Maybe they are all from Chelm

Now would be a good time to have a charitable thought for pundits, bloggers, opinion columnists – yes, and policy professors – for whom the last month has been incredibly challenging, harder than any time in the last decade. When the world behaves like a parody of grownup affairs, and people with positional authority are one-upping each other with insanity suited to an especially shark-jumping Simpsons episode, the spectacle is immune to both ridicule and analysis. What is there to say when Michelle Bachmann, an actual live paid professional elected US Representative, claims S&P downgraded US credit because the debt limit was increased [ht: Steve Benen] and she isn’t laughed out of the room?
Here’s a conjecture worth exploring: there has been a hitherto unnoticed inexplicable emigration from the city of Chelm, perhaps over decades, and the Chelmniks have suddenly found each other in places like Iowa, formed clubs, and over tea (in glasses, of course), organized to enrich American culture with theirs. Chelm, if you haven’t heard of it, is a town of fools in old Jewish Russia, or maybe Poland, that hosts innumerable jokes like the following:

A farmer of Chelm was constantly confusing his horses, and would feed one twice and not feed the other, or work the same horse two days in a row rather than alternating them. His wife said, “why not go to the rabbi and see if he can help you?”
“Rebbe, I’m at my wits’ end. Look at my horses; they are so alike I keep mixing them up. Can you see a way to tell them apart?”
“Yitzhak, I’m not an expert in horses, but I do see your problem; those horses are very much alike!” The rabbi walks around and around the horses, looking at them from every angle. “Wait a minute, I think I see something! If you stand right here and look straight across them when they’re standing still, you can see that the black mare is just an inch taller than the white stallion!”

It’s hard to take Rick Perry or Grover Norquist as holy Jewish fools from the shtetl, but try saying the following in a heavy stage Jewish accent, and I think you’ll agree I’m onto something:

“So it’s unemployment you’re worried about suddenly? Tax cuts for the rich! Take two, and some chicken soup, and everyone will have a good job. [rimshot]”

I’m not sure why the current lunacy is being wrapped up in Christian fundamentalist stuff; maybe it’s letting out the string on the goyim, maybe it has something to do with the reactionary Christians’ politics about Israel. I know, the theory needs work, not least because what the Rethugs are about is infused with an insouciant, deaf-and-dumb, cruelty to victims and the innocent that is unknown in Jewish humor. Maybe readers can help make this hang together, because I have no theory B or C that survives a straight-face test any better.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

11 thoughts on “Maybe they are all from Chelm”

  1. I have a theory that a lot of the nonsense is due to extreme partisanship. We have a problem that has taken both parties several decades to create – and each side insists that its hands are clean and the other side is a pack of villains and fools. Until that changes, I don’t see any improvement likely.

  2. let’s see, one party is the party of union-busting; tax cuts (especially for the wealthiest % or two); benefits cuts for seniors, children, and the poor; and deregulation to the point of misfeasance. the other party is the party of compromise, whimpering, and surrender.

    while i agree that the democrats tend to be far too supine when it comes to its dealings with the republican party, i don’t think they share the blame for our present circumstances in anything like an equal amount.

  3. “Now would be a good time to have a charitable thought for pundits, bloggers, opinion columnists – yes, and policy professors – for whom the last month has been incredibly challenging, harder than any time in the last decade.”

    I disagree – it’s been clear over the past decade that the overwhelming majority of these guys are as in the tank as writers for Pravda or Isvestia (sp?).

    The most important thing to remember about these guys is that they are paid liars. Go back through their writings and you’ll find an almost unbroken record of lying.

    When you treat them as honest people who are temporarily confused by the real world, then you’re just setting them up to con us again.

  4. Bachman is right. The S&P said that the downgrade was caused by our inability to deal with the crisis politically and the long-term projections of unstoppable deficits created by the latest budgets adopted. If a debt deal would have been signed which capped the debt, balanced the budget, and assured the S&P that something like this would not happen in the future (ie, a Balanced Budget Amendment), then the S&P would not have been able to say anything about our inabilities or our deficits- in other words, no downgrade.

    Perhaps you should substitute thinking and analysis for bitter partisanship in the future. I’m no fan of Obama, but at least when I attack his policies, I do so based on faulty logic and premises and not just poop words like you.

  5. “Bachman is right.” Apparently, when S & P said that they were downgrading US debt because of the Republican threats to not pay the debt, they were only kidding. Only the genius of Michelle “Bachman” could see through to their real motivation.

  6. I like it when hacks accidentally speak the truth:

    A Conservative Teacher says:

    Perhaps you should substitute thinking and analysis for bitter partisanship in the future. I’m no fan of Obama, but at least when I attack his policies, I do so based on faulty logic and premises…

    I agree wholeheartedly– when you attack (Obama’s) policies, it is most definitely based on faulty logic and premises e.g.
    * The government is like a household
    * The only way to close a deficit is through lower spending
    * Decifits are unstoppable
    * Decifit-enabling policy is a permanent feature of the US political scene

    I won’t bother with the implicit premises and faulty logic underlying your specific attack

  7. The Conservative Teacher has overlooked one thing in the S&P report dealing with their belief that the Bush tax cuts will not be allowed to expire; tax revenues must increase in their analysis, and the Tea Party obstructs that necessary part of the overall solution to the debt problem. Ten years ago the national debt was 6 trillion dollars and shrinking; the Bush tax cuts were enacted, and he left a ballooning debt to his successor. The Republicans are unable to put two and two together; they deserve the contempt being directed against them, since they are unable to conceive that even part of the problem may be attributable to those huge tax cuts.

    “…when I attack his policies, I do so based on faulty logic and premises…” This is true, Teacher; your attack is indeed based on faulty logic and premises.

  8. Here in Texas, “Chelm” is Texas A&M, and Chelmniks are Aggies. Just about any Chelm joke can be repurposed as an Aggie joke, and I’m sure most have. Rick Perry is a grad-u-ate of Texas A&M, where he pulled gentlemen’s Cs and doofuses’ Ds, while serving as a “yell leader”, the Aggie equivalent of a cheerleader. In today’s GOP, where anyone who wants to succeed has to convincingly impersonate a Chelmnik, Perry has a leg up. “I’m not a CINO like Romney and Pawlenty; I’m the real deal, with the Ds to prove it.”

  9. I’m sure you think there’s an argument in there somewhere, but what is it? “Anybody I feel like ridiculing must be wrong.”?

  10. Professor O’Hare, I’m glad to see that you can keep your humor about you these days. I struggle. I was vacationing in the American Southwest over the past two weeks and my trip was nearly ruined by frequently checking news reports and econ blogs from my phone.

    I have various puzzle pieces of a theory, too, but can’t put them together to make the picture on the box:

    1. The electorate is not able to keep up. In aggregate, they are under a lot of pressure and may have been educated with a systematic de-emphasis of critical thinking. Do they have the time and resources to understand the issues presented to them today? Can they see through political rhetoric? Do they feel like their votes count?

    2. Fractured media. Everyone picks his own news, there is no authority.

    3. Feedback effect of success. Aggressive political maneuvering was not countered effectively, and it turned out to be highly effective. Clearly, some good olde fashioned failure would do a lot to school the current wrecking crew.

    4. Related to one. Rise of a technocratic class that is unable / unwilling to explain to the public what is happening.

    5. A clever, largely successful long-term campaign to divorce the middle class from most benefits of government, thereby leaving them free to wonder what they’re paying for. The Dems have fallen back to defending only SS, Medicaid, Medicare, though the public senses that SS and Medicare are long-term goners, so there’s even less sense of stake in those tax transfers.

    6. 9/11 changed everything. It was a tectonic event that got so deeply under the American psyche that we turned from a nation of optimists to one of fearful hoarding.

    Probably all BS. I can refute all of these myself. 🙁

  11. Goeff, it is ok for an Aggie to tell Aggie jokes. It isn’t ok for a t.u. tea sipper. And let it be known that with grading on the curve, it is obvious that the vast majority of Aggies did a whole lot better than Goodhair did.

    The guy is a 2 per center CT, not a real Ag. The same applies to Gohmert.

Comments are closed.