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Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to the present

Suddenly, here in the middle of August, three weeks before what used to be the traditional convention kick-off of Labor Day and before either of the very tardy conventions, it seems pretty clear that Barack Obama is going to win re-election. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, whom I do not know, has made a name, a reputation, and a career by applying the kind of rigorous statistical models initially developed to explain baseball to politics. And make no mistake about it: baseball is one hell of a lot more unpredictable than politics, which is why so many more people pay close attention to it and why it's so much more fun. Silver at this point gives Romney only a 30% chance of victory, and he shows most of the battleground states, with the exception of North Carolina, very likely to go for Obama. He also, apparently, gives the Republicans a good chance of picking up the Senate, although I do not believe that he has yet published a prediction based on a fully developed model for that.

Obama's re-election, in my opinion, will by our Thermidor. Since 2000 the Republicans have played the role of the Jacogins in the French Revolution, ruthlessly trying to destroy the old regime--New Deal America--without regard to the consequences, and, in the last few years, eating themselves alive in the process. Romney's decision to select Paul Ryan is proof that the Jacobin spirit is still pre-eminent within the party, even though it couldn't produce a winning Presidential candidate. The bounce he is enjoying at the polls is, as Silver has demonstrated beyond a doubt, meaningless--like convention bounces, it's something that happens to every candidate without affecting the eventual outcome. The choice has already put Romney into deep trouble with older voters, the Republicans' greatest strength. Ryan is what passes for a thinker in today's Republican Party, but his famous budget has never been fleshed out, depends on fantastically optimistic assumptions, and does not include a real explanation of how he would make up the lost revenue from his tax cuts. It is simply another step in the degradation of American politics.

An Obama victory will be a relief, but hardly a cause for celebration. The House will probably remain Republican and the Senate too evenly divided to do anything. The economy will grow slowly and much of the younger generation--like GIs in the 1930s--will be locked out. Generation X, which generally regards both the elder Boomers and the younger Millennials as spoiled brats, will gain more and more power with advancing age. In an effort to restart an effort towards bipartisanship, the President will probably once again cobble together a compromise in December to prevent the Bush tax cuts from expiring. In my opinion he should have let them expire two years ago.

Leadership requires clarity of vision and directed action. Both are almost completely lacking from our politics, just as they were 130 years ago during the Gilded Age. Then, the parties fought a series of close elections decided by a few key states. (New York and New Jersey played the role of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Virginia today.) The parties opposed one another with violent rhetoric without offering anything fundamentally different, and there was no real natonal consensus about anything.

Thinking nationally has become unfashionable. While Republicans encourage economic selfishness, Democrats encourage their adherents to define themselves by gender and race. This country was built upon impartial principles expressed in universal language, and our previous crises--even the least successful, the Civil War--gave that language new meaning. That is not yet happening this time. It may be many more years before it happens again.

Paul Ryan, by the way, has been cited many times as yet another acolyte, like so many of today's Republicans, of Ayn Rand. Oddly, Ayn Rand embodied all sides of our national spirit: she was both a dedicated free marketeer and a social liberal who hated religion and favored abortion. (I don't know what her stance was on homosexuality.) In the last couple of weeks I decided I had no choice but finally to try to find out what all the fuss is about, and I began reading Atlas Shrugged. It's an odd, self-indulgent and very long book, and after 120 out of 1000 pages I'm not too impressed, but I shall try to continue and report on it. Any popular book explains something; the question is what.


steveftw said...

You know, it's amazing how many weeks you seem to echo my feelings.

I can clearly hear my disappointment in the failure of our "leaders" to do anything other than march all of us towards a cliff in your writings.

I agree the Ryan selection seems to show Romney throwing in the towel. It's hard to see a path to victory when the head of the ticket will say anything to get a vote, is seen as someone without a political compass and his choice of VP results in energizing the base on both sides.

John Stewart's bit on Monday's Daily Show - where a "Dem" and a "Rep" both said exactly the same words at the same time about Ryan - but with different intonations, seems to reflect the divisiveness both sides are seeding in the electorate.

It's a long time to 2016.

publion said...

Now I do this with respect and in the interest of furthering deliberation and comprehension of the issues DK rightly raised in this Post.

Yes, Big Money has always wanted to deconstruct the New Deal. Nor did it help that while FDR - pursuing the same course as his older relative TR - sought to expand the power of the government on behalf of the vast majority of Americans caught under the aegis of unfettered capitalism, yet his efforts in some ways resembled and shared the statist (and worse) models of governance developing in Europe and Russia at the time.

But I also point out that on an even deeper level, there were ineluctable (and hardly unforseeble) consequences built into the (Gramscian) deconstruction of 'traditional' American culture embraced in the late 1960s and since.

Humans being what they are, the Shape imparted by any society's Culture serves as a Framework. Much as in a ship or aircraft, a certain rigidity if required to hold the thing together, even as you also want some flexibility and resilience in the Frame as well.

The resulting necessary Balance has never quite been struck since the 1960s around here. Indeed, for the actual Left, the Balance was seen as nothing but 'compromise with oppression', mirroring both native Abolitionist (rather than Progressive) thought and - alas - European Jacobin and Gramscian Revolutionary thought.

At this point, it may be - as DK intimated at the end of a very recent Post - too late to constructively make use of this insight (to the extent that it is accurate and applicable).

But - I respectfully submit - there it is.

DAngler said...

Six months back I wouldn't have given Obama any chance of victory, because of the terrible jobs situation and the incessant hammering on his every word and action by FOX and EIB. It felt like we were caught in a whirlpool with no way out.

I suppose that the Republicans felt they had us licked; which may be why they got so casual about the feelings of the general populace. Arrogance is generally a good recipe for disaster.

The Republicans appear to us liberals to be imploding -- from the intellectual vacuum of their politics -- but I think that appearance is only obvious to the well versed in politics. I'm amazed at my far right friends who see no inconsistency (nor moral issues) in their party. But they are sensing that their party is focused too much on the rich and doesn't care much about their future.

Although it feels good to think that Obama could be reelected, and it is indeed better than the alternative, that warm feeling is tempered by the inevitable gridlock you and we all expect.

Thanks for another thoughtful post. I always look forward to them.

Bozon said...


Great short essay on the status quo
This was my favorite line:

"Ryan is what passes for a thinker in today's Republican Party,..."

Sorry to hear you feel it necessary to wade into the old Ayn Rand morass.

I did it, thankfully, long ago, when ill in the hospital, and with a lot of time on my hands.

Rand has had many acolytes apparently, including Greenspan, etc., etc.

She was not a bona fide intellectual, assuming that such a kind of thing like that exists.

How shall I put it? She represents, ideologically, just one of the countless times when the US jigged, intellectually, and politically, when it should have jagged, with respect to socialism, and then to the Soviet Revolution, and a reasoned response to them.

She was as misguided, in her way, as was McCarthyism in its.

all the best,

Matthew E said...

As you know I'm something of an Ayn Rand guy myself. Not like I once was, but more than not at all.

She didn't write much about homosexuality; I think she just considered it a yucky disorder and not any kind of issue. (There are subjects about which what I think has nothing to do with what Rand thinks; this is one.) Certainly she had very strong ideas about the natures of masculinity and femininity, ideas that don't strike me as having much of a logical connection to the rest of her philosophy, that homosexuality doesn't fit well with. If I had to guess I'd say that she would find it grotesque that people spend so much time talking about it these days, but I also guess that she wouldn't think anybody should lose any rights for being gay.

There is much to be said both for and against Atlas Shrugged, but for me, it's still the one book that did the best job of keeping me turning pages even after I really should have been asleep. I just had to know what was going on. You probably know more about it going into it than I did at the time and are therefore unlikely to experience the same effect.

Bozon said...



Gary Cooper was quite good as Howard Roark, The Fountainhead film, but of course Rand is best left as Hollywood mythology stories..... Early ' pulp fiction ' to some extent.

Trouble is, Americans believe this stuff..........

All the best