The Party of (assassinating) Lincoln

Rand Paul’s social media director and co-author thinks that the bad thing about the murder of Abraham Lincoln was that it made Lincoln a hero, when he was actually not only “the worst President” but “one of the worst figures in American history.”

Rand Paul - not, of course, to be confused with his racist, anti-Semitic, crooked gold bug of a father, but a serious candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 - hired as a “co-author” (i.e., ghostwriter) and “social media director” a neo-Confederate former shock jock who regards praising Lincoln as equivalent to “worshipping Satan” and who every year toasts John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.

Naturally, the silence from Paul’s libertarian admirers has been deafening.

Update Matt Welch at Reason Hit & Run calls Paul’s co-author on his “weird crap.” (See this earlier Welch post - directed at Ron Paul rather than his slimy son - for the weird history of libertarian flirtation with white-populist resentment.) A commenter points to an earlier post (by a Cato Institute staffer but not on the Cato website) disowning the Paul candidacy based on the new revelations.

The Economist on the Republicans

They see what we see: a party increasingly dominated by cranks and by cranky ideas.

The Economist - despite its unerring judgment about  books on crime control and drug policy - cannot be justly described a Democratic or liberal publication; it identifies itself as “pro-business, right-of-centre.” But, unlike the friends of plutocracy on this side of the Atlantic, the folks at The Economist believe in principles other than deregulation of enterprise and low taxes on the rich. Moreover, they remain largely reality-based, eschewing wingnut postmodernism.

In the contemporary Republican Party and the increasingly misnamed conservative movement, The Economist sees just about what our local branch of the reality-based community sees:

* “ideas that are cranky, extreme, and backward-looking”

* “the party has been dragged further and further to the right”

* “as the Republican base has been become ever more detached from the mainstream, its list of unconditional demands has become ever more stringent”;

* The individual mandate to purchase health care is a reasonable, and indeed conservative, idea, controversial among Republicans only because the Democrats passed it;

*  the hard-right “fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all of this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr. Romney)”;

* “compassionless conservatism (slashing taxes on the rich and expenditure on the poor) comes with little thought as to which bits of government spending are useful. Investing in infrastructure, redesigning public education and maintaining unemployment benefits in the worst downturn since the Depression are hardly acts of communism.”

* Mitt Romney “seems several vertabrae short of a backbone.”

In wishing for a Republican candidate they could support in good conscience - a re-backboned Romney, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie - the editors engage in the wishful thinking of imagining that the candidate of a Tea Party-dominated party can avoid being a Tea Party candidate. Might as well imagine someone who drinks all day but is never drunk.

The Republican Party is what it is: plutocratic, irrationalist, nativist, theocratic, tolerant only of bigotry, eager to disenfranchise its opponents. The Whigs - such as the editors of The Economist - will have to choose their side. They can either support increased inequality at the expense of Enlightenment values, or they can say, as the leading article says, “We didn’t leave you; you left us,” and fight for Whig principles of “businesslike pragmatism” (which has been the leitmotif of the Obama Administration) efficient and limited government and personal liberty inside a Democratic Party by no means implacably hostile to those principles.

Shamelessness and incompetence

Michael Walzer once said that there is neither profit nor honor in doing evil badly. How he foresaw the current leadership of the Republican Party must remain one of life’s mysteries.

Michael Walzer once said that there is neither profit nor honor in doing evil badly. How he foresaw the current leadership of the Republican Party must remain one of life’s mysteries.

The new, Murdochized Wall Street Journal editorial page, as if eager to demonstrate that the old page had not fully plumbed the depths of depravity, accepts the idea that - with the economic recovery in real peril and millions of actual people suffering badly from unemployment and underemployment - the primary goal of the Republicans in Congress should be defeating President Obama for re-election, even if the means are disastrous for the country.  But the editors scold the Republicans for blowing the theatrics of extending the payroll tax cut. (At least they’re more aware than some of my friends about who’s been winning the poker game, writing, “After a year of the tea party House, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years.”)

Jonathan Karl of ABC News reports that the House Republicans are planning to climb down as soon as they figure out a face-saving way to do it.  Your mileage may vary, but I can’t see the face below as worth a single American job.






Erick Erickson’s gaffe

Why does he support Rick Perry? Because “we hate the same people.” The Tea Party-dominated GOP isn’t a normal political party; it’s a hate group.

Michael Kinsley defined a “gaffe” in politics as a moment when the candidate inadvertently tells the truth. I suppose the same rule applies to punditry. Leading wingnut blogger Erick Erickson, in a long reflection on Newt Gingrich’s marital infidelities and political apostasies, gives a plug to Rick Perry. Its terms tell you all you need to know about the enemies of reason and liberty now falsely calling themselves “conservatives”:

I hope for a Perry rebound. He’s on his first wife still and has the most consistent record of conservative policies. And we hate the same people and institutions. We have the same general world view. [Emphasis added.]

For Erickson and his ilk, having “the same general world view” doesn’t mean sharing goals or principles; it means sharing hatreds.  What binds the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party together is the same thing that binds al Qaeda or the FARC or the IRA: hatred.

I’m not among those who want progressives to emulate the right wing’s capacity to play on hatred, or its capacity for lying and cheating. But we need to know that we confront, not a normal political party, but a hate group.

Hate them back? Why reduce yourself to their level? Don’t get mad. Get even.



The Tea Party is unpopular, but Mitt Romney has to pretend to be “in synch” with the movement. And that’s the box the GOP finds itself in.

The Tea Party is unpopular (though admittedly less unpopular than the Republicans). The NYT poll shows 20% of the voters favorable to the movement, while 40% are unfavorable, while CNN shows an even worse 31%-51%.

So what does Mitt Romney, who supposedly wants to be President, think he’s doing when he claims (falsely) to be “in synch” with the yahoos? Answer: seeking the Republican nomination. And there you have the box the GOP finds itself in. Even with a thoroughly rotten economy, the positions someone has to take to become the Republican nominee will make it almost impossible to get elected President.

Footnote Coincidentally, a new op-ed by David Campbell and Robert Putnam (drawn from the same research that produced their magisterial American Grace) discredits the Tea Party promoters’ origin myth about politically naive folks coming together to oppose “big government.” In fact, Tea Party supporters are characterized by long-standing Republican affiliation, religiosity, opposition to abortion, and hostility to blacks and immigrants. Putnam also claims that TPers are now less popular than Muslims or (shudder) even atheists, but doesn’t provide the actual data.

Getting *over* the Tea Party

The debt-ceiling crisis gave centrist voters their first good look at what the Teahadis are really about. They didn’t like what they saw.

The Hill has, at least to my eye, a somewhat conservative slant. So when The Hill runs a story about how the country is getting over the Tea Party, that story is worth reading.

Simple version: The Teahadis, and their tame legislators, wanted us to default, and centrist voters didn’t like it.

Slightly longer version: It’s not hard to persuade low-information voters that the federal budget is full of waste, but they’re not actually on board with the Grover Norquist project of drowning the Federal government in the bathtub like an unwanted kitten.

On Wisconsin!

On Tuesday I’ll drive from Chicago up to Sauk City, Wisconsin, to do voter protection, that is, pollwatching while holding a law degree.  Wisconsin historically has offered exceptionally inclusive voter access, including in-precinct same-day registration.  But one of the many delightful consequences of the Republican takeover of the state is a photo-i.d. law which isn’t supposed to take effect til the first of the year but is unclear enough to make for messy election days-precisely what the sponsors intended.  So I’ll go up there and do what I can to make sure everybody can vote, and hope that the selfsame “everybody” will throw the anti-collective-bargaining rascals out.

(Last weekend at the Bughouse Square debates-the Newberry Library’s annual effort to restore the fine art of soapbox speaking-the central topic was public-sector collective bargaining.   The young man speaking in opposition wore a Solidarity t-shirt as he argued that “public employee collective bargaining inserts needless conflict between citizen and citizen.”  Does he realize that Solidarity was a public-sector union?)

I’m going to Wisconsin because it’s a political situation about which I can do something-contra the whole debt-ceiling mess, about which I can do absolutely nothing.  I disagree with my colleagues on the left who think the President got backed into a corner on the debt ceiling because he’s weak.  He got backed into a corner because he’s actually trying to govern and the people he’s dealing with are not.

When the President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, skeptics wondered what he could possibly have done to deserve it.  It seemed pretty straightforward to me: his election meant the restoration of constitutional government in the world’s only superpower.  What could be more essential to peace?

Unfortunately, the Constitution had been damaged more than most of us realized, and merely electing a President didn’t guarantee its restoration-not when anti-government idealogues control the legislature and the judiciary.   All the finger-pointing on the left ignores the extent to which the right is engaging in the deliberate destruction of our governmental system.

The idea that people who hate government are controlling ours is actually more frightening than the notion that the President somehow betrayed us by averting a default.  The scary thing is, he did as much as he could.


S&P does the deed, despite the arithmetic. The problem isn’t economic, it’s political.

Standard and Poor, which continued to rate various junky derivatives AAA until they went into default, has downgraded the debt of the United States of America. This can’t be based on the possibility that the government will be unable to pay its debt - after all, the debt is in dollars, and we own the printing press - but rather on the possibility that the hostage-takers in the GOP caucuses in Congress will eventually decide to shoot a hostage, forcing the government into default. The other agencies are holding steady.

Even a minor increase in Treasury borrowing rates will do large damage to the world economy. Thank you, John Boehner. Thank you, Mitch McConnell. Thank you, Pete Peterson. Thanks are also due to the Koch Brothers and their useful idiots in the Teahadi movement. Let’s say it now: their actions have, from the beginning, been as unpatriotic as those of any important American political force since Secession.

But it’s also worth noticing that the analysis S&P gave the Treasury when it warned about its plan to downgrade was off by $2 trillion. The Treasury pointed out the error. Apparently that didn’t matter; S&P had decided to downgrade and went right ahead. After all, what’s $2T among friends?

Is it just possible that some S&P employees had shorted Treasuries, or something else likely to get hit? It appears that part of the explanation for yesterday’s stock-market crash was that word of the possible downgrade had leaked.

Might this be a good time for a serious investigation into the ratings-agency racket?

Footnote Just this once, could Barack Obama allow himself to become visibly, righteously angry at the people who have brought the national honor into question?

Health care reform politics and Kristallnacht 2010

There was a joke that used to go around about a golf game involving entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.  Another player asked his handicap, and Davis replied “I’m a Jewish black man with one eye; how much more handicap do I need?”
This came to mind when I read the New York Times story about President Obama’s White House Seder.  It was surprisingly moving for a non-observant Jew to learn of the President’s observance of one of our rituals.  But as a Jew, I’m also slightly-and less surprisingly-alarmed on the President’s behalf.  People already accuse him of being a Muslim non-citizen; how much more handicap does he need?

It’s illuminating, though, to consider the President an honorary or metaphorical Jew, because it highlights the parallels between the hysteria attaching to Obama’s presidency and the hysteria recurrently directed at Jews.  What’s the difference between Sarah Palin’s claim that the President will operate death panels to kill her disabled child, and the classic blood libel that Jews kill Christian babies and use their blood to make matzoh?  Only the most ignorant and fearful among us could possibly believe such nonsense, and yet time and again scapegoating has worked because people have believed it and sought to eliminate imaginary threats by killing real people.

And now the President’s opponents have adopted another tactic from the anti-Semites’ playbook.  There’s already been way too much talk about Nazis in the course of debating the Affordable Care Act. But when a political group’s response to legislation comes in the form of coordinated window-smashing, only the willfully forgetful can fail to think “Kristallnacht.”

That’s the night the Nazis expressed their disappointment at a political setback by going on a simultaneous rampage all over Germany: killing Jews, beating them, setting fire to their homes and, most memorably, breaking 7500 windows of Jewish-owned shops.  The current incidents of vandalism against the offices of Congresspeople who voted for the Affordable Care Act aren’t remotely comparable in scale to that night in 1938, but they’re precisely comparable in purpose.   And the sound of breaking glass is the last thing you hear before reasoned political debate is drowned out entirely, and with it genuine self-government.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor is apparently among the willfully forgetful.  His response to the outbreak of violence among those who share his political positions was to claim that he, too, had been the target of political violence and-more important-to blame the Democrats for making public what had occurred. In other words, he claimed victimization while blaming the actual victims.

Consider, if you would, the Wikipedia account of Kristallnacht’s aftermath:

More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps . . . . After this, the Jewish community was fined 1 billion reichsmarks.

In other words, the Nazis claimed victimization while blaming the actual victims.

Let me be clear: I don’t think the people who broke campaign-office windows are actual Nazis, or that their doing so had anything to do with anti-Semitism or Jews.  The fact that Kristallnacht was organized and the latest nonsense mostly not is a big difference, as is the fact that Kristallnacht had official sanction while the window-breaking doesn’t. Everything that happens isn’t about Nazis or Jews.

Being Jewish nonetheless provides a useful set of historical sense memories, and the sound of glass splintering on sidewalks is one of them.

In the early 1930s, plenty of people on the respectable German right disdained the low-class National Socialists.  They were a tool, that’s all, useful temporarily for cowing and marginalizing liberalism so the respectable right could regain political power.  By the time the respectable German right figured out that the Nazi tiger couldn’t be ridden, the whole country was already inside.

So who on the respectable American right will be the first to condemn wholeheartedly our current eruption of far-right thuggery? Apparently it won’t be John Boehner, who undercut his own criticism of the attacks by describing them as the natural result of insupportable Democratic provocation.   It won’t be Sarah Palin, who like her anti-choice allies routinely identifies opponents as “enemies” and “targets,” and like them will doubtless pretend to be surprised when someone gets murdered.   And it won’t be Eric Cantor, though as the highest-ranking Jew in the Republican caucus he might be expected to remember history and hope not to repeat it.

So is there anyone left in the Republican Party to speak out, or are they all too busy hoping the Tea Partiers don’t come for them?

Stay tuned.