Not a big brain

An Aesopian fable concerning John Boehner.

Reading Robert Costa’s analysis of why John Boehner isn’t bringing a clean Continuing Resolution to the floor, where it would easily pass and allow the government to function again – an analysis that omits any reference to the actual consequences of a shutdown and concentrates entirely on Boehner’s need to satisfy his conference’s insane hatred of Harry Reid – reminds me, as Lincoln used to say, of a little story.

It seems that one day there was an argument among the parts of the body about which should rule the others. The brain pointed out that, as the intelligence and literal head of the enterprise, it should be in charge. But the eyes insisted that without their service the brain would have nothing to think about. The hands replied that none of the brain’s thoughts had any reality until the hands acted on them. The legs answered that without them the whole body would be immobile. The heart and the lungs both claimed supremacy because their functions supported everything else. The organs of reproduction made their case based on sustainability. And so the argument continued, with increasing asperity, until the humble rectum spoke up. “Why can’t I be the boss?”

All the other body parts, which had been getting more and more annoyed with one another, joined in hearty laughter at the absurd thought of being ruled by an organ so insignificant and disgusting.
At this, the rectum, offended and hurt, simply closed up and refused to perform its function. The brain became confused; the eyes dimmed; the hands grew clumsy and the legs slowed; and at last all agreed to be ruled by the rectum if only it would perform its unmentionable but essential task.

And the moral of the story is:

>>>>>> You don’t have to be a big brain to be the boss,
>>>>>> just a stubborn … Boehner.

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:

18 thoughts on “Not a big brain”

  1. I think many Democrats and moderates are missing some important differences between the prior shutdown and the current situation. The informal alliance between Rupert Murdoch and, essentially, the John Birch Society has help to create the enormous “wing nut welfare” machine that allows the hard right not merely to survive but to prosper. None of the Republicans in the Congress who are pushing this insanity are going to suffer for it economically, politically or in any other way. Quite the contrary.

    Also, what the Republican base wants isn’t so much to be the majority party as to be the party that says what goes. They’ve leveraged control of state governments to build in tremendous advantages for the hard right that along with those structural biases in favor of the rural (and most conservative) areas guarantees reelection of enough Fox News/Bircher Republicans to weather any political storm. The Republicans have generally been enormously successful in manipulating the counter majoritarian choke points built in to the Counstitution just as they’ve exploited the disfunctional Senate without the slightest pushback from the Democrats.

    Paul Krugman was right that the Republican Party has evolved into a revolutionary party. And he was right that Kissinger was right about what that means. If we aren’t prepared to fight fire with fire by eliminating the structural biases in the system that allow a small group of zealots to dictate terms to the majority of the people then we are in very trouble.

    1. Well said, Mitch. The House Tea Party constituents will not punish them next election even if they plunge the country and the world into the Dark Ages; they listen to Fox News, which will tell them to blame the Democrats. James Madison assumed that factions would vote their interests, not their identities; if economic ruin is the “price we pay for being free,” the teabaggers will be willing to pay it. Better to die a pauper than live as a beneficiary of liberalism.

    2. How does this GOP view differ from the following?

      “You know, comrades,” says Stalin, “that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.”

      The source is Boris Bazhanov’s memoir. Bazhanov was Stalin’s private secretary.

    3. Mitch…….. I agree with, virtually, everything you’ve written. But, what you’ve described is the “means” to an end. What is the “end” they wish to attain? Certainly, chaos, disruption, and dysfunction can’t be the singular, final goal.

      The Tea Party faction of these activists may be creating mayhem over “Obamacare” because of their xenophobic, racist ideas, but, then, what does the 1% get out of it?

      To determine what their goal is, I believe we can take a clue from their recent behavior. While they have shown some slight, tepid support for the idea that the government should be permitted to function, I think it was mostly P.R, and temporary.

      Could it be, as they’ve already shown, that in a Global economy they can produce record profits (and wealth) without the help of a vibrant middle class? Nor, are they rushing to aid in the current, apparently speeded up “planned obsolescence” of the poor, elderly, and/or unhealthy. And, having already captured most of the institutions of Government for their sole benefit wouldn’t a dysfunctional government, incapable of assisting the other 99% be an additional great benefit to them?

      1. = = = Mitch…….. I agree with, virtually, everything you’ve written. But, what you’ve described is the “means” to an end. What is the “end” they wish to attain? Certainly, chaos, disruption, and dysfunction can’t be the singular, final goal. = = =

        Our county has had generally well-performing public school districts for over 150 years [1]. They are currently being dismantled one-by-one by a small group of people with very long-term plans, a lot of cash to back them up, and a gerrymandered state legislature. Within 10 years it is quite possible that the only thing left of our proud tradition of decent free universal public education for all citizens will be a dozen or so “government school” warehouses where the children of the poor and disadvantaged will be stored until they can be transferred to (private) prisons. What is the ‘end’ that they seek? Destruction of the public commons and the concept of shared governance, and a return to the Gilded Age. Oh yeah, and punishment of human beings with the “wrong” skin color; don’t forget that.


        1. “Destruction of the public commons and the concept of shared governance” are still “means to the end.”


          “…a return to the Gilded Age.”

          THAT’S the “end,” the goal

          Of course, to grease the way they need a “dumbed down” citizenry, a cognitively inert population, and, most importantly, a “clockworld-orange” based news/media delivery system. Wall Street has done its part by capturing, some say purchasing, the three branches of Government. Rupert Murdoch, some Corporatists, and “inherited money,” have done the same with the Media.

          Destruction of the Public School System was a no-brainer.

  2. The more apt anatomical analogy is the nose slicing itself off the face…

    It’s come to this at last:

    A small coalition of congress haters don’t care what damage they do to the country, the economy, science, etc.
    In fact the more damage they do the better. And their constituents are okay with that too. If they lose that’s okay, just so long as you and I lose too.

    Yesterday I posted a snatch from a SPLC blog. I’ll post the words that went out over the radio again with a final remark:

    “I want to shoot her right in the vagina and I don’t want her to die right away; I want her to feel the pain and I want to look her in the eyes and I want to say, on behalf of all Americans that you’ve killed, on behalf of the Navy SEALS, the families of Navy SEAL Team Six who were involved in the fake hunt down of this Obama, Obama bin Laden thing, that whole fake scenario, because these Navy SEALS know the truth, they killed them all. On behalf of all of those people, I’m supporting our troops by saying we need to try, convict, and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.”

    That’s the base. One can just as easily hear that happy fellow saying next about your government: Shut the fucker down! Burn it to the ground!
    That’s what you are up against. Long ago I said this was a war we were in. Let me know when you believe me…

  3. You may all be missing a possible silver lining in this absurd crisis fabricated by the hard GOP right. The stunt is unpopular and will get more so, especially as millions of voters are actually discovering on the overloaded websites of the health exchanges what Obamacare is all about. The resolution of the crisis, unless Obama and Reid throw away victory at the last minute, will involve a historic split in the House Republican caucus, a period of mutual blame-passing, and permanent damage to the conservative cause. Boehner will lose his job, but that’s not very significant as his successor, assuming anybody wants the job, will also find it impossible. The Democrats now have a chance or regaining control of the House in 2014.
    Rose-tinted spectacles, you say. Where have I gone wrong?
    BTW, by picking the losing fight on the continuing budget resolution, I suspect Boehner and the Tea Partiers have spared the world a crisis over the debt limit. They won’t have the stomach for it.

    1. I suspect Boehner and the Tea Partiers have spared the world a crisis over the debt limit. They won’t have the stomach for it.

      This seems right to me, and I find myself half-suspecting that this has been Boehner’s intent all along. On the other hand, it may be wishful thinking on my part to imagine that Boehner is merely an asshole and not an aspiring cartoon supervillain.

  4. Definitely rosy scenario. Possible, but … Outside the deep South, it’s possible that rural and small-town traditional gop areas could turn against the gop. Suburbs will likely turn away. What people who do this would say would be something like what Reagan said, ie the party left me. But. In well over half the states, the districts have been gerrymandered by party. Party primaries are low-turnout, high-intensity things, especially on the R side. The TP astroturf movement has way more than enough money to pay for organized groups of highly-committed nutballs in a couple of hundred or more districts, if that’s what it takes to make sure really sizeable numbers of R candidates are pure. So the question for a general election is whether voters in those districts will stick with the party label regardless, pull the D lever, or stay home. In this district of central PA, which elected a suicide-caucus guy, I think it’ll be options 1 and 3. But it’s late and I’m tired and not so rosy. Hope you’re right.

  5. “In well over half the states, the districts have been gerrymandered by party.”

    This from the party which has numerous precincts where you get 100% of the vote. Not 95%, not 99%, but literally, mathematically, all of 100%.

    I think you need to review the mechanics of gerrymandering, Altoid. In gerrymandering to advance the interests of a party, you produce concentrated districts for the opposite party, to waste their votes, and settle for marginal districts for yourself, where you barely win. This is the main limiting factor on gerrymandering: The knowledge that if you go too far with it, an outlier election will cost you dearly: You’re trading safety for numbers.

    You know who occupies the seats gerrymandered into existence by the GOP? Not the GOP leadership, the black caucus, thanks to the GOP taking advantage of the Voting Rights act mandating gerrymandering, in the form of creating “majority minority” districts that wouldn’t normally exist. In the last election, Boehner got a massive 60% of the vote. Pelosi, by contrast, got 85%. Who occupies a district more ideologically tilted, more out of touch with America?

    Gerrymandering is a force to moderate the party that engages in it, because practiced in a partisan fashion, it produces marginal, not safe, seats.

    Boehner is the way he is because he occupies a district in an area which is predominantly, but not overwhelmingly made up of conservative Republicans. And he knows that he dares not alienate his base, or he might in fact lose an election. So he’s doing what the people who elected him want.

    1. Thanks. I have been hearing a lot of dumb stuff about gerrymandering on the news. I am still unclear about the mechanics. Does a representative who thinks it would be very nice to have their district 90% supportive have any say in the matter? How do they (?) get him to be satisfied with 60%. ?

    2. Gerrymandering produces multiple safe districts for each opposition district created. As long as you hold

      And the extremist Republicans who are pushing for government shutdown and default the strongest are in districts that went pro-Romney in the last election by double-digit numbers; money and advertising trump ‘broad appeal’. Especially in primaries, which have limited participation to begin with and can be dominated by a smaller group of very active voters.

      How did districts in Philadelphia end up voting 100% for Obama? The Republicans moved out and what was left was low-cost or marginal homes that are almost completely populated with African Americans. And the 100% districts included less than a thousand people each.

    3. Gee, thanks for the tutelage. But let’s not forget the other way to gerrymander. One, the one you mention, is to use the VRA to concentrate the other party’s votes, like you say. Another is to cut up an urban, therefore likely D, area into several slices and tie each slice to a vast rural district. That way you can end up 55-45 or 60-40 or 65-35 Rs by registration and be pretty confident it’s an R seat, barring planetary catastrophe. You don’t need a huge R registration advantage because D turnout is almost always lower. Especially in non-presidential years. If you’re reasonably good with both techniques you can make a pretty evenly-divided and actually D-leaning state like PA send 13 Rs and 5 Ds to the House even in a presidential year.

      Gerrymandering is a way to make sure the party label is the one the gerrymanderers want. Primary elections are where the factions get to pick the one who bears the label. Right now, it’s the high-intensity astroturf TP groups that dominate a lot of the R primaries and get the R label pinned on their candidates. As long as people vote by label, which I think most do, it’s a pretty slick trick. The only real danger for them is losing the link between voters and the label.

      1. “Another is to cut up an urban, therefore likely D, area into several slices and tie each slice to a vast rural district.”

        That’s actually a form of gerrymandering some Democrats are advocating right now, because it’s the only way to negate the fact that you guys tend to huddle together, naturally gerrymandering yourselves without any effort on Republicans’ part.

        My point was simply that, objectively, the argument that Republicans are ‘extremists’ because they’ve gerrymandered into existence a bunch of overwhelmingly Republican seats is total BS. Most of the really, seriously lopsided districts, where the same party reliably gets 80,90, even, yes, 100% of the vote, are Democratic districts. Republicans tend to get elected by smaller margins than that, even in the leadership’s ‘safe’ districts. There ARE some ultra-safe Republican seats, but not many.

        This is WHY they are taking the position they do: While their districts may be reliably Republican, they are not so Republican that they can afford to piss off a large fraction of their Republican constituents. They occupy districts, like Boehner’s, where a Democratic victory in the general election is quite conceivable if the incumbent angers enough Republicans.

        They’re doing these things because the people who elected them want them to do these things, and they occupy seats they could actually lose if they didn’t do the voters’ will. You might not like it, but they’re actually being REPRESENTATIVES.

  6. Does Brett not understand how partisan gerrymandering works? Or is he just pretending not to?

    The way you give yourself an electoral advantage if you’re party R is to draw district lines so that a few districts are chock-full of D voters, and the remaining districts have a small but adequate (or in Brett’s idiom, “bare”) majority of R voters. In a state that’s 51% R, 49%D, and has 10 districts, party R will try by hook or crook to set up 10 equal-population districts like this:
    ………..District A:….9%D…..1%R…(sure D seat1 — 9:1 advantage D)
    ………..District B:….8%D…..2%R…(sure D seat2 — 4:1 advantage D)
    Districts C,D,E,F,G,H:….4%D…..6%R…(almost guaranteed X seats1thru8 — 3:2 advantage R each)
    The whole scheme of giving yourself a disproportionate share of seats is founded on giving the other party a few super-safe seats.

    His own comment says exactly what the above table says, but Brett either believes or pretends that it says the opposite. Shame.


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