Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Must-Reads of the Week: The Obama 20-somethings, Graham’s Cojones, Fannie/Freddie, Naive Conspiracy Theorists, Saban, Obama=Socialism, Political Imitations, Underdogs, Lost!, and Julián Castro

Friday, May 7th, 2010

This is a busy season for me — but there should be some more substantive blog posts next week…

1. The Obama 20-somethings. Ashley Parker for the New York Times Magazine profiles “all the Obama 20-somethings” in an interesting profile of the new crowd in D.C. of smart, highly educated, highly motivated, civic-minded, young Obama staffers.

2. Lindsey Graham’s Cojones. You gotta hand it to Lindsey Graham — if nothing else, he’s got guts — from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post:

The lone pro-gun lawmaker to engage in the fight was the fearless Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who rolled his eyes and shook his head when Lieberman got the NYPD’s Kelly to agree that the purchase of a gun could suggest that a terrorist “is about to go operational.”

“I’m not so sure this is the right solution,” Graham said, concerned that those on the terrorist watch list might be denied their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

“If society decides that these people are too dangerous to get on an airplane with other people, then it’s probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun,” countered Bloomberg.

“But we’re talking about a constitutional right here,” Graham went on. He then changed the subject, pretending the discussion was about a general ban on handguns. “The NRA — ” he began, then rephrased. “Some people believe banning handguns is the right answer to the gun violence problem. I’m not in that camp.”

Graham felt the need to assure the witnesses that he isn’t soft on terrorism: “I am all into national security. . . . Please understand that I feel differently not because I care less about terrorism.”

Jonathan Chait comments:

There’s a pretty hilarious double standard here about the rights of gun owners. Remember, Graham is one of the people who wants the government to be able to take anybody it believes has committed an act of terrorism, citizen or otherwise, and whisk them away to a military detention facility where they’ll have no rights whatsoever. No potential worries for government overreach or bureaucratic error there. But if you’re on the terrorist watch list, your right to own a gun remains inviolate, lest some innocent gun owner be trapped in a hellish star chamber world in which his fun purchase is slowed by legal delays.

3. Why Isn’t Fannie/Freddie Part of FinReg? Ezra Klein explains why regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac isn’t in the financial regulation bill.

4. Naive Conspiracy Theorists. William Saletan contributes to the whole epistemic closure debate with a guide on how not to be closed-minded politically, including this bit of advice:

Sanchez goes through a list of bogus or overhyped stories that have consumed Fox and the right-wing blogosphere: ACORN, Climategate, Obama’s supposed Muslim allegiance, and whether Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s memoir. Conservatives trapped in this feedback loop, he notes, become “far too willing to entertain all sorts of outlandish new ideas—provided they come from the universe of trusted sources.” When you think you’re being suspicious, you’re at your most gullible.

5. Saban. Connie Bruck in the New Yorker profiles Haim Saban, best known for bringing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the United States — but who made much of his fortune licensing the rights to cartoon music internationally. As a side hobby, he tries to influence American foreign policy towards Israel. He doesn’t come off very well in the piece, but at least this one observation seems trenchant to me at first glance:

Saban pointed out that, in the late nineties, President Clinton had pushed Netanyahu very hard, but behind closed doors. “Bill Clinton somehow managed to be revered and adored by both the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he said. “Obama has managed to be looked at suspiciously by both. It’s not too late to fix that.”

6. The Obama=Socialism Canard. Jonathan Chait rather definitively deflates Jonah Goldberg’s faux-intellectual, Obama=socialism smear:

For almost all Republicans, the point of labeling Obama socialist is not to signal that he’s continuing the philosophical tradition of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Clinton. The point is to signal the opposite: that Obama embodies a philosophy radically out of character with American history. Republicans have labeled Obama’s agenda as “socialism” because the term is widely conflated with Marxism, even though Goldberg concedes they are different things, and because “liberalism” is no longer a sufficiently scary term. Republicans endlessly called Bill Clinton a liberal, Al Gore a liberal — the term has lost some of its punch. So Obama must be something categorically different and vastly more frightening.

Goldberg is defending the tactic by arguing, in essence, that liberalism is a form of socialism, and Obama is a liberal, therefore he can be accurately called a socialist. But his esoteric exercise, intentionally or not, serves little function other than to dress up a smear in respectable intellectual attire. [my emphasis]

7. Imitating the Imitators of the Imitation. This Politico piece by Mike Allen and Kenneth P. Vogel explains how some elite Republicans are trying to set up a right wing equivalent of the left wing attempt to imitate the right wing’s media-think tank-political infrastructure:

Two organizers of the Republican groups even made pilgrimages earlier this year to pick the brain of John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who, in 2003, founded the Center for American Progress and was a major proponent of Democrats developing the kind of infrastructure pioneered by Republicans.

And of course, that right wing infrastructure was meant to imitate the left wing policy-media infrastructure of the left — the Brookings-New York Times axis. The whole imitation of imitation of imitation of imitation — spawning more and more organizations — reminds me a bit of those old Mad magazine comic strips:

8. The Underdog. Daniel Engber in Slate explores the underdog effect and various scientific studies of the underdog effect, including how it affects expectations:

The mere act of labeling one side as an underdog made the students think they were more likely to win.

9. Lost! Ed Martin in the Huffington Post is concerned with how the tv show Lost will end:

Not to put too much pressure on Lindelof and Cuse, but the future of broadcast television will to some extent be influenced by what you give us over these next few weeks.

10. Julián Castro. Zev Chafets of the New York Times Magazine profiles Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and one of the up-and-coming Democrats. The article entirely elided his policy ideas or and barely mentioned his political temperament — but was interesting nevertheless.

[Image by me.]

Connecting the Dots on Epistemic Closure

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The epistemic closure debate has been raging around the internets these past few weeks — and it has generated some extremely sharp commentary among liberals who pay attention to conservatives and conservatives who have been drummed out of the “conservative movement.” Slate now even offers to test your web browser history to see how epistemically closed you are. Here’s some of the more insightful comments I’ve found:

Ezra Klein:

“Epistemic closure,” Julian Sanchez writes, is the toxic result of “confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of multimedia conservative outlets to constitute a complete media counterculture, plus an overbroad ideological justification for treating mainstream output as intrinsically suspect.” It is, in other words, the conditions necessary for a political movement to fool itself into believing whatever’s convenient. And, Sanchez says, it’s one of the serious problems facing the conservative movement right now.

Jonathan Bernstein:

[T]he real test of whether conservative (and Republican) decision-makers really believe the nonsense rhetoric that they often use will be Sarah Palin, 2012.  For there can be no question but that a lot of Republican pols act as if they are fully captured by what Andrew Spung calls the “screamosphere” — thus the endless repetition of factually incorrect assertions, such as the “10/6”  and “16K” claims about health care reform.  But of course pols of all stripes — not to mention propogandists such as those on talk radio — have never been known for being especially careful about facts.

Bruce Bartlett:

After about half an hour I decided to start asking people what they thought of the article. Every single one gave me the same identical answer: I don’t read the New York Times. Moreover, the answers were all delivered in a tone that suggested I was either stupid for asking or that I thought they were stupid for thinking they read the Times.

I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. After all, the people I was questioning weren’t activists from the heartland, but people who worked on Capitol Hill, at federal agencies, in think tanks and so on. They represented the intelligentsia of the conservative movement. Even if they felt they had no need for the information content of the nation’s best newspaper, one would have thought they would at least need to know what their enemies were thinking.

Matt Yglesias:

Just as conservative legislative politics isn’t really about free markets conservative judicial politics isn’t really about restraint. The rhetoric is just rhetoric, and the reality is that conservative politics is about conservatism—about entrenching the power and influence of the dominant economic and sociocultural groups.

Jonathan Chait:

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes:

[T]he Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum. Send the conservative activists into the streets to vent their anger. Let Obama feel the brunt of it. And if the GOP shows a modicum of contrition, the runaways will come home. …

The Tea Party movement creates the conditions in which the activist base of the GOP can feel like it is part of the game again. They can forget Bush-era betrayals, swallow their doubts, and vote Republican this November. The next Reagan is coming, the next Contract With America will work, the next Republican nominee will be one of us. All it takes is for someone to appreciate the anger—and it doesn’t matter that she supported the bailouts that enraged them or the candidate who forsook their ideas and support.

Former GOP staffer Scott Gallupo comments, “I don’t deny the Tea Partyers’ sincerity. But anyone who doesn’t see the reality of the Dougherty scenario is simply being painfully naive.” [my emphasis]

Jonathan Bernstein:

The accusation isn’t that conservatives all reach the same conclusions about everything, nor is it that conservatives are excessively politically correct, nor is it that conservatives demand strict adherence to a set of ideas if one is to remain a conservative in good standing.  It’s rather about information, and what counts as evidence about the real world.  Sanchez’s point is that if one only gets information from a narrow set of sources that feed back into each other but do not engage beyond themselves, that one will have a closed mind (not his phrase, by the way) regardless of what one does with that information.

Ross Douthat:

It’s precisely because American conservatism represents a motley assortment of political tendencies united primarily by their opposition to liberalism that conservatives are often too quick to put their (legitimate, important and worth-debating) differences aside in the quest to slay the liberal dragon. After all, slaying liberalism is why they got together in the first place! And it’s precisely this motley, inconsistent quality, too, that encourages activists and pundits alike to stick to their single issue or issues and defer to the movement consensus on everything else. So pro-lifers handle abortion, Grover Norquist handles taxes, the neoconservatives handle foreign policy and the Competitive Enterprise Institute handles environmental regulations and nobody stops to consider if the whole constellation of policy ideas still makes sense, or matches up the electorate’s concerns, or suits the challenges of the moment. This unity-in-opposition was a great strength for the right for a long, long time, but it’s made conservatism much more brittle and less adaptable than it needs to be right now.

Daniel Larison:

The dispiriting part of all this is that hating liberals more than loving liberty is hardly a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, it has defined a large part of postwar conservative politics all along. As Prof. Lukacs wrote in his “The Problem of American Conservatism” 26 years ago: “Many American conservatives, alas, gave ample evidence that they were just conservative enough to hate liberals but not enough to love liberty.” What we have seen over the last ten years is a tendency to make loathing for liberals the thing that truly matters, and usually liberty becomes important to most conservatives only when it is useful to berate liberals. To the extent that liberals have defended constitutional liberties against anti-terrorist government intrusions, it is the latter that most conservatives have embraced. It is not just that loathing for liberals exceeds love of liberty, which might be true for members of all kinds of ideological movements, but that love of liberty becomes almost entirely contingent on whether or not it can be marshaled in opposition to liberals.

Barack Obama:

If you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. So too is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people.

Must-Reads of the Week: American Power, Inequality, 1 Billion Heartbeats, Hacking Life, Anthora Cups, Structural Deficit, Financial Doomsedays and Crises, China, the Tea Party’s Views on Immigration, and Lady Gaga

Friday, April 30th, 2010

There were a lot of good articles and posts I came across this week — so brace yourself…

1. The American Power Act. David Brooks makes the case for progressive reform — specifically the American Power Act regarding climate change:

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things…The energy revolution is a material project that arouses moral fervor — exactly the sort of enterprise at which Americans excel.

Matt Yglesias had earlier this week critiqued Brooks (among others) for taking the exact opposite stance of the one he was adopting here:

Oftentimes in the Obama Era the difference between “reasonable” conservatives (David Brooks and Greg Mankiw often leading the charge) and reasonable liberals has been that reasonable liberals look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and support it while “reasonable” conservatives look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and oppose it, while claiming to support alternative flawed proposals that they don’t actually lift a finger to organize support for within their own ideological faction.

2. Inequality, social mobility, and the American Dream. The Economist had a good piece that can serve as a starting point for a post I’ll be writing soon on inequality, social mobility, and the American dream:

The evidence is that America does offer opportunity; but not nearly as much as its citizens believe.

Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.

3. The Science of Life. Jonah Lehrer for Seed magazine has a brilliant piece on how cities are like living organisms. As a side matter, he notes this beautifully poignant data point:

[A]n animal’s lifespan can be roughly calculated by raising its mass to the 1/4 power. Heartbeats scale in the opposite direction, so that bigger animals have a slower pulse. The end result is that every living creature gets about a billion heartbeats worth of life. Small animals just consume their lives faster.

4. Fine-tuning life. Gary Wolf for the New York Times Magazine explains how the accessibility of computers is creating data about every aspect of our lives — and of the efforts of some people to begin to catalog and find insights in their own data. Surprisingly, Lifehacker was never mentioned.

5. The Anthora Cup. Margalit Fox of the New York Times writes the obituary for Leslie Buck, the designer of the Anthora cup:

It was for decades the most enduring piece of ephemera in New York City and is still among the most recognizable. Trim, blue and white, it fits neatly in the hand, sized so its contents can be downed in a New York minute. It is as vivid an emblem of the city as the Statue of Liberty, beloved of property masters who need to evoke Gotham at a glance in films and on television.

6. Unified Theory of the Financial Crisis. Ezra Klein synthesizes various narratives into a unified theory of the financial crisis.

7. The Structural Deficit. Donald B. Marron provides a coherent and reality-based conservative look at America’s structural deficit. Absolutely a Must-Read.

8. The Financial Doomsday Machine. Martin Wolf dedicated his column in the Financial Times last week to describe the “financial doomsday machine“:

[T]he financial sector has become bigger and riskier. The UK case is dramatic, with banking assets jumping from 50 per cent of GDP to more than 550 per cent over the past four decades…The combination of state insurance (which protects creditors) with limited liability (which protects shareholders) creates a financial doomsday machine. What happens is best thought of as “rational carelessness”. Its most dangerous effect comes via the extremes of the credit cycle.

9. Realism on China. Stephen Walt explains his take on China’s strategic ambitions — and its inevitable rivalry with the United States and other regional powers.

10. The Tea Party & Immigration. Radley Balko explains his take on the widespread support among the Tea Party for the massive government power grab that is Arizona’s new immigration law:

It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists. Seems like in may parts of the country they’re as pro-government as the current administration, just pro-their kind of government.

Coincidentally, I made that exact point about the Tea Party back in September 2009 entitled: These Protests Aren’t Against Big Government, But About Liberals Running the Government.

Andrew Sullivan piles on:

Worse, on the fiscal front, they’re total frauds. They have yet to propose any serious cuts in entitlements and want far more money poured into the military-imperial complex. In rallies, the largely white members in their fifties and older seem determined to get every penny of social security and Medicare. They are a kind of boomer revolt – but on the other side of that civil conflict, and no longer a silent majority. In fact, they’re now the minority that won’t shut up.

More and more, this feels to me like an essentially cultural revolt against what America is becoming: a multi-racial, multi-faith, gay-inclusive, women-friendly, majority-minority country.

11. Sovereign Debt Crisis. Felix Salmon and Paul Krugman are both very pessimistic about how Greece will get out of this crisis — and what it means for the global economy.

12. Lady Gaga’s Ambition. Brendan Sullivan for Esquire chronicles the life and ambitions of Lady Gaga:

“There is a musical government, who decides what we all get to hear and listen to. And I want to be one of those people.” The girl who said that didn’t yet have the number-one hits (although she had already written most of them).

She was not yet the creative director of the Haus of Gaga, which is what she calls the machine of more than a hundred creative people who work for her. She didn’t make that statement in an interview or from the stage. She made it in 2007, when she was a go-go dancer sewing her own outfits and I was her DJ. She wrote it in one of my notebooks…

Lady Gaga is a student of fame, and the fame she studies most is her own — being famous seems to both amuse and fascinate her.

[1st image by me; 2nd image by LarindaME licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Obama’s Accomplishments and Diplomatic Brand, Facebook, Epistemic Closure, Financial Reform, Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis and Problem-Solving Capacity, and Mike Allen

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

1. Obama’s Accomplishments. Jonathan Bernstein explains how Obama has gotten so many of his legislative goals accomplished despite the GOP’s constant obstructionism: By loading up the major bills with many other smaller items. In fact, according to PolitiFact, Obama has accomplished almost a third of his campaign promises if compromises count (and a fifth if they don’t).

2. Facebook v. Google. Ian Schafer in the Advertising Age has a smart take on Facebook’s recent challenge to Google and how Facebook is trying to reorganize the web.

3. Epistemic Closure. Julian Sanchez follows up on his starting post on the epistemic closure of the right wing. Every single link he provides in the article is worth following as the conversation he started extended across many people and was full of insights all around.

4. Obama’s Diplomatic Brand. Marc Ambinder has an excellent post on “the essence of Obama’s diplomatic brand.” While Ambinder acknowledges it’s too early to assess how effective Obama’s diplomacy will be and has been, he does a good job of describing it — and little wonder it bears little resemblance to the weak, anti-American apologizing that the right sees as Obama’s trademark. Ambinder lists a few qualities, but let me focus on one:

Bush assumed a position of direct strength, not deference, when he met with leaders. Obama has been decidedly deferential, which, in the traditional binary way the media covers foreign policy, allegedly suggests weakness. From Obama’s perspective, deference is both strategic and is demanded by the goals he sets out. Treating countries as equals foists certain obligations upon them. It helps leaders deal with internal politics. Year one, Obama was the star, and wasn’t seen as a heavyweight, even by some allies. Year two is different: he’s charted a course on legacy problems (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace), so the world knows where he stands.

5. How Financial Reform is Playing. There was some disagreement around the opinionosphere about how financial reform is “playing.” Initially, there was concern that the Republicans would once again follow their tried and true strategy of: Make up stuff that’s really awful — and pretend the bill is about that. There was concern that the Obama administration didn’t have a plan for this contingency, presuming that Republicans would crack under public pressure. And then, the SEC filed suit against Goldman and Blanche Lincoln (who was expected to water down the bill) adopted the strongest language we’ve seen and the Republicans seem to be breaking ranks over this with Bob Corker critizing McConnell’s lies and Chuck Grassley voting for the bill in committee. Kevin Drum suggests McConnell crossed some line of absurdity:

[I]t turns out there really is a limit to just how baldly you can lie and get away with it…[W]e seem to have reached a limit of some kind, and McConnell crossed it. Maybe we should name this the McConnell Line or something so that we know when future politicians have crossed it.

I tend to think Matt Yglesias is more right when he observed:

This time around, though, it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as well, perhaps because people realize we’ve seen this movie before.

6. Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis. Jonathan Chait observes what may prove to be a fatal flaw in the political strategy of the GOP on fiscal matters if they authentically do support a smaller government:

Distrust of government makes Americans distrust everything people in governemnt say or do, including cut spending, which — with the exception of a few programs seen to help “others,” like welfare and foreign aid — tends to be wildly unpopular.

Their current strategy has been to provoke a fiscal catastrophe and cut government spending in the aftermath. But Chait suggests that this strategy of starve-the-beast governance may not work. On a related note, William Galston has an astutely even-handed piece describing the fiscal problems we are facing and what the solution must realistically be. He quotes Donald B. Marron in National Affairs who explains an idea that is antithetical to ideological right wingers:

Policymakers should not always assume that a larger government will necessarily translate into weaker economic performance. As few years ago, Peter Lindert—an economist at the University of California, Davis—looked across countries and across time in an effort to answer the question, “Is the welfare state a free lunch?” He found that countries with high levels of government spending did not perform any worse, economically speaking, than countries with low levels of government spending. The result was surprising, given the usual intuition that a larger government would levy higher taxes and engage in more income redistribution—both of which would undermine economic growth.

Lindert found that the reason for this apparent paradox is that countries with large welfare states try to minimize the extent to which government actions undermine the economy. Thus, high-budget nations tend to adopt more efficient tax system—with flatter rates and a greater reliance on consumption taxes—than do countries with lower budget. High-budget countries also adopt more efficient benefits systems—taking care, for example, to minimize the degree to which subsidy programs discourage beneficiaries from working.”

Right wingers rarely acknowledge this even as they oppose measures that would improve the efficiency of government (like the VAT). They simply call it “European-style socialism” and move on with addressing why on the substance more efficient government measures shouldn’t be adopted.

7. Our Problem-Solving Capacity. Stephen Walt has a very long and very, very good post that attempts to balance optimism (global violence is at historic lows!) with some pessimism:

One way to think about the current state of world politics is as a ratio of the number of important problems to be solved and our overall “problem-solving capacity.” When the ratio of “emerging problems” to “problem-solving capacity” rises, challenges pile up faster than we can deal with them and we end up neglecting some important issues and mishandling others.  Something of this sort happened during the 1930s, for example, when a fatal combination of global economic depression, aggressive dictatorships, inadequate institutions, declining empires, and incomplete knowledge overwhelmed leaders around the world and led to a devastating world war…

[Today] Washington D.C. has become synonymous with the term “gridlock,” leading the Economist magazine to describe the U.S.  political system as “a study in paralysis.” Obama did get a health care reform package through, but it still took an enormous effort to pass a watered-down bill that pandered to insurance companies and other well-funded special interests. Meanwhile, decisive action to address climate change, the persistent U.S. budget deficit, or financial sector reform remain elusive, and it’s going to get a lot tougher if the GOP makes big gains in the 2010 midterms. Nor is it reassuring to realize that the Republican Party seems to be taking its marching orders from two entertainers — Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — the latter of whom has made it clear that he’s interested in making money and doesn’t really care about public affairs at all…

Nor is this problem confined to the United States. Japan’s ossified political order remains incapable of either decisive action or meaningful reform; the Berlusconi-government in Italy is an exercise inopera bouffe rather than responsible leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s early flurry of reform efforts have stalled and Mexico remains beset by drug-fueled violence and endemic corruption. Britan’s ruling Labor Party is a spent force, but the rival Conservatives do not present a very appealing alternative and may even lose an election that once seemed in the bag. And so on.

There are some countries where decision leadership is not lacking, of course, such as China (at one end of the size scale) and Dubai (at the other). Yet in both these cases, a lack of genuine democratic accountability creates the opposite problem. These government can act quickly and launch (overly?) ambitious long-term plans, but they are also more likely to make big mistakes that are difficult to correct them in time…

In short, what I am suggesting is that our inability to cope with a rising number of global challenges is not due to a lack of knowledge or insufficient resources, but rather to the inability of existingpolitical institutions to address these problems in a timely and appropriate way.

8. Mike Allen. Mark Leibovitch in the New York Times Magazine has an excellent profile of Mike Allen of Politico and how that organization is changing the news business by covering it like some combination of ESPN and Facebook’s feed of data on the activity of your friends. As a character study, it succeeds given Mike Allen’s unique personality — and as a look at the changing media landscape in politics, it succeeds in raising many questions about where we’re headed. Marc Ambinder responds.

[Image by me.]

How To Identify a Member of the Tea Party

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I met 2 members of that vibrant cultural movement pretending to be a political one, the Tea Party, last night.

When I say they were members of the Tea Party, I don’t mean one of those independents discouraged by Obama that Republican operatives always claim is the typical Tea Partier.

I don’t mean a Republican partisan who thinks this is just a good re-branding.

I don’t mean Greg O’Neil.

I mean 2 actual Tea Party wingnuts.

It is rare to see them outside of their home environment (rallies involving racial epithets and mocking those damned people with Parkinson’s disease looking to be coddled) with their identifying characteristics full on display.

However, I was able to positively identify them by cataloguing the following characteristics which can serve as the start of a general checklist of how to identify Tea Party folk (with prominent characteristics in bold):

  • White.
  • Wealthy.
  • Middle-aged to elderly.
  • Generally conspiratorial, wide-eyed, and a bit paranoid.
  • Claimed that Obama, Clinton, and the Democrats were “socialists”/”communists”/”Europeans”/”elitists”/”Nazis” with all terms used interchangeably.Muslim” or “terrorist” can also be added to this list.
  • Explained in meticulous detail the nefarious (and “anti-American”) views that “liberals”/”socialists”/etc have.
  • Were evasive when confronted with the fact that the unprecedented tax increases sought by Obama would leave the marginal tax rate historically low* and only approximately 5% points higher than under Bush.
  • Had a messianic certainty about their views.
  • Attributed this same messianic certainty to anyone who uttered a word in support of President Obama.
  • Unable to understand how anyone at all could defend “that man [Obama] who is destroying everything great about America.” When confronted with a defense of his record, replied with, “Oooooh: we’ll see in 5 years!”
  • Admiration for that greatest of presidents, George W. Bush.
  • Blamed Democrats for the fiscal crisis/recession and government in general.
  • Full of the inchoate of the populist right that arose after the election of every young liberal (1960, 1992, and 2008 specifically.)
  • Believed their views weren’t just right but obvious and that all “real Americans” agreed with them.
  • A sense that the “real Americans” needed to take their country back before it was too late.
  • Were unaware of any information from outside the right wing cocoon and denied its validity when presented with it. (The much talked about epistemic closure.)
  • Unable to fathom how someone could read the National Review and not agree with the opinions expressed there (except to say, “Well, obviously you didn’t understand…”)
  • Under the assumption that everyone else was brainwashed or otherwise evil “socialists”/”anti-Americans”/etc.
  • Explicitly compared Obama to Hitler.
  • Made a vague but somewhat hysterical statement that could be taken as a threat to the President. [“That man cannot be allowed to stay in office.”]
  • Focused on and outraged over America’s fiscal situation.
  • Knew nothing about America’s fiscal situation. Or worse actually, knew false things.
    (For example, claimed that agricultural subsidies are $400 billion a year. Also, spouted various platitudes about waste that are too vague to debunk but are certainly misleading such as the idea that most government spending is deliberate waste and that we can leave the popular Social Security, Medicare, and military budgets in place while balancing the budget. Yet in 2009 for example, if you slashed all government spending except these things, we would still have a deficit — see income of $2.105 trillion minus expenses for Social Security — $678 billion — Medicare and Medicaid — $676 billion — and the Department of Defense — $782 billion — for a total of $2.136 trillion.)
  • Told me I wasn’t a “real American.” Nor were North Easterners. Nor was anyone who went to an Ivy League school.

I have a feeling I know what it’s like to talk to Sarah Palin (but with a Dutch accent — as these people were a rarer breed of Tea Partiers, naturalized citizens from Europe).

Some characteristics I understand to be part of the Tea Party movement that these individuals did not display (perhaps because they weren’t given the chance — I walked away when I was told I wasn’t really American):

  • A feeling of reverence for Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
  • Outrage over “Barack Obama’s bailout” of Wall Street in the fall of 2008.
  • Allegations that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
  • Hysteria over Barack Obama’s projections of weakness abroad and sympathy for terrorists and our enemies.

So, take this checklist out into the wilds and perhaps you too can positively identify a Tea Partier!

And feel free to add more characteristics in the comments.

* This is a cartoon rather than a graph, so it should be noted it isn’t perfectly accurate — but it visually conveys the point solidly. Reagan, for example, only had 28% tax rate for the final year of his presidency. The average top marginal tax rate under Reagan was 48%.

[Image by JoeBehrSoCal licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

The Populist Right Isn’t a Political Movement. (cont.)

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Thesis #1: There is a glaring discrepancy between:

  • the populist right’s rhetorical opposition to all domestic government action on the grounds that it is incompetent, ineffective, and a threat to liberty; and
  • the populist right’s support for apparently unlimited government power on national security and law enforcement matters on the grounds that it is highly competent, effective, and the defender of liberty.

(Initial post on the subject.)

———

These contradictory views of the state have been a part of the populist right since its modern inception — you can see it in Barry Goldwater, in Ronald Reagan, in George W. Bush. In fact, despite the rhetorical agitprop that has accompanied every surge in the populist right, it is impossible to understand the inflows of energy into and out of it, or to understand how it has acted when entrusted with power, while taking seriously the anti-government views it constantly invokes.

Thesis #2: Populist right wing movements have not been historically anti-government despite their rhetoric; they have been anti-minority. They have supported the expansion of government power to check the threats from minorities and opposed the expansion of government power to benefit any minorities.

———

Rather than opposing “government” as a whole, the populist right has gained its energy and support from opposing liberal government and especially from opposing liberal government support for the rights of individuals who are members of minority groups. They have also supported programs in which the government is seen to strongly take on the interests of individuals who are members of minority groups.

Given the rhetoric in recent days from Virgina Governor Bob McDonnell and the geographical concentration of the Republican Party and populist right in the Southern states that rebelled in the Civil War, it’s worth pointing out that that conflict was described by the Confederacy at the time, and by McDonnell today, in anti-government terms — as about “states’ rights” rather than slavery.

The populist right was decimated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency but finally began to become energized in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement as the South quickly flipped to the Republican Party; it further was energized by the feminist revolution and the rise of the counterculture in the late 1960s. Then Nixon became president and the populist right quieted down as he expanded government in every direction and the Supreme Court legalized abortion. After 2 terms of Republican rule, a liberal became president, was accused of being weak and not loving America enough, and the pro-life movement began to gather strength; and once again, the party of limited government and cheery jingoism  made a comeback with evangelical fervor. Ronald Reagan also expanded government, but reduced it’s role in helping minorities and the middle class, reduced regulations on corporations, and lowered the tax burden on everyone a little and the rich a lot. Once again, the populist right was quiet. The first Bush was never comfortable with the populist right and a splinter group broke away from his electoral coalition causing him to lose the 1992 election to a young, fresh-faced liberal. Once again, the populist right was called to arms with the militia and white supremacist movements thriving (encouraged by Ron Paul who saw them as a necessary evil). With welfare reform, budget surpluses, tax cuts for the middle class, and a humming economy, Clinton managed to quiet the populist right’s rage at government. But the right wing elites still despised the man, convinced he was somehow not a legitimate president. They fostered various conspiracy theories about his murder of Vince Foster, about drug running in Arizona, and about hundreds of women. Later, a second Bush was elected and once again trimmed regulations protecting consumers but expanded government involvement in security, in education, in helping the elderly further — but the populist right rallied to him as he invoked mythical Democrats endorsing therapy for terrorists and expanded the government’s powers to go after terrorists.

The populist right finally broke with Bush when he tried to push through immigration reform in 2006. Meanwhile, a massive investment bubble was growing under the hands-off policy of Bush and as it popped in the late summer and early fall of 2008, with the election looming, he oversaw the first steps of the cleanup of the mess — the infamous bailouts. The populist right (along with the populist left, the populist center, and most everyone) was angered and invigorated by this bailout. The populist right was further motivated by a personal animus towards Obama, as they were told that he wasn’t American in the way the rest of us were, that he was foreign, that he would “stand with the Muslims,” that he was sympathetic to terrorists.

After a brief lull after their defeat in the election, the populist right was once again galvanized by the health care debate and Obama’s treatment of suspected terrorist detainees. After some early talk of the health care bill as a secret conspiracy to give reparations to black Americans for slavery (it wasn’t) and controversy over covering illegal immigrants (it doesn’t), the attacks on the bill from the populist right centered on the idea that it was a government takeover of 1/6th of the American economy (it isn’t). Meanwhile, regarding the treatment of detainees, Obama has largely continued Bush’s policies with some attempts to… Yet despite this, the populist right has rallied to the idea that  Obama is engaged in various treasonous activities and of endangering American lives.

What you see is a Republican Party that exists to expand and use government to benefit large corporations, the military-industrial complex, the rich, and the elderly at the expense of everyone else. At the same time, the populist right loudly objects to the government being used to benefit anyone but them. “Them,” meaning the elderly, the rich, the white Southerners. Which is why Republicans and the populist right are in favor of Medicare — and against Obamacare. Which is why they don’t mind when people that they would never be mistaken for are held without trial, tortured, or killed — and it’s why they are so outraged when people they might be mistaken for are. Which is why they rally when a liberal is in charge and are calm when a Republican is.

The populist right has been inherently about opposition — and about cultural alienation. It is about ressentiment and anger at how the world is changing. It has indisputably been invigorated by racial tensions — from opposition to the Civil Rights Movement to absurd claims of “welfare queens driving Cadillacs” to the militia movement of the 1990s. It is about feeling shafted by the powers that be. It is a very white movement, with resentment being driven against government rights and benefits being given to different groups that are stereotypically associated with minority groups: Latinos (illegal immigrants), blacks (criminals and welfare queens), and Muslims/Arabs (terrorists).

Conclusion: Resentment of minority groups (broadly construed) makes sense of the populist right’s contradictory views on government in ways that opposition to the government cannot and explains its historical rises and falls.

N.B. I am not claiming all right wingers are racist. Or Republicans or conservatives. I am merely pointing out the fact that the populist right has historically been empowered during times of racial tensions and that it’s positions are coherent and do make sense if understood in these terms while they do not if one interprets these rises and falls from an ideology opposed to big government.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

The Populist Right Isn’t a Political Movement.

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Last week, I wrote my response to the Tea Party: Government is Good! It’s one of those pieces that I wrote 10 separate drafts of, and if I had included them all, would have written some 10 pages on the subject.

So, I’ll be following up with some further thoughts on the subject periodically.

My first follow-up, the first point that made it into previous drafts, but was excised from the final one is the glaring discrepancy between:

  • the populist right’s rhetorical opposition to all domestic government action on the grounds that it is incompetent, ineffective, and a threat to liberty; and
  • the populist right’s support for apparently unlimited government power on national security and law enforcement matters on the grounds that it is highly competent, effective, and the defender of liberty.

What you get are many arguments asserting that the state is competent and effective enough to deprive some people of liberty without any check on its power, to trample on their every right and to strip away their sanity through torture, and to kill them — all in the name of protecting liberty; but — at the same time — government is so toxic to liberty, so ineffective, and markets are so fragile, that if taxes go up 1% for those making over $250,000, if corporations can’t give money directly to candidates, if Wall Street is forced to suffer more regulations, or if people are required to purchase health insurance to provide for medical care or suffer a small penalty – that if these things happen, we have descended into abject Socialism.

The common cop-out I’ve heard to explain this is that the government’s proper role is to provide for the common defense. But it is the government’s proper role to assess income taxes and to regulate interstate commerce as well.

The populist right simply isn’t ideologically coherent. Ron Paul may be, to his great credit — but it is precisely his coherence that makes him unpalatable to the rest of the populist right, the bulk of the Tea Party, and the Republican Party. The bulk of the populist right is in favor of the government’s curtailing of the civil liberties of resented minorities in the name of a War Against Terrorism. It favors wars abroad — or at least, doesn’t favor “retreat” or anything that doesn’t look tough enough. It is enamored of the war atmosphere, of the narrative of good versus evil, that permeated Fox News’s coverage of the Bush administration. It is enamored of the revolutionary atmosphere, of a nation under assault by a Hitler-wannabe, of another narrative of good versus evil, that permeates Fox News’s coverage of the Obama administration.

From a political perspective, it makes no sense to call the government too incompetent to provide postal service and yet still consider it competent enough to detain, torture and kill anyone it deems a terrorist.

The populist right, then, cannot be properly understood as a political movement. It is a cultural movement and a media phenomenon with political overtones.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Nukes, Inconsistencies, Graphing the Economic Crisis, Half-Hookers, Palin 2012, Mailer’s Wife, & Complex Business Models

Friday, April 9th, 2010

1. Nukes. Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan both make the same point: Obama’s nuclear policy is the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s vision:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com

2. Inconsistencies. Matt Yglesias:

The main difference between left and right with regard to property rights is simply that the right is invested in a lot of rhetoric about markets and property rights and the left is invested in different historical and rhetorical tropes.

… Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se…

Or if you look at the energy sector, you’ll see that businessmen want to push property rights for the stuff that’s in the ground (coal, oil, whatever) and a commons model for the stuff (particulates, CO2) that’s in the air. You can call that “inconsistent” if you like, but obviously it’s perfectly consistent with what coal and oil executives want! And those industries are the most loyal supporters of “right” politics around.

3. Graphing the Economic Crisis. Ezra Klein puts out some interesting graphs about the economic crisis and nascent recovery including this one:

Klein explains:

This graph is a political problem for the Obama administration (if not, in the short-term, an economic problem). But it is also necessary for all the other graphs. The bank rescue, which added temporarily to the deficit, stabilized the stock market and set the stage for its recovery. The stimulus, which also added to the deficit, helped moderate the job losses and and has contributed to recent gains. You could’ve made the lines on this graph better, but only by letting the lines on the other graphs get worse.

4. Half-hookers. Lisa Taddeo for New York magazine writes about the burgeoning half-hooker culture which exists in a bizarre alternate reality existing so close to our own where celebrities and finance guys get their women:

The general-admission crowds dance, and the table crowds dance a little more woodenly, a little more entitledly, with their finger pads on their tables. The promoters are dancing with the models and the waitresses are dancing with the bottles and everybody finds a place on the floor.

The floor people, they are just to fill the place up. The celebrities and the athletes and the tycoons are the ones for whom this world is zealously designed. A rung below in after-work pinstripes are the money guys, the Deutsche guys and the Goldman guys and the no-name hedge-fund guys—the “whales”—guys like that one over there in a Boss suit and John Lobb shoes, standing beside the table that cost him $3,000. Standing very close to it, like a Little Leaguer who wants to steal second but has never done it before. This gentleman’s not dancing, but he’s thinking about it.

There’s quite a lot to the article. A fascinating piece of reporting.

5. Palin 2012. Chris Bowers makes the argument for why Sarah will win if she runs.

6. Mailer’s Wife. Alex Witchell profiles Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s final wife, whose story moved me as I read of it:

John Buffalo Mailer [stepson of Norris:] “People are their best selves and worst selves intermittently,” he told me, “and the best marriages navigate that ride over the hurt, which I believe they did right to the end. They both had options, and at the end of the day the life they created together won out over infidelity, illness and hard times…”

7. Complex Business Models. Clay Shirsky:

One of the interesting questions about Tainter’s thesis is whether markets and democracy, the core mechanisms of the modern world, will let us avoid complexity-driven collapse, by keeping any one group of elites from seizing unbroken control. This is, as Tainter notes in his book, an open question. There is, however, one element of complex society into which neither markets nor democracy reach—bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Read the rest.

[Image by me.]

Craziness in My Email

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Some way, somehow, I’ve gotten on another interesting email list. A Tony Caputo wrote me an email this morning linking to this blog post from May of 2008 claiming some obvious falsehoods about Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father. For example, the piece states unequivocally an easily checkable claim: that his memoir makes “No mention of Harvard. ” A Google Book search reveals 14 explicit references to Harvard.

Later this morning, I receive this email linking – apparently favorably – to my blog:

from Tony Caputo 
to Americans Right to Know
cc WORLD NET DAILY ,
STOP WELFARE ,
Stop the Democrats * ,
Stop Obama ** ,
“Nat. Tax Limitation Com*” ,
“Glenn Beck @ Fox **” ,
Give Me Liberty * ,
“Free Speech,1st Amend*” ,
Fox News ** ,
Conservative Truth ** ,
FIRE Pelosi ,
Fire OBAMA & Congress ,
Election Fraud ,
Don’t Trust Obama * ,
Don’t TRUST Democrats ,
“American Voters (C)” ,
American Thinker ,
American Patriot *
date Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM
subject Krauthammer believe Obama is trying to destroy America or not?
WHY IS AMERICA ALLOWING THIS RACIST, ANTI-AMERICAN LIAR DESTROY AMERICA?

Tony Caputo then included the full text of this blog post of mine questioning Charles Krauthammer’s authenticity.

To all those who were BCCed on this email (as I was): I want to point out publicly that I’m not associated with this Tony Caputo who also seems to have – according to this forum – written emails previously to the “Ladies & Gentlemen of White Christian America.”