Reflections on politics as civil war by other means

Today’s GOP threatens the Republic in two distinct but linked ways: by pushing the envelope with respect to the political process – both in the use of obstruction and in attempting to cement themselves in power by corrupting the electoral process with money and disenfranchisement – and by routinely using violent “patriots-and-tyrants” rhetoric.

Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice, writing from the Lion Gate at Mycenae, offers some Homeric reflections on the over-the-top rhetoric and its practical consequences. And that was before RNC Chair Reince Priebus’s latest outburst: “We have to put an end to this Barack Obama presidency before it puts an end to our way of life in America.”

Just once, I’d like a reporter to ask Mitt Romney whether he wants to disagree with any of this crap.

Footnote If I sometimes fail in courtesy and patience toward the firebaggers, this is why. Politics ain’t beanbag: right now, it’s perilously close to civil war waged by other means.

The problem is that the Red understands the stakes and is standing by its man, while important elements of the Blue team are … otherwise occupied.

Yes, yes, I know: “lacking all conviction” is evidence of superior understanding, while only the worst are “full of passionate intensity.” But surely there must be some comfortable middle ground between threatening violence if your side loses and sulking in your tent.

To choose this moment of all moments to parade, as a virtue, one’s superiority to the practical need to win the damned election seems to me evidence of what Lenin – whose morals would make him a good fit for today’s Republican apparat, but who was a keen political observer – called “an infantile disorder.”

If you absolutely can’t resist the impulse to say that Bain Capital’s version of vulture capitalism is simply the exercise of Schumpeterian creative destruction and that all the people whose jobs Mitt Romney shipped to China – and whose pensions he welsched on – have no kick coming, for Christ’s sweet sake say it with equations in the Quarterly Review of Political Econometrica, not on bloggingheads.

This one’s for keeps, folks.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

49 thoughts on “Reflections on politics as civil war by other means”

    1. Beyond Finn’s wry snark, I am always a tad shocked when people remonstrate: “I’m sick and tired of having to choose the lesser of two evils”.

      That’s life. Get over it. Life is a broadband of evil, lesser evil, lesser good, and good.
      Choosing the lesser of two evils is making a powerful choice for a better future. One should be thankful one has that choice to make. There are plenty of other places and other times where that option isn’t even on the table. In fact I argue, choosing the lesser of two evils is one sure way to get into heaven. So yeah, I’m voting for the lesser of two evils. Proudly so. It is the morally correct thing to do.

      As far as what Kleiman writes here: … while important elements of the Blue team are … otherwise occupied.

      There is a time to oppose trends in the Democratic administration and there is a time to focus all your energy on winning the next election.
      Uppermost now should be about winning and keeping the Wall Street Music Man out of the White House.
      It would be smart for Glenn Greenwald and the Firebaggers to totally focus their attention on voter disenfranchisement.
      Surely they must be as pissed off about that as they are about the surveillance state?
      Has Greenwald posted anything on disenfranchisement? Is there ever a better a time than now?

      Arch liberals would do well to pick their battles in a timely intelligent way.

      1. I’m not sure I understand your objection to the Firebaggers. They seem merely to be arguing a consistently liberal position (with which I largely agree) but nobody here seems to want to explain how that in any way harms Obama’s prospect for reelection. As far am I am aware, all prominent members of what I guess you think of as the “Firebagger” community are united in the opposition to the Republicans and clear that they will be voting for Obama in November. Even Noam Chomsky has endorsed Obama, saying: “I’m not a great enthusiast for Obama, as you know, from way back, but at least he’s somewhere in the real world”. None has advocated some kind of Naderite third-party vote.

        The main difference seems to be that the Firebaggers are devoted to their political beliefs and care most about advancing them, while others, such as yourself, seem to be more devoted to Obama than to advancing any sort of political agenda. What is it you think they should be saying and doing to help Obama that they could do without totally abandoning their core political beliefs?

    2. Cthulhu v. Romney? I think that Romney might win–Cthulhu has a certain tentacular grandeur, while Romney is banal.

  1. Finn- The German Communist Party refused to support the Weimar Republic in the face of the Nazi threat because from their point of view it was a tool of the capitalist class. Their reasoning was that things needed to get worse before they get better.

    Things did get worse before they got better. But I doubt any members of the German CP were around to experience the getting better…

        1. I’m not sure how subtle it was but I think your assessment is actually a bit simplistic and probably not applicable to the current situation in this country. I believe you are referring to the split between the two major German communist parties that prevented them from forming a united front against the Nazis. Nevertheless, I don’t think they acted from the reasons you stated and it is my recollection that the Communists consistently voted with the other center left parties right up to the time when they were banned (which meant that they didn’t refuse to vote against the Enabling Act because they felt: “things needed to get worse” but because the seats were vacant)and, in any event, they seemed not to be so distracted with their internecine civil war so as to be unable to fight the Nazis (which they did, quite literally, even to the point of forming paramilitaries to fight with the Brownshirts).

          What’s more, it wasn’t the left (either the Communists or the SPD that) that abandoned democracy out of some sense of seeking perfection to the exclusion of sensible compromises but the appropriately named Centre Party whose votes and support for the Enabling Act were absolutely critical to Hitler’s rise to power. These were Communists, it’s quite true, but they were definitely not the prototypical adherents of Franz Fanon, nor of Ralph Nader, either. I always found the politics and history of the Weimar Republic very complicated, more than a little confusing and uniquely German.

          The main points that I feel are relevant to today’s situation are the fact that the economic shock-waves from the Crash of 1929 coupled with Germany’s bizarre politics of austerity lead to the rise of the extremes of both left and right, culminating in Hitler’s rise to absolute power after the elections of July 1932. It is this history which has lead me (and many others) to conclude that Obama has been a very poor steward of the American economy and his misguided embrace of both austerity and lemon socialism has been responsible for much of the rise of the lunatic right in this country.

          1. I remember from my study of German history during that era that some Communists said what I reported. The Social Democrats and Communists failed to form a united front against the Nazis, and from my hurried rereading of history read carefully several decades ago, both sides blamed the other for this failure.

            I am well aware that Hitler entered into government in cooperation with conservative parties who thought they could handle him. I did not mention this because it is rather irrelevant to my point so I didn’t clutter the post up with it. I am not writing history but critiquing a view that appeals to those who prefer self-righteousness over realism. On the other hand, the old Republican leadership’s attempt to incorporate Southern NeoConfederates into the Republican Party while keeping them under their control has certain ironical sim,ilarities with that earlier conservative miscalculation.

            I agree that Obama has done a poor job and that given the alternative his uninspiring (and worse) record has no impact on who I will vote for for president.

        2. @ Gus diZerega,

          My main point was that the Communists (KPD) did not take the political or philosophical stances that you attribute to them. Neither did the many Byzantine plots and intrigues among the German Communists prevent them from being united in their opposition to Hitler and there does not seem to be any indication that their efforts suffered at all from a lack of focus. It’s true that the proposed accord between the Social Democrats and the KPD broke down in early 1933 but, again, not for the reason that they were to busy fighting each other to pay attention to the Nazis or that that the Communists had some Naderie belief that there wasn’t a reichspfennig’s worth of difference between Schleicher and Hitler. Again, not an area of history I know much about, but this morning I briefly skimmed through two of my books on the Third Reich and my impression that the Communists did not take do what you seem to think they did seems correct (The German Communists did lots of other stupid things, but just not that specific one you attribute to them).

          I would, though, like to reiterate that the Weimar Republic’s fiscal policies which (like Obama’s) focused on austerity contributed significantly to the rise of the extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. Here is a link to an article by the historian Robert Cruickshank that makes the Weimar analogy very clearly both in terms of our economic policies and the political environment generally.http://www.alternet.org/visions/156078/weimar_america%3A_four_major_ways_we're_following_in_germany's_fascist_footsteps

          As I said earlier, if there is one single thing that seems to have changed the political situation more than any other and put the Republicans in the driving seat, it was Obama’s misguided political choice to accept the philosophical underpinnings of austerity and also to embrace TARP and lemon socialism when he was under no political compulsion to do so. If he loses in November, it won’t be because of Glenn Greenwald or Jane Hamsher but because he listened to Timothy Geithner instead of Paul Krugman.

          1. Not sure our discussion about the KPD will go very far. My close study of the issue was in the late 60s and early 70s and you admit to not being an expert yourself. We’re tied. When I looked around today I read that the SPD blamed the KPD for not having a united front and the KPD blamed the SPD. But from an orthodox Marxist-Leninist perspective there is little reason to doubt that many believed it had to get worse (the crisis of capitalism) before it got better. And really, THAT was my point.

            I agree with you on Obama making it worse. And I like the article you linked to.

            But I think the problem is much deeper than Obama’s ineptitude and the potential for disaster greater. From the Civil War to LBJ the NeoConfederates did not ally with northern conservatives in the Republican Party because of Lincoln, and so were rendered a lot less powerful because Democratic national leadership was Northern. The GOP’s Southern strategy changed that and enabled a reactionary alliance that was made more powerful by our having only two viable parties. It also seems very compatible with the worst of the 1%. Here’s a piece that helps explain my point. http://www.alternet.org/visions/156071/conservative_southern_values_revived:_how_a_brutal_strain_of_american_aristocrats_have_come_to_rule_america_/?page=entire

          2. The mistake in this analysis is to focus on a left/right-wing distinction with respect to Weimar.

            There were three parties that supported the democracy. Those were the SPD (social democrats), the DDP (centrist, classical liberals), and the Zentrum (conservative, catholics).

            There were conservative parties that were in favor of restoring the monarchy or at least a form of government that favored the traditional elites (DNP, DNVP, BVP).

            And there were the extremists that wanted to destroy the republic. Those were primarily the national socialists (NSDAP), but also the communists (KPD), and the radical socialists (USPD, MSPD).

            The state of Prussia was governed for all but one year of the existence of the republic by an SPD/DDP/Zentrum coalition. These parties had literally nothing in common other than that they favored democracy. Prussia was known at the time as the democratic bulwark, and it wasn’t until its democratic government had been replaced in a move of questionable constitutionality that the national socialists were able to take over (a key point was Goering being appointed the Prussian Minister of the Interior and replacing democratic police commissioners throughout the state with NSDAP-friendly counterparts). This alone should make pretty clear that left/right-wing distinctions aren’t terribly useful in analyzing the political climate of Weimar.

            The communists did stand in opposition to the national socialists, but they saw the social democrats as their primary opponent (there was a long history of bad blood between the movements, going back to Marx and Lassalle). The German KPD followed Stalin in that they saw the social democrats as “social fascists”, the left wing of the fascist movement (and yes, that was as preposterous as it sounds). That opposition to democracy was not purely theoretical: For example, in 1920, after the Kapp putsch had failed, the Ruhr Red Army began a revolution and civil war of their own (which eventually failed). Another uprising started by the communists failed in 1921. (Under Thälmann, the KPD began seeking power through elections, but never abandoned its opposition to democracy and closely followed Stalin.)

        3. If English words still have meaning then you’re comparing anti-Obama progressives with pre-WWII German communists and anti-Obama with Nazis. In writing, “But I doubt any members of the German CP were around to experience the getting better…” you are implying that failure to support the president will result in the extermination of said progressives. This is an absurd overstatement. Hence, the play on reductio ad absurdum. Apparently, this was too subtle for you.

          Your concluding statement is also wrong on the facts. Nearly all of the German Democratic Republic’s senior leaders were active communists in pre-war Germany and survived by means of exile, imprisonment or participation in the Wehrmacht. While one can argue that there was little “better” about life in East Germany, it was certainly better for these members of the German CP.

          1. First sentence should read: If English words still have meaning then you’re comparing anti-Obama progressives with pre-WWII German communists and anti-Obama Republicans with Nazis.

    1. Two thoughts:

      First, if we are indeed facing a situation similar to the end of the Weimar Republic, I am curious to know how you think we got here. On the day President Obama took office, the Democratic Party was riding high with large majorities in every house and a Republican Party that was reduced to little more than a Southern rump. I appreciate that for some here, Obama didn’t fail as a leader, he faltered because he received insufficient adoration from “Firebaggers”. Maybe so, but don’t you think that President Obama considerable responsibility for the huge decline in the party’s fortunes since he became president?

      Second, although I agree with the point I understand you to be making that the lesser evil is always to be preferred, I can’t help noticing decreasing utility of continually choosing the lesser of two evils as a political philosophy. Doing so seems to have encouraged Democratic strategy of sailing as close to the rightward shores as they can secure in the knowledge that as long as they are marginally better the majority of Democrats will hold their noses and vote for the lesser evil. What have we gained when each election the choices on the Democratic side are ever lesser and more evil? President Obama is certainly the most right-leaning Democratic president in my lifetime and probably ever. He has demonstrated himself to be no friend of either the New Deal or the Great Society.

      I will certainly vote to reelect Obama as the significantly less evil alternative but I see his second term as basically a cross between Ronald Reagan’s third term and David Brooks’ wet dream. I greatly fear that if we cannot find a way to break free of this destructive cycle, we will be spending our lives as the willing executioners of everything the Democratic party has stood for and achieved since the end of the Second World War.

      1. he faltered because he received insufficient adoration from “Firebaggers”.

        I think he faltered primarily because there is a conservative wing of the Democratic party that actively sabotaged him. This is where I put the primary responsibility, and these are the people I would most like to get rid of. However, that’s a set of people who honestly think that Obama is too liberal and who are pursuing the policies that they think are correct. I despise them for it because I think they are wrong, but I don’t think that they are sabotaging their own perceived best policies.

        I hold Obama’s opponents to the left in contempt not because I think they are responsible for the failure to enact policies, but because they *are* actively sabotaging their own perceived best policies. To whatever extent they are successful in opposing Obama on domestic economic issues (I’ll set foreign policy and civil liberties issues aside as somewhat different arguments), they are helping to bring about results that they profess to oppose. The failure of Obama will not bring about the Progressive Revolution and the failure of certain progressives to train their guns on the real problem is counterproductive, not only to what I would like to see, but what they profess to want to see.

        It is possible to criticize Obama without sabotaging him. One of the first things to recognize is that he sails as far rightward as he does primarily because, despite doing so, most people who oppose him are to his right. If he wants to garner enough electoral votes to win re-election, that’s where they live. His opponents to the left have grand delusions about how many votes he could win if he moved to the left, but that’s what they are: delusions.

        It frustrates me to no end that people think that the way to move the political center to the left is to criticize Obama for being too far to the right. They don’t seem to understand that when you criticize the president, that’s what the public hears. They don’t listen to the exact nature of the criticism. Doing it assists primarily the critique of him expressed by right wing populists (as phony as many of them are), not anything from the left.

        If you want to argue that Obama is too far to the right, then *lament* that he has been pulled there. Express sorrow rather than anger. You may or may not think that it’s honest, but that’s how you can do it effectively. Save your anger for the people who are doing the pulling. Primary the hell out of conservative Democrats who represent districts where a more liberal alternative can win. Sometimes it’s appropriate to try to destroy a particularly counterproductive conservative Democrat in a seat where a more liberal nominee won’t win, but you need to be pretty judicious about this. But you can’t sandbag the leader of the leftmost party leader with any chance to win the presidency. That’s just dumb.

        In the end, and despite what the above might sound like, I can’t muster much anger about Obama;s critics on the left. Exasperation, sure. Contempt, yes. But not anger. Frankly, I don’t think they have enough power to make much of a real difference, so I don’t think it matters much what they do. Contrary to their beliefs, they aren’t the base of the Democratic Party. However, *if* they were powerful enough to make a difference, or if I’m wrong and they are, or if things are so close in a particular election that even a marginal group makes a difference, that difference is likely to be harmful, not helpful.

        1. Your perspective seems to be that Obama is the best of all possible presidents and it is, in fact, impossible to criticize him. He has no ability to move public opinion or to effect change. And yet, when when the homosexuals got fed up with his nonsense and delivered an ultimatum, he somehow found the ability to implement the policies he said couldn’t be implemented; to do with executive orders all that which he claimed required Congressional action; and he took the risk of speaking out on gay rights. Similarly, when it became clear that the Hispanic community was perhaps about to abandon him, their issues suddenly became doable, too. So it seems clear to me that it was a mistake to leave Obama alone during the first two years of his presidency when he might decided that the left was too valuable a source of money and support to risk losing. I don’t know how that would have played out but, apparently, he does respond to pressure. It’s probably too late now but it’s clear to me that following the path you and Mark are advocating is to simply write off everything the Democrats have fought for and won.

          You and Mark also suggest that the “Firebaggers” are insignificant, yet capable of savaging Obama’s reelection hopes. You are openly dismissive of Obama’s critics to the left (which, since he’s a center-right to right politician, clearly encompasses a lot more of the political spectrum than you seem to be willing to acknowledge), yet you imply that the cause of any Obama loss will be their slacking off in terms of raising money, doing GOTV and insufficiently adoring him. How could such an insignificant buch of nobodies sabotage Obama?

          Then there is also a question about what policies you yourself would like to see implemented. The implication is that it is a choice of supporting Obama even though he stands for center-right policies and is also anxious to appease the right. You blithely dismiss civil rights and civil liberties and interesting but if Obama feels they’re not that important, well, that seems to be okay with you. You suggest that America is a center right country that is going to get rid of the New Deal and Great Society anyway so why not stop whining and get behind Obama because he’s so totally cool and nothing’s his fault. But if what you say is true, why do so many Americans keep saying that they are for Social Security, Medicare and education and all those silly liberal programs? How is it that the Democrats, with all their faults, gained control of the Congress, passed a lot of good legislation over the years and did so without ever offering to put Social Security “on the table”? I think Obama is not a good president. He is clearly the lesser of the two evils by a wide margin. Nevertheless, I don’t personally feel the same sense of connection with Obama as I did with previous Democratic presidents and I don’t feel great loyalty towards him. I’ll vote for him and hope he wins, but I only hope that we can stop him from undoing all of the good the Democrats have done over the years.

      2. I mostly agree. The problems that are afflicting us are structural, and until they are addressed in my view the lesser-of-evils approach is all we’ve got.

        One structural issue among several is that our system makes viable third parties all but impossible. Two parties worked adequately when they drew on different sectors for financing elections and were not dominated by ideological extremists. Now both parties are essentially corporatist and the Republicans are controlled by a nihilistic group of theocrats, imperialists, garden variety authoritarians and the very worst of the 1%. A great many Americans vote based on their view of the incumbent, and when the alternative actively seeks to destroy the substance of democratic government, that is an incredibly dangerous situation.

        That reality also addresses the Weimar issue beyond my use of it to explode some bad reasoning. A majority of Germans never voted Nazi. It was a structural weakness in the Republic, as well as powerful anti-democratic elements in German culture, that in many ways led to Hitler’s rule. Purists on the Marxist left made that possibility even more likely.

        My point is not that Republicans are fascists, let alone Nazis, it is that they are actively anti-democratic and deeply authoritarian. They will almost certainly increase this dimension of their policies once in power, and are taking advantage of a structural weakness aided by simpletons on the left.

        We will remain in perilous waters until at least this structural issue is dealt with. I personally favor states with initiatives pushing for replacing plurality elections with majority ones. Nothing less will come close to addressing the issue in my opinion. I have yet to see a third party with the brains to push for this, alas. Nor is campaign finance reform likely to happen under the present regime except through initiatives and the demise of the current court majority, which at least requires Romney to lose no matter how disappointing Obama might be.

    2. Yes, yes, and the Nader voters cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. I am not an accelerationalist, I do not want things to get worse before they get better, however, I don’t think voting Democrat over Republican will make much of a difference any how. I do care about things like gay people being allowed to marry and women keeping their reproductive systems out of public scrutiny and the 10s of millions (as I understand it) who get better healthcare through PPACA, but I don’t think any of that is going to matter when the massive wealth inequalities of this country finally catch up with it.

    1. “… not on bloggingheads.” That’s not so many people. It’s impossible to assess an argument directed at unnamed adversaries.
      FWIW, I think Mitch Guthman has the better of the argument here; the idea that centrist swing voters in Ohio pay any attention to the few systematic critics of Obama from the left blogosphere (Jane Hamsher? Glenn Greenwald? Joe Romm?) is incredible on the face of it. But Michael O’Neal has the better practical recommendation, viz. lefties should give their money and time preferentially to liberal congressional primaries and races. This also helps Obama – a lame duck second term isn’t much use except in preventing the repeal of ACA and the appointment of more Alitos to the Supreme Court, advantages which should not be underestimated.

  2. Mark, you are getting to sound downright unreasonable. You’re starting to sound as hardline crazy as me.
    We live in interesting times, no?

  3. I love the analogy Mark. Obama is a Weimar Democratic Party leader, bar none. He is also Herbert Hoover where the opposition are outright fascists instead of FDR in 1932.

    But you have to admit something each time you want to write your type of post: Admit that if Obama is re-elected, he will continue to destroy the rest of the New Deal, starting with a Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare. He will continue to hollow out the US industrial capacity as far as workers go with his pushing for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Lori Wallach rightly called the NAFTA on steriods. And a vote for Obama is as much a vote in favor of the continuation of Bush-Cheney civil liberties policies as Romney. Obama-Bernanke, Obama-Goldman Sachs. They win every time.

    Yes, yes, I know if Obama is re-elected, we as citizens will save women’s reproductive autonomy in the short run and maybe a Supreme Court seat if Ginsburg retires in the period of 2013-2016. But let’s not fool ourselves into what we’re also buying. Tribalism is what folks like me are noticing about Obama supporters, where they ignore all the bad stuff that comes with Obama as they scream their generalities about a narrow set of positions that sets Obama off from Romney.

    1. Never forget Bush versus Gore. Not a whit of difference between them? So all good liberals should vote for Nader or don’t bother ’cause it’s just the lesser of two evils.
      The trouble with your sentiment is that the left keeps looking for someone to fall in love with and the right keeps falling in line. And every time we go through this one step foward two steps back the lack of support from the left drives the debate and politicians to the right. The fault dear mitchel is not in the stars but in ourselves.

      1. I congratulate you on your brilliant refutation of the straw-man you created. I don’t think either Freedman or me has ever said that these isn’t any difference between the two parties. Clearly, there is a huge difference. I’m a Democrat because I believe in the things that the Democratic Party has stood for historically (for example, the New Deal and the Great Society) and the Republicans have always opposed every aspect of those things. That is a vital difference and one well worth fighting to maintain. I only with that President Obama shared my feeling but I am certain he does not. Speaking for myself only, I think Obama is a man of the corporatist center-right who does not value the historical achievements of the Democratic Party very highly and is willing to see them dismantled if it will win him praise from the likes of David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. A vote for Obama is a vote for the slow rolling back of the social safety net as opposed to the immediate return to the Dickensian nightmare of the First Gilded Age. My belief that President Obama is not a liberal and is not a proponent of the social welfare state does not blind me to the fact that he is undoubtedly the better choice in November. That is to say, I’m willing to overlook what I see as his flaws and vote for him because it is necessary.

        I do not adore Obama. I think he’s been a very poor leader and his flirtations with the right have greatly empowered them and brought us to this unhappy situation. I will, however, vote for him in November. I will follow James Wimberley’s compromise and so will donate and work for the Democrats down-ticket but I will indeed vote for Obama. I think that should be sufficient for both you and Mark.

        1. This Mitch thanks Mitch G.

          Anomalous does not comprehend very well. I recognized the dime’s worth of difference on cultural issues. He of course does not attempt to refute the lack of a dime’s worth on civil liberties and the 3 cents worth of difference in economic issues. Anomalous also does not know how to count very consistently. We who voted for Nader in 2000 voted for Kerry (and some of us, including me worked for Kerry) in 2004 and it meant nada. We won’t make a difference in CA if we vote for Jill Stein of the Greens. It might in Ohio, so I would urge lefties to think and wait till near the end of this campaign before considering any vote other than Obama. But let’s say it again since I doubt Mark and certainly Anamalous get it yet:

          If your candidate, Obama, wins re-election, he will continue the destruction of Social Security and Medicare. He will promote trade treaties that further hollow out American manufacturing for workers. He will continue to undermine civil liberties. That’s again if he wins re-election. Yes, yes, Romney is slightly worse, but he might well overshoot on Soc Sec and Medicare and give Dems in Congress enough spine for once to stand up, the way they did to Bush II in 2005 when he tried to undermine Soc Sec and Medicare.

          Again, though, Mark and Anomalous need to calm down and realize there are a lot less of us than either think, and we are more willing to hear their best points than they hear our best points. They are the tribalist ones here.

    2. The problem with idealism (in this case progressive idealism) is that it won’t be satisfied with anything short of perfection. If you’re an idealistic progressive, you will rail and whimper against any politically reasonable policy that doesn’t fulfill a dream of utopia. Never mind that the policy you seek is not only politically unlikely, but impossible to achieve in a diverse nation.

      Since the real world works through compromise and bargaining, hard-left liberals will NEVER be satisfied. And they are willing to ruin things to say that they are pure of heart. Rather than accepting policies that move toward their goals, however slowly, they’re willing to topple the dream because it doesn’t instantly achieve the utopian goal itself.

    3. Tribalism is what people are noticing about democrats?

      One of the things that fascinates me in a sort of trainwreck way about current political discourse is the normalization of evil. Everyone pretty much expects the GOP to put donors and political advantage ahead of country, to break long-established rules of legislative conduct, to regard hard-fought agreements as so much waste paper and so on. Why? Because that’s their world view. Because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win elections. But taking the next step, and saying that that world view is not OK, that no one who values civilization should vote for them, seems to be taboo.

      I was reminded of this a while back when one of the usual suspects did a piece explaining how it was perfectly rational for republicans to propose an individual mandate when the alternative was single-payer care, and then to scream that the mandate was unconstitutional once it had been enacted. The argument was that you go for the best you can get in each situation, and if your goal is to stop the government from increasing the provision of health care, you’ll go with the option that minimizes the increase in coverage at any given time. Missing from the discussion was the fact that such a goal is unconscionable.

      1. Paul, I think there are plenty of people saying that world view is not taboo. The problem is that an equal number of people are engaging in shady behavior, and our political/media system is unrefereed: no one can penalize the other team for questionable but still legal tactics.

        The most frustrating dimension of modern American politics is that liberals such as me can yell until we’re blue in the face about the Right only caring about winning, and being massive hypocrites. But who cares? Who is supposed to swoop down and fix this messed up system? There’s no hall monitor, principal, referee to intervene, so the only available option is to keep fighting. Citizens United made this considerably harder, and Voter ID laws are going to make it harder still. But there is no alternative if you care about the country.

  4. One meme appearing in some online comment threads is that the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare is comparable to Dred Scott v. Sanford.

    That led me to think. If a second Civil War ensues, will any of Mitt Romney’s sons fight in it? And if so, on which side?

  5. I have just one quibble with this, and with others far and wide who’ve adopted the term, and that is the naming of what Bain Capital does as “vulture capitalism.” In fact, vultures are fine birds who generally do not kill in order to eat, but instead wait for a creature to die from other means and then neatly recycle the mess–a useful function.

    What Bain Capital does would better be termed “predatory capitalism” because it preys on otherwise healthy (or perhaps temporarily stumbling) companies and then without mercy, guts them, killing them dead, in order to consume their corpses. The vultures would be those who then go into the abandoned premises and buy up the remaining machinery and the now-empty building on the cheap, to put it to some new use–also a useful function.

    Trivial, perhaps. But I have a fondness for vultures and hate to see them bad-mouthed as being Romney-like.

    1. I’m neither an expert, or an apologist in general for capitalism, but there must also be some room for such firms to truly be “saving” soon-to-be-dead companies that without help, financial or otherwise, would perish. I can imagine instances in which the benevolent investment truly does good work, with or without heavy-handed, strings-attached consultancy.

      I know, such gratuity no doubt gives succor to those who would avoid the dirty immoralities of capitalism, and I risk playing the sort of games Mark might see played by certain individuals (whose names maybe rhyme with Flenn Flowery). But I’m indeed seeking a middle ground between passion and sulkery.

      1. Indeed there should be. And I have no problem whatsoever with investment companies making large profits by saving near-dead companies. What is troubling is this: these firms, such as Bain, seem to be playing a “heads I win, tails you lose” game. They somehow make money however the company they are ostensibly trying to save fares. There’s something wrong with that.

        If you set out to save a company, and extract tons of cash, and the rescue fails, I think your actions are subject to serious question, especially if some of that cash comes out of workers’ penion funds and the like. I

        1. That’s the sneaky thing about capital though, right? It’s set up so that ostensibly risk gets rewarded, such as investing money. But in reality, property collects enough rent to afford great risk to be taken without actually presenting much real risk to the property holder. So you have millionaires collecting huge rewards for “risk” that has no real direct effect on their own lives. Meanwhile, the rest of us – who live on their margins – are the ones who actually feel/live their risk, and are asked to finance it by continuing to pay them rent. There is definitely a deeper corruption afoot.

          1. Eli: It’s actually a bit worse than that. When a company takes on additional debt to make, say, a quarter-billion-dollar “special dividend” to the investors ostensibly saving it, that makes layoffs and eventual bankruptcy that much more likely. When an aspiring homeowner gets steered to a fancy mortgage with a few thousand extra in upfront fees and a few hundred a month in additional payments because of their race, that makes eventual foreclosure that much more likely as well. So it’s not just a subsidy we pay for existing risk, it’s whole new risks that are generated specifically for the purpose of raking off the top.

      2. Sometimes you really do need something that will dispose of the carcass of a dead company. Nothing is helped by allowing a firm that destroys net wealth to remain alive. Many time the pieces can be broken up and sold to someone who can use them, but a sentimental owner or unduly self-interested CEO refuses to pull the plug. There really are companies that will never be able to pay out promised pensions and allowing them to continue to pretend that they will doesn’t do prospective retirees any favors.

        So vulture capitalism has a vital place, and there’s nothing wrong with making money at it. However, like the vulture, no one who practices it properly is going to win a PR contest. You really will have to tell people that their jobs are gone forever and that their pensions disappeared, no matter how long prior to your purchase they did so. So only those of us who appreciate a good scavenger will look favorably on it.

        That’s probably some of what Bain did. However, it’s pretty clear that they did a lot more than that. I haven’t looked over the books of the companies they purchased to figure out whether they were, indeed, dead companies walking that needed to be put down. I’m sure some of them were. For all I know, all of them were. However, Bain went beyond the proper function of a scavenger investor and structured things so that they could pull far more money back out of their investments than they really ought to have been entitled to.

        If things are functioning properly, very few vulture investments are going to be wildly profitable. It should be a pretty low margin business to be in, on average. There will be the occasional spectacular windfall to make up for the ones where you lose money, but that should be the exception. Bain was collecting fees that pulled money out of the bankrupt firm and thus doing far more damage to the other stakeholders than is desirable on a societal level. Those are the loopholes that need to be closed, but it also says something about a person’s ethics if they exploit every loophole possible in order to suck money from those weaker than themselves.

        1. Sure.

          But as you say, it ought to be a low-margin business. There’s something self-contradictory about making a ton of money disposing of the carcass. If the business prospects were as bad as all that, where did the money come from, anyway?

          As to pensions, that may be a problem with the law, though I don’t know enough to say for sure. It does seem to me that they ought to have a higher priority in bankruptcy than they do. The notion that there’s enough value in the company to enrich the Bains of the world, but not to save the pension fund, really needs to examined.

  6. Kathleen: will “hyenas” do? They kill as well as scavenge. There are no doubt friends of the hyena out there, but not so many. I’m a fan of vultures myself. The intelligence needed to monitor an acre of savannah for stationary animal-sized objects that weren’t there yesterday is quite considerable.

    The trouble with all animal analogies of this sort is that nothing living is capable of moral evil except man. Guinea worms and smallpox viruses are our enemies and we have IMHO the right to destroy and even exterminate them, but they are not wicked, just acting according to their nature. This position is traditional (Aquinas? Aristotle? the Psalms?) but that doesn’t make it wrong.

    1. James: if you listen to a certain sort of economist or social critic, you’ll hear that the predatory capitalists are just acting according to their nature, and shouldn’t be subject to hidebound moral judgements either. (Except, of course, when it comes to the rest of humanity acting according to its nature and trying to claw a little bit back.)

      1. Paul, supposing that your assessment is correct — they’re “acting according to their nature” — then it seems we should use that empirical assessment of “their nature” to try to keep them out of elected office.

        1. Ken, that’s where the conversation typically goes all schroedinger: they’re simultaneously victims of society’s incentive structures, unable to respond other than they do, and self-willed Rugged Individuals whose most insignificant self-perceived rights must not be infringed. Funny how that works. Being a plutocrat means you get to choose which set of rules applies as you go along.

      2. But it’s true. Tony Soprano acts according to his nature, too. Not a dime’s worth of difference between him and Mitt Romney except that Mitt’s dad was governor of Michigan and Tony’s name ends in a vowel. One learns how to do a bust out on the street and the other goes Harvard Business School. Same guy, same values, same crimes. The Italian guy from the streets goes to jail. The guy from Wall Street goes to the White House. It’s the American way.

        1. Is it too incorrect to say that if Mitt Romney is a hyena, then Tony Soprano is a guinea worm?

  7. Mark: “Footnote If I sometimes fail in courtesy and patience toward the firebaggers, this is why. Politics ain’t beanbag: right now, it’s perilously close to civil war waged by other means.”

    I would point out that it’s not the firebaggers who are doing the damage, it’s the right-wingers.

    Mark, if you’re honest, you’ll also be scathing and wrathful to rightwings. IMHO, you’re the sort of ‘centrist’ who really doesn’t want to carry fire and sword to right-wingers, if they are in his social group. Right-wing academics are not colleagues, they are enemies of democracy, civil rights, and an economy not based on looting.

    When we see you making enemies on the right, we’ll know you’re honest. Until then, you’re just another guy who takes on firebaggers instead of guys who can fight back.

    Show the same wrath for the Schlaes and Chicago and GMU and Harvard that you do for unnamed firebaggers.

  8. Calling them out as enemies of the Republic, and of Enlightenment values, isn’t good enough for you? What do you want me to do? Insult their mothers?

    1. Perhaps proportionality would be a more fair request. You insult firebaggers in proportion to the damage they’ve done.

      Which, by my calculation means that in twenty years of pure vitriol directed at the right will allow you one harsh sentence 🙂

  9. “Calling them out as enemies of the Republic, and of Enlightenment values, isn’t good enough for you? What do you want me to do? Insult their mothers?”

    Please re-read my comment.

  10. The President has spent the last four years convincing me, by word and deed, that he doesn’t need or want the support of the left. Even if he did something now to signal that the hippie-punching was at an end—and he hasn’t and he won’t—it would be much too late. He’s a conservative. I don’t support conservatives. I might vote for one, given a narrow choice between a conservative and a batshit-crazy conservative. But knock on doors? Give money? Talk to the hand.

    The political history of the last four years is clear. If you promised fealty to the Democrats—as labor did, for example—you got nothing. If you threatened to withdraw your support—as gays and Latinos did, for example—you got something of what you wanted. Liberals’ loyalty to the Democratic Party is the reason liberals are getting nothing of what they want from the Democratic Party.

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