Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Catch of the Day

One for Matt Yglesias, who makes a good point:
[T]he striking thing about American politics today is the extent to which politicians in congress don't reach agreements even when the American people aren't sharply divided.
The example he gives is about taxes; he correctly points out that the polling on taxes has the majority of Republicans actually support a deficit-reducing deal that relies on cutting spending and raising taxes.

In fact, it's sort of remarkable that thirty-five years after Ronald Reagan shifted on taxes, and over twenty years after the Gingrich revolt against George H.W. Bush solidified anti-tax extremism as the rarely contested orthodoxy of all national Republican politicians, the GOP rank-and-file is still incredibly resistant to the message.

That said, as Yglesias says, we shouldn't make too much of this kind of abstract issue polling. In fact, I'm not sure about this (his emphasis):
If key Republican leaders—John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, etc.—wanted to shake hands on a bargain that raised taxes a fair amount and cut spending by three or four times that amount, Obama would gladly take the deal and a strong cross-party majority of Americans would applaud.
Yes and no; depends on the "etc.", doesn't it? Let's say that those leaders agreed to it, but Rush Limbaugh opposed it and called it a sell-out...and so did Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and so did a fair number of House Republicans. What, then, would the polling among Republicans show? I wouldn't want to predict that in advance. And I'm not at all confident that the pre-specifics polling about general attitudes about taxation would have any predictive power at all to the post-specifics, post-elite lineup, results. On the other hand, if President Cruz, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader Paul agree to the exact same deal and get it endorsed by Rush and the rest, then the rank-and-file are going to support it (for the moment at least!) almost unanimously.

All of which is to totally agree with the main point* he's making, which is that that policy-preference constraints by voters is at best a very minimal cause of Congressional polarization.

And: Nice catch!

*On the other hand, I don't think I can go along with Yglesias's (separate) complaint about the use of Jedi Council. On two counts. One is that there's nothing at all wrong with using references from inferior movies/shows/books whatever, including inferior sequels (or prequels, whatever). As anyone who has used Pacino's "just when I thought I was out..." quote will have to admit. And the second thing is that I think it's the case that the Jedi maintained peace in the galaxy for a thousand years before the events of the prequels. That's not bad! And if so, I think it's wrong for us to think of them as a bunch of easily-duped fools; it's just that we only saw that part of it. I say I think so, however, because I tried to look it up and realized that figuring it out would require a short course in Star Wars galactic history based on books, games, and more, and I really don't want to start down that particular path.


  1. ...figuring it out would require a short course in Star Wars galactic history based on books, games, and more, and I really don't want to start down that particular path.

    Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny!

    1. Wasn't Yoda kind of wrong about that in regard to Vader and Luke depending on whether you think he started down the dark path in his Emperor confrontation in Jedi?

    2. Yglesias is committing a classic social science/journalism error. The things that went wrong in the prequels may or may not have been due to or despite the actions of the Jedi Council.

      If their prophecy is true, then there was always going to be one who brought balance to the Force; nothing they did would have prevented that. Yes, they were stupid not to realize that it was actually unbalanced IN THEIR FAVOR leading up to the prequels. But, even if they had realized that, what are they to do? Either the prophecy is true, and they're going to lose, or it is false, and (for all I know) their whole religion/way of life is a lie. Neither outcome is good.

      I think of it as being similar to Jesus saying "one of you will betray me tonight." At some point, the theology requires that they just accept the bad thing.

      All this is sophistry, of course. To return to whether or not the Jedi Council can be used as a reference, Yglesias is also wrong in his first instance. If the old media are dying, as is commonly assumed/reported, then calling a meeting of the old guard a "Jedi Council" is kinda appropriate. If there are norms of apprenticeship in media and a ruling council of elders overseeing this thing as it is about to die out (and doesn't realize it), that's a pretty decent analogy.

      Yglesias is OK to be circumspect about Hensarling et. al. using the term. In this case, it is likely being used because the Jedi Council are the good defenders of democracy against the evil Emperor...a narrative that fits very nicely with the Tea Party narrative. Yes, they lost, but really because one of their own was a turncoat (so, adopting the name might also be to reinforce team loyalty). Yes, most folks reading this blog don't want to think of Hensarling as any kind of good, but THEY think of themselves that way (one imagines). So, really, the losing thing is the only negative for the metaphor; the rest actually fits their purpose quite well. If Yglesias wants to focus on the losing part, fine, but I think he's missing the point.

    3. OTOH, if Yglesias' only goal is to get the prequels out of our collective memories/zeitgeist, regardless of the appropriateness of the metaphors, well, then he's on a mission from God, dadgummit.

  2. This poll was of all self-identified Republicans. It seems likely that habitual Republican primary voters, especially those that turn out for non-Presidential primaries, are more opposed to tax increases than all Republican identifiers, and that those who volunteer for Republican campaigns and/or contribute to Republican coffers are even more opposed than the Republican primary electorate. As a member of the Monmouth County, New Jersey Republican County Committee, I see resentment of high taxes on successful people as the key motivating factor in my colleagues' decisions to be politlcally active Republicans (Monmouth is an affluent suburban county that usually voter Republican). I don't think Paul, Cruz or Limbaugh's support of higher taxes would change our views on that issue.


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