Everything Burns: The Joker Theory and How The Dark Knight Explains The Tea Party

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Thinking about the current government shutdown, I’m reminded of something I told my cousin 2 years ago in the middle of that debt ceiling crisis-the Tea Party is like The Joker in The Dark Knight and this scene is probably what it looks like when “moderate” Republicans talk to their Tea Party counterparts:

It resonated with him quite well that we talked several times over the next couple of days about it and the debt crisis.

As we have both a shutdown and another debt crisis on the way, I figured I’d explain this theory to the big World Wide Web:

At the beginning of The Dark Knight, the mob is in trouble. Where once they ran Gotham, Batman is squeezing them out. Low level criminals are too scared to break the law. Drug suppliers aren’t available in Gotham. The various criminal organizations have had to cartel their efforts and are at the mercy of foreign money launderers. Worst of all, the government and the people of Gotham have begun to stand up to the mobsters who they once feared.

Enter The Joker. Before Batman began his (caped) crusade, he was just a psychotic small-time thief who ripped off fellow criminals. Now, he has a proposition for the mob: he will kill Batman for half of their money. With all of them facing jail time, the mob agrees. Soon, The Joker begins a reign of terror. He starts killing judges and police chiefs. Then (as shown in the above clip) he turns on the mob. Soon the whole city is in a state of chaos.

I saw parallels between this and the Tea Party. For decades, the moderate wing of the Republican Party has been withering away. From Reagan to Gingrich to Bush 43, the Republican Establishment has been concerned about gaining and exploiting power through what ever means necessary. However, their policies, from the Iraq War to tax cuts to deregulating Wall Street have been disasters. People began to turn on their ideas and, in 2008, Republicans were in tatters. They had come off of 2 election cycles where the Democrats had exceeded expectations and where Barack Obama had done better than any Presidential candidate in 20 years. Things were not looking good.

Even with these losses, Republicans and their business allies were not interested in compromise. They decided they were going to oppose Obama’s agenda tooth and nail. The hope was by preventing him from passing anything the American people would turn on the President and he would loose reelection. Things would go back to the way they were. However, Republicans were not very popular. They needed a new group.

Enter the Tea Party. For decades, there has always been an element on the right that has opposed the rights of workers, women, minorities, and gays and for businesses to have no restrictions on making a profit and the police and churches having more control over our daily lives. The genius of the Republican establishment has been to keep them at arms length while using them as the ground troops of the conservative movement. With the election of Obama, the barriers they had erected in the past were torn down. Republicans embraced this fringe with money and support.

At first, it appeared to pay off. Town Halls of Democratic officials were interrupted by right-wing protestors. When Ted Kennedy died, Republican Scott Brown got elected in blue-state Massachusetts, putting Obamacare’s passage in peril. In the fall of 2010, Republicans retook the House. With a weak economy and high unemployment, it looked like Republicans were going to go back to the days of 2003.

However, the Republicans now had a beast they couldn’t control. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, as early as 2010, Tea Partiers were calling for a shut down just to shut down the government. Their idea was government is so terrible, anything to take it down was okay. They downplay the effects of laying off thousands of government employees and even of the United States defaulting on its debt. Liberals know that transitioning from a bad system (like private health care) to a better one (like public health care) takes time and patience and requires compromises that ensure people don’t have a rough ride to a better place. Tea Parties don’t really care about making a smooth transition to their libertarian utopia. If the world burns, they’ll watch with joy.

Last year proved the Republican embrace of the Tea Party was a failure. Barack Obama pushed through a far-reaching agenda not seen since the Great Society. In political terms, it failed to stop Obama’s reelection and get control of the Senate out of the Democrat’s hands. If it wasn’t for gerrymandering, Democrats might control the House as well. Despite their failures, the Tea Party is even stronger. The Republican leadership lives in fear of loosing their jobs to more radical members of their party. Pleas by several business interests to moderate have been ignored. The Tea Party appears to be determined to take down the federal government, just because they can.

Now, The Dark Knight comparison isn’t perfect. First of all, the main theme of the movie-whether The Batman is a good influence on Gotham or inspires madness-isn’t applicable. Barack Obama isn’t the Caped Crusader. He’s the democratically elected leader of the United States, not a masked vigilante living a double life. I suppose you could compare him to Harvey Dent. However, I’m certain he’d wouldn’t become a vigilante if things get rough and he suffers a major personal tragedy.

However, the is also one parallel that sadly doesn’t exist. In The Dark Knight, after Harvey’s tragedy, the mob tells Commissioner Gordon where The Joker is. It was reported today there are many in the business community, while scared of the effects of the shutdown or a debt default, still hope the Tea Party can pull off suspending Obamacare and getting tax and entitlement cuts.

We can only hope someone care get through to the Tea Party and explain Why this is So Serious…

Since When Did Conservatives Care About The Masses?

If you read Matt Yglesias today, you have to wonder if he is paying attention to American politics at all. Some basic points-

  • Liberals/progressives/Democrats/center-left folk’s end goal is a world more equal for everyone.
  • Conservatives/libertarians/Republicans/humble Burkeans’ end goal is a world more unequal for everyone.

Why is this? Conservatives believe the natural order of the world is one where one group is on top-rich over poor, men over women, white over minorities. Therefore, there is no problem in government rewarding this. If this means taking money out of the poor and middle classes’ hands, even better. The producers certainly deserve it.

One thing so many liberals need to stop doing is pretending conservatives are something that they’re not. They don’t care about the “value proposition of government services.” They care that those they deem worthy live well off and the rest suffer for their sin of not being worthy. At least one former conservatives knows this. Why doesn’t Matt comprehend this?

 

Showing Your Work: Who really got Iraq or the market crash right?

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One thing I remember from high school math is to always show your work. The teacher wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing and not merely guessing (or cheating). For example, if the problem was-

3x+2=14

You couldn’t merely write

x=4

You had to show-

3x+2-2=14-2

3x=12

3x/3=12/3

x=4

You get the idea.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War, I’m quite afraid we’re going to get a lot of people showing us the answer they wrote at the time and claiming they have been vindicated. However, what they won’t show is how they got their answer.

As I look back on the war, I remember the problem a lot of anti-war folks ran into. They began to focus on the tactical mistakes of the war. The problems were-

  • the mission wasn’t international (no UN Flag, not even the backing of NATO)
  • we didn’t have enough troops
  • we made horrible political decisions like firing all Baath Party and firing the army and them replacing them with political hacks from the Republican Party

James Fallows wrote yesterday about how his arguments before the war, while critical, accepted the war was going to happen. Many pundits and policy makers can point to statements they made showing skepticism of how things would play out.

However, all this obsession with tactics underwrote what was the key problem-was invading Iraq necessary? Was Iraq a threat? Is preventative war a good policy? These are much more pressing concerns than troop levels or the members of the occupational authority. As Stephen Walt wrote last year, even with better planning, we probably would have still lost the war. However, now, as back then, no one is really discussing these things.

This reminded me of an article by the normally good Hamilton Nolan about Stanley Druckenmiller and his call for cuts to the social safety net. He cites as Druckenmiller’s authority-

Stanley Druckenmiller predicted the last financial crash (the collapse of the housing bubble) years before it happened

I have seen this many times over the last couple of years. Often I hear some pundit saying or being introduced with “I predicted the housing bubble burst.” Rick Santelli was the worst last week when he claimed Alan Greenspan predicted the burst. However, to quote Jeff Madrick’s Age Of Greed

The bursting of the housing bubble…did not alone nearly bring the nation to the cusp of full-fledged depression. The decline in housing prices would have resulted in reduced consumer spending and a substantial recession in the United States, as many economists had warned, but not the economic catastrophe of late 2007 and 2008. It was the house of cards built on Wall Street greed, unchecked by Washington regulators, that created the nation’s credit crisis…and caused the most severe recession in the United States since the Great Depression. (p.371)

In the case of Druckenmiller, he doesn’t blame regulation, he blames interest rates being too low for the crash and calls on workers to suffer for the sins of Wall Street.

We keep seeing this with people who got the public policy so wrong the last decade-blame some smaller tactical error everyone can agree was wrong (not enough troops to occupy Iraq, giving money to homeowners who couldn’t pay it back), ignore the larger problems with their world view, and keep on giving advice as if nothing happened.

This lack of accountability has led to the people who got things completely wrong to still hold positions of key influence. Kevin Hassett wrote a book before the Dot-Com bubble crash predicting the Dow Jones would reach 36,000 and he was a senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Dan Senor failed miserably in Iraq yet that didn’t prevent him from coming up with foreign policy for Romney. To be bi-partisan, both of Obama’s Secretaries of State and Defense voting for the Iraq War (though they later admitted to their mistakes) and, while Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew believes we need to deal with unemployment, one cannot blame people for being skeptical about his priorities given he worked for Citibank in the lead up to the crisis.

People make mistakes. Even the most brilliant minds get things wrong. However, it’s important we know your though process going into a decision. Showing us your model or your hypothesis is important. This means if you’re correct, we can and try to apply your methods to dealing with other problems. If you’re wrong, we can look over where you went wrong, and try to get it right. However, pundits and policy makers don’t seem to be interested in showing their work. To them, it’s about covering their own behinds and making sure they keep raking in the money or winning elections.

The Internet Can’t Overcome The Laws Of (Political) Science

Brendan Nyhan does God’s Work by shooting another 3rd Party Fantasy.  What amazes me is how veteran reporters don’t even understand the basics of Political Science 101-

I always love the groups that plan to overtake the 2 Party system with “The Internet!”  Usually, this is going to involve some sort of internet primary to select the candidates and then (A LOT) of internet fundraising.  Usually these groups turn out to be a scam.

If you want 3rd Parties, you need to replace our current system with some form of proportional representation.  The classic example of this would be the Netherlands, where when they wrote their constitution in the 1870s, they made sure Protestants, Catholics, liberals, and socialists would have some form of representation in government.  Of course, this idea is about as popular as an STD (just ask Lani Guinier).

Of course, the biggest problem I’ve noticed with 3rd Parties comes from a conversation I had with my cousin.  He said Michael Bloomberg should run for President on a 3rd Party Ticket.  I said “great, you willing to knock on doors in Ohio for him?”  He replied he wasn’t.  Nothing can substitute the machinery you need to run for office.  Not even the cocked up fantasies of hack reporters…

Conservatives: Anti-Growth

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If there is one thing we always hear it’s conservatives are pro-growth.  It’s in the Club for Growth’s web page title.  It’s used by Rep. Paul Ryan and also used to describe his programs.  Rising star in the GOP Senator Ted Cruz recently spoke as to how pro-growth policies can bring Latinos into the party.  Pro-growth has become an accepted buzz word for conservatives.

The usual response for liberals is to point to their more successful growth record.  While Republicans long for the 1950s because of social issues, Democrats long for that same period for its high tax rates and union density.  What is often missed, however, is like so many Republican buzz words, “pro-growth conservative” is just another hallow slogan.

Many people have this fantasy about the New Deal coming about because Democrats took advantage of a crisis.  At the beginning of Obama’s first term, his then Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  However, what is missing from this is the facts.  Most of the New Deal reforms we most remember (Social Security, the Wagner Act) came about in 1935-1936.  By that point, unemployment had begun to fall dramatically.  Many of the famous pushes for unionization came from firms like GM or US Steel, places that paid more than the average American worker received.  As times were getting better, people began to look beyond their immediate needs and ask about things like retirement and treatment at the workplace.

The Great Society represented the period of greatest liberal achievement in American history.  It also was occurring at a period of great economic growth.  By the end of the decade, workers received more than 50% of what they were receiving before.  With the pie getting bigger, people didn’t object to others demanding a bigger slice of it.  People could focus on issues like full citizenship for African Americans and eliminating poverty.  The more prosperous people, the merrier.

By the 1970s, however, the economy began to slow down and people began to fight for what was theirs.  This is when we saw the break between working class whites and the left.  The politics of division-black against white, educated vs unskilled, union against non-union-has been based on the idea you’re going to receive less not more and you have to fight to keep what’s yours.

Republicans have probably taken it too far with the “makers not takers” rhetoric.  Blaming 30-nearly 50% of the country is too large a group to not piss off enough voters to swing elections.  However, when you look at how Obamacare was portrayed-taking away health services from deserving Medicare recipients and people who work to those undeserving unemployed folks-to the stimulus-giving cushy payouts to deadbeat public sector employees at the expense of job creators-to plans to help underwater homeowners-remember, they shouldn’t have gotten a mortgage!-you see the common rhetoric-things are getting worse, so you have to hold to what’s yours.

The thing is, this isn’t anything new with conservative though.  At the beginning of the Great Depression, conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter stated:

“A depression is healthy! Like a good ice-cold douche!” If depressions did not exist, Schumpeter thought, we would have to invent them. They were “the respiration of the economic mechanism.”

If “pro-growth,” were just another empty, focus-group tested slogan, it might not matter.  However, as we continue to go from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, we must remember it really is in the conservatives best interest to tank the economy.  They may not realize this-and some may not believe this-but if there is greater growth, people will begin to demand to have a greater part in it.  So long as people are fending for themselves in the present, they will not look toward a better future.