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2/5/2009
OF IDEOLOGY AND IDIOCY

Previous to the elevation of Pope Obama I to the throne of St. George, ideological battles were marked by some pretty tough accusations being flung by the right against the hard left. Among the charges were that the hard left was actually praying for failure in Iraq as well as hoping for an economic downturn, believing that this would bring them electoral success.

I know this was a widespread meme on the right because I wrote similar stuff myself. Was it true? On some level, I’m sure it was. The almost gleeful portrayal of our struggles in Iraq - dwelling obsessively on whatever negative news was coming out of that bloody country at the expense of the small steps being taken in the right direction marked most hard left blogs as being uninterested in presenting a balanced and realistic view of the war to their readers but rather a partisan, hateful, picture that included George Bush as a horned devil, our servicemen as barbarians, and Republicans as bloodthirsty war mongers.

There was also a celebratory mood on hard left blogs whenever some piece of dire economic news hit the wires. The belief that the Republicans would be brought down only through failure and tragedy was widespread on the left and even some of the less radical liberal sites were not immune from advancing this theme.

Not that much has changed today: Except, the accusations are now coming from the other side:

It occurred to me while reading Politico’s interview with Dick Cheney, that the GOP’s plan to regain political viability in the short term rests on two disaster scenarios: the failure of the financial rescue efforts (stimulus, TARP, and other bailouts) to stave off complete economic collapse and a new mass casualty terrorist attack — both of which they are positioning themselves to blame Obama for.

Without one of those two, they have to figure it’s going to be a long time wandering in the political wilderness. Now think about the curdling effect, the blight on the soul that comes with rooting for such disasters to befall your country. The rot is now eating at the party’s very core.

The more things change…

As proof that there is so little original thinking on both sides that arguments over policy can be interchangeable with minimal substituting, here is Elana Schor writing at Josh Marshall’s TPMDC on charges made by the right that Obama will “cut” defense spending:

The short answer is no. But conservative columnist Tony Blankley still does his part today to flog an already tired line of faux-skepticism about the Obama administration’s alleged plans to “cut” defense spending in the upcoming budget.

Blankley claims that while total Pentagon spending for next year is in line for an 8% increase, the wild card of continuing Iraq and Afghanistan expenses raises the specter of a defense cut under Obama. It’s almost as if he hasn’t been keeping up with TPM alum Spencer Ackerman, who demolished this talking point as hogwash two days ago.

(Robert Kagan was the first right-leaning pundit out of the gate on this one.)

The tale is a simple one: Pentagon officials, aiming to start budget negotiations from a wildly advantageous point, submitted a spending estimate that wasn’t completely vetted by the departing Bush administration. The Obama folks knocked the number down to a more realistic number — that still reflects a higher military budget.

Sound familiar? Substitute the words “food stamps” for “military spending” and you have the exact same argument being made by Republicans when Democrats accuse them of trying to force the poor to live in the street and eat dog food. “Spending is going up in actual dollars. It’s only the projected increase that is being cut,” was the conservative defense of the meaningless reductions in projected outlays for social programs from Reagan through Bush 43.

It’s eerie, isn’t it? Now that the world has been turned upsisde down and “bottom rail is on the top,” there has been an almost seamless transition to both sides using the same arguments their opponents used in previous years over the same or similar issues. It’s even weirder that the towering irony of the whole thing has gone over the heads of both sides without even musing their hair.

Now, I can be as partisan as the next blogger when the situation calls for it so it’s not like I am washing my hands of responsibility in the matter. I can play the game as well or better than any lefty out there. But besides the bodaciously delicious irony of the whole thing, there is a troubling revelation that needs to be discussed; the paucity of ideas and lack of original thought by both sides in debate over the weighty issues of the day.

Political debate - or what passes for debate in this world of media talking points and one line zingers - accomplishes nothing today. It isn’t just the rancorous partisanship that prevents a serious discussion of the weighty problems that confront us. It is the failure of the political class to project their ideas outside of the extremely superficial and predictable framework of simple minded ideology that has us talking past one another instead of communicating back and forth. There is no effort to stand for a while in our opponent’s shoes or even examine an issue for points of commonality upon which any compromise is to be based.

At bottom, this is a failure of imagination. No one is asking either side to abandon principles or betray one’s party. But what real political debate accomplishes is that both sides must constantly re-examine and justify their positions, bringing fresh insight to bear that might lead to a closing of the gap between the two sides and form the beginnings of a political understanding.

As superficial and half hearted as it has appeared to me, President Obama should still be commended for reaching out to Republicans on his stimulus bill. I think it is not enough but is that his fault? He seems constrained by his own base who view any outreach effort as both a waste of time and dangerously naive. But what Obama appeared to be doing was trying to alter the framework of ideology that grips both parties and makes our politics so poisonously partisan. He opened the door - with the chain still on to be sure - not to give in, not to dictate, but to listen. It seems such a small thing but in the end, it forced him to rethink his own position on the bill and find additional justifications for it. It was a political act that served a higher purpose.

Did it do any good at all? Republicans have their own base to worry about and clearly, there will be little or no middle ground to be found on the stimulus bill. Nor should there be. It would take a great leader to abandon what has been crafted by the president’s allies in Congress and start over. What the Democrats are doing with the stimulus is actually proposing 4 or 5 bills that have been combined for reasons not having to do with legislative logic or stimulating job growth but because the president feels he can leverage his enormous popularity to pass items unrelated to jumpstarting the economy and because those unrelated items would have a hard time being made into law at a later date. The president is using this primal legislative thrust of the stimulus to make an end run around not only the GOP but the American people as well.

But the bill is out there and Obama is committed. And when a president invests as much in something as Obama has invested in the stimulus, he will do everything in his considerable power to pass it. It may end up being an exercise in partisanship but he can’t worry about that now. His credibility as a leader is on the line and any stumble so soon out of the box - as Carter’s stumbles on energy during his first months - could doom his presidency to irrelevancy.

So despite a manful effort to force the GOP to rethink their position on the stimulus, in the end Obama is trapped by history and his own needs as a leader. It will be interesting to see how the president reaches out to Republicans in the future. Will this experience have soured him on the whole idea of “post partisanship?” Or will he gamely make the effort on future issues like health care and card check?

That will depend on how much he really believes that he can change the tone and tenor of debate and get the two sides to listen to one another.

By: Rick Moran at 8:04 am
25 Responses to “OF IDEOLOGY AND IDIOCY”
  1. 1
    obamathered Said:
    8:25 am 

    The so-called stimulus plan is a pork-laden load of shit. Obama failed when he allowed a Congress controlled by his own party to write it.

    The Republicans are not rooting for failure. They are acknowledging that this bill will in fact fail and bring about economic disaster. It would be irresponsible of them not to oppose it. In fact, I have never been prouder to be a Republican than I have been in the last few weeks.

    The siren call to roll over for a popular president has been resisted. Given this wasteful nonsense effectively would render Obama a failed president, he should fall on his knees and thank Republicans if they stop this bullshit. His ire would rightfully be directed at the Democrats who foisted this crap on him. His lack of administrative experience does not allow him to do so.

    Your analogy is piss poor. Democrats rooted for failure after troops were committed to Iraq and after they retook Congress. What they did before the invasion was proper and necessary. If this boondoggle passes, it will be up to the Republicans who will retake Congress in 2010 (and it will happen as a direct result) to make this bullshit work the best it can, if that is at all possible. Therein is the difference and where you are all wet.

  2. 2
    sara in va Said:
    8:37 am 

    Even our enemy Iran has made Symbolic gestures of reaching out. Should we play the game, give an inch to his demands, to show how much we appreciate the supposed spirit of generosity?

    Obama is a cleverly crafted image, a poster boy for a radical agenda that is not good for our country. You know this: In one sentence you allude to it, and yet in another sentence you back off the premise. I appreciate your internal battles; struggling to support the office of the Presidency, yet believing the occupant goes against what you know in your gut to be true.

    The Dark Side has pushed us into a hard place. Keep fighting. May the Force be with you.

  3. 3
    obamathered Said:
    8:55 am 

    I just read your column a second time, and you didn’t make a direct analogy between how the Democrats acted post-Iraq and the current opposition of Republicans to this pork bill before it passes. This is something rare on line: I apologize to the extent I misconstrued that point.

  4. 4
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    10:16 am 

    I think it’s almost impossible for some people to grasp that their ideological differences are mostly genetic.

  5. 5
    Postagoras Said:
    11:50 am 

    Good post, Rick.

    There’s an eternal question in American politics… how do you register your dissent against the decisions of the President, who rightly has “Executive” authority, especially in times of war. President Bush made some big executive decisions… he sure didn’t lack cojones. But in Iraq, while “small steps were being taken in the right direction,” the Administration had declared victory a few times. OK, an exaggeration, but you get my drift. I totally agree that there were cases of derangement on the left… but I also note that the electorate spoke fairly loudly about Republican policies.

    Now it’s Obama’s turn. Isn’t it refreshing to hear a President own up to a mistake and say that the buck stops with him? Of course President Bush didn’t make any mistakes while in office, so there was nothing to own up to… yeah right.

    This is only the beginning- Obama’s reach out to the Republicans, which you damn with faint praise, is not something he’s going to do for a week or two. He’s going to be doing this for the duration. And it’s going to be a while before we know whether it’s changing Washington, whether the leadership (on both sides) in Congress can stop playing chicken with each other.

    If you know of another way to try to reduce the partisan sound bite craziness, I’d like to hear it.

  6. 6
    funny man Said:
    12:58 pm 

    I see the biggest danger in a complete overhaul of the American economic system as under FDR. However, it is true that some of the beliefs on our side, e.g. self regulating capacity of free markets has come under strain to put it mildly. Obama has the possibility for this big change simply because of the magnitude of the crisis. However, when I read some of the responses here and elsewhere from our side, I just despair. For one, we should just say Good-bye to this stupid notion that he is an empty suit, doesn’t have any clue etc. If you don’t respect your opponent you have already lost! Then there is the obsession about some loony lefty bloggers. Who cares? I mean I don’t care about the nutcases at Hot Air either.
    Rick did a great job explaining to me what went wrong a few posts down but where do we go from here? It is likely the stimulus will pass and create a lot of jobs. The question for me is: what happens after the money runs out in 2010? I don’t know how the world economy will look like then. There could be a trade war with China, another conflict etc. However, if Obama pulls of a significant economic recovery because or DESPITE the stimulus package (and other measures; since I’m sure this is not the end of it) we would have a major realignment of American politics at hand. I have always maintained in my comments that we have to be a movement that has the ability to evolve with ideas not partisan nonsense. So what kind of plan do we suggest?

  7. 7
    bsjones Said:
    1:14 pm 

    Rick,
    Great analysis of the tactics both parties use in American political debate and the power of ideology.

    I just saw a great movie called Downfall on DVD about the last days of Hitler (a must see!!). They made a real attempt to portray events with historical accuracy.At the end of the film,Joseph Goebbel’s wife Magda poisons her six children because she could not bear for them to live in a world without National Socialism. That act shows the power of ideology and propaganda.

    I know a man who at the age of 40 joined the ‘War on Terror’. He is in Iraq. He explodes I.E.D.s. He has a blog. It is a realistic view of his struggles. You can find it here:

    http://micahappelman.com/Blog.html

    You will not find ideology or propaganda there.

  8. 8
    mannning Said:
    3:23 pm 

    My concern now is that the so-called “stimulus” package will not be nearly enough to right our financial ship just now, and downstream, we are facing an even far greater financial disaster as many international derivative and 100 to 1 leverage instruments tank, which has already begun, and is gathering momentum. July will not be a nice month. Several financial gurus predicted this leverage tsunami over five years ago, but they were drowned out by naysayers that hadn’t the right information to predict such a failure of the largest economy in the world.

    All of the energy devoted to the stimulus package as it stands is a complete waste of time, and it’s benefits will be inundated real soon now by a host of bank and financial firms going belly-up despite any attempts to save them. There isn’t enough money to do it, by far.

    So much for change and hope. It is absolutely correct that we need imaginative new solutions to our soon to be fully devastated financial community and much of our industry. The scope of this crying need is just beginning to emerge, yet the average citizen is probably unaware of just how bad it is going to be in the next six months or so.

    It seems that neither is the President or Congress really aware, or else they are in fact aware, but resigned to being able to build only little five foot brick walls against the mile high financial tsunami that is coming at us at warp speed.

    Who knew? Shoot the b*****ds for ruining our nation!

  9. 9
    jackson1234 Said:
    4:17 pm 

    Funny Man:

    “It is likely the stimulus will pass and create a lot of jobs.”

    Name a serious person (Paul Krugman doesn’t count) who believes this to be true. It very well may pass along party lines, and if so the Democrats will own it and better pray that history doesn’t repeat itself. I suspect at this point even Obama knows it will do precious little before 2012 let alone 2010 but is so invested he cannot back out of this disaster.

  10. 10
    sara in va Said:
    4:40 pm 

    Comeon! Obama is “reaching out” to fools. He might as well be waving a baseball bat, making threats. He’s posturing. He does what he pleases. Who cares about the symbolic gestures?

    The way he’s threatening all of us, I fully expect to see him walk out with a parrot on his shoulder any moment now.

    And this ludicrous waste of money - the Obama Faith Office, where all faiths are only now supposedly equal in the government’s eyes….it’s just ANOTHER avenue to pour our money into things we don’t agree with. Funding Muslim outreach with my tax dollars? Kiss my ass.

  11. 11
    funny man Said:
    5:07 pm 

    Jackson1234,
    if you spend that much money even for idiotic projects that is going to create a lot of jobs. That is the easy part. However, the difficulty is sustainable job growth.

  12. 12
    obamathered Said:
    9:17 pm 

    It appears even the Quisling wing of the GOP has said “no.” Reid has stopped “burning the midnight oil.” Will Reid announce the war is lost?

  13. 13
    Cold Spring Shops Trackbacked With:
    10:14 pm 

    THE ERA OF THE NEW MODESTY….

    The expression comes ……

  14. 14
    funny man Said:
    10:41 pm 

    Sara in VA,
    what in the world are you trying to say? Ok, you don’t like Muslims and Obama. So what is your suggestions to get our economy going again and to improve relations to the Arab (and Muslim) world? Please no all Democrats, Obama, Rhino are bad gibberish; just your ideas of what might work.

  15. 15
    sara in va Said:
    7:28 am 

    funny man,

    We’ve already sacrificed blood, sweat and billions of dollars for the Muslim world. That’s our “outreach”. Those who still hate us are always going to hate us. Unless we convert.

    In order to get the economy going, Congress needs to recognize Pelosi is an impediment to progress. Vote her out of her leadership position and tell her to sit down and shut up.

    Obama should stop the threats, gather top leaders from both sides and sequester everybody in a room with a clean sheet of paper. Tell them to craft something together that will work. Every line item should be discussed, the reasons for any spending should be clear as to how it will help the economy. Tax cuts should be included for small businesses who are terrified right now (because of Obama’s fear tactics) of investing in employees and growth.

    No hidden agendas.

    When Congress takes a bill that’s $825 billion and promises to cut it down, but days later it’s higher by about $80 billion, good God, man, how can you say something isn’t out of whack?

    Of course, instead of working on the “crisis”, Obama’s off to “relax” at Kingsmill Resort this weekend. It’s been a really exhausting two weeks in office.

  16. 16
    cdor Said:
    8:04 am 

    Bi-partisan stimulus package of $900 billion:
    1) 30% goes to states to extend unemployment benefits and
    medicaid
    2) 40% to cut taxes on individuals and businesses
    3) 30% to start immediate shovel ready infrastructure
    projects that will have long term positive function. I
    suggest focusing on our energy grid and power plants.
    There must be plant projects planned, but tabled for
    lack of resources or environmental wacko nuts. Over-
    ride the objectors and build them.

    There is no immediate fix for housing. As inventories slowly diminish, housing will come back. Allowing people to keep more of what they produce will help them to save for downpayments.

    With this formula you cover human suffering, put money in peoples hands to spend immediately, help small business to maintain their current employees, and create jobs with long lasting benefits for our country.

    Eliminate everything else from the bill. That is bi-partisan. What we have now is bullshit.

  17. 17
    jackson1234 Said:
    11:04 am 

    Funny man,

    The irony is that even the temporary jobs created by the ridiculous spending will be nowhere near 3 or 4 million. A Keynesian economics professor of some repute who happens to be my best friend is upset with that aspect of the stimulus package. This is a guy who voted for Obama and supports him in general, mind you.

    So although as you suggested the temporary make work is the easy part, even that is woefully inadequate from the perspective of left-leaning economists. I suspect we will hear a helluva lot more about the “jobs saved” claim, which cannot be proved one way or another, is this monstrosity becomes law.

    If Obama were as smart as I once thought, he would have moved away from this abortion several days ago.

  18. 18
    jackson1234 Said:
    11:48 am 

    One more thing: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/04/cbo-obama-stimulus-harmful-over-long-haul/.

    Republicans need to keep far, far away from this disaster unless it improves dramatically–if that is even possible. While this indicates more temporary job creation than people like my best friend expect, the report is totally toxic.

  19. 19
    michael reynolds Said:
    12:15 pm 

    CDOR:

    I pay a lot of taxes. If you give me a tax cut I will put the money in cash and hold onto it because 1) I don’t need to spend that money and 2) I don’t see an investment I want to jump in on just yet. Way down the road I’ll probably buy a new house, but not any time soon, my friend. So net benefit to me? Plenty. Net benefit to the economy? Zip. Jobs created? None.

    But back in the day I was a struggling working stiff. If you had given me $1000 I’d have had no choice but to spend it because I had huge pent-up demand for goods and services. That $1000 would have barely felt the touch of my fingers before it went flying back out the door.

    If you cut taxes on business they will behave exactly as I would: they would hold onto the cash. They will not keep on employees who they don’t need, they’d still let them go because that would make business sense. Net benefit to the business owner? Plenty. Net benefit to the larger economy? Minimal.

    Stop looking at the world through the assumptions of ideology. People don’t act ideologically, they act in what they perceive to be their own best interests. I can tell you with absolute certainty that any tax cut you give me now will not see the light of day outside of a T-Bill.

    If you want to cut taxes, stop collecting payroll tax on people making under 40k. Every penny will go straight back into the economy.

  20. 20
    cdor Said:
    1:22 pm 

    Michael Reynolds, congratulations for being successful and making a lot of money. If you don’t want a tax cut, please don’t take it. As a matter of fact, why don’t you just sit down right now and write an extra big check to the government, any government will do, after all, it’s your money. I think you should be free to do with it as you would like.

    Most people however are in the position you used to be. If they are allowed to keep more of their hard earned money, they will probably spend most of it. And if they chose to save some, good for them.

    I own a small business. Most small businesses are run like extensions of family. Laying off employees is the last thing they want to do. Cash flow is always critical. I can tell you for sure a tax cut could very possibly save a job at my business.

    Yes indeed I am idealogical. The principal that the individual who has earned his money can and should determine how to spend it and will do a better job of spending it than the government is definitely idealogical, at least to you. To me it is just natural.

    I noticed you didn’t complain about the 30% for unemployment benefit extension or the same for real infrastructure jobs, so it seems under my proposal you get 60% of what you want and I get 40% of what I want. That isn’t good enough for you (and your great leader)?
    Where’s your spirit of bi-partisanship?

  21. 21
    michael reynolds Said:
    2:03 pm 

    CDOR:

    What is important is not your quasi-religious faith in Republican dogma. What’s important is what will work. Will giving a tax break to well-off people work? No.

    And while you may be an ideal boss, most people aren’t. Most bosses obey the logic of the marketplace which holds that you shed employees you don’t need. You’re arguing simultaneously that the marketplace is sacred and that you will ignore it.

    I don’t complain about unemployment benefits because they are stimulus, giving money to people who need it and will immediately spend it. I don’t complain about infrastructure because it will create jobs and not only will those salaries be spent, but the projects themselves provide benefit.

    Bi-partisanship isn’t about creating bills that are 50% smart and 50% stupid. We’re trying to push money into the economy and get some side benefit off improving infrastructure. That makes sense. Giving money to people who won’t push it back into the economy is stupid.

  22. 22
    cdor Said:
    5:19 pm 

    Reynolds, it sounds to me (remarkable brainiac that you fancy yourself to be), that bi-partisanship is exactly your way or the highway. I personally question whether a stupid (a word you seem to like) spending spree by the government isn’t exactly the wrong thing to do in the first place. Professor, why don’t you prove to me exactly how many jobs this current proposal will produce. What are the potential pitfalls? What other shoe or shoes are about to drop? Is sky rocketing inflation better than depression? Why? How do we avoid it. Who will buy this debt and at what price? Is it possible, per chance, that spending and over spending is exactly what got us here in the first place? The only people, Mr smartypants that are getting money under my suggestion (only made because everyone seems so thoroughly convinced that we must have a stimulus) are the unemployed. When government taxes less, they aren’t giving people money, they are taking less. The liberal mind seems to have a difficult time with that seemingly elementary concept.

  23. 23
    C3 Said:
    5:45 pm 

    “if you spend that much money even for idiotic projects that is going to create a lot of jobs. That is the easy part. However, the difficulty is sustainable job growth.”

    Can we save on governmental overhead and just have helicoptors drop the billions on to us. Won’t that “stimulate”!

  24. 24
    michael reynolds Said:
    9:31 pm 

    CDOR:

    We’ve had 8 years of your way or the highway. And we are now up to our necks in alligators. Your way produced net zero jobs. Your way produced net zero increase in living standards. Your way produced a bankrupt auto industry, a financial sector that had to be rescued by the United States Government. Your way has been tested and it failed — just like Marxism was tested and failed. It didn’t work.

    Now we are trying to fix the mess your party got us into.

    We face zero threat of inflation at this point. We have close to 8% unemployment and the odds are that that will continue to rise for some time. When 8 to 10% of the population is out of work inflation ain’t really the major concern. We’re looking at deflation which is to inflation what cancer is to pneumonia.

    I wish we didn’t have to do this. I wish we were not in this shit. I wish I wasn’t passing this along to my children. I wish I wasn’t screwing up their future. I wish we still had Mr. Clinton’s surplus. But we elected Republicans. So here we are.

  25. 25
    obamathered Said:
    9:02 am 

    In the end. the every-oily Obama only could seduce two–TWO–Republicans in the House or Senate to betray the American people. Every single Senate Democrat voted to gang rape voters. Hell is coming to them. It is coming soon. It is coming to a Democratic senator or congressman and eventually president near you. Swine and whores, all. That was a brief little honeymoon for the Democrat trash, wans’t it? I think we can puy Obama in Bush negative territory within a year if he continues to expose what a mindless wad of human excrement he truly is. The eloquent junkie is naked before us all. I will enjoy kicking the shit out of this piece of trash from now until we defeat him. His party first in 2010 and then the clueless fool who leads it.

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