Bartlett, Zombies, Disraeli, Anarchism, Dr. Horrible

by John Holbo on July 20, 2008

Matthew Yglesias was kind enough to link to my Necrotrends post. In comments over there I explained that, in all false modesty, I actually hadn’t worked out whether I thought it was a seance story or a zombie story. Is it Mark Penn as the kid in “Sixth Sense” – ‘I poll dead people’. Or is it William McKinley stashed in a shed like the former roommate at the end of “Shaun of the Dead”? Unclear, is all I can conclude. (One commenter suggested BOTH: si se puede! Fair enough.) But mostly I bring this up because Bruce Bartlett showed up in comements over there. As there was considerable speculation in comments to my original post as to whether the man could say such things with a straight face … I report, you decide:

You and all your commentators continue to miss the point of my book. I don’t expect any Democrat, black or white, to read what I’ve written and suddenly decide to vote Republican because of their party’s past racial sins. The point of the book is to get Republicans interested in the race issue so that they will pursue black votes. There are two reasons why this is important. First, African Americans will be better off if both parties compete for their votes. As virtual captives of one party the Democrats are free to take them for granted while Republicans ignore them completely. Second, I believe that blacks and Hispanics are natural competitors and political rivals. In the long run I don’t think they can both be in the same party. Since the Hispanic population is larger and growing faster, I think that the Democrats will gradually begin to favor Hispanics over blacks whenever there is conflict between them. I think this will eventually make blacks receptive to Republican outreach. And Republicans are going to need black votes because their immigration policy is driving all Hispanics out of their party.

Obviously, this scenario is not going to play out this year. When I wrote the book I never imagined that Obama would get the Democratic nomination or that the Republicans would nominate someone as soft on immigration as McCain. Nevertheless, what I wrote about are long-term trends. I even think the election of Obama may move them along by displacing the old generation of civil rights leaders like Jackson and Sharpton that were totally wedded to the Democrats. It may signal the beginning of a move by blacks into the political mainstream so that in the future they will vote on issues other than race, which may make the Republican message on taxes, national security etc. more attractive to middle and upper class blacks.

Finally, I would mention that liberals often use distant history to pursue current political goals. For example, Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism, the Hollywood 10, the Rosenberg and Hiss cases and so on are still very alive in certain quarters of the left, such as at The Nation. Liberals also like to dredge up long distant Republican missteps on race. Just a few months ago Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert were making a big to-do about Reagan’s Neshoba speech in 1980. More recently there was much discussion of Jesse Helms’ alleged racism. I don’t remember you or any other liberal saying at the time that this was irrelevant old news.

The whole ‘Democrats bring up relevant history all the time, so why shouldn’t Republicans bring up irrelevant history?’ argument seems open to objections on grounds of relevance. Also, the idea that telling the Republicans-on-race history as a tale of McKinleyite triumphalism – while scrupulously refraining from admitting that Helms’ ideas on the subject might have been a tetch problematic – hardly seems likely to get Republicans ‘interested in’ the race debate in ways likely to win over African-American voters. (Lord knows Republicans are interested enough in race, per se, if that were all it took.)

Somehow the whole business seems obscurely connected to that David Brooks column that has been linked around. How the Republicans need to get all Disraeli-ite. Duly noted: the Republicans can’t find 20th Century models for the 21st Century. Maybe that would be a good bumpersticker: McCain 2008 – the 19th Century or Bust!

Also duly noted: in response to Brooks, the consensus over at the Corner seemed to be that one particular response, by Peter Robinson, was best. He argues that Brooks is wrong because, self-evidently, pure anarchism is a superior alternative to any form of zombie Disraeli government. That is:

Milton Friedman argued that government spending will always prove pernicious for the simple but profound reason that “nobody spends somebody else’s money as well as he spends his own.” Has Brooks ever refuted Friedman? No.

But if Friedman proved that, and if no one has refuted him, then Milton Friedman proved that all forms of government should be abolished – including the American system of government, presumably. There can’t be non-pernicious government, if there can’t be any non-pernicious government spending. So it turns out that, after all these years, small government conservatism was in error. Because small is still pernicious. Am I right or am I right? (Or am I right or am I right or am I right?)

So Peter Robinson presumably thinks conservatives should, ideally, be at the head of … well, as Dr. Horrible sings in Act III of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”: “Anarchy that I run!”

Robinson, rounds off the case against zombie Disraeli on a serious note. The reason Brooks has not embraced the philosophy of total anarchism that “half a century of painstaking observation” has demonstrated to be sound is – well, it’s hard to understand why David Brooks isn’t an anarchist. “David has a fine mind, Lord knows, and he writes gorgeously. But he wants to dumb us down—to insist that we know less than we do. And there’s nothing conservative—or, for that matter, progressive—about that.”

Take that, zombie Disraeli!

But seriously. What Brooks is arguing for is for Rockefeller Republicanism. The idea that you are ok with the New Deal, but you want a mean and flinty old man from New England to guard the money to pay for the largesse. But the Republicans just spend the last 40 years hunting that lot to extinction, starting with Goldwater in ’64. But there is really no way to advocate Rockefeller Republicanism without admitting that ‘mistakes have been made’ – just as there is no way the Republicans can be the party of civil rights without admitting that ‘mistakes have been made’. Admitting you have a problem is obviously not enough. But it is a necessary first step.

By the by, I thought the funniest line in “Dr Horrible” was, perhaps: “Justice has a name. And, besides ‘justice’, that name is … Captain Hammer!”



abb1 07.20.08 at 2:06 pm

I find this whole discussion about what’s good for the blacks and how the blacks should or shouldn’t vote extremely tasteless, but this:

I believe that blacks and Hispanics are natural competitors and political rivals.

is beyond tasteless.


bicycle Hussein paladin 07.20.08 at 2:47 pm

Yes, but

Obviously, this scenario is not going to play out this year.

Obviously not this year.


Random African 07.20.08 at 2:59 pm

This may beat it in tastelessness.

the beginning of a move by blacks into the political mainstream so that in the future they will vote on issues other than race

And those two sentences barely compute.


Jeff Rubard 07.20.08 at 3:01 pm

What Brooks is arguing for is for Rockefeller Republicanism.

Yeah, no. The Brooks piece is profoundly creepy, which Rockefeller Republicanism was not; he picks Disraeli because he wants the party to have a profile that American politics has not heretofore had. Nobody, including Theodore Roosevelt, was sweating the “socially conservative working classes” qua electoral bulwark: universal white male suffrage was in the Constitution. I agree with you that 20th century Americanism is preferable to that.


rea 07.20.08 at 3:59 pm

I believe that blacks and Hispanics are natural competitors and political rivals.

What conceivable rationale is there for such a statement, other than the notion that Blacks and Hispanics are naturally racist bigots?


bianca steele 07.20.08 at 4:02 pm

There’s something seriously wrong with that Brooks column, but I don’t see why I should go to any effort to figure out even what he’s saying.

But I think you’re wrong to call Brooks a Rockefeller Republican, which implies that he has no ideology (also that he sees himself as a member of America’s ruling class). And would a Rockefeller Republican quote the latest academic research as slavishly as Brooks does? He’s some variety of watered-down neoconservative, a variety that may transmute into something new someday or other, but whatever it may then turn out to be, that won’t be Rockefeller Republicanism.


Rich Puchalsky 07.20.08 at 4:05 pm

His “blacks and Hispanics” statement indicates that he’s still thinking exactly like the modern GOP always has. Civil rights leaders in America didn’t go on about the natural interests of “races” as opposed to other “races”. They called on the right to equal treatment of everyone. It’s funny, because he’s doing his best to fake an interest, but he just doesn’t get it. He has a dream: an America where people don’t judge you by the color of your skin, but by whether you’re opposed to those dammed Mexicans.


Jason B 07.20.08 at 4:15 pm

The whole ‘Democrats bring up relevant history all the time, so why shouldn’t Republicans bring up irrelevant history?’ argument seems open to objections on grounds of relevance.

Specifically, he’s ordered up a helping of Fallacy of Composition with a side of tu quoque.


jacob 07.20.08 at 4:23 pm

More recently there was much discussion of Jesse Helms’ alleged racism.

Poor man must be rolling over in his grave. There’s nothing alleged about it, and Helms was a proud racist, happy to be recognized as such. Unlike, say, Thurmond, he never tried to make amends and say he learned from his mistakes. He was a proud white supremacist from start to finish and if you’re going to make the morally dubious choice to admire him, it seems unfair to strip him of what he stood for.

Actually (and now I’m rambling), it seems similar to when liberals try to adopt as their own radicals like the Black Panthers or the Haymarket Martyrs, but in so doing strip them of what they were actually trying to accomplish. The Panthers and the Haymarket anarchists were revolutionaries, and if you admire them (as I do) you should admire them for that, not for a watered-down version that defangs them and makes them acceptable in polite company.


beamish 07.20.08 at 4:24 pm

universal white male suffrage was in the Constitution

It was not. How soon we forget Dorr’s Rebellion.


concerned bystander 07.20.08 at 4:35 pm

“blacks and Hispanics are natural competitors”
They really are. Just throw a bunch of them in prison and watch the CCTV.


Ben Alpers 07.20.08 at 4:50 pm

Anyone actually longing for Rockefeller Republicanism can just vote for today’s Democrats and get a reasonable facsimile of it.

It’s those looking for FDR- or LBJ-style liberalism (let alone McGovern-style liberalism) who are shit out of luck.


Dave 07.20.08 at 5:49 pm

Good to see that the really BIG steaming crock of shit in that “argument” is obvious to all and sundry…


JP Stormcrow 07.20.08 at 7:22 pm

It’s interesting that even granting the most charitable interpretation of Bartlett’s column (that Repubs should reach out to blacks so they can join evangelicals as constituencies that vote against their best interests), Bartlett observes rule #1 when talking to the conservative “leadership”—Thou shalt not say anything bad about their actions because then they will not even listen to you. They really do act like the world’s most spoiled children (see also Gerson’s recent column lecturing global warning activists). It’s like an intervention with an alcoholic where you play Raffi songs and talk about how much fun it used to be drinking apple juice.


TLB 07.20.08 at 7:34 pm

Based on the previous comments, we’re playing a game where we’re supposed to just ignore lots of things that have happened, right? I hate to not play along, but this seems relevant to the “natural competitors” quote. Bear in mind that was a Bush scheme aided and abetted by the Dem leadership; when local Dems complained, they were told to hush up in various ways.


sg 07.20.08 at 8:01 pm

I think it’s funny how the analysis doesn’t include any recognition that as members of a polity black people should be represented by both major parties, and the Republicans ought to be pursuing black votes because they ought to care about black voters. No, that idea’s completely missing from the equation. It’s just that the Republicans will lose votes if they don’t fake sincerity, and black voters are missing out on using their awesome (vote) consuming power.

Whether this is just another case of pundits getting so obsessed with the political battle that they miss the wood for the trees, or whether it’s what this chap really thinks… either way it’s sad.


Jacob T. Levy 07.21.08 at 3:34 am

I don’t even think that was in the top ten funniest lines.


John Holbo 07.21.08 at 4:09 am

OK, but I’m a philosopher, so I like jokes that remind me of Russell’s (and others) theories of proper names. What do YOU think was the funniest line.

I thought “Home is where the heart is/So your true home’s in your chest” was pretty funny. Also, “It’s not enough to bash in heads, you’ve also got to bash in minds.”


josh 07.21.08 at 5:41 am

A few stray thoughts, for what they’re worth:
The Bartlett piece: yeah, what everyone else said.
National Review: it’s amazing how perceptions can differ. I tend to think that the reminder of how little we know is the best part of conservatism (and one of those rare things that David Brooks rightly emphasises, albeit sometimes in perverse ways). On the other hand, there’s nothing conservative, properly speaking, about market dogmatism (which doesn’t mean its wrong — though I tend to think it is; but it sure ain’t conservative). (And — Brooks writes gorgeously? Eh. He’s a bit too cutesy for my taste — but maybe it’s too much time cohabiting a page with Tom Friedman.)
I don’t think that Brooks is a Rockefeller Republican — at least, not if he’s serious about, and properly understands, the Disraeli reference (and with Brooks, who knows). Disraeli, at least as I understand him, basically contributes to Toryism a combination of willingness to adopt moderate reform for political purposes; a certain concern for the disadvantaged based on a combination of noblesse oblige and nationalism; and an expansionist, jingoistic foreign policy. ‘Compassionate conservatism’ and plus imperialism — it’s like a competent (actually, very competent) version of Bush (or, someone who actually delivered what Bush promised). In other words, in his admiration for Disraeli (and TR) Brooks is still basically a neo-con, albeit a chastened one.
I’m happy to agree with my good buddy Jacob that liberals shouldn’t embrace the Panthers or the Haymarket Martyrs — though from the other side of the fence, as it were.
Dr. Horrible: I liked the whole Bad Horse conceit, with its attendant lines (‘His terrible death-whinny’ was great — though much of its greatness was in the delivery.) And yes, ‘you’ve also got to bash in minds’ was the best of many fine Captain Hammer lines.


sg 07.21.08 at 7:39 am

I liked all of Bad Horse’s letters to Dr Horrible. Particularly the brief pause when he says he will make Dr. Horrible his mare.


roac 07.21.08 at 1:44 pm

A word to the owners of this site: Keep an eye on this TLB person.


lemuel pitkin 07.21.08 at 1:59 pm

when liberals try to adopt as their own radicals like the Black Panthers or the Haymarket Martyrs

Sorry, which liberals are these?


ajay 07.21.08 at 4:42 pm

Move along folks, there’s nothing here to see,
Just incredible danger, and in the middle of it, me!


Jeff Rubard 07.21.08 at 4:58 pm

Just incredible danger, and in the middle of it, me!

Could happen if you talk too much about dead Presidents.


Jacob T. Levy 07.21.08 at 9:16 pm

“bash in minds” is the funniest line, but “It’s a great day to be homeless!” is a special treat for people who are interested in politics and the press…


bartkid 07.21.08 at 9:37 pm

>I don’t remember you or any other liberal saying at the time that this was irrelevant old news.

With a steel-strong memory like that, I foresee a future for this person in a Republican Justice Department.


jtm 07.23.08 at 8:09 pm

come now…let’s be serious. the best hands Captain Hammer line, hands down, among the multitude of incredible lines (many of which are mentioned above) is clearly having him return into the frame to clarify, “The hammer is my penis.” I did a spit take when I heard that, and I wasn’t even drinking anything.

::insert something relevant about the political discussion here as well and remember to do it BEFORE you post this time. otherwise, you’ll just look like a fool::

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