A Blue Moon with Nanci Griffith

Nanci GriffithOur Mr. French from Family Affair, Sebastian Cabot was born on this day in 1918. Even when I was a kid, I thought those children were annoying. But Mr. French was cool. The great game show creator Merv Griffin was born in 1925. He also had his talk show too. Whenever I see a modern talk show, I think back fondly to those earlier versions. They had less fake sincerity. Rocker Bill Haley was also born in 1925. And comedic genius Pat Paulsen was born in 1927.

Nancy Reagan is 92 today. She is the woman who brought astrology into the White House. TV’s Robin, Burt Ward is 68. George Bush Jr is 67. He was the man who brought honor back to the White House. (I kill myself!) Sylvester Stallone is also 67—a lot of Republicans born that day, I guess. One of my favorite actors, Geoffrey Rush is 62. And rapper 50 Cent is 38. I only know of him because of this Zero Dark Thirty parody:

The day, however, belongs to country singer Nanci Griffith who is 60 today. I don’t have much to say about her other than that I really like her music. Especially this:

Happy birthday Nanci Griffith!

On Being an Asshole and Possibly Right

I know when I’m being an asshole, but I often don’t know why. Such was the case when I saw this tweet:

To some extent, this tweet stung me because I had just tweeted a comment about Edward Snowden. But the truth is that I don’t understand this logic at all. I feel no special kinship for the people at SFO. I’m glad that what seemed like a terrible accident resulted in so little death. But otherwise, I don’t connect with the people on that flight just because it happened within a hundred miles of me. That may well mean I’m some kind of monster. And it wouldn’t be the first time. Nor am I unable to learn, so I’m all for hearing the counterargument because I can be really clueless.

But right now, I don’t think so. The reason everyone is in an uproar about this is that the media channels are filled with it. It is, as they say, a man bites dog story. Commercial aircraft don’t crash that often. But that doesn’t make it an event that should cause all of those with a TV to stop everything else and focus on it. And note the condescending tone of the tweet: Bay Area tweeters are to be scolded because Joanne thinks this is the most important thing. So I replied, and like I said, I knew I was being an asshole:

Life is, in fact, a vale of tears. We all pick what we fret over. You know what I fret over most? What I lose sleep over? Suicides. More than anything else, that’s it. Of course, that has impacted me far more directly than most other things. But the point is not what most bothers me. It is that I don’t have the right to tut-tut others because they don’t share my concerns. In the grand scheme of things, malaria is a far bigger problem than suicide, which is a far bigger problem than plane crashes. And God bless those people who are deeply involved in this particular crash. But that personal involvement doesn’t make them better than other people. Just different.

I think that when there is large scale media attention to a news story, people think that makes it objectively important. But the biggest problems that we face, the greatest unnecessary sufferings, are not covered at all because they go on day after day and year after year. Should I go around every day chastising every person I see smiling, “How can you smile when 50 people killed themselves with guns today?!” That would be absurd. How is it different in this case when I am 100 miles away and only know about it from twitter traffic?

But as I said, I am open to being educated on the matter. After all, if a plane crashed across the street from me, it would affect me greatly. And I’m not sure what the difference is because I don’t need to see suffering to care about it. Then again, I do care about the people at SFO. I just think it is wrong to complain that other people don’t care enough about what you care about.

But I knew that I was being an asshole when I tweeted that. And I should have stayed the hell out of it. I am not at my best in 140 characters. But sometimes the urge is just too strong. And you tweet your crotch.

Neither Populism Nor Libertarianism

Populist LibertarianLook, I’m not a fool. I know that when I lavish praise on a conservative like Sean Trende, he will soon disappoint me by saying something stupid. Hell, in Trende’s case, he was being stupid even while being smart. What I mean is that his analysis was right: the Republican Party could still win elections with a New Southern Strategy. That was some smart number crunching. But he was always being stupid by thinking it was a good idea. As I’ve argued again and again: this is what the Republican Party will do, not what it should do. Well, if you dig deeper into the second page of his fourth article on this subject, you will see that he is arguing, as the great Mike Konczal pointed out, that the Republican Party needs to become populist libertarian.

That makes sense, because I have little doubt that Trende is himself a libertarian. But as Konczal noted, he isn’t the only personal calling for a populist libertarian turn for the Republicans. Before I get to this ridiculous idea, however, let me just take a moment to discuss just how incoherent the idea of a “populist libertarian” is. There are two ways to define “populism.” You can look at it historically. The populist movement of the late 19th century was mostly a movement of farmers against the trusts and for free silver. In other words, they wanted the government to stop monopolies and to encourage inflation. But you can also look at “populism” as it is commonly used: belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.

Does any of this sound like libertarianism to you? If it does, you don’t know libertarianism. It is the most elitist political philosophy since the fall of hereditary monarchy. Sure: certain proponents try to dress it down to appeal to the masses, but the masses are far too practical for a philosophy as theoretical as libertarianism. What’s more, libertarians hate inflation. They consider it the most vile form of taxation. This is an elite opinion, by the way. The people who hate inflation are those who are owed. Those who owe, like modest inflation. What’s more, libertarians hate the anti-trust laws. “What’s wrong with monopolies?” they ask. “If a monopoly starts gouging, another company will come in and steal its costumers!” I thoroughly debunked this idea in, Beyond Patent Protection.

The point here is that there is no such thing as “populist libertarianism.” What I suspect proponents really mean when they use this term is that the Republican Party should lay off the social issues. Because when it comes to economic issues, the Republican Party’s rhetoric is all libertarian. It isn’t in fact, of course; the Republicans want to spend way more on welfare than the Democrats; it is just that the Republicans want to spend it on the rich which is why their welfare costs so much more. But the idea is that if the Republican Party just abandoned all those social issues, northern whites would come streaming back into the party.

Who knows? That might be true. The problem is that if the Republican Party backed off of its homophobia, racism, religious intolerance, and war mongering, it would lose almost its entire political base. And remember: the Democratic Party has far more actual libertarian economic policy. (Social policy too!) Libertarianism isn’t just a brand name. Libertarians like balanced budgets. Which political party has made any progress on that over the last 35 years? Libertarians like small business (some are even against corporations, which are, after all, a government provided status). Who provides better policy for the small business owner? When it comes to courting libertarian minded voters, I think the Democrats will do okay.

But the main thing is that it doesn’t matter because there are very, very few libertarian minded voters. Mike Konczal explained this well:

Though public ownership isn’t a popular argument these days, public regulation and accountability is. So a truly “populist” agenda might call for a larger active state rather than a smaller one—particularly if the agenda is meant to energize people about how powerful, big corporations are ripping them off. People are mad about their cable and phone bills being too expensive, or their mortgage servicer screwing them, or because they have a loan from the bank that they didn’t even know about. Repealing corporate tax loopholes, while important, is a second-order concern to these voters in their day-to-day lives.

What is most troubling about Republicans calling for their party to be more “populist libertarian” is the first word, not the second. The Republican Party is always claiming to be libertarian. But it is most dangerous when it convinced people that it is populist. We saw that most of all with Ronald Reagan. But we also saw it with George Bush Jr. Remember all the stories about who you would rather have a beer with? It isn’t real populism, of course. It is, perhaps, cultural populism. “Vote for me, because I’m like you, but don’t look at my policies because they are all designed to fuck over people like you!” We even got that from near-billionaire Mitt Romney. Yes siree! He understood what it was like to struggle. He had to cash in some bonds from his trust fund just to get through college!

But in a sense, Sean Trende is right yet again. That is how the Republicans will take back the White House if they do it. It certainly won’t be because of their policies. It will be because they get a candidate who can fake it to the common man. I know that won’t be Marco Rubio. But it could be Paul Ryan; he has excellent populist rhetoric. In fact, he is the prototypical “populist libertarian”: populist rhetoric and libertarian-ish policies. Or to put it more bluntly: populist rhetoric and elitist policies. Will the American people yet again fall for that bait and switch? I wouldn’t bet against it. But if it does happen, we will get neither populism nor libertarianism.

Afterword

The image at the top is a common one that libertarians use to show that they are for freedom while everyone else isn’t. But note that they don’t place themselves opposite conservatives or liberals; they place themselves opposite populists. That’s another thing about libertarians: they aren’t too sanguine about democracy. They see it as something like mob rule. But of course they do! They know that their political philosophy is deeply unpopular: unpopulist.

Clueless Resentment Politics

Jamelle BouieJamelle Bouie is one of people I read every day. So I was interested to see the clip below from All In. Bouie got some email that was, well, if not racist, at least the kind of conservative claptrap that claims that the black community is all screwed up and that it is all their own fault. I remember hearing someone (I think it was EJ Dionne) talking about how when he goes to work early in the morning, what he sees is huge numbers of black and brown people getting on buses going to work. But for a lot of (and very possibly most) conservatives, minority groups will forever be Ronald Reagan’s mythical welfare queen driving a Cadillac.

What happened with Bouie is that he was able to figure out who had sent him the email. So he called the guy up and they had a conversation of sorts. Apparently, the guy did almost all of the talking and it wasn’t really about race; it was about his anger with the Republican Party. But in a wider sense, it was about his resentment. And hey, I get that. We all resent the injustices we see in the rewards of our society. As Friedrich Hayek said, it wouldn’t be possible to have a capitalist system if it were truly just. The only way that the losers in such a system could deal with it is to know that the system just isn’t fair. If they knew they were poor because they really did suck, the whole system would fall apart.

This is really interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Hayek seems to understand something that most other conservatives do not. For example, Ayn Rand was a fan of Hayek, but according to her the free market would always and forever compensate people perfectly for their worth. This, of course, is a standard conservative belief: we live in a meritocracy and if you don’t do well, it is your own damned fault. But Jamelle Bouie’s acquaintance captures the cognitive dissonance of conservatism perfectly. He is resentful of both the welfare queen and the fat cat banker. On all sides are takers. And stuck in the middle are the good, hard working people who I assume this guy defines as people like himself. (Don’t we all?)

But there’s a great twist here. The guy’s a lawyer! In addition to his living depending upon a strong government with strong courts upholding strong laws, he is protected as a member of a guild. I know a decent amount about the law. There are lots of poor people who would hire me to do simple legal tasks for them. But I can’t! Doing that would be a felony. Hell, it would probably be many felonies. What’s more, this lawyer is not just protected against potential proto-lawyers like me; he is also protected against extremely well trained lawyers in other countries. This guy’s entire livelihood is one big wet kiss from the government and all of its protectionist tendencies.

Still: I get it. None of us are especially happy with our lot in life. But our resentful lawyer is doing pretty well by the government he hates. I’m sure that he is easily in the top half of those benefiting from the government’s largess. But he will likely never recognize this fact. He is like a child who resents a sibling’s birthday party because he forgot that he recently had his own. But it is a lot more acceptable coming from a five-year-old.

Afterword

This whole thing begs the question though: if I send Jamelle Bouie some racist email, will he call me?