October 2009

They say that Bernie Kerik is suicidal. I have made it my mission to help the man, but it’s not just a matter of buying a $3 length of rope. You know how it is in New York — getting the rope to where it will do the most good is going to cost real money. Please donate here.


Sarah Palin is so incredibly small-time. She’s being blackmailed by stoner Levi Johnston, and she deserves him. This is reality-show People-magazine self-help pyramid-scam rehab-Christian politics. The two of them are both good looking and that’s all they’ve got. Sarah got a bunch of dirty old men aroused for the first time in awhile, so they nominated her for VP.

Nothing new there, but WTF are conservatives and Christians thinking? They want one of the most ignorant people in the world to hold the nuclear trigger. It’s like an Abbie Hoffman mindfuck with live ammunition. Is shameless, heedless nihilism now a necessary constituent of conservativism?

Sorry, this is all old hat but the Levi Johnston interview just tore off the scab. I’d numbed myself, as we all have, and I’d forgotten what’s really happening. It’s like waking up from a bad dream and finding out that it’s real. We have a Presidential candidate who’s one degree of separation away from the Alaskan petty crime scene and millions of miles away from reality.

I’ve been there too, more or less, and I’ve always thought that that is one of the reasons why I’m not a Republican Presidential candidate. But I was so wrong.

Conservatives should all be wearing paper bags over their heads. They did this.

Free-marketers are utopian optimists about the market and technological progress, but apocalyptic pessimists about social and political action.

Unsurprisingly, many free-market economic models leave out society and government entirely, as though they were epiphenomenal and derivative.

Also unsurprisingly, free-market economists analyze society and government as though they were markets — most egregiously Becker on the family, but also a lot of public choice theory.

And still unsurprisingly, a lot of freemarketers wish that government, and to a lesser extent society, would just go away, since what they really are is just defective, distorted, inefficient markets. (Though the wiser ones acknowledge that in this fallen world these archaic survivals retain some residual function.)

However,  whenever the market fails freemarketers blame individual or group psychology, society, or the state.  (To my knowledge, free-market economists do not blame the family for anything, but if more of them were gay or single I bet they would.)

      Democrats, Populism and Insurgent Populists (a response)

    Michael Moore’s latest film and Alan Grayson’s “die quickly” speech in the House have revived interest in an old question: What is populism, and why is the Democratic Party so afraid of it?

    Populism is politics which opposes wealth and power in the name of the common folk. It takes both left wing and right wing forms and sometimes degenerates into bigotry and attacks on minorities. Populism can be faked, and that is being done right now – e.g., Limbaugh and Beck. Populist appeals can be made by spokesmen for special interests who have no intention of fulfilling their democratic promises, but who are just opportunistically faking populism as part of an attack on some enemy. (As I never get tired of saying: Republican populism is fake, but Democratic elitism is real).

    Since the Fifties the Democratic Party, whose populist wing was critically important during the New Deal, has avoided and repressed populism. Individual populists such as Paul Wellstone have occasionally been elected, often in defiance of the party machine, but they have never had much influence in the party. The Democratic strategy has been cooperation with big business, and their slogan has been “a rising tide lifts all boats” — “win-win” solutions where everyone wins and nobody loses. This worked pretty well until about 1970, when business started to pull away from the deal, and since that time it’s been mostly downhill for the Democrats, for labor, and for the average American.

    When they made their deal with big business, the Democrats became a wonky party of technocrats and expert administrators who balanced all the various interests and came up with the answer which was best for everyone, and they distanced themselves from their earlier party-of-the-common-man pretensions. Rather than to represent the majority of the electorate, they increasingly defined their constituency as a hodgepodge of special interest. Political parties inevitably do represent plural interests, as the Democrats certainly had done ever since the Civil War, but the post-Fifties Democrats made a fractionated constituency a deliberate goal and did everything they could to avoid majoritarian appeals and to marginalize majoritarianism within the party.

    As part of this transformation of the party, the Democrats needed to misrepresent populism. Since then there’s been an almost unmixed stream of slanders coming from both parties, until by now anyone counts as a populist as long as they’re abusive, ignorant, racist, and dishonest. (The Nazi David Duke sometimes calls himself a Populist, and he was allowed to get away with it). Almost everyone comes out of Pol Sci 100 knowing that the Populists were bad guys, and the Pol Sci 101 attitude is pervasive among party leaders, wonk staffers, and a big chunk of the Democratic electorate.

    However, during most of the period since the Civil War, however, progressive energy in this country has mostly come from movements of the Populist typeworking outside the parties or against the party leadership: Greenbackers, Progressives (three kinds), Socialists, Farmer-Laborites, Nonpartisan-Leaguers, and independents — to say nothing of unions, farm organizations, and civil rights groups. (Martin Luther King’s movement was essentially populism, albeit minority populism).

    Below I will sketch the history of the Democratic Party in its relations with the Populist Party, small-p populism, and the various sorts of progressivism during the period from about 1890 to the middle of the 1950s, and suggest that many of the problems the Democrats have now can be traced back to the redefinition of the Democratic Party that took place at the end of this period.



    According to Brad Delong, the best judgment at the time was that a trillion dollar stimulus would be about right — though new information makes that seem too low now. Everyone knew that a trillion would be too much for Congress, so what they asked for was 800 million. What they actually got was 600 million.

    Rahm seems like a tough guy, but only when he’s talking to liberals. Otherwise he’s just like any other Democrat.

    Democrats always start the bidding with their final offer. They’re scientists of politics, after all, and they know that the future is written (as it says the the Koran) and that “negotiations” are epiphenomenal and illusory. That’s what game theory is for — why waste time playing games when science can tell you what the final score will be?

    But the vulgar, stupid, brutish Republicans keep on fighting, wrongly believing that you can accomplish something that way. Bad Republicans!

    Allan Grayson’s recent “Die Now” speech got me thinking again about one of my favorite topics: the Democrats’ refusal to use “populist” language.

    Decades ago the Democratic committed itself to a weird form of cool, unemotional, above-the-battle wonk politics. It’s a weird mix of Gandhi, Orwell, genteel mugwumpery, value-neutral ideology, and trust in manipulative administration by experts. Democrats think that they’re 17-dimensional Zen chess masters who can defeat their enemy without moving a muscle. Which they might be, for all I know, except for the winning part.

    Since 1968 that strategy hasn’t worked at all well, and since the coronation of Speaker Gingrich in 1992 it hasn’t worked at all. The Republicans have been having tremendous fun teasing Democrats with lies and insults to see if they’ll stamp their little feet and start crying in frustration , or maybe send a stiffly worded letter.

    Historically, most of America’s progressive energy has come from borderline demagogues who often worked outside and against the two parties. FDR started off planning to be a horrible president, but he didn’t get his way.

    P.S. Lest I seem unsophisticated, the onset of the Democrats’ weird mental deficiencies coincided with their decision to cozy up to big business and ask for money — “Liberals are not afraid of bigness”, as Hofstadter said.

    The party pros are actually tough guys who’re getting theirs. It’s the rank and file who are weenies.