Rococo ‘Conservatism’ Open Thread: The Ultimate Ross Doubthat Column

As someone who was actually educated by the Church, Doubthat’s “I’m a devout Catholic, but defend libertarianism, because freedom!” makes as much sense to me as would “I’m a strict vegetarian, but I defend cannibalism, because long pig is so delicious!” But this *particular* divertissement should be preserved under a glass vitrine, as an exemplar of how “American Thought Leadership” collapsed at the beginning of the new millenium:

Like most interesting churches, libertarianism is a diverse and fractious faith, and FreedomFest brings together all its different sects: the think-tankers with their regulatory-reform blueprints, the muckraking journalists taking on government abuses, the charter city backers and Burning Man attendees, the Ayn Rand fans wearing dollar signs on their lapels, the eccentric-genius businessmen and pot legalizers — and the converts eager to tell you how everything changed when I got really into gold.

In principle I am not a libertarian: The teenage nerd enters conservatism through either Atlas Shrugged or Lord of the Rings, and between Tolkienists like myself and the Randians a great gulf is often fixed. But even if libertarianism seems an insufficient philosophy of human flourishing, its defense of individuals and markets can be a crucial practical corrective to all manner of liberal and conservative mistakes…

Just a little while ago journalists were talking about a “libertarian moment” in American politics, with Rand Paul as its avatar — an entitlement-cutting, prison-reforming, drug-legalizing, intervention-opposing, drone-strike-filibustering politics that was supposed to build bridges between Republicans and millennials. But then Paul, like other Republicans, was steamrolled by Trumpism in 2016. So what exactly happened to his moment?…

How could that fun guy, Rand Paul, allow himself to fall under the wheels of some trash-talking newbie like Donald Trump? SAD!

To Ross, politics is just another fantasy role-playing game — a gang of enthusiasts sharing the fun of theoretical world-building and weekend bullshit sessions. There are those who make a nice career out of their chosen fantasy… writing the fanfic, making the cosplay accessories, running the LARPs… even graduating into the professional tier, working for Hollywood or a big gaming company… but the Savvy among the crowds never forget that it’s all just performance. They may resent the ‘mundanes’ who don’t understand how *fun* their little societies can be, but they save their real contempt for the losers who actually believe it makes a difference whether Team Red or Team Blue wins an election, like those sad basement-dwellers who obsess over Boba Fett or ST:OS vs ST:NG.

It’s not as though Ross, or the people Ross socializes with, are ever going to be affected by this ‘politics’ stuff; they’ll never have to worry about getting deported, losing their liberty, being jailed or beaten for the color of their skin or their choice of partners (although they can dream up some very vivid fanfic scenarios). Their version of ‘economic anxiety’ is not being able to find a decent-sized apartment in the “right” zip code. The worst punishment they can imagine is being ostracized on Martha’s Vineyard, and there’s plenty of other places to get a good cocktail on a summer weekend. Why must some people suck all the fun out of the game?, Ross asks his fellow NYT opinioneers, as they nod in agreement…



Lest We Forget Open Thread: Paul Ryan — Bad Man, “Good” German Republican

(Jim Morin via GoComics.com)
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Paul Waldman, at the Washington Post, “A scam of a party says goodbye to its top fraud”:

The proximate cause of Ryan stepping down is that his party looks increasingly likely to suffer an electoral disaster in November’s midterm elections. He is facing an unusually strong challenge from Randy Bryce, the likely Democratic nominee in his Wisconsin district, so he probably calculated that there were two realistic outcomes for him. The worse one would be that he is defeated while his party loses the majority, as happened to then-speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) in 1994. The better one would be that he holds on to his seat while Republicans lose the majority, which might not be better at all. Being speaker may have meant plenty of headaches for Ryan, but being House minority leader is a total drag; you still have to manage your unruly caucus, but you have no real power and can’t make any progress on your agenda…

For years, Ryan has presented himself as someone deeply concerned with fiscal discipline, committed to getting America’s books in order. As anyone with any sense realized, this was a scam: Like all Republicans, he used the deficit as a bludgeon against Democratic presidents, then forgot all about it while a Republican was in office.

At the same time, Ryan — a lifelong admirer of Ayn Rand, the philosopher of selfishness — dreamed of destroying the safety net, eviscerating Medicaid, privatizing Medicare, slashing food stamps, and generally making life in America more cruel and unpleasant for all those who aren’t wealthy.

But as Paul Krugman observed, Ryan failed at both his pretend goal and his real goal. He will leave office after setting the deficit on a path to exceed $1 trillion in 2020, and yet, he failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and didn’t even bother to wage an assault on Medicare, almost certainly because he knew how disastrous it would be for his party.

So what does he mean when he says “I have accomplished much of what I came here to do”? He can only mean the tax cut Republicans passed last year. In other words, engineering a giant giveaway to corporations and the wealthy was enough for Ryan to say “My work here is done.”

Osita Nwanevu, at Slate, on “The Wolf in Wonk’s Clothing”:

[I]t’s worth revisiting now, as Ryan prepares his exit from politics, the thrust of the argument that the tale advanced—that, in general, the 20 million children in this country who receive free lunches have parents who clearly don’t care about them and that in providing food to those children, the government enables bad parenting. That sweeping judgment is impossible unless one considers poverty and economic hardship themselves personal failings. For about a decade now, Ryan has demonstrated that he believes precisely this—that those who have trouble making their way in the world are personally defective, that those immiserated by circumstance have willingly surrendered their lives to dysfunction, and that the best remedy society can offer to those who lack is to deprive them, in cuts to already meager social programs, of even more.

Shaping that dogmatism into pseudo-wonkery has taken years of wild and reckless obfuscation. Most of the analyses of where Trump “came from” have sought and found precedents for his open xenophobia, conspiracymongering, and boorishness in the rhetoric and behavior of Republican politicians in the recent past. But his mendacity and the constant consequence-free dissembling of his administration still baffle all those who’ve wondered aloud, over the past year and a half, how we so suddenly entered a new age of “post-truth” politics. We haven’t, really. Paul Ryan understood, like Trump, the extent to which the norms governing conventional political journalism have always been poorly equipped to handle naked and persistent dishonesty and disingenuousness. His speech to the 2012 Republican National Convention was littered with blatant lies…
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Why’s Everything That’s Supposed to Be Bad Make Me Feel So Good

What’s your addiction? Is it money? Is it girls? Is it weed?
I’ve been afflicted by not one, not two, but all three.

Ahh, McSuderman:

No Republican was more vociferously opposed to the build up of public debt than Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP speaker of the House who announced this morning that he would not run for reelection. For years, Ryan has served as the frontman for the GOP’s fiscal crusades, a role that helped elevate him into the upper echelons of party leadership.

Ryan repeatedly lambasted the fiscal policies of President Obama and the Democratic party. He charged that Obama “dodged the tough choices necessary to confront the threat of runaway federal spending,” and criticized the president for ignoring the recommendations of the bipartisan fiscal commission that he helped create. Under Obama, Ryan said in a 2011 op-ed, “Democrats have simply done away with serious budgeting altogether.” Ryan was serious about the deficit. Obama and the Democrats were not.

Repeat after me. Paul Ryan was never fucking serious about the budget. Let me clarify- he was never serious about deficit and debt. He may have talked all the time about them, but that’s the “confidence” in con artist part (I haven’t seen it in years, but House of Games is my favorite con artist film, from before when Mamet lost his shit. I wonder how it has aged.) They talk and talk and talk, and while they are talking, they are reaching into your back pocket.

Paul Ryan was serious about the budget in one sense- in shifting who benefited. He didn’t care about the overall size, he just wanted to take from the untermensch and give to the noble Randian superclass. That’s why he didn’t so much as flinch pushing the Trump tax giveaway, but had to be pulled over broken glass to reauthorize CHIP (even though it saved money in the long term) because it meant his precious going to the poors.

Democrats, to be sure, have not exactly been icons of limited government. But under Clinton, the deficit turned into a technical surplus. During his first term, discretionary spending actually dropped; it wasn’t until the second term, with Republicans in control of Congress, that it began to increase again.

Stop right fucking there:

Fucking google something, McSuderman.

Deficits ballooned during President Obama’s first term, and from day one of his presidency, Republicans were swift to blame Democrats for a lack of fiscal discipline. But the rapid increase actually started under Bush. Depending on how you run the numbers, it is possible to make the argument that most of the Obama-era deficits were caused by Bush-era policies.

NOT ONLY IS IT POSSIBLE, BUT IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO RUN THE NUMBERS. You might have heard of the crash of 2007 in between attending Arcade Fire fanfests.

Obama’s second term was marked by still large but shrinking deficits that Republicans, since taking over, have grown again.Who ran congress during that period and what signature legislation was passed (and paid for) that helped lead to those shring When Paul Ryan noted that Obama ignored the recommendations of the bipartisan committee on fiscal responsibility, he was right. But what Ryan didn’t say was that Ryan himself was on that committee—and he voted against its recommendations.

HE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE DEBT OR DEFICITS. HE CARES ABOUT WHO GETS THE MONEY YOU ASSHOLE.

I do not mean to suggest that Democrats are actually the party of good budgetary sense.

Fuck off.

In the long term, the largest drivers of the debt are Medicare and Social Security, and Democrats have, for the most part, been resistant to structural reforms.

No. Medicare and Social Security are fine and will be fine if YOU AND REPUBLICANS stop looting America, starting trillion dollar wars of choice, and spending 800 billion a fucking year on a bloated defense budget. And the only reason they want to “fix” both of them is because they want to privatize them, looting both for the benefit of their financial betters, which will no doubt make both of them worse and far more costly. But again, the actual cost is not what matters to Ryan. What matters is who gets the loot in this bust out.

Is there anything more addictive than the narrative that Democrats are bad for the economy and bad on fiscal matters?



Late-Night Lightweights Open Thread: Five Pounds of Manure in A Ten-Pound Sack

The Atlantic has hired Kevin Williamson away from the National Review, in further display of how Trumpism has exposed the bone-deep corruption of “conservative thinking” just as Trump has exposed the rot of modern Republicanism. For all his swashbuckling words, Williamson would never personally lynch a woman who’d had an abortion (or even her doctor) — for one thing, he hasn’t the ability even if he had the guts — but he’s diligently polished his persona as A Thinker Who Is Willing to Make the Bold Arguments…

Rob Beschizza, at BoingBoing:

I had a hunch: I thought (and said as much) that Williamson was hired explicitly because of what he had written about women, black kids and the poor. To well-off center-leaning liberals,[*] Williamson is the perfect post-Trump conservative: superficially literary, ostentatiously nasty, profoundly disgusted by the weak, yet (and this is super-duper important) opposed to the current president.

Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg explained… why he hired Williamson. Nailed it! Not only was Goldberg and The Atlantic aware of Williamson’s writing, they love it: “I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces. I also found him to be ideologically interesting”. Moreover, Goldberg was party to Williamson deleting his Twitter account, to ease his transition from the reactionary right to columnist at a liberal-ish magazine.

Goldberg’s rationale also makes clear something else, though: they (rather sanctimoniously) think that Williamson has “grown” beyond his National Review persona, and that his willingless to do so is part of why they hired him…
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We Can Always Use Some Bitter, Cynical, Gallows Humor, So Here’s A Kudlow Post

Larry Kudlow is the pure distilled essence of a Trump appointment, the type specimen of the breed, and the perfect expression of the state of Republican “thinking” on not just economics, but any matter in which actual knowledge and a respect for empiricism might help.

Via Wikipedia, we find he is barely educated, at best, in the fields in which he now works:

Kudlow graduated from University of Rochester in Rochester, New York with a degree in history in 1969. Known as “Kuddles” to friends, he was a star on the tennis team and a member of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society at Rochester.

In 1971, Kudlow attended Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he studied politics and economics. He left before completing his master’s degree.

I’ll admit that Kuddles is kinda cute, but an unfinished masters degree in a policy school is not one you’d usually associate with economics acumen.

He went on to a stellar business career, managing to get fired repeatedly for substance abuse on the job, including a claimed $10,000/month cocaine habit that got him canned from Bear Stearns in 1994. (It’s interesting to note that a frantic effort is underway today to diminish such inconvenient truths on Kudlow’s Wikipedia page.)

Fortunately for Kuddles, he cleans up well, dresses nicely, and can tok gud. So he was able to revive his career as a TV gasbag, with a series of appearances and then shows on CNBC, the network that figured out the markets could be covered like sports teams.

Unfortunately — for the rest of us, if not for the ever-failing-up Kudlow — he’s been wrong about almost every key economic call since Methuselah was in diapers.  He is a Laffer disciple, a supply-sider whose faith that there is no tax that is too low, no plutocrat whose needs must not be served, is impervious to any test of reality.

Consider this:

In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.

And this:

Kudlow firmly denied that the United States would enter a recession in 2007, or that it was in the midst of a recession in early to mid-2008. In December 2007, he wrote: “The recession debate is over. It’s not gonna happen. Time to move on. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth splendid year with many more years to come”. In May 2008 he wrote: “President George W. Bush may turn out to be the top economic forecaster in the country” in his “‘R’ is for ‘Right'”.

And this:

When Obama took office, Kudlow was detecting an “inflationary bubble.” That was wrong. He warned in 2009 that the administration “is waging war on investors. He’s waging war against businesses. He’s waging war against bondholders. These are very bad things.” That was also wrong, and when the recovery proceeded, by 2011, he credited the Bush tax cuts for the recovery. (Kudlow, April 2011: “March unemployment rate drop proof lower taxes work.”) By 2012, Kudlow found new grounds to test out his theories: Kansas, where he advisedRepublican governor Sam Brownback to implement a sweeping tax-cut plan that would produce faster growth. This was wrong. Alas, Brownback’s program has proven a comprehensive failure, falling short of all its promises and leaving the state in fiscal turmoil.

The reviews are coming in. Via the BBC:

David Stockman, Mr Kudlow’s former boss during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post in 2016 that Mr Kudlow’s prediction that tax cuts would lead to growth was “dead wrong”. Instead, he said the cuts led to budget deficits.

More recently, he has warned that Mr Kudlow would not be able to rein in the president.

“As much as I love him … Larry’s voice is exactly the wrong voice that Donald Trump ought to be hearing as we go forward,” he told CNBC.

Liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been sharply critical, noting that Mr Kudlow missed signs of the housing bubble and recession.

“At least he’s reliable — that is, he’s reliably wrong about everything,” Mr Krugman tweeted.

Indeed in December 2007 – just as the recession was beginning – Mr Kudlow wrote in the National Review: “There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen.”

It is interesting that Kudlow himself doesn’t seem to disagree with his predecessor on the issue that got Cohn out. From a quick take bylined by him, Laffer and Stephen Moore (another stellar, always-wrong econ public intellectual) here he is on Trump’s tariff announcement:

Tariffs are really tax hikes. Since so many of the things American consumers buy today are made of steel or aluminum, a 25 percent tariff on these commodities may get passed on to consumers at the cash register. This is a regressive tax on low-income families.

I wonder how that squares with the new job. ETA: I know how it squares. It’s already been forgotten. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

But that’s just SOP in the circles in which Kudlow travels:  intellectual rigor doesn’t actually matter.  He’s under no obligation to be consistent in any of his pronouncements, and he certainly doesn’t have to be right about anything as long as he provides cover for the true Republican (n.b.: not just Trumpian) policy goal: the transfer of more and more of our society’s wealth to those who are already wealthy — and hence, in the GOP/Rand/Sociopath view of the world, those who are virtuous enough to deserve such riches.

For all of you who’ve wondered why the US can’t be more like Kansas — we may now we get to find out.

Image: Thomas Shields Clarke, A Fool’s Fool,  c. 1887.



Yo bum rush the show

The Washington Post just hired Megan McArdle.

Let’s review some of her greatest hits:

(1) Shooter-rushing as a way to minimized casualties in mass shootings.

(2) Not admitting she fucked up her estimates of the costs of the Iraq War as percentage of GDP by a factor of ten.

What else?

I think that, as with Stephens, her derp-fu is too weak even for the Post’s totebag-adled readers. So this is harmless. I’m disgusted but I’m also amused.








Repub Venality Open Thread: Paul Ryan Is Not A Serious Person…

But he’s very much a serious threat to those of us not in the top 0.1%…