Psych one, psych two, what do you know?

In Frederick Exley’s excellent A Fan’s Notes, the narrator describes how he set out to read a long list of great books from 1800 to the present but ended up never getting too far into the moderns because he found the pre-moderns’ — especially Dostoevsky’s and Hawthorne’s — treatment of human psychology so much more fascinating. Who needs Freud when you’ve Goodman Brown and the underground guy?

I thought of this when I was reading that dumb Walter Kirn piece about how shooting guns changes your neural pathways. Contemporary political analysts — especially but not exclusively Bobo — blab on endlessly about neural pathways and using neuroscience (or what they think of as neuroscience) to understand what motivates humans. But they rarely bother to ask simple obvious questions like this one:

88 replies
  1. 1
    Chris says:

    Contemporary political analysts — especially but not exclusively Bobo — blab on endlessly about neural pathways and using neuroscience (or what they think of as neuroscience) to understand what motivates humans. But they rarely bother to ask simple obvious questions like this one:

    The trouble with politics is that there are some questions you’re simply not allowed to ask. It just isn’t done.

  2. 2
    Poopyman says:

    There you go again, expecting paid political analysts to point out that which they are paid to not point out.

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    gogol's wife says:

    Okay, I’m just taking a break from reading Crime and Punishment, so you’ve got to fix the spelling of Dostoevsky’s name.

  5. 5
    Poopyman says:

    There are reasons that you, me, Grunwald, and thousands of others are ineffectual at getting the point across. Hell, even a Nobel Laureate in Economics is poo-pooed, mocked by Joe Scarborough for God’s sake, and all those paid political analysts tut-tut and go about laying down the conventional wisdom like it was Agent Orange and we’re the VC.

  6. 6
    👽 Martin says:

    Yeah, I’m thinking just a few more wingnuts threatening to shoot legislators for supporting gun control will finally sway the debate in their favor.

  7. 7
    Hill Dweller says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading Krugman, Pierce, Booman, Benen, Fallows, Sargent, Tomasky and Scherer today. They’re all hammering the Village’s desperate attempts to absolve Republicans of any blame.

  8. 8
    Doug Galt says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    Sorry, in Russia spell checks you.

  9. 9
    Turgidson says:

    With respect to that tweet: In the aftermath of Bush’s 2004 election, I nearly despaired that the narrative would never change – that Bush would be propped up by the media’s pathological reluctance to find fault with him for all time, despite the fact that every single fucking thing the guy touched turn to shit almost immediately. Then, the narrative did change, albeit in a “dragged kicking and screaming” kind of way.

    I am hopeful that both sides do it meets the same fate, eventually. Not particularly optimistic, since this pathogen has had a hold on the Village for decades, not just a few years. But I have hope. Benen and Sargent and the rest who are beating the drum on this may not get results today, but might eventually. Hopefully before the meteor hits, and/or before the GOP completely ruins the place for posterity. Ornstein and Mann need to stay on this beat too.

  10. 10
    BGinCHI says:

    If the GOP really thought Obama’s policies were terrible, wouldn’t they just let him pass them so that he could fail and get his party trounced in elections?

  11. 11
    FlipYrWhig says:

    Why did he want to start in 1800? No Don Quixote, no Satan in Paradise Lost, no Candide?

  12. 12
    Paul in KY says:

    @Poopyman: That’s the ole ‘hard to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it’.

    True now as it ever was.

  13. 13
    Luna Sea says:

    @jeffreyw: Oh my god, I think my neural pathways just exploded. Between the gorgeous kitties, the dog I just want to scoop up in my arms, and all the yummy food, I don’t know whether to hug my kitties or go make some eggs.

  14. 14
    Doug Galt says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    I can’t remember.

  15. 15
    Hill Dweller says:

    The careerists in the Village are always going to hide behind the cowardly ‘both sides do it’ canard. Shaming, ridiculing and ultimately destroying their credibility is the only way to change their behavior.

  16. 16
    👽 Martin says:

    @BGinCHI: See, the problem is that they think that we’re all going to be swayed by promises of a Marxist utopia. Obama’s policies are popular and only a generation on, when there’s nothing but smoldering rubble to survey, will we realize how bad they were.

    See, the problem is that the voters are idiots and must be denied that which they seek. For Democracy.

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    Alison says:

    Okay, I feel stupid but I don’t really get what Grunwald is getting at. The Beltway does blame Obama for GOPer intransigence most of the time…and the GOP seems fine with it. Am I missing something?

  19. 19
    jeffreyw says:

    @Luna Sea: Give ’em a hug on the way to the kitchen!

  20. 20
    Delia says:

    @jeffreyw:

    Dogs love it when their favorite cat does that.

  21. 21
    👽 Martin says:

    @Alison: His point is that GOP intransigence is solely the fault of the media who moan and complain that nothing is getting done. If they would stop enabling the behavior, the behavior would end.

  22. 22
    Flying Squirrel Girl says:

    @Alison: If Obama gets blamed for Republican actions, what impetus is there for Republicans to change?

  23. 23
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    I think pointing out that you are not some “whack job” in a racist rant filled death threat e-mail really takes the biscuit so to speak.

    http://thinkprogress.org/justi.....r-you-n-b/

  24. 24
    Napoleon says:

    @Flying Squirrel Girl:

    Worse yet, it actually encourages that behavior and makes it less likely that a deal could get made.

  25. 25
    Hungry Joe says:

    Oh, man — “A Fan’s Notes”! Exley was such an exquisitely flawed genius. Over the years I’ve handed that book to at least two dozen people and said, “Read the first two paragraphs and tell me you’re not blown away.” I’ve probably read the first chapter (“The Nervous Light of Sunday”) 20 times.

  26. 26
    Xenos says:

    25 years after suffering through it for A-levels, I have been closely reading Little Dorrit again and finding it quite interesting. It is like 20 or so case studies in neurosis, each character struggling with long-term personality crises but without any of the clinical language we have gotten used to since Freud. It is enjoyable to watch the most cynical and ruthless characters turn out to be the most well adjusted and resilient.

  27. 27
    Xenos says:

    25 years after suffering through it for A-levels, I have been closely reading Little Dorrit again and finding it quite interesting. It is like 20 or so case studies in neurosis, each character struggling with long-term personality crises but without any of the clinical language we have gotten used to since Freud. It is enjoyable to watch the most cynical and ruthless characters turn out to be the most well adjusted and resilient.

  28. 28
    Chyron HR says:

    @BGinCHI:

    They love America too much to do that, silly.

  29. 29
    Chris says:

    @Chyron HR:

    Yeah. That’s also their explanation for why, despite fifty years of threatening, not one of them has actually gone Galt yet.

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    raven says:

    @Xenos: We watched the recent version and liked it but we are struggling with the Alec Guiness rendition.

  31. 31
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    That Billy S off in England did some interesting things with pre-Freudian psych.

  32. 32
    Xenos says:

    @raven: I had the same reaction. I am a big fan of Derek Jacobi but he just did not work for me in that role. Clenham, I think, ought to look like 35 yet act like 50, not the other way around.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    I can’t give this book an unlimited endorsement because, frankly, I think the author’s argument falls apart at the end, but Bram Dijkstra’s Evil Sisters analyzes some classic authors (including Hemmingway, Faulkner, and Conrad) in light of the psychology that was popular in the authors’ day and comes up with some really interesting insights into how those authors incorporated the at-that-time current scientific understanding into their books.

    It’s really kind of fascinating how the pop psychology insights of the 1920s were turned into “literary” flourishes once that pop psychology was discredited in later years.

  34. 34
    Scott S. says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: Those NRA supporters certainly are sane and sober fellows, aren’t they?

    I am curious why he didn’t use his billions of bullets to kill all the cops who came to arrest him…

  35. 35
    Alison says:

    @Flying Squirrel Girl: @👽 Martin: Ahh okay, I see now. Thanks :P

    Also too, fuck ’em all.

  36. 36
    raven says:

    @Xenos: That’s it!

  37. 37
    jl says:

    @Turgidson:

    I have given up hoping for peak wingnut. I don’t really hope for our failed corporate media experiment to do any good reporting unless they are dragged kicking and screaming into it by the fear of the GOP being so offensively idiotic that they will lose credibility and audience if they do not call out nonsense.

    We are at a point where this hope is being put to a critical test. GOPers, and Boehner saying idiotic things in public.

    Boehner is now blaming the Senate for not ‘getting off their ass’ and passing a spending bill that he likes, and trying to pass on the idiotic lie that the House GOP has a plan.

    Nancy Smash’s reaction:

    ‘ House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to Boehner’s remark. “The Republican leadership says we passed bills last year,” Pelosi told reporters. “I remind them, that was a different Congress. That doesn’t count in this Congress. The Republican leadership says let the Senate begin. I remind them that the Constitution says that appropriations and revenue bills must begin in the House.” ‘

    Boehner Tells Senators To ‘Get Off Their Ass’ And Do Something About Sequester

    http://livewire.talkingpointsm.....-their-ass

    Will there be some Tiger Beat criticism of Boehner being uncivil, or praise for his strong white (boozer) daddy leadership? Will Pelosi’s statement of obvious fact be criticized for being too b * t c h *? Enquiring minds want to know!

    What is next, GOPers flinging poo at the walls?

    Pathetic. At least it would be pathetic if if the public understood the basic facts of how Congress works. Do they? Will the press bother to report it?

  38. 38
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    @Scott S.:

    Yeah “I’m coming to kill you” kinda proves that you are a “whack job” despite your evidence to the contrary.

  39. 39
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @jl:

    or praise for his strong white (boozer) daddy leadership

    White? The man is orange.

  40. 40
    Chris says:

    @jl:

    I have given up hoping for peak wingnut. I don’t really hope for our failed corporate media experiment to do any good reporting unless they are dragged kicking and screaming into it by the fear of the GOP being so offensively idiotic that they will lose credibility and audience if they do not call out nonsense.

    Was the media better or worse in the Gilded Age, compared to this? I know FDR used radio to speak directly to the American people, so I’m assuming he was trying to bypass the same kind of Villager nonsense that we have now.

  41. 41
    Turgidson says:

    @jl:

    I have given up hoping for peak wingnut. I don’t really hope for our failed corporate media experiment to do any good reporting unless they are dragged kicking and screaming into it by the fear of the GOP being so offensively idiotic that they will lose credibility and audience by calling out nonsense

    Like I said, I’m not particularly optimistic, but this is basically what happened with Bush. The village fluffers were a couple years late, and only came around to acknowledging that maybe Bush wasn’t the greatest ever when they started looking like complete and utter fools in holding out. I have hope the same thing will happen here. Public opinion is bearing out that durable majorities think the GOP is wrong on everything. The village will ignore that as long as they can, but might have no choice but to get dragged along…eventually. Again, hopefully before the meteor, but we’ll see.

  42. 42
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: “Dear Mr. President, There are too many states nowadays. Please, eliminate three. P.S. I am not a crackpot.”

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Chris:

    I know FDR used radio to speak directly to the American people, so I’m assuming he was trying to bypass the same kind of Villager nonsense that we have now.

    IIRC, it was less “Villager” nonsense and more that there were a lot of powerful businessmen who owned newspaper chains. William Randolph Hearst, obviously, but the one I think of is Robert McCormick in Chicago, who was a Republican and steadfastly opposed to the New Deal.

    IOW, there were still powerful interests trying to keep FDR down, but they tended to be actual businessmen and not corporations/conglomerates.

  45. 45
    handsmile says:

    @Doug Galt:

    Cosmic or comic coincidence? Walter Kirn once wrote a churlishly favorable review (“Sad Sack Superman”) of A Fan’s Notes.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/.....erman.html

    (“Only one letter divides [the two words],” as Nabokov noted.)

  46. 46
    Chris says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Isn’t that sort of the current setup? Rupert Murdoch is the obvious example, but NPR excluded, our media are themselves corporations run by wealthy businessmen.

    ETA: not sure I see the distinction between “businessmen” and “corporations/conglomerations,” is what I’m saying.

  47. 47
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    I can’t wait for the Scarborough meltdown on Morning Joe tomorrow when he hears that CPAC thinks that Governor Christie has “no future in the republican party”. It is going to be epic, especially with Mika saying “carry on Republicans” over and over.

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    patroclus says:

    When I was much younger, the Beltway media weren’t necessarily tied to the “both sides do it” mantra. There was definitely an “all politicians are the same” attitude but that didn’t mean the same thing as today – it was more like “all politicians will promise the moon to get elected and then not follow through” and “all politicians start out by trying to represent the people but end up being co-opted” and “all politicians are corrupt and speak out of both sides of their mouths.”

    I think the “both sides do it” mantra came post Watergate and Vietnam when the media was heavily criticized for being too liberal and they collectively started to pretend that they were non-partisan by always blaming both sides. The media has always had a pretend savviness – that they were smarter than the average politician, but the nature of how savvy they were has changed. Now, they think they’re so savvy as to attribute political motives to everything and now, they’ve adopted this “there are only two sides” attitude and that “both sides” are equally to blame for whatever goes wrong.

  50. 50
    IowaOldLady says:

    The internet has stripped Villagers of power in the same way it’s done to print newspapers. I’d say they’re in a panic except I’m not sure they’ve noticed their increasing irrelevance. Heck, even Peggy Noonan keeps talking.

  51. 51
    Turgidson says:

    @Chris:

    Newspapers were mostly partisan mouthpieces in the 19th century and early 20th, I think. But I would guess that the content was not as vapid back then, in the pre-TV/internet era. So when a partisan rag steamed about something one of those sockulist Roosevelt fiends was doing, it was probably coherent, and not filled with as much inside baseball shallow optics bullshit as we deal with now. Just a guess, though.

  52. 52
    Hungry Joe says:

    @Mnemosyne: I once owned a (very limited edition) Bram Dijkstra/”Evil Sisters” t-shirt. Long story.

  53. 53
    Redshift says:

    @Turgidson: I think this situation is more difficult than with Bush, because it’s basically the entire national Republican Party that has become the “worst ever” (either nuts or desperately trying to act nuts to avoid a primary challenge.) Realizing how awful the Bush Administration was came way too late for the Village, but it was still easier to do that when they had other “good” Republicans to glom onto.

    Situations like the Rubio bubble may actually be a positive development — they’re desperately trying to find a non-crazy “Republican Savior” (even putting it in so many words!), but they’re all bozos on this bus, and after Rubio and a few more crash and burn, they may reluctantly start to admit that there isn’t one.

  54. 54
    scav says:

    @Chris: 1930 census asked if the household had a radio set (12 million people had access to one, by the by). Intended to measure the extent of the nation’s leap into new home-appliance technology. Interesting, the whole cutting edge of communication thing.

  55. 55
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Chris:

    ETA: not sure I see the distinction between “businessmen” and “corporations/conglomerations,” is what I’m saying.

    Corporations are self-sustaining. For the most part, McCormick’s and Hearst’s personal obsessions did not survive them.

    Murdoch is probably the closest descendant of the Hearst/McCormick style media empire, but who’s the mastermind at the top of the NY Times who’s directing everything according to his personal taste?

  56. 56
    grape_crush says:

    But they rarely bother to ask simple obvious questions like this one…

    But questions such as that clearly go against the establishment of the narrative telling us that the Republicans are capable of behaving reasonably…and we really don’t want to upset our Bobo Brooks and Peggy Noonans and their friends, lest we are not invited to those divine cocktail parties, hmmm?

    I can only speculate as to what the problem is. It’s like they’ve internalized every OBAMA-BAD right-wing trope to such a degree that their journalistic cynicism has warped and they’ve abandoned common sense and proper perspective. All our Noonans and Brooks have remaining is a modicum of writing talent and a need to intellectually justify – no matter how far they have to stretch to do it – what has settled inside of them.

  57. 57
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    Hagel confirmed.

  58. 58

    Oh man I love going down the “leadership” path with pretend centrists who say that nothing was Bush’s fault and Obummer should be held accountable.

  59. 59
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: That’s unpossible.

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    penpen says:

    Hey, I just realized Exley is the depressed Giants fan from one of the last chapters of Soccernomics, if anyone read that.

  61. 61
    Hoodie says:

    @patroclus: The irony is, of course, that back in the day both sides did do it, i.e., they were not that much different from one another. Republicans and Democrats each had liberals, moderates and conservatives, and much of the differences had to do with geography and associated interests.

    The degree to which the media proclaims “both sides do it” seems to be directly proportional to the degree they don’t. So, in terms of human motivations, “both sides do it” is simply a subconscious expression of what the media types wish was the case; if it were, it would make them more relevant. They could report on the smoke-filled rooms, backdoor channels, etc. None of that is going on; it’s been replaced by the ravings of lunatics, which also forces the sane (e.g., Democrats) into talking only among themselves about the lunatics. From the standpoint of reporting, there’s nothing particularly interesting about either. The media is trying to create a story out of a dog barking at the moon.

  62. 62
    Turgidson says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Iran is holding a parade as we speak.

    /Inhofe

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    Poopyman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I blame Obama.

  64. 64
    Poopyman says:

    @Turgidson: And are the Friends of Hamas firing rockets into Israel in celebration?

  65. 65
    aimai says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Bram Dijkstra wrote one of my all time favorite books “Idols of Perversity.”

  66. 66
    Anoniminous says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt:

    Senate has sold the US to the Iranians!

    His Doug of Galtitude:

    Booboo, et.al., know nothing of modern neuroscience. They read an popular article and think they understand the influence of the thalamus on the orbitofrontal cortex (to name my current obsession research topic.)

  67. 67
    Unsympathetic says:

    Beltway centrism:

    Rule 1) Republicans are always right.
    Rule 2) When in doubt, see Rule #1.

    Scarborough and Rendell haven’t contributed anything to national discourse since they last sucked off Newt at an I-95 rest stop.

  68. 68
    Yutsano says:

    @Unsympathetic:

    Scarborough and Rendell haven’t contributed anything to national discourse since they last sucked off Newt at an I-95 rest stop.

    Did. Not. Need. That. Mental. Image.

  69. 69
    patroclus says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: I guess North Korea got their money’s worth! (I wonder how many posts are going to be written crediting Harry Reid for this).

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    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    Grunwald and Jonathan Chait have been going hard after Beltway groupthink the last few weeks. Grunwald says he couldn’t have written his book on the Stimulus if he lived and worked in Washington, the Beltway CW is so over-powering, and Chait I would say is at least half a Villager (I’m told he was a big Liberal Hawk on Iraq, I wasn’t reading him then), and Grunwald writes for a very Villagey organ. So there’s that.

    I was thinking about this just now as I heard Tweety read off the list of GOP Senators who voted to filibuster Hagel even though they knew it would fail. One of them was McConnell*, and it made me think of all those Gasbags, Brokaw at their, pompously bloviating that the reason Obama has so much trouble with Congress is he doesn’t invite them to the “living quarters” for afternoons of cribbage and lemonade. Brokaw, Todd, Woodward, Parson Meacham and Bobo are just three of the hacks I remember spewing this nonsense, and I’m sure wise heads nodded from the MSNBC green rooms to the WaPo oped writers’ lounge, and they are all still quite secure in the certainty of their correctitude.

    * another was Mark Kirk, which strikes me as dumb. I hope Obama is unwontedly vindictive back in Illinois in 2016

  71. 71

    The Senate just voted to confirm Chuck Hagel on a 58-41 vote.

    So all of that pearl-clutching about Israel and whatnot was just a huge fucking waste of time THANK YOU RAND PAUL and Hissy Fits McCain and Miss South Carolina Lindsday Graham you idiots look like fools.

  72. 72

    Oh, and Rand Paul voted to confirm Hagel. So what the fuck was his hold all about?

  73. 73
    Turgidson says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    Chait sometimes lapses into poorly thought out contrarianism or Village wankery, but he’s been pretty great the last few months, I think.

  74. 74
    Chris says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Ah, okay. So media now are mostly their own institutions, but back then they were simply mouthpieces for other people. I get it now – thx!

    Last question – did being partisan outlets actually translate to preaching significantly different ideological views? From my understanding of the way Gilded Age politics worked, both parties were run by pro-business conservatives (Bourbons for the Dems), so it would be possible for one outlet to be fanatically Republican, another to be fanatically Democrat, and yet both supporting the pro-business status quo.

  75. 75
    Yutsano says:

    @Southern Beale: Because assholes gotta be assholes. Lil Paul was just dick waving.

  76. 76
    hitchhiker says:

    Neuroscience is the quantum theory of the new millenium. People read popular treatments of it, believe they understand it, and use it incessantly as a metaphor for whatever they happen to already think.

    Drives me bananas. Effing neuroscience is hard, just like the mathematics that gave us quantum theory is hard.

    (I know this b/c I have a crowd-sourced contract to write a book about central nervous system repair projects that will be both accurate and readable for normal people — and because I’ve taught enough calculus to know that I couldn’t possibly teach quantum theory.)

  77. 77
    eemom says:

    All your life is Channel 13….Sesame Street….what does it mean…

  78. 78
    Gravenstone says:

    @Alison: I take that as his central point, that the Beltway types are intentionally enabling the obstruction by pointedly refusing to call out those doing it.

  79. 79
    Gravenstone says:

    @Southern Beale: Garnering attention, same as anything Aqua Buddha does.

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    Bubblegum Tate says:

    @BGinCHI:

    If the GOP really thought Obama’s policies were terrible, wouldn’t they just let him pass them so that he could fail and get his party trounced in elections?

    Some wingnuts I know are advocating for that exact course of action, albeit within the trappings of a passive-aggressive temper tantrum. It’s one of the few good ideas they’ve ever had.

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    Gex says:

    @Scott S.: I bet coming back down to reality will be quite painful for him. He probably never feels more alive than when he’s lost in some sort of fantasy land where he is the manly man who saves all that is good and decent. He can hold two guns sideways and nail both targets while sliding across the hood of a car, he’s so good. Oh, how wonderful it is to feel like such a hero!

    Oh shit, here come the cops! (Crash!)

  82. 82
    JustRuss says:

    @Gravenstone: It’s worse than that, the media blame Obama for the Republican intransigence. The worse they act, the more blame Obama gets. So they’re actually rewarded for being jerks. It’s like your parents spanking you every time your brother pulled the cat’s tail. Poor kitteh would never stop hurting.

  83. 83

    Grunwald has a series of good tweets in this vein right now. Also he was going back and forth with Ron Fournier. For example:

    If R’s won’t compromise, Obama needs to make his case to the public. [Obama makes his case to the public.] Why is Obama so partisan?

    Obama should compromise with uncompromising R’s. Oh, he has? He should compromise more. Oh, R’s still won’t compromise? He should LEAD!

  84. 84
    Maude says:

    @reflectionephemeral:
    But the left said he caved and that he will again. It’s a left type mantra. That and single payer.

  85. 85
    Mike G says:

    Shorter DC Village to the Dems:
    Handing over your wallet when the Republicans point a gun at your head proves how irresponsible you are with money.

  86. 86
    sm*t cl*de says:

    Did Aimai mention Idols of Perversity?

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    grandpa john says:

    @reflectionephemeral: The word they are actually looking for is “Capitulate” but they don’t understand the difference.

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    @grandpa john: For sure, that’s what it amounts to.

    Thing is, I don’t think people like Fournier and Joe Klein realize that that’s what they’re saying.

    It seems to me that they hit upon this idea in around 1977 that the extremes on both sides are the problem, and what’s needed is compromise. So: the president’s job is to get everyone together and hammer out a deal. That was defensible back then– maybe it was even sensible. But today, it’s an attitude that’s long, long outlived any relation to reality.

    That’s my sense, anyway. I could be wrong; maybe it’s really just that Fournier thinks it’s a good idea to cut spending in a recession. But it seems to me that he’s driven by an antiquated attitude about how politics should work rather than substantive policy preferences.

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