Punishing bad behavior

Vote for Obama to save the GOP from the lunatic fringe that has become its base.

Though the basic batsh*t-craziness of the contemporary GOP is sometimes helpful in electing Democrats, it’s actually quite bad for the country. So – from a patriotic rather than a partisan viewpoint – the most important political task ahead is bringing the Republicans into the wider reality-based community. I’d love the luxury of arguing about the New Deal, the Great Society, and their virtual completion with the passage of Obamacare rather than having to defend the values of the Enlightenment from a collection of Yahoos with empathy deficits.

Political parties, like other organisms, learn from experience. If the Republicans lose this year, they might start to rethink their recent strategies. If instead they were to win (absit omen!) then they will be reinforced in their current behavior pattern.

That is, they will be reinforced in:

Voter suppression
Constant, shameless lying
Downward class warfare
Global warming denialism/Lysenkoism
Church-state entanglement

Even if you’re unhappy with some aspects of Obama’s performance, does that really look to you like a favorable development in terms of its effects on progressive goals?

Me neither.

Update In the “constant, shameless lying” department, the Romney campaign has an ad up repeating the discredited rumor that Chrysler is going to outsource Jeep manufacture to China, when in fact it plans to build Jeeps in China for the Chinese market.

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

12 thoughts on “Punishing bad behavior”

  1. I’m not nearly so sanguine…I think that if Obama wins, they’ll double down on their tactics…after all, conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. The natural response will be to blame Romney for being, well, Romney. “If only a *real* conservative had run!”

    . There is an enormous, well-financed media empire, to say nothing of the right wing think tank universe dedicated to the defeat of everything back to and including the enlightement.

  2. Let me be clear, I am not arguing with you. And I intend to vote for Obama. But you should understand what the left position is, even if you don’t accept it.

    You take a party-centric view, where the actors — the units of selection as it were — are parties and politicians. That’s fine. Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong. But there is another point of view, which is held by many of us on the left. This is a class (or other social actor) centered view, in which parties are not independent actors but respond to a deeper set of interests. (To be overly reductionist, it is true that people learn from experience, but not true that people’s hands learn from experience.)

    In this case, the radical view would be that we have a social system that is run for the interests of the owners of capital — the 0.1 or 0.01%. The rest of us get to share in the benefits only so far as we can credibly threaten to disrupt the operation of the system. At the highest level, social democracy is always simply the elite’s insurance against strike, riot and revolution. Of course that doesn’t mean formal democracy is a complete sham — far from it. If you are going to have to make concessions, it’s much better to do it before people reach the actual point of rioting.

    So in this framework, we would expect the Republicans to continue being what they are as long as it’s functional. More concretely: There are a very large number of people in this country who are really screwed. No security, no respect or status or satisfaction from their work, no social power or significant ability to control the conditions in which they live. Not all of these people are poor. And the non-poor ones, in particular, do have one very important resource: a sense of entitlement. (In part the result of past democratic struggles.) They cannot be relied on to simply accept a state of things in which they get no benefit from growth and technological progress. But a program that would genuinely address their interests would by the same token threaten the interests of the country’s owners. So instead they have to be offered a substitute — you won’t get any respect or power in the workplace, but you’ll get it — or at least the promise of it — as a white man, as a member of a traditional family, as part of the dominant culture, etc. The right-wing program can’t actually improve people’s lives, but people need something, so as long as there is no real alternative people are going to keep buying it.

    (Now you will say, but technocratic liberalism does solve people’s real problems. Obamacare, etc. I don’t agree, but I don’t expect, or even really want, to convince you. I just want to clarify the disagreement.)

    You say, people learn. If something doesn’t work, they stop doing it. That is not my observation. People engage in various self-defeating behaviors all the time. They only stop when they find a better outlet for whatever the underlying impulse is.

    The reality is that even i the United States, life under capitalism just really sucks for a lot of people. Obama and the Democrats are not going to change that — in some ways maybe they’ll make it a little better, in other ways worse but more slowly than the Dems.

    I have an uncle — very smart guy — who’s a conservative Christian. He’s worked most of his life at crap jobs with no autonomy, and without health insurance. Oh but Obama has got him health insurance now! Maybe, we’ll see. But it’s not just insurance. At the big box store where he works in the baked goods section, he used to make these amazing hand-decorated cakes — he’s a very talented artist. But someone in management got wind of it and the word came down, No employees can decorate cakes, they must only sell standard ones. So that little bit of self-expression and respect he had gotten on the job — people really like those cakes — taken away. Is Obama going to do anything about that? Of course not. So how can I begrudge him the one institution that does say he is worthy and important and not just an interchangeable drone? And as long as that’s the case, he’s going to vote Republican. The only ting he’d learn, if he read a post like this, is that people like you don’t care what people like him think. Which he already knows.

    So that’s the radical view. The GOP parade of horribles is not just a bad choice that happened to be made by a particular party. It’s a symptom of a system that fails to recognize the humanity of the bulk of the population. Until that changes, you are never going to get rid of the crazies.

    1. I re-read this post several times. It says a lot. One thing I missed – or don’t understand – is how the “one institution” (do you mean the Republican Party? His church? Both in conjunction?) makes him feel “worthy and important?” Why would he not feel the same as a committed member of any political party, or church, or other social institution? What would it be about his Conservative Christianity that would make him feel more important than if he were more liberal Christian?

    2. Lyndon Johnson, while still a United States Senator, remarked on how racial segregation caused poor white folks to vote against their economic interests: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

      I suspect that the same holds true half a century later.

    3. “… we have a social system that is run for the interests of the owners of capital — the 0.1 or 0.01%. The rest of us get to share in the benefits only so far as we can credibly threaten to disrupt the operation of the system.”

      Precisely. R-money IS the plutocracy. Obama “works for” the plutocracy. It’s an Owner campaigning against the Hired Help. Obama doesn’t work for the plutocracy exclusively because that’s his preference (I rather suspect it IS is preference, but YMMV). Also importantly because the Presidency doesn’t have the magic powers attributed to it by so many citizens. The Pentagon does what it is built to do (implement imperial ideology), and will continue doing so. The Treasury does what it is built to do (implement bankers’ ideology) and will continue doing so. Obama is smart enough to understand that he is selling the plutocracy’s agenda to the public and NOT somehow imposing the public’s desires on the plutocracy. To be more radical than he is would simply make him a loser politically. So he has decided to be a winner and then maybe throw his ostensible base among the broader public the occasional crumb (this somehow never extends to actually resisting the temptation to diss the left). But this ‘loftier purpose’ goes away quickly once safely aboard Airforce One conferring with the Big Boys.

      I’m going to vote for Obama. I’ve helped with setting up campaign HQ locally. I have contributed a few bucks here and there. But the real progressive campaign has precious little to do with Obama. His OFA will cease to exist 5 minutes after his reelection and the banker-state will persist. What are people here going to do AFTER re-electing Obama? Does anyone actually have any other ideas?

  3. I agree with BruceJ. What on earth makes you think that republicans will take a defeat as a suggestion that they change the way they behave? Republican politicians are pretty much driven by the people they represent. I think this is especially true today with the influence of the teabaggers. There is absolutely no reason to think that all these people are going to wake up and think that possibly they have been wrong and maybe now they should give compromise another look. I think you can be certain that republicans will be just as obstinate and unreasonable as they are right now.

    On a related note: I actually would not be too worried about a Romney win if the dems could be relied upon to be just as obstructionist in the minority as the republicans have been. But I am worried about a Romney win primarily because you can damn well bet your hide that people like Mary Landrieau and other southern dems would provide Romney cover to do anything he wants to do.

  4. Accusing the Republicans of ‘lying’ somehow misses the point. I would be more inclined to say that the utterances of people like Romney are based on a radically different ontological framework, one which is not ‘reality-based’ and which has no direct analogue of the conventional notions of truth and falsehood.

  5. I’ll agree with Potifar and BruceJ, but I’m a bit more optimistic. I think that the Republicans can learn from experience. But to do so, they will need to nominate a Paul Ryan, and have him get 35% of the vote. Romney is too easy to shrug off: not a “true conservative.” Ryan would be more difficult.
    The other thing that would make the Republicans learn from experience is if they become a regional party, irrelevant in Washington DC. This is possible, especially when demographics do to Texas and Florida what they are doing to Colorado and New Mexico and Virginia and North Carolina. In the long run, we’re all Judis-Teixera.

  6. I still think the Jepp thing is entirely fair: after all, when the US was dominant in manufacturing that meant that wherever Jeeps, or light bulbs, or whatever were sold, they were manufactured in America.

  7. Maybe that would be true if Romney was an ur-conservative. In fact, he’s a relatively moderate Republican from a liberal state (relative to most other Republicans, that is). If Romney loses, the Republicans may just as well conclude that they need the second coming of Adolf Hitler to eliminate the unbeatable alliance of the 47% of the country which consists of “useless eaters” with the 4% of the country which consists of arugula-eating, Prius-driving liberal elites.

    Considering that conservatives were lukewarm at best towards Romney during the primary, I find it unlikely that they’ll consider a rejection of him to be equivalent to a rejection of themselves.

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