Monday, May 20, 2013

Conservatives: You Know Them by Their Deeds

Tea Party Caucus: Pledging allegiance to what?

Clarification: As you read below, please know that I'm not attacking all conservatives. Many have something of value to say. I'm only making an observation of conservatives with power, not ordinary, earnest citizens. Okay?

Listening to conservatives, whether pundits or politicians, can be a rather annoying experience. They are, in general, a distemperate group, prone to both hyperbole and, at best, disengenuousness, so getting to the nub of their intent or motivation is difficult. They don't say what they mean, and just as clearly, they rarely mean what they say.

An example: "Obamacare is a job killer, and I can't support it." WTF does that mean? Actually, nothing. It's meaningless except, of course, for its dog whistle effect. The average Tea Party Republican, even if they have no actual idea of what's in Obamacare, will respond, "Fuck yeah, it's a job killer!" Mission accomplished.

Tea Party patriots: What do they want from their government? Oh yeah, wars and gun rights.

Michael Kinsley, ostensibly at least moderately liberal, had a recent article in the New Republic -- he's back as a senior editor -- in which he sided somewhat with the economic austerians in as much as the point of the austerity was to inflict pain for past sins, to, as Hoover was pressed to do in reaction to the Great Depression, simply let it run its course, to "clean out the rottenness."
[...] I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.
Good grief. Who's paying the price, bankers and Wall St. CEOs, or middle-class schlubs thrown out of their homes, and out of work, in many cases, for the rest of their working lives? It won't be the banks, or Wall St., or Michael Kinsley, for that matter.

The banks nowadays wrongly foreclose, get fined,
and then start the cycle all over again. Feel the burn!

Some folks in the liberal blogosphere reacted by broadly condemning the Kinsley piece, as did nearly all those who commented on the article. Kinsley came off as mean-spirited, dense, and decidedly illiberal. A vast consensus declared him, in fact, dead wrong, to which I agree. I found the piece blood-vessel-poppingly bad, and not just because he attacked my dude Paul Krugman.

Paul Krugman: cantankerous old man with 1,021,126 Twitter followers.

Others went further, Atrios among them, in asserting Kinsley was nothing short of sadistic. Atrios linked to Lawyers, Guns, and Money, which essentially agreed with him, and employed a good analogy. I found one of LG&M's commenters, looking at conservative motives, to be right on the money:
Austerians, Neocons, Drug Warriors, and other establishment conservatives all embrace a morality play view in which sinners have to suffer. But it’s a mistake to focus too much on the “morality play” aspect. They want to see suffering, full stop. They create the morality play as a weak pretext to justify their sadism.
You know people by their fruits. Conservatives pursue policies that cause widespread death, suffering, greater inequality, and lower economic and technological growth (sometimes even loss of economic wealth). Instead of assuming that they want more economic growth but are mistaken about how to achieve it, it seems more likely that they want these results. Anyone who is still conservative after the Bush II years must, on some level, just like suffering for its own sake.
I believe this to be true. But not everyone is ready to banish conservatives to the political gulag. Noah Smith, popular econ blogger just had a post in which he defends the integrity of (some) austerians:
What unites all these and other "austerians"? There are several possibilities. One is that austerity is a good idea, and that these smart people recognize that it is a good idea. Another is that these are political conservatives who are worried that countercyclical macroeconomic policy will redistribute income and regulatory privilege away from themselves or their favored social groups. A third is that the psychological impulse toward austerity - tighten your belt in bad times! - is simply very very strong among all humans. And a fourth possibility, favored by Paul Krugman, is the idea that austerity is perceived as morally virtuous.

I want to suggest a fifth possibility. I conjecture that "austerians" are concerned that anti-recessionary macro policy will allow a country to "muddle through" a crisis without improving its institutions. In other words, they fear that a successful stimulus would be wasting a good crisis.
I usually agree with Noah on most things -- that is, when I understand him! --but not here. What they want to accomplish during this crisis is not to improve institutions but to destroy them, at least if they're government institutions, and most especially if they're government institutions like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which help people avoid suffering.

Mitt Romney: Almost half the country voted for this dude, and few of them actually liked him.

One final consideration here is that suggestion posited by Timothy Noah yesterday in his New York Times op-ed, "The 1 Percent Are Only Half the Problem." Noah, whom I liked back in his early Slate years -- coincidentally edited at the time by Michael Kinsley, whom I also liked at the time -- maintains that income inequality is bad for our society but is only half the story:
This dismal litany invites the conclusion that if we would just put a tight enough choke chain on the 1 percent, then we’d solve the problem of income inequality. But alas, that isn’t true, because it wouldn’t address the other half of the story: the rise of the educated class.
Since 1979 the income gap between people with college or graduate degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown. Broadly speaking, this is a gap between working-class families in the middle 20 percent (with incomes roughly between $39,000 and $62,000) and affluent-to-rich families (say, the top 10 percent, with incomes exceeding $111,000). This skills-based gap is the inequality most Americans see in their everyday lives.
Conservatives don’t typically like to talk about income inequality. It stirs up uncomfortable questions about economic fairness. (That’s why as a candidate Mitt Romney told a TV interviewer that inequality was best discussed in “quiet rooms.”) On those rare occasions when conservatives do bring it up, it’s the skills-based gap that usually draws their attention, because it offers an opportunity to criticize our government-run system of public education and especially teachers’ unions.
Liberals resist talking about the skills-based gap because they don’t want to tell the working classes that they’re losing ground because they didn’t study hard enough. Liberals prefer to focus on the 1 percent-based gap. Conceiving of inequality as something caused by the very richest people has obvious political appeal, especially since (by definition) nearly all of us belong to the 99 percent. [...]
Both halves of the inequality story should command our attention, because both represent a dramatic reversal of economic trends that prevailed in the United States for most of the 20th century. From the 1930s through the 1970s the 1 percent saw its share of national income decline, while the “college premium” either fell or followed no clear up-or-down pattern over time.
At least some of the tools to restore these more egalitarian trends shouldn’t be divisive ideologically. Liberals and conservatives both recognize the benefits of preschool education, which President Obama has proposed making universally available. I’ve never met an affluent 4-year-old who wasn’t enrolled in preschool, but nationwide about one-third of kids that age aren’t.
 I appreciated Noah's efforts but found a lot to not like in his thesis:
  • The problem isn't the "rise of the educated class." The problem is the sinking of the middle class that, one, are losing access to a college education (for the poor it's even worse), two, are losing high-skill manufacturing jobs that didn't require a higher education, and, three, are watching labor unions shrink to the point of having no say in dividing the fruits of capital and labor. Capital gets the fruits, and labor gets the pits.
  • This is why income inequality has expanded: Capital gets the increased profits and gains from the funny-money world of finance, and labor gets a decreasingly smaller piece of the pie as wages slide and slide.
  • The notion that liberals and conservatives -- ostensibly to attack the income-inequality problem -- could agree on early childhood education for the reasons Noah claims is hairbrained at best. Conservatives are more than happy that the elites can afford the best preschools for their broods. They would be apoplectic if taxpayer money were used to pay for the children of the Great Unwashed.
And that gets to my point: We may not understand conservatives when they speak and dissemble, but we do know them by their deeds. Imagine, if you will, a bill introduced in Congress that establishes access to universal preschool. What are the chances it would survive a Republican filibuster in the Senate? Slim. What are the chances, should it clear the Senate, that it would pass in the House? Absolutely none. Why? Conservatives would kill it.

Preschool's a no-brainer, but not if this dude gets the credit.

You know I'm right on this. And, if it's generally, broadly, almost universally established that early childhood education is essential to the development of the child and thus our future workforce, and yet the conservatives would kill it -- in the richest nation on Earth -- then by their deeds we shall know them and they are corrupt to the core and completely disinterested in helping society, unless it is their constituency, the upper crust.

And that's a tragedy and a clear indictment of the conservative side of our body politic.

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