Political Theory and Punditry from a native of Flyover Country
Fun quiz. Take it. Take it now. (Even if you’re a liberal.)
You’ve probably heard of Dave Brat by now. He’s the economics professor who just made history by being the first person to beat a House majority leader in a primary. But you might not know about Zachary Werrell, his campaign manager who turned 23 last month, interviewed for the gig at a Panera restaurant and has been sleeping on the couch of his mentor. Werrell spoke with the Washington Examiner over the phone from the boisterous Brat victory party. Here are highlights from that conversation: On what stands out about Brat from the campaign trail: “He’s just a very happy, nice, affable person. When you see him, you don’t get any bad vibes. He’s just a very positive, upbeat person.” On how Cantor’s negative ads affected Brat’s win:
Over at the Times, Ross Douthat explains why “many Americans can agree with [the country vs. court] critique but still reject the Republican alternative.”
They reject it for two reasons. First, while Republicans claim to oppose the ruling class on behalf of the country as a whole, they often seem to be representing an equally narrow set of interest groups — mostly elderly, rural (the G.O.P. is a “country party” in a far too literal sense) and well-off. A party that cuts food stamps while voting for farm subsidies or fixates on upper-bracket tax cuts while wages are stagnating isn’t actually offering a libertarian populist alternative to the court party’s corrupt bargains. It’s just offering a different, more Republican-friendly set of buy-offs.
Second, as much as Americans may distrust a cronyist liberalism, they prefer it to a conservatism that doesn’t seem interested in governing at all. This explains why Republicans could win the battle for public opinion on President Obama’s first-term agenda without persuading the public to actually vote him out of office. The sense that Obama was at least trying to solve problems, whereas the right offered only opposition, was powerful enough to overcome disappointment with the actual results.
Here’s how that opposition, which works just fine when you’re trying to block and prevent President Obama’s legislative priorities, has come to fruition:
Republicans have hamstrung the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, prevented another round of much needed stimulus, declared victory on a fiscal cliff deal that locked in much of the Bush Tax Cuts, blocked even a discussion on climate change and carbon, made every single debt ceiling deal a tense standoff that threatens to shock markets and damage our credit rating, and it looks like the House GOP will kill the Senate’s immigration reform bill.
And the way forward?
My colleague Tim Carney has laid out one version of a “libertarian populist” agenda. (Also read Ben Domenech on the subject.) It’s basically an attempt to recapture, as the name suggests, the populist language of American politics from the Democrats, and this version is one of less government, not more.
Yet I must concur with the critiques offered by the likes of Josh Barro, which is roughly that such attempts at reform are small ball. A GOP that warns of skyrocketing debt obligations must also present a plan for addressing this concern.
But instead we get doozies like this, where Congressional Republicans attack Obama for offering modest reforms to entitlement programs. A major Republican talking point in the 2012 elections was that Obama would cut your Medicare (note who is being addressed by using “your”), and he was slammed for offering a reform to your Social Security this spring.
Here’s the fun part: the GOP must find a way to build a viable electoral coalition of the future without totally sacrificing the voters of the present, who are predominately aged, wealthy, and who react viscerally to any hint of their benefits. This is a voter base that rants about “takers” without noting the irony of hitting the genetic lottery and being beneficiaries of demographic numbers that mean they’ll receive far more than they paid into retirement programs. (And it’s a base that sees nothing strange about being one of the wealthiest generations in history and demanding that my generation of young, struggling workers do it alone.)
But I digress.
In the meantime, the President is just hanging out building constituency after constituency, and he’s able to do it by hardly even trying thanks to an oppositional agenda that manages to be both nonexistent in the concrete and disliked in the abstract. Like the Reagan Coalition was really built by public dissatisfaction at the intellectual burnout of high liberalism, the Obama Coalition is being built by the decline of the usefulness of the animating principles of the Reagan Revolution.
Maybe the ideas of libertarian populism (and its intellectual cousins) will soon come to own the GOP. On one front, foreign policy, we’re going to have a real debate in 2016 between the likes of Rand Paul and Chris Christie. (Good!)
But on the others, I don’t expect to see candidates differ from orthodoxy on taxes, spending, and rhetoric. And what that means in the real world is that cuts must be absorbed by the non-entitlement parts of federal spending (thanks again, old people). That means less money for the young, the middle class, and those who cannot care for themselves. It means silly cuts like those to ARPA-E, less money for food stamps (but no cuts for the old, wealthy farmers!), and ever more aggressive five year plans to cut the debt before we obviously get shellacked by massive inflation and a debt crisis that makes Greece look like child’s play.
I don’t blame the reformocons (or whatever they’re being called these days) for the structural realities of the Reagan coalition. But if the picture is already so bleak, why not just go Bullworth on it all?
On the world stage, the United States is a bit like the popular guy who, love him or hate him, the whole school aligns themselves in relation to. Israel is a bit like the popular guy’s troubled friend who most people try to get along with a bit because the U.S. will take it personally if they don’t.
Or, to put it slightly differently, Israel is an important regional ally to the United States. The United States is the critical ally of Israel. And if Israel does something to seriously tick of a large or influential portion of the U.S., Israel is in serious trouble.
Now the U.S. is having a hugely contested election. Netanyahu apparently decides that this is a good time to start criticizing the Obama administration. The Romney campaign runs with it, as Netanyahu knew it would. So now Israel is tampering with—and taking sides—in a U.S. election.
It should go without saying that our election is none of Israel’s business and Israel should butt out of this one. But that’s not the part that makes me question Netanyahu’s intelligence. It’s that he seems to have tied himself to the Romney campaign.
Why in the world would you put a high stakes bet on that horse?
The key isn’t to win. It’s to push US policy on Israel to the right, and that’s been accomplished by allying with Romney.
Sarah Kliff has a great piece about reactions to the new calorie information found on the food at McDonald’s. This is my favorite quote, but there were a bunch I considered posting here:
I did find one customer who had noticed the calorie labels: Dick Nigon of Sterling, Va. He and his wife, Lea, had stopped by McDonald’s after seeing an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. Dick had ordered for the couple, noticed the calorie labels and liked them.
“I like that you have the information before you order,” he told me, when I asked about the labels. “It’s better than some kind of government health mandate in Obamacare.”
I told him that the calorie labels were, in fact, a government health mandate in Obamacare.
“Well that changes things a bit,” he responded. “I thought this was more of a voluntary sort of thing. Now I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.”
I like this quote so much not only because it demonstrates what we all already know about Obamacare, the role of government, and people’s perceptions of those things, but also because Jonathan Bernstein ran with it to talk about the political process itself:
[It’s] a reminder of how difficult it is for anyone to talk about “Obamacare” as a particular thing because the ACA just contains so many different, and in many cases largely unrelated, pieces. It’s also a reminder that one of the outdated bits of “I’m Just a Bill” is the idea that a “bill” is one specific idea written by one Member of Congress in response to one problem. Most things nowadays that pass Congress do so as part of larger, omnibus bills which contain many different bills, many of which began life as individual measures. Most of these bills/provisions (or whatever we should call them) never receive separate votes on the House or Senate floor, or even in committee. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but good or bad it’s just how Congress does business.
Appropriate today, from “The North West London Blues”:
Some people owe everything they have to the bank accounts of their parents. I owe the state. Put simply, the state educated me, fixed my leg when it was broken, and gave me a grant that enabled me to go to university. It fixed my teeth (a bit) and found housing for my veteran father in his dotage. When my youngest brother was run over by a truck it saved his life and in particular his crushed right hand, a procedure that took half a year, and which would, on the open market—so a doctor told me at the time—have cost a million pounds. Those were the big things, but there were also plenty of little ones: my subsidized sports centre and my doctor’s office, my school music lessons paid for with pennies, my university fees. My NHS glasses aged 9. My NHS baby aged 33. And my local library. To steal another writer’s title: England made me. It has never been hard for me to pay my taxes because I understand it to be the repaying of a large, in fact, an almost incalculable, debt.
Chuckling at the use of a British national to talk about American culture.
" There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."
I hope this was a lucrative fundraiser, because this will be in a campaign ad by this evening.
As we’re hitting what is bound to be most aggressively stupid segment of the election (the interlude between conventions and debates), I figured I’d change the subject on Tumblr.
So, each week I’ll be hosting a little open forum here on Tumblr. Let’s start with healthcare.
The first I’d propose is probably the core problem with our current system, which is having insurance coupled with employment. Many of the horror stories we encounter via conversations with friends, ads on the television, or in longform articles on MoJo are a product of this system.
Decoupling insurance from work would be a major step in improving our system.
Anyway, I must go to work (commence joke about healthcare).
Let’s make this a thread, and perhaps even Tumblr can manage to rise above (you see what I did there?) this election?