Tuesday, July 22

The Itch To Power

Patricia Cohen, "Conservative Thinkers Think Again." July 20.

In an intricately connected world, even Republican administrations cannot allow big institutions to fail.

THUS David Brooks, last Friday, and the damned thing itched like a chigger bite all weekend.

Okay, so Brooks is a professional liar. There's not even any room to debate left; the only question is how he still commands Manhattan rental prices. Satire causes an uproar, but opinion writing means you can make shit up so long as you are said to represent some spot on the accepted political continuum/desired advertising demographic, and so long as the result totals 800 words. Still, all weekend long, Even Republicans! Even Republicans! kept playing in my head, to the extent that I'm not sure whether my shouts of "Who th' fuck bailed out the S&Ls after there was nothing left to loot?" were all in my head, or if they were audible to the outside world. And I found myself asking myself, or whomever else could hear me, whether Brooks could possibly believe that.

Even the Republicans, even though everyone knows they'd wouldn't dream of sacrificing principle for the sake of electoral popularity, especially when it means helping out their archenemies in the banking industry.  Thus we are living in extraordinary times; thus David Brooks can find in them enough cover to contradict all the metaphysical certainties his career is built on without having to own up to them. Which, more or less, was also his Iraq M.O., before we started winning again. Times have changed! Never mind that my previous arguments were based on eternal verities.

Which reminds us, while we're at it, that, like insect-contact dermatitis, the itchy rash caused by David Brooks is made that much worse when you dwell on it.

Which we were trying not to, but then the Sunday arrived, and in a desperate attempt to avoid seeing the latest Maureen Dowd pull quote we cracked the Week in Review section open from the front, not the back, and there was the Cohen piece.
ALMOST anything can happen in an election year, but among conservatives, almost everyone seems to agree that no matter who captures the White House in November, the movement that has ruled the Republican Party since the 1960s and mostly dominated American politics since 1980 has lost its way. Across the spectrum of the right, writers and thinkers have turned their relentless analysis inward, a kind of political EST seminar aimed at self-transformation.

Now then, if we may translate from the Late Modern Journo-cant, "across the spectrum of the right" means "people from my Rolodex, one of whom insists that she wasn't marching in lockstep with the party, the party was marching in lockstep with her"; "have turned their relentless analysis inward" means "didn't support John McCain"; and self-transformation, means, as usual, finding the best way of hoodwinking others into handing you their wallets.

And all of it means "Republicans only need apply", which seems a touch curious, especially seeing as how I just happen to have the answer: instead of bothering to work out another set of rebranding scams, the Republican party should move to Argentina, wear dark glasses and try to convince everyone it meets it's a retired veterinarian from Saskatchewan.

Paul Wolfowitz! John Bolton! David Frum! Having these guys brainstorm on the future of your party is like, fuck, I'm not even wasting a half-assed simile on that one. Here's Christopher DeMuth, president of AEI for the last twenty-two years (gee, they've gone by so fast!):
“We’ve been extremely discouraged by the policy trajectory of the Bush administration, with big increases in unfunded entitlements, big increases in deficit spending, considerable growth in government regulation....“Some rethinking has to be done on the deep philosophical questions.”

Could I make one more suggestion? Maybe you could knock off trying to convince people that choosing a new label for your snake oil is an epistemological dilemma. Maybe then you could own up to the fact that the Bush administration "policy trajectory" differs from the Reagan policy trajectory only in that the latter had already licked all the icing off the cake. We ended the Reagan administration with a national debt nearly four times what we started with.  This is not a bit of poltical esoterica, or a matter of interpretation.  Or that you were happy to claim it all back when it was working electorally.   Deficit spending hit town the same time Ari Fleischer did, and the fact that we were refusing to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan was, somewhat surprisingly, in all the papers, so it's a little strange to hear now that the administration still managed to hide the truth from AEI for so long.  As for the rest of it, well, I made a vow during the ascension of St. Ronnie that I would never discuss federal spending with someone who imagines Social Security is an "entitlement" while a new aircraft carrier every two years is not, or who uses "government regulation" as a pejorative, while failing to disclose that he, like Reagan, would include food inspection, airline safety, and the requirement of driving on the right side of the room on his list of invidious nanny-statism.

And I hate to keep bringing this up, but then I'm not responsible for the fact that the Times already employs what passes for a full-time columnist who has basically done nothing for the past eighteen months but try to rescue the Republican party by talking his way out of the ticket, and I'm not responsible for thirty fucking column inches devoted to Republican functionaries and former Bush pep-band percussionists doing everything in their power to rethink deep philosophical issues with the single exception of "How did our metaphysical certainty turn into a colossal pile of pig manure?" But, y'know, in real life, someone found holding a smoking pistol while straddling the still-oozing body of his mistress, zonked to the point of permanent hearing loss on oxycontin, and with a list, in his own handwriting, headed "People To Kill Today" in his pants pocket, generally has to come up with something better than, "Next time I'm gonna use a silencer."

Other than "Blame Bush, now", I mean:
For others, however, the nub of the problem is not deviance from the 1980s agenda but worshipful adherence to it. Mr. Frum is one of those who has undergone a conversion (or two). His book “Dead Right,” published in 1994, was a brisk catalog of Reagan’s failures (especially his failure to reduce the size of government). Then, after writing speeches for President Bush, Mr. Frum wrote “The Right Man,” in which he characterized President Bush’s leadership as “nothing short of superb.” But in his newest book, “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” Mr. Frum confesses that his former boss has “led his party to the brink of disaster.”

That's not conversion, or two, or six; it's multiple personality disorder. And even granting a panel featuring hires from the Affirmative Action for Well-Born Idiots Program, I can't for the life of me understand why anyone has ever listened to David Frum.  Although I must admit the ol' "Reagan didn't go far enough" routine has a certain hallucinogenic attraction, like the one that kept the Grateful Dead in business all those years.
Many of Mr. Frum’s allies in this debate come from a group of younger conservatives who were born more than 15 years after he was and came of age after Reagan.

Ross Douthat! Ramesh Ponnuru! Megan Jane McGardle! Maybe, on second thought, Argentina isn't quite far enough.
Mr. Douthat says that social conservatives have gotten stuck and need to move beyond their focus on gay marriage and abortion — a focus, he said, that does nothing to help a single African-American mother trying to raise a family.

Yeah, go figure.
Meanwhile, Megan McArdle, a libertarian writer, thinks conservative organizations will actually have a tougher time influencing policy if Senator McCain is elected. “He doesn’t have an ideological framework,” she said. “He has a superhero view of politics. There are good guys and bad guys and you’ve got to elect the good guys to kick the butts of the bad guys.”

As opposed to Reagan, the superhero politician whose powers came from the bite of a radioactive ideologue.

Jesus Fucking Alou, can't anybody here play this game? You didn't exactly start off at the top of the intellectual ladder with Reagan, and apparently no one has noticed that things have Only Gotten Worse. And this, even though every last one of you, at minimum, voted for George W. Bush twice and encouraged others to do the same, and if any of you wasn't spiritually connected to that Commander Codpiece nonsense I haven't found him. Now you think admitting that the pooch got screwed! somehow! is enough, and if you just congratulate yourselves long and loud enough for your Reagan fanboydom Ross'll be able to figure out how to repackage all those old Welfare Queen anecdotes for a generation that would rather not be known as unrepentantly racist, and you'll be back on top again. Pluck a Duck, even Reagan, an almost wholly fictional creation, was sold to the rubes as Good for America! You people don't even care anymore. There are serious consequences to your behavior the past quarter-century, serious as a fucking tumor, and none of them have to do with the fate of your think tanks, though a lot of them have to do with their output. The Reagan Revolution did not take a wrong turn. It arrived. You have not hit a rough patch; you've been found out. In a less well-off, less compromised, more socially responsible nation you people would be sharing an ice floe, debating whether its shrinking dimensions were just more of Al Gore's propaganda. Is it going to take that for you to understand, and to get out of the fucking way if you don't want to help anyone but yourselves? 'Cause personally, I'm all for it.


Gary said...

It's bad enough that I'm at Panera, because it's about the only place in town with reliable and free wireless and I have a few hours to kill before picking up my youngest from half-day camp. So, not only am I drinking mediocre coffee while I read your latest, but now I have to ask some flunky for extra napkins after spewing said coffee, not once but twice, first for "Argentina isn't quite far enough" and second for "the pooch got screwed, somehow."

I know you're not the fervent Obama supporter that I am, but I sincerely hope you will consider an appointment to whatever his version of the Truth and Reconciliation committee turns out to be, if only because I would gladly pay for cable to watch you cross-examine Ari Fleischer or Michael Gerson on C-SPAN.

LittlePig said...

Doghouse, sometimes reading your observations is the only thing keeping me from thinking I have a mental illness. Hearing "Yes, they are really naked, and they have been naked for 28 years - your eyes are working just fine" is quite refreshing.

Julia said...

Oh, man.

Not for nothing, but David "Mr. Crittendon" Frum added a country to the list of countries we were itching to go to war with to prove he was paying attention in tenth grade geometry (and he only managed to accomplish 2/3 of that).

Here's hoping they manage to clear the remainder tables of his next, I Have Agonizingly Reappraised My World View, in time for the release of Boy, You Hosers Really Fucked That Up

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. Your writing keeps setting off my smoke alarm.

Anonymous said...

They still hope to square the conservative governance circle.


Anonymous said...

That Truth and Reconcilliation Commission is sure gonna happen, courtesy of the "Impeachment is Off the Table" Party. Boy...I can't wait until the appointess Mr. Bipartisan/Chicago School chooses. I anticipate he'll exhume Saint Ronald from the grave.

Anyway, the post itself is amazingly angry and well-written! Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

What you're doing here is substituting your own brilliance for the amnesia the country suffers under. This piece should be on the front pages of all the papers, and read on the 6 o'clock news tonight.
Do not lose that perscription for nitro pills--someday you'll need it, unless senility sets in. You see too much and it has to hurt. --Beel

Anonymous said...

Outage is perfectly appropriate as a response to David Brooks of course. It's lovely outrage, too.

"You have not hit a rough patch; you've been found out.

Would it were so; I am not so sure. The people in this country haven't got any more informed, more unified, less racist, or less servile in the past year. They're pissed off, but they haven't learned a goddamn thing. Yet.

Anonymous said...

Frum wrote that anti-Reagan apologia in 1994? Wow, what stones! I can't wait for his daring reappraisal of the Harding years -- it portends great things for the GOP.

There's a neat dichotomy going on here -- these folks are necessary functionaries to put the glossy bullshit on the baseline Republican impulse (fuck you, i got mine). So they dress it up in "philosophical" terms and pretend it's a developed ideology.

The Democrats, not really being much of an ideological party in any sense, don't really have that. Sure, we get a Laskoff talking about "framing" or, on the huskings, a Naomi Klein talking about disaster capitalism -- but there's only process issues involved. The Democratic electorate, such as it is, don't need the esoteric bullshit -- they only want functional, responsive, government.

That Dukakis-style campaigning of "competency" isn't as exciting as intellectual pretense, but it sure is a lot better for more of us.

Great stuff Doghouse.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful stuff, that. "the pooch got screwed! somehow!"

Republicans, the party who's deep seated philosophical beliefs oddly always coincide with their own narrow self interest. BTW, I like the ice floe idea, especially with polar bears. There's a bit of Social Darwinist reality TV I'd watch.

Anonymous said...

Shell's pessimism is understandable, but I incline more toward Jay B's comment about the practical, everyday governance desires of the Dem electorate (wonder if a significant % of the Independent electorate feels likewise?).

I think one cause of the apparent paralysis Shell sees in the populace is their increasing sense that they don't have a good workable method for influencing those same practical, everyday matters. A result, IMO and in part, of yer post-industrialism. Also yer post-modernism.

People do less and less important work with their own hands, manipulating real materials. Everything's on paper or on a screen, everything's symbols, everything's hardly even things at all. News Hairdos rarely talk about the affairs of the day, or the month, year, or electoral cycle, in any useable way; they talk about trends and perceptions and gossip and - if they're Big-Deal Hairdos - what Bob Somerby calls the novels in their own heads.

But Katrina (to choose the debacle among many debacles that I think was the wakeup moment for many, many people) was real. The wounded vets rotting among roach-infested ward at Walter Reed was real.

A lot of people may not know what real action is likely to be a good way to address the mess created by this administration and its Party (people DO hold the GOP responsible), but they recognize a fuming pile of pachydermal bowel incompetence for what it is.

BTW, Doghouse, I understand why you used that graphic of Louis Wain's progress-of-schizophrenia cats - the perfect head explosion illustration - but, man! Let's all try to keep a grip and eschew the pleasures of looneybinism. The wingers own that side of the street anyway. They all circle obsessively around the novels in their heads.

Li'l Innocent

Ellis Weiner said...

Long-time fellow commenter elsewhere, first time caller:

Riley. Superb. Bookmarking...NOW.

Anonymous said...

Brooks and his smarmy ilk are like the Germans at the end of WWII who looked around at the smoking ruin of their country, blinked their eyes, and exclaimed: "We had no idea things would go so far! And we HAD to join the Nazi Party to keep our jobs! The really sad thing is that there were more good Germans than there are good Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Oh, don't you worry, Doghouse. It'll all still somehow come down to Tarrist Fist Bumps or some equally momentous issue, with the rubes yelling themselves hoarse with excitement from the bleachers.
Meanwhile, if you keep this up ("That's not conversion, or two, or six; it's multiple personality disorder."), I'm going to have to get my doctor's permission to keep reading. Damn, my sides hurt.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the set of pictures at the top of this post in a psychology textbook about 20 years ago. The book claimed the pictures were produced by a single artist progressing through advancing stages of schizophrenia. Apparently schizophrenia has something to do with fractals, Mandelbrot Sets, and Julia Patterns.

Anonymous said...

Like Nixon for Hunter Thompson, Brooks is your Muse of Fire. Or, if that's too highfalutin', he's the asshole who makes your dander grander. Either way, it's almost enough to hope Brooks doesn't stop writing his crap any time soon.