Matthew Arnold wasn’t a fun guy – although when he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857, he was the first to deliver his lectures in English rather than Latin, which should count for something. It no doubt made note-taking easier. Still he was a bit of a doom-and-gloom scold, thinking it was his job to chastise and instruct those who just weren’t thinking about things at all, which was obviously everyone else but him. That’s an irritating trait, but he was the son of Thomas Arnold, the legendary headmaster of Rugby School, so some of that heroic molding-men’s-minds stuff must have rubbed off on him. It’s just that in Arnold’s poetry, and perhaps in his life, he saw the world as an unfixable mess, a fallen world where all was lost long ago, or all that really mattered. All one could do is muddle through, doing one’s best, even if one’s best would never really make a damned bit of difference. Be loyal and true to those you love and carry on, regardless. It’s a stiff-upper-lip British thing, expressed best in his well-known 1867 poem, Dover Beach, which ends with these lines:
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Admit it. You follow the news. You feel that way too. It does seen that the world, as fine as it seems from time to time, has really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain, as Arnold put it. Some asshole is always messing things up – a moral midget pretending he runs Syria or a kid with an assault rifle who decides it’s about time to murder twenty or so elementary school kids, or one of your ex-wives. Arnold might have been a prig, but he often found just the right words for what everyone feels, even if they hadn’t known that was what they had been feeling. That’s what poetry is supposed to do, after all. It gives form and substance to that troubling stuff you could never quite put your finger on. It’s quite useful, actually.
Jon Stewart, on the other hand, is a fun guy – the brilliant satirist who makes us laugh at the absurdity in Washington and in the media that purports to explain to us what’s happing in Washington. The Daily Show is great fun, except for those rare times when Stewart just can’t joke anymore. It’s not that he turns into Matthew Arnold or anything but watch this video clip – House Republicans had delayed a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief legislation, with John Boehner simply blowing it off, and then, when he caught grief for that, holding a vote to approve an initial small fraction of that. That passed, but sixty-seven House Republicans still voted against even that, which had Stewart dropping out of his fun-guy mode:
This is just a simple, down the middle, black and white, cut and dry, warm cup of what would Jesus or anything other human being that isn’t an asshole do. And you blew it.
As for those House Republicans who voted against even that first round of funds:
If you guys can’t vote for this, then we’re fucked for the next two years. And I’m not saying you’re responsible for all the problems facing our country, but you sure are making them a lot harder to fix.
There was no sly smile. The audience didn’t know whether to laugh. The fun guy disappeared and we’re on that darkling plain right now. There are confused alarms in the air. There’s an ignorant army out there.
Something is up. Things are coming to a head, as with this from Public Policy Polling:
It’s gross to have lice but at least they can be removed in a way that given the recent reelection rates members of Congress evidently can’t: Lice 67 Congress 19
Brussels sprouts may have been disgusting as a kid, but evidently they’re now a lot less disgusting than Congress: Brussels Sprouts 69 Congress 23
The NFL replacement refs may have screwed everything up, but voters think Congress is screwing everything up even worse: Replacement Refs 56 Congressmen 29 (the breakdown among Packers fans might be a little bit different).
Colonoscopies are not a terribly pleasant experience but at least they have some redeeming value that most voters aren’t seeing in Congress: Colonoscopies 58 Congress 31
And you can make the same point about root canals: Root Canals 56 Congress 32
It goes on, with used car salesmen, traffic jams, France, carnies, Genghis Khan, Donald Trump and even, cockroaches all beating Congress in public approval, except for this:
The news isn’t all bad for Congress: By relatively close margins it beats out Lindsey Lohan (45/41), playground bullies (43/38), and telemarketers (45/35). And it posts wider margins over the Kardashians (49/36), John Edwards (45/29), lobbyists (48/30), Fidel Castro (54/32), Gonorrhea (53/28), Ebola (53/25), Communism (57/23), North Korea (61/26), and meth labs (60/21).
That’s good to know, even if it’s a bit silly, except that this isn’t silly:
Best not to ask GOP fundraising legend Georgette Mosbacher about the state of her beloved party – unless you want an earful. The co-chair of the RNC’s Finance Committee (and CEO of Borghese cosmetics), Mosbacher is “mad as hell” about the myriad ways the “brand has been tarnished”: the sorry state of the presidential primary process, the ongoing alienation of Latino voters, the “outrageous” Senate candidates that the party ran this cycle, the epic failure of the fiscal-cliff negotiations, and, most recently, the House’s dithering over disaster aid for the victims of superstorm Sandy.
Alarms are being raised here:
“I’m angry!” fumes Mosbacher. “I’m angry about the stupid mistakes that were self-inflicted.” It’s this last part she finds the most enraging. Though she believes the party has “unfairly” been defined by its recent mistakes, she is very clear about where the ultimate blame lies: “We did it to ourselves.”
Mosbacher is, of course, not alone in her ire. Postelection, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hastily assembled group of Republican leaders laboring to figure out where the party went wrong last cycle and how to get it back on track. So far, however, Mosbacher is unimpressed by their efforts.
“I have not seen an honest postmortem assessment yet,” she told me. “I have not seen anything that gives me any comfort right now.”
Welcome to Matthew Arnold’s world, but this woman has a plan:
This is an unfortunate development for the GOP, because, as Mosbacher explained it to me this weekend: “I’m not writing any checks, and I’m not asking anyone else to write any checks until I hear something that makes sense to me.”
The root problem, as she sees it: the sorry state of the party’s leadership in Washington.
Take the implosion of certain Senate candidates, she says. “One or two bad apples – excuse the cliché – really can spoil the whole thing. But it’s incumbent on our leadership to know who those are. Don’t tell me these people didn’t know who they were before they spewed their nonsense.” Mosbacher grows increasingly agitated. “How did they get this far? Where was the leadership to stop that?”
OK. So the party’s finance co-chair is disgusted to the point where she’s threatening to shut off the money spigot. That’s the bad news. Now for the worse news: she is not alone.
This item goes on to explain how almost all sources of party funding are drying up, but how all is not lost:
“There’s one thing they understand,” she says with the confidence of a woman who has played at the highest level of the game for many years. “They understand money. Politics is about money. Make no mistake. They’re going to have to listen.”
Yep, they can dismiss Jon Stewart, but they cannot dismiss her. She controls the cash.
It’s not just her. Steve LaTourette, the just-retired Republican congressman who has taken over the long-established Republican Main Street Partnership, is making waves here:
The Republican Main Street Partnership, a Washington-based group that has promoted moderate GOP lawmakers and policies, will remove the word “Republican” from its title and welcome center-right Democrats in 2013, Yahoo News has learned. The organization’s board of directors voted Tuesday morning to scrap party identification from its title and be known simply as “The Main Street Partnership.” The group’s new president, former Ohio Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette, told Yahoo News that he plans to begin conversations with Blue Dog Democrats and centrist groups in the coming months.
Something is up. As Josh Marshall notes – “The Republican Main Street Partnership doesn’t seem to be able to find enough Republicans to be on Main Street.” There will be no Republican pressure group “to nudge the party back toward the middle or mainstream or American politics.” The other guys had their Democratic Leadership Council that repositioned the Democratic Party when necessary – but these guys just gave up. The Republican Party is an unfixable mess.
Still the Republicans keep saying that they speak for the real America. As for what’s mainstream and what’s not, the Republicans seem to be arguing, again and again, that they’re in the mainstream, in spite of the election and all the polling data. Choose your issue – they keep saying that it’s the overwhelming majority that is simply out of the mainstream. Everyone hates Obama and loves and respects the Tea Party – and wants everyone fully armed and wants no aid to go to those folks in New York and New Jersey, as no one cares about folks who would live there.
That’s an interesting argument. They expect people to believe them too – because they believe this. Maybe it all started with Nixon’s talk about the Great Silent Majority – which was either silent or wasn’t there. Delusion is a funny thing. Proof plays no part in that, and one thinks of Arnold’s ignorant armies.
Consider that polling firm – used extensively by Fox News – that specializes in over-sampling the white, the old and the Republican, to show what’s really going on. They can’t hide this:
The Tea Party is more unpopular than ever before, according to a Rasmussen poll released Monday, with just three in 10 voters holding favorable views of the movement. Half of respondents said they view the party unfavorably.
Those numbers represent a considerable dive in support since the Tea Party’s heyday in 2009, when a majority of voters rated it favorably.
Many of the Senate challengers with Tea Party backing were defeated in 2012, and the movement suffered another PR blow after a falling out among the leadership of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks.
Although most members of the House’s Tea Party Caucus were reelected in November, the group had some high-profile losses, including the defeats of former Reps. Joe Walsh and Allen West. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, barely retained her seat.
This is a not-so-slow fade:
The movement is now widely seen by the public as declining, according to the Rasmussen poll – 56 percent of voters said the Tea Party became less influential over the past year, and just 8 percent said they identified as part of the Tea Party movement.
Rasmussen found a way to show that Romney would win and the Republicans would clean up in November. It seems they ran out of ways to skew the data here. As this item goes on to show, Rasmussen is catching up with the other polling, and there’s a new Pew poll about public reaction to the New Year’s fiscal-cliff deal which Michael Scherer untangles here:
First the poll asked about the substance of what Congress and the White House accomplished as the rest of the country recovered from their New Year’s hangovers. On this score, the numbers are dismal. Just 38% of the country approves of the deal, compared with 41% who disapprove, and the share of the country who thinks the deal will help people like them, improve the economy or lessen the budget deficit, hovers around 1 in 3. These are not the sort of numbers that incumbents of either party like to see.
But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So Pew followed up the substantive questions about the deal with horse-race questions about who won the day. On this score, there is a clear winner: Barack Obama, with 57% of the country as a whole, 74% of Republicans, 53% of Democrats and 55% of independents saying he got more of what he wanted in the deal than GOP congressional leaders did.
Asked another way – who handled the negotiations better – Obama wins again, by slightly lower margins, with 48% of the country approving of his approach, vs. 19% of the country approving of the Republican approach to negotiations. Much of this difference can be attributed directly to the way the bases of the respective parties judged their own teams. While 81% of Democrats approved of Obama’s handling of the deal, only 40% of Republicans approved of the congressional GOP’s handling of it.
The party hates itself? That’s not good. And Greg Sargent points to Republican disarray over all the stuff with the debt ceiling:
Here’s another sign that the debt ceiling doesn’t give the GOP the leverage it claims: You’re starting to see mixed messaging among Republicans about the way forward in the debt limit battle.
The latest: On MSNBC today, GOP Rep. Tom Cole – last seen breaking with the GOP leadership’s strategy on the fiscal cliff – dismissed the viability of one of John Boehner’s latest suggestions, i.e., the idea that Republicans might force monthly debt ceiling increases.
Oh yeah, the public will love and respect him for that, a scheduled monthly showdown where the full faith and credit of the United States is in question, with a monthly threat to collapse the world’s economy and plunge everyone into total misery for three or four generations, at best. But there’s more:
On MSNBC, Cole was asked whether he thought Boehner could still make good on the “Boehner rule,” which dictates that Republicans will insist on a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised. Cole said Boehner would make good on it. But then he was asked explicitly if he supported the idea of monthly increases. Cole replied:
“No, I actually think that’s a very short sighted way to do it. I would hope the president presents some sort of solution that’s much longer term than that.”
Cole put the onus on the president to come up with a long term resolution, and throughout the interview he repeatedly predicted Republicans would prevail and get the spending cuts they want, but he nonetheless described Boehner’s idea of “monthly” debt ceiling increases as a nonstarter.
No one knew what he was talking about, but it gets better:
Over the weekend, Mitch McConnell was repeatedly asked if Republicans would insist on the aforementioned Boehner rule, which the House Speaker continues to describe as operative. McConnell repeatedly refused to say.
There’s still more. Boehner has now taken to saying that the GOP’s real leverage in the debt ceiling battle flows not from the debt ceiling, but from the threatened spending cuts in the sequester. But half of those are defense cuts, which Republicans are far more adamantly opposed to than Democrats are. Indeed, another influential Republican, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, is out there complaining that the sequester cuts will mean “devastating and arbitrary cuts” that will leave the military “vulnerable.” This underscores that it’s far from clear that the sequester gives Republicans more leverage in the coming battle.
All of which points to what may be the most important fact about the whole debt ceiling fight: GOP leaders want to be granted the presumption of leverage based on the threat of default, yet they are not prepared to deliver on that threat. Even worse, they need to somehow signal publicly that they are not really serious about default as an option – otherwise the business community will come down on them hard – while simultaneously maintaining the public posture that the debt ceiling hike really is something Dems will need to pay for with concessions of their own.
So the debt ceiling threat is an empty gimmick, and the rest is contradictory nonsense, and this leads Michael Tomasky to argue that the Republicans just aren’t good at politics anymore:
In the years of my adulthood – the years, that is, since the Reagan ascendance – it has generally been assumed by the elite media and other arms of the country-running establishment that the Republicans knew what they were doing. Yeah, they may have been extreme or obstreperous or this or that, but they were good. Newt Gingrich was whip-smart. Karl Rove was an out-and-out genius. Tom DeLay, you didn’t mess with. Why I even remember when Bill Frist was limned as some kind of great sage. And so on. On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Bill Clinton often won such plaudits, but for a long, long time, he was about the only one.
I have some highfalutin theories about why this is so, but let’s dispense with those and just seek an Occam’s razor kind of explanation. Quite simply, for a long time, Republicans won. And even when they didn’t win, they certainly dominated the discourse. So they just looked like the team that knew how to play the game.
That was true for a generation anyway, and during that time, the media learned the habit of assuming that, whatever the issue, the Republicans were going to win; they were surely in possession of some secret, devious master plan of genius that they were just waiting for the exact right moment (because needless to say, under this theory, even their timing was above reproach) to spring on the unsuspecting Democrats, who would melt like cheese at the sight of it. …
That default view of Republican prowess became deeply lodged in the collective mind of the elite, and things once lodged are awfully difficult to dislodge – which means that these days, the Republicans are still benefiting from some residual and vestigial positive assumptions about their acumen that they really don’t deserve.
It was all an illusion, reinforced by an odd sort conventional wisdom, which is now cracking:
They botched the fiscal-cliff talks in any number of ways. Obviously, John Boehner’s Plan B fiasco was the most visible manifestation, but there were more. New Year’s Day – Eric Cantor splitting from Boehner; first there’s no vote; then there is a vote – was absolute mayhem. And, this is crucial – Boehner broke the Hastert Rule and permitted the cliff deal to pass with a minority of Republicans. It is true that Mitch McConnell pushed Obama’s supposedly firm $250,000 amount on taxes up to $450,000, and that was a point in his favor. But the bottom line is that the Republicans emerged from New Year’s Day angry and divided – and defeated.
And now – because old habits are hard to dislodge – there appears to be an assumption afoot that they will channel this anger into a crushing win over Obama come round two in March. But I see them making mistakes again. McConnell insists that revenues are off the table. But that’s a position that only the GOP base supports, and the more he says it, the more unreasonable Republicans are going to look. Jon Cornyn says a partial government shutdown may be necessary. Other Republicans will follow him down that road, surely, while administration officials will say, no, we don’t want a shutdown of any kind. So if one happens, the side that’s been talking it up is pretty obviously the side that’s going to get the ketchup on its face. The Tea Party people are making noises about primaries against the senators and House members who voted for the cliff deal. Let that drumbeat continue; to your average American, it will sound insane, and it will push them into Obama’s corner even more than they are now.
Arnold did speak of confused alarms of struggle and flight, and that’s what we have here:
Where others see Republicans talking tough and drawing lines in the sand, I see them emitting a bunch of gas that’s going to come back and choke them later on. And remember, they folded on Jan. 1 under the “pressure” of taking the country over the fiscal cliff, a mostly fictional and chimerical precipice where the real-world consequences of missing the deadline, after a couple of bad days on Wall Street, wouldn’t have been that terrible. If they folded under those conditions, what makes us think they wouldn’t fold when they really and truly are on the cusp of destroying the world’s economy and absorbing the blame for it?
This is pretty simple:
And at the end of the day, the Republicans won’t take the country into default. A number of them will be willing to, maybe even a majority. But they won’t have either the numbers or the stones, or both, to do it. If Boehner was willing to break the Hastert Rule once, he’ll break it again, especially when the stakes for the country are much higher.
The world is changing:
Media fondness for “Dems in disarray” stories has been a running joke among liberals for fifteen years… but the Dems these days are pretty arrayed. It’s the other party that’s a mess. Perception will catch up to reality, and perhaps soon.
Hey, life’s a bitch, even if Matthew Arnold put it more elegantly. The Republicans now must see their world as an unfixable mess, a fallen world where all was lost long ago, or all that really mattered. All one can do is muddle through, doing one’s best, even if one’s best will now never really make a damned bit of difference.
These guys should really read some poetry. It would ease the pain.