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October 09, 2008

McCain suffering in Colorado Springs?

I was pleased to see two references to my hometown of Colorado Springs today. Colorado Springs is known for being the home base of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, and it is the most conservative place in Colorado. It's also a place where Barack Obama's campaign is kicking the crap out of John McCain's:

Because even in a place like Colorado Springs, McCain’s ground campaign is getting blown away by the Obama efforts. It doesn't mean Obama will win Colorado Springs, but it means Obama's campaign will not look itself in the mirror afterward and ask, "what more could we have done?"

These efforts seem to be paying off, according to Timothy Egan:
Here in Colorado Springs — the Vatican of evangelical political power, home to the Air Force Academy and a community where optimism usually matches the sunrise glow at the base of Pikes Peak – you can see what will happen in less than a month.

My friends: it’s not good for Senator McCain.

Gee whiz, McCain is having trouble in Colorado Springs? It really is a bad year to be a Republican.

October 08, 2008

Out of gas?

After we re-elected George W. Bush in 2004, I haven't been able to get very optimistic about politics. But the accumulating evidence that the Republicans are out of gas has become so persuasive that I'm allowing myself to hope. I actually think Barack Obama will win the election.

It's not just because the McCain campaign hasn't been very well-run. It's because John McCain, no matter what else he may be, is a Republican in a time when the country is sick of Republicans. Michael A. Cohen's observations seem correct to me:

But in some respects this is not completely Mr. McCain’s fault. He is the leader of a political party that has run out of steam. The Republican Party seems more and more like a spent and rudderless force, devoid of new ideas for how to govern the country, and wedded to its unbending political orthodoxies, of cutting government spending, removing regulation and reducing income taxes.

. . . . There are four weeks until Election Day, but the route for Mr. McCain’s political revival seems to be increasingly out of his hands. Perhaps the capture of Osama bin Laden or even a major terrorist attack could refocus the race on issues favoring Republicans, but barring such an unforeseen event, Mr. McCain will continue to sail against the political winds. Nothing that happened Tuesday night changed the fundamental trajectory of a race that now overwhelmingly favors Mr. Obama; indeed the policy divide between the two candidates offers compelling and unmistakable evidence as to why that is the case.

October 06, 2008

Wendell Berry a socialist? Yes, it's libertarianism vs agrarianism again

An argument has broken out in an obscure part of the blogosphere between libertarians, paleoconservatives, and agrarians. You may think you don't care, but I'd like to suggest that arguments like these tend to be more substantive than the typical democrat vs republican swill we're treated to on blogs like Kos and Instapundit.

Libertarian David Gordon wrote a piece critical of Rod Dreher and the "crunchy cons", which provoked responses from Jerry Salyer in the paleocon magazine Chronicles, and from Daniel Larison at Eunomia.

I've talked, briefly, about libertarianism before, and dismissed it as a one-size-fits-all ideology that ignores local realities. I should probably admit that I'm not the best critic of libertarianism because I dismiss it as childish -- an overly simple and simplistic ideology. But this disagreement between Gordon and his critics gives me the chance to bring up one point that I didn't before.

Agrarianism's chief conviction, it seems to me, is that we must take responsibility for what we do. Its arguments for localism are toothless without this conviction behind them. As Wendell Berry points out in many of his essays, the modern, industrial, global economy prevents us from adequately taking responsibilty for our actions because we can't even see what the consequences of our actions are. As I wrote in a previous post:

Our non-agrarian society makes it very difficult to take full responsibility for what we do. According to the agrarian writer Wendell Berry, "When there is no reliable accounting and therefore no competent knowledge of the economic and ecological effects of our lives, we cannot live lives that are economically and ecologically responsible." [Berry, "The Whole Horse"]

Berry thinks that in modern society there is in fact "no reliable accounting," and "no competent knowledge" of what we are doing. "We are thus involved in a kind of lostness in which most people are participating more or less unconsciously in the destruction of the natural world, which is to say, the sources of their own lives. They are doing this unconsciously because they see or do very little of the actual destruction themselves, and they don't know, because they have no way to learn, how they are involved." [Berry, "Two Minds"]

Localism is desirable for agrarians because it helps us to learn what the consequences of our actions are, and limits our destructiveness when we make mistakes.

Given, however, a global society like ours, we need some other ways of learning "how [we] are involved." And this is just where libertarianism fails, and why it ought to be rejected.

The unregulated free market beloved of libertarians, far from educating us about the consequences of what we do, tends just as often to obscure them. It reduces all the complex history of an item to a single number, the price. But even mainstream economists acknowledge that the price frequently fails to reflect even quantitatively (much less qualitatively) much of the "costs" that we pay as a society for the goods we produce. This is, of course, the problem of externalities. The most common example is the price of a gallon of gas, which fails to account for the environmental damage caused by its extraction, refining, transportation, and consumption.

Short of moving towards a local economy, the best way to account for all of the externalities that the market price fails to reflect is... government regulation, in the form of strict penalties for destructive behavior, subsidies for less destructive behavior, mandatory disclosures, and the list goes on.

Libertarians reject all of this, and in so doing set themselves up as obstacles to achieving the kind of responsible society agrarians want.

But enough of that. Larison's and Salyer's answers to Gordon are interesting and I recommend them. Given the economic events of the past month, though, Dreher makes the wittiest riposte:

In the meantime, can I just say how much I hate that Wendell Berry and all the farmers for bringing the entire US economy and global financial system to the edge of the abyss with their financial recklessness. If only we'd had less regulation of the moneymen, like fundamentalist libertarians want, why, we wouldn't be in this fix. Right?

Death of Reaganism

We can't tell yet just how painful this economic crisis will eventually get, but it's fair to say that there'll be some of us who suffer pretty badly.

There's going to be plenty of bad news, so I'd like to start concentrating on the silver linings in this economic cloud. When Rep. Darryl Issa opposed the Paulson bailout plan last week on the grounds that it would put "a coffin on Ronald Reagan's coffin," he was pointing out something we all should cheer: the death of Reaganism.

Reaganism describes the political climate that I've lived in ever since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, at just about the time that I grew old enough to become politically aware. I think of it as a mix between right-wing economics and a "sunny optimism" that (a la Walt Disney) has little to do with reality. It's a mix of neoclassical economics and infantile consumerism.

Ever since Reagan, the idea that government intervention in "the free market" is harmful has been the default ideological position that politicians have had to genuflect toward in order to get elected. Republicans have been the dominant political party in the age of Reagan because they embraced the free-market orthodoxy most energetically. Bill Clinton was a Democrat, but he won elections by telling us that "the era of big government is over" and governed as a welfare-cutting, NAFTA supporting center-right politician.

Whatever else has happened over the past 30 years, we've repeatedly rewarded politicians who've told us that tax cuts and free trade would make us prosper. We've ignored calls for raising the minimum wage, watched without much interest as unions decayed, embraced the Wal-Mart business model of low-wage, part-time jobs in exchange for cheap merchandise imported from China, and wimpered ineffectually at the inevitable consequences of a health insurance system placed in the hands of the market -- namely, rising premiums and a growing number of people without health insurance.

As we continued to send Republicans and free-market Democrats to Washington, we didn't pay much attention to the fact that year-by-year the regulations that governed the financial industry were getting scaled back. "Voluntary regulation" was advocated so often that we forgot how oxymoronic a thing it was.

At the same time that we were dismantling the protections of the regulatory state, we were taking huge risks by living beyond our means. Our real wages weren't going up, but dammit, we weren't going to do without -- especially since our politicians always seemed more worried by slowdowns in consumer spending than by declines in the household savings rate. We refinanced homes to go on vacation or buy that new SUV; we ran up credit card debt, we spent everything we made and then some. As our households went, so did our government: running deficits almost every year and piling up trillions of dollars in debt. No politician who would actually raise taxes or cut spending was allowed to survive.

When George W. Bush decided to take us to war, he told us to go shopping. More household and government debt accumulated.

The specific etiologies of this credit crisis weren't all foreordained, but how could we have avoided a serious correction when housing prices were so out of control? (Via angry bear.)

Reaganism was unsustainable because the free-marketeerism and consumerism that it was based on are not grounded in reality. Free markets on a national or global level aren't self correcting, and they are disruptive:

We are now learning what countries across the developing world have experienced over three decades: unstable and inequitable neoliberal economics leads to unacceptable levels of social disruption and hardship that can only be contained by brutal repression. Add that to the two other central charges against deregulated capitalism: first, it may create wealth but it does not distribute it effectively; and second, that it takes no account of what it cannot commodify - neither the social relationships of family and community nor the environment, which are vital to human wellbeing, and indeed to the functioning of the market itself. Ultimately, neoliberal capitalism is self-destructive.

Consumerism is built on irresponsible hedonism -- both for CEOs with golden parachutes and for hockey moms with plasma-screen TVs bought on home equity loans.

Now that reality has caught up to us, we can forgive Darryl Issa for sticking to his conservative principles in opposing the bailout, and rejecting the modern Republican principles of socializing the risk while privatizing the benefits. Was the bailout a good idea? Depends on whether you trust the Bush/Paulson/Frank leadership team (I remain suspicious). We're probably in for a lot of pain, but thankfully, Reaganism is now dead.

October 05, 2008

Cubs lose

The Cubs, true to form, got swept out of the playoffs again.

To the LA Dodgers: you're welcome.

I suppose I'm lucky this year. Living in Chicago, it was impossible not to notice the buzz around the Cubs, and many times I was tempted to get on the bandwagon and pour my heart into the team like I did back in 1984. I was thirteen then, and the Cubs were up 2-0 in their best-of-five series with the Padres. Only one more game, and the Cubs were in the Series. But the Cubs lost three straight and I learned what it was like to be a Cubs fan. It was painful. And the pain wasn't worth it. Why did I have to feel so bad about a stupid baseball team that I wasn't playing for or employed by in any capacity? Stupid Cubs.

I've been a very distant Cubs fan ever since. Because of that, I haven't felt the pain of 1984 again -- the agony of 2003 and the five outs was visited on the hard-core fans, and not on me. I didn't need to spend a month recovering, all because of the stupid Cubs. And again this year, it's not me that's writing paragraphs like this:

Pathetic. Nothing short of pathetic. I hate this team. I hate every player. Every single goddamn one. I have never in my life been this disgusted with a Cubs team. This is not the lovable losers-they’re just a bunch of fucking losers. I’m tired of this wait until next year crap. All of you on this team can shove it.

Now, I know that I'm running a risk by being a very distant and lukewarm fan. When the Cubs finally win the World Series, I won't share in the ecstatic joy that the hardcore fans will bathe in. I'll miss all that. But hey, I'll probably grow old and die before the Cubs ever win the Series. Heh, heh.

You can't hurt me, stupid Cubs.

October 03, 2008

Interesting lawsuit

Read all about this 7-1/2 year pregnancy.

Friday cat (and doggie) blogging

Here's Big Frank taking a little nap, high above it all.

And here's Little Pele hanging out on the deck in Colorado.

The right wing blogosphere

Crises like this are the best time to visit the far-right blogosphere.  It's fascinating to see what effect reality has on the opinions of true ideologues.

Apparently, no effect at all.  That's why they're called "ideologues."

Take the Biden-Palin debate, for instance.  Most of us think Palin's answers were incoherent, or at best, weak.  However, people like this guy say that "Sarah Palin drove another stake in the heart of those fuddy-duddy reactionaries that constitute our mainstream media. Going toe-to-toe with a senator with decades of experience, she more than held her own, giving lie to the media constructed narrative that she was an inexperienced hick from nowheresville Alaska."

My question to Mr. Simon is simply: how poorly would she have had to perform for you to say that she lost the debate?  What is your standard?  How about drooling?  Would you reluctantly admit she lost only if her responses had been limited to silent drooling?

I'd like to ask similar kinds of questions to people like Hugh Hewitt, who believes the solution to our economic crisis is to -- drum roll, please -- cut taxes!

[McCain's] simple, closing message ought to be that the world is threatened by terrorism, and the global economy is threatened by rising taxes, chains on productivity, pressure on trade, and corrupt, self-dealing political elites at home and abroad.

McCain needs to declare that he's been around a long time, and he's seen all the big mistakes made and all the costs paid, and that he isn't going to stand for it now.

McCain should pledge to be John McCut from day one in the White House:

He'll cut taxes on new businesses and construction to jump start a flat economy and invigorate employment;

He'll cut federal spending to make sure we have the resources for those that need it and not those who have gotten fat off of subsidies;

He'll cut the chains that government has put on productivity, allowing builders to build and energy companies to explore and producers to make;

He'll cut every trade barrier he can find and commit to an export economy that will surge the growth in American production of the goods and services demanded around the globe;

He'll cut the corrupt culture of self-dealing that allowed Freddie and Fannie to pump hundreds of billions of bad loans to over-their-head borrowers and into the economy and thereby infect our financial system to the point of collapse....

Question:  If our economy weren't threatened by a credit crisis, but instead by, say, big furry mice, would you still say it was threatened by rising taxes?  What kinds of economic threats do you think exist, other than taxes?

I'm sure the far left is just as nutty in their own way.  Question for them: How high would taxes have to be before you'd advocate for a smaller government?  100%?

The fact is, though, that ever since the Reagan Revolution, the political "moderates" have been much closer to the far-right nutjobs than to the far left nutjobs.  Communism is dead; no one seriously supports that ideology any more.  Liberalism has been a toxic political label for thirty years.  No one who supports "protectionism" or "pacifism" survives as a viable politician for very long.  The only influential wingnuts are the right wing ones.  So it's both amusing and scary to see how tightly they cling to their beliefs in the face of a reality that demands something different.

The good news is that most people aren't ideologues.  If they can be induced to pay enough attention to form their own opinions, they'll realize that most of today's problems spring from too much right-wing ideology and not too little.  While a little Reaganism might have been good for the nation at the end of the 1970s (debatable), it's certainly toxic now.  We're suffering from too much Reaganism, and we've been doing so for a long time.

That's why, if the people pay attention, it'll be fun to tour the right-wing blogs again after John McCain loses this election.  My question for the Hugh Hewitts then will be:  How massive a landslide would Barack Obama have had to win by before you'd admit that the reason McCain lost was that the voters just didn't want him to be president?