Conservative conflict is with reality: some things have to be “public”

The Hamiltonians won. They did. The view that we would need manufacturing, cities, corporations and government policies that promoted them, won. It’s who we are as a nation, as a civilization!  The idea that we could thrive, no less be a world power, in Jefferson’s vision of an individualistic society of agrarian gentleman farmers, has been laughable for around 200 years.

But conservatives in 2013 still can’t grasp that and ask that we go back to economic policies that haven’t been successful, couldn’t be successful, couldn’t be at all in the 21st century. The country they claim we should be did not evolve because it couldn’t. We were going to have internal improvements, an income tax, central banking, paper money, etc. You might as well be advocating a unicorn in every pot to think we weren’t.

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute lays out how Conservatives don’t get that some problems are public, and its hurting them. “Hurting their ability to handle the challenges of the 21st century.” Lets stipulate that the conservatives that did get it (and there were many) did just fine in the 20th century, but the guys running the conservative movement today would have struggled in the 19th. Republican President Herbert Hoover said “In our individualism we have long since abandoned the laissez faire of the 18th Century – the notion that it is ‘every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.'” He got it. Everybody in public service got it. We can’t go very far every man for himself, we have to recognize we’re in it together. The ones who didn’t were the crazy fringes of conservatism, the loopy uncle you avoided at Thanksgiving – he now runs the movement and the GOP.

Konczal notes that William F. Buckley, one of the intellectuals of the conservative movement (if that’s not an oxymoron), fought a jihad against Keynesian economic textbooks on college campuses, especially the very popular textbooks by economist Paul Samuelson (my college economics textbook author).

So what upset Buckley about the book? Buckley didn’t like the various policy suggestions, like the support of inheritance taxes or an emphasis on checking monopoly power… But what really upset him was the idea that the economy was now a public issue. As Buckley emphasizes in his own paraphrase of Samuelson, “economics has become a matter of public policy, not individual action…Let us bear in mind that unemployment is a public problem” (italics in original) because “the individual firm, the individual himself, is powerless to cope with the complexities in times of stress.”

But the truth was that even conservative economic heroes like Milton Friedman and the Chicago School didn’t argue that the economy didn’t need a steering wheel to help steer it for the public good. They only argued about how to steer it, what policies were best to steer it.

This stabilization could be monetary or fiscal, discretionary or rules-based, but the fact that the government was undertaking it meant that the overall state of the economy was a public problem.

One can spend an entire lifetime debating the distinction between “public” and “private,” but for this post let’s use an approach from John Dewey. In “The Public and Its Problems” (1927), Dewey argued that the public is involved wherever an action between two people has consequences “that extend beyond the two directly concerned.” Given “that they affect the welfare of many others, the act acquires a public capacity.” And as such needs a public response. And conservatives reject this.

Buckley, an elite intellectual, and today’s Tea Party (anti-elitist, anti intellectual) agree that government shouldn’t be steering anything. Maybe local governments can do some steering but the federal government should be really limited. Defense is the only item you can get pretty much 100% agreement on from conservatives. After that it’s hard to get consensus that the federal government should do much else. Maybe the FBI. Maybe the safety net. And what would such a radical retrenchment of the government achieve? Um, a depression. But it would be worth it.

When it comes to the safety net, libertarian populist Tim Carney argues that the federal government is way too big, and should only focus on defense and “maybe the safety net.” Maybe? The current safety net provided through the federal government, in his mind, is better provided by private, civic “voluntary organizations.” Even though this change would involve “huge disruptions” it’s worth it to remove the public role in the safety net.

A strain of conservatives today are more likely to conflate a fully activist responsible government with the moral breakdown of society – the failure of individuals to live right, as it were. Again, like it’s our moral weakness as a people that lets us lean on the government and not insist on merely relying on our own gumption. Single parents, food stamps, drugs, violence etc. are all contributing to poverty, not symptoms of it. Because we know that when there was no intercourse outside of marriage and everyone was a pious Church-going soul, there was no poverty. And government was always small until Obama. If people took care of their own private business, we wouldn’t need any public action. In fact, there just shouldn’t be any public action and then things would just straighten out, magically

Charles Murray, in his recent book “Coming Apart” (2012), argues that a private solution of elites shaming the poor is better than any government response to the trials faced by working-class whites. Conservatives define equality of opportunity as simply equality before the law, meaning that equality of opportunity is presumed unless the government messes it up.

Rick Santorum argues that even referencing the “middle-class” is “Marxism talk,” and goes on to argue that the weak economy is because of people who “have all sorts of issues that they have to overcome to be successful.”

The failure of individuals are killing the economy. Which may be true if you mean the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, etc. But I don’t think that’s what Santorum and his followers mean.

Back in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney attacked the President for discussing inequality in his campaign rally, because those conversations belong in “quiet rooms.” These are examples of Presidential candidates taking important economic issues and placing them squarely in the private sphere.

This quote from the 2012 GOP presidential nominee was telling. Romney was saying that If there are problems in society, they should be dealt with privately by elites who have the moral authority and intelligence to discuss them rationally. This is an idea that goes back to the pre-democratic days of the Republic when it was assumed that the only people who should vote and hold office were landholding white males – they had the education and wisdom to discuss and make policy. These are ideas that we abandoned in the first quarter of the 19th century when the Madisonian Democratic-Republicans vanquished the Federalists by advocating the spread of democracy and the franchise – ironically, trusting the individual! Trusting the individual even if they were of meager holdings or education. This is where the Jeffersonians won.

Then and now, conservatives show that it isn’t really about the “individual” – the romanticized American idyll – that they blather on about, it’s actually about the “worthy individual.” And all those unworthies ruin it for everybody. The unworthies borrowed too much money for houses they couldn’t afford. Of course, they borrowed it from the worthies who then bundled their sub-prime loan into derivative investment packages which were overrated by the ratings agencies and sold like corn dogs at a county fair to everyone with an account, while the worthies were hedging, shorting and leveraging that unworthy mortgage to a point where when the housing bubble broke we all felt the blowback.

But then the worthies got bailed out while the unworthies were on their own. Profits remain individual, but losses are conveniently public, illustrating the hypocrisy of  a lot of the anti-public conservatives.

Which brings us to the true believers.  Romney and the usual conservative suspects had their chance to convince the public, both worthy and unworthy alike (the so-called “47%”) to let them call the shots.  They failed massively. So conservatives went looking for new voices and found Rand Paul and the “libertarian populists.” Paul, like his father and Ted Cruz are not hypocrites on this, they are against helping worthy and unworthy alike.

In so much as the economy and inequality is a public problem, the recent move to libertarianism among GOP insiders won’t advance them much here. To build on Matt Steinglass’ point, a lot of recent arguments for “libertarian populism” present corporate welfare and efforts to boost the situation of working people or combat inequality through public means as two sides of the same coin. If there’s no public, then the only thing the government can do is cause problems for individuals.

Republican Conservative Herbert Hoover again: “Our mass of regulation of public utilities and trade is the monument to our intent to preserve an equality of opportunity. This regulation is itself proof that we have gone a long way toward the abandonment of the ‘capitalism’ of Adam Smith.”

Mike Konczal:

The argument coming out of the Great Depression, and it is a radical argument, that the economy as a whole needs public steering rather than an “invisible hand” still manages to confound many conservatives, who’d prefer to eliminate any notion of the public from their ideology.

Exactly right Mike. Even Republicans used to understand that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market was no answer for a government responsible for and to their citizens. To preserve equality of opportunity itself, a bedrock American value, we need an activist government and an activist regulatory scheme – working to level the playing field. An umpire calling balls and strikes and tossing the pitcher scuffing the ball with sandpaper.

Today’s GOP says the batter and the pitcher live and die by their own mettle. Whatever you can get away with to be successful is a-ok. The umpire is a fascist, or a socialist, or something. Unless he’s keeping the pitcher and batter from getting same-sex married – then he’s doing God’s work.

The Luckiest Man in America’s luck running out

Whether you refer to him as “The Luckiest Man in America” or “Mr. Warmth”, Chris Christie is a completely typical right wing Republican gas bag and out of control ego. His popularity is a media created fantasy because his so-called bigger than life personality and redfaced feistiness are great copy for them. So when he confounds his fellow GOPers they love it. When he confounds their media narrative of him being a “different kind of Republican” they sit on that.

The reality for Mr. Warmth’s headquarters today is that they have to deal with polls showing a 10 point drop in his campaign to be re-elected by acclamation and be named the most popular governor in the world! (geez, Christie must have had a lonely childhood to be so needy). And by the way, wasn’t Sarah Palin once the most popular governor in the world? How’d that work out?

Christie’s support among Democratic voters has slipped since Monmouth’s June poll. Thirty-six percent of Democrats said they supported him in June, while only 21 percent gave their support in the newest poll. Buono’s support among Democrats has increased from 59 to 71 percent. She has focused this summer on a fairly progressive agenda, including hammering Christie’s record on women’s health and marriage equality.

So Christie dropped from 61-31 to 56-36 as of a poll released today, before his endorsement of the excessively nutty Steve Lonegan for senate. The drop is mostly because of Democrats coming home to a Democrat, which should continue after the campaign gets really serious post-Labor Day. Especially if Barbara Buono hammers Christie on the inconsistencies between his legend and his reality. Like endorsing the humongously wacky tea partier Steve Lonegan. 

Lonegan has called social security a ponzi scheme. He’s in bed with the Koch Bros. Americans for Prosperity.  He denies climate science as “silly hysteria.” He began his political career by campaigning about McDonald’s putting up signs in Spanish. He opposes same-sex marriage, gun reform, the Dept. of Education and women’s choice. He’s a perfect right wing talk radio candidate, full of 19th century prejudices and 21st century fact free.

And Christie endorsed him. Not a very moderate, reasonable, rational or different kind of Republican thing to do. So if you Google search Christie endorsement of Lonegan you get 0 hits. I know Rachel and Lawrence covered it last night. I bet they were the only news media that did.

Such a Sad Story – Australian Killed in Oklahoma “Because we were bored”

There are so many sad stories everyday that you can shake your head at or even ignore because we become inured to the cruelty and stupidity.  But this story about an Australian young man murdered in Oklahoma made me hang my head for a few minutes. 

Steve Clemons who usually writes about foreign affairs and politics was likewise affected.

I have been greatly affected by sad news from Oklahoma today, another case of a victim of gun violence that deserves as much attention and public concern as the more grisly mass slayings we have heard so much about and which still have not produced progress on gun control.

In the latest incident, Australian student Christopher Lane was killed while visiting his girlfriend in Duncan, Oklahoma. The young college baseball player, studying in the United States at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, was allegedly shot and killed by three juveniles, one of whom confessed to the police, saying, “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”

Clemens connects this tragedy to the ongoing lack of real progress on guns. You can’t fix crazy and you can’t fix stupid, but you can keep the crazy and stupid from getting such remarkably easy access to guns.

Last week, I was in Bartlesville and Tulsa, Oklahoma. I saw signs everywhere for a coming major gun show and was reminded by one of Tom Coburn’s friends that “his best friend in Oklahoma” owns those gun shows and is rabidly opposed to any form of gun constraints, even anything as innocuous and as sensible as background checks.

Tom Coburn should step up. He has the capacity to do so. This killing of a young man in Oklahoma deserves his response. Other teens in the state who have easy access to guns should learn from Coburn and hopefully Inhofe that this incident harms them, harms the state, and harms America in the eyes of not only Australians but many others around the world.

Indeed, if people like Senators Coburn and Inhofe care about the reputation of their state they could do something about it.

It’s not a bad time to add that throwing the word “evil” around in response to heinous acts like this is just an abdication of society’s responsibility for taking action. Evil is an irrational biblical concept that believers adopt to explain acts that are too uncomfortable to explain in rational terms. There’s no room for it in a rational society, it helps not one iota to mark something up to evil and walk away.

GOP Debate Ban on NBC and CNN

Brian Beutler in Slate says the ban will fail, but he’s missing the point. 

Republicans have actually been pretty candid about the fact that the CNN and NBC boycotts are really about controlling the primary debates — to avoid repeating the politically damaging clown show the party toured the country with in 2012. They want fewer debates and not just neutral but ideally “friendly” hosts.

What it achieves from the GOP’s perspective is:

1. Punishing the “liberal media” plays to their base.

2. If fewer people see the debates, that’s good because the more people see the GOP the less they like.  

Beutler is right that Republicans will say silly things no matter the venue – the party establishment’s entire raison d’etre is damage control and convincing the base that it’s all the liberal’s fault. But not having NBC or CNN to kick around won’t change anything for them. They’re still defunding ACORN 3 years after they ceased to exist.

What they’re doing is self-marginalizing, which totally reflects what they’ve been doing ideologically.

Family Values Crowd Cheers Breaking Up a Family

The crowd at this Republican representative’s townhall cheered when Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) told a young girl that the law says her undocumented father would have to be deported, separating her family. This Scott DesJarlais has a strong pro-family record as an anti-choice politician who had asked several mistresses to have abortions when they got pregnant by him. Which is what a married man should do to protect his first family, right? Out of respect for your wife alone, of course you’d have your mistress have an abortion, if you’re a good Christian family values guy.

Of course he won reelection last fall anyway because Amurika! And if you get reelected after that, well, you can pretty much do whatever.

You certainly don’t have to worry about the growing Latino vote and their influence, not in your district. And so what if your party never ever ever elects a chief executive ever again? You’ve got yours Jack! And you’re better fighting Democrats in the White House than you are governing anyway.

The Chinese Are More Creative With Watermelon – the watermelon as clothing gap is real and we’re behind!

They’re literally using watermelons for clothes.

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Is this a sign of a disturbing dystopian future of people wearing watermelon? There’s two ways to look at this: 1. the Chinese have grown too lazy to grow cotton, weave it into cloth, and manufacture clothes. So they grow watermelons, which you just have to hollow and wear, or 2. watermelon can be eaten and then the rind used as clothing and then your “clothes” can be composted to grow more watermelon. So this is an ecological efficiency win-win.

I was unsure until I saw this picture. The coming Chinese watermelon kid armies will be devastating.  

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Taibbi on the College Loan Scandal, and it is a scandal

Matt Taibbi is one of the premiere muckrakers of our time. In this week’s Rolling Stone he goes after the college loan industry in Ripping off Young America: The College Loan Scandal. It’s not about the interest rate or who the middle man is, it’s the ridiculous cost of tuition.

In the early 2000s, a thirtysomething scientist named Alan Collinge seemed to be going places. He had graduated from USC in 1999 with a degree in aerospace engineering and landed a research job at Caltech. Then he made a mistake: He asked for a raise, didn’t get it, lost his job and soon found himself underemployed and with no way to repay the roughly $38,000 in loans he’d taken out to get his degree.

Collinge’s creditor, Sallie Mae, which originally had been a quasi-public institution but, in the late Nineties, had begun transforming into a wholly private lender, didn’t answer his requests for a forbearance or a restructuring. So in 2001, he went into default. Soon enough, his original $38,000 loan had ballooned to more than $100,000 in debt, thanks to fees, penalties and accrued interest. He had a job as a military contractor, but he lost it when his employer ran a credit check on him. His whole life was now about his student debt…

… Collinge – who founded the website StudentLoanJustice.org – became what he calls “a complaint box for the industry.” He heard thousands of horror stories from people like himself, and over the course of many years began to wonder more and more about one particular recurring theme, what he calls “the really significant thing – the sticker price.” Why was college so expensive?

How in one generation did higher education go from relatively affordable private universities and virtually free public universities to crazy expensive everywhere you look? The price of higher education has risen faster than housing, energy or health care. The worst part is when young people come out of it so tortured by the debt that they regret having gone at all. 

Talk to any of the 38 million Americans who have outstanding student-loan debt, and he or she is likely to tell you a story about how a single moment in a financial-aid office at the age of 18 or 19 – an age when most people can barely do a load of laundry without help – ended up ruining his or her life. “I was 19 years old,” says 24-year-old Lyndsay Green, a graduate of the University of Alabama, in a typical story. “I didn’t understand what was going on, but my mother was there. She had signed, and now it was my turn. So I did.” Six years later, she says, “I am nearly $45,000 in debt. . . . If I had known what I was doing, I would never have gone to college.”

The article is long, but please read. If this problem doesn’t motivate the young people of this country to be more attentive and active in politics, march, ask questions and VOTE, then short of a draft, I don’t know what would.