04 November 2012

Colonies of termites nesting in typewriters have produced more cogent op-eds than EJ Dionne

WaPo | EJ Dionne | How the right wing lost in 2012

The right wing has lost the election of 2012.

The evidence for this is overwhelming, yet it is the year’s best-kept secret. Mitt Romney would not be throwing virtually all of his past positions overboard if he thought the nation were ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination. [...]

The right is going along because its partisans know Romney has no other option. This, too, is an acknowledgment of defeat, a recognition that the grand ideological experiment heralded by the rise of the tea party has gained no traction.
Does Obama caving in on his former positions vis-a-vis detention, domestic espionage, air strikes, executive authority, whistle blowers, marijuana, just causes of war, the proper role of lobbyists, etc. show that the Left "lost" in 2008? Because I don't remember seeing that Dionne column. Maybe I missed it?

Occupy Wall Street has not even succeeded in electing a congressman, have they? There's a movement that was pretty much stamped out by cold weather, right? Where is Dionne's "the grand ideological experiment heralded by the rise of the 99% has gained no traction" piece?

Dionne's entire column boils down to this: "The Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates agree on most issues. Therefore Conservatism is bankrupt." No, I'm not leaving out any of the logic connecting A & B. The observation that both parties are offering voters a dishearteningly similar proposition is not evidence that one of them has lost, unless you're as brick-witted as EJ Dionne. It's just evidence they're both arrogant statist mini-despots.

This is how I see GOP/Dem politics in my lifetime:
  • Dems: Hey voters, you can have free cake and cookies and brownies and sundaes and candy and pie with ice cream on top!
  • GOP: That is so irresponsible! You can have free cake and cookies and brownies and sundaes and candy and pie but no ice cream on top! That's too much!
No wonder voters go for the former offer. There's almost nothing to distinguish them and neither has any grounding in reality, so you might as well go for the guy who's offering you a year of free lunches instead of fifty ones weeks of free lunches.
Almost all of the analysis of Romney’s highly public burning of the right’s catechism focuses on such tactical issues as whether his betrayal of principle will help him win over middle-of-the-road women and carry Ohio. What should engage us more is that a movement that won the 2010 elections with a bang is trying to triumph just two years later on the basis of a whimper.
Before we go any further, can we all take a sec and recall that Median Voter Theorem is a real thing? More moderate rhetoric later in a campaign, especially when transitioning from primaries to the general isn't evidence for any proposition besides "politicians want to get elected." All politicians do this.

I've had it up to here with pundits jumping up and down shouting "Perfidy! Knavery! Flip-floppery!" whenever someone on the other team does this totally predictable tack-toward-the-middle thing they all do. Look, I don't respect it either, but at least I'm not clutching my pearls every time it happens and assigning to it some great metaphysical significance w.r.t. the eternal struggle between ideologies. It's just treacherous people in a treacherous business being treacherous.

Does Dionne not understand that a national election will have a different tone than a local one? Can he really be surprised that a handful of firebrand congressional candidates were able to win pluralities in their districts (and of course, a handful were not) while a national level candidate who needs to win over the median voter in several dozen states will try a more centrist approach?
It turns out that there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. We remain the same moderate and practical country we have long been.
Yeah, no shit. But for some reason I don't remember Dionne spilling a lot of ink about America being perpetually moderate back in 2008 when seemingly every pundit on Team Blue was talking about Obama's "overwhelming mandate" and the "Death of the Republican Party." Good lord. Dionne has three decades experience on me, and he's the one who's surprised that political currents ebb and flow in minor ways rather than moving in generations-long secular shifts? Come on, guy. Get with it.
The total rout of the right’s ideology, particularly its neoconservative brand, was visible in Monday’s debate, in which Romney praised one Obama foreign policy initiative after another.
Romney is satisfied with Obama foreign policy. Obama foreign policy is pretty damn similar to Bush foreign policy in substance, if not in syntax. Obama campaigned in 2008 on international modesty, but delivered adventurism. Bush did the same thing in 2000. How is this evidence that the Right has surrendered to the Left any more than vice versa?

I like pizza. My wife likes pizza. Us ordering pizza can not be evidence that either one of us has caved in to the other's demands, since there is nothing to distinguish our preferences.
Then there’s budget policy. If the Romney/Paul Ryan budget and tax ideas were so popular, why would the candidate and his sidekick, the one-time devotee of Ayn Rand, be investing so much energy in hiding the most important details of their plans?
Really, Dionne? When did you roll into this town? Haven't you been doing this pundit thing for, I dunno, more than a fortnight? Shouldn't you have figured this one out?

If ObamaCare is so popular, why did Obama, Pelosi, et al. try so hard to hide so many details? Why did we do the "we have to pass it to find out what's in it" thing? Why do politicians ever hide the costs of their proposals while playing up the benefits? BECAUSE THAT'S MARKETING! You don't tell the rubes how many brussels sprouts they're going to have to choke down, you just show them the big platters of cake and pie waiting for them at the end. Yeah, it's dishonest, but it's also the way politics is played. Which is one reason I want politicians to have as little as possible to do with as much of my life as possible.
Romney knows that, by substantial margins, the country favors raising taxes on the rich and opposes slashing many government programs, including Medicare and Social Security.
The country also favors free ponies for everyone. People always favor lower taxes and more spending. When you point out that someone has to pay for that stuff they always, always, always will opt for "make someone else do it," even if there is no arithmetic way that "The Rich" can be stuck with the whole tab. (Even if that were an okay thing to attempt.)

Yeah, people want free stuff, and Romney isn't leveling with them about that being head-in-the-sand naive fairygodmotherist bullshit. Guess who else isn't leveling with voters? EVERY POLITICIAN WHO'LL GET ELECTED ON TUESDAY.

Does Dionne even realize that sometimes things are necessary but unpopular? "Opinion polls show people oppose having to buy their own shit!" Yeah, no kidding. So what? We can't all live at everyone else's expense indefinitely. Popularity has no bearing on whether a proposal is a good or bad idea.
Where is the conviction?
I wish Romney had more conviction. I wish he had the conviction to tell people that trade wars and tariffs are self-destructive, that creative destruction is painful but necessary, that the seen can not trump the unseen, that corporatism is foolish and arrogant, that profit-and-loss requires loss, that manufacturing output is up but manufacturing employment is down and that's both good and permanent, that cranking out heavily subsidized solar panels and even more heavily subsidized BA degrees will not magically restore prosperity since there's no demand for them, that the Chinese government picking the pockets of its own taxpayers to subsidize exports is good for us, and generally that no one will be getting a free lunch ever. Hell, I wish any politician had the conviction to explain that to voters. Romney doesn't. But who does? Romney isn't doing what any Big Two candidate has ever done in my lifetime. How does that translate to "Conservatism Has Been Defeated"?
The bailout was the least popular policy Obama pursued — and, I’d argue, one of the most successful.
Successful? What planet does this guy... never mind. I give up.
If the bailout is now good politics, and it is, then free-market fundamentalism has collapsed in a heap.
When it comes to buying votes, concentrated benefits and diffuse costs is always good politics. It's terrible economics, terrible policy, terrible morality, but it's great for popularity. How do you get from there to the validity of free markets?

And for **** sake, Bush started the auto bailouts! Even Obama says he was following Bush's lead. I'm getting tired of saying this: if the GOP does something, then the Democrats do that same thing, then Romney says he approves of it, how do you conclude the GOP has surrendered? "A pox on both their houses" — now that's a fine and valid conclusion. But how does one team win and one lose when both teams do the same thing?

And can Dionne really not understand that the GOP talks a big game about free markets but that both parties offer up the same folk Keynesian, pseudo-mercantilist, nannyist, fairygodmotherist, populist, statist bullshit? Or does he realize that but simply find it convenient to ignore?

I don't think there's a single paragraph in this column with a valid chain of inference connecting its first and last sentences.

I need this election to be over, now.

Via Tyler Cowen, who endorses Dionne's message. I can not remember ever disagreeing with Cowen this much.

PS For extra credit, try to reconcile this column with one Dionne wrote last year entitled "The End of Progressive Government?"


  1. In your sweets example, I interpret the sweets as follows:

    cake = publicly funded road repair
    cookies = publicly funded cops and firemen
    brownies = publicly funded military
    sundaes = publicly funded libraries
    candy = publicly funded schools
    pie = basic consumer protection regulations
    ice cream on top = medicare, medicaid, social security

    Them crazy politicians, they so irresponsible...

  2. Interpret it however you want, anon

  3. Actually, scratch that. That's a poor interpretation.

    (a) Four of the six things you listed largely aren't (and shouldn't be) federal responsibilities.

    (b) Other than the military and medicare/medicaid/social security those are trivial expenditures. Libraries are simply not a driver of public sector spending at any level. You might as be one of the people bitching about all the money we spend on foreign aid.

    (c) You lumped the three biggest categories into the same unit. Ice cream alone is >60% of federal outlays.

    (d) The ice cream was the once thing in my example that the GOP didn't want to spend money on, so in light of Bush passing Medicare Part D and the Red Team constantly pandering to old voters about medicare & social security, you should have switched pie and ice cream.

    (e) There's really nothing you think is the spending equivalent of junk food? Solyndra? AIG? Farm welfare? The mortgage interest deduction? Some Pentagon procurement program? Sure, I'll stipulate that some of the US budget is leafy greens and whole grains. There's still a ton of empty calories.

  4. Wait, damn, I forgot:

    (f) Federal spending has about doubled since I was born. Do we really need twice as much dessert as we needed in the 80s? Was I born into some anarchic dystopia that was badly in need of twice as much government spending / twice as many cakes and pastries and cookies?

  5. Ok, you're right, swap pie and ice cream.

    Re: f: I assume you already corrected for inflation. Besides that, automation has much more than doubled since you and I were playing Super Mario. Automation increasing = more raw stuff created with less human effort. Of course government spending is going to rise accordingly. In the extreme scenario (which I'll grant we're nowhere near) automation reaches a point where all human labor is obsolete because machines can do everything mankind can, cheaper and better-- in that situation, I'm sure you would agree, pretty much everything should be government-provided. We're not there yet, but we're gradually inching there, and the transition has to start SOME time. (Compare this argument with the Laffer curve, it's the same idea)

    Re: e: Sure, the government is guilty of junk food spending. It's called corporate welfare and the bailouts were a prime example.

    But ok, you're right, my interpretations were terrible. Maybe you're right about cutting some medicare/military spending. (With the medicare spending, cuts hardly have to correspond to decreased service-- reform the ridiculous medical licensing situation and get all Robespierre on the pharmaceutical leeches and healthcare could cost a tenth what it does now for the same or even better service)