My Current Disillusionment With Politics, In A Nutshell

From Ross Douthat:

It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected. It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy. Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.

Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.

The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.

I don’t agree with the entire piece, but it broadly explains my discontent quite well. Less about the gun debate specifically, more about the larger dynamic.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Ross I-Doubt-That leaves no DFH [*] unpunched: “an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness”

    [*] “Dirty Filthy Hippie”

      • There was a column that was quite famous at the time, about 2006, in which a right-wing pundit conceded that the invasion of Iraq was a complete clusterfish, and confided that he’d known it for some time, but had been unwilling to say so because that meant admitting that the dirty fishing hippies were right. (He, of course, did not say “fishing”), That’s when the phrase entered my vocabulary. DFH was metaphorical, meaning unrepentant leftist who averred that W was a dufus, Rumsfeld a dangerous incompetent, and Cheney an evil SOB, not someone who was literally long-haired, jobless, and unwashed.

        I recall the column, but not who wrote it. I’d appreciate it if anybody can fill me in.

      • DFH has always meant Dirty Fishing Hippies on leftie sites to signify liberal views or people that have been officially declared by VSP’s (Very Serious People) to be out of the Mainstream. Therefore they must be ignored and have no value.

        FWIW it is much like some libertarian ideas aren’t in the mainstream so are not worth discussing. Except that libertarians aren’t filthy or hippies. At least that is what the VSP’s say.

        I couldn’t find the column Mike is referring to but i have some memory of it.

        • Except that libertarians aren’t filthy or hippies.

          The libertarians* I know are generally hippies; they want to be left alone to grow pot, use herbal medicines, live in group homes (aka party houses) where free sex and pots of beans are always available, and ‘home school’ their kids, which means educating them on the finer points of music from 1969 to 1978, read them books such as Be Here Now and dress in tie-dye and chamo.

          *It’s possible they may be anarchist; they claim no political affiliation, and their free-market interests focus on selling pot and poorly-made handcrafts, though a small number are actually gifted artists.

          • edit: camo.

            Must drink more coffee to reach full-throated latte-sipping liberal state.

          • live in group homes (aka party houses) where …pots of beans are always available…It’s possible they may be anarchist

            Sounds a lot like these guys.

  2. Meh on Douhat. He is stretching to find equivalence between the center-left he doesn’t like and the conservatives which is his natural side, but whose party he can’t bare. This really stood out as the worst example “…everyone else should give up guns, SUVs and Big Gulps and live more like, well, Manhattanites.” Give up guns and SUV’s…ummm no not really factual. Big Gulps, yup Bloomberg is stupid on this, although that policy really hasn’t actually spread out from NYC. Live like Manhattanies…WTF is that even referring to? You can certainly find stupid statements on gun control from just about everybody in the last week and for at least another month until Newtown is forgotten.

    Oddly in raising Bloomberg to be the spokesman of the center-left he is displaying the NY centered view he dislikes. I don’t see B cited as a liberal leader nor is he a Dem. He is what used to be called a liberal Republican. B just isnt’ a leading center-leftie.

    • His use of Bloomberg as the exemplar is my biggest problem with the piece.

    • 1+ on the false equivalence gripe.

      Don’t like the center-left? Okey-doke. But they at least have a sane and generally fact-based worldview. And they’re inclined to… what’s the word? Oh, yes. Govern.

      Contrast that with the lunatics on the right. The center has been stomped into oblivion. Boehner couldn’t get his own caucus to vote in favor of his “fiscal cliff” Plan B because it raised taxes on millionaires, despite the unmistakeable public consensus on raising rates on the very affluent. And it’s gonna be another fun waltz come debt ceiling time again.

      There is no equivalence. Is one side sanctimonious? Meh. Mebbe. But that’s nothing compared to “frothingly deluded.”

      • I really didn’t get an equivalence vibe from the piece. The rhetorical purpose of equivocating is typically to either excuse one side’s own sins or distract from them. In this case, Douthat spends as much time as anything outlining his own side’s sins. And rather than de-emphasizing them, he tries to make the case that the other side’s problems actually make his side’s transgressions worse.

  3. What Douthat and others here appear to be alluding to is what is IMO opinion, the key problem of this era. The current period, formally begun in 2008, is one of the periodic crises in the political economy that recurs roughly every 3-4 decades. Each tends to feature an economic problem and a poltical upheaval marked by a critical re-alignment election:

    Crisis Per. Crit Elect Politico-economic Problem/ Responses
    2008-xxxx 2008? Middle class decline & Culture War/ ????
    1973-1984 1980 . . Stagflation/ Reagan Revolution
    1929-1946 1932 . . Great Depression/ New Deal & WW II
    1893-1916 1896 . . The Long Depression/Free Silver/The Progressive era
    1860-1876 1860 . . Slavery & Culture War/ Civil War & Reconstruction
    1824-1836 1828 . . 1819 Panic aftermath; Jacksonism & end of central banking
    1798-1804 1800 . . Power transfer between opposing parties/accomplished
    1765-1787 1776 . . Elite Culture War / Achievement of sovereignty by colonial elites

    Today we have economic problems resulting in diminishment of prospects for rank and file Americans which threatens the American poltical project. We have political paralysis as has been the case in past periods of culture wars. The cause of the problems like all but the 1800 special case is the failure of the existing paradigm that arose as the solution from the previous crisis period to deal with the problems of the present, requring its replacement with a new one.

    Since paradigms (worldviews) create winners and losers, there is a built-in struggle associated with every one of these crisis periods which has vary in intensity, largely in relation to the degree to which political dysfunction is involved. Unfortunately this crisis involves culture wars (the gun issue is just a small example of such) as have two previous crises, both of which were resolved in part by shooting wars. This crisis also involves deflationary depression-type conditions has have three previous crisises (1932, 1896, 1828) none of which involve shooting wars. All show plenty of very sharp poltitical struggle and it is my hope that in today’s world of everything virtual, we will reoslve this crisis with nonviolent political war waged entirely at the ballot box.

    For the current crisis the problem is nothing can be done until the poltical deadlock breaks. Thus one of the two parties has to destroy the other to an extent similar to what Democrats achieved in 1828 and 1932 or Republicans in 1860, 1896 or 1980. Afetr that a period of trial and error policy experimentation would lead to a new paradigm. But as Douthat suggests, that can happened only if a full range of ideas are available for selection. We cannot achieve a satisfactory conclusion is all the ideas are already represented in the current (ineffective) paradigm.

  4. Interestingly enough, LaPierre’s rant got preempted by a shooting in Hollidaysburg, PA.

  5. In the article, Douthat claims that the center-left is “corporatist,” and he uses the PPACA as an example.

    He’s got a point. Corporatist is as corporatist does, to a large degree. And I also think that the center-left has a pro-corporatist tendency.* I do think, however, that the PPACA (and perhaps some other policies you might mention) was so “corporatist” because the center-left didn’t get what it wanted. It seems to me that the PPACA was more of a compromise with a center-right vision of how to do things, while “many” on the left–and I probably “many” (how many? I don’t know) on the center left–wanted something more aggressive, such as the “robust public option” people clamored for.**

    If I’m right, then the “corporatist” center left is more accurately described as the “center left that is willing to accede to corporatism in order to get enacted a policy outcome that it values more highly than curtailing the corporate order.” (Of course, this assumes the debatable claim that the PPACA will work as its champions–me included–hope it will.)

    Today’s center left might be self-righteous, I do question Douthat’s assertion that it is ascendent and confident. It’s not. It’s met its opposition more than halfway on a lot of issues, the PPACA being one of them. Some of this is not necessarily bad, but it does strike me as defensive more than confident or ascendant.

    *I say this as someone whose policy preferences probably mark me as a center-left and as someone who holds out hope that the corporate order is part of the solution. Therefore, I am probably a “corporatist,” or at least not as hostile to what has been called corporatism as some others (with some very good reasons) are.

    **I’m not convinced that a public option would have been the panacea that some claim it would have been. I can imagine a scenario in which the public option would operate as a price-setter that might justify insurance companies to charge more than they otherwise would or could. Also, the public option might have siphoned off the most high-maintenance patients while enabling insurance companies to serve only the healthier population.

    • “Today’s center left might be self-righteous, I do question Douthat’s assertion that it is ascendent and confident.”

      Grrrrr…..I should’ve said “but I do question….”

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