Foley Frolics

See if you can spot the flaw in Karen Tumulty’s otherwise spot-on article in Time magazine. It’s in this section:

If you think politicians clinging to power isn’t big news, then you may have forgotten the pure zeal of Gingrich’s original revolutionaries. They swept into Washington on the single promise that they would change Capitol Hill. And for a time, they did. Vowing to finish what Ronald Reagan had started, they stood firm on the three principles that defined conservatism: fiscal responsibility, national security and moral values. Reagan, who had a few scandals in his day, didn’t always follow his own rules. But his doctrine turned out to be a good set of talking points for winning elections in a closely divided country, and the takeover was completed with the inauguration of George W. Bush as President.

But after controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for most of Bush’s six years in office, the party has a governing record that has come unmoored from those Grand Old Party ideals.

Tumulty’s premise (illustrated by the graphic, which is inspired) assumes that Republicans started out as principled and reasonably pure but lost their way. However, if you assume that today’s Right is essentially the same critter Richard Hofstadter identified as pseudo-conservative back in the 1950s, then it follows that the “ideals” and “values” were always a sham.

Hofstadter wrote that pseudo-conservatism was “a kind of punitive reaction” to the New Deal era. Quoting Theodore W. Adorno, Hofstadter wrote in the essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” (1954):

I borrow the term [pseudo-conservative] from The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950 by Theodore W. Adorno and his associates — because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions, and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower administration.

… From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative. The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere… The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Later in the same essay:

The restlessness, suspicion and fear manifested in various phases of the pseudo-conservative revolt give evidence of the real suffering which the pseudo-conservative experiences in his capacity as a citizen. He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is disturbed deeply by American participation in the United Nations, which he can see only as a sinister organization. He sees his own country as being so weak that is it constantly about to fall victim to subversion; and yet he feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world — for instance, in the Orient — cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed.

Over the years the pseudo-conservatives have managed to erect a facade of political ideology to cover their social pathologies, and I believe at least some movement conservatives came to genuinely believe in that ideology. But in truth it has been their seething, inchoate resentment that has fueled the American Right lo these many years. The Bush cult of personality is just a new manifestation of a long-festering disease. Glenn Greenwald may have wondered at how easily righties could chuck their almighty ideology to stand with Bush, but for most of them it was never about the ideology. In George W. Bush they found the pure distillation of their resentment and ignorance. His smarmy insolence is the one-finger salute they have long desired to give to the world.

Please do read Tumulty’s piece in Time all the way through, as it very good. For now I just want to quote a bit from the end:

… the way the House has operated under Hastert has been anything but humble. He quickly came to be viewed as little more than a genial front for then majority leader Tom DeLay, whose nickname—the Hammer—pretty much summed up his leadership touch.

“There has been no institutional rule, means, norm or tradition that cannot be set aside to advance a partisan political goal,” says Brookings Institution political scientist Thomas Mann, co-author of the recently published book whose title describes Congress as The Broken Branch. In 2003, instead of fashioning a compromise that might woo a few Democrats, Hastert and DeLay held what was supposed to be a 15-min. vote open for three full hours as they squeezed the last Republican votes they needed to pass a bill to provide an expensive prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Far more than in the past, they brought bills to the floor with no chance of amendment and allowed the normal appropriations process to be circumvented so that pet projects could be funded without scrutiny. When DeLay faced indictment by a Texas grand jury, Hastert changed the Republican rules so that DeLay could stay on as leader—though in the ensuing outcry, he had to reverse himself. Hastert was successful, however, in purging the ethics committee of its chairman and two Republican members who had reprimanded DeLay for misconduct. Stretching the limits of arcane House rules and shuffling committees around may not seem like earthshaking offenses, but they are the same type of procedural strangleholds and power plays that the G.O.P. had hoped to excise from the body politic 12 years ago.

The Dems were plagued by corruption in 1994, when the GOP took over the House, and the Dems had made use of “procedural strangleholds and power plays,” although I don’t know if they were as ruthless about it as is the current House leadership. The moral is not that one party is intrinsically superior to the other, but that all these politicians need OVERSIGHT. And no party should be able to manipulate Congress so that it can operate in the dark and shut out the opposition entirely. If the Dems do take back the House in November, I think we should lean on them heavily to make some reforms.

Another warning for the Dems comes from rightie blogger Rick Moran:

As it now seems likely that the GOP will be given the boot by voters on election day, America will turn toward the Democrats looking for leadership on budget issues, entitlements, the War on Terror, and other vital issues facing the country.

It says volumes that the American people will not find any new ideas or solutions from Democrats – only the promise that they will “drain the swamp.”

This assumes that Republicans have “new ideas and solutions.” The GOP has been dragging essentially the same mummified ideas around since Goldwater — hell, some of those ideas date back to Coolidge, if not McKinley — and the GOP had a clear shot at putting those ideas into practice. And (once again) they failed. But as I said here, if Dems get a shot they had better hustle to show voters that they can provide better government than the GOP, because otherwise the GOP will come roaring back in 2008. And Dems will have to deliver something tangible that voters can see with their own eyes, so that the mighty rightie media machine can’t spin it away.

At Orcinus, Sara Robinson thinks some right-wing voters have finally come to a moment of reckoning. On the other hand, Margaret Talev and Eric Black of McClatchy Newspapers write that “Polls show little national fallout from page scandal.” This is no time to be complacent.

8 thoughts on “Foley Frolics

  1. You can just about bet that the K Street influence machine is re-tooling so they can sell their ideas of governement by the wealthy and for the wealthy – paid for by the middle class – will prevail – even in a Democratic Congress.

    If you think that those ideas won’t take root, you are more of an optomist than I am. The messengers from K street will be Democrats, most likely previous members of the House and Senate, with large checks and advice – you can only retain your seat with a large war chest.

    Folks, we will winn the House and might win the Senate. And it won’t count for SHIT if we don’t hold the Dems feet to the fire from DAY ONE. They work for us – all Americans – not the party machine and not Wall Street and not the elite rich.

    My message of congratulation, which I am writing for next month will include the message that all politicians (in my book) are guilty until proven innocent. He or She has ONE term to prove my conviction wrong and that’s the only way to retain that seat.

  2. It says volumes that the American people will not find any new ideas or solutions from Democrats – only the promise that they will “drain the swamp.”

    Draining the swamp is the first step toward a solution. You have to think in frame of mind like Thomas every failure you take another step closer to success. We know what we have now is a cesspool of incompetence, corruption and distain for the will of the American people, so any direction away for that offers at a minimum a ray of hope and the possibility for progression.

  3. While I admire Hofstadter greatly, there is something about that portrait of the “pseudo-conservative” personality that I find just a bit uncomfortable. Allow me to reproduce a portion of it with but one small change:

    “He believes himself to be living in a world where he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of [George W. Bush].”

    It’s like looking in a mirror to see contemporary liberals exhibit an outlook on the current situation comparable to the freaked-out pseudoconservatives of an earlier time. Like them, we think we are being spied upon by a government with no respect for the Constitution. Like them, we think our liberties have been outrageously invaded. Like them, we are opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics in the past twenty years (the Reagan revolution and its degenerate culmination in the likes of Bush and DeLay). And we have to spit the words “George W. Bush” in order to get them out, just like the right-wingers of an earlier day could not bring themselves to say the name “Franklin Roosevelt.”

    I suppose I could comfort myself by recalling that the “liberties” pseudoconservatives felt were being invaded included things like the “liberty” to discriminate against people of whom they disapproved (such as blacks) and the “liberty” to exploit workers for their own benefit; while the liberties we progressives worry about are of a different order entirely.

    I suppose. But I wonder if some future Hofstadter will write the same paragraph about current progressives.

  4. Jeff– although your argument sort of works with the quotation I posted, if you read Hofstadter’s essays on “paranoid style” and “pseudo-conservatism” together, what emerges is a lot more complex and more clearly pathological. The parallel just isn’t there, IMO.

    That said, I do believe there are some progressives who are struggling with the same pathologies, most notably the “inside job” culties. They’re the leftie equivalent of pseudo-conservatives in many ways.

  5. Krugman today, behind the Times Select wall:
    “More generally, Mr. Hastert is a leading figure in a political movement that exemplifies what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called “the paranoid style in American politics . . .”

  6. I’m happy to see others using “pseudo-conservative” and crediting Hofstadter. People back in the 50s seemed to see the radical right more clearly than today. My blog is based on this very term. Take a look.

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