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Friday, September 09, 2011

Civil war

Some people have tasked me for not making earlier mention of this amazing article by former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren. It really is a must-read. Samples:
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
To be frank, a few readers of this very blog seem to have fallen for that very brand of ill-informed public cynicism. Newsflash: You aren't helping anyone but the libertarians. There are still plenty of decent people in American political life, and many more who want to be decent.

This "engineered cynicism" may be why there is such a pronounced overlap between libertarianism and reactionary conspiracism. (See: Glenn Beck. See: Alex Jones. See: Morgan Reynolds.) I've been called a conspiracist myself, from time to time -- but even on my lowest days, I have never had anything but contempt for the sort of paranoid weltanschauung that disallows all hope of good governance.

Lofgren touches on that territory when he goes after the fundamentalist connection: 
The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines "low-information voter" - or, perhaps, "misinformation voter."
You may also want to call them "Jesus voters." The Randroids tend to be atheists, of course -- but, like the Israelis, they will use the Jesus voters with a disingenuous ruthlessness.

All of which brings us back to the underfunding of Social Security, as discussed in the post above this one:
If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren't after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be "forced" to make "hard choices" - and that doesn't mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.
Let us turn to Matt Taibbi, offering his own insights on Lofgren's piece.
But the time is coming when we are all going to be forced to literally take sides in a political conflict far more serious and extreme than we're used to imagining. The situation is such a tinderbox now that all it will take is some prominent politician to openly acknowledge the fact of a cultural/civil war for the real craziness to begin.

Reading Lofgren's piece, and a piece by John Judis of the New Republic, makes one realize that we came pretty close to real chaos in that debt ceiling debate. Had Obama invoked emergency powers to raise the debt limit unilaterally – and I think he had good reasons to do that – we might have had a revolt on our hands.
Allow me to take Taibbi's wise words into a radical direction. If we are to have a crisis, then let's have a crisis.

The current "civil war" in America greatly resembles the long-simmering Monarchist/Republican "civil war" which beset France throughout much of the 19th century. It reached one crisis when a general named Boulanger came that close to mounting a coup against the Third Republic. Ultimately, he didn't have the balls or the mental stability for the job. Nevertheless, Boulangism provided the template for fascism.

The second crisis, of course, was the Dreyfuss affair.

Maybe, God help us, we need a Dreyfuss affair of our own. Maybe we won't have resolution until we have conflict.

The libertarians may wave flags and use "founding father" imagery, but ultimately, they don't want democracy -- a fact they've made clear to anyone with ears to listen. Democracy means that common people may want things (such as Social Security and unemployment benefits) that inconvenience our rulers. Sharron Angle, bless her fascist little heart, has directly said that this is the major problem besetting America today -- one which justifies taking up arms against the Republic. She is not an outlier: She simply said aloud what all other libertarians say only amongst their ideological compatriots.

A crisis will force the libertarians to drop the panties and show what they have underneath. A crisis will force Americans to ask themselves: Do you really, really want to live in the Somalia-like hell-hole that the libertarians have in store for this country?

Afterward, Americans will want to go back to the system we had in place between 1940 and 1970 -- the days of regulated capitalism, the days of Nixon announcing "We're all Keynesians now." The days of high growth, lower working hours, and decent lives for working stiffs.

That system was the one that divided Americans least.
Comments:
To be frank, a few readers of this very blog seem to have fallen for that very brand of ill-informed public cynicism. Newsflash: You aren't helping anyone but the libertarians. There are still plenty of decent people in American political life, and many more who want to be decent.

I'm not sure what your point is here?

There is no place for public cynicism because all of it is ill-informed?

From a leftist perspective, this is surely false.

I don't know where to start.

The republicans are CRAZY, and the democratic response to that is...a payroll tax cut. It is to laugh.

This Lofgren dude spent 28 years as a staffer. Now that he's retired he's suddenly found a conscience?

THANKS MIKE! YOU'VE BEEN A GREAT HELP. PLEASE ACCEPT THIS GOLD WATCH AS A TOKEN OF OUR APPRECIATION.
 
agree entirely.

Harry
 
I can admit I'm one of those who has become cynical. However, I certainly am aware that there are good people in government and that the whole thing is not quite entirely corrupt. Can you really blame us for having this view? In any case, this post made clearing something that you have been saying for a while now.

It's interesting, that when I confront my conservative acquaintances, who are endlessly going on about how too many regulations and taxes have destroyed the economy, with the fact that we have been stripping regulations away ever since Regan and do they really want to revert to 19th century business practices? They respond with "well, I'm not against ALL regulations". I get the feeling that a lot of "common" people on the right do not want what Libertarians want.......but are too caught up in the rhetoric of "battle" against the "socialist agenda" of the Liberal Left to realize fully what they are supporting. I tell them Libertarianism is incompatible with Democracy and they say they agree, which is why they can't support it, yet they defend Bachman and Perry with all the vehemence they can muster.

At any rate, great post Joe, I agree with all of it.
 
The ruling class is hopelessly corrupt. As per any dissidents on right or left, the question becomes, are their positions alienated in a practical decisive fashion to begin or assist processes which replace or diminish the power of the elite, or are they engaging in politics which play into the hands of that elite.

What follows after the elite lose power we can argue later.
 
Driftglass had the best commentary on this matter.
 
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