GOP takes the Senate and ensures a longer future for SCOTUS rulings like the ones last week, and removes the 2017 provision in Obamacare that allows the formation of state single payers. Is it Perfection, or Nothing? My only question is, what can be more “quiescent, impotent”?

30

stevenjohnson 07.06.14 at 10:12 pm

“What was curious for me was Megyn Kelly on Fox News dressing down Cheney recently about how he was all wrong about Iraq. Part of conservatism’s base may have lost patience with going along with the leadership’s foreign adventures in nation building.”

A good portion of the conservative base is tired of the US doing favors for foreigners, which is what they imagine these wars are about. Since improving the lesser breeds abroad is futile, there are no defeats of US imperial project, not even partial. There is only blood and money wasted by do-gooders. I strongly suspect that this would be the constituency for the pursuit of victory by all means necessary. If for instance, the Caliphate were to take Baghdad, I think they would say, don’t put those worn out boots on the ground to do the Iraqis dirty work, just nuke the place.

As near as I can tell, the term “centrists” is nonsense unless it refers to politicians and parties who try to work with the left, since there are no politicians and parties in the US who do. I don’t even see how you can define centrists as conservatives who aren’t crazy when they try to work with the right wing crazies, as the alleged centrists in the US do.
“McCarthyism” purged the left from labor. This has never been reversed nor is there any politician who has any desire whatsoever to reverse this. Nor has the police repression of a genuine left ever ceased, and no alleged centrist has any desire to stop it.

31

Donald Johnson 07.06.14 at 10:17 pm

This is a genre the Sunday NYT specializes in. They find some politician or a denizen of a “think tank”, dress the person or persons up as intellectuals, and write about how brilliant they are (really wowed them at Princeton,or whatever) and how “ideas” are being promoted, all the while avoiding any more than the faintest trace of substantive discussion. Usually the person being written about comes across as the hero–a critic or two may be quoted, but it’s just to give the impression of balance. The lack of substance in the article itself is key–the genre is really a form of celebrity journalism and is intended to make the reader imagine a world where philosophically minded idealists are hashing out the great issues of the day. If they got substantive, it would become one of those boring substance articles. It’s more entertaining to write about alleged wonks than to actually engage in writing wonkishly. (That word “wonk” is another giveaway–I picked it up from articles of this sort, because I don’t think I ever see it used anywhere else.)

I think they do this every couple of months or so. I don’t have any other examples, because none of these articles leave any lasting impression, but I took one look at the title of this one and immediately knew what to expect.

32

J Thomas 07.06.14 at 10:30 pm

The lack of substance in the article itself is key–the genre is really a form of celebrity journalism and is intended to make the reader imagine a world where philosophically minded idealists are hashing out the great issues of the day. If they got substantive, it would become one of those boring substance articles.

Yes! If they got substantive, it would be like The Big Bang Theory actually turning into a show about physics.

33

Bruce Wilder 07.07.14 at 12:24 am

Lee A. Arnold: You appear to mistake tactical analysis for enthusiasm.

You appear to mistake tactical analysis for enthusiasm.

When I was a kid my local Major League Baseball franchise (the Detroit Tigers of the American League) was in contention, and I would eagerly read the daily sports columns in the Detroit Free Press, which often concerned various scenarios by which my beloved Tigers could emerge in possession of the pennant: if the Twins lost one in their series against the Orioles, and the Red Sox dropped another against the hated (but blessedly lousy-that-year) Yankees, . . . . It was exciting in 1967, when they tied for second place with the Twins, one game behind the Red Sox, and exciting again when they led the league most of the 1968 season with McLain’s 31 game season, and won the Series behind Lolich’s three game streak. Good times.

It was probably lost on my teenage brain that the players were professionals engaged in a child’s game of no particular consequence or significance. Still, even today, I imagine that the typical professional baseball player has a good deal more integrity than the average politician.

I do sense echoes of my teenage enthusiasm, my desire to hope for my heroes, in your “tactical analysis”. Your analysis seems to shade, at times, into partisan rooting cheering. You often seem to me to be intent on finding a path out of the darkness, a path that sometimes seems to depend on naïveté about the integrity of politicians or on an expectation of a spontaneous popular reaction unmediated by Media manipulators.

I believe, as I’m sure you recognize as well, that American politics, at a strategic level, is governed on behalf of a plutocracy of corporate business interests. What I think is often missing from your “tactical analysis” is a full appreciation of the constraints imposed to create that strategic context, in which the Parties are components of a single system and dependent on one another, like two professional wrestlers, pulling their punches, exaggerating their groans, and coordinating their grappling both to entertain and avoid getting hurt. You want to project trend lines into the future without connecting them to the Democratic Party of 2007-10, which wilfully continued the conservative governance of the previous Administration on many — most, I’d say — dimensions of policy, in defiance of the wave of popular discontent with the outcomes. Maybe next time will be different — it’s always a little different, I guess — but you don’t always take much responsibility for arguing out how or why it will be as different as you hope; the hope is given as its own justification, just as a Free Press sports columnist might offer it on behalf of the home town heroes.

34

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 1:48 am

We have had this discussion before. That is not my view and it seems to be in your head. I don’t need to hold any hope that the Democrats will be good, in order to see that the Republicans will be worse. Substantially worse, and probably for some time to come. Your contention seems to be that, with every breath, every stroke of keyboard, we must always enunciate the perversity, futility and jeopardy of the situation — the rhetorics of reaction, as defined — or else we all will somehow be led astray. I doubt it. The thesis that the whole thing is a plutocratic charade, and that the Dems are in league with the devil too, is well known, well tested, well vetted. Indeed the thesis is held in high regard by everybody from Occupy Wall Street to Tea Party. So tell us something we DON’T know. Suggest what is likely to happen next, at the nuts and bolts level, and how we can push on it to change it. If your thesis is that it cannot be changed, or that it requires a grand reengineering of social preferences because little pushes will not work, or that the lesser of two evils is some great sin, some horrifying lack of purity, then I doubt all that too.

35

Main Street Muse 07.07.14 at 1:50 am

“And yet with its stodgy prose, its absence of invective and red meat for the angry right, its microscopic circulation (6,000 subscribers, though some articles reach as many as 100,000 digital readers) and its one blogger who provides links to academic writings, National Affairs has become the citadel of reform conservatism.”

Who as perched this media outlet at the citadel of reform conservatism? Not much of an audience for this kind of thing, it seems. Seems the conservative audience is much more entranced with invective and hatred than with ideas.

I grew up surrounded by Chicagoland Reaganites (white, college educated people who saw gov’t as intrusive, unneeded and a problem to rein in. (Please note: I am talking ChicagoLAND, not Chicago, which has not seen a serious GOP candidate in more than half a century.)

I now live among the Southern “ethnics” who adore all things Republican, even if it hurts them at the pocketbook.

The only ideas I see coming from GOP are to obstruct anything Obama does and to prop up Christianity as THE right to be protected by our laws. The GOP ideology gives us loud, noisy men yammering about Creationism and faith-based initiatives and prayer in school.

There is also a terrible thread of racism running through everything they do. The accomplishments of Obama, if a white Republican, would be lauded and celebrated till kingdom come. But since he’s not a white Republican, he’s bashed and loathed and now, apparently, will be the subject of Boehner’s vague and stupid lawsuit. But America seems entranced with this version of stupid. Have no idea why.

36

T. Oppermann 07.07.14 at 1:58 am

Great article.

On cargo cults, not that anybody could care less about what happens in Melanesia, unless you are Melanesian or into timber and gold, but there is actually a fascinating history to cargo cults. The western perception of them as tragic applications of magical thinking is not entirely false, but rather one aspect, not always found in a diverse set of social movements, many of which accomplished serious social change, and many of which were basically stomped on by the colonial government.

Really, it is too flattering of the republican intellectual void, to compare it with the intellectual and political struggles of Melanesians, whose grandparents worked with stone tools, squaring off against the 20th century capitalism. A lot of what these people did is difficult to understand, but a lot of it was very sensible and disturbing to the paranoid, if-you-don’t-do-what-we-say-you-are-crazy colonial government. There is a sort of crazy hubris in the use of the expression ‘cargo cult’; nobody in the West has had to deal with the degree of social change these people had to. Hopefully, we will be as smart as cargo cultists.

37

Bruce Wilder 07.07.14 at 2:13 am

America seems entranced with this version of stupid. Have no idea why.

uh, follow the money? usually works for me.

38

MPAVictoria 07.07.14 at 2:19 am

From the new Texas Republican Party Platform:

“We strongly support a woman’s right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.”

Things they wish to eliminate:
The Voting Rights Act
Personal-income taxes
Property taxes
Estate taxes
Capital-gains taxes
Franchise and business-income taxes
The gift tax
Minimum-wage laws
Social Security (“We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions”)
The Environmental Protection Agency
The Department of Education and all its functions
“Unelected bureaucrats”
Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights. [I'm guessing that #2 will be eliminated from the next edition...]
The Federal Reserve
“Foreign aid, except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval”
Obamacare (but you knew that already)

(hat tip to Henrik Hertzberg by way of LGM for this text)

So forgive me if I would vote for their imperfect opponents. The democrats are not great but they occasionally do good things and they don’t do a whole bunch of bad things. That is enough reason to vote for them. If you want to make things better become an active party member and work to push them to the left.

39

Main Street Muse 07.07.14 at 2:32 am

To Bruce Wilder: “America seems entranced with this version of stupid. Have no idea why. uh, follow the money? usually works for me.”

I have no idea why those without money are entranced with GOP policies that do nothing for them. I understand why Duke Energy, Halliburton, etc. love the GOP. But the little guys, that’s the puzzle.

To MPA Victoria: “We strongly support a woman’s right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.”

I wish Texas would secede and get it over with. WHO is preventing a woman from choosing to devote her life to her family? And why do they have the idea that a working mother is not devoted to her family? I can’t stand that smarmy bunch!

40

MPAVictoria 07.07.14 at 2:35 am

“But the little guys, that’s the puzzle.”

They hate gays, minorities and women mire then they love themselves and their children.

Disgusting but there you have it.

41

MPAVictoria 07.07.14 at 2:39 am

More not mire.

Damn ipad….

42

roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 3:13 am

I agree with Bruce, at least in as much as the democratic party – like labour in England and the Socialists in France – essentially shook lose of its working class constituency and their powerwelders from 68 until now. This rightwing turn has not been entirely bad – because gays and women are dispersed across the class spectrum, civil rights policies for both were not only possible but very successful. A middle class or upper class straight or gay woman, along with a middle or upper class gay man, has much to be thankful to the dems for. These victories, I think, don’t sink their roots into the lower middle class or the working poor – or to put it another way, the bottom fifty percent is overwhelmed with so many other massive problems that it doesn’t matter that much. Ethnicity, here, is still a wild card. There are many respects in which african americans now, on average, live worse lives than they did in 1959. In 1959, According to the naacp, currently, one in three black males can now expect, at one time or another in their life, to spend time in jail. This would have been unthinkable in 1959. It is true that there are more black homeowners, but the gap between black and white homeowners in 2000 was the same as it was in 1900 http://www.nber.org/reporter/winter06/collins.html, One can piece together different stories weighting different values, but the US is still a suck place for black people, who are grossly underrepresented in the upper 20 percent.

Myself, I believe we are in an era – which may last longer than we think – were the Democrats running for the executive benefit from demographic trends, while the legislature, which is the kind of thing that can be manipulated by state law, becomes more solidly Republican. Given the Dem cavein, over the past couple of decades, to the conservative long march through the judiciary, it looks like that too will remain right to far right. In this situation, the best thing for conservative politicos to do is mock and deride the reformist conservatives. The latter will probably have more influence on the Democratic party – just as obamacare is Romneycare, whatever the National Interest says tomorrow will undoubtedly end up part of the Clinton policy package in 2017.

43

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 3:41 am

Roger Gathman #41: “from 68 until now.”

Chicago ’68, I think that is right.

A provision in Obamacare allows states to introduce single payer in 2017, something Romneycare did not do.

44

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 3:43 am

Main Street Muse #38: “I have no idea why those without money are entranced with GOP policies that do nothing for them. …the little guys, that’s the puzzle.”

It is because they religiously believe in individual ascension by merit, upward through a god-inflected hierarchy, and that this will form the “best of all possible worlds.” This is a very widespread social cognitive bias. It turns out to be the spawn of an ancient lineage.

It developed in the second half of the 18th century from the quasi-religious idea called the chain of being, which had held for thousands of years that the hierarchy was static: animals below humans below angels below god, etc.

Evidence is that the development of telescope and microscope, and cataloguing of living creatures from the European voyages of discovery, introduced a big kink into the conception, because there were clearly gaps in the chain of being, which had been held to be composed of continuous plenitude. What emerged was the idea that there must be movement through the hierarchy, to make up the missing things.

Thus evolutionistic ideas sprang into public consciousness in the third quarter of the 18th century, about 100 years before Darwinian evolution, and it really should be considered as part of the origination of Romanticism, the other half being the part we normally call by that name, i.e. the movement of individual artists remaking and reforging the world with new artistic creations.

In this sense, modern conservatism is another subdivision of Romanticism

The idea of individual ascension by merit through hierarchy is like social Darwinism, a hundred years before Darwin — and perhaps not coincidentally this big quasi-religious idea emerged at just the time that the power structure needed new justifications as the ideas of monarchy and aristocracy weakened, and indeed the French introduced the words “left” and “right” into politics.

The story is in Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being.

This is not a fanciful interpretation of what is happening now. It is the only thing that fits a curious fact:
Modern political science has done studies of partisan attitudes using different measures including the “group/grid” risk perception classification of Mary Douglas. These are two axes making Cartesian quadrants:

“Group” is about feelings of being bounded by solidarity with others, spanning from collective control to individualism.

“Grid” is about belief in adhering to a social role, spanning from stratified hierarchy to egalitarianism.

Now here is the curious fact: modern conservatives tend to place themselves in the quadrant marked by individualism AND hierarchy.

45

roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 3:54 am

43 – I myself have a different theory. Until recently a conservative working class voter could vote as a sort of moral luxury for the guy who said he’d privatize social security and lower taxes. That voter would know that privatizing social security wasn’t going to happen – the people he didn’t vote for, the Dems or more centrist Republicans, weren’t going to do it. But he might get lower taxes out of the deal. Thus, you get to feel like you’ve really shown them, and you pay no price – you get a reward. This sets up a classic Pavlovian situation.The bell keeps ringing, and you get your treat. Gradually, though, as things worsen, economically, so that you really need your taxes lowered because you haven’t had any real wage rise in decades, you might begin to associate that lousy context with other things they guy you vote for says. Maybe you aren’t going to get your social security anyway (the folk wisdom of the right).

It is hard to counter this with a politics that promises not to privatize social security – and that’s about all. No treat, just the promise of no further pain. The Pavlovian effect, here, is that this voter expects disappointment and votes for less disappointment, at best.
This is not good. When the party that used to give out treats – social security, medicare, etc. – starts to agree with the idea that we can’t bow to ‘special interests’, they are on the downward path. Especially when the context is no longer the kind of emphemeral prosperity of the Clinton years.

46

roy belmont 07.07.14 at 4:03 am

MSM:
But the little guys, that’s the puzzle.

I’d set this quote in html-paragraphese but have no faith in the bizarre mutant code operating here (cept for the italic and strike functions, of course):

“Hell was the invention of the money-makers; its purpose was to divert the attention of the poor from their present afflictions. Firstly with the repeated threat that they might be very much worse off. And secondly with the promise, for the obedient and loyal, that in another life, in the Kingdom of God, they would enjoy all that wealth can buy in this world and more.

Without the evocation of Hell, the Church’s demonstrative wealth and ruthless power would have been far more openly questioned because they were in evident contrast to the teaching of the Gospels.

Hell bestowed a kind of sanctity on amassed wealth.

The inflictions of today have gone further. No need to invoke a Hell in the afterlife. A hell for the excluded is being constructed in this one, announcing the same thing: that only wealth can make sense of being alive.”

John Berger From A to X

There was a moment there where some kind of bridge might have been made to that mass of “little guys”, where the reality of their willing bondage might have been made clear to them. It seems to have past unnoticed.
Sensible non-believers see the faithful as simply having the wrong answer to some serious test questions, and seem to be waiting for a TA to hand back their failed exams. They’re wrong, in that view, to believe as they do, and having the wrong answers is a fail. So they should fail. But they keep winning, sort of, a lot.
Which makes it hard to anticipate the moves of believers like the altar boys of SCOTUS. They aren’t supposed to have all that power. It’s a one-two punch of horrificly cynical manipulation and inherited delusional fantasy, ultimately.
But what Berger nails in those paragraphs should make it easier to see why the base is so adamantly moving against their own best interests. Not to mention the well-being of those who come after.

47

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 4:09 am

44 — Privatizing Social Security almost DID happen. Remember that in 2006 the Dems were about to go along with George W. Bush in privatizing Social Security — privatization policy was studied in the Clinton White House. What happened was that, at the prompting of a growing outcry from the internet that they were all going to get their asses voted out of office, the Congressional Dems realized that their best option was to flatly refuse to privatize. The Senate Republicans realized they didn’t have the votes, and Bush dropped six months of personal effort giving “town hall meetings” in less than a week.

I made this video at that time, and on another URL it was seen by about 50,000 people in a week. (Sorry about the ad, I can’t scrub it tonight). Read all the comments under it:

48

J Thomas 07.07.14 at 6:01 am

#39
They hate gays, minorities and women mire then they love themselves and their children.

Very good typo!

49

Sebastian H 07.07.14 at 6:10 am

“Main Street Muse #38: “I have no idea why those without money are entranced with GOP policies that do nothing for them. …the little guys, that’s the puzzle.””

It isn’t puzzling at all. The Democratic Party has taken on an increasingly anti-religious stance, and many of these people find religion very important. See for example: Hobby Lobby. Instead of trying to quietly find a way to make a religious workaround of exceptions or ways to get contraception to women without involving their religious employers, the Obama administration decided to make it a culture war case.

You’re fine to think they’re wrong. But it isn’t a mystery.

50

J Thomas 07.07.14 at 7:09 am

#34

I don’t need to hold any hope that the Democrats will be good, in order to see that the Republicans will be worse. Substantially worse, and probably for some time to come.

I am going to overstate the case because it makes the situation starker.

Imagine you are being attacked by a two-headed hydra. One of the heads has bigger jaws, with bigger teeth and poison fangs, and it attacks more aggressively.

If you can maneuver so you are only attacked by the weaker head, that’s a prudent thing to do. But to survive you probably need more of a strategy than just get attacked that way.

That’s kind of how I feel about voting for Democrats. Sure, it’s a useful tactic. Better to vote for Democrats than vote for Republicans or not vote. But it isn’t nearly enough.

So tell us something we DON’T know. Suggest what is likely to happen next, at the nuts and bolts level, and how we can push on it to change it.

“We” are a tiny minority of people with good will. “We” have no special power or influence. It seems to me that the main thing we can do is to present new ideas that might eventually gain traction among the public and that might get taken up by politicians (in crippled form). Possibly some ideas might get ignored long enough for a public reaction that didn’t allow much crippling.

So here is one.

Abolish the payroll tax. Replace it by a tax that brings in on average the same amount of money, paid by employers. This tax would not be proportional to the number of employees or their wages.

This would have no direct effect in the long run. One way, every month your employer pays you your wages and sends a check to the IRS which he tells you is your “withholding”, it’s your money that he sent to the government. The other way, every month your employer pays you your wages, and sends a check to the IRS to pay the tax he owes.

It’s the same thing. But the current system is designed to get poor employees to think about the horrible burden of government spending. They pay a big part of their income to the government — more than they can afford — and they realize that any time the government spends more money it has to tax them more. Deficit spending means it will have to tax them more later, so much tax they will go broke faster. And even though they pay a crushing tax burden, if somehow they ever got a big income they would pay an even *higher* fraction! The government is set up to suck money from everybody, so much that you can’t really get ahead. Even though rich people pay tax advisors to find loopholes so they don’t have to pay so much tax, still the rich pay more than 50% of all government spending.

This reasoning all seems realer to people who with every paycheck must face how big a slice the government is taking from them. But we could abolish the payroll tax completely with no real difference. And without those taxes the other ideas wouldn’t seem as real.

Abolishing part of the income tax might have a lot of political appeal. Surely politicians who campaign *for* payroll taxes would look bad. But we could face pushback in a couple of ways. One argument is that if businesses faced crushing taxes they would go bankrupt and where would your jobs be then? Another is that decent people want to pay their share. They don’t want to freeload on others, paying income tax is part of their responsibility as citizens and only damn freeloaders would think they can get away with getting something for nothing.

We could find economists who would say that it would work to get rid of the payroll tax, that the economy would not be hurt much. But other economists would say that it would destroy the economy, it would create so much inflation that it would take six month’s pay to buy a loaf of bread.

What would the voters believe? I don’t know.

51

J Thomas 07.07.14 at 7:12 am

Another comment in moderation and I don’t know why. Was it any of these words?
tax advisors
loophole
freeload
freeloaders
pushback
suck money

52

Bruce Wilder 07.07.14 at 7:27 am

Lee A. Arnold:

If your thesis is that it cannot be changed, or that it requires a grand reengineering of social preferences because little pushes will not work, or that the lesser of two evils is some great sin, some horrifying lack of purity, then I doubt all that too.

My right leg is a bit longer than my left leg. That has not led me to the belief that I would get very far relying on my right leg alone, because the left leg is the lesser leg. They are part of a system, and go where they go together. If the two parties, alternating in office, are taking us step-by-step down an evil path, it is no solution at all to close one’s eyes to the steps taken by one party while insisting that the other party’s steps toward evil are more evil, and must be resisted, but the lesser steps toward evil are OK somehow. What’s wanted is a change in direction, not a change to some strange, palsied gait, or a delusional endorsement of the same direction when the pace is taken by the right leg, but not when the left steps forward, because the right leg takes smaller steps or some such nonsense.

I don’t have all the answers you do or you want, but I know enough to try to tell the truth, without imposing my wishes and fears as filters.

53

J Thomas 07.07.14 at 7:28 am

“Main Street Muse #38: “I have no idea why those without money are entranced with GOP policies that do nothing for them. …the little guys, that’s the puzzle.””

It isn’t puzzling at all. The Democratic Party has taken on an increasingly anti-religious stance, and many of these people find religion very important. See for example: Hobby Lobby.

That’s an important point.

Also, doesn’t it stand to reason that the more of our resources the government sucks up, the less is left for everybody else? Obviously government spending is bad. Somebody has to pay for it, namely the taxpayers. If the taxpayers don’t have to pay right now, it’s our children and grandchildren who’ll have to pay — we’re mortgaging their future.

If the government would just stop spending so much there would be more left for the rest of us.

Except for the military, of course. We have to have a strong military. Plus it’s almost the only way a poor boy can get a decent living. A law degree isn’t worth much unless you have the connections to get into a good practice. An MD is OK but nurses and orderlies don’t get paid much at all. But if you can get into the military — they don’t take just anybody — then you can make a decent living and it’s practically the only way to get a college degree without going deeply in debt. You have to put up with military life and with living in foreign countries where people want to kill you, but for a lot of guys it’s the main chance. We need the military, but the rest of it is a waste.

So, are these ideas wrong? If somebody believed them but then he thought he should make sure, do tests, is there any way he could falsify them if they are in fact false?

54

J Thomas 07.07.14 at 7:32 am

crushing taxes
poison fangs
bankrupt
damn
Any of these too?

55

Barry 07.07.14 at 12:01 pm

Sebastian: “It isn’t puzzling at all. The Democratic Party has taken on an increasingly anti-religious stance, and many of these people find religion very important. See for example: Hobby Lobby. Instead of trying to quietly find a way to make a religious workaround of exceptions or ways to get contraception to women without involving their religious employers, the Obama administration decided to make it a culture war case.”

Where ‘anti-religious’ means ‘less power for certain selected believers to f@ck over others’. Which, I agree with you, is a real reason. These guys want to lord it over others, and resent a decrease in their power.

56

Anderson 07.07.14 at 1:09 pm

46: that seems to get the Christian hell exactly backwards, at least as far as its “creation.” The Jesus of the gospels seems quite clear that hell exists, and that most of the rich are going there.

Peter Brown has a new book about how the church pivoted on wealth (I’m guessing the short answer is “Constantine”), but it certainly didn’t start out as mind control by rich elites.

57

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 2:28 pm

Bruce Wilder #52: “…it is no solution at all to close one’s eyes to the steps taken by one party…”

Nobody here is doing that. The system and its parties are as given. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around for God to give us a new pair of legs.

I think the problem is quite different. I think that you have joined the current crisis to a holistic thesis, and decided something like: it is now impossible to walk on legs to get to the doctor.

58

Bruce Baugh 07.07.14 at 2:31 pm

The Democratic Party is anti-religious only insofar as it’s taken a few steps to rein in some of the power used by some denominations and factions within Christianity to force their particular sectarian views on everyone else. At least two of the top ten largest denominations in the US strongly endorse Democratic actions of these sorts, and maybe more; so, of course, do many of the smaller ones, many Christians who don’t have a denominational affiliation, and most of those Americans who aren’t Christian at all.

Claiming that a particular strain of American Christianity is synonymous with “religion” is either dumb or calculatedly dishonest.

59

Sebastian H 07.07.14 at 2:53 pm

“Where ‘anti-religious’ means ‘less power for certain selected believers to f@ck over others’. “

Look. I’ m a gay survivor of an aggressively Baptist style church and have abandoned Christianity entirely, sorry Mom. But trying to frame the Democratic Party mode as merely areligious is just silly. Especially at both the leadership levels and the intellectual underpinning levels it feels the need to attack religion in all sorts of ways. You of course justify it by sentences like the above. But the problem is that is is a classic conjugation: my intellectually rigorous regulation, his potentially problematic intrusion, religion’s obviously unjustified power to f@ck people over.

60

MPAVictoria 07.07.14 at 2:59 pm

Even if they were providing quality policy analysis and promising new ideas, which they are not, people like Mr. Levin still wouldn’t matter. They are not the real Republican Party anyway. These guys are:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/07/texas-republican-new-party-platform.html

(Hat tip to Charlie Peirce and LGM)

61

roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 3:37 pm

Well, the politicization of religion is not only costing the Dems – it is well on the way to destroying the evangelicals. In spite of their tendency to do skewed lobbying to show how powerful they are, all smart evangelicals know that their congregations are way down and in particular, they have lost the young. When the Southern Baptist church decided to ally with its traditional enemy, the Roman Catholic Church, about sex, it did bring the church into the Republican orbit for a while (oddly enough, while the only religious president of the twentieth century – Jimmy Carter – was president). But the price of this supposedly great move is now showing itself.
I would say that religion, here, is a cover word for certain religious views about women and sex. Religion certainly doesn’t cover the Gospel about mone, alcohol and peace. This, in the early twentieth century, was what religion meant when it entered politics – at least among the evangelicals, who inclined more to populism and bimetallism.

In my opinion, the dems are winning the youth vote partly because they didn’t form an alliance with an old and ailing evangelical movement. The churches that are succeeding, nowadays, are either non-political megachurches concentrating on the gospel of success or small back to Jesus churches.

62

bianca steele 07.07.14 at 3:41 pm

@58, 59:

Last night I pulled Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope off the shelf to reread “Religion as Conversation-Stopper.” It seemed woefully out of date and unusefully abstract, though that might have been an effect of its original form as a book review. Rorty was reviewing Stephen Carter’s “How Liberals Trivialize Religion,” and the only question at issue was whether policy debates should be allowed to include religious priors (and secondarily, whether atheists should get benefits like conscientious objection). I have to say I don’t see a lot of religious defenders un-trivializing religion or taking it out of the private sphere and exposing it to view.

63

roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 4:24 pm

ps – relative to this discussion is, I think, the article about the neo-cons and Hillary Clinton in the NYT yesterday.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/opinion/sunday/are-neocons-getting-ready-to-ally-with-hillary-clinton.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

I’m not as worried about this as I perhaps should be, since Clinton’s term of office, supposing that she is elected president, is going to be another four years of subnormal growth, so I don’t think she will be able to sell the more “robust” foreign policy. Eventually, slowly but surely, the near trillion a year on war – defense, plus security, plus the energy department, plus who knows what – is going to start puzzling people. Atrios long ago made the point that the snickers in the commentariat every time a poll shows the populace favors cutting foreign aid (why it is 1 percent of the total spending, or something like that – those morons!) is driven by the fact that foreign aid, to the hoi polloi, includes many, many costs that are tucked into the defense department budget. The strict definition of foreign aid used by the journalists is sort of a sham.

64

Lee A. Arnold 07.07.14 at 4:59 pm

I think it is really important to understand what is happening to religion among the youth, right now.

A huge block in this discussion will be the resolute refusal of many in the secular, scientific Left to discuss religion as anything other than a superstition. But many people sympathetic to the concerns of the Left still acknowledge the existence of something like a “spiritual” process, not necessarily connected with the idea of a God, and they do not accept the old scientific view that it is an hallucination. Whether there can be a newer scientific view of it remains to be seen, though now there is research into brainwave patterns of meditators who have achieved stabilization, or at least, the first level of stabilization.

It ought to be clear that this impulse is out there, and it is being rediscovered daily in tons of books on stress-reduction techniques (which read exactly like the purifying beginner steps of the old mystical path in any religion), the use of entheogens such as ecstasy (there is a burgeoning movement of therapists recommending them to avoid anti-depressants), — and on the unfortunate other hand, we see the impulse in the profusion of otherworldly psychobabble and weird and even destructive and violent cult behavior.

I think we ought to consider the resurgence of fundamentalist rightwing Capitalist Christianism in the context this larger, late-20th century emergence. “Christianism”, because it really is not Christianity, but I don’t know what else to call it.

For example, an interesting point made in one of Adam Curtis’ BBC documentaries is that Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign consciously adopted the language of the ’70′s human potential movement (which was in turn a development out of the ’60′s psychedelic movement) to make repeated connections that linked “self-expression” to “getting the government off of our backs”. The fact that they also linked this to a false narrative blaming government as the primary originator of the 1970′s inflation and economic malaise was very important to their purposes. The very deep and abiding nature of this religionistic belief is seen in the fact that some big names in economics still believe it. Many Capitalist Christianists now hold Reagan as their avatar, second only to Jesus.

I guess that in the long run the Capitalist Christianists will lose the political battle. Not only are we running headlong into a situation where greater egalitarianism will be a requirement for mere social stability. They also have a spiritual problem, and in fact they are one of the world’s most twisted religions.

Capitalist Christianists have a monumental flaw: they cannot ever come to self-knowledge or “god-consciousness”, because you cannot do that, by making OTHERS follow your rules. And everybody else finds that out. What is happening underground with the young is more pervasive and epochal than they will ever know.

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GiT 07.07.14 at 5:08 pm

The megachurch gospel of success doesn’t appear very non-political to me.

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geo 07.07.14 at 5:28 pm

Sebastian @59: the Democratic Party … feels the need to attack religion in all sorts of ways

For example (besides Hobby Lobby)?

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roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 5:28 pm

I was surprised by the usually astute barbara ehrenreich, who wrote a very snobby bit about megachurches in Bright-sided. In reality, many megachurches are, for one thing, integrated. Even in the south. This might not sound like much if you are not a churchgoer, but it is definitely pretty amazing in that context. Sure, these churches are inspirational and about how God wants you to make it – but they often have very large welfare programs for their members. This is a NYT story about the Houston church that Barbara Ehrenreich did her hit piece on: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/28/us/vacation-bible-school-spins-pop-culture.html?_r=1
Here’s a sociologically fascinating graf:

“This month, his brainchild drew nearly 10,500 children between kindergarten and fifth grade, and every one attended free of charge. Two-thirds of them do not even belong to Second Baptist, and somewhere between one-third and half come from single-parent homes, a particular target of Mr. Young’s ministry. After the Bible school session ended, each child’s parent received a hand-delivered thank-you letter, homemade cookie and invitation to church.”

Those single mothers aren’t going there to be denounced in the pulpit, that is for sure. These are no longer the forums of the old Reagan revolution.
I don’t see these as particularly centers of a new populism, since the church – like the political establishment – simply accepts the new plutocratic order. But I do think that there is a fullscale retreat from politicized religion that is leaving the old moral majority types behind.

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roger gathmann 07.07.14 at 5:45 pm

I should say that surveys have a tendency to exaggerate the religious practices of Americans anyway, since the surveys depend on self-reporting. Notoriously, the idea that 40 percent of Americans attend some religious service every week has been discredited by sociologists IHadaway, et. al.) who actually compared these numbers to the numbers of congregants in the churches they sampled, where they found attendance rates of more like 20 percent. Unfortunately, the Pew survey and the Princeton survey has never attempted to correct the self-reporting bias in their reports, which make them suspect to me. Do 45 percent of young people really pray once a day? I doubt it. Unless saying Jesus, that was a good pizza counts as a prayer.

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Trader Joe 07.07.14 at 6:35 pm

“The churches that are succeeding, nowadays, are either non-political megachurches concentrating on the gospel of success or small back to Jesus churches.”

Except for the Catholic church in the U.S. which is growing as a result of a rising and highly religious Latino population.

I’ve always found it interesting that surveys of Latino views tend to map reasonably well with Republican views yet the Republican’s have done everything imaginable to alienate this bloc and they tend to lean Democrat in most states.

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Main Street Muse 07.07.14 at 7:30 pm

Roger @67 “Those single mothers aren’t going there to be denounced in the pulpit, that is for sure. These are no longer the forums of the old Reagan revolution.”

Here’s to hoping the GOP stops denouncing the single, unwed mother. There are children of GOP politicians who fit nicely into that mold, Bristol Palin, Bill Cassidy’s pregnant, unwed HS daughter heading into senior year with baby on her hip, etc.

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Main Street Muse 07.07.14 at 7:35 pm

Sebastian H @49: “It isn’t puzzling at all. The Democratic Party has taken on an increasingly anti-religious stance, and many of these people find religion very important. See for example: Hobby Lobby.”

Making provisions for insurance companies to provide what the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecology call “the most effective reversible birth control available” is not “anti-religious.” Birth control, contrary to popular opinion, is not simply a tool of the sex-crazed femi-nazi. It’s used by couples to plan and control the size of their families. I cannot stand the idea that “religion” means women’s only function is as a semen-collecting uterus.

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David of Yreka 07.07.14 at 8:16 pm

Re the Tanenhaus article: I find the photo of the Republican Intellectuals hysterically funny. IMHO it well repays close attention. For example, I see a lot of crumpled paper on the floor, but not one pen, printer, or briefcase to indicate where the paper came from. Emblematic, that.

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Bruce Wilder 07.07.14 at 8:30 pm

TJ: Latino views tend to map reasonably well with Republican views yet the Republican’s have done everything imaginable to alienate this bloc and they tend to lean Democrat in most states

The Democratic Party’s decrepit identity politics invents an Hispanic voting bloc (that doesn’t actually exist) and the Republican Party’s tribal politics attacks it, and the Democratic Party’s tribal politics replies in kind.

There’s a lot of regional variation. Where the economic oppression of a desperately poor racial minority is built into the local economy, the Republican v Democratic politics takes a pretty predictable shape: that applies to Hispanics in New Mexico and in southwest Texas along the Rio Grande in the same way it applies to African-Americans in the black belt of the Deep South or Native Americans on the reservations of Arizona or the Dakotas. As the Democrats have abandoned populism and social welfare liberalism, some of those voters have become discouraged and disinterested, but the Republicans give them no where to turn to. But, elsewhere the dynamics are quite different.

The naive left of the Democratic Party seems to think that Hispanics will uniformly be sympathetic to Democratic positions on immigration, and take offense at Republican expressions of hostility. And, they are right about taking offense at Republican expressions of racialist hostility. Obama’s election heightened the optimism of Hispanics about being able to make it in America, and the glow from that has complemented the repulsion factor to make the Hispanics a big, and seemingly reliable Democratic voting bloc.

Obama has taken a pretty tough line on illegal immigration; it would be interesting to know the inside calculation. (Anecdotally, from my personal acquaintance in L.A., Hispanics can be pretty hostile to illegal immigration.) Professional Republican operatives have noted that a large part of the Hispanic vote is persuadable, and have their eye on it: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, George P Bush . . . a cast is ready, and they won’t be voted off the island!

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MPAVictoria 07.07.14 at 8:37 pm

“The Democratic Party’s decrepit identity politics invents an Hispanic voting bloc (that doesn’t actually exist)”

Man is the next 25 years or so gonna be a HUGE surprise for you.

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Trader Joe 07.07.14 at 9:07 pm

BW@73
I think I agree with you in some areas and maybe less in some others. I agree there is no such thing as a national hispanic or Latino voting bloc. It tends to be regional and to the extent its numbers move elections this is more a state phenomenon than a national one. Florida can be one thing, Arizona something else, California a third.

Where I may differ is I do see the possibility of their voting power becoming a more national force and if that happened, it wouldn’t surprise me if the vector of that bloc was through the influence of one or more religious persons. Its often underappreciated the degree to which religious leaders have motivated the formation and mobilization of the african american vote. When or whether the Latino population finds their own version of Dr. King remains to be seen.

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John Quiggin 07.07.14 at 9:11 pm

An obvious counterexample to Sebastian H. Dem reliance on black churches and repub demonization of same.

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Barry 07.07.14 at 9:34 pm

Trader Joe: “I’ve always found it interesting that surveys of Latino views tend to map reasonably well with Republican views yet the Republican’s have done everything imaginable to alienate this bloc and they tend to lean Democrat in most states.”

They don’t. IIRC, Hispanics tend to favor a larger role for government. And of course, Republican views are the Hispanics are The Other.

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John Quiggin 07.07.14 at 9:49 pm

In fact, I’d say that the Dems are very deferential to black churches, mainstream Protestants and cultural/liberal Catholics, and eager to find any opening they can to evangelicals (eg on the basis of stewardship theology). There’s nothing comparable to the open hatred of atheists and (to a slightly lesser extent) Muslims that animates the Repubs.

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Layman 07.07.14 at 9:52 pm

” I agree there is no such thing as a national hispanic or Latino voting bloc. It tends to be regional and to the extent its numbers move elections this is more a state phenomenon than a national one. Florida can be one thing, Arizona something else, California a third.”

There are no national elections. The executive & legislative branches are elected at the state level or below; so Florida & California matter a lot, as does Texas & a number of other populous states. The Hispanic vote in those states matters a lot, and it won’t go for Republicans. If that’s not a ‘voting block’, I don’t know what is.

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Ronan(rf) 07.07.14 at 9:57 pm

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MPAVictoria 07.08.14 at 2:10 am

“Taking all existing coverage expansions together, we estimate that 20 million Americans have gained coverage as of May 1 under the ACA .

We do not know yet exactly how many of these people were previously uninsured, but it seems certain that many were. Recent national surveys seem to confirm this presumption. The CBO projects that the law will decrease the number of uninsured people by 12 million this year and by 26 million by 2017. Early polling data from Gallup, RAND, and the Urban Institute indicate that the number of uninsured people may have already declined by 5 million to 9 million and that the proportion of U.S. adults lacking insurance has fallen from 18% in the third quarter of 2013 to 13.4% in May 2014.

However, these surveys may underestimate total gains, since some were fielded before the late March enrollment surge and do not include children. With continuing enrollment through individual marketplaces, Medicaid, and SHOP, the numbers of Americans gaining insurance for the first time — or insurance that is better in quality or more affordable than their previous policy — will total in the many tens of millions.”

Looks like Obamacare is working…

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JimV 07.08.14 at 3:20 am

As an anecdotal atheistic U.S. citizen, registered Independent, who hasn’t found a Republican worth voting for in many years*, it annoys me how deferential Democratic politicians are to religion, from Obama on down. (I suspect most atheists are thoughtful enough to see what a sham the current Republican agenda is, and make a lot of noise about it in their blogs, but they aren’t speaking for the Democratic party, nor are they giving Convention/Campaign speeches.)

The exception is the pro-choice/pro-life issue, but that’s not an anti-religion/pro-religion issue per se; it’s just that the pro-life side is more apt to be religiously offended.

* after GWB, I won’t vote for one for dog-catcher, figuring he or she voted for GWB twice; the dogs deserve somebody better than that.

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Sebastian H 07.08.14 at 7:14 am

I’m not sure what you mean by deference to black churches. I can’t immediately think of any issue where the Democrats exhibit any change in votes on any religious issue or topic because of black churches. Democrats are thrilled of course that Republicans have alienated black voters so completely that Democrats don’t have to do anything in particular to get the black vote–but I’m pretty sure that isn’t ‘deferential’. What issue do you think Mainstream Democrats would be different on if only it weren’t for the influence of black churches and non-republican Protestants?

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bad Jim 07.08.14 at 8:56 am

The Republicans fail to appeal to blacks, Hispanics and Asians because they’re mostly white racists and don’t bother hiding it. There’s not much point in teasing apart the various policy strands; neither the Catholic nor Evangelical Latinos will be attracted to the Grand Old Party even on social or economic issues, because it’s been made very clear that it’s for white people only. Real Americans.

Perhaps in an alternative universe it wouldn’t have happened that way, and different immigrant groups would have sorted themselves into different voting blocs. In this one, though, the conservatives are wedded to the Confederacy, sotto-voce defenders of slavery and segregation.

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J Thomas 07.08.14 at 12:39 pm

The Republicans fail to appeal to blacks, Hispanics and Asians because they’re mostly white racists and don’t bother hiding it.

This is bad for us because Democrats don’t need to be very good, they only need to be better than that.

We would be better off with a multi-party system. I propose we change the voting to acceptance voting, or IRV. As it is, if one major party gets 49% of the vote and the other gets 51%, that’s only a little different from one getting 49%, the other getting 48%, and a third party getting 3%. When you vote for a third party you throw away your chance to vote against the worst of the top two. But if it was one party gets 49%, the other gets 51%, and the third and fourth parties get 35% and 28%, then the extra parties start looking like real threats. If too many people get disgusted by the major parties they’ll stop voting for them and somebody else will win.

With acceptance voting you vote for as many choices as you want. The one that gets the most votes wins.

With IRV you vote for your first choice and second choice etc, and the later votes only count after the earlier votes lose. People argue about which is better but they’re both good.

But existing politicians won’t want to change the rules because they won under the old rules and don’t know whether they’d win the new way.

I suggest as an earlier step we try to change the rules for voting in primaries, for either and both parties. As it is, sometimes the candidate who wins the nomination has only a fraction of the party organizers willing to work for him, sometimes a small fraction. He then loses the election, which is a problem for the party. But with acceptance voting, candidates who don’t get broad support won’t win. The guy who’s everybody’s second choice will win instead. You’ll tend to wind up with a candidate who is near the center-of-mass of the party.

Maybe if politicians see it working inside their own party, they’ll be more willing to see it happen for the government.

Or possibly people will be ready to try it after the revolution. It’s worth spreading the idea, in either case.

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Doug 07.08.14 at 3:58 pm

Bruce Wilder,

Do you have any practical suggestions on how to fix the American system?

Or are you simply walking around yelling “repent! the end is nigh!”

Just curious.

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Patrick C 07.09.14 at 1:49 am

I think it is pretty much impossible to have a wonky publication that is “unleavened by illustration”. Plots are the foundation of numerate communication.

An entire publication that leads the reader through a “forced march…of statistics” without plots? That is just plain stupid. The people running the publication don’t even have the barest prerequisite of statistical education such that they’re aware that they’re doing it completely wrong.

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J Thomas 07.10.14 at 11:45 am

#86

Do you have any practical suggestions on how to fix the American system?

Bruce, I’d like to second that. Not that you have any obligation to explain, or explain again, but it’s an interesting question and it wouldn’t be interrupting an active discussion about something else.

So if you’d enjoy talking about this you have an audience.

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