Conservative Talks to Conservative

Mitch McConnellThe 40 second [Update: video changed; now 60 second.] video below is really great. What’s going on is Ron Paul and Mitch McConnell discussing how the government shutdown is going. They were mic’ed, but they didn’t know. They both agree that it is going well for them because they think it sounds bad when the Democrats say they refuse to negotiate. However, the whole thing comes off badly for them for a couple of reasons. To start, it makes the whole thing seem very much like a game. And it sounds like they are surprised that they are winning the “optics” war, which of course, only makes their position sound like their petty political battles matter more than all the lives that are adversely affected by the shutdown. Fundamentally, it makes the whole shutdown seem like it isn’t a serious business.

Rand PaulIt gives me pause, however: was I wrong earlier today when I said, GOP Losing Government Shutdown Battle? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on at all. At first, I kind of agreed that the Democratic position of “no negotiation” sounded bad. But I’ve been pretty impressed with how most people seem to understand that “no negotiation” frames the government shutdown as not a policy dispute but as a terrorist act.

So what seems to be happening in this conversation is more evidence that Republicans get very skewed views of what’s going on in the country because of their media echo chamber. They surround themselves with people who only tell them, “Things are really going great!” So when they lose this battle (as I’m pretty sure now that they will), they will be just as surprised as they were when Romney lost the election. How many times are they going to repeat this error?

H/T: Steve Benen

Moderate Republicans Really Are Extreme

Josh MarshallJosh Marshall asks, Just Where Is The Center of Gravity Here? It follows up on this idea that Byron York has floated (I discussed it on Monday) that there really aren’t that many crazy Republicans in the House and most of them want to vote for a clean continuing resolution. Marshall concludes, “The fabled GOP moderates never appear.”

Jonathan Bernstein calls these supposed moderates the Fraidy Cat Conference. He says that sure, they are more than willing to talk to Byron York privately and say, “This is crazy!” But in public, they are a bunch of wimps who will always follow the crazies. I see it differently. Yes, Bernstein is right: these people are afraid. But they might grow backbones if they really disagreed with Ted Cruz and his people. But they don’t. The supposed moderate Republicans believe in exactly the same policies as the most extreme “drown the government in a bath tub” types.

I just wrote about how the Republican elite have left their base behind. Part of what’s going on is that even a high percentage of the elites have been taken away by their rhetoric. Mario Cuomo (a great man, unlike his son) once said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The House Republicans are so in love with their campaign poetry that they are trying to govern with it. Most of them know when it comes to any particular bill (“Should we crash the economy or eliminate the EPA?!”) that they need to do the old boring prose thing (not crash the economy and keep the EPA). But when a large part of their caucus really seems to believe that they can have all that they’ve campaigned on, it is hard to resist.

This is why Christians don’t tend to hang out with atheists. It is hard to believe that if you are nice and believe in Jesus that after you die you will go to a place where you will be unimaginably happy for the rest of eternity. But if everyone you know believes it, it is a lot easier. This is why all of those people in the Heaven’s Gate cult killed themselves. I’m sure most of them had real doubts. But no one admitted it. And how could they all be wrong?

The main thing here is that all the House Republicans believe all the radical talk. It is absolutely not true that all Democrats are secretly socialists. In fact, most Democrats aren’t even especially liberal. (We can thank the Republican Party’s extreme ideology for that!) But these Republicans really are Ayn Rand zealots at their core. Most of them care about their jobs enough to know better. But they figure maybe the public zealots know something that they don’t. Maybe if the Republicans keep the government closed for 4 months, Obama really will sign the Ryan Budget. Who are they to stop this historic moment that may end in them getting just what they themselves most desire?

Afterword

Am I saying that the House Republicans are like a cult. That’s not my main point. I think most people behave in this way; we are social animals, after all. But there are definitely cult aspects to how the House Republicans are acting.

Republican Party’s Practical Nihilism

Ross DouthatEd Kilgore brought my attention to an article by Ross Douthat, Why the Right Fights. I try to avoid Douthat, just like all the supposed moderate conservative pundits. But there is something especially annoying about him. Almost all of his writing is simply conservative apologetics. Whenever I read him, I feel like I’m being sat down by one of these conservatives who think that if I just have their ideology explained slowly and softly, I will join the team. Well, I won’t. And a big problem with these people is that they haven’t thought their ideology through nearly as carefully as I have. Douthat, like most conservative writers, benefits from heaping helpings of conservative affirmative action.

With this in mind, I do find him insightful about the way that conservatives think. But it is always important to cut through the whitewash. And that’s most of what we get in this column, that I dare say Ed Kilgore mistakes for wisdom. Douthat tries to explain why it is that from the standpoint of liberals, conservatives are never satisfied:

This divide, I think, explains a lot of the mutual incomprehension surrounding size-of-government debates. To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party—because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like.

This is an amazing pile of bullshit! Most conservatives do not want Medicare and Social Security cut—at least they don’t want it cut for themselves. The roughly 20% of the nation who are hardcore conservatives only want smaller government in a theoretical way. They want government cut when it comes to programs that benefit those kinds of people. But the truth of the matter is that those programs don’t cost that much. Who is responsible for the biggest increase in Medicare in the last 30 years? Conservatives![1] Who is responsible for the huge military buildup over the last 30 years? Conservatives! The Republican Party is every bit as much for big government as the Democratic Party. The only difference is what kind of big government they want.

So really, all Douthat has provided here is an excuse for why conservatives are never happy with their many successes. All that is really going on is that the elites of the conservative movement have become radicalized. What they want is not even what their base wants. Yes, they want to get rid of Social Security. And if it came down to a vote, they might get as much as 5%. An opposite example would be the liberals who would like to make all guns illegal. That too would get very little support (but likely more than 5%). The difference is that the people who want to make all guns illegal on the left are not in charge. The people who want to end Social Security on the right are in charge.

This all means that the Republican Party is screwed up. It doesn’t reflect its own membership. It has fallen off the ideological edge. I’ll admit, that doesn’t make them nihilists in an absolute sense. But from a practical perspective, it does. They have become so extreme that they no longer see politics as the art of the possible. They want it all. And that is the same as wanting nothing.


[1] I know some conservatives would complain that Medicare Part D was the idea of that non-conservative George Bush Jr. But it was enacted in 2003, during the Bush honeymoon period. Conservatives only decided that Bush wasn’t one of them at the end of his term after it was clear what a clusterfuck his administration had become. Conservatives are always for big spending programs when the Republicans are in charge.

GOP Losing Government Shutdown Battle

Republican Ransom

As I was waiting around at the San Francisco VA, I picked up a copy of the SF Examiner and I was very surprised to see the political cartoon above. It isn’t the cartoon itself—I know of lots of liberal political cartoonists. But what was the Examiner publishing it for? And then right next to it was an editorial, “GOP Needs to Stop Obamacare Fight for Good of Nation.”

It was two years ago when I last read the Examiner. (I don’t go out of my way; it’s a terrible paper.) And at that time, three of the four editorials were from the Weekly Standard. The Examiner has been a very conservative paper since it became free and changed to tabloid format. It could be that that the paper just changes with the winds and it is now liberal. I didn’t see anything else that indicated a partisan take on the news—one way or another. But it seems clear that if the Republicans have lost the Examiner, they are losing this battle. Bad.

At the beginning of the government shutdown, I was a little worried. As I reported after the first day, the press was framing the issue in the Republican way. They were pitching it as a negotiation. One would never call a blackmailer’s demands a negotiation. But it seems to have turned around. It isn’t just the Examiner.

As you may recall, Jennifer Bendery has been compiling a list of House Republicans who have publicly called for a clean continuing resolution (CR) vote. Once that number reached 17, it would mean there was a clear and very public majority in the House for the vote. As of right now, it stands at 21. So that has allowed Obama to say very simply that Boehner ought to allow the House to vote on a clean CR:

I want everybody to understand this: There are [enough] Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives today, that if the speaker of the House, John Boehner, simply let the bill get on the floor for an up-or-down vote, every congressman could vote their conscience, the shutdown would end today.

And Boehner’s response is pathetic. He said, “The president’s insistence on steamrolling ahead with this flawed program is irresponsible.” The “flawed program,” of course, is Obamacare. But what makes is especially pathetic is “irresponsible.” Really?! Obamacare is irresponsible but a government shutdown and threat of a government default is the height of responsibility! Regardless, it is hard to compete with: “Congress wants to pass this and Boehner won’t allow it.” I don’t see how he gets out of that.

What’s most amazing is that now Boehner is again saying that he won’t allow a government default. I’m not sure how that works. Is he supposed to say, “Enact our conservative wish list or I won’t raise the Debt Ceiling except I absolutely will raise the Debt Ceiling”? That just makes no sense at all, but that may be the point. Until today, I figured that Boehner might have some idea of what he was doing. But apparently not.

So its looking more and more like the modern Republican Party isn’t just bad at governing; they’re also bad a politics. I haven’t ever felt this good about the Democrats’ chances of retaking the House in 2014.

Gore Vidal

Gore VidalI am still out of town so not much blogging today either.

On this day in 1898, the great film writer and director Leo McCarey was born. He is mostly known for his comedies like Duck Soup, The Awful Truth, and My Favorite Wife. He also directed An Affair to Remember, which you may remember was also basically a comedy. Duck Soup is not one of my favorite Marx Brothers films, but I still think it is great.

One of the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, Johnny Burke was born in 1908. He wrote the lyrics of “Pennies from Heaven,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” and “It Could Happen to You.” And he wrote lots more. The time when people concentrated on lyrics really did create better songs. Of course, it doesn’t matter today because songs are not really written anymore; they are produced. That isn’t to say that there aren’t great songwriters around (Jules Shear comes to mind). But few people listen to that kind of music.

Other birthdays: the great writer Thomas Wolfe (1900); musician Eddie Cochran (1938); musician Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954); Al Sharpton (59); and actor Clive Owen (49).

The day, however, belongs to the great writer Gore Vidal who was born on this day in 1925. He mostly wrote about the best historical fiction of the 20th century. But I’m not that into that kind of thing. I preferred his essays. I remember reading his essay “Sex Is Politics,” and I don’t think I ever quite got over it. It largely shaped the way I see the world to this day. (Note: he is wrong about a few things in it though.) But I also think I learned from him a sad resignation about the way the world is. I think I have a positive notion of human nature, but we humans are so easily distracted. Squirrel?! The prognosis ain’t good.

Happy birthday Gore Vidal!

Mutlifaceted as a Piece of Paper

Being as multifaceted as a single sheet of paper sounds pretty pathetic, and it is, but that’s typically how I see myself: useful, but blank.

If I could be represented as an origami creation, this is what I would like to be: a complex, but beautiful distillation of order.

But this is a more accurate expression of how I feel: a complex mess best suited for trashcan basketball or package padding.

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