Seismic Shifts

Thirty-two years ago there was a lot of explaining to do. Chucking it all to move to LA to start over, to start fresh, was the problem – not the starting fresh part, the LA part. Weren’t people crazy out there? No, they’re just as crazy out here as anywhere else, except these crazy people make the movies and television shows that define America for America, and the world, and almost all the great rock bands started out here, except for the British ones – and LA gave America the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee and skateboards too. This is the place that generates our popular culture, and it’s not all fluff out here – most everything we have in orbit was built in LA. The aerospace industry is massive. The space shuttles and stealth fighters and bombers were thought up and built here too. Sure, Disneyland, the original one, is just down the way, but the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a world-class orchestra and Placido Domingo runs our opera – and the weather is just fine now that the smog is pretty much gone, and there are surfers out there every day, and snow in the local mountains each winter, so kids out here can ski in the morning and ride the waves in the afternoon. Save for the legendary awful traffic, and the gangs, what’s not to like?

That’s when earthquakes always came up. Aren’t you worried about the earthquakes?

Nope, no one out here worries about earthquakes. There was a big one in 1994, that Northridge thing, but most earthquakes out here just quickly shake the building and rumble a bit and are over in a few seconds. There are no massive seismic shifts. Maybe something falls off a shelf. There might be a new small new crack in the wall. The dreaded Big One, where everything west of the San Andres Fault falls into the ocean, the one Lex Luthor set off in that old Superman movie, is, in fact, just movie stuff. That dreaded Big One might happen one day. Your cat may win the lottery one day. Neither is likely. Massive seismic shifts, where the bedrock under everything is completely rearranged, where those colossal tectonic plates smash into each other or rip apart, are only useful as a metaphor. That’s for talking about some metaphoric bedrock under everything being completely rearranged.

That’s for talking about political earthquakes, and we had one of those this week. It was more than a few things falling off the shelf. A major fault line ruptured in the Republican Party, and now the Republican Party may break off and fall into the ocean and disappear.

This actual quake was over relatively quickly. The first government shutdown in seventeen years is now over, and the first default in more than two hundred years will not happen, because the Republicans caved. They didn’t get what they wanted. Obamacare wasn’t defunded. It wasn’t touched, really. The simple continuing resolution to fund the government for the next three months, at current levels, as no one can agree on anything, was passed, reopening the government after sixteen days of shutdown, but that could have been passed three weeks earlier. The debt-limit was suspended, so no one had to say they voted for raising it, allowing us to pay our bills, avoiding economic chaos and the collapse of the world’s financial systems, without any laws being repealed or anything else the Republicans had said that they had wanted. The whole thing was pointless. Threatening pain and chaos, hurting as many Americans as you possibly can to get what you could not get through elections or legislation or in the courts, turned out to be a stunningly bad idea, but it also exposed an underlying fault. Deep down, things had shifted. The bedrock had moved.

First, there was a miscalculation. Obama decided long ago never to cave again. He did that once and that gave us the sequestration mess – mindless across-the-board budget cuts that even the Republicans think are stupid. Caving in only made things worse and he said over and over that he wouldn’t cave again, ever. He’ll negotiate anything and everything, any old time, but not under these threats to hurt as many Americans as possible, and cripple the economy, then destroy it, worldwide. He just won’t do it – and the hardline Republicans decided he was lying then, and they obviously think he’s still lying now. Moderate Republicans said look what happened. You guys are talking about some imaginary Obama. Deal with reality.

That opened the rift discussed in the previous column – the Republican Civil War everyone is talking about, which is not about ideology. They all believe the same thing – the less government the better, the social safety net and all that regulation of everything that started with FDR and was goosed up by LBJ, who added all the civil rights stuff too, must go, and taxes should be low, especially taxes on those who make it big, because the Makers shouldn’t have to support the Takers and all that. They do disagree on tactics – some believe in threats of vast national pain and hostage-taking, while others have some experience with how that really pisses off the public – but what they really disagree on is the usefulness of experience. Is it that empirical evidence that this or that tactic makes things far worse, not better, doesn’t matter? Some say no, it does matter, while others say that whatever failed miserably might work the next time – you never know. Have a little faith.

That dual disagreement, on tactics and on the usefulness of experience – the dispute about how trying what failed again and again, just one more time, in the hope that it might finally work this time, or not – is tearing the party apart. It’s Mitch McConnell, who cut the deal in the Senate, and John Boehner, who threw in the towel in the House and decided to allow a vote on the matter, for the good of the country, versus Ted Cruz and his Tea Party posse in both the Senate and the House, who oppose any compromise on anything, because they know they’re right, even if no one else thinks so. Now there’s talk of the Tea Party crowd breaking off and forming their damned own party.

They’ll be well funded. Jim DeMint abruptly resigned the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, and Heritage Action issued their warning that anyone who voted yes on ending the shutdown, and yes on taking national default off the table for now, would face a well-funded Tea Party challenger in the next primary, and their career would be over quite soon. FreedomWorks did the same thing, and groups like that are heavily funded by a very small group of billionaires with big grudges.

That’s a seismic shift. A new third party, born from this Tea Party crowd, would have a thousand times the financial resources of either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, which may be the future of American politics. The chump-change of three or four eccentric billionaires is what matters now. Everything has changed.

That’s not just speculation:

FreedomWorks chief Matt Kibbe said Friday that divisions on the right could cause the Republican Party to split in two.

During an appearance on CSPAN, the tea party leader responded to a piece in The Washington Times indicating that some “prominent Republicans are saying that if the GOP loses the 2016 presidential elections, the party will go the way of the Whigs – or formally split into a moderate party and a conservative party.”

“I think that’s a real possibility because you’re seeing this clash between the new generation and – to me, it’s not just the old wing of the Republican Party versus the new wing – you’re really seeing a disintermediation in politics… grassroots activists have an ability to self-organize, to fund candidates they’re more interested in, going right around the Republican National Committee and senatorial committee.”

His prediction is that FreedomWorks and the Tea Party takes over the Republican Party and the current Republican Party goes the way of the Whigs. That’d be an earthquake, but the outside money could go the other way:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it will be more engaged in next year’s midterm elections to help elect Republicans who understand business.

After watching House Republicans and their tea party-backed allies in Senate bring the nation to the brink of default in their quixotic effort to derail the Affordable Care Act, the business group said Friday it has no other choice than to get serious.

“The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the chamber.

That would set up a showdown between big business-backed GOP candidates and those favored by the ideologically driven wing, and one activist suggested Friday that Republican losses in 2016 could split the party into hostile conservative and moderate factions.

Politicians and party voters won’t determine what the party does. Well-funded outside interest groups will, and Politico reports that one group of them are not too happy with that return-on-investment ratio they all watch:

Republican donors were horrified in November after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns for president and Congress with nothing to show for it. A year later they’re appalled by how little has changed, angered by the behavior of Republican lawmakers during a string of legislative battles this year capped by the shutdown, and searching for answers.

In conversation after conversation, donors express growing frustration with the party and the constellation of outside groups they’ve been bankrolling. After getting squeezed last year by an array of campaign committees, party committees and disparate super PACs, many of them are still sitting on their checkbooks – a worrisome sign for the party with the 2014 midterm elections fast approaching.

These guys want to take matters into their own hands:

New York City GOP mega-bundler Paul Singer has held a series of informal, and a few very formal, discussions in recent months with other extremely wealthy donors about how best to spend their cash in 2014, including debating the idea of forming a new entity to play a serious role in the midterm races. Its focus would be on improving the quality of Republican candidates in the hopes of avoiding more Todd Akin-like candidates who blow eminently winnable races.

“He wants to win,” one donor who attended a session said of Singer. The donor stressed that the hedge fund billionaire’s meetings, like other informal gatherings among the moneyed class this year, were taking place well prior to the government shutdown.

Still, some donors think the reluctance about giving among their ranks may have reached an inflection point over the way a number of Republicans in Washington acquitted themselves the past few weeks.

Hedge fund billionaires have more money than the billionaires funding FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation. They need to spend their money more effectively:

At issue is not just the shutdown, but legislative battles earlier this year, such as the stymied attempt at immigration reform. Several Republican donors said watching that effort run into headwinds among conservative House members, combined with the tortured standoff over the government shutdown and potential debt default, had left a sour taste in their mouths.

Business folks are all for comprehensive immigration reform – there’s more profit to be made with legal low-wage workers, and far less hassle. They paid good money to make immigration reform happen, and then they got stiffed. Now they’re pissed.

That’s just too bad, because there are scores to settle:

House Republicans have been subtly angling for months to quash immigration reform. But after getting rolled by Democrats in the spending and shutdown fights, conservatives who call the shots in the chamber are more determined than ever to block an overhaul and imperil President Barack Obama’s second-term priority.

The government shutdown fight has given House conservatives a new pretext: Obama refused to deal with us on the debt, so we won’t deal with him on immigration reform.

“I know the president has said, well, gee, now this is the time to talk about immigration reform,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) told TPM. “He ain’t gonna get a willing partner in the House until he actually gets serious about … his plan to deal with the debt.”

And a new talking point: Obama simply wants to use immigration reform to “destroy” the GOP.

Is this good for the party? Do they need Hispanic votes in the future? Wasn’t there that “autopsy” about that?

Forget about that. Obama screwed them by not caving when he should have caved:

“I think it’d be crazy for the House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told reporters on the eve of the GOP’s shutdown surrender. “And I’m a proponent of immigration reform. So I think what he’s done over the last two and a half weeks – he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party. And I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind: which is to try to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies.”

What is this Republican Party of which Raul Labrador speaks? It’s a confused lot, and it may not even exist now. It was destroyed in this week’s earthquake. Raul Labrador is late to the game here, but he really resents losing, and no matter the political consequences, he will do something about that. Losers can still do great damage. That’s not as good as winning, but it’s still satisfying, in its way.

Maybe it is, but Ross Douthat, one of the New York Times’ two resident conservative columnists, has had about enough of this nonsense:

However you slice and dice the history, the strategy, and the underlying issues, the decision to live with a government shutdown for an extended period of time – inflicting modest-but-real harm on the economy, needlessly disrupting the lives and paychecks of many thousands of hardworking people, and further tarnishing the Republican Party’s already not-exactly-shiny image – in pursuit of obviously, obviously unattainable goals was not a normal political blunder by a normally-functioning political party. It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.

This means that the still-ongoing intra-conservative debate over the shutdown’s wisdom is not, I’m sorry, the kind of case where reasonable people can differ on the merits and have good-faith arguments and ultimately agree to disagree. There was no argument for the shutdown itself that a person unblindered by political fantasies should be obliged to respect, no plausible alternative world in which it could have led to any outcome besides self-inflicted political damage followed by legislative defeat, and no epitaph that should be written for its instigators’ planning and execution except: “These guys deserved to lose.”

That’s cold and harsh, but Douthat onto something:

If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the GOP or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.

The party’s populists do want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, or start their own party, but it doesn’t matter, as there are vast amounts of outside money either way:

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) primary challenger got a boost Friday with the endorsement of a prominent national conservative group, the Senate Conservatives Fund. But one other national conservative group, the Club for Growth, praised McConnell shortly after Senate Conservatives Fund jumped into the race – a possible indication that conservatives may have some reservations about his ability to compete in a general election.

It’s hard to keep track of who owns the party now, or soon, which of the two parties. Republican voters have to decide which billionaire to vote for, although this is rather clever:

“Matt Bevin now has the dubious honor of standing with a self-serving DC fundraising group that made its name by recruiting and promoting unelectable candidates that ensured Barack Obama a majority in the Senate,” said Allison Moore, McConnell spokeswoman. “The Senate Conservatives Fund clearly cares less about Kentuckians than they do about their reputation for supporting laughably bad candidates. Now they can add a New England bailout recipient who claims he went to MIT to their roster of notable failures.”

In short, my money-guys are better than his money-guys. That’s the word in the earthquake-ravaged world of what was once the Republican Party, but there’s another world, or at least another party, where they’re embarrassed by the money-guys, and also embarrassed by easily-disproved nonsense, where hurting as many people as possible to get your way is never considered, and David Atkins reminds us of that world:

It matters that conservatives have been proven wrong about the relationship between deficits and inflation. It matters that conservatives have been proven wrong about climate change. It matters that countries with single-payer healthcare have better care at lower cost. It matters that treating minorities as human beings with equal rights does not cause society to fall apart. It matters that supply-side economic theory has been proven to be a disaster. It matters that record corporate profits and low effective tax rates are accompanying high unemployment, killing all conservative claims about economic realities in any fair debate. It matters that blue states tend to be socially and economically happier than red ones. It matters that countries with decent gun control laws have far lower rates of gun violence and murder in general. It matters that imposing austerity during a recession only deepens the economic doldrums while increasing the debt, and that this fact has been proven out in recent years. It matters that income inequality is damaging to a country’s economic future, and that retirement programs for the elderly can easily be paid for by taking what amounts to pocket change in taxes from the wealthiest Americans. These aren’t matters of opinion to be gauged on the sliding scale. These are matters of fact.

It also helps that by and large, progressive policies are much more popular than conservative ones. That’s a fact as well.

The odd thing here is that Atkins is pretty much describing California now, now that California has finally shown its Republicans the door. Our political earthquake was when Arnold Schwarzenegger termed-out and we brought back Jerry Brown, who balanced the budget and is now dealing with a surplus, and all those who had been hurt in the Republican years are slowly being made whole again.

Yeah, we have our earthquakes out here, the geological kind, which are seldom if ever a problem at all, and this last seismic shift, of the political kind, turned out just fine.

It’s been thirty-two years now. The move to California turned out just fine. Aren’t you worried about the earthquakes? Nope.


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 Seismic Shifts

  1. Rick says:

    A few observations. The first:

    “Now there’s talk of the Tea Party crowd breaking off and forming their damned own party. They’ll be well funded.”

    I doubt it. As you yourself point out, these donors may be willing to fund primary challenges, but that would be to gain control of an already-existing Republican Party, not some 21st-century “American Know-Nothing Party” that has about as much chance of gaining control of either house of Congress as does my neighborhood’s Girl Scout troop.

    I doubt that if we gathered all the right-wing nutcase billionaires together in a room, there’d be enough of them that believed that funding a startup party that would end up being little more than a spoiler for the existing parties, was a good investment. In essence, they’d have to know that their billions would be doing little than funding Democratic Party successes, while at the same time, helping put a bullet in the brain of the only chance Conservatives ever have for their own success — short of launching armed insurrection, that is. (Now there’s something we should probably worry about.)

    But when it comes to a “Third Party”, it’s too late in this country’s history for that. Ours is a two-party system, and if you’re not one of the two already in power, you were not invited to the party, period. Even if all those who hate Obama, super-rich included, were to throw all their money into a hat, they wouldn’t come up with enough to fund a third party that would unseat either of the ones we already have.

    Another thought:

    “… and one activist suggested Friday that Republican losses in 2016 could split the party into hostile conservative and moderate factions.”

    Okay, this business of saying there is a war in the Republican Party between the “Conservatives” and the “Moderates” has got to stop. They’re all conservatives. About the only people who came close to being “moderate Republicans” have been drummed out of power or have left it on their own. We need to understand that this battle among Republicans is one between the “Old-Line Conservatives” and the “Wacko-Bird Conservatives”.

    And finally, as for, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL):

    “[Obama] ain’t gonna get a willing partner in the House until he actually gets serious about … his plan to deal with the debt.”

    Okay, along with the idea that we have a “spending crisis” in this country (if we do, it’s not that we spend too much,, it’s that we spend too little!), here’s another issue that, with all the stupid stunts and silliness going on to distract us, we just never seem to find the time to discuss.

    The truth is, there IS no problem with the debt!

    National debt naturally goes up during hard economic times, and it comes down when times get better. Our sovereign debt-to-GDP was at its highest (120%) at the end of WWII, and yet the next decade brought the boom that ensured us a place as the preeminent world economic power! We need to get over the idea that high debt just naturally kills us.

    Think about this:

    We often talk about China, holding $1.3 trillion of our debt, as “owning” us. (This is a gross exaggeration, of course, since, depending on whether you’re talking about our “publicly held” debt, or our “gross” debt — which includes debt the government borrowed from itself, so therefore doesn’t really matter — what China holds is about either 1/11th or 1/16th of our debt, respectively.)

    But what country comes in slightly behind China, in a close second place? Japan, which hold $1.1 trillion!

    And what’s interesting about this is that that Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of roughly 214%, putting its debt at the very top of the list of all countries! And, by the way, Japan has held that position for years, apparently without much concern that the nation would implode.

    So my question is, if having a huge debt-to-GDP ratio is such a terrible thing, how is it that Japan, with the highest ratio on the planet, seems to be doing well enough to be our second-largest creditor?

    And in fact, if you take another look at that list, you’ll notice that ours, in terms of debt-to-GDP, is pretty low on the list of the major economies in the world — none of which, other than ours, seems to be very worried about their so-called “unsustainable” debt:

    Japan — 214.3%
    France — 89.9%
    United Kingdom — 88.7%
    Canada — 84.1%
    Germany — 81.7%
    Israel — 74.4%
    United States — 73.6%
    Brazil — 54.9%
    China — 31.7%

    And, in fact, Cuba has a much lower debt than ours, at 35.1%, and at the very bottom of that list is North Korea, at 0.4%. Those two economies are total disasters, not economies I would think we would want to emulate.

    I just bring this up to point out that there are a lot of things being said that many of us think as uncontroversial and obviously valid claims, and therefore go unchallenged, that are apparently the concerns driving the actions of the Wacko-bird Wing of the Republican Party — but are, in fact, really just bullshit.

    And I’m pretty sure that if we ever get to have the real discussion about the so-called “crises” that the Republicans talk about, we should be able to point out that some folks are just making stuff up!


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