From Denial to Anger: wingnuts v. the American people

Since the Republican party line was handed down from Sinai and cannot be questioned, if Romney is losing it must be the voters’ fault.

I’m always happy to see people dealing with reality, even if they do so badly. So it’s good to see a faction of the right-wing commentariat pivot from pretending that Clint Eastwood gave a great speech and the Democrats had a bad convention – while explaining that the polling results showing otherwise are rigged – to trying to figure out why their guy is losing an election they thought was a tap-in, and still think should by rights be a tap-in. They’ve moved on from Denial to Anger.

John Hinderaker thinks that the problem is that the voters are corrupt. No, really:

With over 100 million Americans receiving federal welfare benefits, millions more going on Social Security disability, and many millions on top of that living on entitlement programs–not to mention enormous numbers of public employees–we may have gotten to the point where the government economy is more important, in the short term, than the real economy. My father, the least cynical of men, used to quote a political philosopher to the effect that democracy will work until people figure out they can vote themselves money. I fear that time may have come.

Andrew McCarthy at NRO thinks it’s only “a third of the country” that’s hopeless for the GOP – because for two generations “the campus and the culture” have been ceded to “the progressive post-American left” – and pins some of the blame on the Republicans for not wanting to repeal the entire New Deal right away.

Still, these two distinguished wingnuts agree that the basic problem is with the voters. Neither of them proposes the Brechtian solution of dissolving the electorate and choosing a new one, but it’s not clear why not.

It’s possible that the billionaires will still manage to buy this one for Rmoney, but the demographic trends mean that the current Republican strategy is politically (as well as morally) bankrupt. At some point, the GOP is going to have to choose whether it’s more important to keep pleasing PowerLine and National Review or to win elections.

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:

52 thoughts on “From Denial to Anger: wingnuts v. the American people”

  1. Mark – you can either be a wingnut, or distinguished, but you cannot be a “distinguished wingnut.” You *can* be a stupid person’s idea of smart. Perhaps that is what you meant.

  2. Shorter John Hinderaker: The majority of people will vote for a platform that makes a majority of people better off! How dare they!

    1. Incidentally, the quote about how democracy “can only last until the citizens discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury” appears to be a fake quote from Alexander Tytler, made up and attributed to him by one Elmer T. Peterson writing to or for the Daily Oklahoman in 1951. Though Hinderaker Sr. probably got it from its use in 1964 or 1965 by The Great Confabulator, Ronaldus Magnus.

      1. Wow. Thanks, Matt.

        I have also long wondered about the quote’s accuracy in what it states. What society has this ever occurred? I’m not aware of any. I see empires fall because of the elite society’s greed, not because the people were doing so great. It’s one of those “just so” statements that right wingers from George Will to Hindraker are so fond of. Such people confuse declarative statements with an argument, and one which never needs proof.

        1. My source is this article by Loren Collins — who is just Some Guy on the Internet like everyone else who quotes it, and also maybe a bit of a crank (he’s made one or two minor-party/write-in runs for Congress), but at least he has a specific quotation with a link that I can’t read because it’s behind a paywall.

          And I’m no historian, but I too am unaware of any democracy that has come to an end because the people voted for excessive welfare spending. I can think of at least one that ended because of an economic depression, and Greece may be testing whether democracy can end because rich people cheat on their taxes.

          1. Greece may represent a perfect storm, a combination of the worst caricatures of both the Right and the Left. The Right, because as you say the rich paid no taxes – and a parody of the Left because state benefits were excessively generous and the rolls of government employees were vastly swollen with people who weren’t necessarily expected actually to show up for their duties.

            Of course, it would appear that to “reform” its situation Greece is stripping itself of many of the caricature-of-the-Left elements (slashing benefits and government payrolls), but is if anything doubling down on the caricature-of-the-Right elements (to the extent that taxes are being made harder to evade they’re much more regressive, and there are destructive moves towards fire-sale privatization of successful state ventures and towards vast depradations of the huge proportion of Greece’s coastline that is pristine and is currently federally owned).

        2. By the end of the roman empire the armies were made up entirely of conscripted conquered people. The majority of native born Roman citizens were on the grain dole and did not work. That’s why emperors like Caligula implemented circuses like the gladiator events: to keep the bored population occupied. At one point there were something like 150 official holidays on the political calendar during which fetes and circuses were used to keep people entertained. When invaders from the east eventually arrived on the outskirts of the city the offered the delegation of politicians to 1) take everything they own, but 2) not take their wives and children and 3) not kill them. The Romans agreed. They were unwilling to continue to be Romans.

          Knowledge of history is precisely why we members of the ignoramus voting block have become politically active for the first time in our lives.

          Nick D’Orazio
          Chanlder, Arizona via New Castle, Delaware

          1. Nick, Caligula was emperor over 300 years before the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, Rome’s finest days were still well ahead of it when he bit the dust. For such a supposedly decadent society, they certainly managed well enough…

            Not only is your explanation for the fall of the Roman Empire trite and simplistic (reality is typically far more complicated than most people like to think), but–as Warren says–it has nothing to do with what’s happening here today in America.

            Knowledge of history isn’t much help when you don’t draw the correct conclusions from it.

          2. Maybe Nick will also explain how with his “knowledge of history” he conflates the “end of the Roman Empire” with Caligula.

          3. Actually gladitorial games in Rome were initiated in 264 BC–not the time normally associated with the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. The grain handouts for Rome’s urban poor began around 120 BC, again a period considered one of Roman decadence. All inhabitants of the Empire became full Roman citizens as 212 AD. By the late fifth century AD–when the last Western Emperor was overthrown–the Roman armies consisted largely of barbarian mercenaries and “allies”, not conquered conscripts.
            I hope the preceding clears the air somewhat.

          4. In addition to reviewing the basic chronology of Roman history, Nick might also ask himself why it was that at the last two centuries BC so many Romans who had once been small farmers ended up in the city dependent on grain handouts rather than working their ancestral plots of land. Hint: it wasn’t because they were lazy.

          5. “…why it was that at the last two centuries BC so many Romans who had once been small farmers ended up in the city dependent on grain handouts rather than working their ancestral plots of land.”

            For one thing, it was cheaper to import grain by ship from Africa than to freight it from the interior by road and river.

      2. It sounds to me more like a paraphrase of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money”. The book in which it appeared was wrongly titled, “Democracy in America”, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. The title is wrong because the American form of government is a constitutional republic, not democracy.

        The word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, or the constitutions of any of the 50 states. The Founders did everything they could to keep us from having a democracy. Plato warned in 500 B.C. that democracies are the least stable form of government. James Madison, who wrote the U.S. Constitution, echoed Plato when he wrote in Federalist Paper #10, “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”.

        1. Nope, that “de Tocqueville” quote appears to be a falsely attributed paraphrase of Elmer T. Peterson, as de Tocqueville’s wikiquote page suggests. Of course, I could be mistaken about that, but it has all the earmarks of a false quote, and a quick scan doesn’t show anyone who can actually cite where de Tocqueville said it; if you have a citation I’ll happily retract.

          (BTW, what do people mean when they insist that the U.S. is a republic rather than a democracy? I’m pretty sure that using this point against de Tocqueville misunderstands what he’s saying, but aside from that, why so insistent on this terminological quibble? I mean, no one is seriously advocating “a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person,” which is the context for that Madison quote. If the point is that referenda are generally foolish and destructive I guess I’m on board, as I’m sure is every sane Californian.)

          1. I have no idea where this redefinition of “democracy” and “republic” comes from, either, though I’ve seen it frequently. It’s probably some kind of internet zombie meme.

            Democracy has traditionally included both direct and representative democracies. And a republic is the antonym of a monarchy (very simplified, elected vs. inherited offices of state). Renaissance Venice was a republic, but not a democracy.

    2. Shorter John Hinderaker: The majority of people will vote for a platform that makes a majority of people better off! How dare they!

      If only he were right.

    3. Three guys were standing in a room. Two of them voted to beat the third one up, take his money, and chain him to the wall. The third one voted against it. The majority won the vote and proceeded to work their will. The two also voted to amend the penal code so as to define their behavior as ‘not corrupt’. The third man abstained from the last vote.

      1. Sounds like a take on the old saying “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”.

      2. That prospect may be a reason that the American Constitution included from the very beginning a Bill of Rights – so that the law limits the right of the majority to oppress the minority. Of course knowing when an effect becomes oppression is a matter of judgment …

  3. Neither of them proposes the Brechtian solution of dissolving the electorate and choosing a new one, but it’s not clear why not.

    One secretary of state, one state legislature at a time, they’re already working on it.

  4. Weird. I’d think that the party that runs on unfounded tax cuts in every presidential election since 2000 would be the one that’s learned to tell voters that they can vote themselves free money. In fact, free money is the major positive element of mitt Romney’s campaign, where he’s basically challenge with convincing people that they will personally benefit from huge tax cuts, nearly all of which go to a couple percent of voters, and suffer relatively few ill effects from huge cuts in anti poverty spending. The reality is that this calculus works against the immediate interests of about half of America and is a wash for most of the rest.

    1. Ah, but it’s not free money — it’s their money already, they “earned it” (or inherited it, or whatever) and cutting taxes is their way of making sure that nobody else gets their grubby little hands on it…

      No, I’m not against people earning money, or even earning a lot of money — my extended family has made its fair share of it and I’m proud of their efforts — I just wish that more people realized that if you remove the safety net, which is fragile enough already in the USA, far more people fall through the cracks than are motivated to pull their socks up.

  5. You’re counting your chickens before they’ve hatched, Mark. True, Obama right now looks poised to win the election, but it’s too soon to count Romney out yet. Plus, the old conservative playbook seems to be working just fine against Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. Sherrod Brown is basically tied with his Republic opponent in Ohio. Even the loathsome Todd Akin has a slight lead over Claire McCaskill. Long story short, liberals can’t start getting complacent yet.

  6. apparently one prominent conservative has decided to join the evil liberal tyranny:

    Mitt Romney said Sunday that he likes parts of ‘Obamacare’ and will keep key provisions involving pre-existing conditions and young people. “I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform. Of course there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”

    Oh how times have changed!

    1. Just words. Without mandated coverage pre-existing condition coverage cannot happen. It just encourages free riding. I assume the reporter didn’t ask him about the inconsistency. Romney has noticed which way the wind is blowing and is just making stuff up to try and go along for the ride.

      1. Well, I suppose that in the blockquote (I didn’t click through) Mitt doesn’t say he’ll keep Community Rating, the notion that your insurance premiums can’t be tailored to your medical condition. Technically, if you ban exclusion for pre-existing conditions (so-called “Shall Issue”) but don’t include Community Rating, the insurer can just agree to sell you a policy for personalized premiums of your medical expenses plus 25 percent. “Shall Issue” is meaningless without “Community Rating” – and as DGM says, the combination cannot work without Mandates.

        The health care bill Romney passed in Massachusetts recognizes all this and incorporates it, as does the PPACA. The obvious implication is that one of three things is going on here:
        1) Mitt Romney is simply lying his keister off (never a possibility to be discounted) and will kill PPACA entirely, possibly by first turning the PPACA into something meaningless for the patient.
        2) Mitt Romney wants to turn the PPACA into something good for the patient but that will bankrupt the insurance companies. This is part of a Socialist scheme to nationalize health insurance, or perhaps part of a Libertarian scheme to end the practice of health insurance altogether. Basically, Mitt is simply being incoherent. Again, this may just because Mitt lies reflexively.
        3) Mitt has a secret plan to take over the PPACA, to rub off the serial numbers and reinstitute essentially the same program as a national Romneycare, reclaiming the issue for himself and perhaps for the Republican party (who like as not would not thank him).

        1. 4) Perfectly lubricated quantum weather vane theory:

          He is saying whatever he has to say to get elected. If you measure his sincerity you’ll lose all data on his current position on an issue. His new “superposition” inside the healthcare atom is a reflection of the latest polls and his campaign’s desperation. If this loses energy for him he’ll reposition again.


          Romney’s a chromo-electrodynamic chimera: part weasel, part eel, part Wall Street leech. The way he is running his campaign is a reflection of his business ethics and his character. To wit: We know he promised CEOs golden parachutes tomorrow for a friendly leveraged buy out today. Does anybody know what he promised all his Israel Likud donors tomorrow for a massive campaign donation today? How about a trillion dollar attack on Iran’s proto nukes? I’d never thought I’d write this, but Romney is probably more dangerous in the topspot than W ever was…

        2. “Shall Issue” is meaningless without “Community Rating” – and as DGM says, the combination cannot work without Mandates.

          That’s not actually true–I have made a proposal several times that has shall issue but neither community rating nor mandates. (It has a cap on underwriting gains, and subsidies if the underwritten premium + actual expenses is a higher percentage of income than the mean–which means only about 20% of people get a subsidy.)

          1. I don’t know enough of the jargon to have the first idea what you’re saying – but as I understand it, if you have Shall Issue, anyone can wait until they need massive amounts of medical care to obtain insurance. Obviously, the insurance companies can retaliate by charging a premium that reflects this (my sarcastic “medical expenses plus 25 percent”, above), unless there are rules sharply limiting what they can charge – the Community Rating. Of course, if there are such rules, the insurance companies must necessarily go bankrupt, unless people are prevented by Mandates from enrolling only at need.

            I honestly don’t know how you can have meaningful Shall Issue without caps on premiums, nor do I understand how you plan to have those without mandates.

      1. Kenneth Almquist’s link is to a Kevin Drum piece that concludes:

        It would also be nice if the mainstream press reported the fact that Romney doesn’t plan to make sure those with preexisting conditions can get health coverage just as loudly as they reported his original misstatement. I’m not holding my breath.

        And over at Political Animal Ryan Cooper quotes Drum as writing this in another post:

        The internet and 24-hour news networks make it flatly impossible to say different things to different audiences. You can take a slightly different tone with different audiences, but that’s it. And even winking and nodding to insiders is dangerous. There’s simply no tacit agreement to keep this stuff private anymore, so your best bet is maintain iron self-discipline and never give anyone a peek behind the curtain. You stay on your talking points at all times and in all places.
        And Barack Obama, whatever else you think about him, seems to have cast iron self-discipline. In that sense, he really does represent the future of politics. You can decide for yourself whether you like that future much.

        The first Drum quote is a counterexample to the second. What Romney has done is promise root beer to everyone on TV, and then trot out a servant to soothe his base quickly thereafter. That’s how you play the 24-hour News Network.

        One more thing: Romney’s loyalty is to his own ambition. Ambition is in fact his over-arching character trait. He has no frigging idea why he wants to be President, he only knows he can’t be the richest man in the world, and the Presidency is next best thing. The best that can be said of Romney is also the worse: His ambition knows no bound. And this idea of appealing to the masses on TV, and then soothing the base for his “misspeaks” immediately thereafter, is his last best chance to game the system and gain traction.

  7. It would be funny to be in the same room wither Hinderaker, he and I could agree for half an hour on the despicable nature of the American electorate only to realize that I loathe the electorate because I hold them responsible for the existence of the republican party rather than the democrat.

  8. At some point, the GOP is going to have to choose whether it’s more important to keep pleasing PowerLine and National Review or to win elections.

    First they’ll have to lose the presidency again…
    And stay a minority in the Senate…
    And see some slippage in the House.

    Then they’ll have to lose the presidency again…
    And stay a minority in the Senate…
    And see some slippage in the House.

    Which is to suggest:
    Never underestimate the power of human certainty coupled with human denialism.
    It’s going to take a generation of losses for them to change their story.
    Dodo birds don’t change their underlying stripes overnight…

    But two things are in our favor here:

    1) The rage of the teabag party was a one-off deal. The right won’t be able to duplicate that again in the near term. They’ve shot their wad. The era of fat old white people marching on DC with misspelled signs is over. They won’t get off their sofas ever again. Unless someone puts their government hands on their safety net.

    2) A devastated economy with huge debt and Fox News running on full bore is the last best moment for them to catapult the “voucher” state into existence. If they don’t push it over the top now they never will. An improving economy fills the treasury and ends that wingnut dream for another generation.

  9. I like Hinderaker contrasting “the government economy” with “the REAL economy.” What an idiot.

  10. Assuming that the concept of “refutation” applies to the likes of Hinderaker, I can do it in five words: Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush1, Bush2.

  11. Shorter wong nuts: “We woulda gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”

  12. I’m willing to cut Hinderaker, McCarthy etc. some slack: I’m sure I’d be less than charitable about voters if a Santorum/Perry ticket was coasting to victory right now. And heck, voters can be wrong. They voted for Nixon and Carter, Reagan and Clinton, Bush and Obama, and one would have to be the most foolish kind of populist to say some of those choices weren’t bad ones.

    You don’t have to believe that the majority is always right; that way lies madness. You just have to believe that the majority has the right to choose.

  13. The GOP has long claimed that Democrats greedily vote for social spending because they are the main beneficiaries of it. But this is simply not the case. From food stamps to safety regulations to health care for the poor to education, the spending is just as often for *other people in need*. The reverse case could more easily be made – that the GOP won’t vote for things they don’t personally enjoy – and with more accuracy.

  14. Isn’t one party specifically carving out a core constituency from any sacrifice at all in its so-called entitlement reform? Ryan’s ‘no changes to Medicare if you’re 55’* position seems to illustrate Hinderaker’s point exactly.

    *Yes I know that we all know it isn’t actually going to work that way: 10 years hence, when people now 55 get voucherized, the people over 65 are going to get voucherized too. Count on it.

  15. I’m OK with authentic conservatism, but it barely exists anymore. The problem we have today is that genuine conservatives are a rare and endangered species. Some kind of bizarre version of corporate fascism is being wrongly labelled as “conservatism.” The Republican Party is essentially a cobbled-together amalgam of abortion wingnuts, gun crazies, racists, and religious fundamentalists who aren’t smart enough to realize that they have been bamboozled by the 1% into supporting the interests of the economic elite.

    1. Yep. The God & Mammon coalition in the Republican party is quite hard to parse logically. Yet another manifestation I only noticed today.

      The party which doesn’t believe central planning EVER works for ANYTHING — where economics is concerned — is ALSO the party which can’t take evolution seriously because “all that great stuff couldn’t possibly have happened by ACCIDENT! It just HAD to have been centrally planned.”

      This occurred to me tangentially from this item (via Digby):

      which doesn’t really make the point squarely. But ‘things you like either CAN/CANNOT happen spontaneously’ depending on political context apparently.

  16. What I find most appalling about the Hinderaker piece is how completely oblivious he is to the sorry state of our social safety net. It has this distinct “let them eat cake” vibe of a person who has been spoiled by life.

  17. This is 3rd degree conservatism.

    1st degree conservatives believe that conservatives constitute a majority of the US electorate, but the liberal media subsumes their rightful place as the lords of culture and governance.

    2nd degree conservatives believe that conservatives would constitute a majority of the US electorate if it wasn’t for the liberal media brainwashing people.

    3rd degree conservatives believe that the feckless masses will vote for “goodies” from the government because they are stupid and lazy, the cost of which is borne by conservatives who should be fed up with the masses.

    I’ll leave it to you to guess what a 4th degree conservative believes.

Comments are closed.