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The Right Path, Part I: “To look more hard working”

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When last we spoke, I confessed my worry that the left is starting down that same path the right began to carve out over twenty years ago.  And if I am correct about this, it should be worrisome to you as well — especially if you yourself are on the left.

After all, even though we tend to think of today’s GOP behaving in ways typical of a minority opposition party, the truth is that today’s Republican party and its base is an animal unlike anything we have ever before seen in a democratic society.  (At least to my knowledge.)  And the primary victim of the path they have chosen has not been  the American people (though they are certainly a very close second), but American conservatism itself.

But before we decide whether or not the left is on a certain path, it seems wise to first ask ourselves what this path looks like.  So we’re going to need to spend some time looking in the rearview mirror.  To that end, allow me to share two anecdotes which are separated by a mere twenty years.

Anecdote 1

It is the mid-1990s, and conservative GOP officials are scrambling.  The liberal president they were sure they had squarely in their sights has turned the tables on them.

A little over two years prior, the young and brash Good Old Boy from Arkansas had come to Washington full of progressive ideals, and had made his first order of business nationalizing the US healthcare system.  In what might have been a miscalculation born of nepotism, corruption, or simple faith in the woman he loved, he handed the duties of this pipe dream over to his wife.  Its failure was spectacular, and arguably contributed more than anything else to his party’s losing control of Congress for the first time in four decades.  The Republicans had rightly smelled blood.

Now, however, Bill Clinton has bounced back by doing the thing GOP operatives thought him incapable of doing: co-opting boilerplate conservative issues.  In short order he has claimed victory on the law and order front by signing into law both an easing of requirements for wiretapping suspected criminals and a streamlining of killing death row inmatesClinton Family Leave Bill 1993He has stolen thunder from the Contract With America crowd by advocating the passing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which greatly rolls back financial assistance to the nation’s most vulnerable.  He has pushed for a reduction in government spending and balanced budget requirements that had been central drivers of the fiscal arm of conservatism for generations, all while giving historic tax breaks to a segment of Americans that traditionally voted for the other guys.  Through executive order he has cut back and curtailed affirmative action, even as he pledged his support for it.  And of course, in a move that would directly inspire Karl Rove less than a decade later, he has thrown his gays and lesbians allies under the bus in exchange for a few polling points.

All of this has put conservatives in something of an odd position: they are actually winning the battles they most want to win, but the President is getting credit for each victory.   They disagree amongst themselves how to handle the President’s sudden granting of legislative wishes.  One side is pragmatic, and argues that they should declare a victory of their ideals and embrace the President’s coming around to the “right” side of the fence.  After all, these pragmatists argue, if he is suddenly championing and pushing through their own key issues why should they worry? The other side is more confrontational, and insists that they need to swing for the fences in the upcoming election by saying he hasn’t gone far enough, even though they are aware doing so will likely be unpopular with independents.

For the purposes of this post, however, the point of this story is what no one on the right does upon seeing their foe embrace their own ideals and talking points: Declare that if the President is against affirmative action, welfare for the poor, equality for gays and lesbians, and the rights of suspected criminals, then they should now be for those things.  The thought that they might do so never even occurs to them.  Why would it?

Anecdote 2

It is 2009.

Barack Obama is the first Democratic president since Clinton. Unlike Clinton, he is knee deep in a serious recession that does not look to be going away.  So he reaches for his predecessor’s handbook and co-opts a conservative talking point in a throw-away speech at Texas A&M. Children, he declares, need to learn how to be good, patriotic citizens like they used to be back in the good old days.  He suggests to children that they put down their video games, pick up the schoolbooks, and start putting in some time to do something virtuous like help the elderly, or clean up their community.  He asks of them, in other words, exactly what Bills Bennett, O’Reilly, and Kristol have partly built careers on for years.

In retrospect, the second most surprising thing about the conservative response to Obama’s milquetoast speech is how quickly those conservatives jettison what is arguably their most bedrock value, as they suddenly insist that encouraging kids to work hard and be good patriotic citizens is an evil path to fascism.

The most surprising thing in retrospect is that when this happens, no one — not conservatives, not liberals, not independent observers, not anyone — is remotely surprised that the right has just surrendered one of its most bedrock principles just to get a few minutes extra time on Fox News over a complete non-issue.

 

Compare, if you will, those two anecdotes.  Set side by side, they beg but one simple, profound question:

What the fuck happened to the right, anyway?

The answer to this question, I believe, is best illustrated by taking a look at events that occurred at a point in time that fell directly between of these two anecdotes, a half a world away.

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Of all the books written so far about the Bush Presidency, I would argue that the most important is Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone.  Written in 2006, it is an in-depth look at the first year of the US occupation of Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

If he has an opinion on the war itself, Chandrasekaran does not share it in the book;  instead, he focuses on the very real efforts of the Bush administration to keep their promises about positioning Iraq to be the Jeffersonian City On a Hill of the Arab world.  The long-term success or failure of this endeavor is debatable (and is probably still in progress), but there is no doubt that our initial efforts there were disastrous.  What makes Imperial Life so important as a work of journalism is that it details exactly why it was such a failure.  And in doing so, Chandrasekaran inadvertently presents the perfect microcosm of not only the entire Bush administration, but 21st century movement conservatism in general.

For example, take the position of Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.  When the United States initially made its rebuilding-Iraq plans prior to the war’s start, Skip Burkle, Jr. was chosen to head up the team to repair and modernize Iraq’s health care system.  His boyish nickname aside, Burkle was both a worthy and obvious choice: Along with a masters degree in public health, Burkle’s resume boasts post-graduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Berkley.  He was the founder and Director of the World Health Organization’s Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.  And if all of that makes him seem too “eggheady,” Burkle was also a retired Captain in the Naval Reserve, a two-time bronze-medal winner who served in the first Gulf War. skip_arriveVN If he were a character from a Tom Clancy novel, we’d criticize Clancy for writing a character too unrealistically perfect in his expertise.  And make no mistake, this was a job that needed such expertise: On Day One, Burkle would run a multi-billion dollar industry with over 6,000 employees, and would be charged with resuscitating a thoroughly demolished and out-of-date healthcare system serving a country overflowing with wounded and diseased citizens.

Just prior to shipping out, however, Burkle was replaced by James K Haveman. Haveman had no real experience, training, or education related to public policy on the scale of the Iraq project. Track_Haveman_JGTrue, he had run Michigan’s health department for a short time, but that was a primarily a political and ceremonial position.  Prior to his being picked by the Bush administration, Haveman’s most applicable management experience was running a Christian adoption agency whose mission was to council unwed pregnant women against having abortions.  The reason for giving the nod to Haveman over Burkle?  Haveman was judged a more “pure” and “loyal” conservative.

When he arrived in Iraq, the country’s entire healthcare system was in shambles.  Not knowing how to even begin addressing the issues of understaffed, underfunded and thoroughly looted hospitals and clinics, Haveman decided to ignore those issue and instead focus on a smaller, more conservatively “pure” task: privatizing the pharmacies and networking with American pharmaceutical reps.

As Imperial Life shows, people like Haveman were the rule and not the exception.  As Chandrasekaran began talking to the official “experts” being sent to Iraq, it became obvious that almost no one picked to rebuild Iraq had much (or any) experience in the various fields they were chosen to be experts in.  Instead, potential job applicants were asked questions such as, “Who did you vote for in 2000?,” “What party to do you belong to, and how long have you been a member?,” and — my personal favorite — “Tell us your views on Roe vs. Wade.”  23wash.583Lucrative employment contracts for those overseeing the recreation of things such as water systems, waste management, and the building of infrastructure were awarded to the staffers of, friends of, and the children of donors to GOP congressmen and conservative think tanks who knew literally nothing about water systems, waste management, and the building of infrastructure. Jay Hallen, the young man tasked with the rebuilding of the Iraqi stock market, knew when he arrived that he wanted to privatize all aspects of the exchange.  Unfortunately, that’s about all he did know.  Despite having sweeping authority over the Iraqi economy, Hallen had never studied finance of any kind.  By his own admission, he’d never even followed the financial news or the stock market at home; he found all that stuff boring.  But he was picked at the age of twenty-four because he had been a loyal volunteer working the Florida recount in 2000.

At the time, cronyism was blamed on much of these kinds of miscues.  But even though cronyism existed (and it absolutely did), I would like to posit the theory that the bigger culprit was a maniacal and unwavering faith in the ideology of American, talk-radio style Conservatism.  Those who came over from the US had lived in a self-created media bubble that was already becoming an echo chamber.  When they arrived, they built their own bubble in the middle of Baghdad, the American Green Zone.  saddamspool_wideweb__470x287,0Setting themselves up is Hussein’s palace and surrounding themselves with literal walls to the actual Iraqis, the American civilian employees learned to accept only the data that correlated with the narrative that they were doing everything right.  As Chandrasekaran observes, many seemed blissfully unaware of how little they knew, clinging instead to the belief that the repeated uttering of conservative aphorisms would somehow make the beleaguered nation magically repair itself.[1]

Here is a thing you might not know about the government if your main source of information about it is the electronic media: It’s boring.  It’s aggressively, achingly, mind-numbingly dull.  Government isn’t actually two guys yelling at each other about Roe v. Wade. It’s meat inspectors, and traffic light repairmen, and street pavers, and feasibility studies, and intelligence reports about things that will never in a million years happen, and mountains upon mountains of forms. It’s a hundred million things being done every day that make sure the wheels don’t fall off.  By the mid-2000s, the ranks of the Bush administration — and the GOP itself — were already filling up with those who had caught the fever of movement conservatism through talk radio.  To them, government was a place where two guys shouted at each other about Roe v. Wade.  Spouting knee-jerk aphorisms about bootstraps and taxes wasn’t a just way to get to Washington; it was what they had come to Washington to do.

Even before the Great Obama Freak Out, the signs of rot in the right were beginning to show — though most of us were still unaware of its depth at the time. The immediate aftermath of the Iraqi War showed us exactly where conservatism was headed, but it never occurred to most of us that it was happening at the time.  The war itself was turned over to military experts, who secured a quick victory based not only on their overpowering military but also sound, disciplined tactics.  To the Americans who had cut themselves off from media that wasn’t talk radio or Fox News, however, those generals had won because they were true believers of the conservative ideal.  When the time came to turn Iraq over to American civilians to rebuild, they made the logical conclusions based on that belief: They sent the most “pure” conservatives, regardless of knowledge and experience, and assumed there was nothing more to be done.  And because they had built such an enclosed media bubble for themselves, when it quickly went to s**t they were able to convince themselves that the only thing that kept them from succeeding was those who weren’t conservative enough (usually the mainstream media).

karl_rove_01Even the elections of 2004 and 2006 were something of an eye-opener, in retrospect.  The GOP was already defining itself not by who it was so much as who it wasn’t: They weren’t liberal.  They weren’t the anti-Americans.  They weren’t the gays.  They weren’t the Mexicans.  They ran the country into the ground, and at each misstep they blamed those who weren’t in power.  The rallying cry of conservatism in the mid-2000s — at a time when they controlled all branches of government — was the anemic, “think how much worse the other guys would be.”

And of course, this surrender to ideology over competency was not relegated to those conservatives in the Middle East.

For example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the administration seemed flummoxed to learn that FEMA was actually expected to do things that might require a manger that understood what it was his agency did. Prior to heading up FEMA, Mike Brown ran the International Arabian Horse Association.  (He is now a syndicated conservative talk show host, natch.)  628x471Brown was chosen to be FEMA’s director for the same reason Haveman was chosen to rebuild Iraq’s healthcare system: each was deemed a sufficiently “pure” conservative.

As a later congressional investigation showed, while Katrina ‘s devastation mounted Brown began emailing his subordinates asking, “can I go home now,” and emailed a female friend asking her to “please come rescue me” because he found actual disaster relief boring. Here is the first email he received from his staff in the field during the disaster:

Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42-foot trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction. Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help.

Brown’s response to this email was similar to almost every other report he received.  He simply forwarded it to another staffer with the message “Can we use these people?” —  four days later. When it became obvious to the rest of the country that FEMA’s management was ill-prepared to handle a natural disaster, Brown began to implement damage-control protocols, one of the biggest of which was — I swear I am not making this up — rolling up his sleeves “to look more hard working” in front of cameras.

To this day, there is not a single conservative I know of that does not blame public anger at Mike Brown on the “lamestream media playing gotcha.”

_________________

Symbolism is more important than governance.

Purity is more important than competence.

Compromise is a sign of weakness.

Who we are is less important than who the enemy is.

Data that contradicts the Ideology is a lie; institutions that publish such data are the enemy; those individuals who consider such data are heretics.

These are the mantras the right began embracing in the mid-90s, as they slowly began to replace their reverence for the real Ronald Reagan with a worship of the caricature of Reagan drawn by Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes. As we’ve discussed before here, they have been able to sustain this path for two decades because for the first time in history, it is more profitable for conservatism’s key players to be losers than winners.  But make no mistake, when the right first started down this path two decades ago they looked healthy, vibrant and reasonable in doing so.  They looked like they knew what they were doing.

The question remains, then, is it possible the left is now starting down that same path?

Early next week we will take a look at that minority most disenfranchised in modern American society — the developmentally disabled.  What we will see is less than pretty, and it will strongly suggests that the left is indeed following suit.

Those looking forward to me beating up the other side of the aisle will have to wait until then.

 

 

[1] For example, no one back home ever thought to send anyone to tackle the failed power plants that were crippling the post-war country.  The Americans had generators and 24-hour electricity; none of these Limbaugh-come-lately viceroys bothered enough to consider that power might be needed elsewhere.  Steve Browning, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers and one of the few real heroes of the occupation, eventually addressed it on his own personal time and by his own personal initiative because no one in charge would.  Everyone else was happy to gather in groups in air-conditioned dining rooms and wax rhapsodic about how wonderful life in Iraq would be once they had instituted a flat tax.  (Also notable was their menu during these discussions: bacon, ham, hot dogs, and pork chops, made by lower-class Muslim citizens who were willing to do anything to put food on their own tables.  According to Chandrasekaran, this was not a case of willful disrespect by the occupiers; rather, no one there knew enough about Middle-eastern culture for the scale of the faux pas to ever resonate.)

 

Follow Tod on Twitter, view his archive, or email him. Visit him at TodKelly.com

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273 thoughts on “The Right Path, Part I: “To look more hard working”

  1. I guess this post is an intro based on the last paragraph because I see no evidence that Obama has appointed anyone as incompetent as the people Bush II did for the rebuilding of Iraq. Nor do I see caricutres of FDR being used by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes and Chait.

    Now there was the brief issue of the ambassadorships but ambassadorships have long been used for political rewards in the United States. Obama has not tried to appoint anyone clearly disqualified to a federal judgeship or other post. If anything, his nominations have been jettisoned by the right for being very basically left of center like Goodwin Liu or the recent nominee for Surgeon General. There are Democratic Senators who fear the NRA and Rush more than they fear any liberal group.

    There are probably more liberals angry at Bill Clinton for all the things he did above rather than conservatives.

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    • I’ll note that if you compare the “rightward shift of Clinton as described by Tod in the OP” vs “what Obama has done in his second term”, you might notice a difference unrelated to the particular symptom you’re focusing on here.

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    • Nor do I see caricutres of FDR being used by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes and Chait.

      A good deal of our popular understanding of FDR is caricature. The whole idea that laissez faire capitalism led to the Great Depression and Roosevelt rode in on his white horse to save the day while Hoover fiddled is mostly myth. The New Deal brought a lot of academics and technocrats to Washington and paid a lot of artists; it gave them power and flattered their work. Those people in turn mythologized FDR and the New Deal.

      The effect of FDR hagiography was already felt and is part of what sent the Democrats into the wilderness in the 70s and 80s, so it’s unlikely to manifest itself in contemporary politics.

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      • Can you show me the money? With reagan, I’m fairly certain that we can dig up who’s funding The Reagan Myth.
        I’m not sure we can do that with FDR…

        What sent the Democrats into the wilderness was not 100% employment, but civil rights and the ensuing fallout from that (equal rights ammendment, Jackson, etc).

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      • Aside from artists and technocrats, FDR was actually very popular among the citizens of the US. He was widely loved for many of the measures he took getting people back to work and for his leadership during WW 2. Hell even lots of conservatives at the time admired him as a war leader. There were things he screwed up on, Hoover was less of a dunce then history has painted him as and still FDR can be credited with a lot of positive measures.

        Capitalism as practiced then wasn’t responsible for the Depression??? huh

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      • jr,
        So if it wasn’t laissez faire capitalism that caused the Great Depression, what was it?
        Bonus points if you feel up to explaining the Long Depression too. (extra crunchy bonus points if you include Cross of Gold and the Land of Oz).

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      • greginak, its a standard article of faith among certain crowds that capitalism as practiced did not cause the Great Depression but government intervention in the economy. They also argue that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression. Personally, I think things like Glass-Steagel, the FDIC, SEC, Wagner Labor Relations Act, and WPA were necessary.

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      • Oh i know Lee. Capitalism can never fail, only be failed. I’ve seen some of the more recent attempts to critique the New Deal by conservatives ( Amity Shales) and wow are they shockingly bad even to the point of deliberate misinformation.

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      • To say that capitalism caused the Great Depression is an odd statement. Capitalism is an economic system of private ownership of the means of production. And recessions are part of the business cycle. Saying that capitalism caused a recession is like saying that democracy caused an election; it’s accurate but meaningless.

        The current scholarship on The Great Depression is fairly unified in demonstrating that it was a series of bad monetary policy decisions that turned a stock market crash into a recession and more bad decisions that turned a recession into a global depression. This is not an article of faith. This is not a partisan attempt to smear FDR. This is the research. Read it for yourself. Read Friedman’s “Monetary History of the United States.” Read Ben Bernanke and Barry Eichengreen’s work on the Depression.

        The prevailing wisdom of the time was a belief in price stability and tight money. The Fed was raising interest rates and tightening monetary policy as stock market capitalization was falling. The result was that credit dried up, people held onto money instead of consuming and investing, and economic activity ground to a halt. Then Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley tariff and global trade dried up as well. You will not that this monetarist understanding of the Depression incorporates the Keynesian idea of a fall in aggregate demand.

        You can try and spin this one way or the other to make a case for one side of the partisan debate, but these are largely technical issues. And they were largely not understood by either side at the time.

        PS – I’ve read Amity Shales book on the Great Depression. What I remember was pretty much an accounting of facts. What exactly was the “misinformation?”

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      • jr’s account is what any economist would give (Krugman and Stiglitz included). I’m still not seeing much about Hoover versus FDR, particularly since Smoot Hawley was passed during Hoover’s time in office.

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      • Re Amity Shales…When looking at unemployment figures she removed people employed by the various gov programs or through gov funding. This led to it looking like unemployment dropped far less than it did. So a conclusion was presented that gov programs didn’t work as well as had been claimed. However not including people getting paid money to accomplish a task or service, you know, work, because she didn’t like where the money came from was disingenuous in the extreme. If a group of guys were building a road for pay, that was work and they were employed.

        That was massaging the numbers to come up with a better result. Many historians of all stripes were appalled since that wasn’t how that data had ever been used.

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      • If the Fed had kept a very tight money supply in 2008, what would have been the effect on the economy? Would we have complained about their policy choice, or would we have said it didn’t matter and just focused on the effect markets were having on the economy?

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      • When looking at unemployment figures she removed people employed by the various gov programs or through gov funding. This led to it looking like unemployment dropped far less than it did.

        No she didn’t. At that time, there was no BLS Jobs Report. There are a number of different employment surveys from the 1930s, some of which include temporary government jobs and some of which include only permanent government and private sector jobs. Shales chose to use the latter data, because her argument was that the New Deal didn’t put people back to work in the traditional sense but only created a bunch of temporary make work.

        You can disagree with her methodology and with her hypothesis, but it’s not particularly misleading, especially when she says exactly what she is doing.

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      • I’d say its misleading when she takes data that, as i remember from the discussions when the book came out, hadn’t been used that way. She is simply ignoring all the jobs she didn’t like to say people weren’t working. Temporary jobs? Well almost all construction jobs are temporary; workers are hired for a project ( building a road, a set of houses, etc) then have to find work after that. Sometimes they are full time with one company but just as often aren’t. Even being sort of generous to Shales, she made a big claim solely on a convenient reading of the data.

        Working on a government program is just as much real work as any other. I work for a court system: do i have a job? This kind of argument came up a lot also during the 08 election season if i remember. R’s saying that only certain kinds of work were actually work while other people being paid money in exchange for their time was actual work. There was a humorous incident here at work when a conservative guy who liked to talk politics loudly said “government can’t create jobs.” Oh i laughed and laughed. I was actually rude to be frank. But the thing is, he was a State Trooper, his wife was full time national guard and we were in a court house, we were all state employees with actual jobs.

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      • You can try and spin this one way or the other to make a case for one side of the partisan debate, but these are largely technical issues. And they were largely not understood by either side at the time.

        This is no different than watching the partisans on both sides play games with ther arguments about the crisis in 2008. People that solely blamed Wall Street were as incorrect as people that solely blamed government.

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      • The term make-work exists for a reason. It describe something that actually happens. We can have a conversation about the desirability of make-work programs during times of economic distress and reasonable people can disagree. Shales is anti make-work. That is a partisan position, but it’s hardly misleading, unless you’re wedded to the other point of view in advance.

        For what it’s worth, I find this to be a bit of a silly fight that has more to do with each side’s ideological priors than it does with actual economic inquiry. Whether you use employment numbers that include temporary work or not should depend on your research question. If you are interested in government action to alleviate general misery, then temporary government programs are relevant. If, however, you’re interested in whether government action helped get the economy back to full production, then stripping out temporary government programs is good methodology.

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      • That greatly oversimplifies what work or “make work” programs might actually be. Thats part of the problem with her methods. If the gov, as they did, spends lots of money to build schools, roads, airports, dams, etc. each one of those projects was only “temporary” work. However that infrastructure was immensely valuable to the economic health of this country. The “make work” criticism is a generic slur thrown out, now and then, without talking about the value of what is being done.

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      • On the merits, I think you are entirely correct that public employers are not “not working.” But I think it is worthwhile to differentiate between people who are working because of a job that we want to get done, and finding jobs so that people can be working. The charge against the New Deal is that it was more of the latter, but the vocabulary is limited in expressing it. And there are different bases of understanding and perspective on which jobs are which.

        If Presidents Mitchell and Nance create a full works program to give a job to every American that wants one, you can end unemployment in the literal and statistical sense. That’s not specifically the sense that a lot of people are concerned about. They’re concerned about jobs that sufficiently add value that justify their existence. Either because somebody individually, some corporation comprised of individuals, or we collectively (through a government) want something done.

        But if the goal is not about what we want done, but rather we want people doing something, then that’s a different matter and calculating out the jobs where the goal is to get people doing stuff and then finding things for them to do actually makes a good deal of sense.

        Where it gets complicated is parsing out which is which. Liberals point to the things that were accomplished in the New Deal and say “See? They’re doing stuff! It’s work! This is important because absent these initiatives, they wouldn’t be doing anything!” Conservatives and libertarians look at the same thing and say “But that doesn’t count because they’re only doing stuff because we want them doing stuff.”

        There are, of course, more things that liberals genuinely want to see done (apart from giving people work) than conservatives and libertarians. So each side is inclined to look at the things that were being done as either worthwhile or makework in dependence on what they think the government should be doing.

        Which brings us back to Mitchell and Nance. If they ended unemployment as we know it, that might be good (because people are working) or bad (because we’re paying people just to work and that money would be better used elsewhere). It does strike me as problematic to say “The New Deal didn’t lower unemployment” when it statistically and literally did. At the same time, I am dissatisfied with “The New Deal lowered unemployment” if it didn’t do so primarily the way that I want jobs to be created: an invigorated economy that generates the money to pay people to fulfill a need independent of wanting people to get a paycheck.

        It’s wrong to say that government jobs don’t count as working or that people working government jobs aren’t working. Even people working makework are still working. But it’s not invalid – when trying to assess the labor impact of a program – to discount the jobs that come straight from just giving people stuff to do. Because if that’s what we care about when we talk about unemployment, that was figured out well before Mitchell had his stroke. But that’s not, generally speaking, how most economic-types would presently prefer to deal with unemployment.

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      • I typically stop reading any comment after someone says i’m correct since it will only go downhill from there. But i’ll make an exception in this case. I don’t disagree. There is a strong value component to how we want people to get work and there is an efficiency argument that jobs created by the market will be better than gov jobs. For most things i agree its best if the market creates jobs. But i think this is one of those things where conservatives, not JR specifically since i don’t know where he will go with this, but in general have taken reasonable arguments and gone to crazy town that any gov related job isn’t real work. Stats may bolster values but they are separate things.

        But work is work, essentially as you state. The point of the various work programs was to get people working, which they were successful at. That helped prime the economy in general since people had money to go buy hamburgers and blue jeans and hula hoops or whatever else they bought back then. The New Deal didn’t end the depression but of course the common and obvious line is that it was the much larger gov works and expenditure program known at ww 2 that ended it. The ND was successful at putting many people back to work and also created a lot of useful stuff. As a side job it also likely prevented any real serious communist or facist movement in this country since there was some help coming from the gov without going radical.

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      • Or put in shorter form (for those who don’t want to read my previous missive), if your measure of economic impact focuses primarily on private sector activity (whether these government policies are reinvigorating the economy) it strikes me as quite reasonable to look at employment and unemployment while excluding government employment. Including government employment as a metric of success stacks the deck in favor of a plan that just gets people working doing something/anything.

        If, on the other hand, you are perfectly content just so that people are working and you do not care as much of the particulars – or if you assume anything the government is willing to pay people to do is ipso facto justified – then it only makes sense to include government jobs and that effect.

        But provided that the person in the first case is being clear about what they are or are not including, it doesn’t strike me as particularly dishonest to look at unemployment through that lens.

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      • I do agree that some folks go way overboard when it comes to dismissing government work as actual work.

        Speaking from the opposite side here, it’s one of the things that frustrates me when certain people treat government expenditures for services rendered in the same column as “red state welfare” or suggest that people who collect compensation from the government for services rendered have an obligation to support government spending generally.

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      • There’s an easy solution that both allows people to do the work that the market and their preferences suggest is the most efficient use of their skillsets, but also achieves what is (or should be) the basic impulse of those who want the government to provide more people jerbs (i.e. let them have an income) – give everyone a basic income! The clear advantage is that everyone’s work is still put to the most efficient market use, and lots of labor is not “wasted” (in a relative sense).

        That being said, as Will says there are a *lot* of things that (roughly) liberals would like to see get done that won’t get done (as soon, anyway) without the government doing them that L’s & C’s only want to see get done if/when the market gets around to them. I think that swath of things is underrepresented in these discussion, so that i I think liberals are better off arguing for them on the productive merits, not the make-work merits. That will bring L’s & C’s around to such efforts, who, whatever their theoretical statements about it, will never go along with a basic income on terms liberals can accept, better than does explicitly arguing for them on universal employment grounds, which L’s & C’s oppose roughly as instinctively as they do a BI. Not that it’ll bring them around very much at all. But it’s the best shot. And in a lot of cases, it’s also not a bad argument, either. Plus – you’re going to need to come up with the work you actually want done anyway, so you might as well work on that while you’re arguing for doing it.

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      • Will i agree with that. I’ll add that somewhere at NRO or Heritage Foundation or some such place there is a person preparing to write that the ACA hasn’t given anybody health insurance since they don’t agree gov should be subsidizing HI therefor those people don’t count therefore the ACA is a failure. If they dont’ agree with the program, then the benefits of the program don’t count.

        “red state welfare” speaking from the Saudi Arabia of the US i don’t know what you mean. (insert wry snarky face here).

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      • As an aside, when we look at international income inequality metrics, a lot of the numbers I see actually exclude government transfers (taxes and redistribution). On the one hand, that’s really odd because it means that no matter how much we transfer wealth it won’t show up on the metrics. On the other hand, it’s actually better that way because it helps us assess how well an economic system is doing independent of government transfers. Which is itself an important metric.

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      • On the insurance front, I have mixed feelings. Or more precisely, I want both sets of data when it comes to how many are purchasing insurance and how many are getting insurance through Medicaid. I also want to know how much these insurance plans are costing with subsidies and without.

        I am not totally averse to makework programs or the Mitchell/Nance plan. I’m not in favor of it presently, but can easily imagine circumstances where I would support it. It’s just that, in doing so, we would have to recognize that it’s a success on one level but not a success on a different level (depending on how we look at it).

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      • Somewhere at NRO or Heritage Foundation

        Funny you mention them. I was about to say something like

        “Apparently person A, who builds a public road, isn’t productively employed, but person B, who writes transparent propaganda for the Heritage Foundation, is.”

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      • Even Keynes distunguished between government employing people to dig and refill ditches, and government paying people to do something that actually created value.

        And not all infrastructure building provides actual value.

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      • But work is work…

        No. Again, make-work is a real thing and not just a way to slander the public sector. If the economic cost of hiring people and having them build something is greater than the economic value of the thing that they build, it’s make-work. Paying a thousand people to build and maintain a road does give you a road, but if no one uses that road then it’s a make-work project.

        You can make a perfectly reasonable argument that defends make-work on the principle that government ought to provide for people during times of economic distress and that make-work jobs are better than just paying people to sit idle. I might even agree with that argument in certain circumstances, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still make-work.

        The point of the various work programs was to get people working, which they were successful at. That helped prime the economy in general since people had money to go buy hamburgers and blue jeans and hula hoops or whatever else they bought back then.

        This is an area of contention. The idea behind fiscal stimulus is that it primes the pump, gets the economy going again, and increases overall output by more than the cost of the program. I

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      • [got cut off]

        Is this true? The answer is: it depends. The literature is all over the place,which is likely because the actual fiscal multiplier (the ratio of fiscal spending to increase in GDP) will depend on any number of characteristics in the economy. Either way, this is, or at least ought to be, an empirical and technical question and not an ideological one.

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      • JR, but “make work” is not some concrete objective term. It is value laden and dependent on pont of view and whether someone likes the project. Would having a 100 people dig a hole and another 100 fill it up be “make work”? Yeah. But building a road is more complex; how long do you calculate the value ( 1 year, 5, 10, 100?) What is teh economic value of a new school building? How do you even calculate that? What is the value of a hiking trail? Not everything can be judged by some simple calculation of economic value nor can a value judgment be easily made without being simply an expression of a political view.

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      • Did Shales even made the attempt to calculate value? It sounds like she assigned all temporary government jobs to the “make-work” category. Which is a bit ironic, given that one of the main complaints about government projects is that they don’t end after they’ve done what they set out to do.

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      • There’s an easy solution that both allows people to do the work that the market and their preferences suggest is the most efficient use of their skillsets, but also achieves what is (or should be) the basic impulse of those who want the government to provide more people jerbs (i.e. let them have an income) – give everyone a basic income! The clear advantage is that everyone’s work is still put to the most efficient market use, and lots of labor is not “wasted” (in a relative sense).

        While it’s true that labor will not be wasted, the capacity for labor will be, as some people simply choose not to work. At least with makework taxpayers get some value for their money.

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      • Let’s cut to the chase. Which countries have done the best job of making their citizens well off? Those that have relied primarily on private investment to drive the economy or those that have relied primarily on public investment?

        Which has a better feedback mechanism for distinguishing net-negative value vs. net-positive value investments?

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      • Not everything can be judged by some simple calculation of economic value nor can a value judgment be easily made without being simply an expression of a political view.

        The calculations aren’t simple, but they can absolutely be made. If not, there would be no such thing as the municipal bond market. Net present value calculations aren’t particularly difficult. Build a toll road. If the NPV of what it took to build the road is greater than the NPV of the revenue you collect from the tolls, then the road created value. There are always externalities of course, some positive (alleviating congestion on other roads) and negative (more pollution), but it’s not that hard to distinguish work from make-work in most cases.

        You’re in such a rush to denigrate Shales and anyone who has the audacity to call into question the narrative of the New Deal and of government intervention in general that you are actually attacking the foundation of good governance in the process. There are best practices that guide public budgeting decisions. There are models that let infrastructure investors decide whether to invest in a particular project or not. Obviously, they are not infallible and often rely on judgment calls, but they exist.

        In general, when political concerns trump the economic fundamentals, you get bad public investment. If you believe that public investment is a good thing, I would think that you want the best decision-making possible. The idea of going back to the New Deal and looking at the specific set of interventions and asking whether they were well thought out programs and projects that added value to the economy or they were wasteful and primarily done for political reasons ought to be something that everyone can support, regardless of your political leanings.

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      • I’ll say this about Shales:
        She’s never had to balance a budget based on “make work” that’s lasted 90 years, because the other roads fall apart in 20. At least some of that “make work” is keeping towns solvent, to this very day. When those roads crumble, so will the towns they keep functional.

        Was some of it makework? Sure, probably. But, before you count a WPA bridge as being “makework” you gotta assess it’s utility. We got a few in our local park — people bike and walk on them all the live long day. They’ll be around till the next century, probably. I know someone can do some decent assessment on “how much this would cost to have a bridge without the WPA”

        Shales didn’t, though. If she wanted to actually lay out some evidence saying “here’s why 80% of this ‘temporary employment’ was useless”… well, she could have.

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      • And as I recall, the way those partisan lines shook out was with liberals and conservatives blaming Wall Street and libertarians blaming gummint. :)

        My recollection was that conservatives and libertarians put more of the blame on government and liberals the private sector. As you know, these lines do a disservice to the discussion because both the government and private sector played a huge role in what happened.

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      • Dave,
        that’s not my recollection.
        I remember tons of liberals blaming summers and gramm leach bliley (with a side of blaming the new bankruptcy laws that made credit card debt hard to discharge).
        Now, I will grant, blaming the Republicans for stuff is standard operating procedure… but I think in this case, they were at least somewhat right.

        Maybe I went digging more than most people? Or maybe it was just knowing folks working with/for economists at the time…

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      • Blaming the government for the crisis took at least two very different forms. Many liberals actually did blame the government, saying that a regulatory failure played a big part in allowing the crisis to end up being so bad. I don’t think the line that the cons/libtns blamed the government while liberals blamed the private sector is even accurate descriptively, therefore. Blaming the CRA is not the only way that government was blamed for the crisis.

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      • If the NPV of what it took to build the road is greater than the NPV of the revenue you collect from the tolls, then the road created value.

        Am I reading that right?

        you are actually attacking the foundation of good governance in the process.
        This.

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      • So are non-toll roads never value-creating? Their toll revenue is zero. Or if not, how do they create value? And if it’s through externalities, why do you address that in such a dismissive way?

        We have a hell of a lot of non-toll roads, and they seem to create a lot of value to me, but I could just be doing that analysis with apolitical bias.

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      • I remember tons of liberals blaming summers and gramm leach bliley (with a side of blaming the new bankruptcy laws that made credit card debt hard to discharge).

        I suppose I should have written my last comment to address regulation vs. deregulation because that did play a role in people’s views. Yes, conservatives and libertarians did look at Fannie and Freddie and saw entities that encouraged the sort of behavior that took place prior to the crisis. They also blamed the Community Reinvestment Act, a view I resoundingly reject.

        A lot of liberals did point to GLB as a cause due to the repeal of parts of Glass Steagall, but at most, this created the too-big-to-fail mega banks, most of whom who were not at any risk of insolvency in 2008. The catastrophic failures were taking place on Wall Street. wrote a blog post in early 2013 arguing that Glass Steagall wasn’t a cause. He was very convincing. BlaiseP attacked him every which way possible and came up empty.

        Generally speaking, the narrative coming from the left was more palatable to me because it showed an understanding of the role Wall Street played in created the crisis. What astounded me about the “blame the government” crowd was that they appeared to treat the actions of the private sector solely as a consequence of policy without assigning any blame to them. It’s almost as if profit motive was ignored entirely.

        I had my disagreements with liberals, mainly

        1) Attacking Alan Greenspan as a free market zealot completely ignores his history as a very hands-on central banker (i.e. “The Greenspan Put”) and the fact that his interest rate policy circa 2003-2004 opened the floodgates for the housing boom in a big way. Liberals attacked him this way because of his laissez-faire approach to the mortgage markets. It’s fair to attack him here because the Fed could have put the brakes on mortgage lending. They were warned of problems. They ignored them. However, this does not make him a Rand-bot. This makes him a bad central banker IMO.

        2. The repeal of Glass-Steagall had little to do with the crisis.

        3. As much as I thought that the originate-to-securitize process that drove subprime mortgage lending was rotten to the core and cost investors billions, I was (and am) still convinced that securitization, properly done, plays a very important role in our financial system. I recall many discussions with liberals that don’t see it this way, including one here back in June if I recall.

        4. My views on putting credit derivatives on exchanges are mixed. I think an outright ban on credit default swaps is silly. If anything, that market functioned the way it should have during the crisis, as evidenced when the Lehman Brothers contracts were settled. Plus, the CDS markets were a far better indicator of companies in trouble than the traditional use of ratings downgrades.

        I’m not sure the effectiveness of putting them on exchanges anyway. A lot of the time, credit products aren’t even standardized and can’t be standardized since corporate users are the ones that are having them structured to address specific kinds of risk in specific notional amounts.

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      • It’s almost as if profit motive was ignored entirely.

        Dave, my position on that is that the profit-motive (or as some prefer, greed) is part of the cause, but is not an explanatory variable. The profit-motive/greed is a constant, so invoking it does not help us understand why the mortgage crisis occurred when it did and not years earlier.

        I stand on my claim that G-S was not an explanatory variable, either, but at least it has the value of being a variable, rather than a constant. What did vary during those times were such things as tax policy that had a good purpose but encouraged house-flipping, loose money policy that had a good purpose but resulted in too much money flowing into the housing sector, and some innovations in mortgage financing that mostly served a good purpose, but were toxic in the presence of a housing bubble.

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      • Dave,
        Why do you think the Big Banks weren’t at risk of insolvency? As I understand it, out of the Big 5 investment banks, we lost two of them — and Goldmann Sachs walked away with tons of free money[yes, when people lose, there is going to be a winner.]
        We are still losing banks to insolvency, and, local to me, PNC bought out a competitor in worse shape (National City).
        One of the big non-investment banks was printing signs in case of a bank run…

        I’m concerned about any corporation that poses a National Security Risk, be they Verizon, Big Auto, or the major banks (investment or otherwise).

        As to 3) Insurance, I get — insurance on insurance on insurance, that winds up creating overall risk (that isn’t accounted for in price) because the first insurer is the third insurer, seems like poor policy. And that’s the reason people want open markets — so that risk assessment for a particular policy can be assessed.

        Shadow gold causes real problems for that commodity. But gold, in of itself, isn’t a horrid, going to make our economy explode if it fails, risk. These credit default swaps really have the potential to be.

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      • James,
        greed is not a constant here. Hedge funds, and people interested in short term gains, at the expense of long term gains, had taken over many markets. The nickname was “The Cancer Economy” — particularly in commercial real estate, where people had stopped caring whether particular stores were making a profit, and instead cared “how many new stores” as an indicator that “this company is growing, and growth is good!”

        (Now, I ought to say that a good deal of dumb money got suckered into this view, so it’s not ALL the fault of the 200 corps that managed a substantial fraction of the wealth in the Market)

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      • Blaming the government for the crisis took at least two very different forms. Many liberals actually did blame the government, saying that a regulatory failure played a big part in allowing the crisis to end up being so bad. I don’t think the line that the cons/libtns blamed the government while liberals blamed the private sector is even accurate descriptively, therefore. Blaming the CRA is not the only way that government was blamed for the crisis.

        Fair point. Please keep in mind that my statement was very general and accurately descriptive only to the point where it identifies the primary party to blame. I know that doesn’t get me very far but it wasn’t my intent to take it farther than that. Yes, there are details that can undermine them, but on a general basis, if those causes were ranked in order of importance, this is where I remember them shaking out. I’m basing this on conversations and countless articles from the 2008-2009 era so my approach here is hardly scientific..

        Anyone that has studied the crisis will have developed an opinion that undermines the labels I put out there. Heck, I remember being impressed when I read James Hanley’s work and not seeing a standard libertarian re-tread of Fannie/Freddie/CRA when he wrote his post in early 2013.

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      • James,
        Likewise, the health care industry(particularly insurance companies) had been misclassified as a growth industry, and because of this classification, there was substantial pressure on the corps to “make more money” — well, when you can’t get more people to sign up, that’s done by denying coverage to more people, fairly or not.

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      • Many liberals actually did blame the government, saying that a regulatory failure played a big part in allowing the crisis to end up being so bad.

        Is that just an indirect way of blaming the market? I.e., government’s causal role was in not reining in the market?

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      • Dave,

        I’m glad you wrote out a more detailed account of all this. My initial comment was intended to expand the playing field of “partisans” to include libertarians as well as conservatives and liberals since, as you say here

        What astounded me about the “blame the government” crowd was that they appeared to treat the actions of the private sector solely as a consequence of policy without assigning any blame to them. It’s almost as if profit motive was ignored entirely.

        seemed obvious to me and could only happen if people were viewing the evidence thru a “partisan” – or at least ideological – filter. The lengths to which some folks went to attribute blame solely to governmental policy (despite all the evidence) was astounding to me.

        I also agree with this:

        Generally speaking, the narrative coming from the left was more palatable to me because it showed an understanding of the role Wall Street played in created the crisis.

        And as Kim (I think it was Kim) mentioned, there was plenty of criticisms of gummint as well as public/private collusion from the left (as well as the right) wrt the governmental response.

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      • my position on that is that the profit-motive (or as some prefer, greed) is part of the cause, but is not an explanatory variable. The profit-motive/greed is a constant, so invoking it does not help us understand why the mortgage crisis occurred when it did and not years earlier.

        I’ll take an opportunity to strongly agree with here. It doesn’t make sense to look at profit motive or greed as a cause for the reasons he says.

        There are variables around greed that make sense to look at, however. One is really a governance issue – i.e. what avenues for pursuing greed that developed were allowed to proliferate that shouldn’t have been, or shouldn’t have been to the extent they were. And two, how did the culture and/or methods of profit/greed/acquisitiveness/finance develop in particular ways that helped lead to the outcome? This doesn’t treat the constant of greed as a variable, but properly treats innovation in the methods of moneymaking and changes in the culture around it as the variables that they are.

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      • James,
        yes, of course it is. But it is what I would expect out of most libertarians.
        Greed, after all, is something to be expected, and used for the good of everyone.
        We set rules to prevent greed from turning into theft.
        “Privatize the Profits and Subsidize the Risk” — this is one of the problems of big banks.

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      • Is that just an indirect way of blaming the market? I.e., government’s causal role was in not reining in the market?

        Is it? Maybe in some reckonings, but I don’t think so.

        In many of those people’s minds, I think saying that would be like saying that blaming someone’s failure to ensure access to a storm cellar for the death of a child in a tornado is just an indirect way of blaming the atmosphere for it. I don’t think that’s how they look at it. The market for them is a powerful storm and it’s on us to take all reasonable precautions to protect ourselves from it.

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      • The profit-motive/greed is a constant, so invoking it does not help us understand why the mortgage crisis occurred when it did and not years earlier.

        There is an explanation for this. When the Fed’s slashed interest rates to 1% and held them there for year (2003-2004), the consequence was that yields on all fixed income instruments dropped to (at the time) record-low levels (Treasuries, sovereign debt, corporates, munis, RMBS, CMBS, etc.).

        Fund managers that were investing in fixed-income securities based on current yield requirements could no longer invest in many of those instruments because they were too expensive to meet the yield requirements. The institutional investors needed more yield and a triple AAA rating in order to meet their internal requirements.

        The managers would call on their contacts at the Wall Street firms to see what was available. I’d think that after enough of these calls, the people on Wall Street saw dollar signs.

        Yes, the profit motive was always there, but the conditions in the capital markets circa 2003 were ahistorical. I contend that had rates stayed where they were, investors would have had no reason to invest in AAA-rated private label subprime RMBS because they would have had the more traditional fixed income investments available.

        This also affected the lending process because Wall Street needed loans to securitize and stopped caring about quality (if they ever cared at all). There was so much demand for product to securitize that the non-bank lenders could effectively dictate the terms in which the Wall Street bank bought the loans, and a lot of the time that meant minimal due diligence.

        Securitization is also a huge money maker for Wall Street, especially given that most of it is done using short-term debt so it requires little if any of the firm’s equity capital.

        This is only the tip of the iceberg.

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      • My initial comment was intended to expand the playing field of “partisans” to include libertarians as well as conservatives and liberals since, as you say here

        That’s fair. My comment was initially meant as a somewhat general framework that is now being used as a launching point for a much broader discussion that I may not have time for. LOL.

        I write one response, ten more show up. I’m now having to play catch up. Weeeeeeeeeee.

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      • …I should say: I mean this part, yes obviously:

        I.e., government’s causal role was in not reining in the market?

        But in my view that’s not “just” indirectly blaming the market, or even necessarily indirectly blaming the market at all.

        If you think the market is something that needs to be reined in and that it’s the government’s proper role to do that, then if in your view it doesn’t do it (right) and there are consequences, and you blame the consequences on the government’s failure to do what you view as its duty (due to the nature of the market), in my view you are at least possibly just blaming the government for not doing what you think is its duty to do. Although I don’t think it’s exclusive, so that some who blame the government in that way might also blame the market as an agent, while others might view the market as without agency like a storm, such that the only agency to be considered is in those with protective responsibility against a non-agent force.

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      • It doesn’t make sense to look at profit motive or greed as a cause for the reasons he says.

        In an pre-existing market, I would agree. However, the subprime markets did not exist in this fashion until the floodgates opened. The manner in which the entire originate-to-securitize process operated during 2003-2006 only existed to the extent that Wall Street could make money securitizing the loans and selling them.

        When the music stopped, the whole game was over.

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      • Thanks, I’ll think on this. Do you tend to think the things I describe as “variables around greed” – innovations and changes of culture in moneymaking – were significant parts of the causal variables? Do you fold those variables into your understanding of what you refer to as “the profit motive” anyway?

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      • But as your own comment indicates, and as Michael Drew correctly notes, the avenues through which the profit motive could be expressed change. So those are the variables that matter. All such changes should be analyzed in the context of an ever-present profit motive, but it’s not the profit motive per se that is causally interesting.

        It’s like blaming sexual desire for STDs. Of course it’s a factor, but it doesn’t vary, so by itself it doesn’t explain why STDs are more or less prevalent in different eras.

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      • “The New Deal brought a lot of academics and technocrats to Washington and paid a lot of artists; it gave them power and flattered their work. Those people in turn mythologized FDR and the New Deal. ”

        For those who believe this sort of stuff, google the GNP/emloyment rates during the 1930’s, and see where the inflection points are.

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      • Capitalism as practiced then wasn’t responsible for the Depression??? huh

        Fun fact: In 1932, Roosevelt ran as the small-government alternative to Hoover. In his campaign speeches, he proposed a 25%(!) reduction in federal expenditures.

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      • Even excluding those who call themselves true leftists (e.g. the Jacobin magazine crowd), the liberal wing of the Democratic party has nowhere near the success of the conservative wing of the GOP. When was the last time a Democratic senator feared a primary challenge from the left? Who is the left equivalent of Rich Lugar or Robert Bennett? Hell, the closest equivalent is Joe Lieberman, who a) alienated the base far more violently than any GOP senator has in the past 20 years and b) won reelection anyway. This analogy needs serious work.

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      • Well, Dan, in 1987 there were how many folks in the GOP caucus who look anything like what the average member of the GOP caucus looks like, now?

        25 years and I’d argue the GOP has gone from center-right to nearly crazytown.

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      • Joe Lieberman famously lost a Democratic Primary and then won the general as an independent so that probably shows that the liberal wing can oust people but ends up losing anyway. Perhaps Bill De Blasio’s victory counts as the left winning a primary over the more Clintonesque and Centerist Christine Quinn.

        But yeah, generally liberals are a small handful of Senators and congresspeople like Wellstone, Sanders, Kuinich, Wyden, Waxman, Warren, etc.

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  2. I think part of the issue with R governance at the Fed level is part of the conservative mantra is that gov is just no good, bad, evil and should be gotten rid of. So when they have to actually run it they have no clue not only what gov does ( and most of it is not particularly ideological and is boring) but they have no desire to make it run well. They hate it so they don’t care if it works poorly. R mayor and governors often have more success because at lower levels of gov people often care more about making it work then hating on it. You have to actually want to make something work well if you even have a hope of actually making it work well. Liberals screw up plenty of things but not for want of wanting it to work. They haven’t sabotages their own efforts out of dislike.

    I’m certainly curious how talking about the Developmentally Disabled is going to lead to problems with the Left. I have some experience in that area and can’t even remotely see where this is going. So i guess i’ll have to start stocking up on virtual rotten fruit in anticipation.

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  3. Even if both sides don’t do it, they eventually will do it.

    And I know this on the basis of anecdata.

    Sorry Todd, but part II isn’t justifying anything. I await part III.

    Or maybe you could give us a quick synopsis of your argument.

    You are, though, a truly wonderful writer.

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  4. An excellent post my Todd. The most glaring difference between the right and the left, to my mind, is the near void on the left of an institutional left (or only one institutional left). The right has a very solid institutional right and the various subcomponents of the right (Social Cons, Neocons, Economic Libertarians) generally pay pretty good lip service to the priorities of their compatriots. They also punish apostasy and police their elected representatives in a way that the left isn’t able to (but wishes it could). When was the last time a major Dem politician had to go kiss the ring of a major left wing media figure?
    Tell a GOP Congrescritter that the right wing is pissed at him and he’s gonna start sweating. Tell a Dem Congrescritter that the left wing is pissed at him or her and they’ll either laugh or ignore it.

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    • I think there is an institutional left but they are largely outside the Democratic Party/political sphere or are very single issue and press on said issues.

      The institutional left is found in places like The Nation or Jacobin Magazine and the New Left Review and similar places. Or they are in small anarchist communes. Or, dare I say it, academia. My big problem with the left sometimes is that they are very comfortable at speaking in academicease but they are not very good at translating their arguments into person on the street language. The more centerists ones can write a mean white paper. The further left ones can speak at a conference with a lot of goobley gook nonsense and take it seriously.

      The language of the institutionalized left tends to involve lots of SAT words and very wordy titles and stuff that can easily veer into an unconsciously pitch-perfect parody of bad academic writing except it is completely sincere.

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      • I agree ND but the various microinstitutions on the left aren’t a solidified bloc the way they are on the right and they certainly do not have the power/will to strong arm the Democratic Party the way their right wing compatriots do the GOP.

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      • The Institutional Left has always been less concerned about the practicalities of political power than the Institutional Right for better and worse.

        It depends on how you define political power. The institutional left certainly doesn’t have the same level of interest in electoral politics that the institutional right does, but they are most certainly interested in power. They mostly just choose to exercise that power though the media, academia, and the bureaucratic side of politics. All of which have political manifestations.

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  5. My own view is that while there is some overlap, the liabilities for the Democrats (to themselves and to the country, apart from policy preferences I mean) are substantively different than the liabilities of Republicans. I simply don’t fear the Democrats becoming too much like the Republicans. They’re certainly not immune to Republican traits and some of their number have already lurched in that direction, but the fundamentals are somewhat different, in my view. Stronger in some ways, more vulnerable in others.

    I am mostly on hiatus from criticizing the Democrats, though I will say that despite the above and what I am sure are some significant disagreements, a couple of things you mention do ring true.

    I think we are a long, long way off from “Purity is more important than competence” coming to fruition, though I think “Who we are is less important than who the enemy is.” is on the mark (though not yet a particularly significant liability).

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  6. Todd, interesting introduction. It’s sorta like somebody analogizing the fall of the Roman Empire with the (predicted) collapse of the USA. All you need is actual data linking the left in the USA doing what the right did. I await that.

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    • Barry,
      In that this seems to be time-variant, I don’t think it is analogous to the Roman Empire. Rather, there is a certain subset of “technocrats” who vacillate from party to party (Whig, to Republican to Democrat).

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  7. LeeEsq

    “greginak, its a standard article of faith among certain crowds that capitalism as practiced did not cause the Great Depression but government intervention in the economy. They also argue that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression. Personally, I think things like Glass-Steagel, the FDIC, SEC, Wagner Labor Relations Act, and WPA were necessary.”

    For all – if anybody lays that line on you, just google for a timeline of the 1930’s, with US GNP plotted on that. Note in what year things bottomed out, and the rate of recovery from that year. Or better ye, ask the person laying that line on to show you that.

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  8. I visited with my parents in another, more southern part of the nation recently. My father has become friends with a neighbor who donates heavily to Heritage Foundation and he dropped by to share a glass of wine with us while my wife and I were visiting. He was very pleasant and we had a pleasant, spirited discussion. I found it revelatory not that he’d been greatly charmed by hobnobbing with Jim DeMint, since I’ve every reason to believe that Senator DeMint is indeed a charming, charismatic, and intelligent man. He was very excited about the sorts of proposals that Senator DeMint had advanced to what he called (in somewhat different phrasing) the intelligentsia of the conservative movement. I inquired, of course, as to what these proposals might have been, prefacing my inquiry that to me it appeared that most prominent conservatives were only engaged in symbolism and tactics, but had lost functional interest in governing and policy, and that I should be deeply pleased to find evidence disproving my belief.

    Well, that belief is quite wrong, said my father’s friend, and he proceeded to tell me all about how Senator DeMint and the smart, optimistic people at Heritage had discovered that by advancing conservative ideas like private school vouchers and deregulation, but attaching favorable-sounding names to them incorporating words like “freedom” and “liberty,” young people polled very favorably to those labels. He’d given generously to support this new initiative because it gave him confidence that America’s best days are still ahead of us. If this sounds to you like “old wine in new bottles” rather than actually devising innovative policy proposals, well, it did to me too.

    There was also quite a bit of heat (from my parents, too) about people cheating welfare, which on further inquiry was admitted to be an unknown but likely very small number of people within the welfare system, and moneys spent on foreign aid, which were on further inquiry admitted to be a miniscule percentage of the federal budget. If this sounds to you like these were hot button issues raised for emotional response rather than substantive impact on the administration of government — symbolism rather than substance — well, it sounded like that to me, too.

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    • The concept of “welfare queens” is nothing knew in the Anglo-sphere. The Victorians in Britain made much to do about the deserving poor and by implication if there is a deserving poor, there is an undeserving poor.

      They also had their own variant of the person who uses food stamps for lobster tail. The belief was that the poor lived by begging and charity and at night partied like debauched decadents.

      “Freedom” and “Liberty” are very squishy and subjective words and the right-wing has co-opted them since their opposition to the New Deal with terms like The Liberty League and the Great Society with Young Americans for Freedom. Everyone in America thinks that they are on the side of angels and freedom and liberty. The stresses are different though. It seems to me that the right-wing sees business freedom and deregulation as being more important than civil liberty and equality.

      The GOP just released an ad trying to reach Millennial voters. It feature a young and hipster looking guy driving an Audi and taking about how he is a Republican because he favors an “all of the above” energy strategy. Most commentators do not think the add will work.

      http://www.salon.com/2014/03/19/rncs_mortifying_new_ad_campaign_meet_scott_the_cool_young_republican/

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      • New Dealer:

        I looked at those ads on Salon. Speaking as a late 60-ish white male, oddly enough registered Republican, asshole, I have to say young Scott impressed me as … an asshole. I mean:

        “Solar, wind, shale gas, oil, whatever!” hmmm? Republicans say “All of the above.” Uh-huh. Let’s sit down and talk, Scotty boy. Show your smarts. Rather traditionally Republicans have NOT liked solar and wind power generation, which they identify as environmentalist nonsense. But we’ll ignore that. What’s in this “whatever” category? Can’t you be a bit more specific? Eh eh eh eh then eh eh … say the word, Scotty. Ethanol. that’s right. Here’s another toughy: new new new new new clee, sure we can pause while you get breath back, it’s a real hard word to pronounce in public I know, takes a lot of strength and will power and maybe a little help from God to say nuclear right where anyone can hear you. But Republicans have that strength, Scottty. Trust me. Now, here’s another one. Hydroelectric. It means like, power from dams, like Hoover Dam. And yeah, it’s kinda long, it’s kinda hard to spell, but it’s suprisingly easy to say in the right places. Talk about solar power and wind power to an audience, and references to hydroelectric just slide right even — even the most rabid Democrats won’t notice. Then we can talk about power generation due to temperature differences, the biggest contender is something called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC and people have been studying that for 40 years now. Respectable people like Lockheed Martin, not just left wingers. Then there’s nuclear fusion , which ain’t here yet but also has people studying it, and there are maybe two, maybe three or four ways fusion could work, but of course the typical young Republican is familiar with all that. And some wild eyed dreamers have figures suggesting a giant Solar Power Satellite, maybe a couple hundred miles across, twenty or thirty thousand miles out in outer space, could collect enough solar radiation to provide all the power people need on the whole planet. But you know all this, Scotty. And we’re off the air now, so tell me the truth. Do you really like ALL these ideas just the same? None of them have flaws that you can see? The Republican party — John Boehner and Senator McConnell and even Ted Cruz — are going to stand up tomorrow in Congress and insist that the Federal government start spending more money on all these programs? Because, by God, that’s just what Republicans do!

        Yup. I’m an old ignorant asshole. And that’s what I was thinking while clever young Scotty smirked at me. The ad didn’t “work” for me, in other words. And I’m not a supercritical kind of guy — I’m a geezer, right? — so I got to think a lot of other people are going to view that ad and be … unpersuaded.

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      • What is interesting to me is what they were avoiding which is largely social issues. I think that the GOP knows and realizes that most people under 40 are much more socially liberal than the average GOP voter. The gay-discrimination bill was scuttled by the Kansas State Senate president and her reasoning was that passing the bill would make the GOP unappealing to anyone under 40 and possibly even under-45.

        The ad seems aimed at people like me. College-educated urban professionals who are on the road to becoming members of the upper-middle class. Scott drove an Audi (I don’t but it would be nice one day), he works in the arts, he just bought his first real estate/home. It is all about lowering costs for drivers and homeowners which is important but treats social issues as a big old elephant in the room. I suspect you are right that not many people are going to be impressed by the whatever line.

        He looked hip and young enough but it seems like they are trying too hard.

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    • But Burt, do you actually think that the conservative movement should be moving away from the policy stance of vouchers and deregulation? At some point, movements are for something, and if you’re wrong you’re wrong. Even short of that extreme view, there’s still some fairly high threshold of proof of inefficacy a movement can reasonably demand before it should be called upon to backtrack on a key policy commitment. Movements are not like political parties in that they are established to pursue specific policy aims (parties exist to win political office, often in the service of particular policy aims, but in general those are somewhat more malleable than for movements). I’m a skeptic of vouchers, but the evidence would have to be significantly more clear for me to feel I had any reasonable expectation that the conservative movement move away from them. This works in all directions for various movements.

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      • I took his point to be that they’re not going to sell people to the conservative movement by changing the terminology on subjects that haven’t already moved them.

        You don’t necessarily need to abandon vouchers, but you might need some new issues or alterating current ones (Maybe vouchers or maybe not).

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      • …IOW, for policy planks the movement is particularly committed to, coming up with effective new sales approaches is not small thing in itself. And it’s especially no small thing for individuals within those movements who are relatively committed to those planks compared to other movement members, and are therefore committed to steering the movement toward those planks, or at least head off the movement’s abandoning them. I.e., perhaps you parents’ friend’s main concern is not with the health of the conservative movement per se, but with advancing the causes of school choice (or vouchers specifically) and deregulation, and, if forced to choose, would go where those commitments are preserved in terms of political affiliation. For a guy like that, especially if he does have some partisan affiliation with the conservative movement as a brand/institution, seeing the established movement developing new ways to advance those planks within the movement, and even as a leading/featured overall marketing strategy for the movement (i.e. not just for maintaining its arguments in that policy area), is among the happiest of developments to see. So if that’s the case (very much just a hypothetical, to be sure), then it’s not at all surprising to see him contributing to reinforce that direction within the movement.

        This kind of internal sifting and jockeying is the very stuff of movement-coalition politics, and I would encourage Tod not to overlook this dynamic when/if he comes to dealing with liberals and further-left folks on the subjects of social insurance and others.

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      • I think there is some truth to that, though what you hear Burt’s interlocutor saying seems to be the same thing that the Republicans and conservatives in general are saying about the broader movement. Reframing vouchers into a broader “school choice” category has been huge for that particular movement, though less helpful to the conservative movement as a whole. The same is likely to be true, in a different way, of deregulation. It tells us little about how to get people elected to enact these changes. Which is fine for Americans For School Choice, because they don’t care if school choice is instituted by Republicans or Democrats, but is not so good for Conservatives for a Conservative America.

        I tend to put Heritage in the latter category. They do seem to care whether their policy prescriptions are adopted by Republicans or Democrats. Their interest in the GOP may be limited to the extent that the GOP is conservative, so they’re not going to advocate going pro-choice even if doing so might win the GOP elections. But if they want to further the cause, they do need to either work on finding more and different issues or find ways to reconcile current issues with conservative positions that will not only help those positions come to fruition.

        I totally get the movement vs party distinction you’re making, though, and it’s important.

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      • And that’s the dynamic Tod needs to account for – the extent to which the idea of people being primarily concerned with the wellbeing of things like “conservatism” or “the left” in the first place is something that his analysis rests on/assumes/projects without examining. (To be fair, the conservative movement definitely has clear institutional apparatus who in fact is very much concerned with its wellbeing *per se* apart from specific issues, so it at least makes sense to look at the track record from their perspective the way he does here.)

        Lots of people care about those things only because they care about school choice or preventing entitlement cuts, etc. The one simply serves the other (i.e. movement affiliation serves issue interest). Indeed, that’s among the more usual and defensible reasons to engage with politics, and makes all the sense in the world so long as it is tempered with a bit of reasonableness and willingness to bargain (without which you can’t get anything you want at all).

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      • I think this gets to the most primary of disagreements, the extent to which partisanship is a reflection of ideology and ideology is a reflection of partisanship. I don’t think that anybody would say that camp is purely a product of ideology, or that ideology is purely a product of camp, but there is a disagreement as to how much is influenced by how much.

        Generally speaking, I’d say that the more issues an organization covers, the more likely it is to be an embodiment of The Left or The Right rather than a group of people pushing for a particular thing. Americans Against Immigration being one thing, Conservatives for a Conservative America being another. In the real world, the NRA being one thing and Heritage being another. NARAL being one thing and Center for American Progress being another. In each case, the latter being more indicative of a whole.

        Whether CAP is indicative of The Left due to heartfelt conviction on leftward positions or sheer opportunism… I’m not sure is of primary importance. What’s important is that they use their platform not for abortion rights, or gun control, but the furtherance of the movement as a whole. And the more time they spend talking about camps (“conservatives”, “Republicans”, “Democrats”, “Progressives”) the more we can probably consider them of one stripe or another (provided that they are generally consistent about who is right and honorable and who is wrong and dishonorable). And from there, collectively, the arguments that they make become relevant as to how we define The Right and The Left in the general sense.

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      • So what’s important to look at is the extent to which a place like CAP or Heritage is more influenced/driven by a kind of custodial posture wrt to liberalism or conservatism at large, versus just managing the competing interests of their constituents individually, which are/might be primarily driven by individual issue commitments. The balance can be in various places at various times for various organizations. It’s a very empirical question. That’s why Tod needs to account for it.

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      • I’m sure I’d be satisfied with whatever explicit consideration Tod would give it. Given that this is basically a comparison between where the the parties and their coalitions are, have been, and are going, it would make sense to deal with in a comparative way. My suspicion is it may actually buttress his claim about why the left could be headed in the same direction that the right went in, but to some extent mitigate the reason why this should concern them as much as it does/should the right. (And since my view is that, thus far, Tod hasn’t been as persuasive as he thinks he has about just how nightmarish the place the right finds itself is – don’t get me wrong, it’s not ideal, but I’m not as mortified as he is, and he’s not so far convincing me to be – I think this could be a significant effect of this observation, should he choose to account for it.)

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      • I’m still not clear on what you’re looking for. You mentioned “empirical.” Are you looking for more specific definitions of how he is defining “The Left” or “The Right”? Are you looking for examples where he says “I am using these organizations as the embodiment of The Left and as counterparts to these which I would include on The Right?”

        Or are you primarily awaiting examples of The Left doing things as driven by broad ideology or camp as opposed to being driven by their views on this specific thing (an incident, or a policy)?

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      • I think I’ve made very clear exactly what the dynamic is I’m talking about, and I’ve said that I’d be quite happy to see it explicitly addressed in the course of the argument in any way at all. There isn’t anything very specific I’m looking for in how it gets dealt with; I’d just find the argument stronger if it deals with it at all.

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      • To be honest I don’t consider those questions particularly on the point, no, but as I say, if that were how he chose to address the point, so long as he enunciated an understanding of the structural point I’m making, I’d appreciate the attempt.

        Sorry we’re having a disconnect, but I honestly think I have made what I am talking about quite clear, and I don’t really see why we’d say that a question like, “Is it fair to say this organization or that organization is a better stand-in for the left or the right?” is particularly on the point.

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      • …I guess maybe, “Are you looking for more specific definitions of how he is defining “The Left” or “The Right”?” is reasonably close. It’s no so much specificity, though, as it is just looking at how what I’ve laid out complicates looking at these as groups that act as groups at all. I.e., not trying for more accuracy or specificity, but dealing with how accuracy and specificity, though necessary for this discussion, may be impossible to an extent. Which would be a significant problem… though may only be true to an extent, and maybe not a fatal one. Hence I say, account for it, not just give up.

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      • Will,
        the conservative end goal to vouchers is to defund education and let the churches take care of it as they will. Greedy sods. ANYTHING that gives the conservative viewpoint a foothold is good for the “don’t tax me” faction, as it’s really easy to start nibbling away at “government subsidies” for stuff that churches will provide “for free”.

        Besides, what the fuck do they care about “good education for all”? They won’t even need “good workers” in 20 years (they’ll need some creative class people, but those people can/will afford to send their kids to “exclusive private schools”).

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      • and I’ve not had time to respond to this deeply interesting exchange yet, and it did begin with a question to me. draws a distinction: “Movements are not like political parties in that they are established to pursue specific policy aims [while] parties exist to win political office … .”

        is right that the distinction between the two is very fuzzy with a group like Heritage. It claims to be “conservative” but behaves a lot like it’s really “Republican.” Tod points out that Bill Clinton, and later Barack Obama, triangulated to adopt policies and urge private actions which seem very much like the sorts of things of which “conservatives” would approve. But instead, it infuriates the sorts of folks who, were the “D” in office replaced with an “R” and the exact same thing said, would be cheering. And it seems to me that these partisan ideologues have fuzziness about the difference between “conservative” and “Republican”; fuzziness about the difference between “policy” and “tactics”; fuzziness about the difference between persuasion and argument on the one hand, and outrage-driven GOTV and fundraising efforts on the other.

        (Not all. But most everyone I meet, most everyone whose writing I read on the ‘Tubes, most everyone who gets plopped in front of a camera on the TV or a microphone on the radio. So not all, but “lots.”)

        When I asked this fellow about what is being done to show that Republicans are interested in governing rather than simply assuming appealing public postures, I received a response that seemed aimed at public posturing.

        Nothing about recruiting conservatives to run for local office and get groomed for higher office later.

        Nothing about organizing fundraising to help conservatives finance those local elections, or teaching them skills about how to attract coordinate volunteers to do the work of winning local elections.

        Nothing about teaching conservatives how to draft legislation or regulations, nothing about teaching them how to negotiate with non-conservatives to assemble legislative majorities.

        Certainly nothing relating to analysis of local cultural or economic conditions to tweak the boilerplate conservative policies to what’s going to work best for a specific situation or what’s going to command interest from some level of democratic majority — the policies seem to be one-size-fits-all and you’re either for em or aginn’ em and there isn’t much more than superficial interest in “I’m for this part of the policy but not that part” or “You want a 15% tax rate and I’d be okay with 20%, so we both agree 25% is too high.”

        And certainly nothing about identifying new problems, new ways to improve government, or new answers to questions that haven’t been answered to a consensus public satisfaction yet. They already have all the answers to all the problem, you see. It’s just a matter of reaching out to people and telling them.

        That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be conservatives who develop these skills, get them put together, and start down the cursus honorum. But the only thing that Heritage seemed to be doing, as reported to me, was coming up with better slogans and prettier labels.

        I was reminded quite a lot of the missionaries who come to my front door about every other Saturday when the weather is nice (and about every fourth Saturday when it isn’t). The more clever, charismatic, and experienced of them are able to get part-way into their spiels before I shut them down — but they all act as if they sincerely believe that they are saying magic words, an incantation that they seem to think I’ve never heard before, and that these words will have the inherent power to change my core beliefs about the way the universe is and then adopt their religion in full. When I say “I’ve read your Holy Book, and while there are parts of it that are good moral lessons, I sure don’t believe in the supernatural stuff,” they act taken aback, as if it were simply not possible that someone could read these words and not both see and immediately adhere to the Truth that they tell.

        So to circle back to ‘s question – should the conservative movement move away from vouchers and deregulation? Not necessarily yes or not — but they can come up with other solutions to problems to adopt given the political reality that there is a lot of resistance to these ideas. In the world of educational policy, you can be in favor of or against merit pay or merit raises for teaching professionals, stronger or weaker emphasis on standardized testing, for or against arts or composition curricula, any of a number of curriculum reforms, like rejection of memorization-based “whole language” or “whole math” heuristic techniques, for or against a whole spectrum of subject matter inclusion within required or acceptable textbooks, and so on. If all of this sounds like nuts-and-bolts sorts of stuff that is not directly related to vouchers, that’s because even if we stipulate that vouchers are a good idea, vouchers still aren’t the universal answer to every problem with education in America.

        And particularly given that the body politic hasn’t yet reached consensus about whether vouchers would effect a net good or a net detriment to the quality of education (however that term is defined), assuming without argument that vouchers are beneficial (perhaps because this seems congruent with the Truth that the “free market” is the panacea) and then simply putting a new label on that policy is a maneuver which completely fails to impress me that conservatives have given thought, much less concern, to the issue of educational policy.

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      • Republicans/conservatives already seem to be doing rather well at winning state and local elections. More than half the governorships, well more than half of state legislative chambers, and if the statistics were available, I would be stunned if they didn’t control the vast majority of county commissions (given how many more rural counties there are than urban ones). And in those positions, they seem to do just fine at drafting laws and regulations. Reading the papers, there certainly seem to be as many up-and-coming young Republican office holders as Democrats. Where you live and which papers matter, of course.

        Where they don’t win at the lower levels are in large cities and state-wide in states dominated by their urban areas. Dennis has asked the question before, “Why does my party hate cities?” I think it’s less that they hate cities than that the Republicans are largely committed to policies aimed at rural and small-town areas. To pick an example from above, areas where heating is largely propane and natural gas and where transportation means cars and small trucks because the population densities and distances involved won’t support mass transit (or the current crop of electric vehicles). In a very real sense, the Republican base is much more dependent on fossil fuels than the population on average, and fears energy policies that don’t start with “Make sure the liquid fuels and natural gas keep on flowing.”

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  9. I just feel compelled to comment, only halfway down this excellent essay, that it reminds me all too well that one of my signal objections to the second Gulf War is that I had absolutely zero confidence that it and its aftermath without be prosecuted with even the most basic competence.

    It was a bitter kind of affirmation to learn I had been right.

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    • “I just feel compelled to comment, only halfway down this excellent essay, that it reminds me all too well that one of my signal objections to the second Gulf War is that I had absolutely zero confidence that it and its aftermath without be prosecuted with even the most basic competence.”

      I once creeped out a friend who supported (and still supports) the war by pointing out what would have happened if Saddam had indeed had ‘vast stockpiles of WMD’s’:

      Imagine several ammo bunkers which had formerly contained hundreds (to thousands) of mustard gas and nerve gas shells and rockets. They’re mostly now, with spray-painted graffiti on the walls, saying ‘Osama thanks George Bush for his gift. Trust us, we will return them in good time.’.

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  10. I was in a meeting at the State Department during the Bush years, discussing U.S.-Muslim relations. There were a bunch of smart career State folks there, and around the walls were a handful of 20-something political appointees obviously sent by their bosses to see what the untrustworthy career-folk were up to, openly sneering at the whole meeting. At one point, one of the youngsters said something like, “Look, we don’t care about all this; just tell us whether to support the Sunnis or the Shia in Iraq.”

    There was a long moment of stunned silence in the room, as everybody whose ass wasn’t enveloping their head took that in.

    Another one of them asked something along the lines of, “Why don’t the Muslims like us? We keep telling them how much we respect them, but they just don’t seem to believe us.”

    Those people–Bush appointees all–were sneering at career State Department folks.

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  11. I for one am looking forward to this series. I was there when the GOP looked to be unstoppable, both because they had the better game and because their opponents were forever finding new ways of embodying a platonic ideal of haplessness. Dave Barry described Democrats as well-meaning people who would stop to help you change a flat tire but would inadvertently set your car on fire, while Republicans would know how to help you, but wouldn’t stop because they were on their way to a country club that you could never become a member of.

    The gag rang true back then, and I never thought I’d see a day where the polarities would flip. Tod laid out clearly how and why it happened on the right, even as lots of smart(-ish) people on that side of the aisle said “nothing to worry about, at least we’re not as bad as them. It’s queasily amusing to see huffy comments along the exact same lines from people who are investing a lot in the conviction that Tod is wrong wrong wrong about our team [stamps foot].

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    • Except that Republicans are still not stopping to help people and we aren’t at the point (yet) when it seems that the Republicans can’t catch a break.

      Most people expect 2014 to be good for the Republicans, largely because of traditional factors. Maybe they have a good chance of taking back the Senate or reducing the Democratic majority. There is a chance they can O’Donnell and Akin themselves though like they did in 2010 and 2012. Chances are the Democratic Party will not take back the House until 2016 or 2020.

      We might be living through an age of extreme polarization though and one in which it is potentially possible that both parties get stuck in their ideological vision instead of looking for more realistic solutions but the reason we have political identification and parties is as an easy convenient engine for a grand vision of the universe. If it was just a whatever works and is realistic thing, we would not have parties. Tod is right about how a lot of government work is not glamorous and boring as hell but there are still ideologies. Democratic and Liberal leaning people generally believe in the welfare-state, a more centralized government, and social liberty. Republicans generally do not. The grand unifying vision is going to indicate what the parties stand for.

      Here the Democratic Party has a leg up because it generally helps to believe that government is necessary and good in order to create good policies. As far as I can tell, the GOP has reached the most extreme point of government is the enemy without becoming outright anarchists.

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      • Here the Democratic Party has a leg up because it generally helps to believe that government is necessary and good in order to create good policies.

        If I were a Democrat, I would hope very much that the PPACA, once in full swing, does what those in power have spent the last few months/years promising that it would do.

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      • We shall see. People under 40 or so generally swing more socially liberal and that is going to be a big problem for the GOP regardless of whether they keep their economic liberalism or not. My hunch is that the under-40 set will stay more open to welfare state policies because of growing up in the Great Recession and recoveries where the spoils go to the few instead of the many, and other factors.

        These things come and go every generation or two it seems. Maybe the kids of the MIllennials will be neo-Reaganites? Who knows?

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      • Oh indeed, they should be. If the PPACA turns out to be a flop, and the Democrats spend the next decade fervently calling for a healthcare surge, declare victory, then hand the smoking ruins off to the other party, then what Tod’s argument will look very prescient.

        If it flops, and the Ds fly at one another’s throats, pointing fingers and calling for heads to roll, those here saying that there is something more fundamental about the difference in the two basic political temperaments in the U.S. will deserve more credit than I’ve tended to give them.

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      • “There is a chance they can O’Donnell and Akin themselves though like they did in 2010 and 2012.”

        It’s interesting how everyone thinks Akin was somehow the Republican Party’s fault, as though the Republican Party did not do everything possible to get the guy to drop out of the race.

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      • Jim,
        Yup, Akin is EXACTLY the problem of Republicans. They do NOT VET before letting people in the race. You think dkos doesn’t vet people? You think they don’t have a bit of sway in most local organizations (even in WV?)?? If someone is truly crazypants — or much more importantly, not right for the district — people will bring this up in meetings.

        Dkos isn’t exactly the Democratic party. But that’s a strength too. “Da Party” is big, nameless, and pretty ossified. Folks like dkos are very much not.

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      • Jay,
        12 million people signed up for health care? I’d say that’s about what was promised — give or take some amount of Republican intransigence with Medicaid. But I suspect that will go away with time — and pressure from the people who learn that the only thing between them and “free health care” is Republicans (also, we got Democrats in Kentucky. isn’t much of a stretch that sometime soon we’ll have democrats in Texas and Georgia)

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      • “It’s interesting how everyone thinks Akin was somehow the Republican Party’s fault, as though the Republican Party did not do everything possible to get the guy to drop out of the race.”

        Akins absolutely was the fault of the Republicans. They’re the ones that decided to juice themselves by giving life and energy that part of their party; they’re the ones that spent the previous decades telling that part they were the only True Americans; they were the ones that promised them that someday, all of their candidates would be exactly like Akins.

        Todd Akins did not happen in a vacuum.

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      • I think is at least part right. Choosing to ride the Tea Party wave was not in and of itself a tactical error. In some ways, they were too timid with their shoulder-tapping in general which gave rise to Tea Party candidates. They failed to provide leadership and so outside leadership came in. And when that happened, the party establishment lost control.

        Tod is right that Akin didn’t happen in a vacuum. I’d argue that as much as anything, though, the vacuum was an inability to articulate principles. There’s only so much of that which can be blamed on Fox News, or the handing of influence over thereto. That itself is the result of what came before.

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      • Notice that the leeway I referenced doesn’t require that anyone give up their prerogative to reject criticism that doesn’t give the argument a reasonable shot. All it asked was that everything that liberals say isn’t viewed in that light from the very moment they begin saying anything, which has absolutely been happening since these posts started going up.

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      • The people are the party and we have a primary system. Yes, there is a leadership that tries to swing down at populist upsurges like Akin but he was in Congress long before he got the Senate primary nod. It isn’t like he came from nowhere?

        Tod is also right that these people were pumped into a frothy rage for decades about being the only true Americans and on the side of angels and light and liberty and good.

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      • The Tea Party was and is a fundamental cheat. For eight years under Bush the GOP and conservatives had whored out their principles (fiscal discipline, foreign policy realism, small government) where they were inconvenient and calcified them into idols where they were easy (tax cuts above all else, deregulation, uncompromising catering to their base on social issues). This whole edifice was ineffectual and unattractive and drove all but their base away. When The Dem’s in 2006 and then Obama is 2008 rode in on a tidal wave generated by the GOP’s fecklessness and incompetence the traditional next step for the GOP would have been retrenchment in the political wilderness, a reconsideration of first principles and a principled opposition to the newly ascendant left seeking to moderate their changes and block the most extreme.

        Instead the Tea Party arose; an entire cohort of the GOP base discarding the discredited GOP label but clinging to and in fact doubling down on the policies that laid them low or opportunistically returning to the policies they’d ignored now that they no longer possessed the power to enact them. The whole Tea Party mantra was not “we messed up” but rather “we were betrayed” and the GOP opportunistically catered to it. Instead of retrenchment and reconsideration the GOP flung itself into dogma. Instead of principled opposition they doubled down on a cynical strategy of unprecedented absolute opposition. If the country was going off a cliff and they could immobilize their opponents from doing anything about it while in power then the resulting crash would surely destroy the Democratic Party and hand the country back over to the GOP without any of that unpleasant “eat your spinach” regain the electorate’s trust unpleasantness.

        And who the hell knows, it could still work. I can’t say I blame the GOP for choosing not to suck it up and let Obama give it a full constructive go. Maybe the cultural nature of Obama’s ascendancy rankled too much (as a Hillary supporter it rankled the fish outta me). So I can understand the choice, much as I understand the choice of an alchoholic to keep drinking and not sober up but I sure don’t sympathize with it.

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      • North, I do think that it is fair to say that there were a non-zero amount of conservative types who were, in fact, betrayed by the Bush/Rove/Hastert/Lott/Frist Republicans.

        Sure, the Hawks were pleased and, to a lesser extent, the Socons were pleased, but to say that there weren’t Republicans who were hung out to dry by the 2002-2006 Republicans is decidedly false.

        The smartest trick the Theocons ever pulled was to get pretty much everybody to believe that Theoconservativism is the only authentic kind of conservativism. Well, it was smart for a season, anyway.

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      • Now, of course, I do remember the Koz types who explained, patiently, that Republicans really didn’t do anything wrong during that period and, yes, they are pretty representative of the Republican types who were deliberately not early adopters of the “Tea Party” label.

        But, in the same way that there will be Democrats who will look back at 2009-2015 and be amazed at what Obama squandered, there are Republicans who felt that way AT THE TIME.

        They were usually hounded as concern trolls, though.

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      • Jaybird, I’d say absolutely you’re correct on that. I would assert, lovingly, that the number of conservative types who were genuinely betrayed during that era was a very small number of people. I mean let’s run the list:

        The socialcons got tons of lip service. On policy they mostly got incrimental anti abortion stuff and heavy support for their campaign against gays and SSM. Plus lots of government funding for faith stuff, lots of state/government entangling. It was a good time to be a social con.

        The neocons were undoubtably the biggest winners. Afghanistan, Iraq, the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, etc. Have neocons ever had a more golden era? I think not.

        The Oldcons were laved in gravy too. Tax rates were slashed and their investments suffered under much less taxation than before. On top of that their Social Security was left untouched and their Medicare benefits were actually increased with prescription drug benefits added on with Medicare part D. After the neocons I’d say that policy wise the elderly made out like bandits.

        Businesscons did great. Taxation was slashed, spending was hiked, the government contracts flowed like honey, inflation was dead as a stump.

        At this point I’d note, affectionately, that we’ve accounted for most of the conservative types here in terms of numbers. We’re into that last, I don’t know, 10% slice of the pie chart labelled others.

        The Libertarians got fished, the War on Drugs raged and everything the socialcons and neocons loved was like a big steaming dump on the Libertarians.

        The Fiscalcons were fished even worse. At least the GOP mouthed libertarian platitudes as they smacked the Libertarians across the face. The GOP vice president literally said “Deficits don’t matter” we’re talking a policy and public repudiation of everything that fiscalcons gave a crap about. I’m sure they were livid; all, what, one thousand of them?

        Now I’d never say that there weren’t Republicans hung out to dry. In fact I’d say the opposite: 2002-2006 hung MOST of the Republicans out to dry (in the long run) AND it convinced most of them that they hadn’t been hung out to dry. That’s the tragedy of it. But the Tea Party simply was not a righteous crusade to right those wrongs. I mean let’s look at the Tea Party.

        The Tea Party started out mostly as the remnants of Ron Pauls’ run. Good for them, lots of libertarians. I’d say they were pure and principled people animated with much righteous wrath. Then along came Rick Santelli and his famous rant which launched the Tea Party to national stature. Now let us recap: Rick Santelli was a derivatives trader and a Wall Street man standing in the literal shadow of the biggest government bailout of Wall Street in history denouncing the governments plan to attempt to do some kind of small ball bailout of some residential mortgages. Roll the chutzpah around in your mouth for a moment. This man was NOT a libertarian and please note that I would say that those six words are among the kindest things I’ve ever said about libertarians in my entire life.

        The basic point is that the people who lifted the Tea Party up onto their shoulders and surged it into national prominence were the people who made out like bandits during the 2002-2006 period. The Libertarians and the fiscalcons were just the hat; they were just the frosting. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like for the Libertarians during the immediate post Santelli period as they felt like the political ground was shifting at last in their favor but we know, now, that it was a mirage. The Tea Party as it became didn’t want to be libertarian because libertarians are realistic. The Tea Party wanted to somehow force Obama and his party to do what the fiscalcons wanted them to do so that the Tea Party and the GOP could blame them for doing it. Obama and his party were supposed to slash spending and balance the budget without raising taxes then accept electoral Armageddon and slink off to obscurity as the GOP resumed control of a fiscally balanced ship of state. I don’t know of any genuine libertarian (though plenty of glibertarians) that have that level of delusion.

        But the basic premise of my post remains solid. The Tea Party, whatever it’s libertarian founders intentions, was used as a kind of shortcut for the GOP to try and skip past the natural electoral consequences of their choices during the Bush Minor era. I won’t speak a word of defense of Obama or his party, this isn’t about them (I could say plenty about them) this is about the GOP & conservatives and what they have become. Hell it can even be considered a paen to what the GOP and conservatives were. If the Democratic Party were to go on a tear of total obstruction and turn to a strategy of base turnout they’d be lucky if they remained a fart in the wind in most of the country and would probably only cling on along the costs. I was just a kid during Bush I and an infant during Regan but what a colossal, passionate* movement it must have been to come so close to winning so often on such a self devouring strategy through 2004 on. It’s almost awe inspiring.

        *To a gay person terrifying.

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      • Oh, I agree with 98% of what you said, North. I just saw the “The whole Tea Party mantra was not “we messed up” but rather “we were betrayed” and the GOP opportunistically catered to it.” sentence and immediately thought “dude, some folks were betrayed.”

        Is the Tea Party a force for conservativism now? Well… given Todd Akin and his ilk, I’d say that the whole “the Tea Party has been co-opted by the people who fucked up in the first place” narrative seems pretty accurate…

        And, dareisay, likely to lead to exactly the same place.

        Once the Permanent Democratic Majority pales the way the last few Permanent Majorities paled, the Republicans in charge will say that they’re there because of a mandate and that means that they can act like Bush again, call the Fiscons/Libertarian types concern trolls, and wonder why they’ll end up on the wrong side of a Permanent Majority again.

        No doubt. I don’t disagree with that for a second.

        I only take issue with the implication that the earliest of the tea partiers complaining about being betrayed weren’t. And, seriously, I tried to get Koz to acknowledge the existence of the need to eat spinach.

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      • I remember Jay me lad, hell, I was right there with you! God(ess?)! I still remember folk Marxism!

        We have only just a sliver of disagreement; maybe not even that. My initial post was just quickly dashed off so perhaps the wording was clunky. There is absolutely no denying that some people, and especially the founding members of the pre-national stature Tea Party were objectively betrayed by the 2002-2006 GOP era. I’ll happily concede that with absolutely zero reservation.

        And on top of that I also misspelled Reagan’s name. Proof positive I’m a godless Liberal. Apologies to the Gipper.

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      • My problem with the “conservatives were really against what George W. Bush was doing, we just didn’t have any power” was the fact that there were almost zero primary challenges against Senator’s in the 01-09 time frame, especially compared to now and the fact that when he left office, Bush still had a 70%-ish something approval rating (I could look it up) with self-described “conservatives.”

        So, yes, there were conservatives against what Bush were doing, but they’re like liberals who think Obama is a war criminal for approving drone strikes. Now, those people against, but they’re far in the minority in their own party.

        I have respect (even if I disagree) with people who were against Obama and Bush’s spending. It’s just that, for 90% of people railing against Obama’s spending, it’s hard to find any evidence they cared one bit about Bush’s spending.

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      • The internet is getting better at keeping records. I’ve no doubt that, henceforth, we’ll have all kinds of records of commenters who will get to explain why, well, it’s different for us to do this even though we opposed it when the other team did it. For one thing, we’re principled.

        And so on.

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      • Jay, I feel ya.

        Jesse, I tend to agree and I’d assert that their record is the open fly on the current Tea Party (though it appears to be dwindling absorbing back into its GOP host).

        I think it’s fair to say the tiny minority of fiscal hawks and libertarians who were genuinely (powerlessly) against the GOP’s behavior in 2002-2006 founded the Tea Party but it was the hypocritical gits who they were angry about that took over the Tea Party and actually made it consequential.

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      • Vegas awaits! I’ll see if I can cobble something together, though my track record on that hasn’t been great lately. The long and short of it is that it’s more complicated than “Republicans didn’t care when it’s Republicans” but easily within the realm of “Republicans were/are pretty hypocritical about it.” Probably most concisely described as “Hope was the antidote to cognitive dissonance” and something about Obama’s election being the end of that hope and after that something else was needed.

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      • Well, given the sheer number of people in the world, there’s some vanishingly remote possibility that you’re not. But “unrealistic” is one of the most common critiques of libertarians, and I can’t say it’s entirely unwarranted, even if it’s overplayed.

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      • Ah James, yes I can see that angle. Yes many people think what Libertarians strive for as an ideal is unrealistic, but libertarians are at least realists in the present tense, they know they aren’t where they want to be and they don’t carry delusions that they can somehow force their opponents to enact libertopia for them.

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    • “It’s queasily amusing to see huffy comments along the exact same lines from people who are investing a lot in the conviction that Tod is wrong wrong wrong about our team [stamps foot].”

      Do you understand that people are pointing out that Tod has yet to give any actual examples?

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  12. I see a lot of pre-emptive declaring of the only type of arguments y’all will accept and eager definintion of left and liberal so you can negate Tod’s argument before he makes it.

    A lot of defensiveness of display, but not much willingness to actually listen being demonstrated.

    IMO.

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    • It would help if he’d get around to actually making it so that it was actually on the table to be responded to in the form in which it is actually going to exist. Not that I begrudge him the need to do it in steps.

      Maybe we should close comments on the various parts leading up to the appearance of the nut of the argument. Seriously.

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      • 1) As someone who’s written multi-part essays here, I’m familiar with people’s tendency to run ahead of the writer and demand s/he answer all our questions now. I may even have done that to authors myself. It’s a natural instinct. But we really ought to allow the author to develop things in the structural sequence they’ve chosen.

        2) To an outsider like me, it has a strong appearance of jockeying for a position to pre-emptively rebut him before actually knowing his argument. And gjven the position I’ve taken here recently, that there’s a strong reluctance to allow liberalism to be criticised, none of it surprises me.

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      • James, I know that Tod’s registered a Republican and that he prefers to see himself as non-ideological in his politics but he words like left or right have meaning. It would be nice to know what Tod means by the left because in America you get a lot of confusion about what leftist politics are. There is a decent plurarlity of conservatives and to a lesser extent libertarians that you use the word left to describe anybody that disagrees with them and frequently conflates liberal, socialist, and communist as meaning the same thing. To many people on the Left this is more than a little stupid and calling the Democratic Party a leftist party weird and I identify as a Democratic Party member. We want to know if Tod is using the American defintion of the left or the standard definition.

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      • The non-Republicans/non-libertarians here at the OT have had plenty of requests and opportunity to provide the rest of us with something approaching a coherent playbill for what counts as liberal, what counts as left, and what counts as progressive. Y’all have totally failed to do a good job of clarifying those distinctions.

        I’m just really really unimpressed with this line of attack on Todd. You all are demanding he get right what your side has repeatedly failed to clarify.

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      • James,
        I’m not sure there is much of a difference between liberal and progressive, other than the age of the person using the term.

        However, left can have two meanings:
        1) Left of center.
        2) Really, really left of center (out of the mainstream).

        I think I might take a stab at defining these terms… in a bit.

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      • If the very reality of the thing (that being, what is the nature of the left, liberalism, etc. – or for that matter conservatism – in America today) frustrates attempts to make clean conclusions about what is going on with it, then that will be the case for anyone attempting to deal with it. It will be a problem for those trying to define it while associating with it, and it will be a problem for those attempting to define it in order to criticize it. Analytical honesty will require dealing with that problem, and failing to do so will weaken any analysis. And if it’s a real structural lack of cohesion in the actual in-the-world thing being considered that frustrates attempts to make clean conclusions about it, then there will be a limit to the degree to which analysis can resolve that and clear the path for clean conclusions. This may simply place a limit on what analytical conclusions can be reached. Or – perhaps definitional clarity can resolve a lot of these questions, because the thing, or in any case the thing Tod is interested in, while not initially easy to define in words, eventually can be reasonably well picked out as a matter of just looking at the things in the world, and eventually some words or other will do the trick. But in any case, not dealing with these issues at all certainly wouldn’t strengthen Tod’s case.

        He certainly doesn’t have to get that all “right,” though. As you say, by liberals’ own telling, that’s probably not really possible. But he has to deal with these questions about the nature of the thing or things thing he’s treating as an entity if for no other reason than just to define his own terms in order to advance a coherent argument about the topic he’s treating, and certainly in order to have a conversation with people about it. You have to deal with the nature of the entity you’re treating, not just assume it is structurally the way it would be most convenient for your analysis for it to be. He doesn’t have to get that right necessarily, but for the purpose of his own argument he at least has to deal with basic structural questions of the thing he’s analyzing, and define his terms. (And I have confidence he will!) Doesn’t he?

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      • Michael,

        It’s fair to ask him to define his terms. But in the absence of liberals/the left here at OT being able (or perhaps it’s willing) to do so, it’s also fair to give him a lot of leeway.

        I’ve seen nothing in my time here that inspires confidence he’ll be given leeway.

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      • Absolutely. But I’d ask for the same leeway such that the minute liberals open their mouths about what he says, it’s not interpreted as “reluctance to allow criticism” rather than “interest in engaging” it.

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      • Michael,

        That doesn’t work. Todd’s case is different. I’m saying you have to give him leeway on the definitions because even you guys can’t or won’t come up with agreed-upon definitions, so it’s impossible for him to come up with any you all will agree on.

        But I happily give leeway if I see that responses to his arguments are actually taking the critiques seriously. If I see instant–even pre-emptive–rejections, then leeway isn’t a relevant concept.

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      • Speaking for myself, I don’t think Tod should need to precisely define the “left” here. I mean, I think we have a general idea of what the left is and how it relates to the Democratic party, and if his point ends up applying to this group over here rather than that group over there, then so what? In fact, to me this seems like an attempt to distract from his main point, to deliberately steer an argument into tedious places where it gets lost.

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      • Veronica,

        Speaking for myself, I don’t think Tod should need to precisely define the “left” here.

        Maybe, but I don’t think so. Perhaps the indoctrination known as “graduate school” has corrupted me beyond repair, but I think an argument about complex topics requires clearly defined terms – even if they’re stipulative. (Eg: “For the purposes of this argument, the term “liberal” will mean “…..”; the term Democrat will mean “….”.) So Tod’s argument will require, it seems to me, that he provide a specific meaning for the key terms he’s using in making it, or explicitly restrict the topic of discussion to clearly specified groups (media/activist sites like “….” or etc).

        So his argument, properly qualified to not beg questions and circumscribed to include only that which he’s in fact talking about, will quite likely not be as strong a claim as many would hope or fear.

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      • Notice that the leeway I requested doesn’t require that anyone give up their prerogative to reject criticism that doesn’t give the argument a reasonable shot. All it asked was that everything that liberals say isn’t viewed in that light from the very moment they begin saying anything, which has absolutely been happening since these posts started going up.

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      • Stipulative, exactly, . He can be loud wrong, he just needs to let us know what his terms mean. Preferably those meanings reflect some degree of the complexity of what they refer to (even if they get the substance all wrong), but hey, even that isn’t absolutely necessary.

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      • It’s really all about how the response is phrased. If it’s what I’ve mostly seen so far, which is mostly simple denial that such a thing could be true of liberals/the left/whateverthefuckgroupweretalkingabout, then I don’t see where leeway is relevant. If someone’s really working with his ideas, even if they reject them–leeway’s relevant and the lee shore should be understood as far away, giving lots of sea room for the respondent. My general criticism is that I don’t think there’s been much of that.


        I think an argument about complex topics requires clearly defined terms – even if they’re stipulative.
        In general, I’m very strongly inclined to agree with you. That is absolutely the default standard that should be demanded in nearly every case. In this case, though, given how often the responses from a certain segment of our readership has been to focus just on rebutting the definition, I suspect it could just turn out to be a quagmire for Todd. I’d really like to be ridiculously, tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist, wrong about that, but I really do fear that. But it’s a pragmatic case-specific worry, and I share your views on this as a general matter. And it’s certainly legitimate to think I’m wrong that this case is an exception.

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      • I haven’t seen much outright denial that it could possibly be true from anyone tbh, just you taking a ridiculously dim view of any questions or criticism of the little bit of the structure of the argument that’s yet been revealed that any liberals have voiced – the vast majority of which in my view is the kind of thing that will eventually have to be hammered out if any real discussion of the argument is to be undertaken. But what the F ever, tbh. I really don’t care that much.

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      • Kim,

        Am I being a moron for thinking that Tod probably meant Left==Democrat, as he’s using Right==Republican?

        No. But you’re also not justified in doing so. Alsotoo, if the terms are ambiguous no definitive conclusions can be drawn. (Or maybe the better way to say it is that two clearly inconsistent conclusions can be drawn.)

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      • — Of course that kind of clarity is a fine thing when you can get it, but it can be too stifling when discussing subtle things.

        I once had a family member ask me to define “queer” for him, since he had little background, and while he was willing to (pretend to) accept me as a woman, I think he would have had a big problem with “gay.” (About which, long story.)

        Okay, so I had to define “queer” to a southern gun-toting right-winger with no insight into queer culture. I went with “It’s a youngish, politicized branch of the LGBT movement with a strong leftward slant and a deconstructionist view of gender.”

        Which is kinda-maybe-sorta true, but not really. It was the best I could do for him, however.

        When I talk to my Boston friends, we all just kinda know what “queer” means, because we are steeped in that culture. We feel its contours.

        I’m find with Tod just saying the “left.” I know what he means; I’m part of it.

        He means me.

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      • Michael,
        I haven’t seen much outright denial

        Well, that’s more or less my argument, right? That being inside of that camp, you’re not seeing what we see from outside. So saying you don’t see it–while it certainly doesn’t prove I’m right–is self-refuting as a response.

        Show me evidence of how the external critiques of the liberals/left are being actively engaged and considered by liberals/left here at the OT. That’s what will demonstrate I’m wrong.

        I’m not pushing this line just to bash liberals. In my line of work, I’m continually pushing my students from all sides to actively consider challenges to their perspective. Yesterday, in the same class, within a matter of minutes, I skipped from pushing a conservative student to think beyond his normal framework about Muslim anger toward the west (“they hate us because we give women equal rights!” “but how does that square with Iran encouraging education for females?”) to pushing a left of garden-variety liberal student to think beyond her normal framework about globalization’s effects on culture (“it unfairly dominates and destroys local culture!” “but are you infantilizing those people in that local culture, treating them as weak and unable to make their own cultural choices?”). In my political economy class I had a student agree too readily with me about free trade, so I challenged him to think more seriously about the effects on those who are dislocated by shifts in product sourcing.

        I know, from your own criticisms, that you don’t like the way I critique the way arguments are made, instead of the substance. But hopefully in college you were sometimes challenged, perhaps on papers, to engage alternative positions more thoroughly, or to make a serious argument from a particular perspective that wasn’t your own.

        I think that’s more valuable than any set of facts one learns in college.

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      • Basically you’re saying that you’re just not going to honor my perceptions as valid throughout this entire discussion because of who I am. I leave it to the commentariat at large to judge whether that is a welcome approach to discourse here.

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      • Heh. What a perfect example of not actually engaging with the argument, but just looking for a simple justification to reject it.

        It’s not about you anyway, Michael. No need to personalize it like that. In fact I find you somewhat more likely than some others here to actively think about the arguments.

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      • No, you personalized it by saying that my – yes, me, mine, not just some of ours – my perceptions were just not trustworthy because I’m (I guess) a liberal. That because I didn’t see what you see, this is evidence for the thesis and blah blah blah. That’s direct charge at me, at the way, in your view, my biases distort my perceptions. Not as a general point – about me as an instance of that point.

        So *you* personalized it, and then, yes, I stopped considering the further arguments there because I’m not interested in a discussion on those terms.

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    • I’ll be glad when Tod gets to specific examples. I’ll probably even agree with a fair number of them. Till then, I think of stories like the one you just told about the State Department meeting and think “Nope. Not even close.”

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      • Your confidence in your rightness is identical to theirs, and can be expected to have the same effects. The more certain you are that you don’t suffer from their faults, the more likely you do as their faults are primarily faults of smug complacency about their beliefs.

        The ironic thing is, such people are the last to know. They’ll go to their grave supremely confident they never made the errors of which they accuse others.

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      • kenB,
        I’m on the Modernist team, broadly arrayed against the Reactionary Conservatives (Koch’s currently leading their side, pretty much, in this country — though I think the NYT had a full listing of how the rightwing money flows).
        If you want more of an explanation of what “our team” believes, well, you can look at Brin, who likes to write — a lot — about politics.

        Free Markets, Science, Basic Rules that Level the playing field worldwide.

        Libertarians, at least most of the honest ones, are pretty much “on our team.” (and I was only calling James not “on our team” in the sense that failing to consider liberals and libertarians on the same team is just silly).

        But, see, the Right always has one head — the leader may change, but there always is one (it’s a cognitive brain pattern).

        The Modernists are perfectly capable of having many heads — which makes them a lot more difficult to stamp out entirely… though I worry about what will happen in 20 years.

        (Other people on the team: Julian Assange and Jon Stewart (lotta comedians, really))

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    • If we’re limited enough in where we look for the same sorts of behaviors, I think I do agree with Tod, actually. I’m not sure that it’s likely to spread in anything like the way it has on the right, but I certainly if you look at MSNBC, for example, it’s hard not to see at least some interest in aping the strategy of Fox News. The trouble is that, even though Tod is clear that he’s talking about the beginning of a process, it’s not at all clear to me that these tendencies will necessarily lead us liberals very far down that road at all.

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  13. JT: “PS – I’ve read Amity Shales book on the Great Depression. What I remember was pretty much an accounting of facts. What exactly was the “misinformation?””

    Read Eric Rauchway (‘Edge of the American West’ blog).

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  14. J@m3zAitch

    “Your confidence in your rightness is identical to theirs”

    Said without evidence

    “, and can be expected to have the same effects. ”

    Said without evidence

    “The more certain you are that you don’t suffer from their faults, the more likely you do as their faults are primarily faults of smug complacency about their beliefs.”

    Said without evidence

    You’ve summed up Todd’s argument quite succinctly – the right went whackjob, therefore liberals will go whackjob. No proof is offered, of course, because did I say that the right went whackjob? Here are some anecdotes about the right going whackjob, proving that liberals will go whackjob.

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      • the right went whackjob, therefore liberals will go whackjob. No proof is offered, of course, because did I say that the right went whackjob? Here are some anecdotes about the right going whackjob, proving that liberals will go whackjob.

        That is not what James meant by this:

        “The more certain you are that you don’t suffer from their faults, the more likely you do as their faults are primarily faults of smug complacency about their beliefs.”

        In fact, I think you just proved James right. Nicely done chap!

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      • Barry,

        Do you mean my comment? Or Tod’s post?

        My comment was about the arrogance of certainty, which isn’t limited to the folks of any ideology, or of anything ideology like (intellectual theories, religions, etc.) It’s part of the human condition.

        It’s a weird thing that the more confident we are, the more we really ought to question that confidence, and yet the very confidence that ought to be our warning sign persuades us that there is no danger. But that’s the nature of the problem.

        Someone on the inside of group X saying, “Nope, I absolutely don’t see group X behaving at all like group Y,” is simply not a reliable source, and the more confidently they assert it, the less reliable they become as a source.

        It’s not about liberals, or the left, or Democrats. It’s a general principle about humans. But the subject matter of Todd’s inquiry is liberals, or the left, or Democrats, or something in that realm, so the application of the general principle is in this case about liberals, the left, etc. And the more vigorously those in that category deny this could possibly be the case with them, the more likely it is to actually be the case with them.

        So the denial is itself the evidence you say I have not provided. Dispositive evidence? No, certainly not. But evidentiary? Yes, certainly. And the same would be true if we were talking about the right, conservatives, etc., as it would also be true were we talking about libertarians.

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      • It is literally impossible (not just on pain of contradiction) to show the claim to be false. The more you try, themore justified the claim becomes.

        It’s like a Godzilla assertion. Arguing against it only feeds it with radiation and makes it stronger.

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      • Wait, wait.

        I’ve got it. If we just agree with Todd’s conclusion, we will thereby refute it. It is like that scene in one of the Ernest movies, the Halloween one, where Ernest loves the otherwise invincible monster, thereby defeating it.

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      • any attempt to disagree with the claim about what will happen to the left in the future adds evidence that the view is true. (emphasis added)

        Gee, that’d be crazy if I’d actually argued that.

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      • It’s not clear to me at this point what arguments against the basic thesis Tod is advancing you wouldn’t be applying this treatment to, . Maybe you’re just saying that eventually once Tod gives his full argument, you won’t respond to essentially any argument against it that way – finally backing up your claim that you aren’t doing that as a matter of policy.

        Which would be fine. If the view among those who are eager to see liberals primarily listen to and learn from this argument and not primarily respond to it is that you’ll be far more receptive to any responses once the full argument has been made – especially if that’s Tod’s preference – then, seriously, I’m asking: let’s please close comments on these posts until such time that what is desired by those who are partisans of this argument (in particular Tod) as it were is to proceed with a fulsome discussion of it.

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      • It’s not clear to me at this point what arguments against the basic thesis Tod is advancing you wouldn’t be applying this treatment to,

        There are arguments that pre-emptively rejects and looks for supporting evidence for that pre-committment, and there are arguments that take a position seriously and actively looks for value in it, even though it may ultimately reject it (in part or wholly).

        I’m an anti-Marxist to the core, but I have no difficulty encouraging my students to seriously consider a Marxist interpretation of globalization, and getting impatient when they just look for well-worn reasons to not seriously consider it. In fact, although I’m pretty firmly within the neo-liberal camp on the issue, I think the Marxist interpretation of globalization has a lot of power, and nobody who doesn’t take it seriously can really understand globalization and resistance to it.

        Of course blogs aren’t notable for encouraging that kind of thought, so it’s not surprising to see a dearth of it in response to Todd’s arguments. But not only do they make for a better discussion, liberals/the left who take his arguments seriously in that way are going to end up with a better understanding of their own slice of the political spectrum.

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      • It’s hard to look for value in an argument that hasn’t been made. Nevertheless, so far, what i’ve seen is a lot of constructive engagement with the preliminary foundation-setting for the argument that hasn’t arrived yet about how the argument could be constructed so as to have maximum value to be considered – and some less constructive response.

        I’d be interested in how you’d cite to establish that the response so far has been “mostly simple denial that such a thing could be true of liberals/the left/whateverthefuckgroupweretalkingabout.”

        You’re the one making the negative charge about the bulk of the reaction. I feel no need to meet any burden of proof. My view is that people have responded pretty much unremarkably – meaning literally not worthy of remark about its meta-charateristics: a mix of a fair amount of constructive engagement and somewhat less constructive. I don’t accept a burden to disestablish an assertion that proceeds from a negative assumption about our commentariat. If it’s been a remarkably poor – or even if you just want to say it’s been a poor – response to Tod, then you need to prove it. Assertion doesn’t get it.

        Maybe the best way for you to do this would be to choose an example of what you think is unconstructive response but that you would acknowledge is a border case that I might contend is constructive and explain why it’s not.

        Because presumably we can both concede that there has been at least some – any – of both species that could be reproduced.

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      • Given that over the course of a number of substantive arguments you very effectively destroyed every shred of the respect I initially granted you, do you think your silly little drive-by comments are going to persuade me I was wrong about you, or hurt my feelings? Or are they just expressive little outbursts, like my dog barking at the vacuum cleaner?

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      • Shaz,

        That’s a bit over the top, no? Whether or not you think James is right about this or not, he’s certainly entitled to address the issue, right? Without being accused of hypocrisy or insincerity?

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      • why not just disengage?

        This question is one I deal with literally all the time that I am engaged here, so there’s nothing unique about it being under consideration here. But in this case, in my view someone remarking on the remarkable in a confrontationally deprecating way with an unrelenting lack of charity and characteristic overbroadness of application is itself worthy of remark and engagement.

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      • Obviously I meant “remarking on the unremarkable.”

        And it’s not a claim so much as an impression. I wouldn’t expect you to cop to any of that (though not resisting perhaps says something, as willing to resist as you generally are.) You asked for my internal reasons for engaging with remarks about the unremarkable, so I gave the impressions that motivated that engagement.

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      • as willing to resist as you generally are.)

        Heh, so therefore I need to resist things that I don’t think are worth discussing, or it’s evidence of my acquiescence to the claim?

        Well, I tossed a bit of a catch-22 out there today, so I can’t complain too loudly about you doing the same. But here’s my logic. You’ve been clear enough on more than a couple occasions that you see me as “confrontationally deprecating way with an unrelenting lack of charity and characteristic overbroadness of application.” I think the probability of any argument on my part changing your mind is “0.” By definition, then, any effort I would put into such an argument has a negative expected value, so it would be irrational for me to bother.

        Of course that could all just be a clever bit of defensive dissimulation, no? Who’s to say? You’re not in my head, so obviously you can’t do any more than guess. I’m in my head, but the poor vision from inside has been the whole theme of my argument, so I can’t say differently now, can I?

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      • No, you don’t. As I say, these are my impressions, not claims of truth. I don’t expect you to rebut them in order to think you probably think they’re mistaken impressions.

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      • No, you don’t.

        It’s always funny when someone uses as a point of argument something the other side has already stipulated. There’s no gain in it.

        “Granted, I’m the world’s biggest asshole…”

        “You’re the world’s biggest asshole!”

        “Yes, that’s already been established.”

        It’s often an effective strategy to grant such things, if the other side could effectively use them against you, before they use them against you, because it strips them of so much of their rhetorical power. Your debate opponent’s use of them just become so many meaningless reiterations of agree-upon points rather than revealing anything new and relevant.

        My impression, which could of course be wrong, as I don’t actually know you, is that your education didn’t really cover issues such as rhetoric and the logical structure of argumentation. I have a suspicion that’s why you get frustrated when I critique the style or structure of an argument. My education taught me that those things are very important, not for the purpose of “winning” arguments, but for the purpose of having a truly meaningful discussion. I think you actually do want meaningful discussion–I think it’d be quite dishonest and scurrilous of me to suggest otherwise–but I don’t think you understand how crucial structure and style matter to that outcome.

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      • Okay.

        I was just saying, no, you don’t have to resist in order for me to think you’re not acquiescing. I just said that maybe it says something – I actually had roughly what you said in mind, except that in addition to thinking that I just wouldn’t change my mind, I thought also you maybe thought you didn’t actually have the slam-dunkiest cases against those impressions (which is no concession that they’re right), which in turn might largely just be a function of the fact that it’s hard to disprove an impression. After all, I gave the impression in public (since you asked); it’s not just me whose mind is concerned here. You might be inclined to address the statement since it was made in public – after all, as I say, you often are. But bottom line: right, just not worth it for you.

        And, no I had zero formal training in rhetoric or argumentation. But I don’t get annoyed when you do it at all. I get tired of how much you do it, and the way you keep running assessments of everyone here in your head, and, especially, generalize about how the various broad identity groups do well or poorly by your measure. it just gets tiresome, and guess what – personalizes what should be discussions about ideas. And you’re the only person here who does it to a fraction of the extent you do it.

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      • and, especially, generalize about how the various broad identity groups do well or poorly by your measure.

        Regardless of how many times you say it, the evidence is right in front of you that it’s not so. Right on this very page I was at pains, as I so often am, to emphasize that this is a human behavior; that people of all ideological perspectives do it.

        and guess what – personalizes what should be discussions about ideas.
        No, I’m always puzzled by how quickly you take it as a personal attack. It’s a critique of method, of technique. It’s not an attack on the person. Perhaps not having any background in argumentation is why you don’t see that. When I personalize it is with people that I see pulling the same dishonest argumentative style repeatedly. But why shouldn’t such people be called on their tricks?

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      • Variations on “Liberals here tend to…” are among the most common phrases to pass your fingers. In my view, this is a step toward personalization from “This rehtorical technique is flawed for this reason,” which is what you clearly think you’re saying but so often fail to. I think it has unfortunate effects on commenting culture here. Others manage to do the critiques that you’re trying to do while keeping it terms that apply to method rather than people so much better than you. You have an inaccurate sense of what your tendencies are, which is hardly surprising given how much you harp on that theme in others.

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      • Michael,

        Liberals are the most prominent group here. Frequently I’m emphasizing how the prominent group tends to act. Hence, “liberals here,” as opposed to just “liberals.” Hence why I emphasize that other groups do it, too. I’ve been rather explicit about this, and I could wish you had a little better reading comprehension.

        I’m really losing patience with this discussion, so I’ll leave the field to you now.

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      • Not clear how I’ve misunderstood. Right, you generalize about the people here based on their ideological affinities. That’s what I was saying. You do do it about liberals broadly in the world as well sometimes, but, yes, less.

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      • “do you think your silly little drive-by comments are going to persuade me”

        I think my comments should persuade you that you are making absurd claims about how Tod’s thesis is confirmed by our pretty understandable reactions to it.

        The rest of your Blaise P-style attacks are beneath us.

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      • ,

        If you had all along generalized in this way only about as much as everyone else does, I’m sure I wouldn’t have tired of it the way i did, and so would never have eventually given in to expressing that feeling. And that’s all this is at bottom – me expressing that i get tired of how much you do this, not saying that you’re doing something clearly wrong. I feel like it puts about half of the commenters at least somewhat on the defensive in a way that is not necessary and not constructive for the culture. It reinforces rather than unwinds “team” dynamic – because you ut t in “team” terms. And it’s also what I mean by personalizing things to some extent, as it shifts the discussion from what people do/say to whom they identify with. (And I understand your distinction between that and more direct form of personalization, and I accept that you don’t usually go to that latter kind.)

        So by no means am I saying that you should never generalize in this way. I’m not even saying that it’s wrong that you do it as much as you do. I’m just saying that your doing it as much as you do has eventually worn me out regarding your overall approach to this place, and that I don’t think it’s had good effects on commenting/readership culture here, for reasons stated. Other may have a very different personal assessment of the effects and value of your consistency in applying this approach – and with legitimacy.

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      • Of course not. Your statement is vague and glib and unaddressed. Always feel free to read my glib responses to your glib comments as nothing more than invitations to deglibify yourself.

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      • People certainly do it about other groups, of course. About libertarians prominently, certainly. I just don’t know anyone who makes it such a focus of his commenting as you. I guess except maybe some who I’d be surprised if you’d ask me to take them seriously.

        And, I guess if you’re satisfied with the tu quoque justification, then fair enough.

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      • “I think todd’s argument is coming later, actually.”

        We are having this discussion several days after the second post in a series. It’s not too late to point out that Tod is offering zero for evidence.

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  15. I think my general response to Tod’s (as yet unmade) argument is going to be
    “Ho, Hum, life goes on.”

    Unlike a lot of people, I’m not terribly wedded to voting for one party for life.

    Perhaps I ought to write a post about “If the Democrats go crazy, the Republicans will go sane. Again.”

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    • Kim: “I think my general response to Tod’s (as yet unmade) argument is going to be
      “Ho, Hum, life goes on.””

      Note – as yet unmade after the second post in a series. Todd, we’re still waiting for that whole evidence thingie.

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  16. I am going to offer arguments for the following conclusions.

    1. Libertarians are on the same path as the Heaven’s Gate cult and will soon start dressing that way and castrating themselves.

    2. Centrists who see themselves as above party and ideology are all on the same path as Evan Bayh and will soon become stupid lobbyist shills.

    Don’t try to disagree or with or offer evidence against these claims before I argue for them. That is defensiveness and only creates more evidence for my claims.

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    • Shazbot, you shouldn’t have ‘offered’ this up, but just asserted it, as part of a long series of long comments. You should have started by extensively listing the faults of the Heaven’s Gate cult. Then you should have continued it by extensively listing the faults of the Heaven’s Gate cult, with implications added about the libertarian movement.

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  17. Tod,
    From listening to James the Professor speak, I have become perhaps a bit emboldened. I have a challenge for you: As you seem to be setting forth an argument that the left may become like the right (or shall, or some form of future (possibly progressive) tense), Can you put forth some predictions? All hypotheses should be falsifiable, and, though this one may take some time, it seems like an interesting idea to follow up on.

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    • That’s an excellent idea, Kim. I hadn’t really planned on or even thought of doing that, since most of this is based on squishy things I sense rather than anything concrete. But I agree, that would be helpful.

      You’ll see some predictions (or perhaps a, “we’ll know I’m on to something if X happens”) in the fourth post, after the DD post.

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      • This is what I had in mind when I answered above regarding reactions on the left to the hypothetical future flop of Obamacare.

        Generally, when faced with obvious setbacks, the left does NOT typically attempt to promote an alternative reality in which the failure simply didn’t occur, a la Fox News/Iraq War, and seek to drive out dissenters as not being “loyal Obamians” or true liberals. I’m thinking here of the botched rollout of the PPAC, and first Obama/Romney debate. This would seem to falsify Tod’s argument.

        On the other hand, pushback against Tod’s articles that seek to identify Republican leanings or demonstrate a kind of hurt-feelings tone would seem to lend support for his argument. I think the impulse to attack the motives of critics is indeed a big part of why US conservatives have become what they are now, and seeing it on display here (deployed against , mostly) makes it easy to imagine the left heading into a spiral not unlike what we see on the right.

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      • Kroger, some on the left do. The difference between the left and the right, at this point, is that the left has a group of well-respected reality-checkers who aren’t afraid of rocking the partisan boat. The question, going forward, is whether or not this will continue to be the case. Tod has suggested previously that he is seeing increasing dismissal of such internal criticisms. I think I have, too, though I think I extrapolate less from that. Or I pull the string in a slightly different direction.

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      • Will, we’re in agreement there. I have been thinking along the same lines as Tod for some time, and I am definitely not coming from a libertarian or conservative stance here. I’ve been completely gobsmacked at the ankle-biting attacks on his argument from those who I would have seen as being on My Team.

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      • kroger and alia,
        In a verbal conversation, nitpicking is often a sign of someone “throwing sand in the gears” and bollixing up the other person’s argument. It’s classic bad faith, and I’m guilty of it enough to recognize it in others.

        However, I would like to say that on a blog, the rules are different. People responding to a relatively uncontroversial post are going to find something to disagree with — it’s a sign that they read, and mostly agree with positions.

        Tod’s done a good job here, and I’m looking forward to where he is going, even if I may wind up disagreeing with him. (and, if I do Not Disagree, then I Will write a post on why it’s not important Which Party is Crazy).

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      • The difference between the left and the right, at this point, is that the left has a group of well-respected reality-checkers who aren’t afraid of rocking the partisan boat.

        I think that’s true.

        Tod has suggested previously that he is seeing increasing dismissal of such internal criticisms. I think I have, too…

        This is the part that interests me. I haven’t, but in truth I don’t watch politics in that sense very closely–certainly not as closely as Todd has been doing–so it’s possible I’m just missing it, and I’m really curious to see if there’ll be a persuasive argument made for it.

        The real undeniable proof will be if we get a Liberalpedia that looks and sounds just like Conservopedia!

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      • The other day on Unfogged I got to see a nice conversation about the unreliability of Ezra Klein and NPR that sounded like something I would expect with a different group and some names changed. Increasing complaints about media objectivity and an increased focus on that. The sudden unreliability of CBO projections.

        It’s all quite muted compared to the opposition (and non-equivalent, lest anyone be concerned that I am claiming equivalence), but I don’t think I was seeing this a few years ago. Looked at it a certain way – and I’m not remotely sure this way is the most accurate way to do so – it could be interpreted as a harbinger of things to come.

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      • The sudden unreliability of CBO projections

        Wait, what? CBO projections actually becoming unreliable, or ideologically motivated left/liberal repudiations of their reliability?

        As I noted, I’m open to argument and evidence. I’m actually very much in line with krogerfoot here; somewhat doubtful about the general claim (also actively hoping it’s not accurate), but willing to hear it, and bemused at the–as he calls them–anklebiting attacks.

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