Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Core of the Problem Lies With the Republican Party"

Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, political scientists and (I hope they wouldn't object to the characterization) quintessential center-loving establishment types, take full aim at the Republican Party in a column today at the Washington Post.

It's an excellent piece, and I agree with almost all of it. My only caveat would be about the language they use to characterize the GOP: that it's moved "sharply to the right," that they've "gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post," that it's about the "bedrock right." I don't believe that the program they're writing about, and the examples they give, have anything to do with conservative vs. liberal, conservative vs. moderate, or extreme conservative vs. conservative. And for the most part I'm not really talking about the question of what's "really" conservative -- you know, the argument that you'll hear from Andrew Sullivan or Conor Friedersdorf or Noah Millman or Dan Larison that the positions on public policy supported by mainstream Republicans isn't really conservative. They have a point, but that's not really the key here.
The key is what all of Mann and Ornstein's examples are about, which is radicalism and irresponsible behavior, not ideological extremism. The most liberal, or most conservative, Member of Congress can find ways to compromise with the other side; there's nothing inherent in conservativism, or even in ideological extremism, that precludes compromise, comity, respect for institutional norms, and other things that Gingrich/DeLay Republicans -- and that's what we have today -- are lacking.

And that gets back to the question of what is "really" conservative, because the problem is that when your leadership is so radical, and radically dishonest as well (consider, just as one example, the "fight" against the UN swooping in and taking away everyone's guns, or the claim that Democrats are trying to do that), it's very difficult for a party to really develop either viable policy or principled policy. I think the best way to see this is in the challenges to folks such as Bob Bennett, Dick Lugar, or Orrin Hatch -- or in the inability of conservative opinion leaders to laugh off Sarah Palin, or Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann. It's not that Cain, for example, was more conservative than Mitt Romney; Cain was barely able to talk about public policy at all. It's all notional junk about "establishment."

The Republican Party is severely dysfunctional, not severely conservative. And it's going to take honest, sane, conservatives to restore it to health. How that can happen, alas, I have no idea at all.


  1. I think you're nitpicking here. It's their ideological extremism that drives their radicalism and disrespect for institutional norms. The stuff that makes no sense to us, like UN conspiracy theories, has its origins in the netherworlds of the far-right ideology. This fringe stuff is now bubbling into the mainstream of movement conservatism as tribal identifiers. It's the incoherent id of the far-right, but the general narratives of who the good guys and bad guys are, what might happen, is all pretty standard far-right ideology.

    And disrespect for institutional norms is just the logical conclusion when your ideology instructs that all government is evil, wasteful and corrupt. You take that ideology, plug into our current instituions and you end up with the nihilistic power-grab of Delay and the unprecedented obstruction of McConnel. They hate government and benefit politically from the institutional norms that keep it running becoming discredited and ineffectual. In the meantime though, they are happy to use their disregard of these norms for the benefit of those that their ideology tells them to support: business, finance, social conservatism.

    So I disagree with your analysis. Ideological extremism has everything to do with what's wrong with the GOP. As a rational and reason loving political scientist, you are at a disadvantage understanding the illogical and emotion driven expressions of this ideology though.

  2. jcbhan,

    Even if you're right, your argument explains only the ones who actually believe what they're saying.

    1. scott,
      true, but the rest of the answer is simple: the ones who don't actually believe what they're saying, or who've been pretty much silent for the past several years--the non-extreme GOP--are deathly afraid of the ones who do believe it. especially the *constituents* who do believe it. they're cowards. they go along. and so they're just as responsible for their party's dysfunction as the radical loons.

    2. scott,
      true, but the rest of the answer is simple: the ones who don't actually believe what they're saying, or who've been pretty much silent for the past several years--the non-extreme GOP--are deathly afraid of the ones who do believe it. especially the *constituents* who do believe it. they're cowards. they go along. and so they're just as responsible for their party's dysfunction as the radical loons.

  3. Yup. I see the same dynamic with green party people and supper liberal dems in local politics where I live. Sometimes it seems to me that some greens simply don't want to compromise or work with Democrats, even supper liberal Democrats on local issues that have nothing to do with the perceived sins of the Democratic Party, as a matter of principle. To me it represents the same problem only we are talking about what to do with the 10s of millions of Americans without access to health care or foreign policy not having a never ending fight about rezoning a few square city blocks.

    1. It may be the same dynamic, but the Greens - or even the super liberals - aren't RUNNING the Democratic party. You have a real, moderate large national party with actual power, battling an extreme fringe from a small party with very little power. It's not the same thing at all.

  4. You can call the Republican Party dysfunctional all day long, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters in politics is winning elections. And the GOP has been doing just fine at winning elections.

    There won't be any serious reconstruction of the Republican Party until they lose all of the White House, Senate and House for four or six years. Until that happens, why should they bother to change?

    1. I'll second TN's notion, but more to open up discussion on it, because I'm not as sure.

      Post 2006, the GOP said "we lost our way. Too much spending, our bad, we'll be small government (but strong military) conservatives again."
      Post 2008, there was the briefest of windows, maybe 5 months long, where they said "we need to negotiate, to compromise, to update our philosophy.

      In early 2009, then, it seemed like just two years in the wilderness (well, two years and two elections) had accomplished the feat. But, sprinkle on a little Glenn Beck and Fox News, and they were back to their 2006 ways again by summer 2009: "voters rejected us because we weren't conservative enough." 2010 only confirms the wisdom of the new (old) approach.

      Now, we can chalk all this up to dumb luck (Iraq followed by an economy crappy enough to hurt incumbents in two consecutive elections) saving the ultra-conservatives' bacon. Or, is it possible that our politics have evolved to prevent a return to the middle for the GOP?

      I'm not sure about the Dems. I don't see as many of the same restraints preventing a return to the middle. (Yes, they have netroots and whatnot, but I don't think I've ever heard the Dems pull this "we needed to double-down" crap after drubbings in 2010, 2004, or 2002). At the same time, when they look across the aisle, there's got to be a lot of figuring that anyone can beat these guys, so less pressure to moderate is there.

      I dunno. I'm mostly just rambling, trying to get more discussion on TN's point, rather than advancing much of a point myself.

    2. So, since their massive defeat in 2008 they've been the model of compromise?

    3. They are winning some, but their reputation as an invincible force is overstated. They have lost three out of the last five presidential elections, and control one part of Congress, wih demographics not on their side. In a country with rising racial minorities, and their base aging out, time is not their friend. The 2010 elections were an anomoly caused by bad economic times. They remind me of the Soviet Union in the 1980s: much feared, but fragile. If they were dealt a few haymakers in the next few elections, we might be surprised at how far they fall.

  5. I agree with TN, but I think they'll probably have to have a longer string of losses than that. It took 20 years before "Modern Republicans" like Eisenhower reconciled the GOP to the New Deal.

    Speaking of time scales, a big part of the problem that the Mann/Ornstein article describes is that Democrats have been slow to figure out how to fight back effectively. Obama seemed a step backward in that respect, a guy who refused to recognize that he was dealing with radical insurgents and therefore kept giving them the upper hand. But perhaps his more recent moves show that the tectonic plates are finally shifting. We had a discussion here last week about the Buffett Rule and what it represented. I defended it as an example of the kind of strategy Dems have been too slow to use: Set up votes, even on minor issues, that illustrate for voters just where the GOP currently stands. Voters will then reject them, and the GOP leadership knows this, which is why they are now suddenly looking more accommodationist on some other pending matters (like reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act). The right kinds of votes, in other words, force Republican officials and candidates to choose between their base and the majority. They'll either choose the majority, or they'll lose elections. Or the party will start to fracture, with the hard-rightists going 3rd party, which will also lose them elections. Either way, the system as a whole will end up back at the center.

    Or not. There has always been a nihilistic, rejectionist strain in American politics, usually associated with racism and cultural panic. One of its earlier versions, the "Slave Power" or "slaveocracy" of yore, was prepared to destabilize the whole system or even to blow it to pieces if need be. I tend to think their successors today are too weak to credibly threaten that and can still be isolated and neutralized -- and that in fact we saw this recently when Rick Secessionist Perry lost the nomination to Mitt Made-of-Money Romney. The GOP's ultimate loyalty is still to the financier class, and they're not nihilists; they benefit from keeping the system stable. But hey, I could be wrong! Maybe we'll look back at today as the Golden Age when the system was still working.

  6. @ Matt -

    I'm not sure about the Dems. I don't see as many of the same restraints preventing a return to the middle.

    In trying to avoid false equivalence, you've fallen into the trap of false equivalence. There is nothing on the left comparable to Fox News or ALEC, nobody on the left comparable to the Koch brothers - no, not even Soros, nor to Karl Rove, nor a governor like Scott Walker (frex,) nor a movement comparable to the tea party. For the Dems to return to the middle, they would have to move left, quite a bit. They're on the conservative 30 yard line.

    Obama is to the right of Clinton, and Clinton was to the right of Eisenhower.

    As much as I agree with jcbhan, I also agree with Johnathon. The R's fail at governing because of their utter contempt for government and governance, since since the Gingrich Contract on America 20 years ago. Hence a clown car of candidates that in a rational world would get laughed off the stage.

    This is orthogonal to ideology, and comes from being wholly-owned tools of big money and big business.

    I don't believe there is any real ideology that seriously wants to move civilization back 800 years, which is my assessment of Republican goals. It's all lies and manipulation, and it's all about money and power.


    1. @JzB-
      I wasn't trying to avoid false equivalence. If my post gave the impression that I think the Dems have moved as far to the left as Reps have to the right, I apologize.

      Dems have moved to the left as a party. It's not much, and my sense is that it's mostly addition by subtraction, as moderate and conservative Dems have only been able to win in competitive districts, and those folks have lost in wave elections or even just over time. I don't have the sense (but nor do I have the data), but I think Dems who've been in office this whole time (take a Henry Waxman as an example) haven't become more or less liberal.

      You reiterate my point: there aren't any real forces (at least, any that are comparable to those on the right) pulling the Dems to the left. I would disagree, however, that the Dems have crossed the middle and that we have two parties on the right. Poole & Rosenthal's data don't show that, and their method really should account for that.

  7. Great post. If you haven't read Theriault and Rohde's 2010 (or '11) JOP article, then its a must. Speaks directly to this issue.

  8. Do you think a Republican congressperson has recently received a well-written letter in support of: SS/Medicare/Infrastructure/Gov't funded research/etc and instructed a reply be sent saying, "Go pound sand. That's spending you're talking about."

    Not likely, which may reflect a growing problem that may also be what is bedeviling the right; namely, these really are the days of miracle and wonder, when governments can increasingly provide a myriad of solutions unimaginable a generation ago - with the potential for miraculousness unfortunately always expanding at a greater rate than efficiency.

    We all support miracles and we are all threatened by the lack of efficiency; perhaps what seems like madness on the right is just a reflection of the fact that these fissures show up first in the ideological right-wing tent, and only later on the left, since the left is inherently not as ideologically suspicious of government doing good.

    Hopefully someday we'll have that grown-up conversation that we all like good but resources are unfortunately limited; until then there will be much sturm und drang. I'd like to believe, as a good follower of the Plain Blog, that these tectonic forces are pushing unusual activity on the modern Right, as opposed to something comparatively trivial like a cult of (Gingrich) personality - the "cult of personality" explanation in politics pretty much never holds water in any other context, no?

    1. Funny thing, CSH, we both speak of tectonic forces, but with reference to different things. As I said above, I think we're seeing an old phenomenon, not a new one. What's bedeviling the right, I think, and has been for a long time, is modernity. Some people don't like it, particularly when it reorders the old status hierarchies among races, classes and genders. Modern governments become agents of evil (in this view) insofar as they accommodate and, to some degree, reinforce those new arrangements, and particularly when they're led by politicians of a less than lily-white persuasion. Scary stuff.

      And FWIW, Mann and Ornstein don't seem to be talking about a cult of personality; they see Gingrich and Grover Norquist as important figures in the developments of the last 40 years, but kind of in the same sense that we'd say George Washington was an important figure in the American Founding: That's not saying he caused it, or that it reflected only his personality and not larger forces, but just that you can't really tell the story without acknowledging his leading role.

    2. Jeff, if you check the bottom of p1 in the WaPo column, you'll note that Mann and Ornstein, after citing a list of issues, sharpen their focus on the machinations of Gingrich and Norquist (the evil NGs - does that stand for "No Government"?) To my ear, that sounds a little like saying that Mike Dukakis lost the '88 election because of Lee Atwater - which you can say, but you probably wouldn't get very far in a forum like this.

      To your other point: if by "modernity" you mean "the increasing (and increasingly expensive) capacity of government to do previously-unimagined 'good' things", then it seems to me that we might actually be very much in agreement.

    3. Ah, CSH, but who should the government "do previously-imagined 'good things'" for? That's a more relevant question when we are discussing the GOP.

      Health insurance, college loans, tax breaks, government aid: all these issues come back to the question of who should receive government largess.

  9. It seems to me that at least part of the problem lies with the corrosive influence of right wing media celebrities (Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck, Savage, all of Fox, etc.) These people are not really conservative; they are pornographers of bigotry. As they have increasingly defined what it means to be conservative, responsible politicians are increasingly unable to maintain themselves in the Republican party.

  10. You can't separate respect for institutional norms from people's views of those institutions, norms, and their consequences. Not only is the Republican Party forced to play a rigged game, but you then complain that they don't play up to its spirit! If the establishment hates us - fine. The feeling is very much mutual.

    This is not about an opposition to "modernity," whatever that means, nor is it about "dishonesty." It is about a media sphere in which Democratic public policy ideas are regarded as "doing public policy," whereas Republican ones are regarded as "ideology." The left continually wants massive new spending on every issue (except perhaps the military). We do not. What is there to compromise about? If we meet them half way, then over time they win.

    Republicans have plenty of public policy ideas - lower taxes, abolition or radical curtailment of the regulation crippling the economy (EPA, FDA, etc), school vouchers, entitlement reform, tort reform, and generally putting the federal government back within its constitutional limits. But none of that can be achieved, or even moved towards, by comity or compromise with the Democrats. Are there any Democratic political groups willing to work with us on any of that? If there are, we should compromise with them. I'd be happy to give up tax cuts, at least for now, if we could abolish the FDA and EPA. But Democrats just won't talk about anything like this.

    Our "obstructionism" has paid off big time, because filibusters etc have prevented Obama from enacting more of his destructive agenda - although sadly he's done plenty damage as it is. The idea of compromise espoused by these "centrists" is ultimately surrender. We have to do what's right for the long-term interests of the country, regardless of how it plays with the Washington establishment.

  11. What you see here from anon is a perfect example of the grossly misinformed, inside-the-bubble mind set so common on the right.

    The propagandizing of Limbaugh, Fox, et al. has totally captured his thought processes.

    Look at his list of policy ideas - basically complete the roll back of the New Deal and return to the robber baron days of 100 years ago.

    And the Dems are obstructionist. The very opposite of realty. Take a look at filibuster stats, anon. Plus, has any dem ever tried to make an R pres fail? Did the Dems go along with most of the damage Bush 2 wreaked on the U.S. Constitution and economy? Sadly, yes.

    Any reasonable look at the data shows that the best performance of the economy since WW II was under Kennedy-Johnson and then Clinton, and the worst was under the two Bushes.

    Here is one such look.

    Spend a little time with the FRED data bases, and try to find any data that supports your world view. Good luck.


  12. Anon@5:52 is a bit confrontational, but I believe that post reflects an important point: the left has seen the brave new world where the reach of government increasingly exceeds its grasp, and they (the left) liked it very much. The pushback is that Obama is ready to cut budgets, Pelosi has put entitlements on the table, blah blah blah - but never discussion of the overarching structural problem of a government increasingly technically capable of providing what is financially unrealistic.

    This calls to mind the NHL strike of 2004-2005, when that league became the first to lose an entire season when the owners tried to impose a "hard salary cap". At the time the owners claimed that salaries were 76% of revenues, an unacceptable amount, and they needed salaries to be 54% to be viable. One of the last offers from the players was a one-time rollback of all salaries to 54%; the owners, being smart businessdudes, rejected that, and the season was lost, and a hard cap ensued.

    I bring that up because in many respects liberal budget-cutting offers feel like the rollback offer from the NHL players. Pelosi is willing to "put entitlements on the table"? The table is quite pleased to feel useful! Is she willing to "put the good offices of a potentially endlessly-expanding modern government" on the table? The table would like that so much more.

    Its interesting, because the equivalent of a hard salary cap for the Federal Government would be the dreaded balanced budget amendment. You can't discuss such things without eliciting scorn from the left, since, after all, there will always be variances (as there always is for any budget larger than $10!), and so a balanced budget is a - decidedly bad idea.

    Its funny, but its possible that liberal opponents of concepts like enforced balanced budgets really never have run a budget, and thus they are unfamiliar with how little of a problem is dealing with the inevitable resulting variances. You could forgive rich heartless Republicans for doubting that, and suspecting instead that leftish opposition to balanced budget reflects secret thrill at all the good things that a modern growing government can do (especially with a progressive tax system putting the onus on rich assholes!)

    1. Anon, CSH, couple of questions:

      Why don't Republicans ever want to eliminate the government agencies that everybody hates, like the TSA?

      Second, we could so easily balance the budget if we raised taxes on the rich, and enforced corporate tax rates by eliminating loopholes. We wouldn't need an amendment to do that.

      Third, what's so attractive about living in a country where companies can put adulterants into food and medicine? Why is that worth fighting for? Why is the right of corporations to pollute a religious tenet?

    2. Anan @ 8:20 - what I think you missed is that even if we did increase all the taxes you mention and then some, what do we do when we run through that new money and need yet more?

      I can tell you first hand, there will never be a day - no matter how much we raise and spend - when people won't come to Washington with ever new and even well intentioned ways to spend more.

      Our resources ARE limited. We need to accept that. The reset that CHS is talking about only buys us more time. But we will be right back in the same place before long.

    3. I won't speak to the particular modifications favored by Republicans; some of them are probably stupid, but Republicans are humans, and humans are often stupid, so it doesn't trouble me that much that they might get a lot of the particulars wrong.

      Check out this Wikipedia chart showing household income in the US. The top 1.5% starts at $250 K/year. There are around 100 million households in the US, which means there are about 1.5 million "rich", defined as making $250 K+/year. Our going deficit is $1 T/year, which you asserted above can be recovered from rich folks. That equals about $667 K of additional taxes per rich household.

      Even acknowledging that the distribution of wealth among rich households strongly skews upward, it takes a lot of financial faith to imagine collecting an average of $667 K more solely from a demographic making $250 K+ in total.


    4. Further, another thought: when you have this conversation, liberals frequently assert that they understand that resources are limited, and they don't want to expand government endlessly, and didn't Clinton balance a budget or two?

      To a favorite hobby horse: so, recently Georgetown University Law Student Sandra Fluke appeared before Congress to advocate for legislation that would effectively subsidize her inexplicably expensive birth control, by forcing her private insurer to cover it (and pass the cost to the rest of those in her insurance plan). This was not 'technically' government health care, but she was (effectively) advocating for a tax on the polity to ameliorate her burdensome, if unexplained, contraceptive needs.

      Conservatives made this point (sometimes, when they weren't busy shooting themselves in the foot calling her a prostitute or a slut.) Liberals, curiously, did not. Liberals assure us that they recognize that the good efforts of collective action are limited by resources, but from the Fluke discussion we might reasonably infer that the "line" is somewhere far, far beyond the collective subsidization of a Law Student's inexplicable contraceptive needs.

      You might forgive a rich bastard for suspecting that the aforementioned line, for liberals, doesn't actually exist.

    5. "CSH," who are you really, and where are you holding the real CSH? That person doesn't resort to caricatures of liberal arguments the way you've been doing in this thread.

      Like, Fluke and her "inexplicable" contraceptive needs"? Yeah, I guess, if you ignore the fact that she explained it (and that it wasn't just hers). "Fluke spoke of one friend in particular who needed contraception to prevent ovarian cysts," reports ABC News. "Rush Limbaugh, though, had a different take on Fluke’s testimony....." Not surprising, because I'm pretty sure Limbaugh IS a cyst of some kind.

      So this is a good example, in fact, of what I mean about modernity. You're right, miraculous things can be done, and government plays a key role in that. Strangers who live three time zones apart can use cheap little machines to discuss politics, as we're doing now. Why? Because the government invested in developing electronic computation, silicon chips and the internet. It invested in hydroelectric power, the TVA and other facilities to make sure there was electricity flowing everywhere in the country at all times. (And, as a bonus, it put the unemployed to work on those projects, e.g. Hoover Dam, thus helping them and all the private businesses they patronized.) It ran a space program that put satellites in orbit that are now a key part of the telecommunications system. And so on.

      And yes, it produces medical miracles as well. So back to Fluke. She's talking about a medicine that insurance routinely covers, partly for the prudential business reason that it's cheaper to pay for people's purchases of little pills than it is to pay for treating the conditions that the pills help prevent. One of those conditions, in this case, is ovarian cysts. Another is pregnancy and childbirth (hugely expensive, not to mention disruptive of everything else in a person's life, and for some, dangerous). So what's the objection? Well, some adherents of an ancient book, one that you and I both admire, follow an all-male hierarchy in interpreting that book as forbidding the latter use. The current leadership of the House was happy to hear from (all male) representatives of that tradition on this issue, but not from actual users of contraceptive pills -- direct users, anyway; we don't know about those men's mistresses -- so Pelosi arranged the hearing-in-exile at which Fluke spoke. And then Limbaugh weighs in on it for his audience of 75% men.

      See the problem here?

      To sum up: Yes, we have (a) modern miracles, (b) resulting regulatory decisions that involve government, and (c) a blatantly obvious reaction of cultural panic, based on the fact that both culture and technology have changed in ways that make women independent agents and no longer just the passive recipients of men's permission to live their lives as men direct.

      Oh, and we haven't even got yet to your caricature of deficit spending. Short version: It's not just about buying stuff, it's about managing the macroeconomy to avoid Hooverism or, as it will soon be known, Cameronism. But the real CSH knows all that already.

    6. Eh, Jeff, once again here's the Wikipedia writeup of the Fluke controversy. Certainly the friend with the ovarian cyst was one part; Fluke's ask that insurance be mandated for routine contraception (including her own expensive version) was another. Limbaugh, for all his tastelessness, was pretty obviously only referring to Fluke's request that you and I subsidize her contraception. What's more, it appears that the friend's condition was covered by G'town insurance, but there was some local issue with why it was categorized as contraception...a problem, for sure, but one that needs Congressional intervention about how the termite problem in your garage needs a nuclear bomb.

      To your other argument, I doubt highly that any conservative disagrees that good effects come about because of government. I heard a certain famous politician recently say, in reference to 2010's Federal Spending of $3.5 T (against revenues of $2.4 T): "I strongly believe in the good works of the Federal Government. I just believe in a $2.4 T Federal Government". That politician was none other than Rand Paul.

      I think I touched a nerve here, but my hunch is that when liberals gather they believe in a $3.5 T Federal Government, they believe in a $35 T Federal Government, in fact there's very little they think should be outside the scope of the good offices of collective effort. To twist a famous Jack Welch phrase: they see the Federal Government as a "boundaryless organization".

      Provocative, sure. Honestly, though, when was the last time you were caucusing with liberal friends, discussing any of the myriad ways the Feds can make life better, and one of them said "Whoa there. That's beyond the Financial scope of what the Federal government should do!"

      And people wonder why rich dudes cling to their wallets like guns and religion?

    7. Again, what on earth is wrong with insurance covering contraception? It's highly cost-effective, which is a good conservative principle, right? If you trace the Limbaughian objection back upstream, doesn't it end up with some kind of anxiety about women's autonomy? If not, what's the concern?

      There's actually a very good piece in the American Conservative (h/t: Sullivan) that addresses this:

      The issue here is gay marriage, not contraception, but I think the underlying concern is the same, and the author helpfully cops to it: It's about the modern world being different -- more diverse and complex -- than the more limited communities, with the clearer hierarchies, in which the ancient rules were formulated, so the ancient rules are giving way and have been for a long time. The basic issue between liberals and conservatives is whether to welcome that development or resist it. Right?

      I also reject the view that liberals want government to do everything -- a $35T federal government, as you put it. I like shopping at businesses that compete for my $$ as much as the next person. The difference is that I have no absolutist, quasi-theological objection to a democratic government stepping in and doing the things those businesses can't: investing in basic research with an eye to the technologies of the future; providing policing and essential collective defense; seeing that basic education, health care, retirement income and other necessities are available to all (hey, the free market had a long time to produce those goods, and it didn't); and keeping people, businesses and, frankly, the free market itself afloat after those rich a-holes of yours have crashed the banking system and, with it, the world economy, as they seem intent on doing at least two or three times every century.

      Yeah, those things cost money, which requires taxes, which I think should be reasonable and moderately progressive. Nobody's proposing to seize anyone's wallet; that's another caricature. OTOH, I don't recall the current tax rates coming down with Moses from Sinai engraved on stone tablets, so I think there's room for debate about the tradeoffs that need to be made. But that's not "boundaryless-ness." There may still be a few radical leftists out there who would support collectivizing every function in society, but modern liberalism has never been about that -- it was part of the resistance to that -- and a theological devotion to collectivism is not a view with enough of a following anymore to be part of this debate at all.

      On the other side, though, you do have something like a theology, and that's what Mann and Ornstein were talking about. If you want to say that Rand Paul shows it's not absolutist, that there's really some flexibility there because he's willing to cut the government by only one-third, OK, but then the next question is: Why doesn't that view win elections? And once it fails to, then don't we have to discuss how we finance and regulate the public goods that the people, in their collective wisdom, have decided they want the government to provide?

    8. Oh, dear. Here is where things get very unpleasant. But I suppose we have reached that point, and it is probably better to be honest than not, so Anon is to be thanked. How to reply? Well, one is tempted to simply laugh at the pure insanity of the policy ideas put forth, such as eliminating the FDA. I guess it is better to just say that if you really hold such ideas, many of us simply have nothing to say to you, largely because we really and honestly believe you to be dangerously out of touch with reality, I would like to say that does not mean we hate you -- but I just don't know. I don't think most people on the left want you to suffer or to die. On the other hand, I suppose honesty forces me to admit that we think the country would be a much improved place without you in it. So, sadly, I guess we do hate you in some sense. I think in a strange way that is because we are much more patriotic than conservatives think, and we believe that you are a destructive presence in the nation. At this point, and I think this is very dangerous, we are moving toward seeing you as a living disease. That isn't admirable, and it does not bode well, History may not look kindly on us. But since we are in the mode of unpleasant honesty, I guess we should own up to the facts.

    9. Anastasios, if you were having a party I certainly wouldn't be invited, but suppose I snuck in anyway. I'd sit quietly in the corner, trying to remain unnoticed, as the liberals therein engaged in self-congratulation at the nobility of their ideals. Eventually the topic would get to Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke, and my capacity to shut up, limited at the best of times, would leave me entirely.

      I'd need to grab a napkin, but after some furious calculation I'd point out that Fluke's contraception, costing $1,000/year, would cost her fellow health plan enrollees $1,333/year (assuming a payout ratio of around 75%, which I believe is about industry norm). Innocently I'd ask whether a Georgetown Law Student's contraception is a good use of our $1,333/yr, especially when cheaper routes to the same objective clearly exist.

      And I would look up then, and I'd face the full and collected fury of a roomful of liberals who are better people than I. The scorn that would follow would reduce me to a quivering mess in the corner. Having been freed of me, your friends would return to their party -

      "So we're finished with Sandra Fluke. But what about Randy Duke?" someone would say. "He needs $1,333 too!" "Yes, yes, $1,333 for Randy Duke!" the liberals would cry. "Don't forget Mandy Puke!" someone else would offer, "She could use $1,500 or so as well!" "$1,500 for Mandy Puke!" cry the liberals. And on and on.

      Fortunately, having been reduced to a quivering mess, no one will notice when I mutter, among this madness, that - if we are speaking honestly - there really and truly is no line with liberals. Anyone who comes to the trough with a sympathetic story is welcome to eat, eat, eat, however much they want. Liberals never say no, that's what makes them such outstanding human beings.

      I don't deny that it is desirable to be an outstanding human being. Given the choice of being regarded as a total asshole, while protecting my small child's opportunity for a future, and being regarded a wonderful fellow, while pissing away my kid's future - well, I'm gonna be seen as an asshole by you and your buddies every. single. time.

    10. CSH, I'm pretty sure that liberals, being such generous people as you say, wouldn't make you do those calculations on a napkin -- somebody would go find you some note paper. :-)

      Besides, you'd need more than a napkin to do the calculation properly. I'm no accountant, but when you're toting up the cost-benefit ratio of an insurance provision, don't you have to include what's being insured against? My understanding is that most insurance companies, with that in mind, prefer to cover the pill. That's not because the insurance industry is a bastion of liberals.

      And as to your main point, I think you're defining "liberals" circularly, as though there is this group of people whose views would never change regardless of actual circumstances or the question at hand. The people espousing liberalism at the moment are reacting to a situation in which good arguments can be made that collective provision is too low. The US has an ungenerous welfare system by world standards, its tax rates are also low by world standards and lower than they used to be even here in times of prosperity, the infrastructure is plainly in disrepair, etc. AND there's a political movement that has taken over a major party on the pledge of making all this worse. So sure, liberals are currently demanding more than they're currently likely to get.

      But suppose the circumstances were substantially different. Let's say one of those radical collectivists (aka "not liberals") I mentioned decided that the shoe industry should be nationalized and shoes provided free, because after all everyone needs shoes. (Well, the GOP would start arguing then that they don't, that shoes are actually an earned privilege, but never mind.) Many of us who self-identify as liberals now would not support that. We would point out that the Soviet approach to shoes was tried before and was a dismal failure, and that the free market is actually doing pretty well at providing a wide range of shoes, from the very affordable to the very pricey. There are some concerns about foreign child labor and such, but those can be addressed in other (liberal) ways without collectivizing the provision of shoes.

      In other words, if that were the issue, some of us would become conservatives and defenders of the free market. I think many of us would -- even Nancy Pelosi, I'm guessing, because something tells me she likes being able to shop for shoes.

      So while of course there is a kind of liberal temperament that expresses itself across a range of issues, what makes liberals liberals (and not radicals, rigid Marxists, etc.) is that it's not absolute; it's responsive to circumstances and amenable to argument. FYI, lots of liberals have kids too, and would worry just as you do about impossible tradeoffs that threatened those kids' futures. But they don't think that's what we're talking about in the current political environment, and they're also more inclined to see some things that you (apparently) see in zero-sum terms as win-wins. Spending on infrastructure increases the nation's future wealth; nationally guaranteed health care prevents needless suffering and lowers costs overall; progressive taxation promotes social cohesion, etc. Even contraception: Look at societies that aren't committed to women's reproductive rights, and tell me honestly you'd prefer your daughter were growing up in one of them. Today's liberals are defending your kid's future, not threatening it.

    11. CSH,

      You are welcome at my parties anytime, but don't expect anyone to check their strong moral beliefs at the door, much less because of some hastily scrawled figures on a napkin. Politics, as my old graduate advisor used to opine, is essentially a branch of moral philosophy. That is one reason we have wars. It is not the only reason, and I don't think the current situation in America will end in violence. But if you really want people on the left to listen to your concerns, you can't try to dismiss "the particulars" with a wave of your hand. These issues, the FDA, the EPA, and yes Sandra Fluke cannot be treated in such a cavalier fashion. Sorry. People care passionately about these things for reasons that do not necessarily trump economic efficiency, but which will not yield automatically in the face of appeals to such economic concerns, be they polite or passionate or sanctimonious or tearful. Once again, sorry. Anon, as I say, is clear about his moral imperatives, and thus is to be thanked for his honesty. There are other people with other, equally powerful but very different moral viewpoints, and we gain nothing by pretending that is not the case. Things on America are, I am sorry to say, going to get a lot nastier and more dysfunctional before they get better. Once again, we gain nothing by pretending anything different.

    12. Idk whether this is still a live thread, but @CSH, and @Justice Kennedy too -- !: liberals embrace lots of limiting principles, just as conservatives do -- but often what one side wants to discuss in terms of principle, the other side is thinking of in a practical way that's already limited. Therefore they can't really understand how a good faith operator could require a limiting PRINCIPLE, since it's foolish to make every discussion of xyz or abc a discussion about principles, when we already have certain accepted parameters for debate.

      For instance, I've heard liberals express a very direct parallel to your observations about spending growth, only in re: tax exemptions and tax cuts. "Well, yeah, we support donations to private educational institutions, but why should I subsidize your gift to your alma mater with a tax deduction?" "Sure, it would be great if we could maintain the artificially low taxes of recent years, but people just need to look the books in the eye (?!) and realize we can't." "I expect that industry-wide tax break does bring some business here, but it's mostly a giveaway to institutions that would be there anyway, an incentive to others to reclassify what they do under a new heading, and really not at all obviously a good, let alone the best, use of our taxes and regulatory apparatus."

      Also -- CSH -- I have to say, by far the most common and obnoxious government intrusions into my life are at the state and local levels. My town is zoned for single-family homes and they can't be converted to apartments -- so that, in practice, a landlord can rent out multiple apartments in a house, but only one of them to a married couple. My town, like many of its neighbors, also zones to keep most chain stores out -- leading to the existence of one really unpleasant neighboring town that's just strip malls and big box stores. Housing is artificially (and absurdly) expensive in town because you're not allowed to build anything higher than three stories. There are no bars because in New Hampshire (!) a business that serves alcohol legally has to have a certain percentage of its receipts coming from food. Perhaps some of these have liberal and others conservative intent; I don't know. But they're all bad for anyone who doesn't already own in town. Can we have a limiting principle that says local regulations can't be set in stone by the people who are already there, that the process should accommodate renters (most of the population for most of the year; it's a college town) and should just be more flexible in general? I guess not. My state legislators are too busy demanding that every law cite its foundation in not just the Constitution but the Magna Carta as well, and passing redistricting maps that flagrantly violate the state constitution, and trying to tell people in same-sex marriages "whoops! No, we take it back," and engaging in other important freedom-protecting activities. Idk what my town is too busy doing. We don't even have municipal trash collection.

    13. I'll pick up on what Jeff and classicist said, and add it to what I said above. It is true that liberals have very strong moral tendencies. That is where you have to engage them if you want them to listen to you. Once again, politics is moral philosophy, not business management or strategic planning. Economics can be part of a moral argument, certainly. But don't expect that an argument from economic efficiency will win automatically, or even get much of a hearing if the the economic inefficiency is small and the moral imperative great. At the end of your discussion about Fluke you began making a moral argument, which is the type of thing that might actually work. But unfortunately you rest much too strongly on the assumption that economic efficiency IS moral on the face of it, which is not necessarily something anyone will agree with (even given that the numbers add up as you say, which many seem to deny). Once again, you can't wave your hands and claim that economic generalities trump moral particulars. You have to persuade liberals from one set of moral particulars to another set. Usually, they are persuadable, as Jeff says, if the argument is good enough, the numbers add up, and the new moral particulars as strong or stronger than the old. But trying to lay down some general statement about limits will only get you polite nods, or sometimes weary eye-rolling, and trying to win your point by waving a cost-benefit sheet in people's faces will not automatically work for any number of reasons, as discussions about Fluke on this thread show.

    14. I don't want to speak for CSH, who I wish would get back into this discussion, but I take him to be saying, not that economic efficiency as such trumps morality, but that at some point an abstract morality that takes no account of costs becomes a kind of immorality in itself, because it collectively bankrupts us and/or requires confiscatory taxes, thus damaging the futures of people like his kid who otherwise would be better provided for. To be truly moral, in other words, we also have to be prudent and wise. The Sandra Fluke case is, I think, an unusually bad one for making this point, because insuring against unwanted pregnancies, and preventing the arrival of dependent children whose own medical needs would then have to be covered too, does seem entirely prudent and cost-effective. (Unless you argue, as perhaps Limbaugh would, that pregnancies resulting from wanton sex shouldn't be medically treated, nor should the kids born therefrom have access to medical care. But that policy would require a callousness toward little kids, especially sick ones, plus a level of totalitarian intrusiveness into the origins of each pregnancy -- Limbaugh's videos, maybe? -- that any sane conservative, any sane person, and certainly CSH would reject.)

      Those flaws in the example aside, CSH seems to be saying that if he cites cost, unintended consequences, or the other concerns that conservatives sometimes raise about this or that item on the liberal wish-list, he doesn't like liberals assuming he's just being selfish or heartless -- or if they do, screw them, because he's just trying to protect his kid (i.e. upholding a different morality). And he seems to be saying that there's an almost unlimited potential to be denounced in such ways because the liberal wish-list seems unlimited, and only grows with each new benefit that comes online. (Although here again, he is discounting the possibility that modern "miracles" also sometimes save money. I think the Pill is probably one excellent example; electronic medical records, also included in Obamacare, are another, etc.) So he sees himself in a kind of trap that he and his conservative friends can't escape: They're bound to be looked down on at some point for resisting, no matter how prudently in their view, what some liberals somewhere are demanding as a right for all.

      I just want to say that I take these points, and I hope he finds our combined answers here, if not fully satisfying, at least worth thinking about. CSH speaks for many, I believe, who are well-meaning and even (in their way) liberal-minded but who self-identify as conservative. It's a point of view that liberals, feeling under siege as they have these past 30-odd years, perhaps spend too little time engaging. I think there are good answers to it, but it's worthwhile being reminded that they're not always obvious even to some very smart people.

    15. Just wanted to pop in again to make one quick observation: that while Jeff is correct that liberals feel "under siege" for the last 30+ years or more (dating either to 1980 or 1978 or 1968, depending). more historically-minded liberals thinking that they've always been under siege except for a few brief bursts of liberal success in the 1930s and 1960s), it's also the case that conservatives feel that they've been under siege at least as long, and with just as much sincerity as liberals.

    16. Yes, this is where I would refer again to the American Conservative article I linked to above:

      I agree that conservatives aren't wrong to feel they're under siege; they've been winning lots of battles this past generation, but gradually losing the war. And I think that's going to get worse for them in coming years.

  13. Just a couple of things...

    I definitely don't think of the Newt problem as one of cult of personality. I attribute it to a form of learning. Many Republicans believed they would never retake the House; then they did retake the House; Newt claimed credit and they believed him; and thus a lot of Republicans came to believe that his style and methods were effective ones, and in some cases they wound up believing that his style and methods were the only possible ones. That influence continued long after they cared about Newt at all.

    1. I think this makes a lot of sense. And I also like how it steps back from political science which predominantly work within rational choice and structural perspectives. The matter at hand is about how a certain form of political culture evolved and developed. In such cases, leading figures and exemplars have a substantial role to play in shaping new norms.

      A big one I see, which has often come up among liberals and leftists since the Clinton years, is the full-blown embrace of rhetorical excess, of which Newt was certainly the master. Republicans gradually became more and more ready to break parliamentary norms or pursue drastic tactics, but even when they weren't, they were also cultivating a culture of monumental rhetorical exaggeration and demonization.

      A second point I'd briefly mention: I think a deep nationalism also plays a major role in the GOP's perspective, which says that empirical evidence from outside the US is entirely irrelevant. Many Democratic objectives over the past several decades have been no more original than trying to implement aspects of social policy that have been implemented in some other advanced industrialized countries in the world.

      The reaction to this has been that doing so would lead to the total obliteration of freedom and descent into social hell. The GOP should of course oppose, for whatever many reasons, moving in the direction of what we might loosely term 'social democracy,' but it's incontrovertibly ridiculous to use the reason that the Democrats' policies would destroy society. Flatly empirically wrong. My larger point is that any sense of comparative history -- or even if many Republicans just think back to the European vacations they have taken -- should show that the stakes of policy disagreements are not in fact apocalyptic.

    2. Another way to look at this (I'm sure there are those who have already done this): In many ways the right spent the late 1970s to 1990s re-appropriating the rhetorical excesses and strategic political impulses of the New Left, whose political sympathies I largely share, but who undeniably did fling around words like fascist, imperialist, and racist without any sociological nuance or sense of engaging with a legitimate opposition. My point here is not in any way a false equivalence, but to try to trace the winding ways in which certain aspects of political behavior emerge historically and culturally and travel.

  14. I agree that it is radicalism. But this is a radicalism that has been embraced by a significant portion of the nation's elite and those in the affluent and often educated classes who see their interests most closely aligned with the elite.

    The Tea Party, after all, is in general more educated and affluent, not less so, than the general population.

    And the embrace of romance novelist Ayn Rand's loony ideas, for instance, isn't thriving among the poor and downtrodden -- those ideas have held their greatest appeal to our affluent and elite financial classes, and wielded the greatest negative influence among members of that class who have served in, and are served by, government.

    Yes, the embrace of this "radicalism" is often cynical and self-serving on the part of our elites (and, yes, the business community has increasingly come to believe that what you say must be judged by how it sells, not how closely it aligns with the truth or how absurdly it wanders into fantasy), but I don't think cynicism is the only, not even the most important, explanation. The older, whiter, more male and more affluent base of the party doesn't embrace these ideas out of cynicism -- it embraces them out of a cluelessness based in privileged experience and an inability to see, understand and accept, the economic change, and social, economic and other poor consequences of that change (often arising from policies that have benefitted the eldest and most elite while often causing to other Americans, most especially younger Americans) that have taken place in the last 30-50 years.

    Those older, whiter, more affluent Americans who support the Republican party are drawn from the most priviledged generations in the history of the world. Generations that, especially if they were white and male, during their own youth were the recipients of the greatest public investment in their economic future of any generations in history. Generations whose unionized, working class parents could afford to send to them to college and acquire assets for them to inherit, generations in which the very bright sons of unionized postmen and plumbers were being given access to the most elite colleges and invited into the elite financial world. Generations that see themselves as "meritocrats" while systematically working to undermine the conditions and structures that made their "meritocratic" rise possible.

    In other words, these radicals are often the most priviledge, the most spoiled, and therefore the most clueless, people in the nation.

    Everyone ultimately votes their self-interest, and tends to see the greater interest in the context of their self interest. The radicalism of the Republican party reflects the limited view of a unique and priviledge group whose interests have become increasingly detached from the better interests of the nation as a whole.

  15. The subthread was getting too long - I was happy that Jeff brought up the example of women's shoes earlier; I'd like to modify my earlier position: its not that liberals "have no line", its rather that the line is contingent on sentimentality.

    Jeff sets up a false choice that either insurance covers Fluke's $83/month contraceptive needs, or else she gets knocked up. Obviously, there's a 3rd road: utilizing any of the myriad cheaper avenues to achieve that goal. Touchy topic, though. Women's health issues. Evokes images of Rick Santorum with devil's horns on his head!

    But take Jeff's shoe example. What if, instead of testifying that she needed her $83/month contraceptive cost covered by her fellow enrollees, Fluke instead went before Congress to ask that her Manolo Blahnik needs be subsidized by her community, since what girl can not get at least one new pair of those per year?

    Unlike "women's health", I trust that Fluke's shoe request would evoke images of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and thus liberal sympathy would turn to malice, such that while liberals would never encourage Fluke to find a cheaper way to achieve her goal of not getting pregnant, if it were shoes, you'd be telling her to go to the Steve Madden store, and probably with pretty colorful language.

    This is all reminiscent of the Denis Leary/(Bill Hicks) routine about how people get all concerned about the clubbing of little seals (who clap their hands all cute!) but a cow is just a big stupid ugly cow, screw the cow, cut off that thing's head because we like us some hamburgers...


    1. I truly appreciate the civility on this blog, however, do not appreciate the condescension in this post re Sandra Fluke. Let's assume that she went before Congress to ask us to subsidize her Manolo Blahniks. If a man's very expensive shoes were being provided to all men, but women were told to buy their own - then yes, we should subsidize her shoes! The entire issue is that a need borne almost entirely by women (contraception or pregnancy/childbirth) is being discussed and "dismissed." Similar needs for men aren't even being questioned. Preventive services for men are covered, as well as "enhancement" for men's needs. But all women's preventive services are not being covered.

  16. Also reminiscent of the best of David Bowie's songs: Cygnet Committee. Started as a lament against all the people coming around and ostensibly asking for Bowie's advice, though in reality just wanting a piece of him (for their own sentimental indulgence). Turned into something epic.

    I think there's one other problem with sentimentality: conservatives feel that liberal indulgence of their own sentimentality is ultimately quite dangerous. See this thread: a conservative suggests that the EPA be eliminated (a fairly mainstream conservative position, and one with negative effects that are fairly obviously debatable), and Anastasios just about went Robespierre on the guy.

    Liberals see Rousseau and the romantic possibility of reason remaking the world in the image of enlightened man; conservatives see the inevitable Reign of Terror that follows.

    Without going further into that point, I wonder if we did an investigation of this community, and counted the number of times a liberal said "this or that conservative position is completely insane" vs. "Interesting point, but the counter is.." we've all seen that the ratio would be something like a thousand to one.

    No comity from the right? Shifting from France to Germany, maybe those Tea Partiers perceive a Night of the Long Knives when the liberals take over. No, no, those conservatives are totally crazy. Check out Anastasios at 9:28. That sort of thing would never happen with 21st century liberals!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Ah good, CSH. This comment, too, is a helpful insight into the thinking of reasonable conservatives. I'm pleased to see it.

      But notice that I include an adjective before "conservatives." For some purposes, it's useful to reify a group like that, to treat it as a single entity with essentially a single way of thinking. I do that myself and don't object to it in principle. But for other purposes, it obscures more than it clarifies; you would have to start making distinctions, and would have to recognize that if the issues or the political environment were different, some people who would currently call themselves conservatives (or whom others would so identify) would no longer fit that description and some would actively reject it.

      It's the same with liberals, of course. There may be characteristics that are often found in the thinking of so-called liberals -- sentimentality or bleeding-heart-ism, for instance -- but not in all, and not on all issues and in all circumstances. I'm quite sympathetic to the Occupy movement, for instance. But I recall some years ago when students as UCLA, where I was then teaching, set up a similar type of encampment and then went on a hunger strike. The issue? They wanted a Chicano Studies Department, and the administration was willing to give them only a Chicano Studies "program." Now, I have no love whatsoever for the UC administration and no confidence that any decision it makes is likely to be right. And I'm all for Chicano Studies, in fact studies of all kinds. Yet I, and as I recall other liberal-minded faculty, thought this particular demo was idiotic. A hunger strike? Really? You'll risk people's lives over the difference between a "department" and a "program"? Grow the hell up, was my curmudgeonly and basically conservative reaction.

      So, likewise, I think in the Manolo Blahnik example, there might be some liberals who didn't get on board because of the "Real Housewives" angle, but there would be others -- like me, who wouldn't know a Manolo Blahnik if Manolo himself bashed me on the head with one -- who would make a calculation (maybe on a napkin?) and conclude that the distribution of Manolo Blahniks is best left, as at present, to the free market. And there are various other subgroups whose reactions pro or con would have various other motivations. The point is, "liberalism" would fragment over a question like that, which means there'd never be a Night of the Long Knives (and BTW, did you mean Kristallnacht? ... aimed at shoe stores this time, I guess) because there wouldn't be enough people left in the group representing the viewpoint you fear. Honest, there would not be, you have my promise.

      And just one footnote to that: We could apply the same "sentimentality + Robespierre" analysis to the right, of course. "21st- century conservatism," if we treat it as a single entity, ranges from a quarter-billionaire who sings "God Bless America" at speeches, which is about as sentimental as it comes; to a guy who wears sweater vests, like some kind of sitcom dad, and who was obviously sentimental for a time before contraception and other such works of the devil made everything so damn complicated; to -- I'm skipping over a bunch of degrees here -- people who drill with militias and takes their cues from The Turner Diaries, a novel that actually did imagine a right-wing Kristallnacht. Should liberals therefore be alarmed that a victory for one of the first two guys means they'll be hanging people from lampposts? If not, then there's no rational reason for conservatives to fear the reverse.

    3. Well, Jeff, in fairness I have to say that there have been plenty of people over time who have made the analysis you have just made about "Kristallnacht," (both in the actual instance and other similar instances,) and been dead mistaken. CSH is not wrong on the face of it over the Robespierre analogy. It could definitely happen here, eventually, with either side holding the ropes. Luckily I don't think we will get there.

      But that doesn't mean that there are not irreconcilable differences at work in society. The political system may be more polarized than America as a whole -- but I'm not sure it is all THAT much more polarized. Most people aren't strongly committed to one side or the other because most people don't think about issues all that much. But when something happens to bring issues to the fore, the flocking toward the poles happens quite rapidly. We really do have very different basic orientations and worldviews developing, and the really aren't, at heart, compatible with each other over the long term. I think we have to acknowledge that fact before we can hope to deal with it. I think the article referenced in the original post is a good step toward public acknowledgement of that fact, as is Anon's original post which is, as I have said, to be congratulated for its clarity of moral statement.

      Now, as I've said I don't think this will end in violence. For all the problems in America, most people still have too much to lose (although I am forced to admit it most likely seemed that way in both 1775 and 1860). Open violence is only the clearest way these things are resolved. The other way is tectonic (to use a CSH word) shifts over time, by which one side gradually wins and the other gradually fails (extension of the franchise, for instance), or by which the very issues become dead letters (such as rural prosperity choking the Free Silver movement). I suspect that is what will happen here. If we can keep the lid on for twenty years or so a combination of economic and demographic change will move us beyond a lot of this crisis. Which is not to say that things won't get much, much nastier. They will -- there is simply no other way for things to be with irreconcilable differences for the moment growing much stronger. But, barring a very large shock, we won't be going to the lanterns. New attitudes will come along, old attitudes will fade, and as the saying from the history of science goes, "progress will advance one funeral at a time." If you want a more positive outlook, then "progress will advance one maternity ward at a time." It amounts to the same thing.

    4. Anastasios, I agree that (a) it could happen here and (b) it likely won't, not in our lifetimes, even though, yes, the politico-cultural divisions are deep and real. Two percent annual GDP growth is not great, but it's enough to keep that lid on, I think. One or two more big economic shocks, though, and who knows. You are right that the preoccupying issues of today probably have only about one more generation left in them (that's the lament of the American Conservative piece I've been linking to), but I see some other possibilities for big trouble ahead: a sudden acceleration in climate change; an organized revolt of the Global South against the Global North; or, the one I'm actually rooting for, a cultural awakening in which millions of people suddenly realize that they weren't put on this earth to be wage-slaves to a few rich people. Conceivably, the Occupy movement is the first inkling of the latter. (But then, conceivably, so were numerous other events going back to about 1848.) Anyway, we shall see! If the death panels don't get us first.

    5. Guys, thanks for the comments, particularly here as the thread is disappearing below the fold. Perhaps a proposal for the positivity Anastasios is referring to at the bottom of his last, here's an insight that popped into my head yesterday. Might it also be an answer to the alleged lack of liberal line, as well as Jonathan's opening question about bringing the right back to sanity, in addition to a way toward the better future Anastasios referenced?

      The answer is to revere the Federal Government for the many centralized wonders it can achieve. Its obvious where the right fails on this, as they pretty much just hate the government, no questions asked. IMHO, the left sometimes indulges the satisfying emotion of centralized successes (personalizes it), moreso than admiring the external entity delivering the same.

      Once more, with feeling, Sandra Fluke: there's a pushback to my argument, one that this community is probably too high-minded to advance, but is nevertheless perfectly valid - in a world where everyone hates the government, who the hell am I to begrudge Fluke from getting hers, assuming one concedes the characterization? Its a good point - who the hell am I indeed.

      So going all the way back to Jeff's post at 12:55 PM Saturday, listing some of the things the centralizing collective provides: those are things we should hold in the highest esteem. Not (I allege) as totems of why liberalism is the best ideology, but rather as things that make us proud to be the best damn country in the world.

      Why does this solve the problem? Over to you, Sandra Fluke. In the current world, its almost impossible to begrudge her ask that her $83/month of contraceptive cost be forced on her fellow enrollees. Now suppose that we all revered the actions of the central government. Then he pushback would be "Really, Sandra Fluke? The same government that puts the man on the moon/has the best infrastructure in the world/sponsors the best R&D in the world/etc should interfere in markets to insure that your cost be covered?" We may still answer yes - but it is suddenly intuitively obvious to me that the only way to draw a reasonable line is to respect - very highly - what the Federal Government actually does do. Its only that respect that will put pressure on the next person in line to justify their request.

      This is an interesting idea, to me anyway, because it suggests that by damning government endlessly, Republicans are condemning themselves to a world where it is hard to stop government's growth, on the rationale that - if government sucks so much, who is anyone to begrudge anyone else from asking for theirs?

      Perhaps big thought leaders in the Republican Party have figured this out, and they're goosing the hoi polloi with anti-government rage, knowing this guarantees more government, which is really good for business.

      I'm suddenly tempted to go down to a rally, accost a couple of Tea Party patriots, and drag the scales from their eyes, to understand that the only way to control any thing's bloat (e.g. central government) is to highly respect those things it actually does do.

    6. First of all, CSH, what you're calling "high-minded" is just a receding hairline that makes my forehead look bigger. So have some mercy there. As to your proposal, good luck with it -- by which I mean, both, good luck with it (sincerely), and, yeah, good luck with that. The federal government has been a convenient target for conservatives pretty much since it was formed, and "government" in general is way too useful as a whipping post in basically every country where it exists. The obvious riposte you'll get from your T.P. Patriots is that the various miracles you're talking about could all be provided better and more cheaply by the free market. (That was Gingrich's proposal for space exploration, for instance.)

      I really don't know what the solution to that is. Wish I did. Continued success at providing stuff that most people want, I guess, so that conservatives who oppose it continue to lose elections. In other words, political trench warfare as far as the eye can see. Oh, goody.

    7. Replying to Anastasios,

      I'm pretty confident that empirically that's wrong. Polarization at the individual level is a minor thing, and while I don't want to say that there are no different worldviews at all, I'm confident that there's less of that than there was 25 or 50 or 75 years ago.

      It's an elite-level issue, and mostly -- not all, but mostly -- within the GOP network. So you have Glenn Beck going on TV and saying that the US, a year or two into Obama's presidency, is unrecognizable...but no one out there in the world actually believes anything like that.

      Madisonian democracy works (among other ways) by reducing the threat of being in the minority. That fails if one of three conditions holds: extreme ideological polarization, extreme partisan polarization, or extreme polarization around an issue. I see very little if any polarization around ideology or a single issue. I can see a fair amount of partisan polarization, but I'm fairly confident it's confined to a small slice of the nation.

    8. Thanks again for your comments, guys, and I want to apologize (particularly to Jeff and Anastasios) for failing to adhere to the rules of comity around here. While this might not have always been the most pleasant Plain Blog thread, I think I may have learned the most from it.

      I mentioned a while ago that Rand Paul recently claimed to believe in a $2.4 T Federal Government. Maybe Paul's a bit extreme; maybe the average Republican would believe in a $2.8 T or so Federal Government. If by "Federal Government" we mean "that part of the economy not efficiently left to private enterprise" (per Hayek), then $2.8 T is just under 20% of the GDP of $14.6 T. 20%, to a conservative, probably feels about right.

      And 20% is an awfully big part of the economy to categorically hate. I imagine an alternative universe where conservatives, being good little Hayekians, revere that part of the economy, recognizing that the US is too big and complex to let the invisible hand handle everything, and so we take what (to Hayek) is an entirely essential backup plan (collective action) very very seriously.

      I know that's impossible given the current mentality in this country, certainly prevailing on the right. Its not like what I think has any importance anyway. But man - at least in my mind, this model really works. Its the future. I hope.

    9. I see no failures of comity at all. I mean, have you seen the comments on other blogs? Anyway, I agree, an exceptionally instructive thread. :-)

    10. The thread is definitely dead now, but in case you come back, CSH:

      (1) I keep not wanting to get into this, but okay, I'll say it: it really is a big deal that the pill means Sandra Fluke controls whether she gets pregnant, while other forms of contraception -- even forms that mostly involve her own body parts -- put her at the mercy of a sexual partner. That sexual partner might be lazy, or impatient, or not thinking clearly, or indifferent to SF's future, or violent. And suppose a woman didn't protest when a man said "no contraception" -- that decision in that moment should defeat her plans and intentions? Unless she has access to the pill, the answer is definitely yes. And that's why the pill is a part of basic health care.

      (2) Yes thanks for such an awfully good thread. I love that this is a place where we can get cranky without forfeiting the right to be treated as rational.

    11. @theclassicist - just came back for curiosity, but I take your point about Fluke and the pill. I admit I hadn't thought about it. Someday, in my perfect imaginary world where we all respect collective effort, either as a Hayekian backup plan or as something we really believe in, those considerations would be a fair part of the contraception conversation.

      What a bargain this place is. I can be something of an ass on occasion, and still I walk away smarter than I started. In how many contexts can you say that?

    12. @CSH -- my guiding principle in teaching an intro course is to make it seem as unhumiliating as possible to the students to make asses of themselves, in order that they may come away smarter. A main part of executing this is demonstrating my own willingness to say and do stupid things. So I can dig it.

  17. CSH,

    No hurt feelings here. I think that the only way to deal with issues is to lay them out seriously and honestly. Many of our unpleasant surprises these days come from the fact that, for too long, we have tried to avoid basic issues. For what it is worth, I hope Jonathan is right and I am just a grumpity-wumpkins. So much the faster for the coming of a happier future if I don't know what I'm talking about.


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