Friday, August 26

With Luck, The Capitalists Will Innovate A New Knot To Hang Themselves With

David Brooks, "President Rick Perry?" August 25

IF there was anything to American Exceptionalism--other than the fact that we dominate a hemisphere, and came out of two European global wars physically unscathed and economically better off than when we went in--wouldn't it show up in our politics? Wouldn't we have the wisest counsel, the fullest debate, the most trenchant commentary?

Would we have David Brooks at the New York Times?

We lead the world in stand-up comedy, popular music, and number of things we think we lead the world in.

We invented free, public, and sorta-universal-if-you-squinted-some education, simultaneously with the idea that academic truth was amenable to first-century superstition and the willful hallucinations of Texas school boards. The salient feature of our history is that we took every bit of our Land from its original owners by invasion, by force, and by swindle, the latter just for practice, and we imported, then bred, human beings to tend our crops, serve our meals, and wash our feet, as our property. While we thanked God. It took a bloody and incompetent struggle to end it, and after twenty years of moderately trying to make small amends we gave up and told white Southerners it was really okay with us if everybody pretended they'd won.

Which brings us to Rick Perry.

Hell, that's enough about Rick Perry. I'd just like to point out, yet again, how the "moderation" in Brooks' "moderate conservatism" works.

Brooks is going to say essentially what I said the other day about Mitt Romney: that he now finds himself unable to jab his leading rival because the same clinical insanity that infects the public persona of Rick Perry infects 80% of the Republican electorate. Brooks, of course, substitutes "small government conservative" for "certifiably batshit". It is the Times.

Unlike Yours Truly, Brooks has a couple of ploys Romney might use.
First, Romney could accuse Perry of being the latest iteration of Tom DeLay Republicanism. On the one hand, he is ideologically slippery. The man who sounds so right wing today was the Texas chairman of the Al Gore for President campaign in 1988. The man who now vows to appoint only anti-abortion officials to relevant administration jobs endorsed Rudy Giuliani four short years ago. On the other hand, he is unwavering in his commitment to the government-cash nexus. Even this week — amid much attention to his pay-to-play proclivities — Perry named two big donors to powerful state jobs.

The second line of attack is to shift what the campaign is about. If voters think Nancy Pelosi is the biggest threat to their children’s prosperity, they will hire Perry. If they think competition from Chinese and Indian workers is the biggest threat, they will hire Romney. He’s just more credible as someone who can manage economic problems, build human capital and nurture an innovation-based global economy.

So leave us note, first, that Tom DeLay Republicanism did not seem to disturb Brooks overmuch back when Tom DeLay was practicing it. Just after he got caught. Not to mention the fact that Mitt Romney calling someone "ideologically slippery" is the Teflon skillet calling the invisible ice patch black. (Is there any clearer evidence that Brooks doesn't really know the Real Americans who make up 75% of his own party any better than he knows Appleby's menu than his suggestion that Romney start yelling "Hypocrites! Grifters! Tom DeLay Republicans! at every stop?)

Second, just how pathetic is that "Mitt's the man to lead us into an innovation-based global economy"? Is there some point when we're going to note that this is what the Republican party has supposedly been up to since 1981, and that as a result we now have more economic problems than we can manage, more humans with less capital, and we've lost Our Rightful Place atop the innovation-based global economy to a bunch of Communists?

By the way, the only "innovation" the Chinese have come up with--or at least the major one--was the idea of loaning us the money to buy the crappy, environmentally-destructive, and toxin-laden consumer trinkets they manufacture with slave labor. I'm not the economist Brooks is--and I don't have Amity Shlaes or Megan-Jane Galt on speed dial--but how do you innovate a lower cost than Forced Labor? And it seems to me that protecting the environment, engineering safety, and reducing the risks we've already created for ourselves is what calls for innovation. Not the libertoonian "If it weren't for all these damned regulations I could smelt ore right here in my spare bedroom" bullshit.

Maybe Romney the man understands the first, but Romney the candidate is committed to spouting the second. That is to say, he's a Republican. But, y'know, somehow Apple managed to innovate--in the business sense--itself into a behemoth despite the Socialist anti-business regulation and taxation environment in this country. 'Course that was Apple's corporate MO for twenty years while the smart boys consigned it to permanent Niche/Cult status. I don't really recall back then hearing anyone demanding that Microsoft innovate. Back then the great regulatory bugbear prevented Bill Gates from throwing his weight around however he pleased, and hindered "innovations" like AOL's takeover of Time-Warner. Y'know, the way Detroit could have innovated safer, more fuel-efficient cars if it hadn't been forced to litigate against government requirements that it create safer, more fuel-efficient cars.

What innovation's being stymied here? Pizza with cheese in the crust? Remote-control death kites? Facebook? We've done all that (despite the odds!). What's it done for us? If innovation was the real key to success--across the board, not just in a relatively few high-tech applications--we'd be doing it. The culture would be awash in the stuff. Instead, we relabel old shit and pass it off as new. We use mass-communication to create artificial demand. That's what we've been doing for fifty years now. That's the sort of business Republicans celebrate when they talk about Business. Except when they actually mean real estate. Which is often.

I have no idea whether this would work for Mitt Romney. I doubt it. But the thing I find curious is how "moderates" like Brooks, and "fiscal 'conservatives'" like Mitch Daniels, act like the moderate conservative Reaganite in the White House is wearing an OSU sweatshirt in Ann Arbor. Look at what Brooks finally (in the last two paragraphs) gets around to saying about Perry: he's slimy, he's a panderer, if he's a borderline crook we need to redefine our borders. He leaves out (despite his economist credentials) the massive sucking sound at the center of the Texas Miracle. What th' hell's so bad about Obama by comparison? Health care?

Is he gonna say that? (Is Daniels?) Not and risk the franchise; you can't be The Moderate Republican Liberals Love if they've thrown you out of the Republican party. Brooks "watches" (the polls) as "moderate 'conservatism'" "disappears" from the Republican electorate. We hear barely a peep. That is, barely a third-hand sideswipe at Rush Limbaugh, or Sarah Palin, or the Teabaggers both he and Douthat had kinda sorta identified as the problem with the Party, circa 2007. Go back and read 'em in early 2009, as they start looking for a door to hide behind, realize it's no good, and so proclaim that the Teabaggers are really themselves. Just less refined.

Th' fuck's wrong with these people?

There may be more damning indictments of Republican "intellectualism" than the fact that these guys have spent the last thirty years inventing excuses for utter crackpotism, first with the idea of eternally harvesting its votes, now in the hopes that the 'conservative' welfare spigot will stay on, but you have to google "William F. Buckley" and "Civil Rights Movement" to find 'em.


James Stripes said...

America may be exceptional in how low we reach to find candidates for public office. It seems, for instance, that European leaders, while they may be wrong-headed bigots, they are that way despite a fine education rather than relentless pursuit of an aversion to learning and cultivated ignorance. Rick Perry earned Ds in easy classes.

As for exceptionalism: among American historians, this concept was expressed clearly in the so-called Turner Thesis. Frederick Jackson Turner argued in "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" (1893) that frontier conditions gave rise to American democracy. Central to his exposition of the nature of frontiersmen and the democracy they developed are notions of self-reliant individualism that have become magnified in our day (one wonders whether Turner himself, even, would accept what the Far Right proclaims these days). In any case, Turner's notion was, for lack of a better term, false. Even so, there are moments in the past where Turner's idea seems to make sense. I'm thinking, for instance, of the development of the Oregon Provisional Government through a series of meetings in the 1840s. In particular, the death of prosperous cattle rancher Ewing Young led to meetings where a primitive court system was created to deal with probate matters.

I'm planning a blog post in a week or so dealing with Ewing Young and the Turner thesis. Watch for "Ewing Young and the Free Market" in your feed. I promise that it will be worth reading with one eye on today's "debates" and one eye on the past.

prairie curmudgeon said...

How we reach to find candidates may be more like how the system defaults through a mindless maze of mass delusion. That somehow we can pull our asses out of the wringer with this circus act every four years is the ultimate lie we will keep repeating until we finally default to the mad reaper. The crazy batshit one. America the exceptional may just have to test this sad permutation on failure and go limping to the emergency room with a jalapeno up its ass when it could have had the cool cuke.

R. Porrofatto said...

In the last few decades, American business "innovation" was mostly confined to finance, where leveraged buyouts, massive layoffs, outsourcing, and the creation of new financial "products" brought the whole house down. So in one sense, Brooks is right about Romney. He was one of the "innovators" (aka "leeches," "bloodsucking parasites," "job creators") and a first generation beneficiary of the predation, which certainly makes him as credible in economic matters as a Geithner or Summers.

(Your first three paragraphs made reading Brooks worth it, and that's sayin' somethin')

Li'l Innocent said...

I've been mulling over your recent posts, in a way. Brief mull interludes between other stuff, would be more accurate. I have also just read the first of the Kurt Wallander books by the Swedish author Henning Mankell, which was written in the early 90s and - in its way - chronicles the shifting of the character's locality toward multi-ethnicity, loss of traditional agriculture and accompanying paranoia and racist wingnutism. I've also recently seen several UK and US films made during WW2.

We, the USA, have always had nativism and racism with us. We have always had religious irrationality with us, in spades.

One big difference between these phenomena in, say, the 1800s and the shape they have taken since WW2 is that many more people now have less, and less necessary, work to do, less of it being physical work, more time on their hands, and are more mobile, actually and digitally. When the Puritans said that idle hands were the Devil's workshop, they had a point.

You can harbor all kinds of angst and religious bigotry, but if you must use most of your mental and bodily energy making a living, and if your sphere of activity is limited to your home town, there's a limit to the amount of large-scale political trouble you can be a part of - unless you have been driven past endurance, as with the various famous Victorian and early 20th C. strike actions, and those were carried out by jobless men.

The methods of pre-War politicians matched that localized reality. They had to go out to the towns, or out to the neighborhoods, hands-on. Now a telegenic fool who knows how to work the visual media can scoop confused, anxious, resentful, ignorant followers out of the ether like fish in the universe's biggest trawling net.

M. Krebs said...

Bill Gates deserves an ass-reaming by a barbed-penis bobcat for every time the word "innovation" has passed his lips. May Beelzebub make it so.

Daisy Deadhead said...

Perry came to my town last week, and I called it: He wins the South Carolina GOP primary and if nothing unforeseen happens (and one of my Texan commenters seemed to think he had a few skeletons), I am thinking the ticket will be Perry/Bachmann from the cooing noises I heard.

Keith said...

It's fun to watch the pundits try and maintain consistency as our politics swerves ever rightward. A moderate conservative from 5 years ago is today's radical Socialist. They're running out of ways to paint Obama as a commie usurper when he has a record that puts him to the right of Reagan.