The middle of a long holiday weekend is when there is no big news in the world. And that goes double when the holiday is Labor Day and the day is Sunday. The Saturday college football games have been played, but they don’t matter much. It’s only the first week – things will change as hot teams stumble now and then in the fall. And it looks like another year when folks who follow such things will spend many weeks arguing whether one should take Boise State seriously. Those who don’t follow such things say no – the name itself is the problem. And baseball is no better. The World Series is far off and all but one of the divisions is settled. The teams are filling time and the fans know it. So the weekend sports news was filled with the strange:
The Black Widow of eating contests has scarfed down 183 chicken wings in 12 minutes to break her own world record set last year in Buffalo, New York. Sonya Thomas took home first place Sunday at the tenth annual National Buffalo Wings Festival. She beat eating marvel Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who came in second with 174 wings.
That’s good to know, perhaps. It fills the time. But Joey “Jaws” Chestnut really ought to be a mob enforcer – the name itself demands it. Pay up or Joey “Jaws” will break your knees.
Still, that is just filling time. But then politicians were doing that too:
If Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in search of elusive Tea Party mojo, he didn’t find it here at a small Tea Party Express rally, where a few dozen conservatives sat in lawn chairs and argued about Romney’s conservative bona fides. Romney made no attempt to out-Tea Party his conservative rival Rick Perry, and in fact the words “Tea Party” didn’t cross his lips in a stump speech that ran less than 15 minutes.
He couldn’t even say the words? The name itself is the problem? This was a disappointment:
“I thought he’d pander a bit more,” remarked Jerry DeLemus, a local Tea Party leader who’d appeared before the event at an anti-Romney event organized by the Washington group FreedomWorks – a group that split with the Tea Party Express over Romney’s appearance. Romney instead reminded the attendees at the Concord party that he’s “a business guy” and a “turnaround” specialist.
I thought he’d pander a bit more? Is that what folks want? Maybe so – it fills the time as the Tea Party folks wait for Sarah Palin, and the existentialists wait for Godot. There really is a parallel. As with baseball, the teams are just filling time and the fans know it. No one is happy with anyone. And on a no-news weekend, with nothing happening and far too much time to sit in that lawn chair and bitch about things, they’re clear about that.
But it’s happening on the other side too. Obama isn’t Godot. And in the New York Times there’s Frank Bruni on Obama:
Last week, he set himself up once again to look like the nation’s deferrer in chief by proposing a date for his jobs speech that had the possibility of provoking Republican opposition and did precisely that, at which point he retreated. Is this the Mother-May-I presidency? With John Boehner in the role of paddle-wielding matriarch?
That many Republicans will viciously seize any opportunity to defy and undercut Obama is a lesson he should have learned by now. Regardless of who was being unreasonable, it was he who actually ended up sending an e-mail to supporters with the one-word subject line “frustrated.” The president of the United States is supposed to salve our frustrations, not meekly bemoan his own.
Shouldn’t he or someone in his inner circle have foreseen the potential for events unfolding in such a humiliating fashion and made sure to avoid it? Apparently no one did, and that suggests a deficit of smarts by almost any definition of that ludicrously imprecise term.
And Bruni goes on about how this was only the latest “in a long series of questionable calculations” – followed by Maureen Dowd:
Obama is still suffering from the Speech Illusion, the idea that he can come down from the mountain, read from a Teleprompter, cast a magic spell with his words and climb back up the mountain, while we scurry around and do what he proclaimed.
But Obama should forget about that:
The days of spinning illusions in a Greek temple in a football stadium are done. The One is dancing on the edge of one term.
The White House team is flailing – reacting, regrouping, retrenching. It’s repugnant.
After pushing and shoving and caving to get on TV, the president’s advisers immediately began warning that the long-yearned-for jobs speech wasn’t going to be that awe-inspiring.
“The issue isn’t the size or the newness of the ideas,” one said. “It’s less the substance than how he says it, whether he seizes the moment.”
The arc of justice is stuck at the top of a mountain. Maybe Obama was not even the person he was waiting for.
Well, everyone is waiting for something – for Obama to grow a pair or Mitt Romney to say nice things about the Tea Party, or for Boise State or Godot. But then, just to add a bit of spice to this empty stage of a Samuel Beckett play, someone decides that spending your life waiting is stupid.
Maybe it was inspired by an old movie that was in rotation on basic cable over the Labor Day weekend, as the item in question opens with this:
Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”
Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.”
Double Indemnity (1944)
Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats’ health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats’ rank capitulation to corporate interests – no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.
But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.
Whoa – who is staying this? That would be Mike Lofgren, and as the Atlantic’s James Fallows explains, Lofgren recently retired from a long career as a well-regarded Capitol Hill staffer, a respected, knowledgeable if somewhat obscure figure. That would be until now. Lofgren wrote this for Truth Out, published as Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.
Of course this lifelong Republican aide/operative/staffer is not at all a big fan of Democrats, but he’s had enough:
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics…. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. …
It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.
Steve Benen sums this up:
Let’s just note, again, that this isn’t the assessment of some wild-eyed lefty. The author is a long-time Republican aide, respected by those who’ve worked with him, who’s worked for nearly three decades with GOP policymakers.
And he’s convinced Republicans have succumbed to madness.
And to prove that, Benen points to Lofgren’s assessment of what’s left of the Senate:
The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a “high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.
Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
And Lofgren has his insider-stories:
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
So you see the obvious:
Undermining Americans’ belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy.
So this is, as Benen notes, a veteran Republican staffer who knows exactly what Republican policymakers are thinking. He has worked with them closely every day for twenty-eight years after all. And that leads Benen to offer this:
There is one great overwhelming dilemma that dominates American politics in this early part of the 21st century. It is not the extent to which President Obama has failed to meet the expectations of the progressive base, though this matters. It is not the lazy, negligent, and incompetent establishment media, though this matters, too. The issue that should dominate the landscape is the radicalization of the modern Republican Party and the effects of having one of two major political parties descend into madness.
For much of the American mainstream, there’s very likely an assumption that voters can choose between a center-left party and a center-right party, because this assumption was generally accurate for several generations. It is past time for the mainstream to realize this is simply no longer true. Those who have any doubts should apparently talk to Mike Lofgren.
And that is what James Fallows was saying:
It’s important to understand that the point here is not the mindlessly “balanced” outlook of “Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot of blame to go around on all sides. One side is weak, the other is crazy – it all evens out.” It’s far worse than that. The major parts of our political establishment are both showing operational pathologies that each makes the other’s failings worse, rather than somehow buffering each other toward a harmonious best-of-both-worlds compromise result. For instance, the (wholly needless and destructive) fight over the debt ceiling apparently did even more damage to the Republican “brand” than it did to Obama’s. But the real problem is how much it damaged the country’s economic prospects and the image-and-reality of the American system’s ability to function.
But Lofgren is not all rant, all alone, as he cites a recent article from the New Republic by John Judis arguing that if Obama likes Lincoln so much, he should start acting like him:
Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.
Today, Republicans are threatening a government shutdown and an international monetary crisis over raising the debt ceiling. They have demanded a set of ruinous concessions as a condition for raising the ceiling. … To gain Tea Party votes, House Speaker John Boehner set another condition for raising the debt ceiling again in six months: the passage by the House and Senate of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. An amendment of this kind would make it impossible for the federal government to reverse economic downturns. The Republicans are, in effect, demanding a major constitutional change in return for not shutting down the government and undermining the American economy. That’s insurrectionary behavior.
I am not an expert on Lincoln, but I have a pretty good idea what he would say if he were to suddenly appear on the scene. He would reject the Republican majority’s attempt to blackmail the rest of the government and the nation.
And that leads “Skydancing” to offer this:
I am completely baffled by the inability of people that like Ron Paul to listen to him and not hear the same confederate language that framed the civil rights era. He uses the same language I heard in the 60s and 70s when people in the South were trying to justify all their Jim Crow Laws and their monumental laws supporting voter disenfranchisement. We’re seeing today’s Republican Governors pass legislation to restrict access to votes. We’re seeing Republican Governors and legislation restrict access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure. Still, there seems to be a distinct lack of outrage by people who supposedly support limited government on these actions. This is the same group of people that are now screaming about the size of federal debt while they were more than willing to spend incredible amounts of money on unnecessary military actions and items during the Reagan years and the Bush-43 years. The hypocrisy is just maddening. The complicity of the press in presenting this insanity as simply another view point is virtually treasonous.
But Lofgren sees what’s up:
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter – God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass – and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.
Well he did – and Lofgren adds this:
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – We shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
But this has been going on a long time. The 9/11 remembrances have picked up steam, and Frank Rich offers this:
Sacrifice was high among the unifying ideals that many Americans hoped would emerge from the rubble of ground zero, where so many Good Samaritans had practiced it. But the president scuttled the notion on the first weekend after the attack, telling Americans that it was his “hope” that “they make no sacrifice whatsoever” beyond, perhaps, tolerating enhanced airline security. … By portraying Afghanistan and Iraq as utterly cost-free to a credulous public, the Bush administration injected the cancer into the American body politic that threatens it today: If we don’t need new taxes to fight two wars, why do we need them for anything?
Rich may be onto something there, but Lofgren also says he stopped waiting for sanity to return to his party – or for Godot or whatever – merely as an act of rational self-interest:
Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.
If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.
You can wait for lots of things, patiently or not, but sometimes it best to just walk away. Obama is not the one you were waiting for, and we are not the ones we were waiting for, and no Republican hero is going to descend from the heavens and save the nation. Save yourself. And stay away from crazy people.
But there are so many of them….