Posts Tagged ‘The Corner’

How Not To Prove Someone Is Not a Racist

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Mark Krikorian has a post over at National Review’s The Corner defending the leader of an anti-illegal-immigration group called D.A. King and attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center in general, and specifically for labeling the Dustin Inman Society led by King a group that is spreading bigotry.

Now, King named the group after a clear victim of what he seems to call the “invasion” of “brown people” — a boy named Dustin Inman who was killed in a car crashed by an illegal immigrant. (Because legal residents don’t accidentally kill people in car accidents approximately 100 times a day.) A quick Google search reveals that King uses racialized language and seems uncomfortable with Hispanics — he said he said a pro-immigrant march seemed like some Mexican village — which is why his “first act on a safe return home was to take a shower;” and warned darkly of the “invasion” of the “brown people” and of “parasitic ethnic hustlers” who favored amnesty; and he did at least once apply the “illegal aliens” simply to all the Hispanics in various photos. I mean — that’s just what 5 minutes on Google and a few clicks around his own website show — maybe it represents his body of thought and maybe not.

But what I wanted to comment on was this Mark Krikorian post. But instead, let me just re-post a few portions of it, with all bolding done by me…

Just typing “Southern Poverty Law Center” makes me want to scrape off my shoes…

[T]he SPLC includes such targets (including, I’m proud to say, the Center for Immigration Studies) in lists of those “spreading bigotry,” or whatever,…

This happens all the time, but one example that came to my attention was the Dustin Inman Society, a mainstream (and quite effective) anti-illegal-immigration group in Georgia headed by D.A. King… The point is not whether D.A. is a hater (he’s not — I’m not even sure he’s a restrictionist, since he limits himself to illegal immigration, and I’ve never heard so much as an epithet from himeven in private, let alone any Zionist conspiracies or Trilateral Commissions or even longing for the Lost Cause)…

I’ve rarely heard a better defense of someone than Krikorian’s of King: “I haven’t heard the guy slur blacks or Hispanics as most people I know do! Even in private! Isn’t that incredible! And he doesn’t even long for the good old days when Mexicans were in Mexico and blacks were slaves! Or rail against Jews! The guy’s a saint practically!”

But it all makes you wonder a bit about the crowd that Krikorian hangs out with that these things are exceptional — and proof that someone isn’t a racist. And it certainly goes a long way to demonstrate why the Republican Party won’t be winning the Hispanic vote any time soon.

[Image by MikeSchinkel licensed under Creative Commons.]

“Hardly Churchillian.”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that the  contrasting stories of Churchill and Chamberlain in the lead up to the Second World War have become the founding myth of neoconservative foreign policy. Neoconservative foreign policy is based on the counterfactual presumption that if Churchill had been prime minister, Hitler’s rise would have been thwarted. The appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain thus caused Hitler’s rise in the neoconservative view.

However this myth took root, it is now the framework which neoconservatives use to understand every foreign policy issue: Every threat to America thus becomes Hitler’s Germany, no matter how marginal – from Kim Jong Il’s North Korea to Ahmadinejad’s Iran to Chavez’s Venezuela to Putin’s Russia. There are two possible responses to the rise of these existential threats: appeasement or confrontation. The right thing to do is to project confidence and bellicosity to deter the next Hitler from rising. Every sign of restraint is debasing appeasement; every Democrat then who advises restraint, who seeks to put these threats in perspective thus is portrayed as Chamberlain – from Carter to Clinton to Kerry to Obama. Every leader of this war, of our warrior nation, is compared to Churchill for his resolve and rhetoric. This neoconservative root myth thus leads to a policy of constant belligerence against every possible foe as a homage to a man who was belligerent for a lifetime and memorably right once.*

In a sense it seems, neoconservatives looked with hope to Obama Tuesday night (see especially these responses by Kagan, Kristol, and Gerson), as he promised to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan as they hoped. They hoped he could be their Churchill. Many on the right wing though not all, having been trained to focus most of all on symbology and rhetoric over substance, believed Obama had failed to meet their Churchillian expectations, and so took the comfortable position of assailing him.

Anyone who doubts this story of Churchill’s intransigence is at the core of neoconservative foreign policy can find evidence looking at the right wing responses to Tuesday night’s address:

The National Review‘s lead editorial:

Churchillian it was not.

Rich Lowry:

Is Gen. McChrystal in Kabul regretting that Obama didn’t strike a more Churchillian tone…?

Fred Thompson:

In the first part of his speech he sounded like Winston Churchill.
In the second part of his speech, he sounded like Lady Churchill.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Stanley Baldwin, not Winston Churchill.

Charles Krauthammer on Fox News:

Not exactly the kind of speech you’d hear from Henry V or Churchill.

Matt Lewis:

Hmm. What to say about Obama’s speech… Well, he sure as hell ain’t Winston Churchill.

John Hannah:

Hardly Churchillian.

* I quite admire Churchill – and he was also prescient about the specter of Communism and had a remarkable view of history, as if from a distance. But the single opinion of his that created his out-sized reputation was his steady belligerence against Germany during its rise.

[Image of Winston Churchill not subject to copyright.]

Deconstructing the Right Wing Appropriation of the Term “Appeasement”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I’ve tried hard to find something to respect about Victor Davis Hanson – as he takes himself seriously, and is taken seriously, including by people whom I take seriously – but for the most part, his pieces are just less hysterical attempts to push right wing memes. Only in a world of Sean Hannitys, Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, Jonah Goldbergs, Kathryn Lopezes, Michelle Malins, and Ann Coulters, is he a moderate.

But he has an interesting post over at The Corner, making a good point in defense of George W. Bush (though in the service of a meme that so many of these independent, individualistic conservatives promote in a synchronized fashion: that Obama should stop blaming George W. Bush for what he inherited.) Hanson points out that Bush inherited some bad “stuff” from Bill Clinton – including a mild recession, simmering issues with Iraq and the Middle East, and Osama bin Laden on the loose – and left some improved areas to Barack Obama – including an Iraq much improved from its chaos earlier in Bush’s term, relationships with Europe much improved from earlier in Bush’s term, a Libya that had given up its nuclear program, and a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.  Obama inherited a more challenging set of issues than Bush though: Two wars, the worst economic conditions in 80 years, a deficit doubled in 8 years and having grown so large it threatens America’s fiscal solvency, America at its lowest standing in the world community in a generation, Osama Bin Laden still at large, an Iranian regime strengthened and emboldened as America took away every check on its power, etcetera, etcetera.

But even while making this valid point, Hanson resorts to propagandic measures – none of which actively undermine the point he is trying to make – but all of which together demonstrate that he is merely attempting to write propaganda rather than engage with the issues. He only cites those facts that prove his point, ignores the large amount of contradictory evidence, and makes a number of questionable assertions. (Is Kim Jong Il really on better terms with Obama than Bush? Ahmadinejad? Putin – into whose eyes Bush looked and got “a sense of his soul“?)

But perhaps most telling, is his use of the buzzword, “appease.” To quote George Orwell in his “Politics and the English Language,” propagandists organize their thoughts as collections of  “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” Rather than choose words based on their meaning, they instead choose those which best serve their ideology. For example, Orwell, writes that some words, “now [have] no meaning except in so far as [they] signify[…] ‘something not desirable.’ ” He uses word “Fascism” as an example of this – and the word “democracy” as an example of a word that is used to mean merely “something good.” Hanson’s writing doesn’t always have that prefabricated henhouse feel – as some writers do (Kathryn Lopez, I’m looking at you!) – but he does misuse language in the manner Orwell discussed.

The most glaring issue is his use of a single word. Hanson writes:

George W. Bush inherited…a pattern of appeasing radical Islam after its serial attacks (on the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, U.S. embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole). [my emphasis]

Think about the use of the word “appease” in this context. The word means “to make peace with” often by “acceding to demands or granting concessions.” Bill Clinton’s response to these attacks – prosecuting the perpetrators, bombing locations we believed were related to Al Qaeda, and attempting to assassinate Osama bin Laden – doesn’t fit into what anyone would call “making peace with” or “acceding” to any demands. The word “appease” then was chosen not because of its meaning, but because of its place in Hanson’s ideology. The word “appease” – as used by right wingers – has evolved from its literal definition. They use it to call forth comparisons to the single historical moment that has defined neoconservative thinking: Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich. Chamberlain famously did seek to appease Hitler, offering him Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in return for peace. And just as famously, it did not work.

Right wingers now though seem to see every national security issue as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation. Obama wants to try terrorists in federal court instead of military commissions? Appeasement. Democrats oppose sending a surge of troops into Iraq? Appeasement. Iran wants to negotiate peace with the United States? If we even talk to them, it’s Appeasement, so we must choose Confrontation and ignore them. Only if every national security decision is seen as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation does the disastrous first term decisions by Bush make sense. Orwell warned that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Language is corrupted in order to “defend the indefensible” and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Thus, words such as “appease” are now used by right wingers to distract and obfuscate from the history that was and to suggest an enhanced and alternate view of the history that proves them correct.

[Image in the public domain.]

The Political Analysis of Laughter

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Stephanie Guttman writing for The Corner at the National Review saw a key distinction between Democrat Corzine and his supporters and Republican Christie and his. Corzine, making a joke about his mother being a Republican, said, “She’s 93 years old so, we’re not going to worry too much about that.” He got “a big laugh.” Christie meanwhile, told the story of a 90-year old supporter who told him he would vote against him in four years if he didn’t keep his promises. With her reporter’s ear, Guttman noticed that:

The line also got a big laugh, but it sounded more joyous, less sneering, and less subtly derisive.

Mmmm. Yes. Well, there’s only one conclusion to take from this:

[T]he Corzine remark mirrors a callousness, a coarse attitude about the “dispensability” of the aged, that one sees in the debate over health care reform.

Also, Republicans are “joyous.”

On a related note, I saw a Republican shoot a baby in the face yesterday after which he proceeded to steal the baby’s candy; and I saw a Democrat jump in front of a speeding train to save a different baby (because a Republican had shot the face off of the other one.) I guess that proves that Republicans are baby-killers and love guns and candy while Democrats love babies and are selfless.

I can’t wait to see Guttman’s take on a difficult issue like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute (which incidentally is what she actually writes about!)!

I’ve written some things which I’m sure make me look like an idiot – but I’m pretty sure I haven’t written anything as stupid as this Guttman post.

Mining Right Wing Critiques for Some Honesty

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

I’ve gotten tired of being outraged at every self-serving lie and every new line crossed and picking apart idiotic arguments by right wingers. This served some purpose during the campaign – and I believe it is important to do when disinformation campaigns are being waged (as during August of the health care debate). But it is not what I feel most comfortable doing.

At the same time, I believe Republicans are undermining the two-party system and our democratic institutions by using their considerable clout to promote fantastical claims and lies about the efforts of their opponents instead of engaging in more pragmatic or fair-minded criticisms. Right wingers who back the Republicans have likewise mainly fallen into this trap – aside from a few notable exceptions (Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, David Brooks.)One of my goals then will be to not only promote these individuals – as Andrew Sullivan for example is – but to read the propagandist crap from more mainstream right wingers and mine it for legitimate criticism.

I’ve had this thought in my head for a few weeks – and have been reading wit this in mind. But when reading items like this by Steve Huntley in the Chicago Sun Times, it becomes very difficult:

Someone’s brain is clearly addled – for there is nothing contradictory about claiming you inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression (which it technically was) and that it is even worse than was thought (especially as several weeks after Biden’s remark, the Department of Commerce released the official statistics revising its statistics down for the past year as it periodically does.)

It amazes me that such paragraphs get past an editor.

Other concerns – while perhaps legitimate – are so self-serving they are hard to reconcile with past views. For example, Wesley Smith over at National Review‘s The Corner did not from my reading of him bring up the subject of the “rule of law” at all during George W. Bush’s presidency. However, now he brings it up with a hard criticism of the Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana:

Part of the sleight of hand here is a subtle mischaracterization of the change. Obama is not “refusing to enforce federal marijuana laws” but rather shifting resources away from targeting these groups, or as Devlin Barrett of the Associated Press described it, prosecutors will be told that “it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.” And Smith doesn’t acknowledge the long tradition (he refers only to Andrew Jackson) of presidents refusing to enforce laws as part of the checks and balances described in most textbooks on the Constitution. Smith also ignores the far more serious violations of the rule of law that Bush committed in actually ordering the law be broken and declaring it void when it violated his duty to protect Americans.

This sudden concern for the rule of law – concern suggesting it was incredibly fragile and can be destroyed in an instant – seems to reinforce the point I made earlier – that the strong positions taken by conservatives regarding curbing executive power and discretion are entirely unprincipled. They have everything to do with the fact that a liberal is now in power and will be abandoned again when they have power.

However, I did find one conservative critique I could endorse: Marie Gryphon’s piece in the National Review that makes the case against scapegoating Ken Lewis of Bank of America. To blame him for accepting the deal he did – especially given the amount of pressure he was under from Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and those working with them is ridiculous. Whether or not there is a legal case against him, it should not be pursued.

Dana Perino’s Misleading Spin Regarding Matt Latimer

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

That’s how the media world works, unfortunately. But since I was there, I will try to do my part to stamp out myths before they gain traction.

Yesterday, I came across (from multiple sources) a piece in the new edition of GQ by a former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer – a kind of tell-all purporting to reveal what Bush really thought at the end of his term. (Beware: GQ has designed this piece to maximize page views, so it’s a pain to read, though overall worth it.)

The piece was interesting enough, though one could feel the editing of someone intent of keeping the material fresh and with the intent of enhancing the reputation of the author, so I wouldn’t classify it as inherently trustworthy. Latimer portrayed Bush as an almost comic figure – one who believed he had remade conservatism, who derided the “conservative movement,” who had excellent political instincts, who was willing to buck the crowd, and who governed and authorized statutes he had not quite understood. Overall, Latimer’s portrait represents a positive reappraisal of George W. Bush as a flawed but complex figure.

Dana Perino though will have none of it – and responds to the post with an extremely misleading post at NRO’s The Corner. For example, she makes a big deal of this as undermining Latimer’s account:

And I don’t think [Bush has] ever even said the word ‘keister.’ C’mon.

Yet the passage she’s referring is this one:

‘Wait till her fat keister is sitting at this desk,’ he once said (except he didn’t say ‘keister’).

She also writes:

For example, [Latimer] writes that President Bush didn’t know who Sarah Palin was.”

But in Latimer’s tale, he doesn’t claim this. Rather, he quotes President Bush as joking around after the announcement:

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

I’m no defender of Matt Latimer – but also not a fan of dishonest spin.

Edit: I’ve emailed Ms. Perino as the obviousness of her misleading statements seems a bit too much to see if she is considering retracting them or has any other response.

Updated: Peter Robinson, also at The Corner also points out the two specific inaccuracies I mentioned. Perino them responded with a quasi-apology and seems to admit that she hadn’t actually read the piece. Her lack of knowledge though that did not stop her from smearing Latimer. But no surprise, she somehow ends up blaming the media coverage, though I would hope any old flack – let alone someone with her soapbox – would take the time to read something before attacking it in print.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Homo Blogicus, Pup, Pakistan, Torture, Marijuana, and the Revenge of Geography

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’m going to start creating a list of best reads for the week every Friday – picking between 5 and 10 articles or blog posts that are well worth reading in their entirety.

  1. Christopher Buckley writes a very personal essay for the New York Times, adapted from his soon to be published memoir, about growing up as the son of the famous Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley (“Pup” and “Mum”). Truly moving, surprising, honest and earnest. An excerpt:

    I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in “Moby-Dick” lodged in my mind long ago: “The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” at deathbeds of loved ones.

    Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

    It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement. But it needed to be said. She would never have asked for forgiveness herself, even in extremis. She was far too proud. Only once or twice, when she had been truly awful, did she apologize. Generally, she was defiant — almost magnificently so — when her demons slipped their leash. My wise wife, Lucy, has a rule: don’t go to bed angry. Now, watching Mum go to bed for the last time, I didn’t want any anger left between us, so out came the unrehearsed words.

  2. Stephen Walt, blogging for FP, asks Three Questions About Pakistan. He quotes David Kilcullen explaining:

    We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now.

    He cites a Timur Kuran and Suisanne Lohmann for providing a construct for understanding why such collapses as Pakistan’s possible one are hard to predict:

    [R]evolutionary upheavals (and state collapse) are hard to predict because individual political preferences are a form of private information and the citizenry’s willingness to abandon the government and/or join the rebels depends a lot on their subjective estimate of the costs and risks of each choice. If enough people become convinced the rebels will win, they will stop supporting the government and may even switch sides, thereby create a self-reinforcing snowball of revolutionary momentum. Similar dynamics may determine whether the armed forces hang together or gradually disintegrate. As we saw in Iran in 1979 or in Eastern Europe in 1989, seemingly impregnable authoritarian governments sometimes come unglued quite quickly. At other times, however, apparently fragile regimes manage to stagger on for decades, because key institutions hold and the revolutionary bandwagon never gains sufficient momentum.

  3. Evgeny Morozov, also blogging for FP, suggests that “promoting democracy via the internet is often not a good idea.”

    I simply refuse to believe in the universality of this new human type of Homo Blogicus – the cosmopolitan and forward-looking blogger that regularly looks at us from the cover pages of the New York Times or the Guardian. The proliferation of online nationalism, the growing use of cyber-attacks to silence down opponents, the overall polarization of internet discussions predicted by Cass Sunstein et al, make me extremely suspicious of any talk about the emergence of some new archetype of an inherently democratic and cosmopolitan internet user.

    As much as I’d like to believe that internet decreases homophily and pushes us to discover and respect new and different viewpoints, I am yet to see any tangible evidence that this is actually happening – and particularly in the context of authoritarian states, where media and public spheres are set up in ways that are fundamentally different from those of democracies.

  4. Julian Sanchez blogs reflectively about “our special horror over torture” – especially as related to aerial bombing. He concludes:

    Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on. In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus. And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted. It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.

  5. Jim Manzi is equally reflective in his piece written “Against Waterboarding” for the American Scene and published at the National Review’s Corner as well:

    What should a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, do if faced with a situation in which he or she is confident that a disaster will occur that can only be avoided by waterboarding a captured combatant? Do it, and then surrender to the authorities and plead guilty to the offense. It is then the duty of the society to punish the offender in accordance with the law. We would rightly respect the perpetrator while we punish him. Does this seem like an inhuman standard? Maybe, but then again, I don’t want anybody unprepared for enormous personal sacrifice waterboarding people in my name.

    But consider, not a theoretical scenario of repeated nuclear strikes on the United States, or a tactical “ticking time bomb” scenario, but the real situation we face as a nation. We have suffered several thousand casualties from 9/11 through today. Suppose we had a 9/11-level attack with 3,000 casualties per year every year. Each person reading this would face a probability of death from this source of about 0.001% each year. A Republic demands courage — not foolhardy and unsustainable “principle at all costs,” but reasoned courage — from its citizens. The American response should be to find some other solution to this problem if the casualty rate is unacceptable. To demand that the government “keep us safe” by doing things out of our sight that we have refused to do in much more serious situations so that we can avoid such a risk is weak and pathetic. It is the demand of spoiled children, or the cosseted residents of the imperial city. In the actual situation we face, to demand that our government waterboard detainees in dark cells is cowardice.

  6. Robert Kaplan writes about the “Revenge of Geography” for Foreign Policy. The summary of the article:

    People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict.

  7. Time magazine has a piece written by Maia Szalavitz on drug decriminalization in Portugal which is also worth checking out. Excerpt:

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

Culture War: Overclass Edition

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

In which I realize that we are now observing a “Culture War” between the haves and the have mores, between the elites and the financial elites, between two opposing sides in the “overclass.”

I’ve been a bit flummoxed by the class warfare rhetoric coming from certain quarters recently – and I don’t mean from the populists. As Daniel Gross observed in Slate:

To hear conservatives tell it, you’d think mobs of shiftless welfare moms were marauding through the streets of Greenwich and Palm Springs, lynching bankers and hedge-fund managers…

All of this overheated rhetoric is about – as Gross points out – Obama proposing to undo some of the changes of the past eight years – the largest change resulting in the wealthiest few paying about $4.10 more per day to benefit the society which has enabled them to become so wealthy. But I suspect that what Gross has gotten wrong here is what I’ve been getting wrong as well – to identify those opponents of Obama’s “Great Wealth Destruction!” as conservatives. Many of them are – and many conservatives are jumping on this meme as it is the only one that seems to have gained any traction against Obama’s agenda. But the meme hasn’t gained traction because conservatives are big proponents of fiscal responsibility. Supporters of the Republican party ceased to be proponents of fiscal responsibility years ago – and the measures they are proposing now (which would create even larger deficits than the stimulus spending) prove that they truly are out-of-touch or are merely posturing for political purposes. At the same time, non-conservatives like Clive Crook, who supports both health care reform and a cap-and-trade system, have begun to join in much of the conservative criticism. The real source of energy behind this line of attack doesn’t come from conservatives – but from a culture war going on between the financial elites and the rest of the elite which has been supercharged by the financial crisis. Everyone is angry about the great destruction of wealth that has resulted from this crisis – and the question has become where to place the blame, where to direct the still largely inchoate anger.

Matt Yglesias has been suggesting something like this type of distinction over at his blog. At one point, commenting on Jon Stewart’s takedown of CNBC, he wrote:

Comedy Central vs CNBC nicely captures the cultural battle inside the American elite between “creative class” types and the business manager types. Both sides think the other side is composed of idiots…

Then yesterday, Yglesias made a related point about how “the growing overclass revolt [is] taking the American right by storm.” Yglesias critically quotes Lisa Schriffen at National Review‘s The Corner:

The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities. They are mostly the meritocrats who worked hard in high school and got into the better colleges and grad schools, where they studied while others partied

[Obama] is demonizing them… [and] is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

Yglesias’s response is to point out that not only is no one being demonized, and that:

Guys who move furniture are, of course, working extremely hard. And even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while “executives” comfy chairs. And, again, I don’t think the Salvadoran guys who moved my bed found themselves in that line of work because they were too busy partying in college.

On one level, this is an argument about the fundamental fairness of the status quo – which conservatives tend to accept and liberals tend to reject. But on a more superficial level, we’re not talking so much about a “revolt of the overclass” as a culture war among the overclass – in which the argument is less about whether or not society and capitalism has been fair to “the Salvadoran guys” and more about whether or not society and capitalism have been fair to give the super-rich which so many riches. As this is a culture war, your side on it is not based on such petty facts as your income level or total net worth but by who you identify with. 

America has established something resembling a meritocracy among it’s upper and middle classes – as college education is accessible to most – and from there, any range of careers. This is the world Schriffen is referring to. But what Schriffen misses is the growing gap between the “haves” and the “have mores” – as the lawyers, doctors, and businessmen she lionizes realized that their college friends on Wall Street who were partying instead of studying in college were now making ten, twenty, a hundred times what they were – and still partying just as hard. This resentment has now been exacerbated as we realize that these Wall Street bankers – who have been working hard, partying hard, and making obscene amounts of money – lost all of our money but get to keep their bonuses.

In this culture war of the overclass, level of wealth doesn’t cause you necessarily to identify with either side. Warren Buffet for example would clearly be a member of the have mores, but he identifies with the haves and lives a lifestyle more suited to that group. There are those who identify as or who aspire to be “rich” and “wealthy” and who consider their good forture to be of their own making, who see the crisis as hurting them and their chances at achieving obscene wealth even if they do not have it yet. They tend to blame the crisis not on the bankers but on Obama – which is a bit odd considering the timing of his rise. But as early as September, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were talking about the Obama Recession and by January, the Wall Street Journal was opinining about it as a fact. Jim Cramer, along with some others at CNBC, decided to take on on the White House with “empirical facts”:

When I somewhat obviously and empirically judged that the populist Obama administration is exacerbating the crisis with its budget and policies, as evidenced by the incredible decline in the averages since his inauguration, I was met immediately with condescension and ridicule rather than constructive debate or even just benign dismissal. I said to myself, “What the heck? Are they really that blind to the Great Wealth Destruction they are causing with their decisions to demonize the bankers, raise taxes for the wealthy, advocate draconian cap-and-trade policies and upend the health care system? [my emphasis]

I think we can all understand why Jim Cramer is angry – he’s been telling people the system is fine and cheerleading the market – and now, he looks like a fool. You can see how people who listen to Cramer might be angry – as anyone listening to Cramer’s advice would be rather screwed. On the other hand, Cramer was merely a part of the system of the financial elites – and he wasn’t saying anything that different from what everyone else believe. The question for the financial elities is whether or not they are responsible for their woes as well as the world’s – or if they can lay the blame somewhere else.

On the other hand, there is the rest of the overclass – and much of the rest of America – who, so far, place the blame for this crisis squarely on the bankers, on the financial industry (whose purpose was to protect and make money), and on lax regulation often promoted by Limbaugh and Hannity and Cramer. The many for whom Wall Street is some half-mythical place to which they entrust their savings are certainly angry today – though the rage is still largely unformed and undirected. In spurts and starts, it is directed at lavish expenses indirectly subsidized by taxpayers – but largely, these people are just hoping things get better. The financial elites themselves see the anger – and know they are the logical target, and so seek to deflect it. For the non-financial members of the overclass who know many people on Wall Street – who are the haves to the Wall Street have mores – they know where to direct their anger – at those whose outsized success has made them look foolish for choosing anything other than a Wall Street career. It is part resentment and part righteous indignation.

Either way, this Culture War of the Overclass is more entertaining than that whole abortion/gay marriage culture war.

[Image licensed under Creative Commons courtesy of shyb.]

Jindal 2012 (cont.)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Compare the reactions of Ramnesh Ponnuru and Mark Krikorian to the Washington Post‘s apparently positive profile of Bobby Jindal.

Neither can quite take the article at face value. Ponnuru wonders “if this sort of swooning is really going to be helpful to Gov. Jindal in the long run.”

Krikorian, on the other hand, takes offense at the suggestion that Jindal could be an Obama-like figure. Under the headline “Clueless” which he apparently means to refer to either the Washington Post or the American people, he explains that Obama was merely “a post-American political radical who’s never held a real job and was catapulted to political success because of his race.” So much resentment packed into a single sentence – and so much misinformation. Would a “post-American political radical” choose anything like the pragmatic foreign policy team that Obama has chosen? What exactly does Krikorian consider, “a real job”? Does Krikorian really consider race to be the primary factor in Obama’s rise – or was it one factor among many that had both negative and positive consequences? And how ridicilous is it for a guy whose career is based on whipping up xenophobia to declare race to be some kind of definate asset?

Krikorian makes clear that he doesn’t have a clue.

Ponnuru may find it hard to accept media praise for one of his guys – but Krikorian manages to turn praise into an insult. There’s something so counterproductive about it – these constantly stoked resentments.

Unfortunately, the National Review and the conservative movement at large has far too many Krikorian and far too few Ponnuru’s.

Jonah Goldberg is Shocked

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Jonah Goldberg is a partisan hack – and I mean that with all due respect.

In this post today, Goldberg points out that Obama seems to be making a number of sensible appointments to major positions, none of which mark a radical change from the status quo – but all of which, from Obama’s perspective, will be improvements. You would think that Goldberg’s first reaction would be approval – as Obama is not turning out to be the radical that Goldberg had feared he would.

But no.

Goldberg instead channels his inner imaginary radical liberal who is outraged that Obama is going back on what his imaginary liberal thought was a promise of radical change.

He concludes:

It will be interesting to see how long Obama’s charisma can paper over reality.

But what his inner imaginary liberal should have realized – and what most real liberals did realize – was that Obama was not a radical or a leftist. By change, he didn’t mean revolution.

But Goldberg desperately wants to be right about something – reality be damned.