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…

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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…

You Claim To Be A Player: Rubio Is A Symptom

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I have a challenge.  Name me one Republican economic proposal that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, deregulating business or busting unions.

Name one.

Can’t?  Don’t feel bad.  Neither can I.  Honestly, I doubt even the Republicans can.

A lot has been made about Senator Marco Rubio’s water break in the middle of his State of the Union response.  To be fair, I mocked him on Twitter for that.  There is comparisons between that speech and the one Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave in 2009.  One speech people are forgetting is when Paul Ryan gave the response in 2011.  As then Congressman Anthony Weiner stated he needed a drink after that speech it was so depressing.

There are many reasons to complain about President Obama.  I do.  However, what ever you may say about his proposals, you must admit he is a public servant trying to implement what he feels are the best public policies to solve real problems.  The same cannot be said of any policy maker in the Republican Party.

Rubio, like Ryan and Jindal, is a rising star in the party.  While everyone conceded giving the response to the State of the Union is hard, people were genuinely hyping up Rubio.  The greatest was when former McCain adviser said Rubio was modern because “he knows who Tupac is.”  Tupac died 17 years ago.  I doubt Wallace wanted to talk about how Rubio defaulted on his mortgage during his Senate campaign or how he tells Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons he belongs to their church depending on the audience.

The reality is you can’t find any good candidates in the rigid doctrine that is conservatism.  In order to be a conservative, you have to believe the world is falling apart.  You have to think everyone outside the US is depressed because their big intrusive government is destroying your dreams.  You have to believe in Obama’s America, jack-booted government thugs are coming to take your money and your guns and are destroying your vary way of life.  It requires you to ignore the last 30 years when your ideas were implemented and failed disastrously.

More importantly, it requires you not to care about anyone else.  One of the least talked about incidences in the State of the Union was Speaker John Boehner’s response to Desiline Victor.  Victor was the 102 year old African American woman who waited 6 hours in line to vote last year.  Having lived in a time when women and blacks were not allowed to vote, it is quite shocking she had to wait that long.  She received the standing ovation she deserved from the Democrats in the chamber.  What did she get from the highest-ranking Republican?  Nothing-he just sat there, not giving a damn.  She wasn’t going to vote Republican, why should he care?

As much as we may dismiss critiques of style in speeches, style comes from substance.  Even after electoral defeats, Republicans refuse to believe people have rejected their world view.  Instead, they crawl deeper into their bunker, living in a world where everything is falling apart.  If I lived in that world, I’d need a drink too…

Clown Car Pileup

There is a piece by Howard Fineman about Karl Rove’s fall from grace. The focus is on Rove promoting “moderate” candidates over more conservative ones throughout most of his career. While the Fineman makes it look like Rove played the base, he fails to point out one fact-conservatives have tolerated apostates.

People like to point out Reagan raised taxes. Also health care was expanded under Newt Gingrich via SCHIP and George W pushed through the biggest expansion of Medicare with his prescription drug program. Yet, conservative voters didn’t punish these Republicans for their unorthodoxy. The base has and will continue to vote for whoever the GOP nominates.

What ultimately did Rove in was one simple fact-he lost. 2012 was suppose to be a banner year for Republicans. They had a Democratic incumbent who was presiding over the worst economy since the 1930s and almost unlimited spending power. However, not only did Obama win reelection but the Democrats gained seats in the Senate and Republicans only held onto the House thanks to redistricting. In Karl they trusted and they lost.

The lesson Rove took away from defeat was optics-if only Republicans had nominated people who didn’t say stupid things-like Akin and Mourdock’s comments regarding rape-Republicans would have done great. So, with his vast resources, Rove decided to keep a lid on the crazies like Steve King of Iowa. However, to the base, Rove lecturing the Iowa GOP on winnability was like Tim Tebow giving quarterback advice. So, Rove has backed down and people are already dancing on his grave.

What always amazes me about these Establishment Republicans is how little they understand the monster they’ve created. Rove, and his buddy Lee Atwater, made the basis of Republican philosophy simple-put people against other people. Whether it was white against black, men against women, employer against employee, the strategy was divide and conquer. The key to their success was to properly stereotype their opponent. Welfare queens, lazy unions, educated snobs, effeminate gays-they all were the enemy. I remember their message on abortion very well-a partying slut gets knocked up and, 7 months into the pregnancy, she decides to lazily opt-out. With caricatures like that, how could you not be a conservative?

Yet, times change. People want to see women in control of their bodies. People have friends and family who are black or brown or gay. More and more young people are tired of the culture war and the drug war. Religion matters less and less. More and more, people are concerned about rising inequality and how people my age will have less than our parents did. The conservative solution to any economic problem is cut taxes, deregulate business and bust unions. Only we’ve tried that for the last 30 years and growth has been slower yet more concentrated at the top.

Guys like Rove have told conservatives they could have live in their make-believe world (remember, it was most likely Rove who popularized the term “reality-based community”) and still win elections. All they had to do was put a guy who could fake caring about broader issues and throw a bone to non-conservatives once in awhile and they’d be alright. However, the groups of people conservatives managed to piss off grew bigger and bigger and now make up the majority of the electorate. All the GOP has is structural flaws they can exploit (like gerrymandering) and the backing of major donors. However, in time, even these advantages will fade.

Karl Rove is a grifter, a huckster, and a charlatan. However, in politics, he is hardly the first and will hardly be the last. What Rove’s real sin was creating a major political party based on fear, hatred, and anger towards “the other.” Something tells me he is not going to be punished for that and this rage isn’t going to go away any time soon…

On Immigration: Don’t Be A Jerk!

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There is a moment from the 2010 California Governor’s race I remember.  During the candidate’s only Spanish language debate, both candidates were asked by a star college student who’s immigration status was precarious what the candidates would do for her.  Democrat Jerry Brown’s response was to talk about the responsibility we all have to students to ensure they succeed, what ever their immigration status is.  Republican Meg Whitman, however, was condescending.  Beginning with “I’m glad you were able to get a good, free education in California’s K-12 public schools,” she talked about how the state didn’t have the resources to help her or any other student who was undocumented.

Jerry Brown won the election 54% to 41%, despite being outspent 4-1.

Many prominent Republicans have begun to support immigration reform.  They saw their defeat in 2012 as being due in no small part to lack of Latino support.  Given we have about 19 million people in the US who’s legal status needs to be resolved, I hope we can get a fair proposal through.  However, I don’t think Republicans really understand what their true problem is.

To quote my favorite blog post of all time

The funny thing about all of this is that no matter how bad all their ideas are, no matter how disastrous their governance has been, no matter how many horrible things they have done to the economy and this country, what really is killing the Republican party is that deep down, they are just complete assholes.

You see this in how Republicans treat not just Hispanic voters but all voters who don’t fall into their narrow group.  We came from an election where the top two candidates of the Republican ticket disagreed on whether 47% of Americans were moochers or merely 30%.  You saw Republicans insulting women who had been raped and calling the first black President a “food stamp president.”  On issues regarding Hispanics, we saw conservatives belittle the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court to accusing undocumented workers of being hardened criminals.  And let’s not get into how conservatives feel about gay couples…

As I said, it’s great immigration reform is being taken up by prominent conservatives.  However, it may not get them much Hispanic support.  In 2012, Hispanic voters put other issues ahead of immigration.  With migration from Mexico to the US largely flat, issues like health care (where 40% of Hispanics are uninsured) to unemployment (Hispanic unemployment is over 11%) are taking greater precedence to the Latino community.  On these issues, Republicans don’t appear to be changing at all.

Now, a lot can happen in 4 years.  There also appears to be a “come to Jesus” moment with prominent conservatives realizing they need to broaden their coalition or they will cease to exist, regardless of what ever power grabbing schemes the concoct.  However, on the central issue of treating other people with dignity and respect, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or size of bank account, there doesn’t appear to be any meaningful change…