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Friday, October 19, 2012

Conservative punditry

I mentioned last week that reality, and particularly statistical reality, took a beating in the first presidential debate. It didn't do a great deal better in the second one, although President Obama did. But today I want to discuss the most recent columns of two of our leading right wing pundits, David Brooks and George Will Both of them pride themselves on being reasoned intellectuals; both, sadly, are now shilling for the worst aspects of the Republican right.

Brooks's column today is about energy. Al Gore's loss of the Presidency in 2000 apparently convinced energy interests, who for the first time included both the President and Vice President of the United States, to strike while the iron was hot. Some day, if serious history survives long enough, some one will piece together the story of what Dick Cheney's energy task force actually did. It evidently decided on a long term push to develop sources of energy in North America, including both oil and natural gas the latter to be extracted through the new technique of "fracking." In 2003 the Republicans slipped an exemption from EPA regulation for fracking into a law--something I know only thanks to the HBO documentary Gasland. The price of energy has doubled since then, fueling the domestic boom, which has made two states--Oklahoma and North Dakota--islands of prosperity in our depressed economy. One of the best questions in the debate the other night related to Secretary Chiu's statement that it wasn't his job to reduce the price of energy. Both the President and Mitt Romney dodged it completely.

Brooks's column today takes note of our increasing reliance on fossil fuels, but treats it simply as a joke on environmentalists in general and Al Gore in particular. He makes it sound as if the whole shift away from green solutions, which he even claims to favor personally himself, is nothing but another triumph of the free market. He doesn't even mention the environmental consequences of fracking, which in some cases are turning out to be extremely serious. Nor does he suggest that the increasing political activism of energy magnates like the Koch brothers might have anything to do with it. He has the gall to accuse Al Gore of getting rich out of green energy, as if no one has ever gotten rich out of oil and gas. He has nothing to say about the high cost of energy either. In other words, he takes a triumph of right-wing money and right-wing politics and turns it into a simple manifestation of the course of history.

Will's latest,
in my opinion, is even more pathetic. It's an all-out attack on Barack Obama for having made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. He never mentions that the Republican Congress had persistently prevented them from coming to a vote in an effort to make the Wagner Act a dead letter. The President, like Presidents before him--including George W. Bush--took advantage of a technicality to make a recess appointment, even though the Senate was claiming to be in session, a fiction it maintained by having two or three Senators show up every day. Will makes that sound like an impeachable offense. He doesn't care that the Republicans have used this tactic to make it impossible for much of the federal government to function. He has come to hate government, like the Republicans, and he evidently doesn't care what tactics are used to stop it.

Polling is another area in which logic has gone out the window. The Gallup Poll is now owned by an Omaha, Nebraska outfit named Selection Research, and it seems to be functioning as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. It is showing a big lead for Romney, in complete contrast to virtually every other poll, as Nate Silver has gently pointed out. Yet Drudge headlines it every day, and other Republican sites use it to rally the troops. Romney may win the election, but he ain't going to win the popular vote by 5%. No one, however, is likely to care.

The political landscape is rather confusing today because elite opinion, in my judgment, is out of touch with popular opinion. The right-wing media are far more powerful than the left, and Frank Rich is now convinced the Tea Party is going to control the future of the U.S. (I think he is going too far: free market ideology has won huge victories and will probably hang on to them, but the trend may at least come to a halt soon.) But right-wing Senate candidates are in deep trouble in Maine, Wisconsin (where the Democrat is a gay woman), Ohio, Virginia, and even in Indiana. What we lack is leadership, probably because of the power of money--including energy money--over both parties. That is why we face nothing more than a choice between the lesser of two evils--but make no mistake about it, Obama is the lesser by a considerable margin. If you don't believe me, read this welcome dose of reality, an insider's description of what private equity really is, how it earns its money, and how little Romney's experience will allow him to do for anyone except fellow financiers in private equity. The free pass he has been given for being part of the economic problem never ceases to amaze me.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

David, back in 1972, I spent Easter weekend with a Croatian family in Ohio. At the time, I was working on Hubert Humphrey's field staff for the Ohio presidential primary.

After Easter dinner, my hosts and I got into a long discussion about history and the flow of events. I used the metaphor of a river: History being a river that we can never stop, only one that we can attempt to channel in either productive or destructive directions. Yet, the river can also flood, overwhelming mankind's pitiful defenses.

Frankly, I believe the water is rising. We, however, fall back on our inbred denial as a defense, understanding though that "something" may be brewing. The Kochs, who are convenient symbols of the hyper-rich, are simply seeking to channel the flood to their advantage, as their type always has. They occupy their islands in the stream, tossing out life rings to enough people to give the illusion of salvation. Those life rings are ballots, the chance to vote. Not many people will be pulled up to live on the island of privilege and wealth. Once they have pledged their fealty to the vision of the Kochs et. al., they will be let go to float downstream on the flood waters on their own. For them, it will be too late, but the Koch gang will be high and dry on their island, secure -- for the time being.

I, however, don't want to single out the Koch clique. There are many Democrats who have also built their own islands in the stream, secure in their own wealth and power.

One way or another, I think we are devolving toward a form of democratic feudalism, whether of the right or the center-right.