As a shrewd cultural critic, Alan Wolfe is always worth reading. Recently though, he made an unfortunate diversion into the realm of necromancy, raising the shades of unwanted and unneeded dead theories. In a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wolfe discussed how far Richard Hofstadter’s theory of the Paranoid Style could be applied to contemporary US politics. It would be sad if Wolfe’s imprimatur inspired any revival of a fatally flawed, but long influential, theory.
Richard Hofstadter was a Columbia University historian, whose best-known books were Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1965). The title essay in this latter book originally appeared in Harper’s at the time of the 1964 election. A classic JFK liberal, he used his historical skills to analyze what he saw as the political menaces of his day. He described the beliefs and rhetoric of Barry Goldwater and what he termed the radical Right with about as much balance and intuitive sympathy as an al-Qaeda spokesman expounding US policy in the Middle East. Hofstadter located contemporary Right-wing views in a deep-rooted and ugly tradition of hatred, xenophobia, Nativism, and racism, traceable to colonial times. (He always spoke of the Right: conservatism might in theory be acceptable, but America, in his view, had no “true” conservatives).
Hofstadter saw no point in trying to comprehend Rightism as a system of rational political beliefs. Rather, it was based on paranoid fantasies—delusions of persecution, visions of conspiracy, and messianic dreams of absolute victory in a future that would vindicate all present excesses. Only the word “paranoia” “adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” All these views, ultimately, were grounded in irrational fears, of projections of the troubled self. Drawing on the faddish therapeutic creeds of the time, Hofstadter presented Rightism as a pathological disorder. “Paranoia,” in his usage, was not just a rhetorical label, but a certifiable personality disorder.
For Hofstadter, America’s political choice in 1964 could be summarized readily: we are liberal; you are mentally ill. Read More…
Commentators short on descriptive idioms often deploy the phrase “strange bedfellows” whenever cross-ideological coalitions arise out of mutual concern for civil liberties. Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, D.C., endorsed as it was by organizations both left and right, represented the latest such occasion.
Fresh off a leading role in forcing the partial government shutdown, “Tea Party” group FreedomWorks shared billing with (among many others) the ACLU, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and the “Anonymous” hacktivist collective. One MSNBC reporter deemed rally-goers a “strange political hodgepodge,” portraying their heterogeneity as a bizarre phenomenon that never would have materialized but for the uniquely broad-based outrage spurred by Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the National Security Agency’s mass unchecked surveillance on American citizens.
The rally’s marquee speaker was Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and though a tad tentative in presentation, he detailed with vigor the quickening movement in Congress to restore Americans’ civil liberties. This summer, an amendment Amash co-authored with Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to defund the massive NSA phone record collection program nearly passed the House, much to the shock of the intelligence community and conventional wisdom. “When the vote came down, it was close. It scared people,” he said. “It scared the establishment in both parties.” The crowd exulted. Amash later told me he regarded anti-surveillance activism as an “important” step toward lasting transpartisan cooperation, and reported that the USA FREEDOM Act—legislation to curtail the NSA’s powers—would pass today if brought to the House floor. These developments were buoyed by grassroots activism, Amash emphasized.
Perhaps the burgeoning coalition of technologists, traditional conservatives, stalwart liberals, and myriad others receives scorn precisely because it is starting to get results.
In the run-up to the rally, journalist Tom Watson wrote a widely-circulated essay at Salon positing that the operational involvement of the Libertarian Party and kindred organizations “infected” the event irreparably, and the left should therefore withdraw its support. Progressives and libertarians might occasionally find common cause on narrow issues, this argument went, but establishing anything like a formal alliance is indefensible given the standard libertarian positions against abortion rights, social welfare programs, and so forth.
No office-holding Democrat addressed the crowd, but Dennis Kucinich, the former representative from Ohio and eager forger of counter-intuitive alliances, preceded Amash with a rousing speech. Afterwards, I confronted him with Watson’s challenge: ought the robust presence of libertarian groups, some expressly affiliated with the GOP, taint the rally and its message in the eyes of progressives? Kucinich was unmoved. “The Constitution belongs to everyone, whatever their political party, whatever their ideology,” he said. “Everyone deserves the protection of the first and fourth amendments. I said it today—we’re not here as partisans. We’re here as Americans.”
The modern Democratic Party itself is a diffuse coalition of interest groups and factions bound together by little beyond raw political expediency. Why is it defensible for “progressives” of Watson’s ilk to work within a party structure dominated by pro-military intervention corporatists—yet working with libertarians is considered a nonstarter?
Throughout U.S. history, nascent populist-oriented coalitions have always been cobbled together messily, and the left-libertarian anti-surveillance lobby is of course no exception. “Part of what we’re trying to do is set out a new model,” said rally organizer JJ Emru when asked to react to Waston’s line of thinking. “To say, if we overcome some of our differences, we can definitely achieve this.”
If nothing else, efforts like Stop Watching Us have the effect of scrambling party allegiances and creating room for unorthodox coalition-building that can challenge the status quo. In the world of Washington commentary, bipartisan cooperation is lauded as healthy and serious, if it involves “compromises” to expand the national security state or cut spending on entitlements. An alliance featuring the likes of Amash and Kucinich is little more than a fleeting convergence of “strange bedfellows.”
With today’s formal introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), the convergence appears to be more than fleeting. Beyond just reining in the NSA, these “strange bedfellows” are redefining what it means to work across the aisle.
There are three kinds of victories that Ted Cruz and his Tea Party admirers might have won in the government shutdown. The first is a victory in policy—defunding or delaying Obamacare or else securing significant cuts to government.
The second is a victory in the court of public opinion—coming out of this with the electoral prospects for small-government conservatives enhanced.
The third, a victory that might be salvaged from the wreck of the other two, is psychological—a strengthening of the Tea Party’s own willingness to fight and win another day.
Take an objective look at the score.
The shutdown did not extract policy concessions from Obama. The Affordable Care Act is funded and in effect. Instead of shrinking government, the shutdown grew it, directly costing taxpayers $3.1 million. “Although furloughed workers will get their back pay, taxpayers won’t see the products,” ABC News notes. Whatever projects the furloughed workers were undertaking are still being pursued, of course, only now the workers have had a paid vacation, albeit one that most of them would rather not have had.
Not only did the shutdown not get the policy results its supporters wanted, but Cruz’s tactic itself wasted millions of dollars of other people’s money. In public opinion, meanwhile, the shutdown plunged Republicans to record-low approval ratings. That won’t cost someone like Cruz his seat, but it also won’t make other politicians more eager to support his positions in the future.
That leaves the question of psychology. There lies the biggest defeat of all because Cruz’s actions turned the Tea Party against its own small-government ideals. Read More…
I’m beginning to notice a pattern among the anti-crony-capitalist set.
They’ve adopted a view of the interaction between government and business that is manichean at best, New Leftism in conservative drag at worst.
National Review’s Jonathan Strong passed on this thought from Rep. Raul Labrador:
Great pt from Labrador that media has derided tea party for not being under Wall St’s thumb while normally they fret about $ in politics
— Jonathan Strong (@j_strong) October 16, 2013
Now there’s no middle ground between being in the pocket of big business and not blowing up the global financial system.
And yesterday, Forbes’s James Poulos mused that Sen. Ted Cruz was waging a quixotic battle against both Big Finance and Big Government:
Orderly non-default would go a long way to prove to Americans that our complex financial-political system does not need to run things. Who needs the Fed? We don’t even need to raise the debt limit! You can imagine the fallout. It seems impossible to me that Wall Street and the world’s key money elites would ever even consider throwing in the towel on this level. If the financial elite loses the popular perception that they and their ways are essential to basic economic order, the jig is up. And if you can bet on one thing, it’s that the financial elite isn’t going to opt for the jig to be up.
That’s why I rate it extraordinarily likely Cruz and Company will be whipped and the debt limit raised. They thought they could take on big government and big business without any radical-left allies. My expectation is that, come the end of this non-crisis, that was their only miscalculation that mattered.
Again, this notion that preventing a default on our national debt is some kind of sop to Wall Street. By all means, let’s have a debate about the financialization of the American economy. But let’s do so without bringing the system to ruin and hurting millions of ordinary participants of the real economy, shall we?
The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, bless his conflicted heart, wrote a column recently lamenting that a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax was the only concession Republicans would win in the shutdown/debt ceiling standoff. He acknowledges that the tax is “bad,” and that “Congress is correct to repeal it”—but then spends the rest of the column making a nearly airtight case for why the tax should remain in effect. (Read the piece from the sixth paragraph on, and tell me I’m exaggerating.)
The libertarian-populist take on the medical device tax was shared by enough Republicans that language to repeal it was actually stripped out of the House leadership’s final attempt at a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Finally, this morning I made it about a fourth of the way through Kevin D. Williamson’s piece on the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy over the closing of national monuments during the shutdown. He writes, jauntily, “Every American has a little sedition in his soul, and this is a very good time to give it free rein.” To be charitable, Williamson has in mind Thoreauvian civil disobedience here, not outright sedition, but all the same, I find the whole tone utterly disturbing.
RedState’s Erick Erickson actually wrote the following sentence with a straight face: “Mitch McConnell is the single obstacle we have this week to taking our country back from the death spiral instigated by Obama and his merry band of community organizers.”
This talk of death spirals, storming barricades, of cleaning the Augean Stables of K Street, of exposing the naked emperors of Wall Street, of constitutional conventions—it seems painfully apparent to me that many folks on the right are suffering from radicalism envy. They are drama queens of the apocalypse.
Movement conservatism has always been half-crazy.
Lately it’s more like three-quarters crazy.
I’m now old enough to remember two federal government shutdowns.
Both turned out poorly for Republicans.
The difference this time was that every sane observer strongly suspected it was going to work out poorly for Republicans.
In the end, they won’t even get peanuts. They’ll get the discarded shells of peanuts.
The most infuriating, tear-out-your-hair reaction to the House GOP implosion came from Reps. Thomas Massie and Joe Barton, Republicans of Kentucky and Texas respectively: that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” No deal? Seriously? Ponder that for a moment: A faction of House Republicans, at the not-so-secret urging of Sen. Ted Cruz, noisily insisted on a foolish confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House. Once that confrontation ended fruitlessly—as critics predicted it would—this faction skulked away and left its leadership dangling and embarrassed.
This is akin to goading a friend into a bar fight and then watching helplessly as he’s kneed in the crotch.
Make no mistake, though: the GOP leadership isn’t completely blameless. It had planned, too, on a dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling. There is little reason, now, to believe that such an effort would have ended differently than this one.
Another round of negotiations over long-term budgeting, to be held between now and Dec. 13, will commence once this deal is enacted. Is there any hope for it? It’s hard not to be pessimistic. The eternal snag is as it always has been: there is no appetite within the GOP for exchanging higher tax revenues for entitlement reform. And contrary to Fox News pundit George Will, I think there’s little chance that President Obama will trade entitlement reform for sequester relief. As Jonathan Chait has noted, Democrats are unlikely to accept permanent cuts to mandatory spending in order to temporarily increase discretionary spending.
So we’re left the question, Can this divided government live with the status quo at least until the midterm elections?
Can it agree simply to do no more harm?
CNN reports on a potential thaw in the fiscal standoff:
On Wednesday, GOP leaders appeared to shift their focus from efforts to dismantle Obama’s signature health care reform, the initial driving force behind the shutdown, to securing spending cuts elsewhere. …
Meanwhile, GOP leaders were distancing themselves from demands by tea party conservatives to also make dismantling Obamacare a condition for agreement.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Republican negotiators secure actual spending cuts or, rather, some kind of a framework in which subsequent negotiations will take place. But the tabling of Obamacare represents half the battle for the Obama administration.
It’s worth stepping back to look at the Spinal Tap sandwich that Republicans—because they could not agree on tactics—have put Obama in: The House leadership, plus Rep. Paul Ryan, now seek nonmaximal budget concessions from the administration. But all along, they’ve eyed the most dangerous hostage—the debt ceiling. The kami-cons, meanwhile, sought a maximal concession—the defunding or delay or Obamacare—but eyed a lower-value target: the continuing resolution to keep the government open.
Obama won’t bargain on the debt ceiling.
And he won’t bargain on Obamacare.
Two separate factions of Republicans tried to make him do both—and for different reasons.
Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right.
There is a deal to be had now that Obamacare is again on the backburner and a short-term debt ceiling increase is apparently in play. The mismatch of demands and leverage points is coming back into balance. And so we’re left to wonder what House Republicans could have accomplished had they retained a sense of proportion and sought reasonable concessions without attempting to seize the highest-value hostage. A repeal of the medical device tax, plus sequester-level budget caps? The Keystone pipeline? More?
Instead they’ll get peanuts, and an even more badly damaged national brand.
Robert Costa reports this morning:
In the coming days, the House will likely consider legislation that would establish a bipartisan negotiating group to resolve the current fiscal impasse. It’d include select members from both chambers, and once passed, it’d start immediately.
This sounds alarmingly similar to 2011’s deficit-reduction supercommittee, which could not reach bipartisan agreement of any kind and whose miserable failure led indirectly to the creation of the budget sequestration that nearly everyone hates, but is kept in place by Republicans who enjoy mutilating their nose to spite their face.
It seems increasingly clear that the House leadership is playing out the string in the hopes that Obama or Senate Democrats will crack.
Yet consider another report (also from the indispensable Costa) on the implacability of the Houses kamikaze-cons:
“They may try to throw the kitchen sink at the debt limit, but I don’t think our conference will be amenable for settling for a collection of things after we’ve fought so hard,” says Representative Scott Garrett (R., N.J.). “If it doesn’t have a full delay or defund of Obamacare, I know I and many others will not be able to support whatever the leadership proposes. If it’s just a repeal of the medical-device tax, or chained CPI, that won’t be enough.”
Representative Paul Broun (R., Ga.) agrees, and says Boehner risks an internal rebellion if he decides to broker a compromise. “America is going to be destroyed by Obamacare, so whatever deal is put together must at least reschedule the implementation of Obamacare,” he says. “This law is going to destroy America and everything in America, and we need to stop it.”
Does this sound to you like there’s even a remote possibility that any deal, big or small, could pass muster with both Senate Democrats and 218 Republicans? If not, why are we putting the country through this? Why are Republicans inflicting real, immediate, and tangible harm on the economy in order to accomplish the impossible (delay or defund Obamacare) address an abstract future threat (debt) or merely to save face? Why isn’t the majority of the House majority isolating its rightmost faction and ending this pointlessly asinine pissing match?
Contra the conventional wisdom, I maintain that no one in leadership will lose his job. The very nature of Tea Party opposition, whether it issues from the likes of Bazooka Ted and His Gang in the Senate or the unappeasable Jacobins in the House, is to throw weight without consequence. They evince no interest in actually wielding power from the inside, which would require restraint, conciliation, and moderation. They are hysterics on the brink of utter demoralization. The danger they pose to democratic norms, institutional comity, and political functionality is precisely why they can’t be bargained with; they must be marginalized.
It’s time, Republicans: it’s time to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom.
They’re a bunch of certitude-surfeited Jacobins.
That’s the implication of this New York Times report on hardline House GOPers who precipitated the current government shutdown, er, lapse in appropriations.
Sample quixotic-sounding quote from Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico: “At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.”
Here these 30-odd Republicans stand. Damn the torpedoes, they can do no other!
You know what, though?
After Mitt Romney’s failed bid for the presidency, the GOP’s first brainstorm was to tackle the immigration issue and thereby mend fences (as against building a literal one) with the country’s growing Hispanic population.
The resultant legislation—the so-called Gang of 8 bill—was a perfect expression of business-class consensus: a reform whose approach to the importation of temporary workers would have aggravated the plight of low-wage, low-skill workers and eventually paved the way for a two-tiered labor market.
The flawed immigration reform proposal, added to the party’s longstanding fealty to the investor class when it comes to upper-bracket tax rates, drove Ross Douthat to complain of Republican “donorists”: rich social moderates who mix more easily with the cosmopolitan elite than with grassroots conservatives.
This past weekend, after which a government shutdown over Obamacare seemed all but certain to proceed, has seen the ascendance of a more authentically populist conservatism.
As Tom Petty sang years ago, I can’t decide which is worse.
For the push to “defund,” or merely delay the implementation of, Obamacare is maybe the most moronic and counterproductive gambit yet devised by the fire-breathing right flank of the congressional GOP.
It drops the ball of debt reduction—the putative reason conservatives confronted President Obama so dramatically in back in 2011—and exposes many Republican lawmakers’ cowardice when it comes to reining in the growth of entitlement spending. (I’m old enough to remember a “grand bargain” that included chained CPI and raising the eligibility age for Medicare!) Read More…
Mike Lee talked taxes at AEI yesterday, and the rave reviews are in.
Dubbed by this magazine “The Senate’s Mr. Tea,” Mike Lee hasn’t lost any of his firebrand zeal, as his spearheading of the “Defund Obamacare” campaign evidences. However, he is pairing his Tea Partyism with a communitarian messaging of late, culminating in a family-friendly tax reform plan that goes as far as any politician’s proposal, and certainly any Republican one, of late to put the needs and well-being of working families ahead of the wealthy and well-connected.
As Jim Pethokoukis describes it, ”Senator Mike Lee of Utah is offering fellow Republicans a possible path out of the political and policy wilderness.”
At its core: a new $2500 per child tax credit — in addition to the existing $1000 credit — available to all parents of dependent children and applicable to both payroll and income taxes. The expanded tax break would help reduce the “parent tax penalty.” Parents contribute twice to senior social insurance programs; first when they pay payroll taxes, then again when they incur the cost of raising the next generation of taxpayers, their kiddies. …
In a way, Lee is proposing a “human capital” gains tax cut. … In addition, Lee would reduce the current seven individual income tax brackets to two with 15% and 35%.
The combination of reforms Lee proposes is, to begin with, good policy. It would make our tax code friendlier to growth and more supportive of prosperity, and would correct a number of iniquities in the current code, in the process easing for many the path into the middle class and upwards through it and beyond it. It’s also good politics, as offering a larger child credit would help build a broader constituency for the other tax reforms (which conservatives have long wanted) while at the same time enabling the right to show working-class families how conservatives policies can improve their lives.
Most of all, though, Levin celebrates the positive signal that this speech represents, for “to see a prominent conservative politician take up the cause and offer the sort of vision of it that Lee did in his remarks today, is a cause for great encouragement and hope. … Encouraging signs are few and far between these days, but this was a big one.”
Tim Carney over at the Washington Examiner gives Mike Lee’s plan the official libertarian populist blessing, and commends it for its framing and policy:
First, Lee’s plan isn’t a flat tax. He calls for a 15 percent rate and 35 percent rate. He puts much more emphasis on making the tax code clean and simple – eliminating deductions, streamlining returns – than on flatness. This tacitly accepts the notion of a progressive income tax code. He’s agreeing that the rich ought to pay a higher portion.
Along the same lines, Lee’s tax plan would cap the mortgage interest deduction at $300,000. Most homeowners would see no difference, but lobbyists living in Northwest Washington and Chevy Chase would see their deductions shrink.
Most importantly, Lee rejects the notion, persistent among some conservatives, that there’s something bad about knocking low-income families off the tax rolls. The centerpiece of Lee’s bill is an expanded child tax credit that would not only reduce income taxes to zero, but also offset payroll taxes.
In doing so, he explicitly rejects Romney 47-percentism: “Working families are not free riders.” …
Remember, this sort of talk isn’t coming from the squishy center, but from the Red Meat Right – from Utah, to be precise. And it could represent a much-needed libertarian-populist wave in the GOP because it comes from the same well from which the Tea Party sprung.