Saturday, May 22, 2010

Liberty Slips

The great white hope of the great white media has been that the highly-telegenic T-party demonstrations retain their entertainment value through the election season. The great white party, however, needs something a bit more meaningful than entertainment value come November--that is, a largish wave of convincing electoral victories. The twin goals are not necessarily conflicting, but neither are they built to run together flawlessly.

One of the mistakes the great white media made, and which the parties involved had no pressing need to correct, until a few days ago, was conflating the TPers with the libertarians. Though they have little to show for it, the latter have been at this for a while, and have evolved a number of pretty respectable and consistent views regarding the government and rights of the individual, some crackpot, others which beg a wider hearing and no small sympathy from informed citizens. That they might ride a goofy entertainment fad to electoral success bothered them not a jot.

Where the libertarian model collapses, as RaPaul and his reluctant hosts are now discovering, is mostly on the hustings, where the real world constantly interferes with all those reasoned arguments and clean categorical positions. Mr. Paul complains about being the target of liberals as if he is dismayed that such a scurvy thing would be part of an election, and wishes voters to share his pique.

The only informal debate I ever had with a libertarian (a Chicago lawyer--friend of a friend--at whose home I was a party guest) revolved around abortion rights. Let those jurisdictions that wish to criminalize abortions do so, he said, and people who find this onerous move to jurisdictions that allow it. Name me a jurisdiction today, I replied, where clinics are allowed to operate without local protest. His model would not work because abortion opponents would never allow it to.

He had no reply.

Norman Mailer, a writer whom regular readers know I admire greatly, ran for mayor of New York in 1969 on something like a libertarian platform. Among his various proposals was to center police oversight on neighborhoods, each localized force upholding the particular rules of that enclosure--perhaps hash bars and whore houses in the Village, strict shabbat observance in Williamsburg. Cool, right? A vast city lawfully arranged by traditions, mores and need. But, "Mr. Mailer," an elderly jewish man asked him at a campaign stop in Queens, "what happens when their police come after our police?"

The candidate, as Joe Flaherty recorded in Managing Mailer, had no answer.

The last thing the GOP needs this year is attention drawn to their harebrained, and utterly inconsistent, positions on government. This never happened when they were a brand; but now they are just one more failing enterprise in a nation littered with 'em. The earnest and clueless Mr. Paul is no help, nor is the conflicted, minority-driven electoral movement which delivered him.

In the previous post, I suspected that Paul would not be a team player, but in fact there is no GOP team anymore, just a bunch of pick-up minor leaguers and free-agents mainly interested in cash. The gamble is that the crackpot cadres, and those who promote them, will of themselves turn into broad returns at the polls. This morning this looks more doubtful than ever. The every-man-for-himself philosophy Repubs espoused for the larger republic for so long is at last screwing them no less than it did the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Loss Leaders cont.

Pardon me if I don't read a hell of a lot into last night's local elections. The search for meaning is a broad temptation for the national political media; and a handy narrative, good until it isn't anymore, shall be cobbled thereof.

I'm not sure the mood is, as the MSM would have it, anti-incumbent, in that most of the of people who did well last night are office holders looking to move up. The exception is Rand Paul, who has now become a living laboratory (honestly, someone tell me, for his sake, that he wasn't named for Ayn) for a certain type of pressure cooker crackpot politics. He might come around and be a team player, but I doubt it. I'll venture to say that even if he wins, and one suspects there's a likable Democrat somewhere in Kentucky, the GOP broadly loses.

Going into yesterday, what I could not understand--no, hang that, I do understand, rather what's most disappointing--was the level of support Arlen Spector got from the Dem establishment. Craven, elderly, and worst of all mean (for I recall his questioning of Anita Hill), he is the epitome of everything Democrats don't need for the future. I would have been surprised if Sestak lost; that a sizable number of otherwise sensible leaders bet the other way is a shame.

But, hey, now he's gone, and, no, I don't think he'll be a credible independent candidate.

By far the most interesting, if only moderately significant, outcome was the special election for John Murtha's old seat; one more loss for the GOP in an election that, you know, actually means something. I believe they are now 0 for 7 in such contests since November, '08.

UPDATE: S. Benen further considers PA-12.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stark Fable

If things haven't been exactly lively here of late, it's been because greater events, while not exactly slowing, have fallen into a predictable groove. In Washington, the president will propose, or support, something, the right will be completely outraged, the left partially disappointed, the press happy to slant coverage towards the mass of objections, and then the thing will pass.

Considering past as prologue: Kagan? Good morning, judge. Financial reform? Done. Climate and Immigration? Just you wait.

Now certainly there's plenty of room to quibble about details in all of the above, loopholes, lack of reach, unclear agendas, etc. But the point is that there is a ton of excellent policy bloggers who cover that sort of thing. Me, I'm a big picture guy, and the big picture is: Obama wins.

The big picture, and I promise to drop this trope just as soon as I can, is consequences. What is so exquisite, and scary, about the consequences unfurling now, in the Gulf, Europe, the GOP, the Media, is that they are the fruits of errors compounded over time, generations of bad ideas and policy fuck-ups, which no one sought to correct at the time, because times were too good.

Case in point: Daily newspapers have collapsed from digital competition and an atmosphere predicated on a population of attention deficient non-readers. We can, however, trace the decline back to competition from TV, which began killing the evening papers back in the 70s. Clearly, TV was the big culprit; the intertubes only swept away a dried journalistic enterprise. But recall that newspapers never really tried to compete with TV in the first place, while doing their best to promote viewership. Then recall that newspaper owners, in fact, tended to own a LOT of TV stations too. For a while this made a very tasty package, but then the package fell apart.

Similar assumptions of profit and power have worked for the GOP since Nix '68, but decades of bad ideas and stupid policies led them to the administration of that squalid little man, their own Gulf blowout which they will never clean up after. There's a plume of toxic sludge stretching from Arizona to Alaska which will choke the life out of the host party before it gets dispersed.

Forgive me for waxing too metaphorical, but it is instructive to note that BP was drilling so deeply in the Gulf because good returns in the oil business are now found only at the extremes, where the engineering is very risky. Best not to go there, but there they went anyway, a fable for our times.

UPDATE: (via Sullivan) The End of Magical Oil, in which the writer draws parallels between deep water drilling and the financial meltdown. Nice knowing I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Truth And Consequences

I am a small and petty man, which is why stories about natural disasters in Oklahoma and Tennessee leave me with a stern satisfaction I can only characterize as biblical. I see a picture of the Opryland stage under seven feet of water and can only think, Serves them fucking right.

This is, of course, pretty sloppy reasoning. "Them" in this case includes a lot of musicians, technicians, and stage hands whose only business in life is to make people happy. When enormous tornadoes scour Oklahoma, who pays the highest price but mainly poor people without the resources to provide four strong walls and a basement?

But I also think of the elected representatives in such places, and Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, and all those culture-issue voters tuning-in to fine patriotic entertainment returning them to office, who have for decades not only stood in the way of sensible environmental legislation, and a more compassionate attitude towards what used to be called the biosphere, but actively mocked and stigmatized those in the minority who desired such things.

People are not stupid, but they are easily led. To those of you who can't quite see the distinction, I will stipulate that it is a matter of outcomes. So long as affluence and power kept margins fat, not only in the ledgers, but also in the realms of engineering error, then it was very easy to make a satisfactory case for pillaging the planet based on selfishness and good returns. It is when margins get stretched, and break, and the hard consequences flow thereupon, that people awaken to the sight of a lot of rich white assholes blaming each other, while taking no responsibility themselves, for the shitwaves.

Back when margins were fat, there was never any need to take responsibility; unlike the case with more modest empires--Japan, say, or England--which grew with traditional issues of scarcity or powerful rivals, an etiquette for contrition and amends has never been part of our ruling class culture.

But the shitwaves have started, folks, you can be sure. It is easy to note that the teaparty crowd is mainly congregated in those sunny parts of the land where the housing prices fell the hardest; let me add that it is not coincidental either that these places were mostly remote and arid exurbs which required a great deal of gasoline, electricity and water to keep even barely operable. Arizona only wishes its biggest problem is illegal Mexican yard workers.

The nature and mass of our problems--and let me predict a coming rupture, somewhere somehow, for big Agriculture, one to mirror the crisis in the oil industry--will come to dwarf the current shouting of the petty and enraged. Solutions will have to be both large-bore and small-grained, and like-it-or-not, guided by government. I'm inclined to feel good about that, but see little to celebrate for the foreseeable.