Representing No One in Particular

This should have been an unsatisfying Thanksgiving. Awful weather doesn’t help, and for almost everyone, the economy still stinks – an undercurrent of vague worry, or barely-suppressed panic, doesn’t help matters, nor does all the fussing and fighting in Washington, none of which seems to have the slightest thing to do with getting people back to work and fixing up the country, so everything’s not falling apart. They changed the Senate rules? That’s it? They’re mad that Obama got the Iranians to pause their nuclear program, calling a time-out to see if there was anything to talk about? They want to stop Obamacare, to throw the whole thing out, even if it’s the law now and the inevitable problems are being worked out, and even if the insurance industry is all-in now and will do what it must to make it work?

It all seems so stupid, and the new outrage, on the eve of Thanksgiving, was that Obama just closed our Vatican embassy – because he hates religion, or because he’s mad at the Catholics for messing with Obamacare’s mandate that all health plans include birth control coverage, except for health plans offered by churches or church-affiliated organizations. That had been worked out, but shutting down our Vatican embassy is something to scream about in those often unavoidable political arguments before or after Thanksgiving dinner – except Obama didn’t shut down the embassy, he moved it half a mile or so, to the grounds of our Italian embassy over there. The same staff will be doing the same things, in a safer location, and we’ll save a bit of money too. This Thanksgiving you’d be arguing with your perpetually outraged conservative relatives about office-relocation policies, or if they watch Fox News, you’d be arguing about the national epidemic of gangs of black youths randomly beating white people nearly to death just because they’re white, which is happening everywhere, more and more, every single day. We have a race-war now, for real. That’s what happens when you have a black president, except that’s not happening at all – it’s just a way to make Thanksgiving miserable in many a household, as if having to watch the Detroit Lions, again this Thanksgiving, as on every Thanksgiving, weren’t bad enough.

This sort of thing is inevitable. People self-select who they deal with most of the year, but Thanksgiving is when people have to deal with family members they see only a few times a year, and no one chooses their family. Uncomfortable arguments are inevitable, and so much a given that there are hundreds of articles on how to deal with the problem, like Slate’s Annual Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner-Table Arguments – and how to win them. That kind of item, on how to marshal your facts and present them effectively, is depressing, and Kevin Drum points out the obvious:

Liberals and conservatives have been arguing for centuries, and so far neither side has convinced the other to surrender. Still, wouldn’t it be more interesting to at least try and write something real? That is, come up with the kinds of comments that your Fox-watching aunts and uncles are really likely to drop into the conversation, and then come up with replies that might actually persuade someone who’s a conservative. The downside is that this isn’t as much fun: there will be no killer facts and figures in this list that demolish Uncle Joe’s Obamacare tirade and leave a smoking crater in his place. (In our collective imaginations, anyway.) Instead, we’ll have a collection of items that turn the battleship a few degrees at best. No one’s going to suddenly decide that Paul Krugman has been right all along, but maybe you’ll be able to seed a few doubts about Sean Hannity’s commitment to the straight dope.

This would be hard work. You’d have to actually watch Fox News for a while to make sure you know what’s really on conservatives’ minds these days. Listening to a bit of talk radio and reading some chain emails would help too. And that’s not all. You’d almost certainly have to team up with an actual conservative to help you understand both the worldview at work and the kinds of arguments that might appeal to his ideological comrades-in-arms. And why would a conservative help you with this project? Beats me. Maybe you could trade: you get some arguments that appeal to actual conservatives and he gets some arguments that appeal to actual liberals.

That’s not going to happen. Outraged Uncle Joe will dig in his heels. So will you. He knows Obama cut off diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and he knows there’s a gang of black teenagers outside the front door, right now, just itching to beat him to death, and he knows that Obamacare, unless it is stopped right now, will be the end of the world as we know it. And everyone agrees with him. What’s your problem?

The problem is that this may be the first Thanksgiving in the last few years when few agree with him, at least about Obamacare. There’s the new polling that Josh Marshall thinks is rather startling:

It’s basic polling information about the public’s current thinking on the law, which shows once again that the general public is seriously out of touch with the DC consensus. 54% of voters are confident the problems with the law will be worked out. And while 58% currently disapprove of the law, 14% of those disapprove because it’s not liberal enough. So it’s not at all the case that a sizable majority wants to go back to the bad old system. Those folks are clearly in the minority.

It’s fair to say that you can’t just credit single-payer and public option advocates as de facto Obamacare supporters. Indeed, a subset of this group is among the most vitriolic opponents because they see Obamacare as a cop-out compared to the real solution which is Single Payer. But to resurrect some archaic terminology it’s probably fair to say they are objectively pro-Obamacare (yes, I’m being a little cheeky) when you look through the prism of support for going back to the old system. These folks are never going to support going back.

Look at the numbers – Uncle Joe’s been hanging around with the wrong people, or he doesn’t get out much. Republicans, who hate Obamacare and proudly have no alternative, other than going back to where we were, represent no one in particular, and Andrew Sullivan argues that will destroy them:

They are running for Congress next year entirely on a platform of repeal and sabotage. They have offered nothing faintly serious to grapple with the dysfunctional socialized system America now labors under – no program to end the free rider problem or the pre-existing conditions problem or the uninsured problem or the costs problem. None, none, none and none…

But what’s staggering is how lonely their position is within the actual GOP.

This total nihilism on policy and nullification strategy toward the president, whatever he does, is also mindless for another reason. It is not good for the GOP. At some point, they will not get back the White House without an alternative, and the prospect of ending the insurance the ACA would provide without any alternative is a fool’s errand. It will backfire in the end, even though it may feel very good at the beginning. They are setting themselves up once again to appear as callous, intemperate and denialist. In the end, the American people will pick the party and the president with the constructive ideas rather than the destructive attitude. In this, the Republicans have entrenched Obama’s legacy and done nothing to shape it to more conservative ends. Again: mindless.

Sullivan, a conservative in the tradition of Burke and Oakeshott, is getting depressed:

I care about this not just because I care about the country, but because I also deeply believe in a strong conservative force in politics. We don’t have that right now, whatever they say. We have a nihilist force. And it is cloaking itself in a political tradition they have long ago left in the dust.

Sullivan also has no use for what the Republicans have been saying about the Iran time-out:

It is indeed mindless to denounce a temporary agreement for a six month negotiation to end the possibility of Iranian nuclear bombs without offering any feasible alternative. The one proffered – to actually tighten the sanctions that have already brought the Iranian regime to its knees – cannot work to achieve the desired result. Such sanctions would destroy Rouhani’s standing and credibility, split apart the global coalition on sanctions, help cement in Khamenei’s mind that no deal is possible with the West without national humiliation and regime change, and do nothing to, actually, you know, stop Iran’s nuclear program. It is a de facto argument for war as the only acceptable policy toward Iran.

So their policy is effectively another pre-emptive Middle East war on a country with no nuclear weapons with unknowable consequences and without any allies that would only delay, at best, an Iranian nuclear program. Does any of that sound familiar to you? Such a war would, moreover, strengthen the regime, dis-empower the opposition and all but guarantee that any Iranian regime would try even harder to get a nuclear deterrent. You will find nothing, nothing in the GOP analysis that even begins to absorb the fact that the Iranian opposition also supports a civilian nuclear program. So they are also intent on picking the one fight with Iran that would unite the regime and the people.

Don’t invite Sullivan to Thanksgiving dinner, because he’ll say things like this:

The word for this is mindless. It is an attitude – a nasty, belligerent, impulsive attitude, the kind of attitude that gave us the Iraq war and Abu Ghraib, and made the world less, rather than more safe. Or consider Syria. The GOP was determined to stop a military strike and also denounced the UN-Russian deal to secure and destroy Syria’s WMDs! So that’s a no and a no. And the last was to a policy that has been remarkably successful in ending a major source of WMD worry in the region. They opposed a policy that made Israel more secure.

Here again, Uncle Joe’s been hanging around with the wrong people:

Americans back a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran by a two-to-one margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort fails, a Reuters/ Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed.

According to the survey, 44% of Americans support the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva on Sunday, and 22% oppose it.

It almost seems as if the Republicans represent no one in particular – or very few folk – and the same seems to be the case with the new challenge to Obamacare, as Greg Sargent explains:

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Obamacare that centers on the Constitutionality of its contraception mandate – reigniting a debate over women’s health and “religious liberty” that played a major role in the 2012 elections. Oral arguments will likely come in March.

However this turns out, at a moment when the health law is sinking in polls, and its prognosis remains in doubt, this has the potential to revive an argument about health care that even Republicans widely admit played heavily in the Dems’ favor – in both the 2012 presidential and Senate races – the last time it was in the news.

The Republicans have been here before, and it didn’t go well:

The contraception debate flared up in the spring of 2012, at around the time Rush Limbaugh denounced Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Democratic operatives subsequently seized on some comments from GOP Senate candidates to keep up a drumbeat about the GOP as hidebound and captive to a base that is unwilling to evolve on cultural and women’s health issues.

The RNC’s own autopsy into what went wrong in 2012 explicitly noted that the GOP needs to avoid being seen as the party of “stuffy old men.” Dems will do all they can to ensure that a SCOTUS debate over contraception revives the focus on what it means to elect a party that appoints stuffy old Republican judges.

That would mean a party that represents no one in particular:

Indeed, the RNC autopsy called on the party to broaden the party’s appeal to Latinos (through an embrace of immigration reform), young voters (by showing sensitivity on gay rights) and women. But immigration reform looks dead in this Congress, and House Republicans refuse to move forward with a measure to end gay workplace discrimination. The Republican Party is running out of ways to evolve, and a revived debate about contraception brings up an issue where the party is still very much ministering to a key chunk of the base. House Republicans have [also] tried to add measures to spending levels that would limit Obamacare contraception coverage, and at one point Paul Ryan told GOP colleagues that the debt limit deadline should be used as leverage against the same.

What were they thinking? They’re walking into a trap:

Dems will seize on it to further tar Republicans among key swing constituencies. White House adviser David Plouffe tweeted that the SCOTUS decision to take up the case would be a “nightmare” for Republicans, adding that 2016 GOP candidates’ handling of it would be closely watched by women in key swing areas such as northern Virginia. Dem Terry McAuliffe won in Virginia by building up a big gender gap, relentlessly tarring Republican Ken Cuccinelli as reactionary on women’s issues.

“This could be very helpful with younger and middle aged women – particularly many who may have been disenchanted with the rollout and who are having an impact on polling numbers,” a Democratic leadership aide tells me. “The idea that a boss calls the shots on a woman’s ability to get free birth control is really powerful. This is the kind of issue that could help change the ACA debate by reminding women in particular that at its core it’s all about access and affordability.”

If they want to be representing no one in particular, they will be:

A Bloomberg poll last March found that more than six in 10 Americans, and nearly 70 percent of women, rejected the GOP’s rationale for opposing the contraception mandate, seeing it as a matter of women’s health, and not religious liberty, with more than three quarters saying the topic shouldn’t even be part of the debate – suggesting that the middle of the country soundly rejects the GOP’s framing of the issue. And so, Dems will use this news to try to shift the argument over Obamacare on to cultural and health care turf that has already proven favorable to them.

What Sargent misses here is that the Republican rationale for opposing the contraception mandate is not actually based on women’s issues at all, although there the politics are awful for them. It’s actually based on the concept that corporations are people. If Citizens United held that corporations have free speech rights, just like people, perhaps they have religious rights too, and no one is polling, yet, on whether all Americans feel that’s true. These two corporate religious freedom cases that the Supreme Court agreed to hear are absolutely without precedent. The Republicans just hope they are seen as though they are “part of as some sort of natural legal progression” – making this an argument that is not at all about women. This is about defending the God-given rights of corporations, which, in this case, must trump the rights of mere flesh-and-blood individuals. Is there a constituency for that view? Will Uncle Joe argue that point over the pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner?

On the other hand, this is just depressing:

The Democratic National Committee launched a Thanksgiving-themed website Wednesday called YourRepublicanUncle.com that purports to help people deal with “lively discussions with Republican relatives about politics” that occur during the holiday season.

YourRepublicanUncle.com features talking points Democrats can use during hypothetical political conversations with their family members.

“This time of year, the only thing more annoying than holiday traffic is an awkward conversation with family about politics,” DNC Digital Director Matt Compton wrote in an email announcing the site.

Yep, that’s YourRepublicanUncle.com – and you can load it on your iPhone or whatever. Fortunately, there’s no YourBleedingHeartLiberalUnlceWhoLivesUpInHollywood.com so Thanksgiving this year, out here, will be peaceful.

Still, there’s always stuff like this gem that Janet Allon finds:

Fox News’ Charles Payne served two helpings of crazy when he spoke to a conservative audience recently: 1. President Obama has been trying to create an “Arab Spring sort of thing” in America, because, of course, he’s a Muslim, and that’s just what they do, or is it wage jihad, we always forget, and 2, It didn’t work because even after Obama “succeeded in creating the kind of climate that is an economic and rhetorical tinderbox,” Americans didn’t have the balls for it? And the reason for this ball-less state is Social Security disability benefits, which have turned young American men into “modern-day eunuchs,” who Obama has “castrated at the soul.”

No, we don’t really understand it either.

“This tinderbox has a limp wicket,” Payne continued, in an orgiastic climax of mixed metaphors. “The White House is laying it on too thick. Consequently, that army of would-be rioters, well, they’re kinda chilling out, waiting for their next Xbox. They figured out how to game the system or they’re just going to sit in their parents’ basement, brooding.”

Wait, so he wants an Arab Spring? Color us confused.

There’s much more – such as it is. Don’t ask Charlie Payne over for Thanksgiving either. YourRepublicanUncle.com won’t be of much help – but this is a special case. There are the coherently outraged to deal with, or not. It could be we’ve reached something like a tipping point. These folks represent no one in particular any longer, or very few folks. They just don’t know it yet, or they refuse to believe it. Listen politely, and carry on. Everyone has a crazy uncle.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Representing No One in Particular

  1. Rick says:

    “It almost seems as if the Republicans represent no one in particular”.

    I’m thinking they’re trying to impress only those gerrymandered voters who keep them in control of the House, even at the risk of alienating national voters they might need in numbers large enough to get them to the White House. In fact, unless they accidentally come up with a candidate so much more appealing than whoever the Democrats nominate, the Republicans seem to be settling on being the perpetual legislative party.

    But I don’t think that “YourRepublicanUncle.com” is depressing at all. It just acknowledges what Jon Stewart points out all the time on his show, that most thinking people have conservative relatives to argue with during Thanksgiving get-togethers. Rather than being depressing, this just makes us all feel less alone.

    But instead of actually quoting that website to your family, maybe you should just, with a chuckle, tell them where to find it on their computers, and leave it at that.

    Rick

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