Tallest midget Dep’t

Yes, the Republicans are eventually going to nominate the least implausible of their candidates, but only at the price of becoming far more implausible in the process.

Ross Douthat is right to say that the much-maligned Republican primary voters do seem to be resigned to nominating the last-implausible candidate from what he rightly calls “a roster of retreads, mediocrities, and cable-news candidates.” What he doesn’t mention is that, as the price for a plurality of their votes, Romney has been forced to become far more implausible than he was four years ago.

This is a party that desperately needs a decade or so in the wilderness.

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

30 thoughts on “Tallest midget Dep’t”

  1. Yes, the Republicans do need a bit of time in the wilderness. But the irony is that Romney’s nomination will preclude it, as the crazies will attribute his loss to his not being crazy enough. They need to nominate at least a Santorum to go into wilderness mode. And even that might not do. The Goldwater party was an amalgam of Bircher crazies and money cons and small business and professionals. It was possible to cut out the Birchers, add the Bourbon Dems, and reconfigure the party. The current party is an amalgam of crazies, including many of its money cons. Which crazies do they cut, and who would be willing to join the alliance of the rest?

    1. I suspect Ebenezer that we are trending to a Christian Party of America sort of thing.
      With someone like Rick Sanctimonious at the throttle. Or someone equally talented at bringing out the ugliest and most powerful examples of a hateful sort of Jesus.
      Someone who can continue what MoDo so aptly noted here:

      The contenders in the Hester Prynne primaries are tripping over one another trying to be the most radical, unreasonable and insane candidate they can be. They pounce on any traces of sanity in the other candidates — be it humanity toward women, compassion toward immigrants or the willingness to make the rich pay a nickel more in taxes — and try to destroy them with it.

      Which is also all to suggest: If I was a Christian, I’d be pissed at what the republicans are doing in Jesus’s name.
      I mean really, it is way past time for real Christians to reclaim their Christ. Pricks like Rick are ruining the brand…


  2. And they’re still going to give you a run for your money, Obama might pull out a victory, or might not, you’ll lose the Senate, and not regain the House.

    What does it say of the Democratic party that “an amalgam of crazies” can best you two times out of three? Maybe that you just don’t see your own insanity?

    1. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . . .

    2. What it says is that there’s a substantial group of voters whose thinking echoes that of their predecessors who knew that Africans were lesser people and naturally good only for slavery, burned witches in Salem and marched Jews through the streets in auto-da-fe’s. Every generation has a large contingent of fearful and hateful xenophobes who find it easiest to explain whatever problems beset them by blaming them on “the other”. And in a democracy, every generation finds politicians willing to stoke those instincts for gain.

      And it helps if the people saying “wait a minute, it’s more complicated than that” have gone to good schools and live someplace else, such as LA, SF or NYC. Then they can be put in another “other” bin and “educated elite” can be made into another derogatory epithet for political gain.

      Basically, what it says is that a large swath of the voters in this country are uninformed and easy marks for loud and untruthful advertising campaigns.

        1. Nor were many Jews executed in auto-da-f̩s. The victims were conversos РCatholic descendants of Jews forcibly converted generations before. The persecution was anti-semitic all right, but it falsely identified the conversos as secret Jews. The rabbis of North Africa were unsympathetically clear at the time that the victims of the Inquisition were not Jews.

    3. “What does it say of the Democratic party that “an amalgam of crazies” can best you two times out of three?”
      Perhaps it says the same thing that it says of the Republican party when it gets bested tree times out of five. Maybe that you just don’t see your own insanity?

      1. Yeah, I’d buy that: Both parties are too focused on what’s nuts about the other, to see their own problems. They’re both caught in a downward spiral, enabled by election laws which prevent any alternative from displacing one of them, no matter who dissatisfied the public gets with both.

        I mean, did you really think one party could descend into insanity, the other remain on an even keel, and elections would remain competitive? I can understand why you’d want to think it, but how could you convince yourselves it was plausible?

        You think I find myself aligned with the GOP because I like them? I only barely loath them less than the Democratic party, but between the two, they’ve seen to it there’s no other game in town.

        1. Sometimes Brett has something insightful to add to the discussion. I believe this is one of those times.

          But it’s not just both parties that have this tunnel vision, we all have that tendency to favor our own ideals, whatever they happen to be. Brett provides an illustrative example with his final paragraph — he is focused on what’s nuts about both parties and seems to think his ideals are the only sane ones. To him they are sane, though the rest of us don’t always agree.

          We’re all bozo’s on this bus!

          1. except that the republican party has a tendency to embrace their extremes even when they’re wrong while the democrats have a tendency to defenestrate their extremes even when they’re right, but otherwise the comparison is perfect 😛

          2. I take Brett’s point to be that the political system as a whole, as a system, has become increasingly sclerotic and unresponsive, corrupt, authoritarian and plutocratic. That the Republican Party has made itself into a bad reality teevee show, the better to herd demoralized Democrats by reactive repugnance into support for Obama’s pro-plutocratic policies, should not be a cause for partisan schadenfreude. The unsuitability of one Party for rotation in office simply increases the incentives of the Other to corruption and authoritarian abuse of power.

            Historically, the political Parties were not all that coherent ideologically. Major issues of the day tended to be carried forward by mass organization, which kept the electorate’s interest in programs and policies, somewhat orthogonal to Party, and the inevitable partisan interest in office, pork and patronage. People in the mass electorate identified as Democrats or Republicans for reasons at least partly unrelated to ideological worldview or immediate self-interest, and (parts of) both Parties could, for example, champion Progressivism early in the twentieth century, or civil rights at mid-century. The Parties, in seeking the prize of Power by capturing the Center, would gain and lose on their flanks as a result of policy change, resulting in a waltz around a great Circle, but giving leverage to those seeking adaptive policy change. The collapse of the ideological spectrum to a single continuum has enabled Obama to capture the political Center, in the wake of Bush’s serial failures, without actually rejecting much of what made Bush such a disaster for the country.

            A lot of Democrats rationalize policy choices Obama makes, which they would reject or oppose fiercely, if a Republican were enacting them. Some of that rationalization turns precisely on the antics of the Republican Party, and the excuses they create for Obama, when the President needs to reconcile his Democratic supporters to his centrist, plutocrat-friendly agenda. It may well be a humiliating role the Republicans must play, but it has not been without apparent Power to advance their economic and ideological desiderata. It’s apparent that the Democrats are likely to lose control of the Senate, even if they regain the House, so we can be sure that Obama can keep this game going. How many Democrats continue to credit Obama as hero, in this kind of kabuki political theatre for pro-plutocratic policy, I have no idea. Even if you do not think our Great Recession will resume, or bring on another crisis, within the short-term of the next Administration, the grinding down of wages, piling up of student debt, the consequences of peak oil and increasingly predatory nature of American finance and industry will have consequences.

            Brett and I would have, I presume, radically different ideas, in many respects, about how the country should be adapting to reality and meliorating the consequences. But, I also presume that we can both see that the country is not adapting sensibly. Neither of us, I imagine, particularly admires the accelerating corruption of the economy through the financial sector, which is being granted enormous power by the government to extract income streams and wealth, without adding value of any kind. I wouldn’t be much of a liberal, if I was not even more repulsed by neoliberalism, than are libertarians and honest conservatives.

            That our antic Republicans might be consigned to the political wilderness for bad behavior, in a re-enactment of the election that consigned Populist Democrats to the ashheap in 1896 or Hoover and Big Business Republicans in 1932, is a pleasant fantasy, but a terrible misapprehension. The celebrity spokesmodel politicians dancing on the stage do well enough for themselves, and their patrons will not be excluded from Power by their failures or humilations — that’s not how politics works in this country now. It is easier for me to imagine that the Democrats and what little remains of liberalism will be destroyed by a second Obama Administration; even if the Democrats survive as a Party, the country will be damaged by the policy of disinvestment and regulatory corruption.

          3. “Neither of us, I imagine, particularly admires the accelerating corruption of the economy through the financial sector, which is being granted enormous power by the government to extract income streams and wealth, without adding value of any kind.”

            I suppose the main difference between us is that I view this as a (fairly inefficient, but it’s other people’s money, who cares?) form of money laundering on the part of people in government. You give some absurd amount of taxpayers’ money, (Or money borrowed from China, really.) to somebody in the private sector, (Say, to create jobs in Finland.) and they see to it that a small fraction finds it’s way back to you.

            I suppose there’s another perspective from which this looks like a bribe. Wave/particle duality, and all that. When a transaction is purposely obscure, and benefits both parties, it can be hard to tell who’s initiating it, can’t it?

            But corruption? Clearly. You don’t attempt to bribe somebody who you’re not confident is corrupt, they’ll turn you in if they’re not. Bribes or money laundering, Congress is, as an institution, corrupt. To the point where it won’t clean itself, or permit anyone else to do the job.

            Some people see all this corruption, decide it has to be originating in the private sector, and want to hand Congress all the power they need to stop it. But if the corruption is in Congress, that’s more than a bit of a mistake, isn’t it?

          1. And the GOP seems to embrace that; they haven’t offered positive choices in a while.

    4. It doesn’t tell us much, because public opinion and majority voting behavior may or may not produce quality results.

      From Popper’s “The Myth of Public Opinion” (in Conjectures and Refutations) to more recent research, the general consensus is that the position of the majority may not necessarily be smart or even reflect its own best interests.

      A classical example occurred when in 1968, a majority of Liechtenstein women voted against women’s suffrage.

      We don’t have a democracy because we expect it to produce optimal results when it comes to electing governments; we have a democracy because we expect it to produce the least bad results (see Churchill’s famous quote). Having a liberal democracy allows us to change governments without bloodshed and to limit the harm that bad governments do. Conversely, we will rarely get the very best governments; we are unlikely to elect a philosopher king. But we’re also unlikely to elect a totalitarian dictator (and if we did, that dictator would find him- or herself caught in a political system that would make it very difficult to actually establish totalitarian policies).

      1. Katja,
        Are you supporting democracies or liberal democracies? Different critters. Liberal democracies do have built-in stabilizers as long as they remain liberal, but not all democracies are liberal. And illiberal democracies can do some pretty awful things.
        Worse yet, some liberal democracies lose their liberalism with time–see Hungary.

        1. I use the terms interchangeably, because they are essentially synonyms these days. When I say, democracy, I generally speak about a modern, Western-style liberal democracy. (I can’t really think of any Athens-style direct democracy in the modern world.) For all intents and purposes, (liberal) democracy is a shorthand for a laundry list of features that we have found valuable (such as inalienable rights, the people as the sovereign, separation of powers, etc.).

          Obviously, democracies are not immune to failure. One common reason why democracies fail (or at least flounder) is corruption (for example, Russia). But in general, democracies are still less likely to fail than other forms of government and are more likely to produce a society that is worth living in.

          It is also worth noting that stability for its own sake is not worth that much without democratic elements. Both the Roman Republic and the Republic of Venice were exceedingly stable, lasting for centuries, in much more unstable times. But it really, really sucked to be a commoner in either of them.

          As to Hungary, that’s simply an example of a country with both a weak constitution and no established democratic traditions. You don’t necessarily need a strong written constitution (though I’d argue that the case of Great Britain is fairly unique and most countries are better off with one), but Hungary is essentially a case of Weimar-lite (thankfully, Fidesz/KDNP at least aren’t comparable to the Nazis; they have autocratic, not totalitarian tendencies).

          Regardless, the events in Hungary have made me think more favorably of the eternity clause in the German constitution or the basic structure doctrine of the Indian constitution. Both make core features of their respective constitutions immune to even constitutional amendment by a duly elected parliament.

    5. As with most of Brett’s posts, I see a massive fallacy of logic here.

      He seems to think that because an insane, unhinged party can give the Democrats a run for their money in every election, it means the Democrats are equally insane. In fact, the Democrats have taken up the mantle of moderation. They are surprisingly sober and conservative these days. But it’s part of the Right’s rhetorical machine to paint Democrats as crazy.

      1. “But it’s part of the Right’s rhetorical machine to paint Democrats as crazy.”

        This, in a comment on a post by Mark Kleiman, member of the Left’s rhetorical machine, painting Republicans as crazy… You could cut the irony with a knife.

        1. Brett, you and I have different opinions on how the world works. Not only that, we have different opinions on humanity, religion, and probably every other imaginable thing. It is not that one of these opinions is right and the other is wrong. It is that our frames of reference use different criteria: as if I’m having a conversation with you about vegetables, and you’re talking back to me about dog training. We cannot and will not relate. Yet you spend endless hours on these forums trying to prove that all of us are somehow wrong. No. We just believe in things like freedom of religion (or even lack of religion), the right of a person to control her or his body, etc etc.

          From my perspective, the opinions of the right are crazy and de-humanizing. You can argue back all you want about how it’s actually the left who’s crazy, but I (and most of the other people on this forum) will never agree with or believe you, because…well, we just don’t believe you. We come from a different place, we hold different values.

          1. Oh, I realize that’s exactly the case. This is a clash of premises. And it’s so seldom that ‘liberals’ confront that, and show the slightest recognition that their own premises are not universal, frequently aren’t even all that common. (The same, of course, applies to many premises on the ‘Right’.)

            Webber’s definition of the state. That minority members can’t really be ‘racist’. Collective responsibility for past offenses. A general rejection of the conclusions of public choice theory. ‘Liberal’ reasoning is just lousy with premises which are strongly contested, and often not very widespread among the general public.

            And yet you tend to be quite casual about assuming that the people who disagree with you are nuts, or evil, or lying about it for tactical reasons. They’re starting from you “obvious” premises, and there’s just something wrong with their reasoning.

            That’s why elections are effectively contested, even though you figure that your conclusions are just intuitively obvious, and every sane person ought to embrace them. Because a lot of people, a hell of a lot of people, sanely disagree with you. You can, you know, legitimately lose an argument, not just because of “Agnotology”, or diabolical mind control rays emanating from the Koch brothers.

            A bit more self-awareness might spare you this arrogant conviction that to disagree with you is to be insane, and might thereby make you better at dealing with people who disagree with you, which is to say, most people.

            And, why do I come here? Frankly, I like arguing. Always in good faith, of course, which is why I’m not a “troll”; I come here because I can find people I really do disagree with to argue with. If I were a troll I’d troll the gun boards, they are, frankly, less inclined to censor people who show up and disagree with them.

            I mean, do you only enjoy talking with people who agree with you?

    6. Brett, I’d help you here, but the amount of foolish assumptions, ignorance of reality, and bad logic is just too much.

  3. After 2008, the Republicans ignored the election and simply declared that they’d been right all along and that they represent the majority even though they lost. The Democrats could have simply declared that the Republican Party had been permanently repudiated, but instead they fell all over themselves to move to the right and collude with the Republicans. I don’t expect either major party to surprise me by acting differently this time.

    Brett is right to point out that a party that can’t beat today’s Republicans is, ah, questionable. I predict that liberals are going to be even less happy with the Democratic party after 2012 than before.

  4. I have a doubt about the idea that Santorum would be a batter losing GOP candidate from the Democratic point of view. The issue from now on is is what happens in the Congressional races. My reading is that Santorum would be written off by GOP donors early on and all the money diverted to winnable Congressional races. Romney on the other hand, as the representative of the GOP’s money wing, would suck up funds from Congressional races and lose anyway. Both candidates have negative coat-tails.

    The Intrade political betting market gives the GOP at a 62% chance of controlling the Senate (>51 seats), but I don’t buy this any more than Harry Reid does.

      1. This assumes that there is a fixed size pool of money. I doubt that

        Indeed. Funding politics is chump change for billionaires.
        Hell they make more on interest everyday.
        Jesus, If I had Soros’ bread, I’d be a hell demon for the GOP.
        I’d be totally dominating American politics and daring anybody to stop me.

  5. I have a feeling that Santorum would be worse, since he’d give other GOP candidates the publicity which money can’t buy, and which money can’t totally erase.

  6. I also, however, believe Matthew Yglesias’ thought that you want the best possible candidate from each party. Obama is not a shoo-in against anybody–there is a chance, however slim, that if Santorum were the nominee, he could get elected President. I shudder to think of the Christian-theocratic image that he’d want to remake the US in.

    Therefore, my reasonable side hopes for a matchup between Obama and Romney. Romney would most likely be as ham-handed and plutocratic as a President as he’s been in both the campaign and his life, but at least he did some things in his past that I can agree with. One hopes that side of Romney would govern (rather than the hypocritical and rabid version that the far right has forced him to become.)

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