An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, October 1, 2023
Speaking of Which
Front page, top headline in Wichita Eagle on Saturday: McCarthy's last-ditch plan to keep government open collapses. The headline came from an AP article, dropping the final "making a shutdown almost certain" clause. This headline, says more about the media mindset in America than it does about the politics it does such a poor job of reporting on. McCarthy is not trying to avert a shutdown (at least with this bill). Even if he somehow managed to pass it, there was no chance of it passing the Senate without major revisions, which his caucus would then reject. His core problem is that he insists on passing an extreme partisan bill, but no bill is extreme enough for the faction of Republicans dead set on shutting down the government, and nothing he can do will appease them.
If he was at all serious about avoiding shutdown, he'd offer a bill that would attract enough Democrat votes to make up for his inevitable losses on the extreme right. That's what McConnell did in the Senate, with a bill that passed 77-19. But House Republicans follow what they call the Hastert Rule, which states that leaders can only present bills approved by a majority of the caucus -- in effect, that means the right-wing can hold bills hostage, even mandatory spending bills, and looking for bipartisan support is pointless. McCarthy had to compromise even further to gain enough votes to be elected Speaker.
If the mainstream media refuses to provide even the barest of meaningful context, this kabuki propaganda will just continue, to the detriment of all.
[PS: On Saturday afternoon, after I wrote the above, McCarthy did just that, passing a bill 335-91, with 90 Republicans and 1 Democrat opposed. The bill continues spending for 45 days, adds disaster relief funds, extends federal flood insurance, and reauthorizes FAA, but does not include the new Ukraine aid Biden wanted.]
Top story threads:
The shutdown: [PS: Congress finally passed a continuing spending resolution on Saturday, after McCarthy's "last-ditch" bill failed to pass the House. The intro below -- original title was "Drowning government in the bathtub" -- was written before this bill passed, as were the articles dated earlier. On the other hand, we're only 45 days away from the next big shutdown scare, which the same bunch of clowns and creeps are almost certain again to push to the brink.]
The Grover Nordquist quote (from 2001) is: "I just want to shrink [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Later he managed to get every Republican in Congress to sign onto his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which would seem to commit them to the ultimate destruction of the federal government. None of this slowed, let alone reversed the growth of government -- it just ensured that the growth would be funded mostly by deficits, which conveniently give Republicans something else to whine about, even though they're mostly just tax giveaways to the very rich. So whenever an opportunity arises for Republicans to vent their hatred of the government and their disgust over the people that government serves, they rise up and break things. One of those opportunities is this week, when the previous year's spending bills expire, without the House having passed new ones for next year. Without new authorization, large parts of government are supposed to shut down, giving Republicans a brief opportunity to impress Grover Nordquist. Then, after a few days or a couple weeks, they'll quietly pass a resolution to allow their incompetence to escape notice for another year. You see, most of what government actually does supports the very same rich people who donate to Republican politicians. I could file all of these stories under Republicans, since they are solely responsible for this nonsense, but on this occasion, let's break them out.
The Republican also-rans second debate: Six of the first debate's eight made their way to the Reagan Library in California, again hosted by Fox. Bear in mind that any judgments about winners and losers are relative.
Let me conclude this section with a quote from Jeffrey St Clair (see his "Roaming Charges" below for link) summing up the debate:
Trump: While it was unprecedented for a former president to be indicted (for even one felony, much less 91), I think we now have to admit that's merely a historical curiosity, like Dianne Feinstein having been the first woman elected mayor of San Francisco. What is truly unprecedented is that this guy, facing so many indictments under four separate judges (plus more judges in prominent civil cases), is still being allowed to campaign for president, to fly free around the country, to give speeches where he threatens the lives of people he thinks have crossed him, to appear on television shows where he can influence potential jurors, and do this with complete impunity. While everyone knows that defendants are to be considered innocent until a jury finds them guilty, has anyone else under indictment ever been given such lax treatment? Many of them spend long pre-trial periods stuck in jail. (According to this report, there are 427,000 people in local jails who haven't been convicted.) Those who, like Trump, could manage bail, are subject to other numerous other restrictions. Maybe one reason Trump seems to regard himself as above the law is that the courts have allowed him such privileges.
DeSantis, and other Republicans:
Biden and/or the Democrats:
Legal and criminal matters:
Climate and environment:
Around the world:
Dianne Feinstein: The Senator (D-CA) died Thursday, at 90, after more than 30 years in the Senate. She had a mixed legacy, which had soured lately as her absences kept Democrats from confirming many Biden appointees.
Robert Menendez: Senator (D-NJ), was prosecuted for corruption several years ago, beat the charges, managed to get himself reëlected, and caught again.
David Atkins: [09-27] America needs a true liberal media: "Our crisis of democracy is exacerbated by conservative misinformation. Time for a balanced media diet." Of course, he has a lot to complain about, but couldn't he put it better? I shouldn't have to parse the difference between "liberal" as an adjective and "liberal" (or "liberalism") as a noun, and explain why a "liberal media" isn't just a propaganda outlet for liberalism (as conservative media is for conservatism). If we had an honest media dedicated to rooting out misinformation from any source, it would easily find ten times as much emanating from right-wing interest groups (which it would clearly label as such). Atkins cites several examples of polls where scary large numbers of Americans believe things that are plainly false. That such numbers persist goes a long way toward indicting the media for failing to keep us informed.
On the other hand, another sense of "liberal" is that it provides equal credence to all views, regardless of truth, merit or ulterior motives. This was, for instance, the view Marcuse et al. put forth in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (1965). In light of this, one can be as critical as Atkins is of the present facts and draw the opposite conclusion, that the problem we have today is that the media, with its relentless balancing and its credulous repetition of blatant falsehoods, is simply too liberal.
Zack Beauchamp: [09-24] Is America uniquely vulnerable to tyranny? Review of a new book, Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point, by Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, whose previous book, the comparative study How Democracies Die, was taken as a landmark among liberals who worry more about the formal political institutions than about government reflecting the interests of most people.
Nina Burleigh: [09-26] Are we in the last days of Fox News? "Michael Wolff's new book on the Murdochs is full of juicy details, but its predictions may be off." The book is called The Fall: The End of Fox News.
Joshua Green: [08-27] How social justice activists lost the plot: A review of Fredrik DeBoer's new book, How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement, "an entreaty to white, college-educated progressives: Stop obsessing over identity and language and start fighting for working people." I took a brief look at this book when assembling my latest Book Roundup and couldn't decide what to make of it: he's reputed to be a leftist, but he spends most of his time attacking others on the left side of "social justice" issues, possibly for not being leftist enough (on economic issues? for leftists of some vintage what else is there?). I'm not engaged enough to recognize much less care about many of the complaints lodged against today's younger generation on the left, but back in my day (c. 1970) I ran into similar problems, where comfortably well-off young people got worked up over other people's problems without having the grounding of knowing their own problems. (I was a rare working class kid, and pathological introvert, in an elite university, so I never had that luxury.) I have no idea how well, or how badly, DeBoer navigates problems with his fellow leftists. Green, however, ends with one piece of reasonable advice: "If they'd focus on electing Democrats, they'd finally be in a position to deliver for those groups, rather than just bicker over whose turn it is to talk next." I would add that while I don't think leftists should adopt bad positions just to get around, the only policy improvements that are achievable are ones that pass through the Democratic Party, so that's where you need to do your practical work.
Tyler Austin Harper: [09-28] Ibram X. Kendi's fall is a cautionary tale -- so was his rise: Flagged for possible future reference, as I'm not close enough to this story to have an opinion. I will say that I fifty-plus years ago I read two important historical works on racism in the early 1970s: Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (1968), and David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966), which if memory serves argued that racism wasn't Stamped From the Beginning (the title of Kendi's big book) but was developed over time, primarily to justify chattel slavery in the Americas, and the profits derived therefrom. I read quite a bit more back then, covering later history as well as contemporary books like Soul on Ice and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
But it had been quite a while when Kendi's book came out, so I thought it might be useful to get a more contemporary reading of Jordan's domain. But when I looked at the book, I decided I didn't need or particularly want it. I had, by then, read lots about Thomas Jefferson's racism (and for that matter, Lincoln's), but didn't see much point in dwelling on it. But the big turn off was the section on major aboltionist William Lloyd Garrison. Looking at the Amazon preview now, my reaction may have been hasty: surely the later chapters on W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis weren't meant to be simple exposés of racist ideas like chapters on Cotton Mather and Jefferson? But then, what were they? Kendi followed up with an explicitly political book, and evidently built a mini-empire on his reputation. That could have been good, bad, irrelevant, or some combination thereof.
Sean Illing: [09-26] Naomi Klein on her doppelganger (and yours): Another interview, promoting her new book, Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World.
Sarah Jones: [09-24] The dark side of courtship: "Shannon Harris's relationship was held up as a model for millions of Evangelicals. Now she's reclaiming her story."
David Masciotra: [09-26] What the Clinton haters on the left get wrong: "A new book epitomizes the risible belief that the 42nd president betrayed liberals and the 1990s were a right-wing hellscape." The book is A Fabulous Failure: The Clinton Presidency and the Transformation of American Capitalism, by Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein. I note this in passing, and also that the first publication to take such offense against such a blight on Clinton's good name is the one where the term "neoliberalism" was first coined. Somehow I doubt a book where the authors juxtaposed "fabulous" and "failure" is simply "untruths they've written [to] bolster the cynicism that undermines the trust vital to the survival of the American experiment."
The first point anyone needs to understand is that Clinton pioneered a new political path by trying not to fight Reagan but to outflank him: to show leaders that Democrats in power would be even better for business than Republicans. That Clinton won gave his argument an air of gospel after a brutal decade, which only deepened the more hysterically Republicans attacked him. However, his two presidential wins were largely wiped out by losing Congress, and with it the ability to legislate anything beyond his pro-business and anti-crime initiatives.
On the other hand, his failures -- mistakes and, especially, missed opportunities -- only grew. Listing them would take a book (probably even longer than this one). Compounding Reagan's turn toward increasing inequality is probably the top of the list. Or failing to trim back America's imperial overreach to secure a truly international peace -- today's conflicts with Russia and China, as well as the long war against the Middle East, are easily traced back to his failures. Or maybe we should wonder why Al Gore wasn't allowed to work on climate change when it wasn't yet too late, but was tasked instead with "reinventing government," which mostly meant making it more profitable for lobbyists. Or maybe we should ask why he stripped the Democratic Party down to a personal cult-of-personality, allowing Republicans to repeatedly rebound from disaster every time they came close to the lever of power?
Dylan Matthews: [09-26] 40 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war: A Russian, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, who was monitoring Russia's ICBM detection system, which had determined "with high probability" that the US had launched five Minutemen missiles at the Soviet Union. It hadn't, but two years of constant saber-rattling under Reagan, on top of worsening US-Soviet relations under Jimmy Carter (or should I say Zbigniew Brzezinski?), along with internal turmoil that might suggest weakness, left top Soviet circles more in fear of an American attack than ever before. David Hoffman wrote a book about this: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race & Its Dangerous Legacy (2009).
Jonah Raskin: [09-29] "I am not now, nor have I ever been": Musings on communism and anti-communism. I've known a few American communists, or at least a few of their "red diaper baby" children. All good people, as far as I can tell.
Heather Cox Richardson: [09-26] The fight for our America: Excerpt, or maybe a précis, from her forthcoming book Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. The setup: "There have always been two Americas. One based in religious zeal, mythology, and inequality; and one grounded in the rule of the people and the pursuit of equality. This next election may determine which one prevails." My first cavil here was over the word "prevails": recent elections (at least since 2000, and arguably since 1968 -- the landslides of 1972 and 1984 now look like flukes, as does the lesser margin of 2008) have turned out to be pretty indecisive. There is little reason to think that 2024 will turn out differently: a Trump-Biden rematch is unlikely to turn out much differently than in 2020, but Republicans have structural advantages in the Senate, the House, and the Electoral College that could flip the popular vote -- further reinforcing the current partisan divide over democracy itself.
Still, in searching for a better term than "prevails," I find myself considering the more extreme "survives." While electoral results have remained ambiguous, the stakes for (and fears of) losing have only grown more urgent. Republicans have already used their narrow margins to establish a Supreme Court supermajority, which has already resulted in the loss of fundamental rights and will continue to frustrate efforts of elected Democrats to address important policy issues. Give them more power, and they'll continue their efforts to fortify their power bases and impose their will on a disempowered people.
Democrats are right to fear such authoritarianism, and are right that the antidote is a renewed faith in democracy, but their defense of democracy has been frustratingly difficult, because Democrats rarely think of power in the broad sense that Republicans understand: the power of business and money, of media, of social institutions like churches, of culture (one area they have been least effective at controlling, and therefore one they're most paranoid about, hence their recent, seemingly desperate, stress on the "war against woke"). More often than not, Democrats have appealed to moneyed interests, even to the point of sacrificing traditional allies like unions, and this has tattered their reputation as champions of the people.
Richardson's "two Americas" may serve as generic shorthand for the two highly polarized parties, but while identities align with parties, the underlying philosophies are more or less present and at tension in most people. By far the most important is the split on equality: the right views the world as necessarily (or rightly) inequal and hierarchical, where each person has a station, and order is maintained by popular acceptance (and, often, by force); the left views all people as fundamentally equal, at least in rights, and ideally in opportunities. The left naturally leans toward democracy, where government is constituted to act in the popular interest. The right leans toward dictatorship (originally of monarchs, although any strongman able to impose order to save their hierarchy will do), and distrusts democracy, suspecting that if given the chance, the majority would end the privileges of those atop the hierarchy.
By the way, liberals are focused on the rights and ambitions of individuals. Whether they lean right or left depends mostly on the conservative hierarchy is in admitting talented upstarts -- for many would like to live like princes, but if they are locked out, they're happy to tear the hierarchy down, and willing to appeal to the masses for help in doing so. Liberals are disrupters, which is why conservatives loathe them, but as long as they are sufficiently corruptible, they can be co-opted. But until they get bought off, they are likely to inspire more widespread ambitions -- which is why we still admire Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt (and wanted to admire Obama).
It is important to remember that nearly everything we cherish about our past was the work of liberals aspiring to the greater (more universal) good. (Which is to say, of moves toward the left, though often of people not strongly committed to the left.) Also that every advance has been met with conservative reaction, which was generally flexible enough to admit a select few in order to cut short the hopes of the many. Richardson groups religious zeal and mythology with the side of inequality. They are actually tools of a hierarchy which, given America's founding as a liberal/mass revolt against aristocracy, cannot be defended on its own terms. Rather, the right, in order to maintain any plausibility at all, has to spin a mythic past rooted in old fashioned religion and pioneering entrepreneurial spirit -- the new hierarchy that rose to replace the aristocracy dispatched by the Revolution.
Jeffrey St Clair: [09-29] Roaming Charges: Our man in Jersey: Starts with Robert Menendez as a Le Carré character, "New Jersey's own apex con man, whose personal embellishments and political fictions have become so labryinthine that now that he's been caught with gold bars in his closet, he can't even get his own life story straight."
In other items, he notes that the US drug overdose rate, in the fifty years since the War on Drugs was launched in 1973, has ("what a smashing success it has been!") increased from 3.0 per 100,000 to 32.4.
Marcela Valdes: [10-01] Why can't we stop unauthorized immigration? Because it works. "Our broken immigration system is still the best option for many migrants -- and U.S. employers."
Jason Wilson: [10-01] 'Red Caesarism' is rightwing code -- and some Republicans are listening: This piece introduced me to a recent book by Kevin Slack: War on the American Republic: How Liberalism Became Despotism, which argues that America has been destroyed by three waves of liberals: "Teddy Roosevelt's Anglo-Protestant progressive social gospelers, who battled trusts and curbed immigration; Franklin Roosevelt's and Lyndon Johnson's secular liberals, who forged a government-business partnership and promoted a civil rights agenda; and the 1960s radicals, who protested corporate influence in the Great Society, liberal hypocrisy on race and gender, and the war in Vietnam," and who finally cemented their power with "the 'great awokening' that began under Barack Obama." The result: "an incompetent kleptocracy is draining the wealthiest and most powerful people in history, thus eroding the foundations of its own empire."
I don't know how I missed this tome in my list of paranoid rants tacked onto the end of my Book Roundup entry on Christopher Rufo, as it's basically Rufo's thesis backed up with more historical special pleading. I do wonder, though, how you could get from Grover Cleveland's America to world-topping empire and wealth except through the progressive machinations of the Roosevelts and their followers.
The Amazon page for Slack's book doesn't mention "Red Caesarism," which seems to be the idea that Trump should seize power next chance he gets, and dispense with all the other trappings of democracy. At this point, the article shifts to Michael Anton's The Stakes, about which I previously wrote:
While I'm skeptical both of Trump's chances of winning in 2024, and even more so of his ability to seize total personal control of the government (as, sorry but there is no clearer example, Hitler did upon being appointed chancellor in 1933). Still, it is pretty clear that he would like to, and that he will go out of his way to hire people who have ideas about how to go about it (some of whom he'll have to spring from jail), but these will largely be the same sorts that talked him into thinking Jan. 6 was a bully idea.
Zack Beauchamp announced: "I'm really excited to announce that I have written my first book!" The title is: The Reactionary Spirit: How America's Most Insidious Political Tradition Swept the World. I'd be real tempted to order a copy, but right now I'm bummed that there sems to be another year until publication date (next year, maybe fall). I've always imagined that if I could get my book written in the next 3-4 months, say, it could still appear several months before the 2024 election.
Beauchamp has been writing more/less philosophical pieces in Vox for several years now. I've followed these with interest, as they dovetail nicely with my own thinking. He described his book in multiple tweets, collected and numbered here:
I also see that a book is coming out in January, 2024, by Hunter Walker and Luppe B. Luppen, titled The Truce: Progressives, Centrists, and the Future of the Democratic Party (from WW Norton). The key here isn't that the leftists became reasonable -- we've long been eager to work on real even if piecemeal solutions -- but that the centrists finally started to realize that their approaches, which most often tried to incorporate right-wing talking points while slightly toning them down, weren't working, either for winning elections or for making tangible improvements (which are always hard when you're not winning elections).
As I was trying to wrap this up, I ran across this Nate Silver tweet:
In another tweet, Silver noted: