Browsing the archives for the conservatism category.

Nobody Knows Anything

conservatism, Republican Party

Whatever is going on in U.S. politics has gone completely out of bounds of all the known knowns and unknown knowns and known unknowns and whatever other combination of confusion one could put together. We’re all in uncharted territory here.

Ezra Klein writes that the parties appear to have completely lost control of the nomination process. Many of you, like me, are old enough to remember when the nominee was chosen in backroom deals at party conventions. Now Citizens United and new media technology has made parties close to irrelevant to who walks away with the prize.

Regarding Republicans: Although most of the beltway media tribe are as oblivious as ever, Frank Bruni (seriously?) is beginning to notice something is out of whack.

[Republicans] have become the party of brinkmanship, the party of imminent credit defaults, the party of threatened shutdowns, the party that won’t pass a proper transportation bill, the party that is suddenly demonizing the Export-Import Bank, the party of “no,” the party of ire, the party that casts even someone as unquestionably conservative as John Boehner in the role of apostate, simply because he knows the difference between fights that can be won and those that can’t, between standing on principle and shooting yourself in the foot.

Let it not be forgot that Bruni has been a leader of the both-sides-are-just-as-bad tribe for some time.

Conventional wisdom says that John Boehner’s resignation puts an end to any shutdown over Planned Parenthood, because the Crazy Caucus won’t be able to threaten him with a coup any more. However, conventional wisdom also says that What Comes Next will be worse for President Obama and Mitch McConnell.  But Josh Marshall disagrees.

This is a basic misunderstanding of the dynamics of the situation, actually a fundamental one – based again on the assumption that the only thing standing in the way of the House “Freedom Caucus” and right wing glory is that they haven’t shut the government down enough, or haven’t voted to repeal Obamacare enough. Was John Boehner really running interference for President Obama, shielding him from the ferocious fury of the right wing of the House caucus or was he frequently bending over backwards to find ways to avoid House nutballs from inflicting even more damage on the party’s national standing?

The latest brouhaha was about whether or not to shut the government down over defunding Planned Parenthood. Note today’s Quinnipiac Poll which shows that Americans oppose shutting down the government over defunding Planned Parenthood by a 69% to 23% margin. Even Republicans oppose it by a 56% to 36% margin. The opposition to this is broad based and overwhelming. It has all the kinetics and logic of driving 100 miles an hour into a reinforced cement wall.

Gerrymandering pretty much guarantees the GOP will hang on to the House at least until 2020, Josh M. continues. So they think they’re invincible. But if the hard Right in the House is allowed to charge ahead in all of its irrational glory and cause one crisis after another to force its will, this is unlikely to particularly hurt President Obama, or Democrats.

Whether it would hurt Republicans remains to be seen; the pattern we’ve seen over the past several years is that when one layer of crazy comes apart, an even crazier layer is revealed. Apparently the “fix” for the failures of extremist conservatism is even more radical extremist conservatism.

The question in my mind is, how far is this going to go? Nothing continues forever. The trajectory will fail, eventually. I’m sure I’ve mentioned the Taoist view that all things carry the seeds of their own destruction. The question is, how long? And, when the collapse comes, will our political institutions be strong enough to adjust? Or have extremism and corruption made them too vulnerable to stand?


Conservative-Industrial Complex

conservatism, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

My only quibble (so far) about “‘They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing': Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party,” published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, is that “conservative media” is just one part of a larger, integrated right-wing infrastructure that has been driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy for at least 40 years.

Conservative media are the most visible part of the infrastructure, but conservative media alone wouldn’t be anything without what the study’s author calls the Conservative-Industrial Complex. This would be “the network of no-compromise advocacy groups financed by the Kochs and other right-wing patrons,” the author, Jackie Calmes, writes.

David Roberts at Vox spells it out

There are now hundreds of conservative media outlets, not only the national ones you’ve heard of but regional, local, and niche outlets that speak directly and exclusively to the conservative (read: older white male) demographic. It’s a full media ecosystem; there’s no longer any need for conservatives to stray outside it to stay informed, or “informed.”

Alongside the growth in media (and funded by many of the same people) has emerged a newly muscular ideological machinery. Together they form what political scientist Richard Meagher half-jokingly calls “the vast right-wing conspiracy”:

Conservative talk radio, print publications, television networks, and internet sites have numerous connections, both direct and indirect, with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, academic research centers, and foundations that develop and promote the Right’s policy agenda.

If you spend much time at Sourcewatch, you begin to see how the whole infrastructure, from media outlets, Heritage Foundation and other “think tanks,” and the mostly astroturf advocacy organizations are all being funded by a relatively small group. Oh, and don’t forget ALEC. Time and time again, you run into the same few names.  The Koch boys are prominent, of course, but other names that come up frequently include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

In short, dozens of allegedly independent right-wing organizations are all being bankrolled by a relatively small group of foundations. And as Charles Pierce keeps pointing out, it’s these people who are driving the Right’s agenda, not the Republican Party.

It has been an article of faith in this shebeen almost since we opened it in 2011 that there is no actual Republican party in any real sense any more. Ever since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling in its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, there only has been a loosely held group of independent franchises who are doing business for themselves under the Republican Party brand. This is why the suits belonging to obvious anagram Reince Preibus are so very empty.

Put another way, the Republican Party has lost control of this monster and really isn’t in charge of anything any more. The GOP exists only as a facade, or as part of the nominal political infrastructure that must be used in elections.

The take-aways from all this:

  • Calmes is right that they don’t give a damn about governing. The puppet masters (the Koch boys et al.) have no interest whatsoever in governing. They are looking out for their own interests.
  • A big chunk of the American electorate now gets all of its “information” about current events from the right-wing media infrastructure, meaning they soak in propaganda 24/7 and have no clue what’s actually going on.
  • There is no leftie equivalent of the right-wing infrastructure.

Operatives in both parties and independent observers generally agree that left-wing media do not come near conservative media in terms of the number of outlets, size of audience and political influence, despite the frequent parallels drawn between Fox and MSNBC, for example, or RedState and DailyKos, Hannity and Rachel Maddow. “It’s my conviction that there’s no comparison,” said Price, the Democratic congressman and political scientist. Pressure on Democratic politicians like him, Price said, comes less from left-leaning media than from liberal advocacy organizations like labor unions, environmental groups and women’s and minority rights organizations. …

…Arceneaux, the political scientist whose focus is partisan media, said politically engaged Americans on the right and the left “just consume news in a different way.” Liberals favor comedy satire shows like Jon Stewart’s, for example. Leftwing pundits initially had a bigger presence than conservatives among bloggers when the Internet first took hold, though no longer. As for radio and TV talk shows, Arceneaux said, “For whatever reason, liberal ideologues aren’t drawn to that.” One reason is suggested by Hemmer, who in her coming book Messengers of the Right also writes of less successful messengers of the left. “MSNBC, and earlier, Air America” – a short-lived network for liberal talk-radio shows – “were trying to replicate what they saw as the political influence of conservative media and they were unsuccessful at it,” Hemmer said in an interview. “Conservative media – and the habit of consuming conservative media that is so central to conservative political identity – have been something that has a half-century of history. And liberals don’t have that same history. To the extent that liberalism has a base, it doesn’t come out of media, it comes out of organizations – like labor unions, or groups like MoveOn.”

  • “Mainstream” media remains remarkably clueless about what’s really going on. News organizations think that “fairness” means neutrality, and neutrality means a “view from nowhere” — it’s an artificial impartiality that is maintained by doggedly pretending that the reporter is standing in the middle between two equivalent political forces. As a result, the meltdown into insanity of one of America’s major political parties, going on right before our eyes, is ignored. Politicians who express views that ought to get them committed are treated as “serious.” And political elites, the so-called “Villagers,” are just as bad.
  • Individual reporters may be catching on, but they fail to grasp the scope of things. Roberts of Vox continues,

One of the longstanding critiques of mainstream media on the left, from the very beginning of the blogosphere, was that reporters in the Beltway “Village” failed to grasp modern conservatism and wrote about it in such a way as to sand down and mute its extremity. Their attachment to a certain mental model of politics — “both sides” with their mirror-image extremes and centers — made them blind to“asymmetrical polarization.” In fact, people are still making that critique; here’s Paul Krugman from just a few days ago.

… there are still plenty of mainstream political reporters who cling to the both-sides illusion to this day, imagining politics as a sober business conducted by Very Serious People in suits, premised on a shared set of facts and assumptions. But as the far right sends the Republican Party through an ever-more-absurd series of showdowns and tantrums, the illusion is fading. Now lots of established journalists seem to have moved on to the bargaining stage of grief, holding out hope that the Adults will once again take charge.

But see Steve M on this point; he thinks Roberts is being too generous to the established journalists and the “Villagers.”

We’re seeing evidence that the Republican Party is getting a clue it has lost control. I don’t think the GOP bargained for the fact that the puppet masters and the activists, who don’t care about governing, don’t care about the GOP, either. The Party was just a host, and the activists are like parasites devouring their host. But I’m not seeing a bottom yet, either. And I’m not seeing anyone approximating an Adult who can take the mess back into hand.


Conservatives and the Conceit of Happiness

conservatism, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Steve M has a worthwhile post up about an NY Times column by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. A.C. Brooks thinks we Americans should be more optimistic. In particular we need optimistic leaders, he said, and politicians have to choose whether they will project optimism (good) or pessimism (bad).

While the citizenry may vacillate, leaders generally have to select one disposition or the other. Pessimism arouses fear and anger, while optimism inspires hope. Hope can accompany fear in times of extraordinary sacrifice (such as war), but this is rare. As a practical matter, a leader must choose.

This is rich, considering that it’s the U.S. Right that stays in power by keeping its base whipped into a seething frenzy of resentment and outrage. A.C. then claims a study found optimistic leaders to be more effective, and Steve M informs us that’s not what that study found. What it actually said was that leaders who project happiness are perceived to be better leaders, but they actually aren’t by any objective measure.

But I noticed a long time ago that righties place high value on a perception of happiness. For years we’ve been told that “studies say” conservatives are happier than liberals, and for years I have refused to believe this. They certainly don’t act happy (see above about seething frenzy of resentment and outrage). The “happiness” claim seems especially odd in light of a number of studies that have found conservatives to be more fearful than liberals. Fear and happiness do not co-exist.

I commented on this discrepancy back in 2006, noting that the “studies” showing conservative happiness were based entirely on self-reporting; in other words, conservatives must be happier because they rated themselves as happy.

So back then I speculated that “Conservatives on the whole are less introspective and more conformist than liberals. Thus, they are more likely to say they are happy because (a) they’re in denial about their own unhappiness, and (b) that’s what they think they’re supposed to say.”

Turns out that I was right. More recent studies based on more objective measures such as behavior and language analysis gave liberals an edge in the happiness department. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to “self-enhance.” Self-enhancement bias is defined by the science geeks as “the tendency to describe oneself more positively than a normative criterion would predict.” This is illustrated by the words of the great Anne Richards, who said of George H.W. Bush that he was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple.

But then I continued to reflect whether I’ve ever much cared if my political leaders are “happy.” I’d say having a healthy sense of humor is a plus, but when you speak of happiness as a quality that is intrinsic to an individual, and is not just a passing condition, IMO you’re getting into trouble. And if you have to lie to yourself (see above about self-enhancing) to persuade yourself you are “happy,” does that even count?

(BTW, Buddhists make a distinction between happiness as an emotion and happiness as a cultivated mental state. The emotion happiness is a reaction to an object or circumstance, such as a gift or good fortune. This kind of happiness, while pleasant, is a temporary and empty thing. Happiness as a cultivated mental state is something like a mental habit of remaining balanced and content no matter what is going on “out there.” The way to achieve the second kind of happiness is to let go of self-clinging, greed, fear, and all that. More of a self-releasing than a self-enhancing.)

Reagan fans always make much of Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory’s famous “sunny disposition.” It always seemed to me that the “sunniness” was wrapped around a sour core of umbrage, as if he were perpetually reacting to a personal insult. The “sunniness” was largely an affectation, IMO. The guy was an actor, after all.

One might infer from this that righties want to believe Real America is just like Little House on the Prairie, except with cars and microwaves. And when they look out upon the land and can’t see what they want to see — largely because it isn’t there — it enrages them. Gosh darn it, they would be happy except for that dadblamed reality thing.

And this takes me back to the other Brooks, who petulantly whined that Ta-Nahisi Coates didn’t appreciate the American Dream and was in fact “dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism.” Yes, when you wake up, dreams do dissolve. That’s generally not considered an argument for staying asleep, though.


Free Speech Hypocrites

conservatism, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Does anyone else remember the Chocolate Jesus? Back in 2007 the artist Cosimo Cavallaro sculpted a crucified Jesus out of 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and the piece was displayed in a Manhattan gallery. There was a huge hue and cry about it, mostly because Cavallaro left out a loincloth. You might remember that Little Lulu threw a fit over this affront to Christianity (Jesus had a weenie? Who knew?), and the sculpture was removed.

It seemed obvious to me that the nudity was not just for shock value but added to the poignancy and vulnerability of the image of the crucified Christ, and the medium was a powerful statement on the commercialization — and trivialization — of Easter. But American righties argued that in the U.S. only satire poking at Christianity is allowed, but that satire of, say, Islam is not, and that’s not fair.

And I say satire by definition requires that the target be something that is established, powerful and privileged.  Ridicule of a relatively powerless minority group, which Islam is in the West, is not satire, but “bullying.” See also “When Operas Attack,” and don’t forget the many efforts by the American Right to shut down performances of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi.  Yes, in the U.S. the Left tends to push back against expressions of racism and sexism, but the Right has a long record of attempting to shut down genuine artistic expression that it finds offensive.

I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo before this week, and I only know it from the cover images and cartoons that have been reproduced on the Web. (Oddly, if you go to the Charlie Hebdo site now you can’t get to the back issues but can see only a “Je suis Charlie” statement. Keeping the content available would have been gutsier.) But what I’ve seen reminds me of the old underground comix that were popular in the 1960s counterculture — a lot of vulgarity and shock for the sake of shock. Which is not necessarily bad; some of those comix were brilliant, as I remember. And who didn’t love Mr. Natural?

But what happened to them? The 1970s happened, and then the 1980s. The country got more conservative. IMO it wasn’t primarily “political correctness” that killed them, as Alice Robb claims, but prudery.

It’s interesting to me that one of the few people to recognize the Right’s hypocrisy is Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, one of the people who led the charge against the Chocolate Jesus. Donohue is opposed to free expression, but at least he’s consistent about it and not calling for a different standard for different religions.

As a people, we’re either for freedom of expression, or we’re not. If we’re only in favor of allowing expression with which we agree, we’re not.

Update: One of the best responses to the Paris massacre I’ve seen so far.


The Pathological Denial of the Right

conservatism, Europe

Many, many years ago, back when Ronald Reagan was primarily known as the host of Death Valley Days, I concluded that the essential difference between American liberals and conservatives was this: Liberals identified real-world problems and at least attempted to implement solutions, albeit solutions that didn’t always work. Conservatives tended to be in denial that many real-world problems were happening at all until it bit them on the ass personally, and since they tended to be a privileged lot that didn’t happen much. Racial discrimination was not a problem for them, for example, so (in their minds) it couldn’t possibly have been a real problem for anyone else, either. But if you had packed conservatives into a crowded theater and yelled “Communist!” they’d likely have trampled each other to death as they stampeded to the exits.

Of course, those long-ago days seem like the golden age of rationality compared to what we’ve got going on now.

Gail Collins points out that many of the states being hit by the real-world consequences of global climate change are governed by politicians in denial of global climate change. Collins notes that Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf at an alarming rate, and Gov. Jindal thinks climate change is just a “Trojan horse” full of nefarious liberal ideas that would destroy freedom. However, Jindal has come out against forest fires. Forest fires definitely are bad.

Another article in today’s NY Times begins,

In Louisiana, the most common way to visualize the state’s existential crisis is through the metaphor of football fields. The formulation, repeated in nearly every local newspaper article about the subject, goes like this: Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.

Where does it go, this vanishing land? It sinks into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico is encroaching northward, while the marshes are deteriorating from within, starved by a lack of river sediment and poisoned by seawater. Since 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has delisted more than 30 place names from Plaquemines Parish alone. English Bay, Bay Jacquin, Cyprien Bay, Skipjack Bay and Bay Crapaud have merged like soap bubbles into a single amorphous body of water. The lowest section of the Mississippi River Delta looks like a maple leaf that has been devoured down to its veins by insects. The sea is rising along the southeast coast of Louisiana faster than it is anywhere else in the world.

I confess, I hadn’t realized it was that bad. And Gov. Jindal’s response is to speak out against forest fires. One wonders (although not much) to what extent the petroleum industry in the Gulf influences his opinions.

Collins continues, “In Alaska, entire towns are beginning to disappear under the rising seas. Roads are buckling as the permafrost starts to melt.” And climate change is “causing the drains in Miami Beach to back up with saltwater, sending the ocean running down the streets.” The politicians in those states deny anything is happening being caused by man or about which anything can be done. And if pushed, they just say they are not scientists. Collins continues,

Florida is absolutely awash in backed-up ocean water and elected officials who are not scientists. Louisiana has a rapidly receding coastline and a governor who’s afraid of the energy industry. Alaska has drowning villages and a political establishment in denial.

Part of the problem is that climate change denial has become teabagger orthodoxy, and any Republican politician who so much as expresses willingness to consider the science is liable to be primaried. That, combined with energy industry money, pretty much guarantees that Republicans won’t admit there is a problem until they are drowning. And then they’ll blame Democrats for a shortage of lifebuoys.


No, Ferguson Is Not a Libertarian Moment

conservatism, Libertarians

Libertarians are a hopeful crew, always looking eagerly for their moment that never comes. Now Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast argues that the outrage at police brutality in Ferguson is a “libertarian moment” because libertarians have been warning us about the evils of police militarization and overreach, largely as part of the war on drugs.

And that’s true; a number of libertarians have been bringing up this issue for awhile. This is also a liberal issue, but one could argue liberals have been less vocal about it, possibly because we identify other issues (such as racism) as taking up more of our attention. But this brings me to the first reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment — libertarians have no response to racism. And it’s undeniable that racism is at the rotten core of what happened in Ferguson. Libertarians like to pretend racism doesn’t happen, or if they acknowledge it, they do so only in passing (see Rand Paul). And then the next week they’ll turn around and say they don’t support civil rights laws, because big government.

And I feel compelled to acknowledge that many pure libertarians do not acknowledge Paul to be one of them, but as I have said elsewhere, pure libertarians are elusive critters who are seldom spotted, and even then as soon as they open their mouths and take any real-world positions on anything they are found wanting. Pure libertarianism must be like a hot-house orchid that must be kept in isolated and pristine conditions and wilts as soon as you buy it and take it home.

The other reason Ferguson is not a libertarian moment is that it illustrates an important liberal principle that often libertarians deny — sometimes the worst oppression is local, in which case citizens need to look to the federal government for remedy.  And, frankly nothing in Ferguson is likely to change unless the Justice Department gets involved.

Over the past few days spokespeople for libertarianism have argued they do so care about state and local government overreach, too. But I’ve had this argument with self-identified libertarians (although not pure ones, obviously) too many times. Many of them are sincerely more supportive of state’s rights than they are of individual citizens exercising their civil liberties. And it’s too obvious to me that the modern libertarian movement was born during the desegregation and civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, when federal courts and lawmakers and sometimes Presidents forced state and local governments to extend equal rights and protections to African Americans.

That said, Beverly Mann at Angry Bear wrote a great analysis arguing that many of our self-identified libertarians are not libertarians in any but a down-the-rabbit-hole sense. This pseudo libertarianism is “a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism,” she writes.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. …

…What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

Do read the whole thing. But when the organs that claim to speak for libertarianism often are largely sponsored by the Koch brothers, what is one to think? Where in America is this pure and not corporate sponsored libertarianism found, unless you go full la-la and point to the Bundy Ranch militia?

And for years we’ve been dealing with conservatism that isn’t the least bit conservative. Richard Hofstadter’s pseudo conservatives took over American conservatism and drove traditional conservatism out of the movement some time back. And now we’ve got this weird coalition of pseudo conservatives and pseudo libertarians making up the dominant political power in this country. And if this is what we’re calling libertarianism, they’ve been having their moment for quite some time.

But if there are some pure libertarians out there who actually care about real individual freedom and the rights of unarmed black men to walk down a street in their own neighborhood without being killed by police, I sincerely apologize for making fun of you. But do take care if you leave the hot house.


Reform This

conservatism, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The 2014 Texas Republican Party Platform really says this:

We strongly support a woman’s right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.

Ed Kilgore provided this quote, and I could not rest until I had verified this and seen the entire context for myself. And here it is —

Family Values – We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values. We strongly support a woman’s right to choose to devote her life to her family and children. We recognize her sacrifice in the face of the assault on the family. Additionally, we recognize the challenges of single parents and applaud their efforts in creating a stable and moral home.

This is the entire “family values” section. From here it goes on to saying human trafficking is bad.

If this were a game show, our choice would be Door Number One and, um, that’s it. Door Number One.

Seriously, this document is distilled and concentrated crazy. Hendrik Hertzberg and Charles Pierce, with all their rhetorical skills, still were challenged to describe how crazy this thing is, although Pierce has the stronger conclusion: “We allow ourselves only two major political parties. One of them is completely out of its fcking mind. This is a national problem.” Please read either Hertzberg or Pierce, though, so you can fully appreciate the truly epic nature of the crazy.

The other thing I’ve been reading about today are the “Reformicons,” described by Paul Waldman:

A small band of thoughtful conservatives has been saying, for some time, that if the Republican party is going to survive—and, more specifically, win a presidential election in the next decade or two—it has to change. It has to get serious about policy again, grapple with contemporary economic and social realities that simple appeals to free markets and small government don’t address, and find a way to attract voters from outside the demographic of old white people.

That sounds grand, but the actual members of this “small band,” according to Sam Tanenhaus, include people like Kate O’Beirne and Ramesh Ponnuru. And according to E.J. Dionne, the reform standards are being defined by the likes of Ross Douthat — called one of the “founding fathers” of reform — Michel Gerson, and David Frum. From what Dionne writes about it, this crew isn’t really coming up with groundbreaking new policies as much as repackaging the same crap they’ve been selling for years. Dionne writes,

At times, reform conservatism does seem more concerned with the box than its contents—more infatuated with the idea of new ideas than with new ideas themselves. But it’s also true that the Obama years produced such a large lurch to the right within conservatism that many Reformicons accept the need for readjustment and for something that looks like a governing agenda.

“Looks like” being the operative term here. This appears to me to be mostly an exercise in rhetoric rather than reform. For example —

Douthat offers a two-part test in the form of principles: First, that while our “growing social crisis” can’t be solved in Washington, “economic and social policy can make a difference nonetheless”; second, that “existing welfare-state institutions we’ve inherited from the New Deal and the Great Society … often make these tasks harder” by crowding out other forms of spending, hindering growth, and contributing to wage stagnation. So, says Douthat, “we don’t face a choice between streamlining the welfare state and making it more supportive of work and family; we should be doing both at once.”

What the hell does any of that mean? Is this anything other than arguing that we have to cut “entitlement” programs to please the several fairies of conservative dogma — the Fiscal Discipline Fairy, the Incentive to Get a Job Fairy, and probably Paul Krugman’s favorite, the Confidence Fairy?

It hardly matters, however, because however skillfully the reformicons dress up their weak tea to make it look like actual policy, the base will shoot it down. Actual government policy? The Texas platform calls for eliminating the jobs of all “unelected bureaucrats” in the federal government, which presumably means all federal public employees who are not in the military. This is not a crew interested in “reform.” They just want to destroy. Obviously, “reform” amounts to posturing for news media, which desperately wants to believe that Republicans can be reasonable, and for sucking in a few voters who are not old white people.


It seems almost pointless to mention this but there is simply no state Democratic party in any of the 50 states that is so clearly, obviously demented. This is the Republican Party. Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru are not. In fact, I think all those bold conservative thinkers of whom the New York Times thinks so much should bring their Big Ideas down to the next Texas state Republican convention and see how far they get. John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, and especially obvious anagram Reince Priebus, who nominally presides over Bedlam, need to be asked every day which parts of the Texas Republican platform they support and which parts they don’t. They don’t get to use the crazies to get elected and then hide behind fake Washington politesse when the howls from the hinterlands get too loud.

I agree completely.


Impulse and Ideology

conservatism, firearms, Religion, Social Issues, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.


Leeches of the GOP

conservatism, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Aw, heck, let’s gloat some more. It’s a nice change of pace for us.

Somewhere last week I heard a couple of journalists covering the campaigns say that in the days before the election the Romney people were jubilantly confident while the Obama people were hopeful but nervous. Of course, you could also say “deluded” and “realistic,” respectively.

Anyway — by now you’ve probably seen the video clip of Ann Coulter saying “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached. We have more takers than makers and it’s over. There is no hope.” I infer that Coulter considers herself to be one of the “makers.” But what exactly does she make?

The fact is, Coulter is a professional leech. She is one of several “personalities” who make a good living by leeching off the climate of hate and divisiveness that is the lifeblood of “movement conservatism” and the Republican Party. Every year or so she re-writes the same polemical book and gets it republished under a new title — some variation on Be Afraid: How Liberals Hate God and America and Want to Eat Your Babies. I don’t know who actually reads this stuff, but somebody buys it. Then she does a speaking tour and rakes in fees. Her weekly toxic waste dump of a “column” is still being syndicated. And people still go to her for her “insights” into the direction of conservatism.

But Coulter’s main function within the GOP it to keep pumping the hate so that she can continue to make a living as a leech.

A few days ago Rick Perlstein published an article at The Baffler called “The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism.” Although a bit rambling and unfocused, the article provides a fascinating view of how a culture of leeching has attached itself to “movement conservatism” and the Republican Party. All manner of people are making themselves rich by fanning the flames of alarm and then sucking money out of the rubes who believe them. It’s so blatant that conservative “media” such as Newsmax and Current Events are being subsidized by sucker schemes for Making Big Money Without Actually Having to Do Anything to Earn It.

So you’ve got individuals like Richard Viguerie and groups like the NRA that mostly specialize in fundraising by scaring people. Usually they’re sucking money out of ordinary folks, but we see now that Karl Rove managed to suck money out of the very wealthy, which makes him master of the game, I suppose.

Perlstein describes the standard come-on:

There is the bizarre linguistic operation that turns “liberal” (or, in Coulterese, “pinko”) into a merely opportunistic synonym for “stuff you don’t like.” There’s the sloganeering alchemy that conflates political and economic magical thinking (“freedom”!). There’s shorthand invocation of Reagan hagiography. And then, presto: The suggestible readers on the receiving end of Coulter’s come-on are meant to realize that they are holding the abracadabra solution to every human dilemma (vote out the Democrats—oh, and also, subscribe to Mark Skousen’s newsletter for investors, while you’re at it). …

… Miracle cures, get-rich-quick schemes, murderous liberals, the mystic magic mirage of a world without taxes, those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had hidden somewhere in the Syrian desert—only connect.

The Republican Party isn’t just being challenged by changing voter demographics. As long as people with inordinate influence in what’s called “conservatism” are milking it like a cash cow, they’re not going to let it adapt to changing voter demographics.


GOP: A Cult Looking for a Personality

conservatism, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Billmon (yes! Billmon!) writes,

There simply is no getting around the fact that the mentality of the modern grassroots conservative movement is in almost all particulars the spitting image of a 20th century totalitarian political party—an “epistemically closed” loop of self-reference and self-delusion. In other words: a cult.

The upshot is that one of America’s two main political parties has managed to turn itself into the proverbial insane asylum run by the inmates. And, unless the doctors want a quick trip to the electroshock table, they damned well better tell the patients that they, too, can see the same pink elephants (wink) tapdancing on the walls:

I’ve been more or less saying movement conservatism is a cult of crazy since I started this blog more than ten years ago. However, I have only recently appreciated how much the Bush regime was able to control Teh Crazy even as they fed it and grew it. Back when the Bush cult of personality was at its peak, Dubya, Turd Blossom et al. were able make the GOP appear to be a normal political party, at least enough so that the media establishment politely looked the other way when Teh Crazy was showing, the way you do when your elderly uncle forgets to zip his fly.

A lot of the media are still doing that, of course, but not all of them. Not any more.

Dubya can’t, or won’t, play the role of Respected Elder Statesman, a role that Big Bill fills so very well. And nobody has taken his place as the Big Giant Head of the cult. Yes, many of them gave their love to Sarah Palin four years ago, but Palin needed a Karl Rove to channel and manage her to keep her cult of personality going. She lacks the smarts and discipline to do it herself (so did Dubya, but he did have a Karl Rove).

(Looking back, it’s a bit surprising Karl didn’t have somebody groomed and ready to step into the role of Trilby to his Svengali when Dubya stepped down. Maybe he didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the cult of personality to manage the masses, either. We may have Dick Cheney to thank for that, though. If Dubya had had a veep with any charisma at all, that person likely would be POTUS now.)

Anyway, now nobody is in charge, and there’s nobody telling Teh Crazy when to zip its fly and behave correctly in public. And the question is, can the toothpaste be persuaded to crawl back into the tube?

Jonathan Bernstein writes that some on the Right may be stoking Teh crazy for personal gain —

Many of us argue that there’s something really wrong with the current GOP. It’s not that it’s conservative; it’s that, well, to be blunt, it’s nuts. Or, to put it more gently, it’s that there are strong incentives for being dysfunctional, such as the profit motive for those who stand to make a lot of money from the party being out of office (when talk show ratings go up and wacky conspiracy theory books about Democratic presidents sell like hotcakes).

In other words, he’s saying feeding Teh Crazy has become an end in itself, instead of just a means of gaining and hanging on to political power. So Teh crazy continues to grow, but no one Big Giant Head is controlling it. And this is not sustainable. No compounded thing remains in stasis for long; it either grows or it decays.

The result is a party more hospitable to, say, Sarah Palin than to Richard Lugar. And a party which takes presidential candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain at least somewhat seriously. That is, it’s a party which frequently ignores reality and rejects the normal compromises of the U.S. political system. And every candidate the GOP nominates either shares in the crazy or is hostage to it – which is what we’ve seen from Mitt Romney throughout the campaign.

Bernstein thinks the only thing that might save the Republican Party from self-annihilation would be a leader who could have their loyalty and who would then work to marginalize Teh Crazy. His example is the way President Eisenhower, working partly behind the scenes, marginalized Joe McCarthy. But now the GOP has been infested with countless Joe McCarthys, and I don’t see anyone of the stature of Eisenhower who could both gain their trust and call a halt to it. And McCarthy wasn’t being funded by a 1950s equivalent of Sheldon Adelson and supported by a vast network of think tanks and dedicated media outlets; he was pretty much a one-man show.

Further — if we go back to the McCarthy example, we see that McCarthy was supported by the Republican establishment until he became a political liability, and then they dumped him rather abruptly. And that was the end of his public career. At least part of the current Republican establishment seems to understand their party is out of control, and I bet they would like to tone it down if they could, but Teh Crazy isn’t listening to them any more.

The 20th century totalitarian political parties were eventually defeated, but it took war to do it. Watching Soviet soldiers loot one’s house can help one wake up to the reality that maybe the war isn’t going well, and maybe some political leaders had one snookered.

However, I am inclined to think that Teh Crazy will fade slowly rather than go down in a blaze of inglory. The question is, will the GOP itself survive? Can this party be saved? Or will it break up and go the way of the Whigs? The original Republican party was made up mostly of ex-Whigs plus a contingent of anti-slavery Democrats, I believe, so you could argue that the original GOP was something like the Reformed Whigs. I could see a coalition of moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats challenging the crazy-infested GOP someday. I think that’s at least as likely to happen, eventually — not right away, but in four to six years, maybe — as the GOP coming back to its senses.

And have we reached peak wingnut yet? I didn’t think so back in 2008, when the peak wingnut theory was first kicked around, but now I think wingnuttism is pretty close to maxing out, short of armed and violent insurrection.

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