Watching the Collapse

Grow up in Pittsburgh and it never leaves you – unless you’re Oscar Levant or Andy Warhol. A good baseball game is a joy, but if it’s not the Pirates you look on the game clinically, noting the great plays and the big hits against awesome pitching, but emotionally detached. It’s the same with football. This year’s Super Bowl was pretty damned cool – the Forty-Niners, with their young off-the-wall full-of-joy quarterback, almost pulled it off, and the lights going out for a half-hour of tense confusion was a nice touch. But it wasn’t the Steelers. It didn’t matter who won – both teams were awesome in their own way. Either team winning would have been satisfying, or moderately satisfying – but that’s about it. The Pirates have been consistently awful for more than two decades, and the Steelers intermittently awful or not quite good enough when they needed to be – but it is fundamentally satisfying when they win, when they do. Perhaps it’s a tribal thing. After all, growing up, and especially adolescence, is no more than an endless series of initiations into the tribe, where you show you have mastered the tribal norms of behavior and belief, first at home and then with friends and then in school. You learn what’s what and what’s expected of you, and also what’s totem and taboo – and the hometown team is one of those totems, not terribly important in the greater scheme of things, but a totem nonetheless. It’s hard to shake that, as silly as it is.

Politics is like that too – there’s nothing remotely reasonable about it at all. Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to, and at that Reykjavik summit came close to agreeing to total nuclear disarmament, but he’s a hero because he never raised taxes a penny and won the Cold War by spending most of the nation’s wealth on building up our military awesomeness, including that Star Wars antimissile nonsense that never could have worked in a million years, thus bankrupting the Soviet Union, which went broke and folded because they couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t really the ten-year Soviet war in Afghanistan that did in those guys – it couldn’t be. Reagan is totem for one side of things now. The other side sees him as an amiable fool, and often a dangerous fool – but that’s okay. FDR was one of our greatest presidents, saving us during the Great Depression and then saving us, and the world, from the Nazis and the Japanese. He was awesome, unless he was that evil man than turned America into a nation of whiners and moochers with Social Security and unemployment insurance and all that other stuff, and ruined business in America too, by giving us bank regulation and the Securities and Exchange commission and so on, strangling even the possibility of growth and prosperity. Which is it? That depends on which tribe you belong to, and opposing tribes never agree on what’s totem and what’s taboo.

Actually there’s nothing to discuss. Discussion is impossible. Government is evil, just barely a necessary evil, at times, or it’s useful to get things done that are of no interest to the private sector but good for everyone. Personal responsibility is everything and the only thing that made this country great, or community and pulling together in hard times is what has always saved our ass, because we’ve got each other’s backs. Which is it? Or the massive national debt is the biggest and scariest crisis America has ever faced, or it isn’t, as spending now, when money is cheaper than cheap, to assure future solid growth, would gradually erase the debt, maybe entirely. No, austerity is prosperity! Cut and grow! No, austerity is simply austerity, assuring stagnation or worse! Cut spending on everything, massively, and watch the economy wither and die, as it has in the UK each time they try it, again and again.

Which is it? The list could go on and on. Abortion is murder. No it isn’t. Immediate war anywhere vaguely threatening, just to be safe, is far better than diplomacy and talk. No, diplomacy keeps us out of pointless wars that do no one any good and drain our treasury. The two tribes inhabit different worlds. Each has mastered the tribal norms of behavior and belief. The other guys, not them, just aren’t normal.

This sort of tribal politics assures that nothing can ever get done. Steeler fans don’t root for the Ravens – those are the bad guys who keep beating the Steelers to get into the playoffs. It’s just not done. Tribal identity runs deep. You don’t want to see the Ravens win the Super Bowl, no matter how well or even heroically they play – you want to see them mess up. You want to see them argue with each other, and argue with their coaches. There’s a certain grim satisfaction watching the other tribe fight among themselves. Your team isn’t even playing, but that doesn’t matter. All that binds the other guys together is fraying. That’s fun to watch from the sidelines.

The Republicans may still control the House, able to stop anything Obama wants to do, and still have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster anything and everything any majority votes for, and do that all the time, but Democrats are getting that same grim satisfaction these days:

Conservative groups wanted to stop the march of Obamacare expansion at ground zero: the states.

But one of their best hopes just caved.

John Kasich, the fiercely conservative governor of Ohio, announced Monday that he’s going to expand Medicaid dramatically using federal money – a 180-degree turn from what conservative groups swore their allies in governors’ mansions would do when the Supreme Court gave them an out last year.

That leaves Kasich, who built his political identity arguing for smaller government, at odds with the same movement conservatives who propelled him to victory in Ohio and have eyed him for a presidential run in 2016.

John Kasich did what was taboo, and the item goes on to report on how the Tea Party crowd wants his scalp now, except for this:

Kasich’s not alone. He’s joining four other Republican governors in accepting the expansion, though they’re still outnumbered by the nine GOP governors who are refusing to do it – including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas – and others who are leaning against it.

And now that Kasich has taken the plunge, some of Obamacare’s supporters hope others will follow. Topher Spiro of the liberal Center for American Progress says Kasich’s decision should be “influential” with other GOP governors.

But Ohio tea party activists are frustrated to see another Republican governor – especially one with Kasich’s reputation – embracing what they see as just another government solution to a problem.

“How can that be good for Ohio to have more people dependent on government?” asked Ted Stevenot, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition. “How can it be good for us politically, economically? I just don’t see it.”

Kasich says the decision will free up money to spend on mental health and other services – since the feds will pay for most of the expansion costs – and will keep everyone else’s health insurance premiums down because there won’t be so many uninsured people going to emergency rooms for their medical care.

Kasich likes the math. Math trumps tribal taboo in this case, and Ed Kilgore sees a house of cards falling:

Kasich’s whole political stock in trade is being the ultimate conservative green eyeshade, chairing the House Budget Committee during the Gingrich years and serving as an inspiration to young would-be scalpel-wielders like Paul Ryan. So when Kasich adjudges the Medicaid expansion as a good fiscal deal for Ohio (as it is for all states), it will be difficult for other GOP governors – even those like Rich Scott who have been willing to just make numbers up – to claim otherwise.

Thus Kasich brings us closer to the day when those opposing the Medicaid expansion in their own states – notably southern governors like Perry and Jindal and Bryant and Bentley and Deal and Haley who are deliberately creating huge arbitrary gaps in health care coverage – are forced to stop hiding behind fiscal myths and just come out and admit they don’t want their citizens to benefit from Obamacare, full stop. They’d oppose the Medicaid expansion even if the feds were paying them many billions to implement it (instead of just picking up nearly all of the cost and generating additional savings for the states via lower uncompensated care costs). It would be nice to see them admit it, shameful as it might be.

But it’s hard to shake the old tribal norms, as silly as they are, although it can be done:

Sen. John McCain appears to have cleared the way Monday for Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. The Arizona Republican, who has been a prominent voice in the debate over Hagel, said Monday he would oppose any attempt to filibuster the nomination, likely dooming any attempt by Senate conservatives to sustain a protracted procedural fight to delay Hagel’s confirmation.

The long and short of this item is that the tribal norms were making them look like jerks – not everyone belongs to the Tribe of Perpetual No – but then McCain got slammed by his own team:

Senator John McCain’s joke comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the monkey that Iran claimed it sent into space earned him a scolding from a fellow Republican, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash.

“Maybe you should wise up & not make racist jokes,” Amash, who is of Palestinian and Syrian descent, tweeted at McCain. McCain had sent a tweet in response to the strange news that Ahmadinejad was offering himself up to be Iran’s first astronaut, writing, “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week?” and linking to a story about the monkey.

McCain then told everyone on Twitter who had taken him to task for the tweet to “lighten up.”

Amash, 31, is a libertarian Republican who was endorsed by Ron Paul and who has in a way molded himself in Paul’s image – which includes calling out more senior Republicans.

This is fun to watch from the sidelines. The tribe is at each other’s throats, and now it’s getting serious:

The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.

The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

And there’s a mastermind behind this:

The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.

This going to be fun, as Politico reports this:

Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, branded it the “Conservative Defeat Project.”

“The Conservative Defeat Project is yet another example of the Republican establishment’s hostility toward its conservative base. Rather than listening to the grassroots and working to advance their principles, the establishment has chosen to declare war on the party’s most loyal supporters,” Hoskins said. “If they keep this up, the party will remain in the wilderness for decades to come.”

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller essentially responded by pointing to the scoreboard in recent primaries in which conservative insurgents have prevailed and emerged as influential GOP leaders.

“They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst,” Keller said of the new Crossroads group. “We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

An item at MSNBC offers more detail:

The aim, in a nutshell, is to push back against the Tea Party and bring the GOP’s nominating process back under the control of the party’s Washington power-brokers. In recent cycles, Tea Party-backed Senate candidates have won the Republican nomination over more moderate GOPers, only to be defeated in the general election. In several cases – think of Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remarks – they’ve been done in thanks in part to campaign trail slip-ups that more seasoned candidates might have avoided.

But the news has triggered a full-blown revolt among conservative activists, both inside and outside Washington.

“Because of the bad results of the 2012 cycle, I kind of feel like we’re in a state of gang warfare,” Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a grassroots advocacy group aligned with the Tea Party movement, told, adding: “The establishment is circling the wagons, and they’re trying to protect their own.”

Kibbe argued that the energy in today’s GOP comes from the very Tea Party-backed candidates – like Rand Paul and Mike Lee – that Rove has opposed in the past. “What Rove is proposing is a recipe for failure,” he said.

Heather Parton, who has often written about tribal politics, sees what’s really going on here:

Karl Rove was instrumental in creating this monster. Now it’s got a mind of its own.

It’s hard to know how this will play out. The Tea Party is really just the re-branding of the far right of the Republican Party. But it may just be that the establishment made a mistake in doing that. They don’t see themselves as Republicans anymore. They see themselves as a distinct movement that wants to explicitly run the Republican Party.

The wingnuts have always had real power within their Party but they didn’t know it. Now they do. And they have spent the last 30 years having people like Karl Rove rev them up and expand their egos into believing they represent a majority of Americans and have a responsibility to hew to their principles no matter what. It was a good way to market conservatism. But it was never true.

What had been a way to reinforce tribal identity got out of hand. Viewed from the outside, from the other side, it’s kind of delicious, and Steve Benen sees things this way:

In public, Republicans insist their biggest problem is rhetorical – they need to identify a better way to sell their ideas to voters. In private, Republicans focus more on their primary problem – GOP leaders are convinced that the party would be in far better shape right now, were it not for rank-and-file Republican voters nominating unelectable loons in so many key races.

It’s a problem the party establishment is desperate to fix. Indeed, in the wake of their 2012 defeats, Republicans have taken some steps to strengthen the party establishment and prevent fiascoes like the ones the GOP has seen in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and elsewhere.

But it’s easier said than done. Indeed, party leaders seem to believe earlier endorsements from the GOP establishment might send unmistakable signals to the base and would-be challengers, but that misses the point – the Republican base doesn’t much care whom the establishment prefers. If the party’s heavyweight players are going to make a real difference in crushing extremist clowns before they win primaries, it’s going to cost a lot of money.

Rove has that, not that it really matters:

Rove’s American Crossroads raised breathtaking amounts of money in 2012, promising right-wing donors an impressive return on investment, and proceeded to lose nearly every race Rove targeted. Right-wing groups, meanwhile, weren’t much better, and helped nominate ridiculous candidates that led to Democratic victories.

Rove and his allies argue, “Listen to us or we’ll be stuck with another bunch of candidates like Akin, Mourdock, O’Donnell, and Angle.” Simultaneously, the Club for Growth and its allies argue, “Listen to us or we’ll be stuck with Karl Rove’s 99% failure rate.”

The opportunity for a round of bitter proxy fights will materialize very soon: Steve King in Iowa, Paul Broun in Georgia, and Joe Miller in Alaska are each poised to launch right-wing Senate bids, and by most measures, these candidates are so far from the mainstream they’re very likely to fail – after winning their respective primaries.

The Conservative Victory Project will likely try to take them down during their respective primaries, and even-further-right-wing groups will push in the opposite direction.

It won’t be pretty, but Democrats will love every minute of it.

Yep, and Michelle Malkin was in rare form:

I noted when one of Rove’s water boys attacked me personally in 2010 and sneered at Tea Party activists for their inexperience and lack of proper credentials, these GOP barons demand that we all sit quietly with our hands folded at our desks while they regale us with stories of Master Rove’s achievements and policy victories.

Nope. Still not going to genuflect before the architect behind the disastrous Medicare prescription drug entitlement expansion that created an unfunded liability of $9.4 trillion over the next 75 years, No Child Left Behind federal education expansion, steel tariffs, agricultural subsidies, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and the Bush-Kennedy-McCain illegal alien amnesty attempt.

Rove and his boss abused their power and sacrificed core conservative principles at the altar of “compassionate conservatism.”

No, I will not shut up about it.

Yes, I will continue to use my little soapbox to try and support candidates who reject Rovian open borders, big spending, and federal encroachment.

This is going to be Rove versus Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and the rest, and it only gets better:

Real estate mogul Donald Trump ripped into GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.) Monday over his suggestion that Republicans needed to “stop being the stupid party” if they hoped to rebound in the next election cycle.

“He was stupid for using that term,” Trump told “Fox and Friends.” “Because that term is so obnoxious, and so good for the other side, he should not have used that term. That term is going to be living now for a long time, and they’re going to have his face on television using it.”

Trump, himself a frequent friendly critic of the Republican Party, said he objected not to the warning that Jindal issued, but rather the words he used.

“Look, I speak ill of their negotiating abilities, I speak ill of certain things they make mistakes, but I want to tell you, I thought that term, used by the governor, was a disgrace and he shouldn’t have used it,” Trump said. “I thought it was very demeaning to the Republican Party.”

Trump added that “‘stupid’ is now going to be part of the vocabulary for Democrats” and said he believed Jindal had made a “horrible” mistake.

Now they’re calling each other stupid, for calling each other stupid. If politics, like sports, and like most of life, is tribal, then we’re seeing a major tribe splinter and collapse. All their totems and taboos are being called into question – and if you’re a member of the opposing tribe, where the opposite is happening, as things seem as sure as ever, there’s not much to do but watch, and wait. Let it happen. It’s one of life’s little pleasures. God knows there aren’t many of those if you’re from Pittsburgh.


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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