Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Their Madness Was Allowed

Paul Krugman's latest column, State of Paralysis, is about the insanity of the California budget crisis and how a small revanchist group of far-right radicals had been steadily deconstructing the state government since Pat Brown left office. Krugman pins the origins in Prop. 13 which used a real problem of unjustified increases in property taxes to set in motion the real killer in the state - the requirement of a super majority in the state legislature to raise state taxes. This has led to wildly unpredictable and financially regressive attempts to pay for the needs of a diverse and productive state through lotteries, sin taxes and fees. Part of the reason that property values skyrocketed in the state was because the only way to expand the property tax base is to have higher and higher valuations on real estate, either in newly constructed or in "trade ups". (On the lack of move up buyers in California, see Calculated Risk's latest post.)

I was enjoying the blistering column until I came across this paragraph:
To be blunt: recent events suggest that the Republican Party has been driven mad by lack of power. The few remaining moderates have been defeated, have fled, or are being driven out. What’s left is a party whose national committee has just passed a resolution solemnly declaring that Democrats are “dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals,” and released a video comparing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Pussy Galore.
Not so fast, Paul. Lack of power? To the contrary, they are using their power efficiently and effectively. They have significant leverage in the form of things like the super-majority needed to have a realistic budget. They have spent years looting every treasury they could find, lining their own pockets and those of their cronies, and now scream about the need for fiscal austerity when asked what they did with the dough. That is why the City of San Diego is now in such dire financial straits - the Republican power elite in the government diverted funds away from the employees' retirement system and lavished it on the Republican National convention, an unneeded ball park, payments to developers, and other pet projects to feather their own nests.

I wondered if I was being a bit too tough on the Krug until I read Bob Somerby's post today. The Incomparable One politely takes the Shrill One to task for thinking the Republicans are being driven mad by a lack of power. After a wonderful slap-down-in-passing of Olbermann, Somerby asks, "But was the GOP driven mad this year, or in recent years? And was the GOP driven mad by a lack of power?" He then takes us on a quick historical review of their purposeful "madness" and the gatekeepers who let them get away with it. Bob's argument is very clear (my emphasis):
In fact, the GOP and its agents have been behaving this way for a very long time. We’d suggest they were driven mad by an excess of power—by the grinding power the party held through most of the past forty years.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve been watching as our political narratives have turned in the past six months. As we’ve watched, we’ve pondered the way the GOP controlled such political narratives from 1968 on.
Controlling the narrative is key to political leverage. This is Somerby's fundamental objection to Krugman's slip-up, and then he illustrates that the utter "insanity" of the GOP has been around for a good long time and that it was soberly presented as legitimate public discourse all the way along. For example:
Just how crazy was this era? Let’s pose a question to younger readers: Did you know that the Clintons used condoms and crack pipes for ornaments on the White House Christmas tree? After former FBI agent Gary Aldrich made that and other preposterous claims in a crackpot, best-selling book, Tim Russert devoted the bulk of a worried hour to The New Yorker’s outrageous attempt to fact-check Aldrich’s claims. Today, Russert’s scolding cross-examination of Hedrik Hertzberg and Jane Myers reads like a fever-dream from a deeply lunatic era.
This was being done in May of 1997. Bob notes "That fall, we started planning this web site. (It took some time!) But let’s be honest: Few career players showed signs of giving a fig about this spreading lunacy." (my emphasis)

You do not need a legislative majority as long as you have cowed the majority into agreeing to your filibusters, jiggered the law to multiply the effects of minority opposition on crucial government activities (vs. preventing a simple majority vote from abrogating the rights of a minority), and have the media consistently legitimizing the extremist posturing because of deeply held class resentments.

Bob points directly at this last point as what has kept the nation under the sway of Movement Conservative Madness (my emphasis):

This lunacy didn’t stem from a lack of power. It grew when Republicans had too much power. And let’s make sure we understand where that excess came from:

In large part, it came from the willingness of the mainstream press to tolerate or repeat any GOP claim, no matter how patently crazy. In large part, it came from the refusal of liberals and Dems to resist this misuse of power.

Gene Lyons resisted in 1995 with Fools for Scandal; few career players followed suit. This created an unfortunate world—a world in which Republicans and their agents could make any claim, no matter how blatantly crazy.

This is how we end up in a situation where the voters have clearly indicated they have had enough of these psychopaths, that they want an end to permanent war, that they are tired of losing ground while Little Timmy Geithner's buddies turn financial malfeasance on a stupefying scale into more money for them, that they want affordable health care, that they want to know the truth behind the lies of the criminal Bush regime, yet our "liberal" leadership is preaching the virtues of bipartisan agreement.

We have a president who is to the right of Bill Clinton and moving further right in an time when the political tides have reversed. Obama presents vague policies that would have been weak in the face of Gingrich's Contract on America, and seems determined to retain the one set of advisors from Big Dog's administration who most needed to be shown the door. He keeps talking about compromise and meeting the opposition half way as though agreement is a good in and of itself.

No, half-way to crazy instead of all-the-way crazy is not an acceptable political compromise. It should not be allowed.

Somerby concludes (my emphasis):

The GOP didn’t get crazy this year. They were publicly crazy a long time ago, enabled in their public lunacy by a wide range of major players. Liberals and Democrats hid in the woods, waiting until the tide turned.

Eventually, Bush destroyed the known world—and narratives have started to turn. But GOP’s lunacy hasn’t. For many, it’s all they know.

That tape about Pelosi is astounding. But they played similar, gender-trashing games with Hillary Clinton for many years. Our heroes were camping in the woods—or were vouching for Chris Matthews’ brilliance.

How did the GOP go mad? They went mad in a crackpot era, the 1990s. We seem inclined to forget that era today. In that era, their madness was allowed.

This is one of the reasons that I singled out Eric Boehlert's presentism as a fatal weakness of his otherwise engaging book. The failure of the liberal response to the right-wing madness is the unspoken shadow to Left Blogistan triumphalism over the most recent elections. To understand why Obama knew himself perfectly safe to ignore the liberal blogs, you need only look at the spectacle of those blogs falling all over themselves to show that they could trash the Clintons, too. The focus on tactics of a particular campaign season takes that campaign out of the decades long political context which alone can explain the continual cognitive capture of seemingly liberal opinion makers by a determined and organized political rump group.

The madness has been allowed because it has inculcated the media - from the talking heads shows to Talking Points Memo - with the fantasy that they are somehow combating the evil politicians in their smokey back rooms, yet the enemy always ends up being the Democrats. Obama is safe to the degree that he refuses to identify as a member of the party, but keeps crooning his Obamacan non-partisan love song to the admiring opinion makers who look at him and see only themselves and their belief that they are the hip heroes of the republic, all pretending to be Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman up on the big screen.

And while the hipsters hang out in their virtual bar - or maybe it's a Brat Pack era casino lounge, given the amount of gambling going on, a throwback to the days before the rise of Movement Conservatism - the madness of the right continues to be allowed.



Anonymous said...

Ah, for the good old days when Rep. Dan Burton (R-Crazy) was shooting at melons in his backyard to prove that Vince Foster was murdered.

Teresa said...

I always ask, if Republicanism is dead, why are Democrats so afraid of Republicans that they salivate at the thought of doing their bidding??

Anonymous said...

It's like Yeats - the worst are filled with passionate conviction and the rest just roll over, meekly. I don't think that poem ended very well.

Unknown said...

Excellent post and glad to see you back by the way.

I have been somewhat, only somewhat, heartened by conversations I have been having in the sports bars and restaurants I frequent all of which have numerous big screen TVs.

I am known as someone who would rather talk politics than ERAs or free throw percentages and so I get the not infrequent drunk fool who wants to needle me about my views which are considerably to the radical left of most folks.

Lately when I assert that everything coming out of the TeeBee is a carefully fabricated lie, propaganda of such idiocy that even Goebbels would be gob-smacked, I am finding almost total agreement where before people would want to argue with my assertion.

I guess their 401ks goin' to 201s got though the delusional thinking...heh...

The MSM is in my opinion DOA. What might replace it remains unclear as the 'Boyz in the Blogz' have clearly forfeited their 'right' to lead.

Interesting times. Why people are even starting to mutter about The Magic One....

Teh Horror!

harpie said...

Hi, Anglachel,
Here's something interesting, in case you haven't seen it already:

eRiposte interviews Boehlert:


Glad you're back!

Koshem Bos said...

How different are the crazies from your run of the mill fascists (sans leader) mixed with extreme fundamentalism?

DISSENTA said...

>>the madness of the right continues to be allowed.<<

And the power of the right continues to be allowed as Dems and esp Obama give them power by (among other things) insisting on "bipartisanship."

We coulda played a stronger, smarter game and had a better world by now. Now we have Obama, an evolution of the worst of this style of giving away power achieved cheaply in the first place (yes we can, then kick us away to the curb); fear to use political capital to get us what we need. Too bad, really.

Great post, Anglachel. Good to see you back. Your reference to Gene Lyons very welcome, one of my heroes.