Symbolic Government by Attitude

Republicans simply disappeared out here in California, the state that gave America both Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. It may be that trying Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor was the last straw, but probably not. Ronald Reagan had been a second-rate actor too, but Reagan had done his homework. He had ideas about government – rather bad ideas as it turned out, but ideas nonetheless. Schwarzenegger had attitude, and attitude is not policy – but the party has made a mess of things long before he came along. Prop 13 made it so no one’s property taxes ever went up, until the pleasant little ranch house changed ownership, decimating the tax base. State revenue then depended on state income taxes and the sales tax – highly volatile, as economic downturns meant no steady revenue and thus big cuts to everything. That happens when income disappears and no one’s buying anything. The schools and roads and social services fell apart. That wasn’t a brilliant Republican idea, then Pete Wilson managed to ram through a referendum that cut off even basic emergency services for immigrants, and the Hispanic vote was lost to the Republicans forever. What Pete Wilson did was intentionally mean-spirited, a way for angry and panicked white folks to register their contempt and spite. They did, and it went downhill from there, with the Republicans playing with the rules, like requiring a solid two-thirds vote in the legislature to raise even the most minor of taxes, and a similar vote to pass a state budget. Yeah, most budgets never got passed on time, and the state would end up paying it employees in script – the IOU thing. All the while the Republicans said no to all spending, and wanted to eliminate almost all taxes – so everyone would be free. They were, but the state had turned into a bit of a third- world country – shabby and falling apart – and the voters had had enough. They recently voted in Democratic supermajorities in the legislature, so the Republicans could do no more than sputter and fume, and brought back Jerry Brown as governor again – a guy who actually knows a thing or two about policy. The state is finally in the black now, refunding the schools and fixing the roads and repairing the damage from all the years of sweet freedom from intrusive big government, doing things. It seems people wanted things done. They’ll willing to pay reasonable taxes for a reasonable place to live. Who knew? Everyone knew, except the Republicans. There are few of them left out here now.

There’s a lesson here. Attitude isn’t governance, even if it’s that heroic attitude about total freedom and self-reliance and personal responsibility. Governance is governance – and it’s kind of nice to have schools and roads and bridges and social services. It makes life easier. It’s worth paying for, as are cops and firefighters, and some rudimentary public healthcare if only to keep nasty diseases from spreading, and regulation of some pretty deadly pollution, and food inspection too. Attitude, however heroic, isn’t worth dying for. You don’t get points for attitude out here.

Republicans don’t like to talk about what happened in California over the last several years. It’s embarrassing. Arnold Schwarzenegger had that Conan the Barbarian swagger that was all about total freedom and self-reliance and personal responsibility, which made him the ultimate Republican – an icon for a time. But he turned out to be a fraud. Attitude doesn’t get things done. Voters out here figured that out. Republicans, on the national level, seem to be hoping no one else figures that out.

They’re still at it. In Politico, Bobby Jindal offers this rallying cry for Republicans:

At some point, the American public is going to revolt against the nanny state and the leftward march of this president. I don’t know when the tipping point will come, but I believe it will come soon.


Because the left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.

Don’t try to make sense of all that, as Josh Barro explains here:

I’ll grant Jindal one thing: He certainly didn’t ration the red meat in that paragraph. This is a big reason the Republican Party can’t change. So many of its members have a warped vision of what liberalism is. They think it’s something so mind-bendingly awful that they cannot fathom how voters could willingly choose it. It must be some mistake. And sooner or later, mistakes get fixed.

This is the guy who last November wrote out a list of his prescriptions for Republicans. You know, “reject identity politics” and “stop being the stupid party” and “stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Yeah, right, as Barro notes:

Back in Louisiana, Jindal has an approval rating of 38%. His popularity took a nosedive this year because he pushed a plan to repeal the state’s income tax and replace it with a higher and broader sales tax, which would have meant a big tax cut for the wealthy financed by higher taxes on the poor and middle class.

He had to withdraw the plan because he couldn’t get it through the legislature, even though it has a Republican majority. It was just too unpopular — the same poll that found Jindal at 38% found only 27% support for his tax plan.

Yet Jindal does not seem to have gotten the message: Voters are unimpressed with an economic agenda that claims the best way to create jobs and grow prosperity is to cut taxes on the rich.

The liberal economic agenda is flawed, but it’s not as flawed as the Republican agenda of tax cuts, spending cuts, and hope. Republicans won’t grasp that until they get past the idea that Barack Obama is a red-meat rationer who’s trying to destroy the economy.

Ezra Klein adds this:

Jindal has gone from diagnosing what’s wrong with the Republican Party to personifying it. The GOP’s problem isn’t that it insults the intelligence of the voters. It’s that it insults its own intelligence. It’s come up with a theory of liberal governance that has obviated the need for a theory of conservative governance.

Yep, all we need to do is wait until people are fed up, but that’s absurd, and dangerous:

The upside of this theory is that it frees Jindal and the rest of the Republican Party from having to do the hard work of rethinking and renewing its own governing agenda. The downside of this theory is that it’s utter nonsense. And the most damaging part of this theory is that it is utter nonsense aimed at Jindal’s own base. …

That’s how the GOP becomes the stupid party: Republican Party elites like Jindal convince Republican Party activists of things that aren’t true. And that’s how the GOP becomes the losing party: The activists push the Republican Party to choose candidate decisions and campaign strategies based on those untruths, and they collapse in the light of day.

On the other hand, the hard work of rethinking and renewing their own governing agenda requires that they have a governing agenda. They don’t. They have attitude, and Daniel Larison simply feels sorry for Jindal:

Jindal seems to be retreating here from his previous very mild recommendations for Republican reform, and seems to think that there’s nothing ailing the party that can’t be fixed by a redoubling of effort and a more combative attitude. Jindal is right that public opinion can change, and a party’s political fortunes can revive when the public tires of the party in power, but that doesn’t mean that one can simply wish away a party’s political weaknesses. No one would seriously accuse the GOP of having suffered from an “excess of navel-gazing” in the last few months. Most Republican pundits and politicians can’t bring themselves to face up to the bankruptcy of the party’s economic and foreign policy agendas, and they are even less interested in a remedy.

There is assuming a more combative attitude, but that can’t be all there is. It seems people want things done, the things that normal governments do. Republicans now find that stuff boring, unless it’s evil. We are to admire their attitude, and vote for them – but it doesn’t work that way anymore.

This leads to some very odd places, like symbolic votes presented as governance:

The House voted Tuesday to impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy over Democratic objections that the bill represents a dramatic attempt by Republicans to restrict abortion rights.

As expected, the vote fell out mostly along party lines in a 228-196 vote – just six Democrats voted for it, and six Republicans opposed it.

The substance was this:

With limited exceptions, the legislation would ban the abortion of a fetus younger than 20 weeks old, or at 22 weeks of pregnancy under a different measuring system. The ban would be backed by possible fines against doctors, as well as prison sentence of as many as five years.

As controversial as the bill is, however, today’s House vote likely ends the process in Congress, as the Democratic Senate is not expected to consider it at all. President Obama threatened to veto the measure on Monday.

It was entirely symbolic, and given Row v Wade, unconstitutional – but we’re supposed to admire them for trying, or their base is supposed to admire them for trying, and they need their base of evangelicals and social conservatives. It’s all they have left now, and the whole thing got strange:

Debate on the bill was tense on the House floor from the start, when Democrats asked why Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) – who does not sit on the bill’s committee of jurisdiction – was managing the bill. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said it is acceptable under the rules of the House to allow “appropriate” people to manage the bill.

But several Democrats suggested it’s because the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), made the controversial comment last week that rape usually doesn’t result in pregnancy. Franks is on the Judiciary Committee, but he never spoke about his own bill during the hour-long debate.

They also said it was because Republicans have no women on the committee of jurisdiction and wanted to put a woman’s face on the bill; Republicans never answered that charge.

It was all about symbolism, as it clearly wasn’t about facts:

Democrats said the lack of any input from women on the committee showed in the final product, and argued that the final bill is based on faulty science. Republican supporters of the bill, including women Republicans, said studies have shown that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.

“H.R. 1797 is based on undisputed scientific evidence which tells us that unborn children at 20 weeks and older can feel pain,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said. “These are babies, they can feel pain.”

That led to the oddest argument of the day:

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said in a late-Monday night House Rules Committee hearing on a bill prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks that the procedure should be banned because even at as early as 15 weeks a male fetus “may have their hand between their legs” and “feel pleasure.”

“This is a subject that I do know something about,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN, during the House hearing first reported by RH Reality Check. “There is no question in my mind that a baby at 20 weeks after conception can feel pain. The fact of the matter is I argue with the chairman because I thought the date was far too late. We should be setting this at 15 weeks, 16 weeks.”

“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” Burgess continued. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”

The talk of the day was this congressman who said barely formed early fetuses obviously masturbate, as least male ones, so we must pass this bill, or there’s this:

Republicans said a major reason the bill is needed is to tighten abortion law in light of the Dr. Kermit Gosnell trial, in which the Pennsylvania abortion doctor was convicted of murdering several infants born alive after failed abortions. It was also charged during the gruesome trial that Gosnell put women’s health at risk by performing abortions in an unsterile environment.

“This is an area that has overwhelming public support, and it is indeed an appropriate response to Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors,” Blackburn said. “What this does is to limit abortion at the sixth month of pregnancy, and includes exceptions, so that we can send the clearest possible message to the American people that we do not support more Gosnell-like abortions.”

“His actions have made debates like this more important than ever before, because under the guise of being a medical professional… Dr. Gosnell violently ended the life of viable unborn babies,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) added about Gosnell.

Democrats countered that the Gosnell trial is irrelevant, as the doctor has been successfully convicted under current law.

Either way, it doesn’t matter, the whole thing was an exercise in symbolic, not real governance, but Salon’s Joan Walsh has a few choice words for this Marsha Blackburn person:

Blackburn would seem to be an odd choice to help Republicans improve their popularity with women. On “Meet the Press” just two weeks ago she made headlines by insisting women “don’t want” equal pay laws (she of course voted against the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act.) Now she’s insisting that the House GOP’s anti-abortion bill is meant to help women, too. While it now includes an exception for victims of rape and incest, it will only apply to women who have reported those crimes to police, when a majority of survivors do not.

On MSNBC Tuesday morning, Blackburn tried to explain to an incredulous Craig Melvin that the measure is designed to help women, because it will “rid our society of these perpetrators who carry out these crimes, many times repeatedly.”

“How are you fighting rape with an abortion bill?” Melvin asked, and Blackburn gave the new all-purpose GOP answer about abortion: “Something, something, something… Kermit Gosnell.”

It’s absurd:

Republicans are using the hideous Gosnell case to revive their anti-abortion crusade with a pro-women twist. Blackburn threw all kinds of bogus statistics and junk science at Melvin, who fought back by noting that the American Medical Association and other major physicians’ groups have weighed in and denied the claim that fetuses can feel pain before roughly 24 weeks, the same age at which they are usually considered viable. Blackburn acted like she didn’t hear him, continuing to blithely insist, “This is one of those issues where science is on our side, public opinion is on our side.”

Neither is on their side, but she’s free to say whatever she wants. She was there to display her attitude, and only once ran into trouble:

Blackburn only got rattled when Melvin asked whether, given the fact that the ban won’t pass the Senate, and the president has said he’ll veto it if it did, the bill represented “pandering” to the far right GOP base. Blackburn exploded. “Is saving the lives of women and babies pandering? Absolutely not! I can’t believe you would say something like that!”

She sees no pandering. She lives in the world of attitude and symbolism, where governance hardly matters, although, as debate got underway, one Republican might have been thinking about what happened out here in California:

“I think it’s a stupid idea to bring this up,” said Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. “The economy is on everybody’s minds. We’re seeing stagnant job numbers. Confidence in the institution, in government, is eroding. And now we’re going to have a debate on rape and abortion.”

Mr. Dent said the party risked opening itself up to another “Akin eruption,” a reference to Todd Akin, a Missouri congressman who was defeated last year in a Senate race after saying women’s bodies could block a pregnancy after “a legitimate rape.”

It seems it’s not just California. Republicans everywhere are selling attitude. Voters everywhere want basic governance. Bobby Jindal is wrong about who is getting fed up these days.

Think about it in term of ontology. Should government simply be, in the abstract ideal sense – small and symbolic, with an admirable attitude – or should government do, in the practical sense? Should those we elect stand up for something that will never become law, debating that thing for days on end, in heroic ways, or should those we elect get some actual stuff done, to help fix the economy for example? The two parties have different answers to those questions. Out here in California we chose getting something done over that heroic attitude about the nature of man and freedom and all the rest. Purely symbolic government by attitude kind of sucks – spread the word. Or come visit.

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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3 Responses to Symbolic Government by Attitude

  1. Rick says:

    Bobby Jindal used to look like one of those rare Republicans who occasionally made sense, but with this obvious cartoon of liberalism he’s drawn, he seems to have totally lost touch with reality and confirmed his position as just another right-wing (and grammatically-challenged, one might add) wackadoodle:

    “Because the left wants: … red meat should be rationed”

    Anyone else see something weird about a right-wing governor of East Indian heritage, accusing the left of wanting to “ration red meat”?

    My theory:

    What seems to have happened here is that, after warning his party they should not be the “stupid party”, he probably got a visit from some party realists who convinced him, correctly, that while maybe he was right, he wasn’t being helpful, as “don’t-be-the-party-of-stupid” is not an actual way out of the mess those people are in (and that, in fact, there may be no way out of the mess those people are in) — so if he wants to be helpful to his people, he needs to let his party go back to being the stupid party, since that seems to have worked okay for them in the past. So Jindal seems to have reversed himself, and doubled down on the “stupid”.

    It’s funny how the party roles have reversed, with the Republicans now being the “Hopey-Changey” party, although without even the slightest pretense of a “Yes, we Can!”


  2. I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering problems with your site. It seems like some of the text in your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This may be a issue with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen before.
    Thank you

    • Alan says:

      What browser are you using? No one else had mentioned this. Mac or PC or mobile device? I’ll send a query to the hosting service.

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