Balkinization  

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another whining rage of despair

Sandy Levinson

Tom Friedman has yet another column, this one from Davos, in today's Times bemoaning the present state of affairs in the U.S. and noting that his fellow participants in the Davos conclave are, for the first time, raising the question of "political instability" in America. I think that such questions are altogether rational. Alas, though, Tom Friedman--like, for that matter, all other famous pundits--seems constitutionally incapable (pun definitely intended) of offering a cogent response to his interlocutors. All he can do is is quote one K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a Silicon Valle feul cell company, who states that "Our two-party political system is broken just when everthing needs major repair, not minor repair" (emphasis added). Again, true enough. But apparently "everything" doesn't extend to the Constitution itself, which creates, in substantial measure, the dysfunctional political system that is leading, according to Friedman, the potential replacement of the vaunted "Washington consensus" with a new "Beijing consensus," inasmuch as the Chinese system seems to be working in a way that ours most definitely is not.

All that the leading columnist in the leading newspaper in the United States can say is that we are "stuck" in partisanship, and that the answer is for President Obama and "just six or eight Republican senators--a few more Judd Greggs and Lindsey Grahams" to meet "somewhere in the middle on deficit reduction, energy, health care and banking reform." Apparently, Friedman believes that these Republicans will decide that what they most want to do is to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012, just as Teddy Kennedy (plus, of course, Osama bin Laden) elected George Bush in 2004 by providing cover for Bush's "signature" domestic issues of No Child Left Behind and the Prescription Drug Bill. There is no reason to expect any Republican to do so. Even such vaunted "moderates" as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins seem incapable of engaging in more than a scintilla (if that) of independent thinking or, more to the point, voting. This is true even of someone like George Voinovich, who isn't even running for re-election but is still incapable of truly breaking with his party on anything important.

Frank Rich, whose understanding of American politics is, I think, far better than Friedman's, has an excellent column on the "Comatose" state of the union. But even he can't connect the dots and realize that the problem is the dreadful Madisonian system we are afflicted with in an age of a basically parliamentaryopposition, whose primary, indeed exclusive, goal is discrediting the party "in power" and replacing it.

I join Andy Koppelman in commending Sen. Udall for his announced intention to try to eliminate the filibuster at the beginning of the next session of the Senate, in January 2011. But there is zero chance of success unless many other Democrats, led, of course, by President Obama, join not only in their opposition to the filibuster, but also, and perhaps m ore importantly, in educating the public as to its existence and consequences for the issues that most concern them. Consider Charles Blow's excellent column in Saturday's Times, which demonstrated that significantly less than a majority of Americans are even aware of the "60 vote rule" and theh fact that not a single Republican was willing to vote for the health bill (or, for that matter, to raise the limits on the federal defecit). It is absolutely essential for President Obama to take the lead in educating his constituents. By election day, we should treat the mantra of "McConnell, Kyl, and Cornyn" as the equivalent of FDR's "Martin, Barton, and Fish." It is certainly nice to see Obama going to Baltimore to take on his enemies, but he surely must realize at some point that they are his enemies, who wish only and exclusively his political destruction, and that they will continue to use the absurd and indefensible rules of the Senate to deprive him of anything that he will be able to claim as a truly important "achievement" in 2012. If he thinks anything else, he is stupid, and I do not think that is a word that one can use with this President. Nor are the American people stupid. They are simply stunningly uneducated and in need of genuine leadership. Will he, or any other Democrat, join Sen. Udall in providing it?


Comments:

Obama appears to be a deep disappointment to the Euro socialists and the corporate masters of the universe who populate the Davos conclaves. The Davos folks appear to have really believed that Obama had buried the hated Reagan free market "Washington consensus." As a jubilant Newsweek cover proclaimed last spring: "We are all socialists now."

Then, along come the damn American voters and their scary Tea Party rebellion bringing "political instability" to what was supposed to an orderly government controlled economic decline like Brussels is bringing to the EU.

The preferred alternative to the Washington consensus was freely disclosed by one of the American masters of the universe at Davos, K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a fuel cell company in Silicon Valley:

The Beijing Consensus, says Bennhold, is a “Confucian-Communist-Capitalist” hybrid under the umbrella of a one-party state, with a lot of government guidance, strictly controlled capital markets and an authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices and long-term investments, without having to heed daily public polls.

Of course, the very survival of Sridhar's firm relies upon Obama succeeding in enacting cap and tax to make fossil fuels too expensive to use and then sending more tax payer money to "grow green jobs" in corporations like his. The only way you can do this is for America to adopt an "authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices and long-term investments, without having to heed daily public polls."

In reality, China has a far different view of itself and Obama. From the Chinese Huanqiu news after Obama nationalized General Motors:

There is a joke that has quietly circulated its way around--In 1949 it was only socialism that could save China, in 1989 only China could save socialism and in 2009 only China can save capitalism.

Across the great ocean on the American shore, there is a view that has an astonishing resemblance to this one. On the front cover of the mid-February edition of America's Newsweek magazine there was a very direct heading that asserted "we are all socialists now." Is the United States a socialist country? Without question, it is not. Are there socialist attributes to President Obama's reform? Without a question, there are.

With regards to GM bankruptcy protection and the restructuring of financial institutions, Obama's reform measures, invariably, reflect socialistic characteristics. The largest shareholders of General Motors Automotive are now the government and the workers union. This means that this company, which is a symbol of the American capitalist spirit, has become a "state and collectively owned enterprise."...

Something that has an even more socialist flavor than nationalization of enterprise and strengthened regulation is Obama's medical insurance reform. The intent is to give every American affordable medical insurance by means of establishing a government supported public medical insurance program that would compete with private insurance companies. Obama's view on the matter was that "if the private insurance companies have to compete with public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down." In other words, the United States wants to use the strength of the government to establish an "everyone has medical insurance" society, very much in tune with the socialist concept of "everyone has rice to eat and everyone has clothes to wear."

 

Apparently Bart either believes that the Chinese author of that piece is speaking truthfully -- in which case it's odd that he included only the first part of the piece and didn't go on to mention the rest, where the author claims American schoolchildren are required to read Marx in school, along with other tripe -- or he believes we should be stung by the claim and react by becoming rabid capitalists.

Only a fool would modify his behavior in reaction to an enemy's empty, rhetorical words. Only a dishonest partisan engages in quote-mining. What about someone who does both?

Oh, and by the way, "Euro socialists" and "corporate masters" are mutually contradictory. Looks like Bart has mastered the art of "Teabagger talk", where to express any coherent logic is superfluous as long as the proper buzzwords are enunciated.

Sorry, Professor Levinson, for the digression. Let me just say that I agree whole-heartedly with your take on the whole affair.
 

There's no doubt that the Republican party has become a faction in Madison's sense of the term: a group dedicated to its own private interests against the permanent, aggregate interests of the community. The question is whether we can solve that problem under the existing Constitutional structure -- say, by having the Republican party lose a series of elections until it becomes more rational -- or whether the current institutions encourage such behavior, thus making it impossible to solve the problem without changing the system.

In my own view, it's always worth trying more modest changes first, because we can always try more far-reaching changes later.* It would, for example, make sense to eliminate filibusters and holds from Senate rules in order to make the cost of opposition greater. Of course, if the Senate Dems lack the political will to enforce such changes, then the Republicans get rewarded for behaving like a faction and the country is caught in a vicious spiral in which the Democrats are unable to govern and the Republicans can do so but only by harming the long term interests of the country.

Broderish appeals to bipartisanship are not going to work in this situation, and Obama makes matters worse by continuing to use that rhetoric. The only short term solution is for the Democratic majority to move towards a more democratic Senate. If that doesn't happen, then the long-term future becomes very grim indeed, and the only change will be radical one way or the other, i.e., towards a more authoritarian polity or a new, properly democratic Constitutional structure.

*I say this despite my own oft-stated preference for substantial change in the Constitution, most notably in the Senate.
 

C2H50H said...

Apparently Bart either believes that the Chinese author of that piece is speaking truthfully...

I offered the Chinese op-ed as an antidote to Sridhar's misinterpretation of China's political economy and POV about America, not for the truth of anything.

Oh, and by the way, "Euro socialists" and "corporate masters" are mutually contradictory.

Are you kidding? Euro-socialists and large corporations have a very cozy relationship. Big corporations have no problem with regulations which increase the entry costs of potential competitors or send business their way as Sridhar hopes Obama will do for him.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus it is unsurprising that socialism is one of the most corrupt systems in the world.
 

Who can top our intrepid former backpacker for originality when he pontificates:

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I wonder if he has copyrighted this as yet? If you drink enough of it, Absolut corrupts absolutely - and in Colorado get clients for our yodeler.

Do we get egg roll with the Chinese op-ed he offers? Or is that just egg on his face in his photo? And what is the antidote to our yodeler? How many times can he use the same tea bag over and over again with his inexhaustible supply of hot water?
 

Bart,

Fine. I'll never bother chasing another quote you give us, since it's obvious you don't really care whether the quote represents truth.
 

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus it is unsurprising that socialism is one of the most corrupt systems in the world.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 10:06 PM


Baghdad, on what planet does socialism = absolute power.
 

This planet, of course. In the fantasies of socialists, socialism is power in the hands of the people. In the real world, socialism is government collecting that power in it's own hands, purportedly to exercise on behalf of the people, but really, it exercises it on behalf of government.
 

In the fantasies of socialists, socialism is power in the hands of the people. In the real world, socialism is government collecting that power in it's own hands, purportedly to exercise on behalf of the people, but really, it exercises it on behalf of government.

You know, Brett, you've given a pretty cogent proof that Canada is a totalitarian hell-hole.

Not only that, freakin' Canuck's put the slip on the financial melt-down.
 

I must take issue with Sandy on this:

"All that the leading columnist in the leading newspaper in the United States can say is ...."

Hold on, Sandy! While the NYTimes may be the leading newspaper in the US, Friedman is NOT its leading columnist. Friedman is still searching for a theme for his next book to be woven from his columns. So far, it looks Peewee Herman's suit.
 

it exercises it on behalf of government.

# posted by Brett : 7:05 AM


In a democracy the government is the people. Why do you hate democracy?
 

C2H50H said... Bart, Fine. I'll never bother chasing another quote you give us, since it's obvious you don't really care whether the quote represents truth.

Since when are quotes limited to factual truth?

I was very clear that this Chinese op-ed was not offered for the truth or falsehood of anything, but rather to demonstrate a point of view:

"In reality, China has a far different view of itself and Obama."

I will also quote lies to demonstrate that the speaker is a liar. See any number of my quotes and comments of Obama statements. The man is a target rich environment for this exercise.
 

Bartbuster said...In a democracy the government is the people. Why do you hate democracy?

No, the state only = the people under socialism and fascism.

Under classical liberalism, the two entities are distinguished and the government is the servant of the People.
 

No, the state only = the people under socialism and fascism.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 11:22 AM


Only in the shithole known as Bartworld. Here in the real world the government represents the people in a democracy. Why do you wingnuts hate democracy?
 

" ... and the government is the servant of the People."

Being in the latter group, I shall expect my lunch to be served promptly @ noon, unless the 13th Amendment applies to dis-indenture the government, in which case I'll have my usual libertarian lunch.
 

BD: " ... and the government is the servant of the People."

Shag from Brookline said...Being in the latter group, I shall expect my lunch to be served promptly @ noon...


Would that be your proverbial free lunch, my leftist friend?
 

Just as there is no free market, there is no free lunch. I've always assumed that libertarians are prepared to pay their own way in life, thus my reference to a libertarian lunch - and no tax write-off, either. But I see our intrepid former backpacker did not take the "dis-indenture" bait regarding the government as servant.
 

I think the best word on this has to be Washington's: "“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”"

And it is not the people, except in the limiting case of a person ship wrecked on an otherwise deserted island. The fiction that it is the people is nothing but a rhetorical technique meant to preclude discussions of the inherent conflict between any government, and the people it rules over.
 

meant to preclude discussions of the inherent conflict between any government, and the people it rules over.

# posted by Brett : 4:02 PM


It is nothing of the sort. That discussion takes place every time there is an election. Why do you hate democracy?
 

Shorter Brett:

Good government? It can't be done. So why try?
 

For the perfectly rational reason that, while oppression of the minority by the majority is statistically superior to oppression of the majority by the minority, it's still oppression, and merits hatred. All systems which replace individual choice with coerced group choices deserve to be hated.

Seriously, I can deal rationally with the cable company without the fiction that the cable company = the people. Why the hell should I pretend that a government roughly half the population that bothered to vote, opposed, equals the people?

There's no reason to indulge that fiction except to obscure reality.
 

Here's how the song goes:

"People, who need people,
Are the luckiest people .... "

Some might say they are unlucky. Are "We the People" too needy? Let's discuss. And bring your own tea bag - and hot water - cup or glass optional.
 

Brett, you need to find yourself a really isolated island. Good luck getting the cable company to show up. Don't call us if you need any help.
 

This post makes me die of frustration. You offer no more solutions that Friedman, Prof. Levinson. Why can't they see it's the constitution that causes these woes? Well, they do, but any rational political realist knows that (a) in the short term, the constitution is pretty much immutable, and (b) so are the rules of the Senate. Also, your savvier ones recognize that (c) seriously, you want Barack Obama to lead a campaign to explain the filibuster to the American people, and then abolish it? You don't have much of an ear for message. Far, far easier than any of the solutions you suggest: (1) compromise; (2) elect better politicians. Both are reasonable, traditional solutions to major problems. They're not sexy, but they've worked slowly but surely for two-hundred-odd years.
 

I think nothing left to say now agree with all the above comments.


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