Angry wimmen is angry

>> Tuesday, October 22, 2013

... judging by The Book of Jezebel, feminists are so angry that debate with them is no longer possible. To them the only solution to their rage is through politics. There is a steady undercurrent of animus towards conservatives and Republicans in The Book of Jezebel, which is to be expected. But what is revealing is the intensity of the antipathy and its obsessive-compulsive quality...
The Daily Caller, October 21st, 2013.

One is uncertain: on the one hand, one wonders if there's any good reason to pay attention on someone who is clearly trolling; while, on the other hand, one feels a strong compulsion to poke a finger in the eye of fatuousness.  I only read Mark Judge's ostensible review of a new book by the editors of the web blog/aggregator Jezebel because of trolling acting at a distance--a kind of Internet version of Keplerian mechanics where Judge's trolling acted at a distance upon a writer at Salon, and now, like some ball on a great billiard table, I take the impact and roll with it, and now I am hitting you with some small force.

I should digress a little, having written that.  First, that Judge is trolling and that his piece is an "ostensible review": the very first line Judge writes is, "I don’t want to write a standard review of The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things," and he fulfills that desire by not bothering to review the book until the second page of his entry, and then by reviewing it very little (mostly by producing the maximum number of excerpts Fair Use Doctrine might allow and offering a few nuggets of commentary (perhaps to suggest to his editor that this is, indeed, a review, and not a brief rant on feminist anger followed by a few quickly-copied scraps).  Anyway, you can't fault Judge for burying his agenda, seeing how he puts it up front and everything.  "This review is not a review," he might as well say (one is tempted to shout "this is genocide!" or "this is 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday'!", but Judge is not that interesting), and proceeds to talk about how everybody is angry because of "missing, absent, and lousy fathers".

Second, that there's a whole problem with writing on the Internet about writing, which I am a part of.  Mark Judge is assigned by The Daily Caller with writing about a book published by a website somewhat infamous for a certain amount of trolling, itself, and he writes a trollery piece where he spends much more time talking about America's daddy issues than about whatever merits The Book Of Jezebel has or lacks, and he writes it this particular way so as to incite lots of comments and articles like the one Katie McDonough posts at Salon, which link back and draw more attention to Judge, The Daily Caller, ads on The Daily Caller website, etc.; and then Katie McDonough obliges by writing the kind of snarky linkback post he (and The Daily Caller's editors) were hoping the post would generate, which she presumably does because Salon is kind of like a shark in that it has to keep swimming or it dies, and she likely has ever-so-much material she expects to post, and even if she didn't, this is exactly the kind of thing that generates comments and clicks and posts like the one yours truly is writing right now.  And then I go and do what Ms. McDonough and the editors of Salon likely hope or suspect or whatever, and I write this and I have links to Salon and The Daily Caller and I mention everyone by name and I offer up my two cents, and we have one nice big online circle jerk of sorts, over a "book review" (quotes because, supra, it isn't much about reviewing the book).  I'll even try to come up with some kind of alluring headline, something like, "Angry Wimmen Is Angry" as a way of getting people--including friends and relatives I should respect more than this--to come along and see what the angry wimmen is angry about.  I'm sorry.  I am a terrible friend.  Please don't hate me.

But so that I'm not totally wasting your time (I hope), I did have something I wanted to say about Judge's review, which is that if you do bother to read it, what's striking is how vapid it is even under it's own, for want of a better word, terms.  What I mean is: Judge would hardly be the first person to write a "review" of something that is really an epic-long rant about something else.  One of my very favorite writers, the late David Foster Wallace, used to do that kind of thing all the time, turning a "review" of a state lobster festival into a debate on ethical eating, for instance, or there was another time he turned a "review" of a cruise ship experience into a kind of meditation on various subjects like mortality and authenticity of experience.

That DFW could do that kind of thing is either why you love him--because you think he did that kind of discursive, desultory, spiraling-out from the center into a cloud-chamber-like whirl of cosmic beauty intelligence brilliantly--or is likely a reason you never got him and failed to see what the big deal was and maybe even think he was just terrible and too precocious for his own good--because you think an article about tennis ought to be a goddamn article about tennis, already, and you just wanted some behind-the-scenes gossip about Lost Highway not... not... this... this... what the fuck is this?

But whether you loved him or didn't understand the appeal, I think you just about have to admit that David Foster Wallace had something to say about things.  Whereas Mark Judge, so far as "The Angry Ladies Of Jezebel" is concerned, has... well, not so much.  And I doubt this is merely a constraint of the format; if he had anything more on offer, he might have omitted one, two, or all of the excerpts he offers and might have explained a little more his feelings on America's deep resentment over our absent (and/or lousy) fathers.

Because the thing I find... I don't know, insulting... not quite; hrm.  Let's see, here: the thing I find... let's go with vacuous about Judge's piece isn't really his reduction of feminists' anger to daddy issues, but that he doesn't have the commitment, the, the, gumption, I dunno (and forgive me if this is sexist), the nads to really go with it and pull it all together.  What he really does, which is insulting to the intelligence, is he begs a couple of really big and obviously relevant questions.  Like, for instance, Assuming arguendo feminists are angry about their awful fathers, is there nevertheless any merit to any of the issues they say they're angry about, like unequal pay or reproductive rights or, well, any of it?  I guess that's really the all-encompassing question.  We could stipulate, just for the hell of it, that feminists--female, male, whatever--are angry because of our awful popses, but it wouldn't tell anybody anything about, oh, hostile environment workplace sexual harassment caselaw.

I suppose, maybe, that Judge means to offend liberals by reducing any or all of these issues to, "Aw, you're just upset about your daddy-waddy," but that's schoolyard stuff, it certainly isn't smart and I hope Judge doesn't think he's been clever.  Oh gods, he's been paid for this, so he probably does think he's been clever, plus he's generated pageviews and online pieces like this one.  Damn.  Well: he shouldn't think he's been clever, because obviously he hasn't.  I happen to think my father did pretty okay, all-in-all, but even if he didn't and I'm pissed about it, could someone explain why employers aren't required by law to provide generous family leave to mothers and fathers; why certain industries appear to have gender-preferential employment profiles despite no rational connection between any physiological differences and ability to perform the work, and women appear to be under-represented in certain employment sectors?  Perhaps my dad used to put an empty coffee can over my head when I was young and parade me down the street in my Underroos, banging me head-can with a pair of wooden spoons while he screamed, "Iiiii'm Seaaaaaargent Pehhhhhpper's Lonely! Hearts! Club! Band!" while all the neighbors gathered at the ends of their lawns and laughed at me and it's got me righteously pissed off at the world, but if I've decided to cast that furious rage against, say, the fact that women online appear to suffer far more personal abuse when they write about things than men who write similar things, well... I mean, am I wrong, and if I am, why?  Or maybe I'm misremembering, and he didn't beat me and humiliate me in public so much as he sold me to circus carnies and I never saw him again; this makes me very sad and the carnies were cruel and abusive creatures who, it turned out, traveled so far out into the highways and byways of missing America that we were, in fact, in some kind of screwy dark, alternate dimension at some point, and this makes me just annnnngrrrrrry and filled! with! the! hate! but does that really say any damn old thing about gender stereotypes in popular media?

I'm thinking not so much.  You?

"The writers at Jezebel are angry women," Judge writes in closing.  "Their pain is beyond the reach of politics to solve."  Well.  okay.  But the glaring fallacy in that bit of nothing is that the writers of Jezebel are quite often talking about their problems, not their pain, and quite a lot of those problems certainly sound like things that have political solutions; indeed, since some of those problems are political problems, like anti-abortion legislation, it's rather self-evident some of these problems are well within the reach of politics to solve, politics having created them in the first place.  It's just very, very dumb, which always seems as bad or worse to me than dismissive.  I probably shouldn't sink to Judge's level and close with a schoolyard taunt as he began with one, but: feminists may be angry, but at least we aren't stooooopid, like you, Marky.




Dumb quote of the day: "Not sure if George Will is stupid or just troll" edition

>> Wednesday, October 09, 2013

I kid, I kid: I'm pretty sure he's just stupid:

In an interview with NPR's "Morning Edition," host Steve Inskeep asked Will about President Barack Obama's argument that Republicans are short-circuiting the system by using government funding and the debt ceiling as leverage to dismantle Obamacare, rather than repealing the law outright.

"How does this short-circuit the system?" Will said. "I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."
- Catherine Thompson, "George Will Compares Obamacare To
Talking Points Memo, October 9th, 2013.

It's possible I've been lawyering too long, or it may have something to do with having actually learned a tiny amount of history back when I majored in it in college: what's really offensive about the comparison between the Affordable Care Act and the Fugitive Slave Act (presumably George Will means the last one, of 1850) and "Separate But Equal" isn't the deliberately demeaning comparison between providing affordable health insurance to Americans (something the Republicans seem to find offensive these days, despite it originally being their idea) and American institutionalized racism (something most Americans these days find offensive), but rather the intellectual bankruptcy of the comparison.

After all, the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 was passed by a majority in Congress, wound its way through various state and Federal courthouses during the decade of the 1850s as its enforceability was tested (during which time period it largely was enforceable), and then "something" happened in 1861 that made the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 selectively and effectively unenforceable until the Act was fully repealed by Congress in 1864.  (Escaped slaves from the Confederacy were deemed war contraband that shouldn't/couldn't be returned to hostile soil--which effectively freed them even though the Fugitive Slave Act was technically in full effect.)  To the extent you can legally compare the ACA and Fugitive Slave Act: both were passed by Congress, both have been litigated (and largely found to be Constitutional), and both were challenged by groups of Americans advocating civil disobedience at the risk of suffering criminal penalties (Republicans advocating that young people pay the tax penalties and state governors announcing non-participation in the case of the ACA; abolitionists and members of the Underground Railroad in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act); eventually the Fugitive Slave Act was effectively nullified by the American Civil War and subsequently repealed by Congress, neither of which has yet happened to the ACA (though I suppose either could, although a Civil War over it appears to be not-very-probable-at-all).  What you didn't have with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for better or worse, was a minority faction within Congress actively trying to nullify it after it successfully passed and after it survived litigation, and before it could be actually repealed by the usual and formal procedures for repealing an act of Congress.

Perhaps somebody should have tried dubious procedural shenanigans and political hostage-taking to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850--except the reason the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the first place was part of a compromise between nearly coequal political factions attempting (unsuccessfully, in the end) to avert a Constitutional crisis that would sever the Republic.  The Fugitive Slave Act's raison d'être wasn't actually to preserve slavery: it was to preserve the United States by forcing Free States to (reluctantly) recognize a property right recognized in the Slave States, meanwhile deferring questions regarding the conditions of statehood in the newly-acquired Western Territories (which corresponded to deferring the question of whether Congress would eventually outlaw slavery altogether once Representatives and Senators from those new states arrived in Washington D.C. and changed the legislature's demographics).

Point being: never mind the debatable moral comparison between forcing people to purchase health insurance versus forcing people to remain in chattel servitude: legally and historically it's simply a stupid comparison.  It's a trolling comparison in that it's meant to appeal to the modern visceral repugnance towards chattel slavery, but it's a dumb comparison in that it's like comparing an Apple Computer to William Of Orange.  You might have some reason for disliking both a machine and a 16th Century Dutch Noble, but the two things are completely separate species of thing and you can't just lump them in together and make the least bit of sense.

It gets worse if you try to compare the ACA to the "Separate But Equal" doctrine, which wasn't even a "law" as such, but simply a Constitutional doctrine that entered American common law via a U.S. Supreme Court Case that was eventually reversed.

I think there are two points I'm trying to make, actually.

The first would be that even though the Fugitive Slave Act was, from a moral point of view, really, really bad, it made a certain (unfortunate) kind of sense from a policy standpoint (i.e. it was supposed to preserve the Union), and that was a fact that even a lot of people who were opposed to the Fugitive Slave Act understood and acted upon accordingly.  There were illegal, violent attempts to change American policy by force (and I write this sentence from the perspective of one who thinks John Brown was kind of heroic and his efforts as justified as any kind of violent insurrection could be); but nothing so chickenshit as what the teabaggers are doing with the government shutdown (if they really think the ACA is on the same moral plane as chattel slavery and its attendant abuses to human dignity and common decency, perhaps they should go raid a United States armory).  By-and-large, though, abolitionists took their losses, licked their wounds, and went on to fight the good fight through the courts and good example.  You know, the chief beneficiaries of the Fugitive Slave Act decided to pursue violent, extralegal, revolutionary means to avoid the consequences a prospective Constitutional loss, and that's how the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 met what was either an early or belated end, depending on what you think would have happened 1861-1864 without a rebellion against the democratically-constituted government of the United States.1

This point being, if I'm not clear yet, that even in the political turmoil of 1846-1861, everybody except the most extreme extremists mostly played by the rules, which is not what the Republicans of 2013 seem ready to do.

And the second point being that George Will is purportedly one of the smart guys on the other side.  No, I mean, I know this would hardly be the first time he's made a vapidly facile, partisan statement or has engaged in intellectual dishonesty or just generally been an asshat.  Still, he's supposed to be one of the smart ones, relatively respectable and relatively mainstream, the kind of guy who is supposedly a thinker and opinion-leader.  And this kind of dumb argument is the best he can do?  Or he just doesn't care about The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the complicated events leading up to the American Civil War to make intellectually honest statements?  Let's stipulate that he hates the ACA for whatever reason, let's even suppose he has some kind of legitimate reason: when he makes statements like that, he diminishes American history, he irons out the awful complexities of 19th Century politics and the pain of the most catastrophic, violent transformation in our history and the century-plus-long horrors and indignities of the aftermath.  People who look to George Will for information, who look to him for guidance and wisdom and education, are disinformed and made stupid by unwrinkled statements like that one.  Someone in Congress who refuses to vote on a clean continuing budget resolution unless the ACA is repealed may be engaging in a kind of political terrorism that hurts his fellow citizens, but he isn't actively making millions of Americans stupider with his mindless utterances; in a weird way, even as he's making things bad for his country at the moment, he isn't making his country worse, over the duration.
It takes a George Will for that.

POSTSCRIPTOr not just a George Will: apparently this is a right-wing talking point, as Representative William O'Brien of New Hampshire told the Manchester Union Leader:

"Just as the Fugitive Slave Act was an overreach by the federal government, so too we understand that Obamacare is an assault on the rights of individuals."

Um... yeah.  I'm not sure if O'Brien is parroting Will, or Will is parroting O'Brien, or if there's some kind of Cliff's Notes Of Stupid both men are cribbing from this week.  But their facts are still completely wrong.

First of all, the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 was simply making Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution enforceable:

The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.

A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.

No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

The Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 wasn't Federal "overreach".  Not in the slightest.  It punished Federal officials who failed to enforce the Constitution, enhanced criminal penalties for private citizens who tried to deny their fellow Americans of their Constitutionally-protected personal property rights, and rewarded those who vigorously enforced these and existing laws.  It also made it easier for Federal officials to arrest someone on suspicion of being an escaped slave, which I guess could arguably be a violation of one's Fourth Amendment rights, although I'm obligated to roll my eyes about a political party that's apparently okay with shaking down suspected "illegal immigrants" for I.D. getting belatedly upset about shaking down suspected escaped slaves.  In any case, there's certainly a legal argument for the Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 being obligatory, dubious shakedown provisions included.

Slavery was morally evil, not just wrong: but it was also legal and Constitutional for the first four-score-and-seven years of the United States' existence (and, obviously, it was legal in Colonial America even prior to that).  Regardless of whether the ACA is Constitutional (and the Supreme Court has said it is), there's no "overreach" in the Federal Government passing laws that enforce its laws.  There may be a problem with the underlying laws--eventually Article IV, section II was (partially) repealed by Constitutional Amendment--but that's something else.

Along with all the history that I tried to get at in the preceding section.  It's also not overreach for Congress to pass a law protecting the property rights recognized by the Constitution over the hypothetical rights of persons not properly recognized by the Constitution as people at that point in American history for the sake of protecting the integrity of the entire country itself and for the Constitution that defines this country as a thing that exists.  It may be a Satanic bargain with purest evil, and an ugly, regrettable decision in hindsight (or even in the clearer vision of slavery's enemies at the time), but it isn't "overreach".

Seriously, sometimes you wonder if these people have ever even read a book.  Or attended the fourth grade of elementary school.

1I think this means that if the comparison between the ACA and Fugitive Slave Act had any validity at all, you'd expect the Democrats to demand that the ACA be enforced lest, I dunno, maybe an angry mob of New Yorkers goes and shoots the hell out of West Point before declaring themselves an independent country.  Gods, what a stupid comparison.


Went and got their guns

>> Thursday, October 03, 2013

Just because the Republicans know what they're doing, it doesn't mean they didn't miscalculate.  I think this is one of the things that people probably ought to bear in mind with the rest of it.

Here's the thing: the teabagging Republicans who are driving the House's obstructionist efforts don't just come from Congressional districts where they're not facing any meaningful opposition; one consequence of gerrymandering a House district so that it becomes chock-full of only one kind of voter is that when you go home or when your staff opens the mail, these are the only people you're hearing from.  And it's fairly likely that these folks are also getting their national news from fairly (shall we say) blinkered sources like Fox, harboring a deep mistrust of more objective news sources like the New York Times or even the center-right Wall Street Journal; you only have to see how some of them talk about the media to get a sense of how removed they are from the national dialogue.  Not that the national dialogue, to be fair, isn't confused.  But it's easy to see, anyway, how someone who only hears from like-minded folks back at home and who harbors a mistrust of the "liberal" news media could conclude (however fallaciously) that the "ordinary" Americans at home represent the man-in-the-street view while contrary reports from the national media ought to be disregarded as leftist propaganda.  There are a lot of fallacies there, starting simply with the selective bias that comes with listening to the kinds of constituents who (a) make up the majority of your regional neighborhood and (b) will bother to write you about something chaffing their nethers, but that's a GIGO problem, not "childishness".

I guess what I'm getting at there is that there's nothing "childish" or "infantile" or whatever other pejorative you prefer about thinking you represent some kind of silent majority and crusading away for it.  It may make you a fool in the quixotic sense, and your foolishness may be predicated on ignorance, and your ignorance may be predicated on a willful stubbornness with regard to accepting facts--all of which may in fact make you fairly contemptible.  (It's one thing to be a fool who knows no better, and another thing entirely to be a fool who chooses to know no better.)

And there's another thing, too, that I expect factors into the House teabagger thought process on this, or really a related pair of things, both concerning their opponents, that has led to a miscalculation.

The first is that if they're thinking that the Affordable Care Act is really, really unpopular, then they're likely thinking that at least a few of their opponents ought to be looking for a way out of it.  Of course, it's hard to tell whether the ACA is really unpopular or not, as the polling data suggests everybody is actually really confused and if you phrase a question to ask, f'r'instance, how someone feels about "Obamacare" or even "The Affordable Care Act", they hate it, but when you ask someone how they feel about kids getting to stay on a parent's insurance until they're in their twenties and other provisions, they're mostly for it, unless it's the individual mandate, which they're against, except when you ask questions about that, people are confused about it, so....  The point being that you can imagine the teabagging crowd being a bit confused that the Democrats are standing together on this one, since if the ACA was as awful and hated as the teabaggers think it is, they ought to be able to coax some defectors over, unless the Democrats really are so evil and partisan they'd cut their own constituents noses just to spite Ted Cruz's face.

And the other thing that has to be confusing them is that they have to be thinking that the President and Democrats are spineless and can be knocked over in a brisk breeze like a poorly-planted lawn umbrella.  The idea that the Democrats are weak and waffly isn't just something they all believe over at Fox News, it's something the Democrats own allies and supporters have been known to accuse them of.  (Yes, yes--I'm one of the guilty ones who has accused the President of bending over and surrendering and negotiating from pre-compromised positions.  Guilty, guilty, guilty as charged.)  And I think it's only fair (I'm about to do it again, albeit lazily and vaguely) to say the Democrats have offered the Republicans evidence that they're weak and waffly and spineless.  (By the way, "waffly" is now a word.  Really.  I've just used it three times, so it must be.)

And this is where I think the House Republicans have made their greatest miscalculation.  You don't have to agree that the Democrats are, in fact, waffly (four), but just take it for the sake of the momentary argument that they are: even if they are, this is the Affordable Care Act; that is, it's the big fucking deal.

It's a bit odd that you'd have to explain this to someone from Texas, like Senator Ted Cruz, or any of the House Republicans from out thataway: but there's a trope in Westerns, where you have the seemingly spineless protagonist who puts up with all sorts of crap for an entire movie, up until the last reel, when the villains finally pick the wrong thing to pick on--the hero's woman, his homestead, his town, whatever it is that's the one thing he can't just suck-it-up over--and then he straps on his guns and it turns out he was a "Real Man" the entire time, that he didn't care too much about his dignity up to a point, but there was always that one thing he wasn't going to fold up on and now the baddies went too far (and sometimes they've even been warned).

(It's a trope that the 1992 movie Unforgiven brilliantly and subtly turns on its head: Clint Eastwood's Will Munny is a guy whose manhood is expressed in keeping his demons in check and letting himself get knocked around, and it's when he finally, ultimately, irrevocably degrades himself by picking up a bottle and letting his monsters out--simultaneously proving that his unseen mother-in-law was both completely right and completely wrong about him--that he becomes the Man Of Violence who "corrects the balance".  A balance that he helped knock askew in the first place, playing a role in the tragedy of horrors that makes the vicious crime that set the plot of the movie into motion somehow even worse.  And rather than being the stoic hero who put up with oh-so-much and then strapped on his guns and demonstrated his never-to-be-questioned-again masculinity, the Will Munny who emerges when alcohol unlocks the chains he's been bound in for so many years is a taciturn, blind drunk, paranoid psychopath.  It really is brilliantly done.  And, I suspect from some comments I've heard over the years, a little misunderstood: the tragic hero of Unforgiven is the guy who gets his ass handed to him by Gene Hackman, not the guy who comes back to town and in a cold fury murders everyone he has a bullet for--(part of) the brilliance of Unforgiven is that Clint Eastwood is the good guy and the villain.  But I digress.)

The Affordable Care Act is the everything of the Obama Presidency: not just the legacy, but the thing that the President staked his reelection on, the thing that he and party leaders in the House and Senate staked the future of their party on.  You could get rid of every other thing the President's done and the ACA would still be that Ultimate Accomplishment; and, conversely, you could get rid of the ACA and leave every other bill the President's signed in place, and he'd have nothing.  Without the ACA, the President's legacy is that his dad happened to be a black guy, which is something, but it's not enough: it's a social and historical accomplishment on the part of an electorate that refused to universally recognized interracial marriages when the President was born, and that used to blow up children and churches when people wanted to vote or sit down to eat, but it isn't a personal accomplishment, a signature bill passed with much personal effort to build a willing coalition.  It's a lot like what the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 was for Lyndon Johnson: the thing the President and his party chose to define themselves now and for history, knowing full well it could cost him and his party their future.

Take it away, they have nothing to show for themselves.

Which is why anybody who's seen a Western might expect the Democrats to cowboy up.  Because even if you accept the premise that the Democrats are spineless and fuck-ups (and you don't have to--just take it for the purposes of this argument if you don't), this is their Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda moment.  (Or their Clint Eastwood-in-Unforgiven moment, if you like to imagine the President as a squinty-eyed drunk staggering into a saloon to shoot everybody in sight.)  Of course this is the moment they're going to strap on their guns and you're going to find out they aren't the big wusses the moustache-twirling laughing banditos assumed they were before the wife was ravaged, the dog shot, the cattle ranch burned to the ground, etc., etc.; surely they've seen this movie before.  I sure as Hell have.

Basically, that's the second part of the grand miscalculation here.  It isn't childish or petulant.  They're just ignorant, for one thing, and they're making the same misjudgement of character and circumstances the bewhiskered heavies in a B-Western do, for a second thing.  Which I guess counts as a form of dumb, since we've seen that movie, too, and know how that one usually ends.  (Not the way this one will end, actually: the banditos always get gut shot and die trying to keep their innards from becoming outtards with their hands.  They don't get massive campaign contributions from the Koch Brothers, reelected in a landslide, or run for President someday.)

At least I think it's a miscalculation.  It's not over yet.  Gods only know: it could end up being the first time Jimmy Stewart takes a bullet in the face.  But I doubt it--the Democrats have nothing if they give in, and it's pretty clear they know it, even if their opponents don't know they know it.


Quote of the day: "What, you think they don't know what they're doing?" edition

>> Tuesday, October 01, 2013

If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
New York, September 30th, 2013.

I think the whole Chait piece at the link is worth a read, actually; I just wasn't sure how to get into it without just recapitulating Digby's piece re: this at Hullabaloo, so I decided to go with the "Quote Of The Day" format.

I think one of the most telling things about the past week is that the Senate Republicans have been perfectly reasonable about the budget, the debt limit, and the plausibility of delaying or repealing the Affordable Care Act when any kind of bill doing so would go down in the Senate and would be vetoed by the President if it somehow passed (making an Obamacare repeal two impossible things before breakfast).  But the Senate Republicans, you know, face reelection in statewide elections: under our system of governance, they're actually accountable.  Ditto Presidents, and/or Presidential candidates: the Republican party may well be punished for a government shutdown.

But Representatives won't be.  The people who are orchestrating this catastrophe, by-and-large, are in the House Of Representatives (the major exception was Senator Ted Cruz's fauxlibuster last week, wherein the esteemed Senator from The Sovereign Republic Of Texas pretended he was Jimmy Stewart right before a scheduled vote was held as scheduled).  They come from heavily-gerrymandered congressional districts where they won't be facing any significant opposition unless they're met in a primary, and nobody from their own party is too likely to run against them when (1) they have significant teabagger support for heroically shutting down the government instead of submitting to tag-and-bagging by Obamacare death panel minions and (2) they have significant contributor support from people like the Koch Brothers for heroically shutting down the government instead of allowing the fascists and takers to bully the makers and creators by forcing them to give anything more to their weak, lazy, parasitic employees.  The members of the House who are shutting down the Federal Government this week are accountable to no one, or worse: they are likely to be rewarded for their dog-and-pony show this week.

They aren't petulant children who don't know what forces they threaten to unleash, nor are they idiots.

No, I think what's maybe harder to discern is whether they're so cynical and selfish they put their own political (and subsequent private consultant) careers over the good of their country, or whether they're so self-righteous they think their own ascendency and the good of the country are synonymous.  I suspect it's the latter, in which case there's something mildly terrifying in the way they're disconnected from reality to such an extent they think the people who voted against them in 2012 are just doing democracy wrong or something.  But even that, I don't think, is "idiocy" in the sense the term is often used today, to mean "stupid" or "moronic".  It's "senseless" in the sense that it's insensate to certain realities (like the suffering they cause, or that their home-district precinct primary majorities are only minorities in the grand scheme and have been firmly rejected several times now by everyone from voters in the general election to a majority of Supreme Court Justices), but they know what they're doing, they planned it this way, they weighed the costs and benefits and found this a productive course to take.

I think you have to take into account, too, that the Republicans behind this all seem to be from the "government should be so small you can drown it in a bathtub" school.  There is a certain stupidity in that, actually, in that this is an idea most often held by people who don't really know what government does, and/or who haven't thought through what it would fully mean for government to be virtually nonexistent.  (Do they really think there should be no police or courthouses, for instance?  Or if they think, as some libertarians do, that there ought to be courthouses for people to settle civil disputes in, how do they expect those courthouses to record and preserve judgements, who do they think will enforce those judgements, have they given any thought to how many people it takes to keep a courthouse running before you even have any lawyers and judges showing up in it?  For instance.)  But the point is that the idea of a governmental shutdown hardly strikes this sort as a bad thing, seeing as how shutting down government was basically one of their campaign planks when they stood for office.  Similarly, these folks don't have a really good grasp on how debt works in the modern age, or how national debt works as a distinct creature from personal debt or how the American national debt ceiling is different from the deficit; they believe in some kind of unworkable pay-as-you-go kind of thing that has no bearing on how government spending has ever worked, going back to when the Continental Congress couldn't pay any of its debts during the Revolution.  This, too, is a kind of stupidity, but it's a knowing stupidity.  Their premises may be cocked all to Hell, but they know what they're doing to the extent they know anything.

At any rate, it isn't childish in any conventional sense.  It's mature, sophisticated, premeditated high-stakes poker played with other people's money and a dim grasp of how probabilities work.  Or maybe it's more comparable to a well-thought-out plan to take Vegas by playing the slots machines instead of doing something more sensible like counting cards at the Blackjack tables.  (And, okay, trying to take Vegas at slots is a dumb idea.  But I guess the point is there are kinds of dumb.)

All of which I think my fellow travelers probably ought to keep in mind, though I'm not sure what we ought to do about it, since, as I already mentioned, the folks who are causing this aren't accountable to anyone.  The best we can hope for is that they've ruined their colleagues' chances at taking back the Senate or having the White House any time in the next four-to-eight years, but that's hardly retribution when all it would do is essentially maintain the current status quo.  I suppose one point is that we shouldn't be puzzling 'til our puzzlers are sore, as there's nothing puzzling about it: this is a calculus they worked out months ago, and it's going mostly as planned so far.  We can hope that standing our ground, which is what we need to do, doesn't cost us too much in the long run, I guess.


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