Tuesday, July 23. 2013
Jonathan Chait's Anarchists of the House makes some useful points about the today's Republican majority in the House of Representatives. For instance:
Having read much in the communitarian anarchist tradition of Kropotkin and Bookchin (and probably too much in the libertarian anarchist oeuvres of Rothbard) I wouldn't have picked "anarchists" as an ideology I'd like to saddle the Republicans with, but it's true that some people who called themselves anarchists (mostly about a century ago) threw bombs and caused mayhem, and if that's all you recall and consider it isn't that wrong. But the Kochs are big on the Rothbard line, and your typical anti-government euthanasiast may consider it a compliment.
Moreover, it's the kind of slander that identifies Chait as a "big government" liberal, as opposed to the kind of liberal that considers a state necessary for some things but not altogether without risks. Then Chait goes on to compound his ignorance and prejudice, in this paragraph approvingly cited by Ed Kilgore (which is how I got here, and it turns out even worse):
Kilgore stops the paragraph short, quotes Mario Savio, engages in some gratuitous hippie punching, and pronounces this "a very apt analogy," conceding only that Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor might find it "mortifying . . . to be compared to a dirty hippie." I've never seen Kilgore this far off base. I mean, for starters, how is the poor hippie going to feel being compared to Cruz and Cantor? Much less being blamed for the budget fiasco that caused the US government bond rating to be downgraded? But that's just one of many incredible brain slips that Kilgore and/or Chait have made in trying to build an argument that ultimately amounts to nothing more than calling someone else a presumably disreputable name.
It's silly to have to tear this house of cards down, and I'm not going to bother with much of it, but . . . it's not necessarily true that hippies were dirty, at least hygienically (some hippies left the city for farms, and farmers do work with dirt, but we don't routinely speak of "dirty farmers"); hippies had very little to do with the new left -- they overlap historically but one was countercultural and the other political; Mario Savio, by any stretch of imagination, was not a hippie, nor was he a persistent figure in the evolution of the new left -- he appeared, made some speeches, then got on with his life; the new left was never defined by a single coherent ideology -- it was left in the sense that we believed that all people are equal and deserve equal justice, and it was new in the sense that we didn't belong to Leninist parties conspiring to foment revolution; other than that, new left tactics varied according to situation -- direct non-violent action in the civil rights struggle, mass demonstrations against the Vietnam war, electoral activity when worthy (or even some not-so-worthy) candidates presented themselves. Some splinter groups did wrong-headed things, but they were marginal. Most new left ideas entered the mainstream, and much was done by Congress in the 1960s to secure civil rights, and again by Congress in the 1970s on issues ranging from clean air to limiting the president's warmaking powers. The one thing the new left didn't do was to grab institutional power for its own self-perpetuation. One reason for this was that the new left was always distrustful of power, having seen bad examples of its use both in the Soviet Union and in the US.
Chait is arguing that if the new left ('60s radicals) had the sort of Congressional power the Republicans currently have, we would have behaved like the Republicans do now. Surely he realizes that there is no policy reason for that. The major fillibusters of the 1960s were to prevent votes on civil rights. Then, as now, the obstructionism was done by the right (same for Truman's famous "do-nothing Congress" of 1947-49). Maybe obstructionism works for the right in ways that it doesn't work for the left? Maybe right and left have significantly different attitudes toward democratic processes? Maybe there's no moral equivalency whatsoever between far right and far left?
One clue should be that in forums where Republicans have control today Republicans -- many states, among the most notorious Wisconsin, North Carolina, North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas -- don't encourage Democrats to practice the "procedural extremism" they use in Washington. They simply go about implementing their pet policies any way they can. They are utterly opportunistic, and utterly cynical, about procedure. And -- this is the key point -- what lets them be so opportunistic and cynical is their utter contempt for democracy. (Nor should you be surprised: the Democrats actually received more votes for the House in 2012, but the Republicans were able to get more members elected, mostly due to their skillful gerrymandering in 2010. And they've gotten key support from their cadres in the courts, from Bush v. Gore to Citizens United to this year's gutting of the Voting Rights Act.)
The rest of Chait's piece is worth reading for his reporting on how the House Republicans plan to use the debt ceiling as hostage to force Obama to cancel Obamacare, maybe even to "privatize Medicare." It's a scary story, but not because Chait likened Republicans to anarchists, or Kilgore called Cantor a "dirty hippie." The Republicans are ruining their own brand name. Just hang them with it.