Flannery O’Connor Should Have a Birthday Today

Flannery O'ConnorYou probably don’t know who Horatio Nelson Jackson was, unless you watched the Ken Burns documentary Horatio’s Drive. He was the first person (with his driver Sewall K. Crocker) to cross the United States by car, which he did in 1903. He was born on this day in 1872. The great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was born in 1881. Ed “Juror #10” Begley was born in 1901. One of the members of the failed 20 July Plot to kill Hitler, Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, was born in 1905 (and was killed as a result in 1944). The great British director David Lean was born in 1908. In 1911, Lee Harvey Oswald killer Jack Ruby was born. And seven years later Howard Cosell was born.

Lots of birthdays today as well. The wonderful Japanese actress who starred in Rashomon, Machiko Kyo, is 89 today. Gloria Steinem is 79. Anita Bryant, probably as bigoted as ever in the name of God, is 73. A woman for whom I have a great deal of respect, Aretha Franklin is 71. So is The Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O’Brien. Elton John is 66. Bonnie Bedelia is 65. And overrated and thoroughly dislikeable actress Sarah Jessica Parker is 48.

Lots of birthdays, not a lot of great artists or thinkers or whatnot. But there is one: Flannery O’Connor was born on this day in 1925. I can’t say that I enjoy reading her, but I am constantly blown away at just what a great writer she is. I know a lot of people just brush her off as the female William Faulkner, but I really think she was better. This is amazing when you consider how young she was. She was only 39 years old when she died of Lupus. Anyway, if you want to learn to write, read Flannery O’Connor.

Thanks for all your stories and a very happy birthday!

Goodbye Mr. Chris

Up with Chris HayesAs I’ve reported, Chris Hayes is leaving his show that will become Up with Steve Kornacki. Below is his farewell address to the Up viewers. It is well done. He even goes out of his way to highlight all of his staff, which he is correct to note that the show simply would not exist without them. But hey, Chris Hayes is quite open about the fact that he is an egalitarian. It ends with a long fade out during which he hugs most of the crew. Below the clip is a list of articles I’ve written about the show over the last year and a half.

I am pleased that I was wrong about one thing. I thought I saw the show on a conservative trend. I wrote at the time in Up with Chris Hayes Goes Down, “But I fear that is just a matter of time. Up with Chris Hayes in 2014 might well have a panel of Charles Krauthammer, George Will, David Brooks, and Leslie Sanchez. Sanchez is the liberal.” Of course, we never made it to 2014, but I think everything was well under control with Mr. Hayes. I look forward to what his new show brings and what Kornacki does with Up.

I did not know that I had written so much about Up. In the following list, I’ve included articles in which the show was an important part of the story I was telling, not just stories about the show. Just the same, I’ve left out a number of articles where the show was just mentioned. I’m shocked there are so many articles:

  1. Up with Chris Hayes (21/11/12)
  2. Up with Chris Hayes Goes Down (11/12/11)
  3. Post-Truth Politics (24/06/12)
  4. Chris Hayes’ Pen (14/07/12)
  5. My Boy Chris Hayes (18/08/12)
  6. We’re Not Screwing You (19/08/12)
  7. Sam Seder Ups Reputation (16/09/12)
  8. Avik Roy: Charlatan (06/10/12)
  9. Political Harassment in the Workplace (15/10/12)[1]
  10. Sunday Politics Shows Designed to Suck (16/10/12)
  11. Defense Spending Projection (21/10/12)
  12. Poor Minorities Must Wait to Vote (10/11/12)
  13. Jerry Nadler Pushes Tired Gaza Narrative (17/11/12)
  14. Filibuster Reform (02/12/12)
  15. Smart Ignorant Conservative (02/12/12)
  16. Avik Roy is Trying to Kill Me! (09/12/12)
  17. Conservative Answers for Shootings (15/12/12)
  18. Christian Nationalism and School Shootings (22/12/12)
  19. Tea Party Idiot (30/12/12)
  20. Aaron Swartz (13/01/13)
  21. Banking Crises Soaring (10/02/13)
  22. Avik Roy: Healthcare Apologist (23/02/13)
  23. Repeal Sequestration (25/02/13)
  24. Speculations on MSNBC Shake Up (15/03/13)
  25. Naive Democrats Make it Easy for Republicans (18/03/13)
  26. Farewell Gay Liberals (25/03/13)

[1] I am very proud of this article. It never got much traction, but I’m the only one I know of who pushes this idea. What I’ve suggested that we can treat political coercion on the job the same way we treat to sexual harassment. This is a simple and well thought out approach.

Farewell Gay Liberals

Same Sex Marriage - Homer - SimpsonsI’m interested in where the gay rights movement is going. I will always feel a great kinship to my gay brothers and sisters. What’s more their cause of gender orientation equality will always be my cause as well. Although this particular cause is definitely liberal, the LGBT community, is not. In fact, in many ways, it is conservative. And so, as time goes on, I’m afraid that I will have to say goodbye to many of my gay colleagues as they are more and more at odds with me on important issues. (I mean goodbye to them from the liberal movement; I’m not talking about cutting off people from my life just because we have policy disagreements.)

A large part of this is simply that as a group, gays and lesbians are more economically successful. Why this is, I’m not sure. The lack of unplanned pregnancies undoubtedly helps. And the lack of gender limited roles can’t hurt. But the fact is that gay individuals and even more so gay couples are wealthier than their straight counterparts. We all know: the rich vote Republican. And as the Republican Party slowly gives up on its absurd anti-gay policies, we will see more and more of the LGBT community join it.

Dan Savage

There was an interesting moment on Up with Chris Hayes yesterday. Hayes asked a question that I must admit has occurred to me a few times: is it possible that the Supreme Court will vote overwhelmingly to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. On one level, it seems like a no-brainer. I don’t even understand the constitutional argument for upholding it.

But gay activist and liberal pundit Dan Savage called out the lie in that kind of thinking, “Thomas, Alito, Scalia: they will twist themselves into any shape to avoid—I think—overturning DOMA. I think they’re partisans and I think they’re Republican hacks and I don’t think they’re justices who can be trusted to do the constitutional thing. I have no illusions; it’s going to be very close; it’s not going to be Brown [v. Board of Education].” Of course he’s right. I am, however, curious to see what those jackasses will come up with to justify their bigotry.

I bring up Dan Savage because I was reading about him this morning in Kathleen Geier’s excellent The Siren Song Of War: Why Pundits Beat The Drums For Iraq. Savage is generally a pretty good supporter of liberal causes. But has was a liberal pro-war pundit in the lead-up to the Iraq War. And his 2003 call-to-arms is a repellent read, Say “YES” to War on Iraq. This reminded me that for years I’ve thought that the gay community generally is not long for the liberal movement.

Soon, gay rights will stop being a political issue at all. That’s as it should be. But I don’t think that someone being in favor of gay rights makes them a liberal. And as we move into the future, we will see increasing numbers of gay pundits slip away from liberal causes as they become unmoored from gay rights. Savage is especially likely, given that his politics often tend toward the center and even conservative.

On the other hand, there are activists like Urvashi Vaid who was also on Up with Chris Hayes. She said what I’ve been saying about the Rob Portman policy change, “I’m not in the same movement as Rob Portman. I’m happy that he loves his gay son and wants to now eradicate a barrier. But so many of the things he still stands for are antithetical to the lives of many LGBT people.” Right! Because if your concern is about “the people” more than “the cause” you will always be a liberal. And if I had to choose between Urvashi Vaid and Dan Savage, I would pick Vaid any day.

So I don’t mean to suggest that all our gay brothers and sisters are going away. Just the marginal ones. Anyway: the Republican Party is badly in need of an influx of new blood that, while wrong on a lot of issues, is not crazy. I look forward to having a loyal opposition, even as I mourn the inevitable loss to the liberal movement.

Myth of Meritocracy

MeritocracyAs much as I may complain about Matt Yglesais, I never question that he is a brilliant young man. Now, brilliant can mean a lot of different things. When I use the term, I normally mean: thinks what I do. This afternoon, he wrote a very interesting article, Meritocracy Should Lead to Massive Entrenched Inequality. In it, he gets to the heart of what I’ve been writing about for years: meritocracy is not that great a thing.

This goes along with my resistance to the idea of free will. We are what we are. People do what comes naturally to themselves. If it is true that the smoker who manages to quit has more will power than the one who doesn’t, that just means that he was born with more will power. He isn’t a better person, or at least, there isn’t anything he is actively doing that the first guy isn’t. Think of two people who go to the hospital with gunshot wounds. One needs 10 mg of morphine for the pain, but the other needs only 5 mg. Does that make the second guy better? Of course not! They both took the amount that they needed to deal reasonably with the pain.

Yglesias puts it directly in how it effects social policy. He talks about golf and how it is an egalitarian system, but not a fair one. Some people just aren’t good at golf. The truth is that some people just aren’t good at anything and they are no more responsible for that than they would be if a meteor fell on their heads:

But lots of people suffer from less visible problems, be it a genetic weakness for alcoholism or the below-average intelligence that afflicts exactly 50 percent of the population. Those people should have great lives, too. But a very egalitarian society in which everyone enjoys a high standard of living is almost certainly going to have become that way precisely because it doesn’t strive to turn the remorseless meritocracy of the PGA tour into a model for society.

I would like to see us get past this. The truth is that such understanding should cause our society to create some kind of base level of safety net: support for those who can’t work and guaranteed work for those who can. The problem is that those who have done well in our system want to continue to feel not only that they are smarter and more capable than their poor brothers; they want to think that they are better because they did so much more with what they were given. To me, it is ridiculous to make so many people suffer so that a relatively few who already have excellent lives can feel even better by accepting the myth of moral superiority.

Unfortunately, as we saw in the 2016 presidential race, both parties claim to want to work toward “equality of opportunity.” We know that even if such a goal were possible (and it isn’t), it would not lead us to the promised land of relative equality and prosperity. Instead, it would lead us to a proto-feudal state and would quickly devolve into aristocracy. I’m afraid that’s where we’re headed, and the embrace of “meritocracy” is a big part of what’s pushing us there.

Yglesias on “Illegals”

Matt YglesiasThe correct word choice around unauthorized immigration to the United States is, of course, politically contested in the United States. I like to refer to unauthorized immigration or migration because I think it’s correct. Talk about undocumented immigrants seems euphemistic, like they just lost their paperwork. Talk of illegal immigrants carries with it inaccurate implication about the actual legal framework of immigration. But referring to human beings as illegals is just plain offensive. Legally speaking, you’re only allowed to drive so fast. Lots of people nonetheless regularly drive faster than that. Referring to such people as illegals as if their proclivity for violating vehicle speed ordinances is a good way of capturing their essential nature would be absurd. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that speeding kills innocent people regularly while the only lives risked in unauthorized border crossings are those of the migrants themselves.

—Matt Yglesias
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More Democrats, Fewer Republicans

Elephant and DonkeyKos provided the following graph of party identification over the past four years. (It’s from the Huffington Post, but he doesn’t provide a link and I’m kind of mad about what they are becoming, so I’m none too interested in looking for it.) It’s remarkable. I was expecting a peak around last November that would fade afterward. This is what happened with the Republicans, if by “dip” you mean “entered an abyss with no end in sight.” The Democrats had a peak in November, but have grown steadily since then.

If you look at the Independents, you can kind of see what has happened. More and more of them are saying, “Let’s get real: I’m never going to vote for the Republican Party the way it is; I’m really a Democrat.” Similarly, a lot of Republicans are saying, “Let’s get real: I’m conservative but it’s embarrassing to associate with the Republican Party.” That pretty much summarizes this chart:

According to Kos, if the Democrats are going to retake the house in 2014, they need to win the popular vote by 7 percentage points. Let’s take a moment to think about that. In order for the United States to be an actual democracy, we first have to win the White House. Republicans are doing everything they can to make this ridiculously undemocratic, but for the time it is only moderately undemocratic because of the Electoral College system. Then, in order to have control the house, we need to have a 7 point advantage. And to control the Senate, we have to have a 20 point advantage. (Actually, it is even worse than that, because the Senate is a highly undemocratic institution and Republicans tend to dominate in low population states like Wyoming.)

That was the bad news. The good news is that if this trend holds, we will be able to retake the House. And if that happens, we ought to hold the Senate as well. And if that happens, maybe we can get get real filibuster reform. And if that happens, we might get some real moderate policies enacted. And let’s face it: I’ve been so disappointed that even that would be a major accomplishment.

Supply Sider Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan - Eddie MunsterNot being one to even balance his checkbook, I was completely at a loss when I read Jonathan Martin’s article this morning, Paul Ryan’s Disappearing Act. In it, he writes, “Ryan’s admirers say it’s unfair to suggest he’s merely a green eyeshade Republican.” What the hell is a green eyeshade?

Wikipedia to the rescue. According to it, “Green eyeshades are a type of visor that were worn most often from the late 19th century to the middle 20th century by accountants, telegraphers, copy editors and others engaged in vision-intensive, detail-oriented occupations.” Ah, I see now! This has to do with all the people who claim that Ryan is some kind of uber-wonk: just a man who wants to balance our budget.

I’ve written endlessly about the fact that Paul Ryan is no budget wonk. He isn’t, in fact, even interested in balancing the budget. Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine if a proposal is really about balancing the budget:

1. Is a big part of the proposal lowering income tax rates?
2. If you answered “yes” then the proposal is not about balancing the budget.

Not only are all of Ryan’s proposals not about balancing the budget, neither are Simpson-Bowles or any of the “Fix the Debt” proposals. This should not come as a shock. For the last three decades, conservatives have been using the big bad budget deficit to justify doing what they wanted to do anyway. Remember Ronald Reagan getting into office by screaming about budget deficits? Remember how he went on to explode those deficits, even during a booming economy? It’s the Republican way!

Jonathan Chait has a nice bit of history about Paul Ryan this morning. He demonstrates that all of Paul Ryan’s recent branding was just a show. He has always been a supply-sider. He even quotes Paul Ryan during his years in Congress during Bush’s terms, complaining that Bush wasn’t busting the deficit more:

We noticed that the green-eyeshade, austerity wing of the party was afraid of class warfare. They fear increases in the debt, and they were overlooking issues of growth, opportunity, and free markets.

In other words, “I am a hardcore supply-sider!”

But this all raises an important question: why did anyone ever thing Paul Ryan was a budget wonk? He didn’t put together actual budgets as it was. He just claimed that somehow we would cut X% out of spending without ever saying what. What’s more, it should have been clear from the start (and it was to many of us), that all his pretend budget wonkery was only about cutting taxes. It leaves me only with the Brad DeLong lament, “Why, oh why, can’t we have a better press corpse?”