The Lost Month

As he has done every year since 2001, Slate’s David Plotz once again argues that we should abolish August:

August is the Mississippi of the calendar. It’s beastly hot and muggy. It has a dismal history. Nothing good ever happens in it. And the United States would be better off without it.

August is when the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Anne Frank was arrested, when the first income tax was collected, when Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe died. Wings and Jefferson Airplane were formed in August. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in August.

That last one is reason enough, but there’s more:

August is the time when thugs and dictators think they can get away with it. World War I started in August 1914. The Nazis and Soviets signed their nonaggression pact in August 1939. Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990. August is a popular month for coups and violent crime. Why August? Perhaps the villains assume we’ll be too distracted by vacations or humidity to notice.

August is the vast sandy wasteland of American culture. Publishers stop releasing books. Movie theaters are clogged with the egregious action movies that studios wouldn’t dare release in June. Television is all reruns… The sports pages wither into nothingness. Pre-pennant-race baseball – if that can even be called a sport – is all that remains. We have to feign interest in NFL training camps.

Something else is wrong too:

You can’t get a day off from August, because it is the only month without a real holiday. Instead, the other months have shunted onto this weak sister all the lame celebrations they didn’t want. Air Conditioning Appreciation Week, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Week, National Religious Software Week, and Carpenter Ant Awareness Week: All these grand American celebrations belong to August. Is it any accident that National Lazy Day, Relaxation Day, Deadwood Day, and Failures Day are commemorated in August? …

August can’t even master the things it is supposed to do well. Despite its slothful reputation, it is not the top vacation month, July is. Nor is August the hottest month (on the East Coast, at least). That crown, too, is July’s. August is when the garden starts to wither, and when the long summer days cruelly vanish.

There’s only one thing to do:

Cede the first 10 days of August back to July, thus extending holiday revelry for more than a week. September would claim the last 10 days of August, mollifying the folks who can’t wait to get back to serious work. Labor Day would come 10 days earlier, the school year would run longer, and the rush of fall activity could get jump-started. August itself will keep 10 days. That is just enough: Every summer we’ll be able to toot happily, “Gosh, August went by so quickly this year!”

That might work, and it will never happen, but Slate runs the Plotz column each August of course, as a bit of humor, and as an implicit apology. Slate covers politics and economics and the law and a few cultural matters – the serious ones – and nothing much happens in August. They don’t have much to offer. There are no awesomely serious movies to review – the studios release those in late fall, when the Oscar buzz begins, and the demographic changes. August is for popcorn movies – kids’ stuff. As for civic life, the Supreme Court rose, if that’s the word, in late June. They’re not hearing any arguments, much less deciding anything. They’ll “sit” again in October. Congress is in recess too – gone home to chat with their constituents – although House Speaker John Boehner skipped a bit of that this year, to play golf with Donald Trump in New Jersey. The good folks in southern Ohio will have to wait, but perhaps the brutally direct Donald will give Boehner some advice on how to handle his pesky Tea Party contingent in the House, which has been slapping him silly for quite some time now. Boehner needs some new approach to get the those folks to settle down, and The Donald might suggest a devastating quick line or two he could use with those odd folks who are always calling him a gutless coward. You’re fired? That’s a good line, but only if you can actually fire someone. Oh well, but still one can imagine Boehner and Trump strolling down the fairway in the hot August sunshine, like in some summer movie, with the appropriate soundtrack murmuring softly in the background – “I’ve Got You, Babe.” It is Sonny and Cher’s month after all.

August really is a miserable month, but things have changed since Plotz first wrote his column. America added a new tradition, town hall meetings, and Josh Marshall considers that:

I remember back four years ago as August 2009 got started and we were ready for the usual hot slow month for of news that one or two isolated pops at town hall meetings quickly revealed itself to be something quite different. It wasn’t just yelling at town halls sometimes verging into near riots. It was also the first full view of the underbelly of anti-Obama rage with the more or less open appeals to racial animosity that have been a constant presence through Obama’s presidency.

Just as significantly it was the public debut of many of the era’s signature conspiracy theories: death panels, Obama’s planning on euthanizing your grandparents as part of his effort to expand coverage to the uninsured, FEMA concentration camps, Obama as anti-American Muslim intent on undermining the nation from within.

Of course, in the short-term August 2009 was a precursor of the GOP wave election in 2010. But it was no less a harbinger of the 2012 election and the changing demographic landscape that continues to scramble much of what we’ve taken for granted about American politics for decades, perhaps centuries.

In short, there’s another reason to hate August. August is now where everyone is as nasty as they want to be – and they don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of them. Say anything. Make stuff up. Lie. Be angry. It’s a new tradition, and Marshall mentions this August’s anti-Obama protests – “which perhaps inevitably, given the crowd, took a racist turn” – but he sees something new this time:

My own hunch, based on limited press reports so far, is that the Tea Party crew is less focused this time on mau-mauing Democrats as it is on hitting Republicans who’ve even marginally not toed the Ted Cruz/Rand Paul line.

Salon’s Jillian Rayfield covers that:

Sens. Mike Lee, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are spearheading an effort to block a continuing resolution that would extend funding for the federal government beyond September, if that resolution contains funding for Obamacare. This could eventually result in a government shutdown, since Democrats in the Senate and the president will not allow a funding measure to be implemented without healthcare funding. Republicans have been split on the issue, with many acknowledging that the strategy is not likely to be successful – and probably won’t defund Obamacare anyway.

In the last week, this argument has been taken to the local level, with multiple reports of House Republicans taking flak at town hall meetings for their various positions on the law.

It began with Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from North Carolina who has sponsored at least a dozen bills that would repeal Obamacare in one way or another. But that wasn’t enough for conservatives in his district. A Tea Party group posted a video in which a town hall attendee asks if Pittenger will vote against Obamacare funding. Pittenger replies, “No.” The attendees were not pleased.

“While I support efforts to defund Obamacare,” his office said in a subsequent statement, the Washington Post reports… “The political reality is that goal is not currently achievable. Senator Harry Reid would never let it pass the Senate, and President Obama would never sign it into law.”

Pittenger tried to explain this shutdown thing just wouldn’t work, but they pretty much shouted him down. He had to issue a statement. They would not let him talk, and he wasn’t alone:

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry on Monday argued that there would be “very significant consequences” to a shutdown, and “there has to be a better way.” An audience member replied, “We elected Republicans to fight for more conservative policies.”

In Oklahoma, Rep. Tom Cole faced an angry constituent who paid in cash for a procedure for her son, “the price I paid for the liberty of my children,” she said, according to BuzzFeed. “Even if you do not believe in your heart, number one, that it will pass, or number two, it’s appropriate, you need to represent us.”

So, it won’t work, and thus will shut down the government for no good reason – so do it anyway, on principle, damn it.

This is a mess for the party, but they did it to themselves, and there’s no way out:

Rep. Aaron Schock responded to a remark by an Illinois constituent that Schock risks “alienating the people who brought you to power in 2010, the conservative voters who caused that landslide are going to react unless you take a strong principled position on this.” Schock said that he thinks Obamacare is “supremely flawed,” but also opposes shutting down the government.

“How many weeks would you go without paying Social Security and how many weeks would you go without paying the troops?” Schock asked. “And having a young lady walk into my office, whose husband is over in Afghanistan, who can’t pay her mortgage because I’m shutting the government down because I don’t like a health care law? … I’m just suggesting that when you get into a fight, politically, you gotta make sure you’re willing to kill the hostage you got. And I am not convinced yet that that’s a hostage that we should take headed into this fight.”

They weren’t buying that either, but this is even more curious:

Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry got an earful from a constituent Wednesday about repeatedly voting against Obamacare at a town hall in Asheville, North Carolina.

Skip Edwards, 63, got up in a packed school auditorium and told McHenry about his financial difficulties in obtaining health insurance after losing his job during the recession. Both Edwards and his wife were previously denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports.

“It cost us $1,300 bucks a month – extremely expensive,” Edwards said, as quoted by the Citizen-Times. “It taps us out every month. But at our age and health, we’ve got to have it.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times has the details:

McHenry, 37, has repeatedly voted against the Affordable Care Act, choosing to either defund or repeal or delay it. In defending his position, he said he did agree with some aspects of the act, including ending discrimination against pre-existing conditions and extending the age a children can stay on their parents’ health insurance.

About 270 packed the auditorium, with others turned away for lack of space.

Edwards and others wondered why McHenry would vote against a plan they feel is better than nothing at all. He said he would not vote for something he feels is bad policy.

McHenry also told Edwards he thought the high-risk pool he qualified for should be enhanced, adding “That is more of a solution than I think that Obamacare will be,” as many in the crowd groaned.

Their bullshit-detectors were working. It was kind of like what tiny Lord Farquaad said in that first Shrek movie, when he was about to send a bunch of reluctant knights out on a dangerous quest, to slay a dragon and bring that pretty princess back to him, so he could marry her and finally become a king – “Many of you will die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make!”

That was funny in the movie. It’s not so funny in real life and it points to a larger problem, shown in a new polling memo from Carville-Greenberg:

There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP. This is apparent in seniors’ party affiliation and vote intention, in their views on the Republican Party and its leaders, and in their surprising positions on jobs, health care, retirement security, investment economics, and the other big issues that will likely define the 2014 midterm elections.

We first noticed a shift among seniors early in the summer of 2011, as Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare became widely known (and despised) among those at or nearing retirement. Since then, the Republican Party has come to be defined by much more than its desire to dismantle Medicare. To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence, and economics that would make even the Robber Barons blush. We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens.

Here are the details:

In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent). Among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.)

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2011, 43 percent of seniors gave the Republican Party a favorable rating. Last month, just 28 percent of seniors rated the GOP favorably. This is not an equal-opportunity rejection of parties or government – over the same period, the Democratic Party’s favorable rating among seniors has increased 3 points, from 37 percent favorable to 40 percent favorable.

When the Republican congress took office in early 2011, 45 percent of seniors approved of their job performance. That number has dropped to just 22 percent – with 71 percent disapproving.

Seniors are now much less likely to identify with the Republican Party. On Election Day in 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed a net 10 point party identification advantage among seniors (29 percent identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans). As of last month, Democrats now had a net 6 point advantage in party identification among seniors (39 percent to 33 percent).

More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country. Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters.

On almost every issue we tested – including gay rights, aid to the poor, immigration, and gun control – more than half of seniors believe that the Republican Party is too extreme.

They’ve offended blacks, and gays, and Hispanics, and women, and the young, and the college-educated, and now it’s the old farts. The loudest of the constituents want more extremism, and the majority of their constituents who are still sticking with them are beginning to think they’re jerks who actually want to hurt them, to score obscure political points so they can brag a lot.

Digby (Heather Parton) sees things this way:

The question is why the change? Everyone knows that seniors are a bunch of right-wingers who hate every kind of progress right?

Well, “seniors” change characteristics all the time. Obviously, this is because the older cohort is always dying off and younger people turn into seniors. Every single day. And there is a huge group of “younger” people becoming seniors right now. They are called baby boomers and they have a very different set of beliefs, experiences and political affiliations than those who are dying out.

Now, it’s wrong to assume that boomers are liberals simply because they had a very showy counter-culture in their youths. In fact, there was always a boatload of boomers who were conservative even then. But no matter what, these particular seniors are not their grandparents or parents and never have been. They have lived very different lives and have a whole different set of expectations and experience.

Someone made a miscalculation:

It’s a big mistake for anyone, especially in politics, to simply assume they are a bunch of doddering old white people who are living in the 50s. Neither is it realistic to assume they are modern conservatives. They came up before the Reagan revolution after all. Unlike those of the older cohort who were raised in the depression this is a group that has always had a lot of expectations from government and a belief that it had a responsibility to fulfill them. Even if they hated the usual dark colored suspects, they weren’t raised in a world in which all those feelings had been subsumed in Atwateresque dog-whistles about Big Gummint. And they’ve never needed government more than they do now. I think a great many of them will end up back into the Democratic fold – where seniors have historically been.

Maybe, but consider this too:

And these are people, for better or worse, who have always been engaged and are going to be even more so in their elder years. What else have they got to do?

This won’t make the Republicans’ August any easier. Which way do they go – for the all-out shutdown of everything, forever if possible, which the loudest demand, or do they work on easing the pain of those who elected them? As a recess, this is no fun, and Kevin Drum frames their new dilemma:

I’d want to know why the party’s approval ratings have dropped. If it’s because tea-partyish seniors think the GOP leadership isn’t conservative enough, then that certainly doesn’t suggest much of a pickup opportunity for Democrats. So color me unconvinced for now. At the same time, this does suggest that there’s at least an opportunity here for Democrats. If they can goad Eric Cantor and his pals into spending the next year jabbering about cuts to entitlements – i.e., Medicare and Social Security, which 89 percent of seniors want protected – then who knows? Maybe seniors really will bolt.

Josh Marshall, however, stays in the present:

By and large most of the taunting matches and tense situations have been Tea Partiers versus Republican incumbents. That’s not terribly surprising in itself but what does surprise me is what they’re griping about. I’m seeing numerous examples of town hall attendees demanding that their reps toe the line on defunding Obamacare, following the Ted Cruz lead. But there seems to be relatively little on immigration reform.

What’s weird about that is that the defund Obamacare cause is obviously symbolic and totally quixotic. It’s entirely about ideological purity. It is simply not going to happen. And even if it did happen it wouldn’t actually stop Obamacare implementation. Meanwhile, immigration reform is actually a live legislative issue. It could still happen…

I’m not sure what to make of that yet. Whether it signals a lack of ground-level opposition to immigration reform among core Republicans, which strikes me as implausible, or whether it’s just the continuing effect of the unrealistic expectations Republican leaders have created about their ability to defeat the Obamacare dragon.

Who knows? But August was always about unrealistic expectations – the dream vacation where everyone ends up sniping at each other and gets nasty sunburns, crappy movies, burnt-out lawns, nothing left for the kids to do but sit around and loathe the thought of the first day of school to come soon enough – and Republicans, who almost no one likes now, shouting at each other because they really don’t like each other either. David Plotz was right all along. Abolish the month. That’s one thing the Republicans might actually pass now.


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 The Lost Month

  1. Rick says:

    This whole Tea Party phenom is an example of what happens when you mix stupidity with rage. Oddly, trying to shut down the government seems to be their response to the common American complaint that “nothing ever gets done in Washington! Since those people in Washington won’t pay attention to our demand that they repeal Obamacare — which nobody in America likes anyway — we’ll just shut them all down!!!”

    You could say the Tea Party crowd doesn’t like democracy, but the truth is they probably even don’t realize that it was the American people who passed Obamacare into law in the first place.

    Someday I expect to see an Andy Borowitz fake news item on the discovery that the Tea Party was actually a “dirty tricks” creation of the Democratic National Committee back in 2009, as a plot to destroy the Republican Party.

    Or maybe it won’t be a Borowitz story? Maybe it will be a real news item!


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