How Republicans Can Rise From The Ashes

Nonsense about America being a “center-right” nation holds true only with rough averages and no consideration of causality. Conservative ascendancy in this country has always followed some massive disruption of the country’s equilibrium. To the extent the Republicans have been the Conservative party (which was not the case at all times—sometimes they were the party of reform, sometimes the Democrats were more conservative, sometimes both parties were conservative) their power has followed (1) the Revolution. The Federalist Party were essential Tories who just didn’t want rule from England. But they wanted English law, English castes, and some of them even wanted a king. Their power was broken with the election of Thomas Jefferson and they ceased to exist when they didn’t want to fight the War of 1812. Their legacy as a party is largely the highly centralizing jurisprudence of Justice Marshall.

From 1800 to 1861 America, with a few hiccups, was without massive concentrations of wealth, vast disparities of wealth, or internal conflict. Except for Native Americans and slaves. The former have never achieved resolution, and the latter, well that situation led to the second major disequilibrium, (2) the Civil War, when the opposition party wasn’t able to elect anyone. The Civil War was the most massive disruption in American history. It had its roots in the Founding, and its legacy is still palpable today. The Conservative ascendancy following it peaked 35 years later, and didn’t really break down until 1932. The Populists and Progressives were counterforces that naturally arose trying to return the country to its equilibrium to resist the centralizing of wealth in the railroads and trusts. This counterforce was not strong enough to prevent concentrated wealth from spinning into its own vortex, and then it went into hiding. After a failed coup attempt in the first years of FDR’s administration, concentrated wealth took a back seat to national unity in war.

The next disruption is more a series of contemporaneous events that I have spent a long time trying to identify the root causes of. My best guess is that they all stem from the Post-WWII order, but it’s hard to say. This disruption included (a) civil rights, (b) bleaching of gender roles, (c) atomizing of industry, (d) economic globalization, (e) transition to a net oil importer, (f) military failure. Starting in the early 60s, peaking in approximately 1968, this disruption’s fallout led directly to our current blight. Starting with Nixon, whose personal failures caused a brief interruption, and with three independent peaks—1984, 1994, and 2002, Conservatism was ascendant, even in the policies of most Democrats, including Bill Clinton (I reject the notion that universal healthcare will make rich people poorer the way redistribution of wealth does. It will, in fact, make them richer. It will also make poor people richer. Not caring about this distinction is part of the disease that has toppled the latest iteration of Conservatism.)

This era was on its way out in 2000. People were happy with the moderate economic policies of the Clinton years, and remembered what had preceded them after the Reagan-Bush I fallout. The world was as peaceful as it’s ever been, and old social prejudices were breaking down. But it was snapped back by the Florida Coup and by 9/11. I think Americans felt that they had gone soft in the 90s and 9/11 was their punishment. That’s not quite right. America had gotten selfish and insular in the 90s, letting its wealth power instead of its military power work its magic on the rest of the world.

These events simply blocked the emerging counterforce that pulled us back towards a sort of Eisenhower+Inclusion era, and the concentration of wealth once again worked itself into a vicious cycle that has wreaked enough damage on our economy to cause a populist fever to rise. It’s not directed at Republicans, really. It’s directed at wealth. People who don’t understand economics don’t really understand that the TARP isn’t really coming “out of their pockets” and that injecting capital into a liquidity trap is the best thing we know to do. They are mad at the bankers’ perqs—the corporate jets, the bonuses, etc. (Corporate jets can actually make a company more efficient by letting its high paid executives be where they need to be on the schedule the company demands, and the bonuses are really just part of the bargain and are only called that for legal reasons—they should be outraged at the salaries in the first place, which make the jets efficient, and the bonuses are just part of them.) They are mad that the feel like they are paying for these things. Well, they’ve ALWAYS been paying for these things. But paying them through taxes feel different, I guess.

People haven’t quite permitted themselves to understand that the cheapest and most efficient solution—nationalization—isn’t the same as socialism. If you nationalize something to fix it and then privatize it later, it’s just optimizing capitalism, after all. So, here we are. Knowing we need to do something, but not quite permitting ourselves to do it all yet.

This will probably permit a equilibrium era for a while. I think it would be reasonable to expect 2-4 Presidential terms and another 10 years of Congressional control. The way out of this for Republicans (not necessarily Conservatives, but Republicans—think Eisenhower, TR) is that there is no organized leftist power in this country, but liberals think the Democratic party is that. It’s like phantom limb syndrome. The Republicans have been the Conservative power, and the Democrats have been the equilibrium party. With brief glimmers as the exception, there has never been a party pulling left on the equilibrium.

Just as the Conservatives don’t understand they swim against the tide pulling this country to the right (hence the non-ironic labeling of this country as “center right”) liberals think they are the equilibrium. They are not. They think that Democrats are the party of the left. They are not.

Understanding these misidentifications makes a lot of sense of a lot of weird political events. Just think about 1968. Nixon was far more easy to identify with the equilibrium of the past than any of the Democrats, except maybe RFK who was ironically more progressive, because the leftists in the country identified with the Democrats! No Democratic candidate in 1968 would have abolished nuclear weapons, pulled out of anywhere except possibly Vietnam, or dressed like a flower child, or started real socialism in the country. It was an illusion.

We risk the same now. Many leftists have thought that President Obama, since his early candidacy, was just kidding about his proclamations and that he was really some kind of leftist revolutionary. When the entire country isn’t unionized and there isn’t single payer health care and no more military by 2010, leftist disillusion may interrupt the Supermajority power of the Democratic party.

This is the opening—an opening for which I almost feel treasonous to write about—that Republicans can exploit.

Too many liberals are brusquely anti-religious, expect every ethnic strife to be resolved a la Ghandi, and never think war is necessary. Many of them also have Neo-Luddite illusions about environmental policy. Now, I don’t know many Democrats in power, and Obama certain doesn’t, that actually operate on these assumptions. But if they get identified with your neighbor that even is against going after bin Laden, well, it doesn’t matter what they will really do. Ask Hubert Humphrey. The fact that Obama appears to be pretty religious doesn’t even matter, either.

This is not to say, of course, that we should adopt Christian law, that we should support ethnic cleansing, or wage indiscriminate war, or continue to plunder the economy. It just means that all of these things must be approached as chess, and not as checkers. To the extent that antsy liberals lack patience, they will put enough cracks to let the Republican darkness get back in.

Therefore, my masochist advice to Republicans is actually to not oppose some of the more radical changes, but instead wait for the inevitable equilibrium violating move. My advice to Obama and the Democrats is to restore and make robust the equilibrium by restoring the middle class first, and then let the other things work themselves out.

That won’t happen, and Charlie Crist will probably be president in 2016 or 2020. I just hope that some stuff gets done in between.

Still a chance at 60?

I like Nate, but only a Democrat would worry about the downside of having 60 senators.

If they know they can’t filibuster, the only thing left for them to do is cut deals.

Even if he’s right and 2010 ends up being about “balance government” who cares if Obama’s agenda is already in place? if healthcare is already in place? etc.

Who is credit worthy?

So, here’s my question. The government spent or is spending almost a trillion to open up the credit market. But who’s credit worthy?

There is going to have to be some kind of consumer bankruptcy in order to address this. Americans are reliant to and and addicted to their credit cards. Stop being able to qualify for them and we might get by, but we will not be able to sustain the levels of spending we did before.

Belated Inauguration Day Diary

On January 19, Mr. MacGergor and ST navigated to the parking spot in Northern Virginia that we had found on Craigslist. The owner of the home attached to the parking spot let us sleep on her couch, gratuis. Anything for an Obama volunteer, she said.

There were only a few hours for sleep before the cellphone alarm woke us at 3:00 AM. We dressed, swallowed some coffee, and walked to the Vienna Metro station that was across the street. There was already an impressive line of cars waiting to park there. We made our way to the Metro and at 4:00 AM it lumbered towards DC as the inhabitants stuffed inside cheered.

After a few stops the train was packed like a tin of spam and many people were left on the platform, unable to negotiate the tangle of bodies inside. We exited with much of the throng at the Federal Triangle and began to step towards the Capitol building. The Washington Monument and the Capitol itself glowed in their electrical light in the pitch darkness of that cold morning like great ivory Totems.

capitol-am

We stopped six rows back from a steel barrier. This was about as close as you could get without a ticket. Before we had time to even think if we were in the optimal spot, countless hominids were standing behind us.

inauguration-am-crowd1

The immediate crowd around us appeared to be over 90% African-American and largely college age. Two older women stood out. One said that she had marched on Washington with MLK in 1963. The other had no story, but was wearing fine clothes and was glowing and beaming from the very core of her being. As the morning darkness gave way to sunrise people coming and going  jostled the crowd. You had no choice but to grab your companion and let the multitude take you where it would. Somehow, this joyous woman aglow always managed to migrate closer to the front with each tectonic shift. She’s the one wearing the fuzzy purple and black hat in front of the leather jacketed arm in the photo below.

purplehat

Every community has its demon. At Mr. MacGregor and ST’s corner of the Inauguration, our demon presented himself as two paramedics hurried an elderly gentleman that had collapsed out of the crowd. The demon followed the tunnel that the paramedics made through the multitude, and planted himself in the front of the throng. Despite substantial hate from all those around him and the glacial movements of the masses he did not budge from his perch directly in the way of most of my pictures. He was tall and, ironically, hooded. He will be reincarnated as a batch of herpes atop a hemorrhoid.

douchebag

The early chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” and other songs dimmed as exhaustion set in. The sun did little to warm the day. Space only got tighter. ST and Mr. MacGergor were wise to eat their sandwich at about 9 AM, because shortly thereafter it became almost impossible to lift your arms up from your side. We chose not to drink any water, because we knew that a bathroom break would mean the surrender of our spot.

It was arctic freezing cold. Some gave up and bounced. “We’re from Florida,” one guy said on behalf of his girl, “we don’t do this.”

Early portions of the program at least provided entertainment in the numbing cold. The appearance of Generalissimo Bush on the Jumbotron ignited a bellow of boos and hisses that morphed into arena-like renditions of “Hit the Road Jack” and “Hey Hey Goodbye.”

Finally, the show began. While the crowd never quite quieted down, the waiting finally became worth it as the benediction echoed, Joe was sworn in, Aretha sang, and Yo Yo et al “played.”

The Moment finally came. I will admit that I always feel a slight itching at the bottom of my heart whenever I see Obama. There is a tiny part of me that is waiting and fearing a fatal gun shot. This tension was a touch higher than usual just then, and I was trying really hard to get a photo of history around the obstructive hood of the demon. In that moment, Justice Roberts’ oath snafu was but a weird hiccup that could not dent the speed of those seconds. This is what I got:

history

Obama’s speech lacked a singular line. It was a series of topic sentences that severed the ties from these awful eight years. The snuffles I heard were a combination of tears and running noses from the cold. A few tears, in my case, at hearing something aspirational and sensical from a real President at long last. The crowd clapped and cheered, and then began to disperse. We wanted to stay for the poem and convocation, but after being compressed like a ball of krill for so long, it was counterintuitive not to get out of there immediately.

Before we got swallowed in the wayward exiting of the crowd, we watched as Marine One, the Pesidential helicopter, flew over the Mall like a giant grasshopper, spiriting Generalissimo Bush away, at last. The balloon animal in my intestines suddenly unwound, my chest  relaxed, and my shoulders felt lighter. It was truly over. Generalissimo Bush was gone!

Getting out of DC was a dress rehearsal for being a refuge. All in all, we did not actually sit down for 12 consecutive hours. Somehow, the Turnpike was closed, which added another hour to the journey back to Central New Jersey. A warm cheesesteak and a good nights sleep later, and it was all definitely worth it.

A few days later Mr. MacGregor and ST were headed towards Ellis Island. We were surprised to see Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior, as our ferry stopped at Liberty Island. The ferry followed his special Secretary of Interior boat to Ellis Island and we got a good view of him meeting some functionaries there. Turns out he was in NY/NJ harbor at the behest of local Congressmen that wanted the upper reaches of the Statue of Liberty reopened. In means iconic and minute change had finally come to America.

salazar

Somehow, seeing Secretary Salazar clarified the whole purpose our trip to President Obama’s Inauguration. The eight terrible years are over. America is America again!

americanflags

statueofliberty

Geithner

Looks like he’s getting confirmed, but he’s drawing a lot of Noes. I have 21 right now.

Update: Some of the Noes: McCain, Feingold, Sanders, Harkin, Byrd.

Update 2: 60-34