The radical center

I’ve been reading endless comparisons of the Tea Party with Occupy Together and nearly all of them end with some nonsense about the evils of polarizations and Our Republic’s need for teh centrism.

Let’s think about the policy ideas of people who now call themselves centrists, we’ll take the Kaplan editorial page as an example. You have support for preemptive wars and for the privatization/voucherization of Social Security and Medicare, you have opposition to traditional Keynesian economics and collective bargaining rights, you have acceptance of torture and indefinite detentions. Yes, on social issues, they’re more to the left — support for marriage equality, for example. But on the main economic/fiscal and foreign policy issues, they mostly embrace ideas that would have been far too right to have been considered mainstream 30 or 40 years ago.

I am no longer convinced that there is any meaningful distinction between the Serious Center and the Tea Party. Sure, the Village wouldn’t put us on the gold standard or force a massive treasury default or teach creationism in schools, but that’s about it.

Matt Yglesias, no liberal apparently a self-described liberal, at least, asks a very good question:

In retrospect, a lot of what’s happened in the developed world since 1980 seems to have been based on the logic that since the mixed economy with regulated markets and a welfare state has outperformed command and control socialism, then clearly a pure to free market purism will produce even better results. But what if the success of the mixed economy with regulated markets and a welfare state proves that we should endorse . . . a mixed economy with regulated markets and a welfare state? Just because one slice of pizza is delicious doesn’t mean you should eat the whole pie.

I think that one of the reasons western capitalism has been so stable is that it has tempered free-market purity with a social safety net. Another is that institutions like unions and a free press have given workers some reasonably peaceful means to push back against their Galtian overlords.

A lot of that may be gone soon. Unions are weaker than ever and national media is not only completely dominated by corporate interests but largely delivered by millionaires who naturally identify with others in their economic class.

I can see this all ending very badly.

Republicans find their voice: turns out, it’s whiny

The New York Time interviewed some US elected officials and their boss, Grover Norquist. It’s worth a read because it’s really pretty funny:

The first dissenter:

Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has signed a pledge never to raise taxes. He signed another pledge too, one that made it nearly impossible to vote for a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. But right before that vote over the summer, in a meeting with scores of his Republican colleagues, he stood up and proclaimed that he would never sign another pledge.

It spreads, and goes public:

On Tuesday, Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, took to the House floor for a rare excoriation of the anti-tax activist Grover G. Norquist and his strictly worded pledge, which has been signed by almost the entire Republican caucus as well as a few Democrats.

A day later, Senator John Thune of South Dakota suggested that anti-tax pledges ought to be revisited, because they can be interpreted too broadly in closing loopholes or eliminating tax deductions. “We shouldn’t be bound by something that could be interpreted different ways if what we’re trying to accomplish is broad-based tax reform,” he said.

John Thune just got around to reading the pledge he signed, apparently. I love that he’s offered to negotiate terms, unlike the rabble-raisers in the House. Very senatorial of him. I guess he and Norquist meet, and Norquist tells the Senator from…wherever what modifications or revisions he, Norquist, will accept.

Mr. Norquist, who heads the group Americans for Tax Reform, uses his pledge, which began in 1986 with the endorsement of President Reagan, as a litmus test for candidates on taxes. Known as the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, it makes candidates and incumbents “bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases.” Hundreds of Republicans have signed it, including all six on the bipartisan Congressional deficit reduction committee.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who also signed it, said in an interview: “I’ve signed more pledges than I should have over the years. All of us ought to be somewhat reluctant to make these pledges. I think people who have been here longer do fewer.”

In other words, chumps sign pledges, which leads us to the Men Who Would Be President:

To be sure, the majority of Republican lawmakers are not running away from Mr. Norquist. All the Republican presidential candidates other than Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah, have gotten on board.

Mr. Norquist said that those who raise questions about the pledge often do not understand it. “The pledge specifically says you can eliminate tax deductions if you bring rates down at same time,” he said. “The people who say that the pledge would get in the way of tax reform, well their point is they want a tax increase.”

The pledge specifically says…can’t you just hear the snotty tone as he says that?

Since “those who are now raising questions about the pledge” are the spineless morons who signed one, Grover Norquist is telling us that conservative lawmakers, including at least one Senator, signed a pledge that they didn’t understand.

He ain’t heavy

Via reader Hilts, Jon Chait has a pretty good piece on why he thinks people should should stop focusing on Chris Christie’s weight.

I will tell you why I think people should shut up about it: I don’t think it affects his ability to do his job. It’s that simple, for me. This isn’t about being politically correct. There all kinds of health problems and disabilities that I think would get in the way of being an effective president. Bachmann’s migraines might have been problematic (I’d have to know more to say for sure); whatever was wrong with George W. Bush — I think he might have suffered from some diagnosable cognitive/attention deficit disability, though I’m not an expert — probably impacted his ability to be an effective president.

I don’t think being overweight falls into that category. Do you?

Part of being a liberal is believing that if someone can do a job well, they deserve a shot at that job, whether they’re black, white, brown, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, atheist, thin, fat. That’s why we nominate great presidential candidates even if they’re black like Obama or from very poor families like Clinton. Leave all that only rich, corn-fed, broad-shouldered himbos need apply bullshit for the wingers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to call Chris Christie Chunky Jon Huntsman if he gets into the race. But you can’t convince me that his weight is a legitimate issue.

The best president of the (last) century could barely walk, remember.

Update. Obviously, to the extent that it affects his ability to get elected, that’s fair game. But I haven’t heard of it affecting his ability to be governor or to be a federal prosecutor.

The best and the brightest

I’m not normally one to hate competent public servants for no reason, but I’ve always hated Peter Orszag. He always seemed liked that sort of faux nice guy geek who would ultimately turn out to be the kind of sociopathic douche who would take millions in dollars of pay-off money from an investment bank, pen establishment-pleasing contrarian op-ed pieces that stabbed his old boss in the back, and advocate turning our entire society over to paid-for think tank hacks. (In short, he reminds me of almost everyone I knew in college.) Kthug:

Catherine Rampell comments skeptically on Peter Orszag’s call for delegating more policy to panels of nonpolitical experts. I’d add that this is an odd time to make such a proposal. Yes, the political world is deeply dysfunctional — but what’s equally remarkable is just how terrible the judgment of the supposed experts has been.

Kthug also, in a different piece, gives a good example of why this is such a bad idea:

I’ve written a lot about the Dark Age of macroeconomics, of the way economists are recapitulating 80-year-old fallacies in the belief that they’re profound insights, because they’re ignorant of the hard-won insights of the past.

What I’d add to that is that at this point it seems to me that many economists aren’t even trying to get at the truth. When I look at a lot of what prominent economists have been writing in response to the ongoing economic crisis, I see no sign of intellectual discomfort, no sense that a disaster their models made no allowance for is troubling them; I see only blithe invention of stories to rationalize the disaster in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide.

I used to believe that reasonable, educated people could all blah blah blah but now I think that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s easy to buy experts off, easier still to confuse sophistry with knowledge, and inevitable that powerful elites will mostly identify with other powerful elites.

The only possible serious check on all of this is democracy. That may suck but it’s how it is. Alan Greenspan and U of Chicago economics largely caused this recession. I don’t have to remind you about the awesome intellectual pedigree of the people who dreamed up the Iraq War. Also too, Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.

Probably Not the Next BJ Book Chat Selection

Whatever the eventual verdict on Ron “Reality-Based Community” Suskind’s new book, surely all reasonable people can agree with NYMag that Larry Summers is a toxic pest:

Adam [Moss]: Hi, Frank. So there’s a little commotion about this new book Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, which is being published on Tuesday… To give readers a super-fast overview, it’s a book, essentially, about Obama’s economic team during his first two years in office. The news of the book, according to some reports, is that Tim Geithner was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own pro-banker agenda. Or, according to other reports, that Larry Summers was insubordinate to the president, pursuing his own — well, monomaniacal agenda. I’d add that it’s also about Rahm Emanuel being insubordinate to the president, just because. Basically, it’s about the presidency being hijacked by these three guys. And the guys thing is important because they’re pretty awful to women. Anyway, they’re the villains. Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, and Elizabeth Warren are the heroes. Bankers win, America loses. Did I get that right?
Frank [Rich]: Hi, Adam, and yes, you did! I would point out that among the other heroes are more women (Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born, Maria Cantwell) and at least one man, the Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who also seems to be a serious Suskind source and who has now returned to the White House to succeed Austan Goolsbee and Romer as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Not that that will do any good…
AM: … Summers is portrayed as an egotistical nut job, single-mindedly determined to get Bernanke’s job; when he doesn’t get it, he goes bananas. He is supposed to be a conduit for the collective advice of the team, but undermines his colleagues, only passing along advice and information that supports his positions. I was kind of stunned how many officials were willing to go on the record against him.
Peter Orszag relays this eviscerating quote that Summers said to him about Obama during the worst of the economic distress. According to Orszag, Summers says, “You know, Peter we’re really home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.” Later, Orszag says to Suskind, “Larry just didn’t think the president knew what he was deciding. Was this [obstruction of the president’s wishes] outright and willful?” In other words, asks Orszag, was Summers saying, “I know more than the president flat-out? That strikes me as … likely.” In an amazing memo, Pete Rouse, who would replace Emanuel temporarily as chief of staff, recommends firing Summers for “Larry’s imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.” Romer says Summers made her feel “like a piece of meat.”
In the end, nobody’s talking to Summers — not even his crony Geithner… At least according to Suskind, the only person who could stand Summers was Obama, which — in Suskind’s telling — was a misjudgment that had a rather profound effect on the first chunk of Obama’s presidency…