Whose Parties Are They?

One can define elitism as, say, resistance to progressive taxation, and make a case that Republicans better merit that description. But, broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is the party to which elites belong. It is the party of Harvard (and most of the Ivy League), of Microsoft and Apple (and most of Silicon Valley), of Hollywood and Manhattan (and most of the media) and, although there is some evidence that numbers are evening out in this election cycle, of Goldman Sachs (and most of the investment banking profession). That the billionaire David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation supports the Tea Party has recently been much in the news. But the Democrats have the support of more, and more active, billionaires. Of the 20 richest ZIP codes in America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 gave the bulk of their money to Democrats in the last election, in most cases the vast bulk – 86 percent in 10024 on the Upper West Side. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of non-high-school educated white males are happy with the direction the country is going in. The Democrats’ overlap with elites leaves each party with a distinctive liability. The Democrats appear sincerely deluded about whom they actually represent. Democrats – who would have no trouble discerning elite solidarity in the datum that, say, in the 1930s the upper ranks of Britain’s media, church, business and political institutions were dominated by Tories – somehow think their own predominance in similar precincts is … what? Coincidence? Irony?

Republicans, meanwhile, do not recognize the liability that their repudiation by elites represents in an age of expertise and specialization – even in the eyes of the non-elite center of the country. Like a European workingman’s party at the turn of the last century, the Republican Party today inspires doubts that it has the expertise required to run a large government bureaucracy. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s economic team, and Bill Clinton’s before it, the Bush White House was never capable, in eight years, of assembling a similarly accomplished one. Nor is there much evidence that Republicans were ever able to conceptualize the serious problems with the nation’s medical system, let alone undertake to reform it on their own terms.

Christopher Caldwell, in today’s New York Times. Go read the whole thing.

35 thoughts on “Whose Parties Are They?”

  1. Some interesting thoughts in there, but also some things I think are either highly questionable, or outright wrong.

    One questionable thing is the stat that 54% of likely voters self-describe as conservative, but only 18% self-describe as liberal. I just have a hard time believing that– I have a hard time believing even that the democratic liberal base is that depressed right now.

    Also, the notion that George W. Bush was repudiated by voters because of his foreign policy… in 2006. I really don’t think that’s true. Bush was repudiated by voters in 2006 due to his handling of Katrina and New Orleans. Prior to that, the left hated him, but they also hated him in 2000, and 2002, and 2004. In 2004, everyone else liked his foreign policy (just) enough to re-elect him. Only after Katrina did the independents abandon him and his base crack. His base cracked so hard that even friendly Republican lawmakers couldn’t be seen with him or near him, physically, ideologically, politically, or legislatively. It was Katrina which created an environment in which he literally could not govern. Not foreign policy.

    I’m also dubious on the proposition that the electorate is actually trending more conservative. The electorate is trending anti-Democrat because in schoolyard parlance, the economy is still busted and the Democrats touched it last. They may be self-identifying as conservative, but that means very little. I might possibly believe that the electorate is trending fiscally conservative, but I won’t even believe that until I see similar polls from the electorate that indicates we’re actually willing to either raise taxes or substantially cut services. It’s easy to say you’re fiscally conservative; it’s harder to actually cut services.

    (Which is why I always harp on government efficiency as the way out.)

    In two more years, if the Republicans have both houses and the economy is still foundering, the Democrats will look very viable. So will a Tea Party that distances itself from the Republicans. People aren’t actually for the Republican party this year, they just hate the Republicans less than the Democrats.

    There’s enough questionable in there, that I find myself mistrusting the rest of the article.

  2. Caldwell seems to completely miss the conflict between working/middle-class Americans and the public sector unions, which are both hyper-Democrat and totally immune to the unemployment crisis. You don’t have to be Sarah Palin to get it.

  3. Is the Tea Party simply unclear on the concept of “elite?”

    Caldwell cites the lower classes to be discontented. He reports that twenty-two percent of white male high school drop outs are dissatisfied with the state of affairs, and majorities in Arizona and California feel disenfranchised by federal court decisions overturning their discriminatory legislation targeting gays and immigrants. Palin, he suggests, has tapped into the Codevilla described “country class”, which feels slighted, belittled, and ignored, by the “ruling class.” These are the undereducated, unemployed, and forgotten folks in rural America, and others from median income America who feel a yearning for self-rule, who don’t want to pay taxes to support policies and decisions from which they feel shut out.

    Caldwell asserts that Republicans enjoy an advantage in this climate because they are running against the “party of the elite.” “Broadly speaking,” he says, “Democrats are the party to which most elites belong.” [For reasons beyond me he places the word “belong” in italics] He seems to be referring to educational elites:

    “It is the party of Harvard (and most of the Ivy League), of Microsoft and Apple (and most of Silicon Valley), of Hollywood and Manhattan (and most of the media) and, although there is some evidence that numbers are evening out in this election cycle, of Goldman Sachs.”

    Educational elites, of course, naturally gravitate to the professions, the financial industry, and education. But we have elites in every field of human endeavor. Political elites tend to be well educated, but they are not necessarily educational elites. Nevertheless, Senators and Members of Congress are, by definition, elite. So Caldwell, despite his concession that the Democrats under Clinton and Obama have had more competent teams running the executive branch than the Republicans did under Bush, is off base in suggesting that Democrats are the party of the “elite” while Republicans are . . . what?

    Republicans should get back to small “c” conservative values, says Caldwell: spend only what you can afford and mind your own business. That’s not an anti-establishment or anti-elite program. Caldwell says Republicans need to let go of the supply side fantasy that tax cuts will obviate the need for taxes as well as service cuts. That sounds like prudent advice: raise some taxes, cut some programs, stop talking trash about abortion and gays in the military or gays getting married. I’m hearing none of this from the bottom feeding Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. If small “c” conservatism is what Republicans are after, their best option is to begin talking sense and to get a little more elite themselves.

  4. Marcus V:

    Bush was repudiated by voters in 2006 due to his handling of Katrina and New Orleans … Only after Katrina did the independents abandon him and his base crack.

    Suggest you review poll data from the period, and see how many independents and Republicans blamed Bush for Katrina.

    There were external causes for 2006 (Iraq being chief) and internal causes (Republican malaise) but Katrina was a purely Democratic mania, and its effect was superfluous.

    A “Pew Survey”:http://people-press.org/report/296/public-cheers-democratic-victory of voters after the 2006 election showed Iraq as the number one issue, with the economy a distant second.

  5. Glen,

    It’s always possible I’m wrong, but I’m not sure that that poll shows it. It would, after all, be hard for Katrina to emerge as any reason, much less a top reason when it wasn’t on the list of choices presented.

    Besides, to clarify, I’m not making the claim that people went to the polls in 2006 with Katrina on their minds; rather, that Katrina was the last straw, removing any charity that voters might have had. My memories are that it was only after Katrina that Bush’s popularity imploded. He was always unpopular with the left, but after that, he was politically toxic.

    (One nice nugget from that survey, though, was how Democrats in 2006 thought it was appropriate for their leadership not to cooperate with Bush and the Republicans. It’s a nice bit of hypocrisy to demonize that same behavior as “obstructionist” when the show is on the other foot. Looks like the Republicans have flip-flopped on that one, too.)

  6. The ‘elite’ issue I have some issues with. On some levels, I completely agree when AL talks about ‘skybox’ democrats. It’s been a long running issue within the democratic party that many candidates are elected through the system that have connections, but no practical experience. This is also true with republicans (see Bush family, for example) but they seem to transcend this issue in their messaging.

    I disagree when people start talking about higher education (maybe because I’m a higher education devotee myself). Most of us were not ‘bred into wealth’ but grew from middle class roots to value education, and chose a career valuing knowledge over cash. Even at Ivy league schools, most of us are solidly middle class and economically similar to the tea party, which boasts 30% of it’s members about $75,000 annually, and 55% above $50,000. “NYTpoll”:http://documents.nytimes.com/new-york-timescbs-news-poll-national-survey-of-tea-party-supporters#document/p38

    I’m not saying this resentment doesn’t exist, it’s just not a traditional ‘class’ issue (as both groups are roughly in the same class). I think we are seeing some ‘educational class’ resentment building over the last few years. Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh have been screeching about “so-called scientists” on issues like evolution, health & environment for years. I definitely feel like this resentment feeds into the tea party movement. This is suggested in the article above.*

    I’m going to get overly dramatic here, and say that it reminds me a lot of warnings in Farenheit 451.

    bq. With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be

    This is a two-edged sword. Many ‘educational elites’ such as myself dismiss Palin because she doesn’t have that education/knowledge, and she doesn’t appear to have that desire to obtain it.* Maybe that ‘education class resentment’ is unfair. In my mind, our modern world is just too complex to NOT have access to these things.

    Ok, so simplifying government would definitely be a good thing. At the same time, our government grew complex in response to an economic world that has exponentially increasing complexity. How do you craft legislation to interact in that world without:
    a) the ability/desire to understand our current economy/health care/foreign policy
    b) heaving relying on experts who understand this information (ie elites).
    or c) both.

    Yet, many tea party candidates (O’Donnell comes to mind) seem to openly embrace their contempt for upper educational classes. In addition to this, is the local debates where tea party candidate seem reluctant to explain how they will craft future legislation/votes. Will they disregard such knowledge entirely? That’s what worries me.

    (*I know many people without a HS education who do not have class resentment: they push their kids into college, they read, they openly explore new ideas… that’s not who I’m talking about here).

  7. Alchemist makes a fair point- although I think tea-partier/conservative types tend to have a higher likelihood of actual experience in running businesses and making payrolls etc than your average ‘elite’ from either party.

    But here’s the trick- that doesn’t make the Tea Partier necessarily believe they can effectively run a government this size. There is a different discussion entirely going on. The Democrats and old guard republicans are arguing over who can better massage the levers of the leviathan, and asking the tea-partiers what makes them think they can micromanage better. The Teapartier is saying NOBODY can make a government this size effective much less efficient.

    There is a Jurassic Park type of fight going on here. The elite are arguing that they are smart and know lots of smart people and surely its just a question of applying that intelligence to the challenges at hand to garner the results desired. This is a seductive argument. Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and some sects of Conservatives (Objectivists certainly) argue that this is a bunch of bull, and as the size of government grows linearly, the complexity of running it grows geometrically. A lot of people that have run a growing organization comes to understand this intuitively- overseeing 100 people is more than 10x more complex than overseeing 10 people. You may end up hiring 10 people to oversee 10 each, and than personally overseeing those 10… but that obviously adds a layer of bureaucracy and inefficiency and basically, chaos. Take this to the level of glut our government has achieved and you realize its basically impossible to even judge if any given part is DOING anything, much less if it is doing it effectively, efficiently, and how to improve it. Hell, its tough to even tell if its doing more harm than good. Entrenched interests have an inertia that compounds with size.

    The tea party argument is very simple- if you want a government that works, make sure it is only addresses things you REALLY care about. Otherwise you’re just going to spend but not get results, which _ought_ to be objectionable to everybody (but in practice throwing money at things tends to be the best course left for the afore mentioned elites once it becomes clear they can’t do what they thought they could do).

  8. I don’t see the Tea Party as being a new ruling faction so much as a long-overdue corrective – a good cold water douche.

    All of which is as American as can be, and would have the approval of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

    The reaction of the elite, who cannot imagine anything except to expand the temples and the insipid mythology of the God-State, stinks of class contempt and petty hatred. Unless there’s no hope for the human race (and there damn well is) these are sure symptoms of their downfall.

  9. The first thing you do is put the beast on a diet. No more automatic budget increases. Then you start taking stabs at things (small and large), do we need agricultural subsidies (fight it out with the ag states), do we need public financing for the arts (fight it out with NPR supporters), do we need next generation supercarriers (fight it out with the procurement people), can we reform public employee pensions, etc…

    You aren’t going to win all those fights… but you put people on record and next election you BURY them (if you can) and you bury their allies for being enablers. You build you ‘brand’ and gain traction. You develop a platform, you push out the enablers in your own party.

    This is under no circumstances going to be quick, painless, or anything less than a messy political bloodletting for probably the next decade. But unless you want to fall into the traps of the past you have to start _somewhere._ Take a few scalps, win a few victories, and put many more people on the record. Then you can really run on a platform in 2012 and let the people decide if you are the insane one or the spending junkies are.

  10. I tend to agree, although what worries me more is the ability of the Beltway to assimilate politicians into pork machines. Ultimately I think we are going to need some real structural reforms.

    For instance, there is no reason in this day and age we ‘need’ to have our representatives living in one little town where they can collude and be easily courted by special interests. It’s not a silver bullet, but videoconferencing the work of Congress would save a little money and keep these people apart. If nothing else it prevents a little whisper in the ear, and maybe people are more circumspect on the phone or via email. There is really no reason to pretend our legislators are actually listening to each other when they drone on in the halls of congress. Time to bow to the reality of the situation and keep legislators where they have to live with the results of their votes.

    Another measure is for average people to become more involved in local parties and treat them as a civic duty/social network, which would go a long way towards divesting the party machines of power and allowing some cream to rise to the top from ‘outside’ talent. That would go a long way in making fiscal responsibility a special interest in the same way that the abortion crowds or the gun crowds have made themselves permanently relevant. There’s a reason no pro-choice republican or pro-life Dem can ever get a presidential nod. Heck, the NRA has managed to get a pretty good choke hold on _both_ parties- small government believers need to emulate those special interests and make themselves king makers and able to make life miserable for those who cross them.

  11. I tend to agree, which is why I think we need a re-commitment to civics- a long term awakening. It doesn’t have to be onerous. I think a lot of people have fallen out of contact with their neighbors (guilty) and would enjoy the idea of networking communities back together (never been easier). But that requires the Big Idea to infuse the spirit. At some point it becomes a habit, and the habit becomes the institution.

    None of this is unprecedented, for a number of communities its old hat. But you are right, we need that big wakeup call to get people out of old patterns and hopefully into new ones.

    I refuse to despair that the American people will perpetually sleepwalk off cliffs. We can do better. Maybe somebody just needs to tell us that.

  12. alchemist:

    Most polls show everyone is for cutting government, but when you start naming actual programs, support dies.

    Alas, now both you and Marcus V. have deployed this canard; i.e., “Everybody loves big government, they’re just too stupid to know it.”

    When cities are called upon to reduce waste, they pretend that they can only do it by firing police and firefighters. Anyone who wants to reduce the federal government wants to “privatize Social Security”. Anyone who doesn’t want to slash Defense spending is a hypocrite if they want to reduce any other kind of spending. And when totally outrageous examples of waste are pointed out, it is scoffed that these are only a drop in the bucket.

    All of which adds up to the elitist view of the taxpayer as a whiny little ingrate who knows nothing except what corporate interests tell him – corporate interests being the conspiracy behind any attempt to limit government growth.

    Britain and France are leading the way here, though God knows they don’t want to. Why don’t we take some reasonable steps before we’re in the same giant sinking boat with them?

  13. “Canard”? Please. You yourself just described part of the dynamic that causes the phenomenon– budget masters always hold hostage the very most popular programs they can think of and put them on the line first. In Chicago, it’s almost a ritual that when the CTA gets into trouble and Illinois balks at bailing them out, they threaten the senior citizen fare reductions which provokes outrage.

    The Alchemist and I both brought it up because it exists. It’s cynically assisted by the civil servants, but it exists.

    I don’t think it’s unsolvable problem, either, but pretending it doesn’t exist and twisting the words of everyone who points it out isn’t productive either. The solution, unfortunately, involves politics– specifically, the politics of coalition-building and coalition-breaking.

    Someone needs, for instance, to make a case for giving the government unions a mild haircut. And then a case to mildly extend retirement age, etc. The moves need to be narrow and isolated. Even though everyone needs to take a haircut, it can’t be done all at once– everyone will vote against it.

  14. This is a two-edged sword. Many ‘educational elites’ such as myself dismiss Palin because she doesn’t have that education/knowledge, and she doesn’t appear to have that desire to obtain it.

    Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner!

    Seriously, if that’s not the perfect illustration of the elitism you say doesn’t exist…

    M.V., I agree that a mild haircut is all that is feasible at the moment. But what the government unions need is a complete decapitation–“literally”, i.e. public employees can certainly join any associations they want, but collective bargaining should be completely banned and strikes by public employees should be illegal.

  15. Marcus V. –

    Well, if you put it that way, we mostly agree. But what both of you said is that the electorate is not serious about cuts.

    As for twisting people’s words, the worship of government has reached such heights that it absolutely defies parody. Vice High Priest Joe Biden is currently raving about the big government triumph of the Transcontinental Railroad – a little ironic, since the Democrats opposed that railroad for decades and it was only made possible by the fact that half of them resigned from Congress to join the Confederacy.

    Maybe Biden has a point – what we need is to flush about half of the Democrats out of Congress.

    I’m all for the haircut, and I say we start with 25% of the public payroll, including several departments in toto. Since Biden likes Lincoln so much, I’d point out that Lincoln had only seven members in his cabinet, including the Postmaster General. That seems like plenty to me.

  16. _Seriously, if that’s not the perfect illustration of the elitism you say doesn’t exist_

    Actually, that’s not true at all. I said it doesn’t fall under the typical definition of “class”, since she makes considerably more money than I do (and did, even before the book deals). As I said before, there is a lot resentment between groups of “educational class”, and it runs both ways.

    _But what both of you said is that the electorate is not serious about cuts._

    Ok, but I would put a slightly different spin on it. As I said before, the problem is constituencies. Most people agree that a minimum of 1/3 needs to be cut from the budget. They just disagree on where those cuts should take place.

    And it’s here that it gets tricky. There’s a reason why cuts have never happened. They have to be organized, they have to be coordinated, and they have to be on message, always. And some politicians better be willing to lose their jobs to make cuts. Because they will.

    I’m in a battleground state this year, and both sides are claiming their opponent is demanding cuts in SS. I think that’s a perfect example of the problem.

    _Since Biden likes Lincoln so much, I’d point out that Lincoln had only seven members in his cabinet_

    Thank you for the reminder… I meant to say last week that if we look at government per population, the government actually has been shrinking. If you look at the population in 1860, there were 31.4 million people. Now, 300 million, 30 advisers.

    Now, the argument about being unable to run that size of government still holds fair. But to keep government at it’s maximum efficiency, programs need to expand with the size of the population… and that has not been happening.

    Additional, the number of issues faced in the civil war is dramatically fewer than today.
    1-Medicine didn’t work, so no healthcare advisers
    2-No ‘technology’ advisers
    3-Science wasn’t an issue, no science adviser
    4- (etc, you get the idea)

    However, I would accept a “confederate” approach to the solution: make the individual programs smaller and more local, with local accountability.

  17. alchemist,

    OK, sorry, I misread you a bit (or got something turned around.) But having granted that, I still don’t see your form of elitism as any better than the economic-class-based kind.

    What’s more, given the kind of stuff Palin was able to do while governor, related to oil-industry issues, compared to the lives of pure blather led by the winning presidential candidates, I can’t see how your emphasis on intellectual curiosity (or whatever it is you think Palin is lacking) points to anything actually that important for governing.

  18. While massive government cuts sound good in the abstract, there’s a few points that come to mind:

    1) The ideal is to get government to do better/more with less resources. This is usually referred to as _reform_ or _increasing efficiency_, and is the best solution where feasible. The problem is that there’s only so much stretch before breakdowns start happening. As an example, the culture in NASA of “faster, better, cheaper” as a means of doing more with less led almost directly to the loss of the “Mars Climate Orbiter”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter and more indirectly to the “Columbia disaster.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_disaster “Get more efficient” just isn’t the panacea we’d all like it to be.

    2) So, that leaves us with shrinking government as a goal. OK, sounds good. But, this also means the next time a Katrina-level disaster happens, people need to lower bigtime their expectations of what the government can do. When you cut an agency the way FEMA was cut pre-Katrina, one can’t expect there to be cavalry riding over the hill to the rescue, and it was clear from the reaction to Katrina that that’s pretty much people’s level of expectation right now whenever anything really bad happens. I also note the hit that Obama took for the Deepwater Horizon spill, which suggests if anything that expectations have _risen_ since 2005, not decreased. A lowered level of expectation will have to apply to a whole lot of governmental functions that we take for granted today: customer product protections, environmental preservation, weather forecasting, Social Security and Medicare, defense spending, etc.

    In the end, it comes back to we as a people. As long as we continue to punish politicians at the ballot box for showing backbone whenever such painful things as Social Security means testing or Medicare rollbacks are brought up, this is all merely an academic discussion. Per de Tocqueville, we do get the government we deserve.

    kparker wrote:
    _…strikes by public employees should be illegal._

    They are, at least for “federal government employees”:http://www.federaldaily.com/labor/relations.htm#strikes, as the “air traffic controllers discovered in 1981.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_Air_Traffic_Controllers_Organization_%281968%29#August_1981_strike

  19. alchemist –

    Agriculture worked just fine in Lincoln’s day; in fact, it was advancing by leaps and bounds. Yet he had no Department of Agriculture, and doesn’t seem to have missed it. Today we have more Department of Agriculture than we have agriculture. Weird, huh?

    The government needs no science, technology, or medical departments, because the government has no business making policy about any of those things.

    Every federal employee who has anything to do with “education”, “drugs”, “children”, “the internet”, or the color “green” could be fired tomorrow and they would never be missed in a million years.

  20. Kparker, #21:

    But aren’t you doing almost the exact same thing as the Alchemist is doing, except in reverse? If Alchemist is insisting that education is the indispensable virtue, aren’t you turning it into a completely superfluous virtue?

    Are these really the only positions we’re left with? Necessary or useless?

    No. No, they’re not. And it would be better if people in both camps would start realizing it.

    Alchemist, #6:

    And for that matter, I wouldn’t phrase the “academic elite vs the rest” in terms of class, I’d phrase it in terms of social tribalism. It’s no surprise that members of the academic tribe are more comfortable around their own. It’s not a sin, it’s not shocking. It’s almost the definition of a social tribe.

    We all belong to one, and most of us to more than one. I’m in the American tribe, the academic tribe, the engineering tribe, and the atheist tribe. (You’d think the engineering would be inside the academic tribe. Let me assure you: Not so.) Most of my good friends are in at least two if not three or more of those social tribes.

    Where the problem comes in is where some members of a tribe (and every tribe has some) subordinates all possible virtues to the one their tribe happens to prize. It gets a little ugly in the academic tribe, though, because “educated” gets improperly short-handed to “smart” and/or “capable,” and those shorthands are a lot more superficially compelling than the similar short-hands of other tribes.

  21. Glen, #19:

    What I object to is you putting words in my mouth calling the electorate stupid. I said no such thing, and I’ll thank you not to do that again.

    What I said was that the electorate wants tax cuts without decreased services. Well, I also want to be skinnier and keep eating cheeseburgers and duck fat french fries. That doesn’t make me stupid, that makes me conflicted. It’s also very dangerous to call a large group of people with disparate shifting priorities and desires “stupid.” That’s why I talk about government and policy in terms of building coalitions. Groups of people can often act in ways that look stupid, but are all driven by intelligent local decision making. Coordination is hard Glen, and the failure to do it is not the same thing as stupidity.

    Still, even aside from that, perhaps you’d be willing to show me where I’m wrong. Is there a poll out there from the last ten years or so that meets the following criteria?

    1) Broad based– nationwide, representing all voting classes (e.g., not just one party, not just one region, not just one age cohort)

    2) Showing unambiguous desire for tax cuts

    3) Showing unambiguous agreement on what services to cut– we could argue on what unambiguous means, but let’s say something like 55-60%

    4) Said cuts to meaningfully impact the deficit.

    One word of pre-advice: If you talk about health care, be sure that you’re not classifying Democrats who think that the health care bill did not go far enough, into the column of people who oppose the health care bill.

    I mean, you might be right on this, and I might be wrong. But I’ve not seen a poll that meets those criteria. Any time you get to cuts of so great a magnitude that you make a meaningful dent, you automatically create a coalition of voters powerful enough to threaten its passage.

  22. M.V., please. It’s not like this argument is something novel. There’s plenty of condescension going both directions, to be sure, but when the academics are all about credentialism, and the non-academics reply with “Yeah? Take a look at our actual accomplishments!” I know who has the better of the argument.

    For myself, I’m a fellow-member of all your tribes save the atheist one (that is, if you’ll allow a mere software guy in the engineer tribe, it’s not like I’ve got a PE after my name.) But in this debate, I’m really with the elderly Thomas Jefferson:

    Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others.

  23. Kparker,

    I know it’s not novel, but I still disagree with you that it’s a binary either-or. I don’t want a society where one of the other group is lauded as more important than the other, I want a society where both groups contribute, because they contribute different things.

    It’s only a slightly less misguided argument in my mind than the perennial Science vs Engineering debate– both sides do well by each, most people in both professions know it, and only the insecure loudmouths feel the need to even have the argument.

    (And I don’t have a P.E., either. It’s not the end-all and be-all of the engineering profession. It’s only appropriate, in my opinion, when you’re hanging your shingle out and providing services directly to the public. I work for a big engineering company, and they can judge my work on their and my merits.)

  24. Marcus V.

    What I object to is you putting words in my mouth calling the electorate stupid. I said no such thing, and I’ll thank you not to do that again.

    Okay, I won’t do it again.

    What I said was that the electorate wants tax cuts without decreased services. Well, I also want to be skinnier and keep eating cheeseburgers and duck fat french fries.

    Cripes, you just did it again! Now I have to do it again!

  25. Marcus, my parting shot is this:

    Do you really not see a difference between one group saying “We’re smart enough to run things for everyone” and one saying “no one should have the right to do that”? That’s the point of the TJ quote, and the theme is very widespread among the supposed anti-elite?

  26. “no one should have the right to do that”

    This is where, if the tea party is truly libertarian at it’s core, I’ll be more supportive. But, there’s no way to to truly tell how the ‘tea party’ group well act as group until they govern. Their point seems to be “we don’t act lockstep”, and that makes it difficult to predict how they’ll act.

    For example: I’m expecting some tea partiers to bring out the social conservative “god must be the right choice” meme (as per Palin, O’Donnell & Angle) on issues such as abortion, christian education and science. I feel this is the antithesis of your sentence above. (notice: I’m much more terrified of them then the tea party in general)

    I also expect many tea partiers to feel differently. Again: the tea party has some simple, well founded ideals. As long as the tea party sticks to the simple ideals, I think they have a chance to effect government. However, when you get to the finer points of governace, I think they’re going to have a real hard time putting these ideals into action. And that’s where the rubber meets the road.

    As an example: “This American life” has a show on this week where two best friends, who founded a tea party together, have become enemies over who to vote for: a republican with a chance or a pure libertarian. As someone who saw the Nader/Gore angst of 2000, I expect we’ll see this repeat itself numerous times in the next two years.

  27. Alchemist,

    I’m expecting some tea partiers to bring out the social conservative “god must be the right choice” meme (as per Palin… ) on issues such as abortion, christian education and science.

    Help me out here. While she was in office, what exactly did Palin ever do to promote those particular agenda items? I suspect the answer is pretty close to “nothing”, but if you have some evidence to the contrary maybe I’ll start worrying a bit too.

  28. I read another article that featured some of these same people, but I can’t remember where. None the less, here’s one from “time”:http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1837918,00.html on the Wasilla mayoral race:

    bq. While Palin often describes that race as having been a fight against the old boys’ club, Stein says she made sure the campaign hinged on issues like gun owners’ rights and her opposition to abortion

    bq. “I just thought, That’s ridiculous, she should concentrate on roads, not abortion,” says Naegele [local reporter].

    Now, this article seems to imply that this is political expediency. Still, bringing this stuff up in mayoral election…. feels quesy to me either way.

  29. Kparker, #28:

    No need to make it a parting shot– I think this is a good and useful discussion. I also think we’re talking past each other a little bit.

    Partly, I think that’s because your response in #21 was, genuinely, an example of how to turn the elitism formula inside out, and still end up being a different kind of elitist. I wasn’t playing gotcha for gotcha’s sake, I thought the statement was the sign of a real problem.

    Alchemist #29 gave another example. There are still others– in my evening skim through various blogs, there were a few articles that jumped out with a distinct anti-intellectual tone to them.

    Alchemist’s example is one thing because there is a vocal, agitated minority that seems to think they are entitled to govern where no one else is, on the basis of religion. The examples that jumped out at me are another because I think they’re greater in number, more broadly based, but not so acute in their sense of entitlement.

    And you might be reading my lack of vocal expressed outrage as a sign that I don’t take the elitism you’re worried about seriously. (I say ‘might’ to mean, literally, you might have that impression. Or you might not. I’m guessing, not trying to put words in your mouth.)

    That’s not true. It irritates the hell out of me. On the other hand, similar statements and attitudes from other groups irritate the hell out of me, too. Moreover, and very important to me personally, I think a fair bit of the problems with the political scene today is precisely the amount of tribal-bullshit-yelling-at-each-other.

    So unless I lose my temper (which obviously happens) or unless I think one group seems completely over the top and poised to do something about it (which at this time, I don’t) I’m a little limited in how vocally I’m going to express that.

  30. M.V.,

    Sorry if “parting shot” sounded passive-aggressive or something. All I meant it to mean was that the discussion seemed to be dragging on (maybe talking past each other) and perhaps drifting a bit off-topic, so I was going to say one last thing and then give the final word to you if you wanted it.

    Agreed, it’s been a good discussion.

  31. I think it comes down to this: either what we have is working, or it is not. If it is working, then we should continue it. If it is not working, then we should alter or abolish it. I happen to think that, given the way things are going and the systemic incentives, even voting in a slate of pure tea party conservatives would not be sufficient from driving us off a cliff; we are too far down that road already to stop. I hope I am wrong, and that is why I am currently prioritizing principled fiscal conservatism above all other issues (and why I won’t be voting for my local Republican for Congress, since he supported TARP). However, if I’m correct, and we are too far down that road to stop (as some commentators here also seem to be arguing), then that means that eventually we will either need to have a Constitutional Convention to start over, or will divide the country into two or three parts, or will have some variety of really bad outcome. Because I hope to avoid the really bad outcomes, I hope that principled fiscal conservatism can lead to rolling back the monster State we have erected over the past 80 years or more.

    As far as “elitism,” to me that’s just shorthand for “smug in their assumption of superior wisdom and intelligence while actually being both morons and morally indefensible.” And yeah, it speaks to both parties. “Elite” is a much easier thing to say.

  32. Which brings us back to the conversation we had a few weeks ago….

    What does the tea party cut? How do they “simplify government”. This is an intrinsically difficult thing to do. Furthermore, I’m not even sure they agree on how to do this.

    From a political standpoint, it makes way more sense to avoid this question. Most polls show everyone is for cutting government, but when you start naming actual programs, support dies.

    Still, when this issue comes up after the election (assuming decent tea party gains), it’s this point where the tea party will be most vulnerable. It’s where special interests will wait to pick off the weak, and divide the rest.

    That’s not to say it can’t work, I just can’t see it working.

    But the conversation we had the other day about smaller government got me thinking: One of the big issues that will prevent smaller government from working is that America no longer thinks local. We watch national news, read national newspapers. Elections are waged on National issues, often paying little attention local issues.

    Hell, it’s often hard to figure who local candidates actually are.

    In order to make a more ‘confederate’ system work, we (the American people) are going to have draw attention away from national issues (ground-zero mosque, oil spill, Katrina) and push all of our attention on smaller, more local issues.

    That’s a pretty massive paradigm shift, especially when tv ratings/blogs are so focused on national controversies.

  33. bq. This is under no circumstances going to be quick, painless, or anything less than a messy political bloodletting for probably the next decade.

    And that right there is what worries me. I don’t believe or even hope that the passion for small government can be sustained for that long (with one caveat). I think it’s more likely that the small government grass roots gets hijacked by social conservatives, and that will drive fiscal conservatives out the door. Some will leave because they disagree with the agenda, and some will leave because the social agenda is not inherently cost cutting. Drug prohibition is extremely expensive, just as one example.

    The one caveat: The only way that genuine fiscal conservatism stays at the forefront of the conservative grassroots movement is if the economy stays in the toilet. Not a pleasant prospect.

  34. No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session. The oldest version of that quote I’ve seen is from 1866, so it’s not exactly a new observation.

    And while I agree with your point about getting people involved, my point is that I just don’t envision that happening. People vote their pocketbooks when things are bad; they vote their dreams when things are good. (Unless they live in the State of California or other similar states of denial, where they appear to vote their hallucinations at all times. How else could a bright, honorable guy like Marc Danziger – and according to the polls, a majority of his fellows – vote for Brown over Whitman? But I digress). If things get more or less back on track, and middle class voters start feeling comfortable again, they will once again start voting for the candidate that promises more goodies. More roads, more schools, higher teacher pay, more prisons, more cops to fill them. They won’t ask about how those toys get paid for when the economy takes its next down cycle. So unless things stay bad, the electorate will forget and go back to their old habits. And it gets even more gloomy – if the economy stays bad enough or get worse, god forbid, they’ll throw out this new set of bums for another set of bums with a different letter behind their name.

  35. No offense, Mark, but I believe I’ve heard this before, and quite recently.

    bq. We can do better. Maybe somebody just needs to tell us that.

    “We can do better.” “Yes We Can!”

    It’s funny, next Tuesday is shaping up to be an amazing event, but our probable failure to capture the Senate has me bummed. The reasons we’re going to fail (some very poor candidates coming out of the primaries, and some bad management by the NRSC) has me very pessimistic about the long-term viability of the Tea Party movement. I don’t think this kind of opportunity will come around again in two years. And let’s be honest: how many times have you been told lately that gaining the Senate, and more importantly its committee chairs, just isn’t as important as “sending a message”? Delaware is a “strategic loss”? I have to be honest, I find that kind of thinking nothing short of idiotic.

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