Memo to GOP

Politics is like driving on a freeway. The first rule is not to drive as if there were no other cars.

When you miss your exit on the freeway, you try for the next one.

Only a lunatic thinks it makes sense to throw the car into reverse.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

28 thoughts on “Memo to GOP”

  1. Considering how often I see people doing exactly this, I suspect that there is a significant percentage of the population (about 27% maybe?) who would fail to understand your analogy, or the point you are trying to make.

  2. I see it too–in the kind of places that the 80 Republicans who signed the “no compromise” letter to Boehner come from. (Bleg for the map[Update: here’s the map: ]. As James Carville said after 2000, these people represent lots of land area but their constituents are mostly “jackrabbits.”) There’s a folk hypothesis that people from densely populated areas have to get used to sharing–lots of things, but also roads–and the metaphor may capture that.

    1. I’ll bet you my congressman represents more people than yours does. He’s a dope, but the problem isn’t rabbits.

      1. Um, you do realize that the number of people per Congressional district is pretty even, right? It’s not perfectly so (because of those states with only one or two Representatives) but it’s close. There may be some issue that certain districts are more likely to be undercounted or even overcounted (undocumented workers dodging the census, or migrant workers claimed as residents), affecting apportionment, and some districts may have gained or lost population since the last census. But, broadly speaking, your challenge is a bit silly. If you’re really so certain, it can only be because you live in a small state that didn’t quite make the cut to have one more Congressional district.

        1. is unavailable right now but if memory serves, there’s about a 9:5 ratio between the highest-population Congressional district and the lowest.

          1. That’s true within a state. State boundaries force bigger differences. Here’s Wikipedia:
            Montana at-large: 1,005,141 in 2012
            Rhode Island 1st: 526,283 in 2010

  3. Now, now, let’s try to avoid unnecessary regional chauvanism, shall we? Jackrabbits are, as far as I can tell, fairly scarce around Boston, but right after the easy-to-miss exit from the Mass. Pike to Route 128, there’s a big sign that says “No Backing Up.” Fred Schauer used to use that as an example of a rule without which you’d never imagine the possibility of the forbidden behavior.

    1. Indeed.

      Those of us who live in the Boston area should not be criticizing other regions for unwise driving practices.

      1. Folks, if you’ve lived in the Boston area and won’t admit that most drivers there are, in fact, lunatics, I can’t help you.

      2. I left the Washington area to go to college in Boston when I was 17. Among my first reactions to my new environment was “holy shit! they drive like lunatics here!” In my early 20s, I drove a cab in Boston for a time, which is a way of really getting to understand driving culture. Now, decades later, I find that the driving behavior I found insane when I was young in Boston is commonplace in Washington.

        1. I learned to drive in Seattle, where (at the time) it was considered bad form not to stop if a pedestrian looked wistfully towards the street as if they could be tempted to jaywalk. And then I really learned to drive in Boston. It’s useful to learn that you must drive like an asshole, sometimes.

        2. I spent six weeks in Xi’an, China over the summer. Boston drivers would be eaten for lunch, assuming that they weren’t mugged for causing accidents.

  4. Yah, jackrabbits. I have in fact, on I-80 just past Jackpot Nev when I had missed an exit and the next one was 20 miles and cars were coming every three minutes or so… driven cautiously across the median and reversed directions. Lived to tell the tale, I did! And if the Reeps’ metaphore is, you can’t get back there once committed to the road, their actions make sense.

      1. I call the Philippines “The land of traffic suggestions”, and the suggestions are’t taken very seriously. I wouldn’t try driving in Manila on a dare.

        And, yes, our taxi driver did miss the exit for our hotel, stop on the expressway, and back up a half mile to take the exit.

  5. A thread on driving and jackrabbits has something inherently silly about it, but just to clarify: of course I think that it *does* make sense to go into reverse on a rural road with no cars on it (and I’ve done it too). But it’s the attitude that politics resembles that case, and not the crowded one where it’s incumbent on us all to play by the rules, that’s gotten us into trouble.

  6. I suppose a conservative would reply, only a lunatic thinks you shouldn’t throw the car into reverse, when you’re driving towards a cliff.

    That’s the real argument, over whether high deficit spending can continue forever, or has to stop eventually. Mind, if we’ve already reached the point where defaulting on existing debt is an automatic consequence of not borrowing more, we’re already over the cliff edge, and we might as well enjoy the ride.

    1. And you imagine the Republicans care about this?

      Or that we are in fact hurtling toward a cliff, rather than facing a longer-term problem, which in fact has been exacerbated by current debt hysteria?

      I think you are wrong on both counts.

    2. C’mon, Brett, you’re an engineer, so you know how to do the arithmetic.

      Suppose the debt ceiling is a bazillion dollars, and the government is a bazillion dollars in debt. Then if the current deficit is a dollar ninety-eight, we’re at the point where defaulting is an automatic consequence of not increasing the ceiling to borrow more.

      1. If the debt ceiling is a bazillion dollars, and the government is a bazillion dollars in debt, with a current deficit of a dollar ninety eight, then the President prioritizes debt payment over current expenses, does not buy that box of paper clips, and no default occurs. Or so I reason.

        If we are running a current deficit high enough that you can’t avoid default by simply prioritizing debt service over current expenses, then we are already off the cliff edge, and just enjoying the bit of the trip before we hit the bottom, the situation is already beyond retrieval.

    3. if we’ve already reached the point where defaulting on existing debt is an automatic consequence of not borrowing more, we’re already over the cliff edge, and we might as well enjoy the ride.

      It’s not clear to me what you mean here. Any time revenues are less than expenditures we need to borrow. Whether the borrowing is required because of interest payments, or the defense budget, or something else, is a nonsensical question, unless you think that the entire budget is going for debt service, which it isn’t.

  7. Even if you do back up on a freeway, you usually come pretty close to stopping before you throw it into reverse. Assuming you don’t want to be outfitting your mechanic’s fleet (as Click and Clack might say). Maybe even in the Philippines, too.

    1. I actually have, at least once, thrown my car into reverse while in significant forward motion. (Entering a twisty section of road, my brake line blew out. I had no other way to reduce my speed fast enough.) Amazingly, it did NOT result in a mechanic bill. Go figure.

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