It’s only been a couple of days since the last Odds and Ends and I already have stuff piled up—a lot more than I talk about here. There seems always to be too much good stuff to get to in any depth. As it is, these articles take long enough to write. This time, we have stuff on the filibuster and how it must die; 60 Minutes outsourcing its work to the RNC; a study that finds that libertarians aren’t so much (should have been its own article); Michael Lind shares my disdain for New Democrats; and Ron Fournier contains to do his false equivalence thing.
- Ryan Cooper wrote a great article about one of my favorite issues, The Filibuster Must Die. It follows off Lindsey Graham’s totally ridiculous tweet Monday, “I’m going to block every appointment in the US Senate until they are made available to Congress.” When I read that, all I could think of is, “This is why we need filibuster reform!” The whole idea that the Senate doesn’t need reform is shown in this case. Anytime some asshole Republican decides that some pet issue is important, the detente is over. A deal is not, “You behave as long as you want to.” As Cooper puts it:
So Graham is blowing smoke. But this is not remotely surprising. All the recent shenanigans over the House GOP have rather overshadowed the fact that during President Obama’s first term, especially the critical first two years when he had huge majorities in both houses of Congress, the Senate was a block of Portland cement in the windpipe of his domestic agenda. Republicans filibustered almost every single piece of legislation that came up for discussion. A few gulps of air managed to sneak past (after literally months of straining), but all kinds of great stuff passed through the House and died ignominiously on the Senate’s calcified procedural blocks. Seriously, take a look at this list sometime and try not to weep. We could have had a climate bill. And let’s not forget that before the filibuster (which means “hijacking,” by the way, and is a complete historical accident) evolved into an all-purpose election-cancelling device, its main purpose was blocking civil rights legislation.
And he totally nails what the real problem is, “The real issue seems to be various Democratic foot-dragging. Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats don’t seem like they’ve come to terms with the nearly total-dysfunction of the Senate confirmation process…” That’s right, because the old-timers in the Senate think that comity is more important than doing the people’s business. But you have to ask, “How could it get worse?” All I can think of would be armed rebellion in the committee hearings.
In a related article, Kevin Drum wonders what 60 Minutes was on about last Sunday, Sigh. Benghazi Again? He notes that there was nothing new in the report, and yet Lara Logan made a big deal as though her story were a “scoop.” He asked two questions, “That took a year of reporting?” and “Did you just outsource the whole script to the Republican National Committee?” I think he’s onto something in his second question. As I discussed in Odds and Ends Vol 1, the week before 60 Minutes did a disability story that was nothing more than Tom Coburn’s old spurious complaint that loads of people are gaming the disability system and driving it bankrupt. So I think yes, 60 Minutes is ineed outsourcing scripts to the RNC. Are you shocked?
Public Religion Research Institute put out a fascinating study this week, 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America. What it shows is what I’ve long known. Libertarians are a small percentage of the population. They are overwhelmingly white and male and young. But most tellingly, 45% of them self-identify as Republicans whereas only 5% of them self-identify as Democrats. Why would that be? As I argued in the comments of Why the GOP Can’t Criticize Itself, the Democrats have a stronger policy-based claim to libertarian ideals than the Republican party. What the Republican Party has is libertarian rhetoric. So either the libertarians are clueless, or their libertarianism is just a delusion and they are little more than simple conservatives.
Of course, the methodology is a bit slippery. A person’s libertarianism is determined based upon 9 questions that skew heavily toward a Republican framing of issues. Only 2 of the 9 questions would appeal to the “bleeding heart” libertarians. One is about same-sex marriage. The other is about drugs, but it is vague, “It’s not the government’s business to try to protect people from themselves.” I think they might have gotten a lower score if they asked, “It’s not the government’s business to stop people from doing heroin.” Or, “It’s not the government’s business to make sure airplanes don’t run into each other.” In fact, fully 30% of these libertarians don’t even think that doctors should be able to prescribe life ending drugs to terminal patients. And 59% are against same-sex marriage. In addition, 43% of these libertarians think abortion should be harder to get. Freedom lovers all!
Regardless, even these Republican leaning libertarians don’t think of themselves as being part of the Tea Party movement (61%). This goes along with another of their findings: 52% of the Tea Party are the same old Christian Right movement. This explains why the Tea Party is far more associated with anti-choice politicians than anything else. But it’s all about degree. The libertarians are willing to hold their noses about drug policy perhaps, because they support the low taxes and “fuck the poor” policies of the Republicans. I would say they hold their noses regarding same-sex marriage, but these libertarians don’t even agree with that in large numbers!
In the end, I think that the moniker “libertarian” doesn’t mean much. Even when I was a libertarian, I preferred to call myself an anarchist. I didn’t feel that most libertarians shared my views. I thought they were just a bunch of (not to go all Holden Caulfield on you) phonies. And this study really brings that to light. These are conservatives (Often social conservatives!) in libertarian clothes. They like the idea of dressing up like Thomas Paine, but they would be shocked to learn what he actually wrote. Of course, so would the people I call real libertarians. The truth is that the modern idea of libertarianism is just that: a modern idea. Paine and Madison were not libertarians. No one was. Not ever.
I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in Michael Lind. I don’t know the last time I’ve read anyone so quick to fall off the liberal deep in. In an article in Salon he wrote, Here’s How GOP Obamacare Hypocrisy Backfires. That headline is the most misleading one I’ve seen in a long time. His argument is that liberals’ embrace of Obamacare will lead to later calls to get rid of Medicare and replace it instead with Lifelong Obamacare. The conservatives will argue, “Why have a government program when it can be outsourced to the private sector?” And he is quite right that the New Democrats will love that because they love it now; it’s how we got Obamacare in the first place! But I think he’s wrong, because most liberals think exactly what I (and Lind) think, it is an “essentially conservative program that is better than nothing.”
But I really like Lind’s focus on the betrayal of liberalism that the New Democrats are. And too many liberals are willing to support the Democratic Party above liberal principles. You know how I feel about that: it has allowed the Republican Party to drag the nation far to the right. Our disastrous Overton Window is not the fault of Republicans but of New Democrats. And if we liberals allow them to maintain control of our movement, we might as well throw in the towel and vote Republican.
And finally, Ron Fournier delivered a doozy:This is what happens when the two parties ruling Washington lose touch with America and pander to their crazy-extreme bases: President Obama’s competency and personality ratings are nose-diving, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll; barely a sliver of the public thinks highly of the Republican Party; and two-thirds of Americans want to replace their own member of Congress.
Jonathan Bernstein cuts him to pieces. But the one thing that cannot be said enough is that false equivalence doesn’t just distort reality; it rewards extremism. It sets up an ethical framework where, for example, there is no downside to lying. If every Republican lie will be matched by a Democrat who slightly distorted the truth, then one might as well just lie. As I discussed on Monday, no one is perfect. So equating usual human imperfection with outright efforts to deceive and push extremist positions only helps the mendacious actors.
See you next time!