You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

by John Holbo on October 3, 2013

Erick Erickson:

Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it.

I guess the next stage is to seek compromise on what ‘compromise’ means. Conservatives want ‘compromise’ to mean: we get almost everything. You get nothing. Erickson’s planning to threaten the dictionary people, maybe? (‘Dat’s a nice language you got ‘der. Be a shame if somethin’ wuz teh happin to it.’)

A kidnapper who asks for $1 million or he shoots the kid is seeking compromise, so long as he would prefer $10 million?

UPDATE: Here’s another use of the new word from Grover Norquist:

The administration asking us to raise taxes is not an offer; that’s not a compromise. That’s just losing. I’m in favor of compromise. When we did the $2.5 trillion spending restraint in the BCA, we wanted $6 trillion. I considered myself very compromised. Overly reasonable.

‘Compromise’ means conservatives getting a lot for nothing, just not absolutely everything you might ever want, for nothing. But bottom line: if you have to give to get, that’s just losing, not compromise.



David 10.03.13 at 5:46 am

I can’t help but wish that the Democrats spent one tenth of the emotional energy and effort Republicans have spent on opposing Obamacare on anything at all.


Ken_L 10.03.13 at 5:54 am

I suggest Obama announce he will veto any bill increasing the debt limit, unless the Republican Party agrees to increase income taxes on the rich to reduce next year’s deficit. If they complain, tell them he’d really prefer to eliminate the deficit altogether by increasing capital gains and estate taxes as well but he’s showing how willing he is to compromise.


Neil Levy 10.03.13 at 6:47 am

“A kidnapper who asks for $1 million or he shoots the kid is seeking compromise, so long as he would prefer $10 million?”

That doesn’t seem the right analogy. The kidnapper who asks for $1 million is a KINO; one who holds out for $10 million is offering a compromise.


Mao Cheng Ji 10.03.13 at 7:03 am

No, a better analogy would be you reluctantly agreeing to render someone brain-dead, when what you really want is to cut his head off.


Guano 10.03.13 at 7:27 am

Iraq could have avoided being invaded if it has admitted to having the WMD it didn’t have?


Sasha Clarkson 10.03.13 at 8:20 am

Lewis Carroll time:

” ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less’. ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be the master, that’s all.’ ”


etv13 10.03.13 at 9:09 am

So for the very first comment we get . . . Words fail me.


etv13 10.03.13 at 9:14 am

Okay, no they don’t. We have before us a shining example of Republicans being nihilistic thuggish assholes, and in the face of that, what David chooses to do is criticize Democrats. Geez.


MPAVictoria 10.03.13 at 11:03 am

Just wait until Bruce shows up etv13. He will be happy to explain to you why this whole thing is really Obama’s fault.


marcel 10.03.13 at 11:30 am

MPAVictoria @ 9 wrote:

He will be happy to explain to you why this whole thing is really Obama’s fault.

Isn’t it? Obama must have realized by 2011 just how crazy he was making the Republicans (“Is this the police? I’d like to report that there’s a n***r in the White House!”). The right thing for him to have done would have been to announce, ideally sometime in September or October 2012, that he would not run for re-election. The country would not be in the situation that it currently finds itself if he had made the wise and honorable decision.


NomadUK 10.03.13 at 11:47 am

He will be happy to explain to you why this whole thing is really Obama’s fault.

No, he’s just a symptom.


LFC 10.03.13 at 12:03 pm

@Nomak UK
I read the opening graphs of the post you link. I think it is exaggerated. First, Dems do not share the right-wing crazies’ policy goals. Second, it is not the case that their arguments w said crazies involve nitpicking rather than explaining fairly basic disagreements. (Could the differences sometimes be drawn by Dems more sharply? Yes.)

The effort to link defunding/delaying/gutting Obamacare to govt funding etc. is not so much anti-Democratic as anti-democratic (small “d”). It’s an effort to frustrate majority rule and achieve through extortion what the right wing could not achieve through the normal course of politics. And if it weren’t for gerrymandered congressional districts, they wouldn’t be able to do this at all.


Ian S. 10.03.13 at 12:42 pm


The first comment can be interpreted quite differently. Don’t you wish that Democrats had expended equivalent amounts of energy defending their health care ideas, especially when the law was being discussed (e.g. single payer)? This was not necessarily a comment about the current situation, just the idea that if Democrats were as passionate as Republicans liberal ideas would stand a better chance.

If you want to read a really appalling comment, check out @marcel!


rea 10.03.13 at 1:11 pm

“We aren’t going to be disrespected,” said Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.“


Omega Centauri 10.03.13 at 1:40 pm

My compromise is I’m only going to kill you. I really wanted to slowly torture you to death…..


Sasha Clarkson 10.03.13 at 1:46 pm

Ian @13 – I think @Marcel was being ironic? :)


Ian S. 10.03.13 at 2:04 pm


Poe’s law? Only Marcel can tell us! :)


David J. Littleboy 10.03.13 at 2:09 pm

Sasha@16 – I was going to say that. And then it crossed my mind that maybe Ian@13 was being ironic.

Sometimes I feel really slow when I read Crooked Timber.


MattF 10.03.13 at 2:20 pm

More to the point, Erick ibn Erick has been changing his mind about the shutdown on a daily basis. He’ll do his assignment-for-the-day (“Erick, go forth and get the Commies pissed off”) then go home and have a beer. Not a bad life.


Sasha Clarkson 10.03.13 at 2:26 pm

@David, @Ian …. AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!! ;)


marcel 10.03.13 at 2:32 pm

Folks – I don’t know if irony describes what I was attempting; low humor is probably a better description. I know humor is often difficult to convey on the web, but it was so goddam broad… yeah, poe’s law. Btw, the online definitions of poe’s law that I checked refer to satire rather than irony, but I think that that elevates my attempt, giving it a grandeur that it does not merit. Low snark is more to the point.


Daniel Nexon 10.03.13 at 2:44 pm

@marcel: I suspect most readers got the joke.

I think that this is slightly unfair to Erikson. He’s accurately describing the position of the radical right and the House leadership. Boehner, on the other hand, speaks in code designed to obfuscate what’s really going on (“negotiate with us”).

Erikson’s wrong, though, that Democrats don’t get this. That’s why Democrats aren’t talking about the GOP’s “refusal to compromise” with respect to Obamacae; they’re simply refusing to negotiate on the subject. When Democrats do talk about refusal to compromise, they mean (1) the GOPs refusal to work on ways to improve the ACA and/or (2) taxes and spending levels.

But yes, “defunding” isn’t really a compromise. If anything, it is worse than repealing–as the result would be to blow up the entire health-care system.


DHMCarver 10.03.13 at 3:05 pm

Why does everyone seem to forget in this discussion of compromise (or lack thereof) that the ACA was a compromise bill in the first place, and that there were numerous legislative tradeoffs (i.e., compromises) as the bill floundered its way through Congress? There were plenty of compromises all along the line, and then the final result was largely endorsed by the US electorate in Obama’s re-election, and given a constitutional thumbs up by the Supremes. So please — can we stop all of this compromise discourse?


Jonny Butter 10.03.13 at 3:23 pm

“We have before us a shining example of Republicans being nihilistic thuggish assholes, and in the face of that, what David chooses to do is criticize Democrats. Geez.”

OK, let’s have 45 comments to the effect that “Republicans are being nihilistic thuggish assholes”. That will be illuminating.

Of course they’re being nihilistic thuggish assholes. But when your country is, for structural reasons, allowed only two parties, the relationship between the two is inherently symbiotic . If the only countervailing force against tragi-comic dysfunction is one political party, then you yearn for that party to be at least somewhat competent at their chosen profession.

The symbiosis means that responsibility really is shared, like in a long fraught marriage. This is not a false equivalence: the GOP, not the Democratic, is the crazy, dangerous party. But no one made and makes the Dems follow for all these years – and yet they do. They do it only an inch at a time, but add up all the inches, and…here we are. I would even go so far as to say that it is a serious indictment of the Democratic party that the GOP has been allowed to get this extreme. I think Republicans have been ‘giddy’ for years – giddy and incredulous that they get so little non-defensive pushback from the dems. It emboldens them. Now they are actually running out of space to run right, and out of things to fck up, and there’s STILL no serious pushback.

It is beyond me why a Democratic president (any) in this absurd situation would not go on television with a well pre-hyped national address and say: ‘the Republicans’ radical dangerous agenda of shut downs and default threaten our national security. We look weak and vulnerable to the world. Our enemies/terrorists see this….etc.’

Demagoguery? Perhaps a little (also a very large grain of truth). One would HOPE for a little demagoguery! Or at least a little political poetry rather than the prosaic drivel we get from our Mediocrity in Chief (and it would have been the same with Hillary or any other national Dem). I’ll never fully understand why so many people with so little aptitude for big-stage politics nonetheless choose it as a profession. Maybe it’s similar to why so many people with speech impediments go into broadcasting….

Anyway, I wish the same thing commenter #1 wishes for: if Democrats can’t protect the country from pointless ruin, what good are they? Otherwise they’re just hanging around collecting a check, being the ‘good cop’, etc.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 3:30 pm


Whatever you want to call it, hostage taking, nullification, idiocy, the plain fact is that if the democrats would have kept the house we wouldn’t be having a shutdown. The compromises that created the ACA did not include having to get agreement from a Republican house. (and they wouldn’t have the power to gerrymander if they didn’t have a lot of power at the state level also. Those are just the rules as they stand.)

The analogy that makes sense to me is not a person with a gun trying to get something that he doesn’t own, it is two people in a bad marriage that are not allowed to divorce.
Let’s say it goes something like this. One spouse in a marriage ( R) was not in a position to have custody of a child until they completed certain legally prescribed steps. The other spouse (D) was ordered to have custody until R met those criteria at which type they would negotiate custody arrangements. If they didn’t reach an agreement about custody, then their child would be kept in a really crappy juvenile detention center.

Now, party R says they want full custody but party D says they want full custody, and so the kid goes off to Juvenile Hall and is pissed off. He is saying that since D had full custody before then D should still have custody until they reach an agreement.

Well, what is compromise in this situation? I think the Republicans are overreaching, but the fact remains that the R’s have more power than they did when the ACA was passed and they intend to get something out of it. Seems like garden-variety divorce crazy to me.

The problem is just that we all live in a country where the parents hate each others guts and can’t divorce.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 3:44 pm

Slightly better analogy. D has the right to custody but only if they have the money, but the money distribution has to be negotiated. So R is using leverage over the money distribution to revisit the custody decision. Either way the kid is still pissed and the parents still hate each other.


MPAVictoria 10.03.13 at 3:45 pm

Shorter Martin James: Did you know both sides are bad? True story!


Daniel Nexon 10.03.13 at 3:47 pm

@24: this analogy only makes sense in a parallel universe where the Democrats didn’t adopt a GOP/conservative health-care proposal and enter into negotiations with Republicans who had previously expressed support for it, only to have the leadership decide that total opposition to Obama was the best way to bring the GOP back from the brink. You can’t refuse to negotiate, and then argue that you have a right to extraordinary remedies because the other side didn’t negotiate with you. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 3:56 pm


I think the R’s like a lot of Obamacare except for the exchange subsidies. It was after all, their think tank’s idea. Its not the exchanges themselves its all the money for the lower and middle income people they don’t like.


Pseudonymous McGee 10.03.13 at 4:37 pm

Republicans don’t misunderstand “compromise”. The kidnapper’s compromise is a compromise nonetheless, negotiated presumably for strictly pragmatic reasons. If you’re interested in fair dealing, you wouldn’t be kidnapping people in the first place. Similarly, if you are interested in destroying the political power and legitimacy of the democratic party, it would be counter-productive to attempt any compromise that was not instrumentally necessary to those ends. I can fault the republicans (the tea party and its passive enablers) for all kinds of moral and psychological pathologies, but it’s the dems who suffer a lack of understanding- they fail to understand that the party across the aisle is still at war with them, and any passing appeals to compromise are nothing but a strategic pivot.


DHMCarver 10.03.13 at 5:16 pm

It is worth revisiting the quote @rea posted at #14: ““We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”” It is hard to negotiate with people who do not know for what they are negotiating. And it is hard to escape the belief that the GOP is opposing for the mere sake of opposing — that they have no concrete policy objective, they just want to score a hit. That complicates matters considerably — for there is no way to find common ground when one party merely wants to frustrate governance.

I agree with what Martin James posted at #24, about this crisis growing out of the loss of the House in 2010, and even more so, the right-wing GOP tidal wave that wept state legislatures that year. Nonetheless, that comes too close to blaming the victim (Why on earth did she marry that no good bum ? We all said he was gonna beat her). The apathy on the left in 2010 (not unlike the apathy on the left in 2000) brought these clowns to Congress, but the clowns are still responsible for what they are doing once there.


parse 10.03.13 at 5:38 pm

Interesting analogy, Martin James. If you tweak it a bit and say that kid has made it clear he wants to stay with D and that R doesn’t give a shit about what the kid wants, you’ve made a useful point regarding the Republicans stance on the government shutdown and the ACA.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 5:42 pm


Exactly, R would say “dang kid doesn’t even have a job, why would we listen to him!”


dick epler 10.03.13 at 5:57 pm

A mugger said to Jack Benny, a master of timing : “Your money or your life.” Benny’s response was a famous pause. If he had said “my money, never” could the mugger claim as a defense to murder that Benny had a choice? Only if he was a member of the lunatic fringe.


bob mcmanus 10.03.13 at 6:12 pm

I don’t care what Republicans do, I care about what Democrats do.

Federal spending is down 17% since 2011, see Ezra Klein this morning, and dropping, and Dems are bargaining more cuts. (After Republicans fold. It will happen.) That’s unspeakable, unbearable, evil. I would never have signed those bills, and I hate the bastard that did sign them.

How about Dems use default, if Republicans can’t take the heat, to raise Federal Spending increased 30% financed with a big transaction tax and a surcharge on incomes over 100k? Or we will crash the freaking world?

Nah, y’all would rather giggle at silly Boehner. Makes me sick.


Brandon 10.03.13 at 6:27 pm

Bob McManus @33,

Why is 2011 the relevant point of comparison?


Trader Joe 10.03.13 at 6:36 pm

If you have a link to the Klein piece you are referring to it would be helpful – I can’t imagine what contortion of data would reach a conclusion that spending was down 17% since 2011 or any other time period. The OMB figures are:

2010 = 5.96 T
2011=6.16 T

It could be the deficit has fallen by that percentage, but that’s because of new taxes imposed. There’s no part of spending that has fallen.


bob mcmanus 10.03.13 at 6:39 pm

Ezra Klein Chart scroll down

y’all really do think you’re winning, doncha. Obama is good at his job.


James Kitto 10.03.13 at 6:44 pm

Having recently fought and lost an election on this issue, the Republicans’ complete obliviousness to their lack of legal and moral authority is adorable. “We actually want to repeal it.” Yeah and if you think about it Dad, I actually want ten ice creams so if you just buy me one I’m really doing you a favour.


Trader Joe 10.03.13 at 6:47 pm

Ahhh….only counts discretionary spending. Doesn’t count the other 80% of spending (including interest, entitlement outlays + on/off budget spending).

As I interpret the chart, what the WH thought in 2011 we’d spend in 2014 and what is now being proposed to be spent in 2014, is down 17%, and this is being ‘counted’ as a savings of 17% – despite the fact that overall federal outlays continue to climb.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 6:48 pm

bob mcmanus,

You may not care about republicans, but republicans care about you.


Billikin 10.03.13 at 7:19 pm

Another reason why we don’t negotiate with terrorists.


Lee A. Arnold 10.03.13 at 7:28 pm

The Republicans love ya, baby! They want to deny universal healthcare. Amazing. It must be an existential crisis, I have never seen anything so profoundly awkward and stupid in national politics, maybe in my entire life.


UserGoogol 10.03.13 at 7:32 pm

I don’t think it’s necessarily an abuse of language. From the perspective of Republicans (although this perspective is irrational and bad-faith) Obamacare is the worst thing ever: an assault on all that is good in the world and the most egregious act of government overstep since the Holocaust. Thus, from their perspective they are the ones negotiating with terrorists.

Republicans are wrong and Democrats are right, but the problem isn’t so much that they’re abusing language but that their conception of reality is askew. (Which is worse, but at least it’s more comprehensible than mere nonsense speech.)


Lee A. Arnold 10.03.13 at 7:38 pm

It’s a two-pronged maneuver, like the pincers of a crab.


Martin James 10.03.13 at 7:41 pm


Is one’s perception of reality askew if one hates and wishes to deny good things to people one doesn’t like? The hate is primary, the bad model of reality is following on behind. Fix the reality model and they still hate who they hate.


nick s 10.03.13 at 7:43 pm

Your concern is noted, Martin James.


LFC 10.03.13 at 8:03 pm

People are referring to “the Republicans” as if they’re united on this, but they’re not, though the less nutty faction is hostage right now to the more nutty one. A ranking Dem congressman was quoted as referring to “a civil war” within the Repub party:


Dogen 10.03.13 at 8:26 pm


BenK 10.03.13 at 10:02 pm

It is a compromise. Delay a year instead of repeal. The democrats used a ‘buy now pay later’ strategy to get it passed in the first place… they shouldn’t mind ‘buy a little later,’ should they?


Jonny Butter 10.03.13 at 10:30 pm

Delay a year instead of repeal.

What happens in a year????? Thanks BenK!!!!


etv13 10.03.13 at 10:54 pm

BanK@50: it’s not a compromise, any more than if they’d chosen any other legislative done deal, like, say, the Clean Air Act, and refused to fund the whole government until it was repealed. The Teahadis don’t have the votes to get the ACA repealed, so they are abusing the funding process for the whole government to try to achieve what they can’t get through the legitimate legislative process. And since john Boehner apparently wants to be speaker more than he wants to actually lead the House, they are getting away with it.


Layman 10.03.13 at 11:09 pm

BenK @ 50

“It is a compromise. Delay a year instead of repeal.”

Good grief.

Suppose I say that if you don’t give me $2 million (repeal the ACA), I’ll kill you (defund the government). When you resist that exchange, I lower my demand to $1 million. Have I ‘compromised’? Should you now agree to give me the $1 million as your compromise?

I really do want to know. I could use the dough.


JanieM 10.04.13 at 1:02 am


Glen Tomkins 10.04.13 at 2:10 am

It’s all in a good cause and of course it all makes perfect sense, but really, John, successfully proving these people don’t know what they’re talking about is about as germane as arresting Hitler for jay-walking at this point.


Ken Schulz 10.04.13 at 3:34 am

bob mcmanus 10.03.13 at 6:39 pm:
The Senate CR is for six weeks’ funding, not the entire FY2014, although an ‘annualized’ figure is plotted. The more complete discussion is at
The starting point for the Senate in the conference committee that the Republicans have been blocking for six months would be the adopted Senate FY2014 budget, which is $1058B, down ~11% from 2010 actuals (which were the basis for the 17% number). Still bad, but less so.


js. 10.04.13 at 4:49 am

I considered myself very compromised.

That sentence is doubly wrong.


bad Jim 10.04.13 at 5:00 am

The Republicans timed this thing pretty badly, didn’t they? They shut down the government exactly when the exchanges went live and millions thronged the websites in the hope of getting health insurance. The very scourge from which they strove to protect us was what the multitudes most desired.

… What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?


Meredith 10.04.13 at 5:16 am

Go there, even though you can no longer comment there Digby (and david atkins, about whom I was a bit leery at first, I admit, but MUCH less these days).

Digby is 11-dimensional chess for the plebs.


Philosofatty 10.04.13 at 5:57 am

Erickson is kind of right though. The generic logic of compromise is: here is my position, there is your position, we meet somewhere in the middle. But if my position just consists in the operational target of you having to cover 90% of any distance between us, then you are tracking the wrong thing when you look at the absolute distance we each have traveled over some iterations. My demands are the same. The tea party revanchists are playing tactics, not strategy, even explicitly asserting in the media that they don’t even know what they want out of all this now (although it better be good!). There is by definition nothing in the intersection of the venn diagram. So how does “compromise” even become available inside this dynamic? It’s just a piece of contested linguistic portraiture that isn’t even really about the situation.


bad Jim 10.04.13 at 8:15 am

Contrast a cruise missile attack against a country somewhere with an accounting anomaly.


Phil 10.04.13 at 8:16 am

In other words, there’s no possibility of compromise with the currently dominant faction in the GOP, because they’re pure and simple wreckers. And they know it – so when Erickson uses the word he redefines it (without even thinking) to mean compromise within the currently dominant faction.


Mark English 10.04.13 at 10:30 am

There is the word ‘compromise’ and then there is the word ‘conservatives’. John Holbo is using the latter for ‘conservative Republicans’ presumably. Okay, but you could argue that these people are not conservatives in at least one important sense of the word (i.e. people who are attached to traditional ways, etc. and are generally cautious and concerned about unintended consequences).

They are not mainstream and certainly not moderate conservatives. Nor would I want to call them radical conservatives, as the term radical implies, I think, a certain intellectual depth and engagement.


Sasha Clarkson 10.04.13 at 11:28 am


‘Conservative’ is a label they use for themselves. This new meaning, which is probably to the right of reactionary (if possible), has redefined the language, sadly. Just as they are now attempting to redefine ‘compromise’.

It certainly has nothing to do with what is, to my knowledge, the origin of the term; ie when Sir Robert Peel rebranded the British Tory party in the Tamworth manifesto.

According to my “O” level History teacher (c1970), Peel wanted to “conserve what was good, but offer redress for grievances”. Ironically, neither the words ‘conserve’, nor ‘conservative’ appear in the manifesto. Nonetheless, the name “Conservative Party” dates from this time.

A further irony is that the Tory Party subsequently split, and Gladstone, the leading Peelite Tory, eventually became leader of the new Liberal Party.


sunshine 10.04.13 at 11:58 am

Here in Australia our conservative party has done a great job of rewriting the dirty fighting, wreckers,oppose everything handbook while in opposition . Now they are in power they want civility and cooperation ! A compliant media helps their cause.


Avedon 10.04.13 at 4:14 pm

Remember the public option? That was supposed to be the compromise between single-payer and, um, not single-payer.

And Obama wouldn’t even let anyone mention single-payer, and then it turned out he never had any intention to give us a public option, either!

And that’s just ignoring all the other illiberal, antidemocratic policies we’ve had from a Democratic leadership that bends over backwards to find ways to kill Social Security.

So yeah, maybe if Obama hadn’t worked so hard to spit in the eye of his own supporters, Democrats would have retained control of Congress and none of this would be happening. Which does, in fact, make it Obama’s fault.


Lee A. Arnold 10.04.13 at 7:57 pm

Public-option if not single-payer will be on the table soon. Because 1) all prices are listed on same page, driven down to the same price, for 2) standard coverage packages, that 3) cannotbe denied to anyone. So then, the next natural question around the dinner table is, “Why are we still paying the private insurers 20%? (Before, they sometimes got up to 40%!) The private insurers only do an accounting function; they give no other value-added. Let’s bust them down to Medicare’s 2% overhead, like any intelligent country.”

That is another reason the GOP is against Obamacare, by the way. The Republicans at least understand that ACA means that single-payer cannot be stopped.


Chatham 10.04.13 at 8:59 pm

Also, my understanding is that the state exchanges themselves could add a public option and come 2017 the waivers will allow for single-payer at the state level (Vermont’s already getting ready for it). Then it will be the long state by state slog of getting it in place.


Lee A. Arnold 10.04.13 at 10:23 pm

Probably not such a slog. Once a few states get public option, people in other states will say “What the hell, they are getting 15-20% off!” Fox News would have to erect signal-jamming around the borders of Republican districts, to prevent penetration of the real news. I’m not sure they are capable of that (yet).


David 10.04.13 at 11:02 pm

Well, the Republicans have already created some sort of alternate reality where the European and Canadian healthcare systems are nightmarish, insolvent death camps, so…I mean, there is no level their propaganda cannot sink to.


Tim Chambers 10.04.13 at 11:39 pm

I watched David Stockman on Yahoo this morning talking about what a massive entitlement this would become as small employers dumped their (underpaid) employees out of their group plans and onto the exchanges. I guess he figures the employees will not only be losing health benefits but won’t get a raise in wages equal to the lost benefit, which would help them to pay for the insurance. That is probably exactly what will happen in most cases. But to blame it on the health care act itself is the height of demagoguery.

But when has the Republican party ever seen an entitlement for Big Finance, Big Business, Big Ag, or the Military Industrial Complex that it didn’t like? It’s just little entitlements for little people, ripped off and ground down by the BIG that Republican’s don’t like.


T. Paine 10.05.13 at 4:55 am

Avedon @66:
And Obama wouldn’t even let anyone mention single-payer, and then it turned out he never had any intention to give us a public option, either!

Please to be providing evidence that there were 60 actual reliable votes in the Senate for single-payer or a public option.

Actually, I’ll save you the trouble – the votes were never there, single payer/public option was never going to make it through the Senate, and big bad boogeyman Obama never had some Svengali-like control over the Democratic caucus that could have made it happen.

Please, stop repeating this fantasy and join in working to make the ACA cover more real world people who need its benefits.


Sasha Clarkson 10.05.13 at 11:39 am

The Republicans need a new honest slogan which their base can rally behind.

Perhaps “Stop Obamacare – let ’em die!”?? I suspect that many Tea-baggers would openly support this.


Avedon 10.05.13 at 11:58 am

T. Paine, do you remember something called TARP? It was introduced by George W. Bush and he couldn’t even get Republicans to vote for it, let alone Democrats, because it was so obviously wrong. It was about to die a well-deserved death when a young Senator named Barack Obama broke off in the middle of a presidential campaign to run back to Washington and browbeat Democrats into voting for it.

That is the same man who made sure that single-payer advocates were never allowed to promote their position and in fact people who tried to raise the issue were physically removed by police.

You know how Democrats used to win? We used to fight for good policies until we got them. We damn sure didn’t used to spend so much energy fighting against them.


Jonny Butter 10.05.13 at 1:16 pm

The point, Avedon, is that, while Obama shares blame – a bigger share than some, of course – it’s crazy to expect him to be something he isn’t, and for the Dems to be what *it* isn’t – a Leftish party. The Democrats didn’t become a center right party in 2008 and not only is it impossible for BO to jerk the whole Party to the left, he actually pretty well reflects the Party as it is – he is a rather conservative guy. It has taken many years for the Dems to become what they collectively are now. To blame Obama alone, or even largely, is silly.

I have *huge* problems with Obama, but the ACA is a very big and positive deal, because it’s the beginning of the end for the old ‘system’. Read Lee A. Arnold’s comment above.


Lee A. Arnold 10.05.13 at 4:16 pm

Avedon #74 “We used to fight for good policies until we got them.”

You can argue all you want to, and it barely moves the needle. That is because the intellectual terrain underneath the fights shifted when the country bought a magic elixer, called Reaganomics. Reaganomics took the whole country over, including most of the Democratic Party. Now, we have a chance to fix that.

Obamacare moves us into range of defeating the mass attraction of the ideology which pulled the Democrats to the center right.

Reaganomics is false, but it has run for 30 years. Why? 1. It benefitted from a series of unrelated events and buttressed its appeal; 2. there many people including economists who cannot sort things out in a basic discussion of economics, they don’t know what’s unrelated and what’s related (just look at current the public discussion of the causes and solutions to the financial crisis, ranging from nonexistent to vacuous); and 3. last but certainly not least, people are adjusting their information to align with the emotional attitudes of their own in-crowds.

So you can argue all you want to — it isn’t going to work!

How do you fight this sort of thing? What is to be done? Well, how about this: Pass a big government law that helps people, that lowers costs, and then is followed by economic growth. Surely this DEMONSTRATES, not merely argues, the way things can really work?


hix 10.05.13 at 10:01 pm

Overall the out rage-o-meter does not move very high here. Looks like everyone already got used to this. But its not so normal right? Once under Clinton is the only time i rember personally.


nnyhav 10.06.13 at 12:02 am

This is not about compromise. It’s about being compromised.

It’s an Overton Defenestration within the GOP, hitting a brick wall by intent. The parties are no less institutions than the branches of government, and the crisis is a bipartisan show of intransigence necessary to restore the two-party state. The Tea Party-within-a-party, benefiting from campaign finance reconfiguration last time round, gained credibility with sequestration w/o undue consequence and so pose a greater threat to institutional Republicans in midterm primaries. A demonstration of the limits of obstructionism (orchestrated in such a way as not to put off the party faithful) is necessary to realign funding (by those profiting from federal largesse at whatever remove) to the advantage of party stalwarts (to the benefit of both parties, damage to the GOP as a whole mitigated by last redistricting) without ceding state-level strategy (either control or federal interface); the polity is just Schumpeterian collateral damage.

But perhaps I’m insufficiently cynical.


Collin Street 10.06.13 at 12:57 pm

Surely this DEMONSTRATES, not merely argues, the way things can really work?

Well, to you, yes.

If you believe your conclusion is stronger than the evidence supporting it actually makes it out to be, then:
a: you’re going to be encountering a lot of evidence against your conclusion,
b: you’re going to have confidence in your own conclusion and dismiss the evidence against as abberant/outliers/misrepresented/what-have-you.
Single pieces of “compelling” evidence won’t work, it’ll just get dismissed to minimal effect: a constant drip-drip-drip of individually weaker pieces of evidence will still get dismissed individually, but each time the confidence in the conclusion will be weakened.


Lee A. Arnold 10.06.13 at 7:09 pm

Collin Street #79: “Single pieces of ‘compelling’ evidence won’t work”

Thanks for the concern, and good luck with that!

But will your hypothesis, too, drip drip away? Healthcare has more social mechanics than “dripping” would account for. It may call for a different hypothesis. The “single piece of ‘compelling”’ evidence” is, after all, 1/7th of the economy. Beyond that, healthcare is a daily puzzle piece, for so many people… I am uncertain as to how this will be turned into a string of individually weaker pieces of evidence.

That’s rather atomistic actually — of course I am always open for a bottoms-up non-emergent approach, all hail the physicists! But here instead, we are talking the effects of “ideas” upon “agreement”, and agreement is a novel emergent. The proper subject of the discourse should be how to produce “agreement”, not to fret about the other side’s counterattacks, unless to anticipate them. Politics, when not bloody war, is rhetorical battle.

Producing agreement may first require destroying the opposite side’s argument. The proponents of Reaganomics proceeded quite consciously along similar lines, in an onslaught of gibberish in the op-ed pages. That is how it was won. The right understands (as the left does not) that politics is a constant rhetorical battle. The left cannot possibly admit to itself that the capitalist power structure is not omnipotent. That would mean a different strategy — and worse, a lot of hard work to do, to change things.

Well, the Teas could WHITTLE it into weaker pieces of evidence: If they fail to overturn Obamacare, the Tea Party could spend the next few years whittling away at its various provisos, and that might work — but no, it cannot work, because learning about individual pieces of healthcare is tantamount to getting a Real Education (as Ezra Klein pointed out about 5 years ago) and meantime, the human generation-cycle produces a new crop of individuals, with a rather more innocent view of things, at least to begin with.


Mao Cheng Ji 10.06.13 at 8:14 pm

“Producing agreement may first require destroying the opposite side’s argument.”

In a debating club perhaps. In politics, the liberal kind, it requires a whole bunch of money: to buy the biggest megaphone and keep repeating the same thing again and again, endlessly. Until it becomes a Conventional Wisdom. Argument ain’t got nothing to do with it.


Lee A. Arnold 10.06.13 at 9:15 pm

“Argument ain’t got nothing to do with it.” –How can that be, when they repeat the same thing over and over again? That ITSELF is a rhetorical tactic.


Mao Cheng Ji 10.06.13 at 9:45 pm

No rhetorical tactic, Lee. If you hear every 15 minutes, from the time you’re born that, for example, JESUS CHRIST IS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, then you know that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. And it’s very unlikely that anyone will be able to convince you otherwise.


Lee A. Arnold 10.06.13 at 10:12 pm

Now you’ve got us quaking in our boots! Well let’s see about all the things in history which were believed, and are now no longer believed, or else believed so much, or by a majority. Because golly, nothing ever changes, and it’s better if you don’t try at all, because it’s hopeless… Albert O. Hirschman’s rhetoric of reaction, thesis #2, futility: “holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing, that they will simply fail to ‘make a dent.” (Wikipedia)… You have to be a paid hack from the Blog Comments Management Dept. of one of the big Washington D.C. public relations firm, to even try this nonsense.


Lee A. Arnold 10.06.13 at 10:15 pm

There are actually lots of people who break out of fundamentalist religious families, by the way. There appears to be no impermeable membrane.


Lee A. Arnold 10.06.13 at 10:18 pm

Does the left understand that the proper battlefield of democracy is Ciceronian, Quintilianan? It’s the bloomingest orator wins the day. If it sounds like fun, that is half the battle. Fear, as the rhetor’s emotional opponent, is harder to overcome, but Reagan (no slouch in the self-taught rhetorical studies department, by the way*) showed that sunny disposition is reassuring and quietening.

I also think the left does itself a serious disservice by not clearly demonstrating the the mechanistic economics of the Hayekian approach is as flawed as the Keynesian hydraulics, (which is to say in both cases, not all the time).

I think it is also important to point out that the Tea’s “real” fear, could they put a pen to their bafflegab, i.e. the supposed diminution of the moral fiber that socialist healthcare is presumed to inculcate, will NOT happen. This is Hayek’s deduction from an incomplete systems science, the slippery slope to serfdom. It does not appear to happen. It did not happen for example in the old Soviet Union, where many decades of repressive communism were NOT enough to extinguish the individual spirit, far from it.

(*see Kurt Ritter and David Henry, Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator (Great American Orators, number 13) (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992)


Jeffrey Davis 10.06.13 at 11:10 pm


” … And it’s very unlikely that anyone will be able to convince you otherwise.”

Nonsense. No one has ever been more surrounded by repetition and dogma you refer to than me, and it took me about 2 weeks, at 18, to cast it aside.


Main Street Muse 10.07.13 at 12:44 am

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” (From the lovely movie John Holbo quotes in the headline.)

Now about that “compromise.” Unclear why funding a law passed by the House, passed by the Senate, signed by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court so bothers the Tea Party that they felt compelled to throw the government into partial shut down rather than fund this law.
Compromise is simply not possible with people so opposed to the American rule of law.


Bruce Wilder 10.07.13 at 1:05 am

Like the reasons people give to explain their actions, rhetoric is a follower, not a driver: a rationalization after the fact. I don’t think the thirty-year success of Reagan’s program owes much to the quality of its rhetoric, let alone any set of “mistaken” beliefs, which might be corrected by experience. I don’t really understand what Lee A Arnold is saying, when he points out the Reagan’s troops initially won with rhetorical gibberish, and then follows up with an insistence that their arguments must be destroyed, though I’m sympathetic with the idea that nothing will be accomplished without effective opposition.

On a very important level, the ability to profit by taking apart the institutional infrastructure of the New Deal was going to be taken up by some political coalition: it was an obvious thing to do, a built-in feature of the political-economic cycle. The only things we get out of noticing the rhetorical dialectic between conservative libertarians and neoliberals, which provided its theme music, are an appreciation of:
1.) the power of money;
2.) the powerlessness of absence.

The political ideologies of bi-partisan consensus — de-regulatory libertarianism and neoliberal “reform” — that obscure the economic choices made in Washington to take apart the social infrastructure, and send the cash to the 1/10th of 1%, are bought and paid for. Reagan’s program succeeded, not because his rhetoric was so goldarned effective, but because it was effectively unopposed. The liberals of a previously generation, who would have blocked it, were replaced by neoliberals, and the mass-membership organizations and locally-focused businesses and religious and civic organizations, which might have given the liberals a secure platform and following, were fading away, or destroyed in the first waves of deregulatory fervor and globalization.

To change course, now, at this late date, would invite collapse. We’ve been running off the cash from disinvesting from our social and physical infrastructure for a long time — that’s the essence of the Reagan program. And, things are getting worse for most people, because there’s not a lot left to dismantle, without risking collapse. A great authoritarian apparatus is being put into place, to enforce cramdown on the masses during the next, even more painful round of disinvestment and devolution.

Propaganda is effective. It’s not necessarily effective in convincing our rational minds of things, which we know, rationally, not to be true, but, as Mao Cheng Ji points out, even something as simple as repetition, is effective as a technique of propaganda — even when it wears out its own message. (You won’t see GEICO going out of business any too soon.) To accomplish the purposes of the powers-that-be, propaganda only has to reach the non-rational mind, to drown out critical thinking and interrupt (some) social organization, in favor of driving the tribal identities and behaviors it favors.

Insisting that Obama’s ACA is so self-evidently wonderful that it changes the political game forever seems utterly delusional to me. It is a mixed bag, at best, full of bad policy and bad politics. Maybe it gets progressively reformed into something workable — that’s a hope, but far from a change. What I would notice, here, is the tribal contempt for, and exclusion of a liberal or social democratic view. A lot of effort is going into keeping the neoliberal/libertarian consensus framework unassailable.

The impasse in Washington reflects a long-term degeneration in American governance, which includes as its most important element, the absence of any force of opposition from the masses to the depredations of elites. The Tea Party demagogues get a lot of their power from the admiration of authoritarian followers among the Evangelicals, who are just glad to see anyone even seem to fight for
the interests of ordinary people. The Tea Party demagogues aren’t doing anything of the sort, of course, but it is not as if anyone opposed to them, will fight against our parasitic elites or tell the truth about anything.


David J. Littleboy 10.07.13 at 1:27 am

“Insisting that Obama’s ACA is so self-evidently wonderful …”

Makes perfect sense, because what it replaces is so, well, criminal. Overall costs being well over 20% of net, the unknown anywhere else in the industrialized world “pre-existing conditions” (everyone has insurance in every other industrialized country*), the fact that people can get thrown off insurance at all, that “medical bankruptcy” is a problem only in the US.

The idea that ACA is problematic is, simply, insane.

*: In Japan, you magically get enrolled if you show up sick at an emergency room, although you may get hit for some amount of back premium payments.


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 1:28 am

Bruce, you write that Reagan’s program succeeded because it was effectively unopposed, and that is because liberals of a previous generation were replaced by neoliberals, and because membership organizations were destroyed by deregulation and globalization.

Is there any opposition to Reagan’s program now?


Bruce Wilder 10.07.13 at 2:02 am

Daniel J Littleboy: The idea that ACA is problematic is, simply, insane.

The better doesn’t become good, let alone, perfect, just by being somewhat better in some ways.

ACA is going to insure, roughly, half of those without insurance. Lots of people will experience the unnecessary complications of the program and be confirmed in their hostility to “big government”. The slipping of people along certain unsuspected margins into Medicaid or unexpected expenses or strange limbos, where they cannot get adequate public subsidies or employer subsidies, will not be popular politically or easy for the families affected. Lots of people will pay a lot for nothing — that’s just the nature of insurance, even good insurance. There will be some melioration of the medical bankruptcy problem, but the deductibles are still big enough to sink many households into serious hardship, even as as the reforms regarding pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits lifts others out of terrible, terrible situations. The reforms will do little enough about cost escalations or the huge margins skimmed off the top of the system by insurers or collusion between insurers and providers; American healthcare will still be the most costly and least effective in the developed, and will remain so until America leaves the developed world.


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 2:13 am

Bruce, are you sure you want to go down the “perfect” road in opposition to the “power of money”? This seems rhetorically (if you will forgive me) ill-advised.


Bruce Wilder 10.07.13 at 2:55 am

Lee A Arnold: Is there any opposition to Reagan’s program now?

It seems to me that Reagan’s program has played out, transformed the country and the country’s politics. Opposing it now is impossible; it’s over and done; we are living with its consequences, whether we like it or not.

The relevant political question is whether there’s an alternative that can be made politically viable, to continuing within the neoliberal/libertarian policy and rhetorical framework, and the plutocracy for which the neoliberals and libertarians apologize. Here in the nosebleed bleachers occupied by blog commenters, that can seem easier than I expect it seems to working politicians and policy entrepreneurs. It’s a really tough thing, and not just for reasons amenable to the rhetorical creativity. Any right (as in wise and morally correct) thing we do from this point forward in terms of structural economic reform is likely to trigger something that will be experienced by at least some people as a crash. Neoliberal policy is aimed now at crashing people, who cannot fight back, and expanding the authoritarian apparatus necessary to expand the list of such targets. (Reagan was promising to pay something to everyone except the then very young.) But, even genuinely liberal or social democratic policy would crash some parts of the economy — shrinking the financial sector and breaking up the TBTF banks, criminalizing derivatives, etc., would probably require bayoneting at least a few billionaires, not just better diagrams in powerpoints.

I don’t see the kind of mass-membership social organization that could generate the kind of political power that could bayonet billionaires, even figuratively (and I’m not sure that it could be just figurative), let alone sustain the development and credibility of complex policy rationales for the policies of prudent self-restraint, which we need to respond to problems of peak oil, climate change, ecological collapse, etc.

It’s not enough to come up with a policy to deal with carbon emissions, for example. In a neoliberal framework, we could have Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen debate carbon tax versus cap-n-trade till the earth does fry. And, that’s by design. The Koch brothers went from mere millionaires to gazillionaires on the strength of doing the wrong things in response to peak oil; doing the right thing probably requires removing them from the funding stream for PBS, if not putting them in jail, and it would imply taking billions from them, which they will oppose. Actually dealing with climate change and peak oil would require radically changing the energy basis of the whole political economy, and regardless of technological substitutions, reducing the amount of energy we use by something more than half, probably something like 80%. That’s means changing everything, in a couple of generations. A huge effort, though not a whole lot more than we would put into simply reproducing the whole structure as it ages, if we could just keep things as they are — which we cannot. What would be “huge” would not be the magnitude of the effort, but the magnitude of the change in thinking and habit; that’s what political organization and rhetoric needs to do: make us think and deliberate realistically, and credibly with one another, over a shared vision.

Our present political propaganda structure attacks our credibility with one another very, very effectively — I don’t know what rhetorical and organizational strategies would best overcome that Fox/Obama effect. I’ve been kinda of hoping CT might take up some reflections on the HBO Aaron Sorkin vehicle, Newsroom, which was a trite melodrama on its surface, but a dark meditation on the futility of idealism in broadcast media journalism, just beneath that surface.

The crash problem seems a particular challenge to the idea that we could build confidence by incremental policy success bringing marginal melioration and building confidence. We almost need the crash first, to remove some vested interests from contention, to gain the freedom to act decisively.

In Europe, in relation to the Euro, you can see vividly just how difficult it is to escape the no-exit neoliberal consensus framework in which the main political parties, center right or center left, are trapped. Some have tried, with anger and humor, to say, “no” to the consensus, but without much good effect, so far, and without producing what I would call a credible policy alternative, that is, an architectural design for European finance. It may be too early for that. Or, it may be that “credible policy alternative” requires overthrow of the established elites — bayoneting billionaires, as I put it — and that’s a big order. Occupy, in the U.S., has had some effect, and I hope its spirit has not been permanently neutralized, but its gone a short way on a long path that starts with just saying no to the quicksand of neoliberal consensus.


Bruce Wilder 10.07.13 at 3:05 am

Lee A Arnold: Bruce, are you sure you want to go down the “perfect” road . . .

I am sure I do not want to go down that road. I’d like to be able to tell the truth, without the tribalist b.s.


David J. Littleboy 10.07.13 at 6:39 am

” just by being somewhat better in some ways.”

But it’s not just “somewhat better in some ways”, it’s worlds better in a plethora of ways. Health insurance was a pitiful joke prior to the new rules in ACA. Lifetime caps, preexisting conditions, cancelled policies, the uninsured getting charged multiple times what insurance companies pay for the same procedures, losing your insurance when you lose, or even just change, your job. That’s pretty much all gone. And there’s gobs of stuff in there that makes the crappy medical care the US system provides (medical malpractice kills more people than car and workplace accidents combined), like refusing to pay hospitals for treating problems they caused. (A friend’s an oncology nurse, and reports that they are going crazy because oncology patients tend to be immune suppressed, and infected central lines are par for the course. But since treatment of such infections is now on the hospital’s dime, they’re going crazy making sure the sterile field really is sterile when they insert the lines. The nurses may have to work harder, but that’s a lot of nasty infections that are being prevented thanks to ACA. Are you sure you want hospitals going back to pre-ACA procedures because “ACA is too complicated”?)

Sure, Medicare for all would be simpler. But there’s still the details to work out, and there were enough Dems in the pockets of the insurance industry that that wasn’t going to happen this time around. So it’s either say thank you for the amazing improvements of the ACA and work to get the political muscle in place to make it better later, or screw over the vast majority of the US public, whose lives will be vastly improved by ACA (everyone’s insurance just got way better, not just people purchasing individual insurance).

So this isn’t a “tribal” issue, it’s a life and death issue for a lot of people.


Mao Cheng Ji 10.07.13 at 7:34 am

“the vast majority of the US public, whose lives will be vastly improved by ACA”

You don’t know that: obamacare is not a tested model, except for remneycare. Romneycare reduced the number of uninsured, but failed to control costs. Cost-control is a major feature of any reform, otherwise they could just keep the old system and buy insurance for everyone.

In the end, Obamacare may improve some lives (while killing any possibility of real reform), or it might crash and burn and make matters worse for a lot of people.


Tim Chambers 10.07.13 at 10:19 am

As one who spent much of his adult life immersed in liberal politics as a campaigner and consultant, I would say from my experience that the people on the Right are not only better funded, they are far more serious, and intransigent, on bread and butter issues than anyone who remains on what used to be called The Left.

Does The Left even stand for anything anymore when it comes to bread and butter issues?

It seems to me all The Left cares about these days is abortion rights and LGBT marriage rights. But which of those constituencies gives a flying whatever for the economic well being of the bottom 80%.

So much of the professional Left has been so co-opted and corrupted by corporate and foundation money, especially when it comes to labor and the environment, that it might just as well be Right as Left. The rest are just playing around in the margins.

Tossing labor overboard in favor of other constituencies was the dumbest thing “The Left” ever did, because Labor was the only reliable force on the left when it came to the issues of economic survival.


David J. Littleboy 10.07.13 at 4:13 pm

“You don’t know that: obamacare is not a tested model,”

The ACA certainly is a tested model and working quite well in MA, as has been documented in a variety of places, e.g. the Boston Globe’s Health Stew blog; there’s been a lot of good news in MA. It’s not exciting good news: it’s boring good news. Nearly everyone’s insured, very few people elect to pay the fine, and price _increases_ are coming down. Arguing that the whole point of Romney/ACA is price control is largely wrong and disingenuous. The price control stuff is very preliminary and experimental; there’s still a lot of work to do there, and the experts in the field are having heated discussions about what sorts of things can work. Figuring out what to do to control costs is just beginning to get under way in the US. Here in Japan, the per-person cost of health care is 1/3 that in the US (and they get way better results), but it’s done by draconian limits on what doctors and hospitals can charge. Dental work is covered, and I’m embarrassed at how little I pay for the excellent dental work I get here. Announcing to all MDs in the US that next month their incomes will be cut by 1/3 wouldn’t go over too well.

What ACA does is it fixes a horrific litany of horrific glitches that are screwing real people over every day. The article below makes the point (its point 2) that heath insurance is complicated. Heck, I don’t know what co-pays and deductibles are. Here, I pay 30% of strictly limited charges at point of service, but there’s a per-month/per-disease maximum, above which the amount gets refunded.


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 4:21 pm

Bruce #95 “I am sure I do not want to go down that road. I’d like to be able to tell the truth, without the tribalist b.s.”

I think you are already going down the “perfect” road. What truth are you telling? That opposing Reagan’s program now is “impossible”? That healthcare reform is impossible, because it is fatally flawed from the start?

That the only way to really change things is to cause collapse, or partial collapse? As you write:

“To change course, now, at this late date, would invite collapse… even genuinely liberal or social democratic policy would crash some parts of the economy… Actually dealing with climate change and peak oil would require radically changing the energy basis of the whole political economy, and regardless of technological substitutions, reducing the amount of energy we use by something more than half, probably something like 80%… The crash problem seems a particular challenge to the idea that we could build confidence by incremental policy success… We almost need the crash first, to remove some vested interests from contention, to gain the freedom to act decisively.”

Is this your plan of action? Your thesis is the radical (by which I mean root) thesis that things have gone so far that only a crash will cleanse the political economy and save the earth? “The crash problem”?

But actually, you don’t KNOW that any of these things is true.

And on top of that, you write as if no one else has considered these things, and you are telling us something we don’t already understand.

Yet further, that since these things must be true, the refusal to engage with the crash thesis is “the tribal contempt for, and exclusion of a liberal or social democratic view.”

Social democrats pushing for healthcare reform will be very surprised to find out that they cannot be social democrats because ACA isn’t perfect… Or perhaps they decided, instead, that the social democratic view ought to have a plan of action by now, not simply the continual complaint about the massive forces of money and power driving us all to perdition. Thus among other things, they don’t worry about criticisms as to whether rhetoric is a follower or a driver.

“The better doesn’t become good, let alone, perfect, just by being somewhat better in some ways.” –Wait a minute, this is rhetoric, and this is perfectionism! It sounds like a version of the Hayekian slippery-slope argument, the very same logic that neoliberalism uses in its demand for free-market solutions. Shouldn’t we save methodological absolutism for the Tea party?


William Timberman 10.07.13 at 6:21 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 100

Shouldn’t we save methodological absolutism for the Tea party?

Yes, we should. As I read him, though, BW isn’t calling for anything of the sort. What he’s saying is that the methodologies in place, which aim for stability while we fix this and fix that as the political opportunities present, has made ostriches of us all. These methodologies may be comforting, but their comfort comes at a price. Only by ignoring, if not outright denying, the possibility of systemic failure, can we place our faith in even the most rational-seeming engagement with the absurdities of the status quo.

Say what you will about the Tea Party’s ignorance of the actual causes of our discomfort, the sheer urgency of their delusions deserves a closer look. They do in fact acknowledge something that the rest of us, on pain of excommunication from the ranks of the reasonable, are forbidden to discuss, namely an Umwertung aller Werte.

Tim Chambers says we’ve been ignoring labor, the only credible source of political power on the left. I say, no, we haven’t been ignoring the guys in hard hats; they’ve been hiding from us. They cut their own deal with late capitalism, and gleefully fed the left to the dogs in the process. Now that they’re enduring the consequences, including the loss of their own identity as a class, what can be expected from them? As things now stand, very little. When BW talks of tribalism, this is surely one of the sad bits of history he’s taken into account. Not the only one, of course, but one that has already doomed many of the narratives on the left.

We must think again. That’s the message BW’s analysis conveys to me. Are we actually capable of it? I have no idea, butnothing I’ve seen so far has been very encouraging….


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 7:26 pm

William #101 : ” What he’s saying is that the methodologies in place, which aim for stability while we fix this and fix that as the political opportunities present, has made ostriches of us all. These methodologies may be comforting, but their comfort comes at a price. Only by ignoring, if not outright denying, the possibility of systemic failure, can we place our faith in even the most rational-seeming engagement with the absurdities of the status quo.”

If that is what Bruce is saying, then again it is not true: Here are not misled by the aim for stability. It has not turned us all into ostriches. Certainly nobody is placing faith in rational engagement. (Absolute faith, anyway — you need to demonstrate the faith to having a conversation. But quite aside from that, as I keep trying to say, I think that an irrational breakpoint is just what the doctor ordered.) And anyway, why would even an absolute faith in engagement ONLY be possible by “ignoring or denying the possibility of systemic failure”? It might just as well go the other way…


William Timberman 10.07.13 at 7:53 pm

Lee, maybe I have indeed been reading too much Project Syndicate boilerplate, too much Krugman, DeLong and Thoma. LLC, too much, in fact, from the lesser-evilists in general. I’d be as happy as anyone to stop humming apocalypsos to myself every time someone praises the essential indispensability of Nate Silver, honest I would. The trouble is, the hope guys sound a lot like people whistling past the graveyard, and the few apocalypse guys who remain at all credible in an intellectual sense, seem to have gotten stuck at après nous le Déuge.

The reason I like BW’s contributions here, even when I don’t agree with them altogether, is that he alone seems to grasp not only the magnitude of the tasks facing us, but their subtlety as well. Assuming we’re really serious, of course.


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 8:06 pm

William Timberman #103: “he alone seems to grasp not only the magnitude of the tasks facing us, but their subtlety as well”

–I find this enormously unfair to many of the people commenting here.


William Timberman 10.07.13 at 8:19 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 104

I find this enormously unfair to many of the people commenting here.

Maybe it is, but honesty needn’t always check with justice before opening its mouth. And in asking that it do so, aren’t you trading engagement with the issue for self-appointed guardianship of the proprieties? Will this really give you a leg up on the argument, do you think?


Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 9:24 pm

“Maybe it is…”

I do not understand. You are willing to suppose that many of the people commenting here do, in fact, “grasp not only the magnitude of the tasks facing us, but their subtlety as well”? (I am pretty sure that many of the people who comment here, comment even the least — or with the most brevity — know much more than I do, about many, many things.) Yet, “honesty needn’t always check” to say –what? about them?


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 12:44 am

What about them? Essentially nothing about them. There are lots of intelligent, well-informed and articulate people who comment here about the past, present, and iffy future of our present political economy, but to acknowledge that doesn’t necessarily contradict my judgment that none of them has seen — or perhaps better, has described — our current historical nexus with as much clarity and as much subtlety as BW has. That seems fair to me, but not to you. Can’t be helped, I’m afraid.


Lee A. Arnold 10.08.13 at 1:44 am

Oh, it can’t be helped?

From the top: Our current historical nexus has been described with much clarity etc. This happens to include the following:

“I don’t really understand what Lee A Arnold is saying, when he points out the Reagan’s troops initially won with rhetorical gibberish, and then follows up with an insistence that their arguments must be destroyed…” (Bruce Wilder #89)

Well so my ears prick up, noticing mine own name. But this is a blockheaded misreading of my comments. Anyone’s better guess is that half the high school economics teachers in the U.S. are still teaching the Reaganoid gibberish with relish — neoliberalism as “real economics” — and a fair number of college intro courses are probably doing the same.

As a misreading of my comments I would normally let it go, except that I am genuinely interested in the explanation being proposed to put in its place. Because I try to draw pictures of this stuff. So therefore, plodding scientist that I am, I read on; and get to:

“Insisting that Obama’s ACA is so self-evidently wonderful that it changes the political game forever seems utterly delusional to me.”

Wait a minute, nobody in these comments wrote that. So I am wondering: is this supposed to be me again? Because I surely have defended it as a fighting principle, and it would be utterly foolish to miss this opportunity, it’s too much fun, healthcare must be the best fighting principle ever invented, it undermines all others as it were, it’s endlessly dramatic too, they base whole TV series on doctors and ER’s.

So my next question then was: What are these lights, from which my presumed failures are so illuminated?

Let’s see. It turns out to be something so dark and far gone that it needs collapse.

And now you, William write (#107), that if this doesn’t seem fair to me, it can’t be helped?

Oh really? Are you sure YOU want to go down this road?


Bruce Wilder 10.08.13 at 2:47 am

Lee, I wish you would try not to take our discussions quite so personally. There’s little tone of voice in these comments, unless you resort to clichés of scorn or derision (“Good luck with that”) — that’s the nature of written language, I suppose. And, comments must be short, and so, blunt. But, I haven’t used, “blockheaded” in a sentence, yet.

You’ve proposed some interesting ideas, but when others try to engage with you to test those ideas, you seem to think it an occasion, not to expand on your exposition, but to project and abuse. You might try clarifying your remarks a time or two, respecting what others have written, before you start with the empty scorn.


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 2:54 am

Your fight isn’t really with me, is it? The only offense I appear to have committed so far is to applaud for the wrong corner, and that’s hardly worth my while to defend.

If you need a real offense to chew on, how about this: I think BW is largely right in calling rhetoric a trailing indicator, or as he puts it, a follower, not a driver. Accordingly, the phenomenon of Reaganism may be one of the larger red herrings of the last twenty years, but it’s still a red herring, in that it tells us very little about what’s actually going on.


Lee A. Arnold 10.08.13 at 2:58 am

Never mind all that stuff. The question is how to get practically to a better future. I am trying to find out what is at the bottom of your assurances that almost all is for nought, that somehow we are all missing the big picture. So far, is it “the crash problem”?


David J. Littleboy 10.08.13 at 5:21 am

“The question is how to get practically to a better future.”

The teapartiers are clearly scared to death that ACA will work. Maybe our holier-than-thou lefty friends have the same problem with it?


David J. Littleboy 10.08.13 at 6:00 am

To continue beating a dead horse, here’s a New Yorker article.

The current health insurance situation is a disaster for small businesses, and ACA is a godsend, since it gets them off the hook. The number of businesses (over 50 employees and not already providing health care) that might see ACA as bad news is tiny; 96 percent of US businesses have less than 50 employees, and most larger business already provide health care.

But that means that ACA will be a smashing success with the small business community, and that’s a lot of people who won’t be asking for an anti-ACA revolution from the right and will have less incentive to support, say, a single-payer revolution.

I just don’t see ACA crashing and burning. Health insurance isn’t rocket science, and ACA is chock full of ideas from both the left and right. Sure, it’s designed to let the insurance industry still do health insurance, but it defines what health insurance is, so said industry can’t screw the customers any more.

I suppose I’m a poor excuse for a lefty, since I don’t mind letting companies doing their thing as long as they aren’t screwing people.


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 6:05 am

Lee A. Arnold @ 111

Not specifically, no. What most commenters overlook, in what more often than not appear to me to be overzealous attempts to chase down this or that determinant of what’s gone wrong, is the fact that the crucial inflection points in our social development are almost always overdetermined. This lends a certain poignancy to most attempts to reason why we’re in the fix we’re in, inasmuch as those making such attempts pretend, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that their reasoning is flawlessly deductive. Even when they escape that trap, of necessity they have to exclude a good deal of the overdetermination which is crucial to our understanding. Thus, for example, you get economic models which don’t demonstrate anything more significant than the expertise of their creators at making models.

Making the bits and pieces of one’s exposition echo the grandeur of a whole which can’t be included in it is an art. Unfortunately, it’s also an art which can be faked, so when reading two phenomenologies of the same sequence of events, deciding which is the product of il miglior fabbro is always going to be a matter of opinion.

Just to give one example, I’d refer you to Brad DeLong, who loves the big picture and the grand design, and has the erudition to make equally grand rhetorical gestures. When he tells the history of world economic development, it reads like a series of time-lapse photographs of the blossoming of a flower — the flower of capitalism. When Marx did the same thing, it ended not with a blossom, but a train-wreck. Both narratives are insightful, both clearly contain elements of the truth, and both authors are equally aware of what’s happening offstage as they proceed with their articulation. When we’re done, though, and have carefully allowed for the 150 year advantage one has to concede to DeLong at the outset, which of the two, if either, is convincing about where we’re headed?

For reasons of my own, I think that at this point the train wreck is more likely to symbolize our future than the flower, but the reason I think so is a result of the sort of intellectual bricolage which is far removed from a perusal of the Democratic Party platform, or the statistics on gigawatts of world solar generating capacity added per annum, or the contributions of genetic engineering to the problem of feeding a human population which by 2050 will be approaching 10 billion. Is there a grand narrative which explains everything? No, I think not, but there are some which show a greater respect than others do for the parts of the explanation they’re not directly addressing. Those are the ones I prefer.


Jonny Butter 10.08.13 at 1:46 pm

Is there a grand narrative which explains everything? No, I think not, but there are some which show a greater respect than others do for the parts of the explanation they’re not directly addressing. Those are the ones I prefer.

So, is there (probably) a grand narrative or is there not? ‘The explanation’ and ‘grand narrative’ in the last three lines of #114 seem implicitly to refer to the same thing, whatever was intended.

I have to admit that there are parts of this long-tail thread fight that I don’t understand. FWIW, though, my take on what I think I do understand: whether a theory of a ‘grand narrative’ is useful or not is at least debatable: it depends on how you define things. But what I see as the real issue here is whether a kind of determinism, a sort of atheistic deism if you will, is a useful way to think of the world. Now, no one upthread is going to admit to thinking deterministically, but some of the wonderful language does seem to algorithm-out that way, if you can follow the thread.

I say ‘nothing is inevitable’, and saying so is not to theorize, nor to ignore probabilities – it is simply to say something rational.

I think the ACA – flawed as it is – matters a lot because it will ultimately diffuse an enormous amount of energy (in aggregate) among ordinary citizens. The eventual tight regulation of insurance companies simply is a big deal in an economy the size of the US. As fast as the plutocrats are raping and stripmining the country, this sort of thing is still a big road block for them, because neither they nor anyone else knows how it’s all going to shake out. The Kochs of the world are not *feigning* alarm. They see this as a very big deal, and they are right.

Shorter version: I think ‘epic battle’ is a better-supported description than ‘fait accompli’.


Lee A. Arnold 10.08.13 at 2:19 pm

Advocacy of better rhetoric is not a belief that the condition of rhetoric is a main cause of the condition of the world. (Although in regard to U.S. economic policy, it has a lot to do with it.) However, if we are dealing with something that is “overdetermined” in general, then rhetoric is likely to be the primary tool of correction (unless we are to leave course-corrections to the four horsemen of the apocalypse.) Why? Because, if we don’t have a single cause, therefore we don’t have a single tool, therefore the tool which directs the most people in the best direction is the best approach, because then, they themselves will multifariously animadvert and treat the various causes which are running into their own timelines. Even the ancient Roman orators would have understood this point, I think, though they appear to have taken rhetoric as a science of grasping reality, much as the logical positivists mistook modern logic. The modern plutocrats surely are not confused on this point, and indeed much of their money has gone into formulating the public mentality to accept their depredations, because simply buying politicians will not always do the trick. It is only the left (and the Tea Party) which gets confused, and mistakes the vital need for rhetoric to be a determination thesis.


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 2:59 pm

Jonny Butter @ 115

Not the same thing at all. When you start out to explain why the ACA is what it is, and what it’s likely to evolve into, you have to keep Faulkner in mind as well as WellPoint, Marx as well as the Brothers Koch. You might even want to thread a bit of Gibbon into the weave.

You can’t encompass all of that in a single narrative, no, but if you’ve done your job with a certain skill, a certain art, the people you’re telling your story to will get a sense that it’s lurking in the background. The Grand Narrative as I conceive of it must certainly exist somewhere in the mind of God, but none of us are capable of that much simultaneity, nor need we be, so long as we remain conscious of our own limitations.


Bruce Wilder 10.08.13 at 6:05 pm

Jonny Butter: I say ‘nothing is inevitable’, and saying so is not to theorize, nor to ignore probabilities – it is simply to say something rational.

I’d say, ‘nothing is inevitable’ is an article of faith. Faith is not antithetical to reason, imho, but faith is not identical with rationality, either; they are, if you like, different faculties, capable of being complements or antagonists.

What reason, grounded in the experience of a logical understanding of the world, requires is respect for analysis, which is the identification of the necessary and sufficient. Some things matter and some things do not to the outcomes of particular processes, and reality has no plural.

Reason does not say, “nothing is inevitable”; reason says something more modest: people make choices, and choices have consequences.

Determinism denies that people make choices, a mythology that seeks to obscure both when and why people make the choices they do. More broadly common to human narrative analysis of choice is drama: the idea that choices acquire meaning from a preliminary conflict of alternatives and the difficulty of decision in adverse circumstance: biography or history as an epic novel or a scene from a play.

Drama acquires its power from the irony that though we know choices have consequences, in the abstract, we don’t know what consequences our choices will have in the lives we live. We are all gamblers with loaded dice, and comedy or tragedy turns on the moment we see what numbers have rolled for us. Surprised, we laugh, or wise too late, we cry. The ancient Greek dramas — originating as religious rites — tended for a time to portray human efforts as descending into hopeless complexity and confusion, and would roll out a god on stage machinery — a deus ex machina — to resolve things at the end, but the great tragedies, epitomized by Oedipus Rex, eliminated the god, leaving the protagonist in the end, to see with excruciating clarity the consequence of his own folly, unaided by divine intervention. Thus, the birth of tragedy as an advance in collective moral consciousness.

It seems to me that the disputes in comments are often disputes in taste, defying the Latin maxim, de gustibus non est disputandum, helpfully and appropriately translated by Tristam Shandy as, “there’s no disputing against hobby-horses”. We argue about what this or that event means, which is to say, we argue about how it fits into the dramatic narrative we prefer, among the many narratives being spun out in the media culture around us.

Such arguments, though, are not the entirely idle pastimes of spectators alone, nor is narrative spin just a tactic for public relations specialists. The actors — the politicians among them — are seeking their roles. Politics is a drama written by many competing playwrights simultaneously, and acted out by a cast of millions. It is human nature to fit our own behavior into scripted roles, and to seek meaning in the drama.

The consequences of our behavior, however, is prescribed, not by the god from the machine, but the machine itself, the machine of the functional world, where consequence is not the meaning of a ritual, but just the way things work, where our limited knowledge is imperfectly applied to imperfectly control processes indifferent to our storytelling. Our politics can turn tragic, as too many politicians and other political actors enact roles, guided by notions of what is heroic or “serious”, which have consequences, which consequences are ignored in favor of applauding the mythic drama.


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 6:22 pm

I’d say that some things are inevitable — death and taxes in the traditional formulation — but the point of interest, and the point of engagement, will always appear where the feedback loop between individual intent and influence of the collective on the development of that individual intent is at its most intense.


Bruce Wilder 10.08.13 at 6:39 pm

And, I’d say “intent” is just a dramatic ploy.

(Also, William, know that I’m greatly flattered your kind words, above.)


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 6:54 pm

Yeah, but aren’t we all drama queens at heart? And you’re welcome. Credit where credit is due is my motto…. (A corollary, I suppose, to Honi soit qui mal y pense.)


Trader Joe 10.08.13 at 7:25 pm

I don’t know how one goes about taking a bow after a well delivered soliloquy on the internet, but if you can figure it out you should do so for the referenced post.

Pass the popcorn, cue the ghost, get the sirens back on stage and continue the show…


Lee A. Arnold 10.08.13 at 7:44 pm

I don’t think a grand narrative is possible. I tend to think like JS Mill, that there will be just as many basic laws of the universe as there are sense perceptions. So then there are 5 or 6 grand narratives, crisscrossing. A whole cosmic cable series, with story arcs and recurring guest stars.

However, it just occurs to me that this might be a cause of the suspicion of rhetoric: grand narratives! I hasten to say I don’t think a grand narrative is absolutely necessary for rhetoric, I avoid one whenever possible, though NOT having a narrative, poses quite a polar mountain of oppositions to overcome.

Ronald Reagan’s early speeches used a grand narrative called the “American jeremiad”, a 3-parter:

1) The Promise, which stresses America’s special destiny as the promised land — literally, its covenant with God;

2) The Declension, which cites America’s failure to live up to its obligations as the chosen people, its neglect of its mission, its failure to progress sufficiently — its national sins of retrogression from the promise; and

3) The Prophecy, which predicts that if Americans will repent and reform, the promise can still be fulfilled.

–Kurt Ritter and David Henry, Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator (1992), p. 38.

This is a well-used structure from the 19th century. Reagan’s declension were the shiftless, godless moochers who were expanding the government and weakening our moral fiber. This structure shows up in thousands of his early speeches.

I think the proper response to this would be, Their Correction Went Too Far — just invert it the whole thing, make the anti-jeremiad:

1) They became too proud of their own intellects,

2) Their pride caused environmental and economic pain,

3) They had to turn back towards Golden Rule, to compensate and equilibrate.

Of course, you can already find this structure lurking in many critical responses to the current predicament. Some of the most adept critiques.

Really the next task is almost ENTIRELY rhetorical, for it is how to teach that different institutions can have different intentionality-structures: market, healthcare, freedom of speech,– working to balance each other as polycenters, all in the same big social system.

I don’t think that Marx concluded it had to be a trainwreck.


Lee A. Arnold 10.08.13 at 8:02 pm

Bruce Wilder @118 — Do you think the Democrats should “compromise” with the Republicans along the lines that the Republican suggest? Or perhaps it does not matter what the Democrats do, because the consequences are prescribed, “not by the god from the machine, but the machine itself, the machine of the functional world, where consequence is not the meaning of a ritual, but just the way things work”?


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 8:37 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 123

Marx invented his own deus ex machina, and given what’s transpired since, poignance seems almost to have been invented to describe the tragedy of that invention. He was in a hurry. Sadly, so ought we to be, even knowing what we now know….


john c. halasz 10.08.13 at 8:59 pm


Is that “honey” or “on y”?


” reason, grounded in the experience of a logical understanding of the world,”
” reality has no plural.”

A peculiar set of philosophical commitments there. What exactly is the “experience” of logic? And logic operates upon meanings, concepts, categories, at various levels of abstraction. But then where do “our” meanings, concepts and categories comes from? Surely, they are not generated by logic alone. And why the stress on analysis alone? Surely synthesis is equally crucial in achieving understanding. eh? One hallmark of “reason” is a drive to integrate our understandings and make them cohere. Even as we must remain aware of their limits and incompleteness, as their implications and inferences become entangled and disrupted: that’s the point of a critique of systematic thinking. But then why can’t reality be plural? The laws of physics are imputed to be universal, as far as the light-years we can detect, but not so much any biological laws. etc. It’s a matter of how things hang together, not reductive unity.

ANd then why the insistence on functionalism as the ultimate and basic reality “out there”. Human agents operate under material conditions and structural constraints, and there acts, bearing consequences, are always really interactions. But there are always a number of functionally equivalent arrangements possible. Further, functional explanations are low-grade quasi-teleological accounts: there is a gap between causally necessary conditions and sufficient consequences. They fail to address the ends that they would subserve: functional for what and for whom. But to be an agent is to act on the basis of understanding; (in the first instance, it doesn’t matter whether the understanding is true or accurate or not, simply that it be shared among some community of agents). So functionality, as the minimal basis for social cooperation and the limits of social projects, doesn’t somehow trump meanings and there is an irreducible potential for conflicts over (frameworks of) interpretations, which may be impassable and implacable, at least by means of reason alone.


William Timberman 10.08.13 at 9:14 pm

Old Anglo-Norman is what it is, honey. Don’t blame me, I waren’t around.


Colin 10.08.13 at 11:16 pm

I’m beginning to wonder if what Republicans actually mean by ‘compromise’ is “we will compromise by continuing to pay lip service to the current laws and constitution, rather than overthrowing it and creating a new system where all ideologically unsound parties are banned.”


john c. halasz 10.09.13 at 4:18 am


Sorry. I didn’t recognize the archaicism. I only knew the modern French tag, “on y soit qui mal y pense”- he would be it who thinks ill of it. Or, otherwise put, hell is other people, except that projection is pathological.

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