Tag Archives: Tea Party

Seven Key Points About the Shutdown

1. This is not a pox-on-both-your-houses situation. The Republicans planned this shutdown and carried it out.

Last Monday, on the eve of the shutdown, Rachel Maddow showed the tapes of one Republican candidate after another making campaign speeches about shutting down the government and being cheered for it. That never happens on the Democratic side. No Democratic candidate for Congress tells his crowds he’s going to shut down the government and expects to get a cheer. Rachel summarized:

What is happening tonight is happening tonight because this is what Republicans want to do. This is what they promised to do. … Elect Republicans and they will burn the place down and they will laugh while they do it and have a great time.

The Daily Beast’s David Freedlander talked to a number of Republican donors from the banking industry, who said Rep. Walden (chair of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, which wants their money) told them “We have to do this because of the Tea Party.” (An NRCC spokesman denies Walden said that.)

Jonathan Chait traces the Republicans’ post-2012-defeat strategy to a meeting in January.

If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.

The first element of the strategy is a kind of legislative strike. Initially, House Republicans decided to boycott all direct negotiations with President Obama, and then subsequently extended that boycott to negotiations with the Democratic Senate. (Senate Democrats have spent months pleading with House Republicans to negotiate with them, to no avail.) This kind of refusal to even enter negotiations is highly unusual. The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.

2. This “budget” showdown has nothing to do with the budget. Both sides agree on the spending number that should be in the continuing resolution.

That’s because Democrats agreed to the Republicans’ number. In other words, the only genuine concession in this process has come from the Democrats. John Boehner could have taken that concession, passed a continuing resolution to avoid the shutdown, and then called a press conference to declare victory. Instead he shut down the government.

3. The threat not to raise the debt ceiling is unprecedented, except for when these same Republicans made the same threat in 2011.

Posturing about the debt ceiling is perennial: “Look how profligate the party in power is. They’ve run up so much debt we have to raise the ceiling.” But making a credible threat not to raise the debt ceiling unless your legislative demands are met? No. That is an absolutely new tactic in American politics.

Slate’s David Weigel goes through all the alleged examples of the Democrats threatening the debt ceiling. In 1981, Tip O’Neil tried to get President Reagan to promise that Republicans wouldn’t use a debt-ceiling vote against incumbent Democrats in the next election cycle (i.e., no policy demands), but passed it in plenty of time. In 1984, a Democratic committee chair blocked a debt ceiling bill for one day, seeking defense spending cuts. He was roundly criticized for “brinksmanship” and backed down.

That’s it. Dozens of other times Democratic majorities in Congress have passed debt-ceiling increases proposed by Republican presidents without making an issue of it.

If Democrats accepted the tactic Republicans are using, the September, 2007 debt-ceiling increase would have been an opportunity for Nancy Pelosi to demand deficit-reducing changes like a repeal of the Bush tax cuts or an end to Iraq War. But that didn’t happen, because Democrats don’t operate by extortion.

4. Republicans have redefined he words negotiate and compromise.

ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum summed up the Republican “negotiation”:

Can I burn down your house?
No
Just the 2nd floor?
No
Garage?
No
Let’s talk about what I can burn down.
No
YOU AREN’T COMPROMISING!

In a real compromise, both sides give something and both sides get something. So far, the Democrats have been offered nothing.

In the 2011 crisis, President Obama repeatedly tried to negotiate a “grand bargain” with Speaker Boehner that would knock trillions off the long-term deficit. That failed, and the “supercommitte” negotiations that were supposed to replace the sequester failed, on the same point: Republicans insisted there could be no tax increases in the deficit reduction plan. Zero. During one Republican presidential debate, the candidates were asked whether they would accept a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. All said no.

Since April, Harry Reid has been trying to form a conference committee so that the House and Senate can work out a budget compromise. The Republicans have refused to appoint their conferees, preferring to wait until they had the “leverage” of a government shutdown and debt default. The point here is exactly what Chait said above: to extort concessions out of the Democrats without offering any concessions of their own. “OK then, half the ransom” is not a concession, no matter what Ted Cruz says.

5. The principle at stake is majority rule.

I talked about this in detail last week. Speaker Boehner wants to tell the story that the shutdown represents a disagreement between two branches of government that have conflicting popular mandates: The public elected President Obama, but it also elected a Republican House of Representatives.

That’s not what this is about at all. If it were, Boehner could bring the Senate’s clean continuing resolution to the House floor for a vote and defeat it. He can’t do that, because given the chance the people’s representatives would pass it. In blocking that resolution, Boehner does not represent the majority of the House, he only represents “the majority of the majority”, i.e. a minority.

The entire give-us-what-we-want-or-we’ll-burn-the-house-down strategy is against all American ideals of democracy. The constitutional way to pass a law (or repeal a law you don’t like) is to do what the Democrats did to pass ObamaCare in the first place: Win not just a majority in the House, but also a substantial majority in the Senate (to overcome a filibuster, which the Founders never envisioned), and win the White House (to avoid a veto). The Republicans can’t do that, because they are a minority. (Even their House candidates collectively got a million fewer votes than the Democrats in 2012.)

6. Don’t believe the leak that John Boehner won’t allow a debt-ceiling default.

Thursday the NYT quoted multiple anonymous Republican congressmen saying that Boehner had told them he wouldn’t allow a default. But Matt Yglesias points out that Boehner has been saying such things all along, while also saying the opposite.

Boehner’s position, dating back to 2011, has been twofold. On the one hand he says that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic and that he favors avoiding catastrophe. On the other hand he says that he requires unrelated public policy concessions in order to agree to a measure that he himself says he supports.

It is, in other words, the classic suicide hostage strategy: Do what I want or I’ll detonate the bomb strapped to my chest. This has always been Boehner’s position.

For example, on Friday Boehner said:

I don’t believe that we should default on our debt. It’s not good for our country. But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed. I think the American people expect if we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country.

In other words, he wants concessions. And notice: Boehner doesn’t suggest doing something about the deficit, which has a revenue side. He only wants to discuss “our spending problem”. So he’s seeking spending cuts with no tax increases, the same no-compromise position that doomed the budget negotiations in 2011.

And then Sunday he reiterated:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So under no circumstances will you pass a clean debt limit?

BOEHNER: We’re not going down that path.

Stephanopoulos’ question: “So you sit down with the president. What would you offer him in that conversation?” got no answer. And when pushed on the tax issue Boehner said: “Very simple. We’re not raising taxes.”

He described Harry Reid’s proposal to negotiate about the budget after the shutdown and debt ceiling had been dealt with as

My way or the highway. That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender and then we’ll talk to you.

So he wants concessions and won’t give anything in return. Without his extortion demand, he has nothing to talk about, so giving it up is “complete surrender”.

7. The clearest head in the room belongs to Elizabeth Warren.

The boogeyman government is like the Boogyman under the bed. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. What is real, what does exist are all those specific important things that we as Americans have chosen to do together through our government. In our democracy, government is not some make-believe thing that has an independent will of its own. In our democracy, government is just how we describe the things that We the People have already decided to do together.

Countdown to Augustus

Losing the Republic one day at a time


About once a year, I recommend that Sift readers take a look at Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series of novels. It covers the final century of the Roman Republic, from the rise of Gaius Marius to the establishment of the Empire under Caesar Augustus. I recommend the series not just because it’s a good yarn (which it is), but because it’s a cautionary tale about how republics are lost.

Your high school world history class probably gave you a highlight-reel version of the fall of the Roman Republic — crossing the Rubicon and all that — but didn’t really cover the century-long erosion of public trust that made the big rockslides inevitable.

The highlight reel may have left you with the impression that at a few key moments, individuals failed or made bad, self-serving decisions: If Cicero and Cato had carried the day, if Julius Caesar didn’t march on Rome, if Octavian had restored the power of the Senate after Actium rather than becoming Emperor… everything would have worked out. And so people who apply the Roman model to the American Republic usually end up matching personalities: Who is our Caesar, our Cicero, our Brutus? Is there a parallel between FDR’s four terms and Marius’ seven consulships? Between the assassinations of the Kennedies and of the Gracchi brothers? And so on.

That’s a fun party conversation for history geeks, but the closer (and scarier) match is in the steady erosion of political norms.

As Chris Hayes has observed on several occasions (at around the 3:30 mark here, for example), republics don’t work just by rules, the dos and don’t explicitly spelled out in their constitutions. They also need norms, things that are technically within the rules — or at least within the powers that the rules establish — but “just aren’t done” and arouse public anger when anyone gets close to doing them. But for that public anger, you can often get an advantage by skirting the norms. And when it looks like you might get away with it, the other side has a powerful motivation to cut some other corner to keep you in check.

For the last few decades, we’ve been in a Romanesque downward spiral of norm-skirting. One side does something that just isn’t done, but calibrates it to avoid a rush of public anger. And the other side responds by doing something else that isn’t (or didn’t used to be) done.

One example has been growing use of the filibuster in the Senate. Once an arcane device that showed up more often in movies than in the Capitol, the filibuster is now in such constant use that journalists now write as if the Constitution required 60 Senate votes to pass a law. The brand new use of the filibuster not just to block the passage of laws but to nullify laws already passed (by blocking appointments to the agencies that enforce those laws) led the Obama administration to push the boundaries of recess appointments, which then led the courts to push the boundaries of their norms against getting involved in political conflicts between the executive and legislative branches.

Another example is impeachment. When Democrats began an impeachment process against President Nixon  in 1974, both parties proceeded somberly and with utmost caution, because the only precedent, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868, wasn’t something to take pride in. By contrast, the impeachment and trial of President Clinton in 1998-1999 had a circus atmosphere; Republicans were giddy that one of their endless investigations had turned up something they could exaggerate into an impeachable offense. Today, Tea Party Republicans see the Constitution’s definition of an impeachable offense as a technicality. This August, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) told his constituents that impeaching President Obama would be a “dream come true” except for the annoying little detail that “you’ve got to have evidence” and he doesn’t have any.

That follows a pattern that a Masters of Rome reader easily recognizes: The rules give an explicit power to some office, along with the implicit duty to wield that power to achieve a particular public purpose. But as the erosion of norms proceeds, the power becomes something the officeholder owns, and can use however he likes. So Congress was given the impeachment power to save the Republic from a president who had been suborned by a foreign power or domestic special interest. But the Tea Party believes a Republican Congress just owns that power to use according to its whims; the hurdle to overcome isn’t assembling the evidence, it’s acquiring the votes.

Similarly, the president has the power to enforce the laws and the Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution. More and more, those institutions are coming to own those powers rather than wield them for a public purpose. So the meaning Constitution’s commerce clause changes from one case to the next, according to the whims of the Court’s conservative majority.

An abuse by one branch legitimizes an abuse by another. Congress’ inability to even compose a new immigration law (much less debate it and bring it to a vote) allows President Obama to be the champion of the popular Dreamers by stretching his powers of prosecutorial discretion. The norms of Congress used to allow simple legislative fixes to complex programs during the implementation phase; even if you opposed a program to begin with, you supported improving it once it was already established in law. But the refusal of the Republican House to allow any changes in ObamaCare short of repeal or sabotage has legitimized Obama in pushing the limits of executive orders.

That also is something an MoR reader will recognize: About half of the erosion in Rome was done by the good guys, in order to seek justice for popular causes that the system had stymied.

And that brings us to the present showdown over funding the government and managing the debt ceiling. Until Newt Gingrich, government shutdowns were glitches: Congress thought it could get the laws passed in time, but something went wrong and the government had to shut down for a day or two until Congress could get it fixed. With Gingrich the government shutdown became a tactic, comparable to a labor strike closing a factory: Give us what we want, or we’ll shut the place down.

In 1995-96, the public recognized that the norms had been violated and reacted with appropriate anger. Gingrich had to back down, and his partner-in-crime Bob Dole was soundly thrashed by Bill Clinton in the next presidential election.

President Bush’s clashes with Democrats in Congress were bitter, but impeachment and shutdown were never serious threats. With the anti-Obama backlash and the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, government shutdown has again become just another tool in the congressional toolbox. And for the first time, threatening the debt ceiling has become a tactic. Both parties had repeatedly postured over the debt ceiling in the past, but in 2011 it was a brand new norm-violation to demand concessions in exchange for allowing the government to pay debts lawfully incurred. Obama blundered by not standing on principle then, and so we are where we are.

Later today I’ll have more to say about where that is, but right now I just want to point out where it fits in the larger pattern. The Republicans have President Obama in a Roman-style box: He can surrender to this new minority-rule tactic with the prospect of more surrenders in the future, or he can watch havoc unleashed on the financial markets, with unpredictable effects on the American economy, or he can break the norms himself by invoking the 14th Amendment or minting a trillion-dollar coin or choosing which of Congress’s contradictory laws (the appropriations bills or the debt ceiling) he will enforce.

In the short run, the third choice — find your own norms to violate — does the least damage to the country.  But it keeps the countdown-to-Augustus clock ticking. As Congress becomes increasingly dysfunctional, as it sets up more and more of these holding-the-country-hostage situations, presidents will feel more and more justified in cutting Congress out of the picture.

We know where that goes: Eventually the Great Man on Horseback appears and relieves us of the burden of Congress entirely. He may come from either the Left or the Right, but when he arrives the people will cheer — as the people cheered first Julius Caesar and then Caesar Augustus — because the trust they have placed in the Republic has been so badly abused.

How Republican Congressmen Spent Their Summer Vacation

The conservative base wants to see a Charge of the Light Brigade against ObamaCare. Their congressmen are trying to distract them with less dangerous crazy talk.


Congress went into its summer recess with everything up in the air. None of the major appropriation bills to fund the government in fiscal 2014 (which starts October 1) are passed yet, and the House and Senate versions of them are still far apart. Even if compromises could be reached in time, the far right wants to shut down the government until President Obama agrees to delay implementing ObamaCare. Or, if they can’t block the FY 2014 appropriations, they want Congress to default on the spending it just approved by not raising the debt limit.

Other big policy decisions are also pending: The Senate overwhelmingly passed an immigration reform bill, but the House leadership has neither brought that bill to a vote nor offered an alternative. Proposals to fix the Voting Rights Act (which the Supreme Court gutted in June) are stuck in committee.

What to do?

The sticking point in all these negotiations is the Republican caucus in the House, and in particular its Tea Party faction. It represents only about a third of the Republicans, but that’s enough to prevent Speaker Boehner from passing anything without Democratic votes. And its red-meat rhetoric is popular enough with the grass roots to threaten a primary challenge against any Republican who compromises with the Democrats over its objections. So Tea Partiers feel they are in a position to call the tune for the Republican caucus, which calls the tune for the House, which in turn should call the tune for the country in spite of a Democratic Senate and President.

That minority-rule plan is symptomatic of what’s wrong with the Republican Party in general. Republicans tell each other that the majority of the country is conservative, so the more conservative the Party gets the better it represents the People. But leaders like Boehner and Mitch McConnell know that’s not true: If Republicans close Yellowstone and delay processing Grandma’s Social Security application in a quixotic attempt to repeal the law that allows Cousin-Bob-with-diabetes to get healthcare, they’re going to lose big in 2014.

[A poll done for Republican members of Congress showed that self-described “very conservative” Republicans (9% of the electorate) support a government shutdown 63%-27%, while the next most conservative 10%, the “somewhat conservative” Republicans, oppose it 62%-31%.]

So that set up the drama of the August recess: Republican congressmen would go home and meet with their constituents — typically not a representative sample, but invited groups of Republican supporters (“We’re actually talking to the choir,” Senator Coburn admitted to a meeting promoted by the Glenn-Beck-inspired Tulsa 912 Project) — who presumably would tell them to get in line behind the far right. They, on the other hand, would be trying to talk softly while slowly backing out of the padded cell — not directly confronting their base’s delusions, but also not promising to jump off any cliffs to prove their faith in the protective angels of the hidden conservative majority. (I wrote that padded-cell metaphor before seeing the following cartoon.)

For the most part, the congressmen preserved their conservative bona fides by pandering in areas that didn’t demand an immediate on-the-record vote, like doubting Obama’s birth certificate or fantasizing about impeachment.

ObamaCare. For the most part, far-right groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks succeeded in delivering rooms full of people so opposed to ObamaCare that they support a government shutdown, and most of the politicians succeeded in sticking to their I-agree-with-you-but response. (Senator Coburn, for example, kicked the can down the road from October 1, saying the debt-ceiling confrontation would be a better opportunity to defund ObamaCare. He cited the danger a government shutdown would pose to the economy, while conveniently ignoring the larger threat of casting doubt on the government’s willingness to pay its debts.)

Occasionally, though, reality seeped into even the most conservative townhall meetings. In Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and elsewhere Republicans had to face real people (middle-aged white people that they couldn’t instantly write off) with pre-existing conditions whose only shot at health insurance goes away if ObamaCare is repealed.

The disconnect here is that the provisions of ObamaCare are popular, even in states where the name “ObamaCare” is unpopular. That’s why Jim DeMint describes this fall as “the last off-ramp for us to stop Obamacare”, because after it gets implemented people will be dealing with the real thing rather than DeMint’s death-panel horror stories.

What makes facing ObamaCare’s real beneficiaries so tough for Republicans is that after four years of attempting to repeal the law, Republicans still have offered no alternative. So their basic message to the uninsured is: Rejoice in your “freedom” and pray you don’t get sick. (Their underlying problem is that ObamaCare is the Republican alternative to HillaryCare that the Heritage Foundation promoted in the 1990s and Mitt Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts in 2006. Republicans have no healthcare plan because Obama stole their old one — which they then felt they had to denounce as “socialism”.)

Immigration. Atlantic’s Molly Ball notes the dog that hasn’t barked: Opponents of immigration reform tried to pressure Congress with big rallies, but people just didn’t show up. We’ll see if that frees House Republicans to compromise with the Senate.

So far, it doesn’t sound that way. Immigration reform has to go through the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, told a townhall meeting last Monday that the House should be “setting forward the right way to do things” … “even if it doesn’t go all the way through to be signed by this president”.

Impeachment. The weirdest thing to come out of the August recess was the talk about impeaching President Obama. None of Rep. Bentivolio of Michigan, Rep. Farenthold of Texas, or Senator Coburn of Oklahoma had the courage to tell their townhall questioners what they didn’t want to hear: that constitutionally President Obama can only be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” and so far Republicans have uncovered not a shred of evidence to support such a charge.

Bentivolio said it would be a “dream come true” to submit an impeachment bill, but his good intentions get frustrated by lawyers who ask “What evidence do you have?” and by a press that would “make a laughingstock” out of anybody who tried to impeach Obama without evidence. (The press, he adds, is “the most corrupt thing in Washington”.) But for those interfering lawyers and reporters, though, he’d be all over it even without evidence.

Coburn (in response to the meeting’s last question, beginning at about the 1:04 mark in the video) does say that impeachment “is not something you take lightly”, but dodges the question of whether impeachment is appropriate now, passing the buck to the House (where impeachment proceedings would have to start). “I don’t have the legal background to know if that rises to high crimes and misdemeanor but I think they’re getting perilously close.” (The meaning of “that” and “they” is never spelled out.)

Farenthold regrets that an earlier House didn’t look into “the whole birth certificate issue” and then passes the buck to the Senate:

if we were to impeach the President tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted. … I think there’s some potential damage to society that would be done with a failed attempt at impeachment.

At least when Democrats talked about impeaching President Bush, we had enough respect for the process to point to specific crimes. You define the crime first, then you collect evidence to prove it, and then you talk about impeachment. You don’t just say “I want to impeach this guy” and hope you can find evidence that he did something wrong.

Now what? During the August recess, the far-right base made it clear they want to see a last-ditch charge against ObamaCare, while polls show the American people in general don’t want a government shutdown. In general, I think the electorate wants to see more solutions and less drama, while the far-right base won’t be satisfied until it gets the apocalyptic battle it keeps fantasizing about. Nothing less will cause God’s hand to reach out of the clouds and give their Gideon-like band the victory.

I believe the stage is set for an epic conservative defeat. The only question is how much damage it will do to the country. We can only hope Tea Partiers keep identifying with Gideon, and not Samson pulling the Philistine temple down on himself.

Avoid the cliff, hit the ceiling

I admit it: I expected House Republicans to reject the last-minute Biden/McConnell deal (that passed the Senate 89-8) and send us over the fiscal cliff.

Instead, they did one of those having-it-both-ways things that makes people despise politicians: Within their own caucus, Republicans voted to let the bill come to the floor, where (led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) most of them voted against it. So they knew it was necessary and wanted it to pass, but they also wanted to be able to deny supporting it.

The WP’s Wonkblog summarizes what’s in the deal and charts how it affects the national debt. (Short version: The tax hikes and spending cuts that constituted the fiscal cliff would have cut the annual deficit more, but this is a middling path between that and the status quo.)

The chart on the right has way too much jargon, but it’s showing debt-as-a-percentage-of-GDP over time under various scenarios. The top line is roughly cancel-the-fiscal-cliff-and-let-things-go-on-as-they-were and the bottom is go-over-the-cliff. The red, green, blue, and purple lines are where we’re headed now under various scenarios.

So who won? Nobody yet. This deal solved the question of the Bush tax cuts, but it delayed the spending-cut decisions until March, when they will run up against another debt-ceiling showdown.

Republicans are claiming that the debt ceiling is a better battleground for them, and believe they’ll get the kind of concessions out of Obama that they got in 2011. Obama thinks the public was disgusted with the 2011 shenanigans and won’t stand for the Republicans taking the world economy hostage again. (Until 2011, raising the debt limit was an opportunity to score rhetorical points, but no one ever seriously proposed not doing it or extracted any concessions in exchange for doing it.)

So who won in this deal depends on who is right about their advantages in the next deal. Greg Sargent writes:

the major fight at the heart of this whole mess — over the proper scope and role of the safety net of the 21st century, and who will pay for it — remains unresolved. Only the outcome of that battle can settle the question of whether today’s compromise was a good one for liberals.

And Kos of Daily Kos agrees:

Whatever argument we’re going to have, it shouldn’t be whether this deal is good or bad. It’s over whether Obama will eventually cave or not.

Do it like this, Mr. President

I’d like to see Obama include an Eastwood-like make-my-day paragraph in the State of the Union: “You want to blow up the global economy if you don’t get your way? Go ahead. Show the world what kind of people you really are.”

I think this is a necessary and (eventually) inevitable confrontation. For that reason, I’ve soured on tricks like the trillion-dollar coin to finesse around the debt ceiling. Kevin Drum explains how that trick distorts the intention of the law, and so puts Obama in the position of trying to pull something rather than calling the Republicans on pulling something. I don’t want him to sacrifice his integrity to avoid paying blackmail; that’s just another kind of blackmail payment.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to minimize the consequences of not raising the debt limit. Senator Cornyn writes:

The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain. President Obama needs to take note of this reality and put forward a plan to avoid it immediately.

(President Obama, of course, has put forward a plan: Congress should raise the debt ceiling the way it always did until 2011.) And Senator Toomey said:

A temporary disruption because we have to furlough the workers at the Department of Education, or close down some national parks, or not cut the grass on the Mall, that’s not optimal, it’s disruptive, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the path that we’re on.

The problem is temporary and minor only if you assume that Obama quickly folds once he discovers that Republicans are serious. But what if Obama is serious too? The 14th Amendment (section 4) requires that the government keep paying interest on its debt and principle on bonds as they come due. But how long before we have to shut down the National Weather Service or the Center for Disease Control or the TSA?

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who’s reminded of one particular movie scene. Greg Sargent quotes an email he got from former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger:

The whole thing reminds me of the great moment in “Blazing Saddles” when Sheriff Bart takes himself hostage by pointing a gun at his own head. The simple townsfolk of Rock Ridge were dumb enough to fall for it. Are we?

The Tea Partiers have talked themselves into the idea that this would be the Lesser Apocalypse compared to the spending binge that is about to turn us into Greece. Kevin Drum debunks:

The facts are pretty clear. Spending isn’t our big problem. The recession spike of 2008 aside, it’s about the same as it was 30 years ago. But instead of paying for that spending, we’ve repeatedly cut taxes, which are now at their lowest level in half a century.

You’ll see an early sign of who’s going to win in how the mainstream media identifies the hostage in this crisis. If the hostage is “government” — a separate entity unrelated to the rest of us — then the Tea Party will win. If the hostage is “the country” or “the economy”, then Obama will win.

Repainting the Bubble: Republican reform isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

If you believe the respectable conservative pundits in the New York Times, the Republican Party is well on its way to learning the lessons of 2012 and setting itself right. David Brooks writes:

Over the past month, the Republican Party has changed far more than I expected.

Exhibit A is supposed to be Tuesday night’s Jack Kemp Foundation banquet, where both Mario Rubio and Paul Ryan spoke. They unveiled no new ideas or policies, but according the NYT columnist Ross Douhat, Rubio

[spoke] frankly about problems that too many Republicans have ignored these last four years — the “opportunity gap” opening between the well educated and the rest, the barriers to upward mobility, the struggles of the poor.

He also used the phrase “middle class” over and over, proving that Republican focus has shifted away from the very rich. And Brooks says

[Paul Ryan] didn’t abandon any of his fundamental beliefs, but he framed those beliefs in a more welcoming way and opened up room for growth and new thinking.

Problem solved.

Does anybody remember 2008? Republicans got an even worse drubbing then, so bad that they rebranded the party completely. The extreme Right stopped calling itself “Republican” and became “the Tea Party”. Did any ideas change? Well, no. If anything, the Party just got more extreme. The message was “You know that crazy-ass shit voters rejected in 2008? Well, we really mean it this time.”

The only lasting result of 2008 for Republicans was that George W. Bush became an un-person. He wasn’t at the 2012 convention, he didn’t campaign for anybody — it was like those eight years never happened.

Presumably Mitt Romney will have a similar fate. All those people who told us what a wonderful president he would be and how proud they were to have him on their ticket … they’ll just never speak his name again.

Because the future belongs to the re-re-branded Republican Party of Rubio and Ryan.

Unfortunately, Republicans who don’t work for the NYT seem not to have gotten the message. The Republicans who control state governments, for example, can’t move fast enough to defund contraception, make abortions even harder to get, and break unions.

But the real evidence that nothing has changed came Tuesday in the Senate when 38 Republicans (and zero Democrats) blocked ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty Tuesday.

This is the kind of vote that used to be a bipartisan no-brainer. The point of the CRPD is to bring all countries up to the level of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which President Bush I signed in 1990 after the Senate had passed it 91-6. Since we are the model for the treaty, it would not change American law. By ratifying it, all we would be doing is approving of the world modeling its disabilities policies after ours. Bob Dole came to the Senate in his wheelchair to urge ratification.

Usually somebody makes at least a fig leaf of a rational argument before rejecting something like this. This time nobody did. Instead, a variety of organizations floated “ten problems with the CRPD“. They actually come from Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, but they were reposted by a variety of right-wing special-interest groups as if they were their own talking points. (Here is an identical post from ParentalRights.org.) The gist of the complaint is that the treaty would put the U.N. in charge of all sorts of areas of American life.

  • “every home owner would have to make their own home fully accessible to those with disabilities”
  • “the legal standard for the number of handicapped spaces required for parking at your church will be established by the UN”
  • “Article 7(2) means that the government—acting under UN directives—gets to determine for all children with disabilities what the government thinks is best.”
  • “spanking will be banned entirely in the United States”
  • “this convention is nothing less than the complete eradication of parental rights regarding the education of children with disabilities.”

The most prominent voice against the CRPD was Rick Santorum, who did his best to make opposition seem reasonable:

CRPD gives too much power to the U.N., and the unelected, unaccountable committee tasked with overseeing its implementation, while taking power and responsibility away from our elected representatives and, more important, from parents and caregivers of disabled persons.

I read the treaty. (It’s boring, but not that difficult.) The committee in question is the Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, described in articles 34-39. The treaty gives the Committee the awesome power to demand that member countries send it reports every two years, and to comment on those reports. In other words, if the Awesome U.N. Committee doesn’t like something about U.S. law, it can say so. That’s it’s whole power. Scary!

Any legislation to implement the treaty would have to be passed by Congress. Any legal challenge based on the treaty would go through American courts. The whole U.N. thing is a complete red herring.

In short, this is Death Panels all over again.

A second layer of paranoia comes from imagining what Congress could do to implement the treaty. The ten-problems document says:

This gives Congress total authority to legislate on all matters regarding disability law—a power that is substantially limited today.

Limited by what, you might ask? In reality, by nothing. Anything Congress could do after ratifying CRPD is stuff it could do now. But if you subscribe to bizarre right-wing constitutional theories that no one else believes, then the fact that no specific line in the Constitution says “Congress shall have the power to make laws concerning disabled persons” means that it can’t.

So how did Congress pass the ADA to begin with? Well, the ADA is unconstitutional under this theory, just like Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.

The truly scary thing is that none of the senators who voted against CRPD had any better arguments than the ones the home-schooling group was passing around. The NYT even made the treaty the subject of its Room For Debate series. They couldn’t get any legitimate people to argue against the treaty, so they were stuck with this guy, who among other ridiculous statements repeated this often-debunked myth:

When many nations (not including the U.S.) ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, they had no way of knowing that the U.N. would declare Mothers Day to be illegal

Where is that supposed to have happened? Belarus. The Monkey Cage explains: A committee similar to the one the CRPD would establish got a report from Belarus, and commented on it, criticizing Belarus for “continuing prevalence of sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a Mothers’ Day and a Mothers’ Award, which it sees as encouraging women’s traditional roles.” This criticism had no legal effect on Belarus, where Mothers’ Day continues, because these committees don’t have that kind of power.

This is the kind of conspiracy-theory thinking that swayed 38 of the 47 Republican senators.

In short, the lunatics are still in charge of the asylum in the GOP. There are no grown-ups who can tell the kids to go to bed. There are only a handful of grown-ups who will even try to tell the kids to go to bed.

Facts don’t matter. People on the Right believe what they want to believe, and their leaders either give in to them or actively pander to them. Come 2015, a new set of presidential candidates will start campaigning for these crazy people’s votes, and will say whatever folks want to hear. Then they’ll have to take those positions into the 2016 fall election, just like Mitt Romney did.

Nobody has learned anything.

Republicans Have Gone Crazy Before

The most comforting thing about reading history is that you know the story comes out at least sort of OK. After all, if the world had really ended back then, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this book.

This week I’ve been reading Rule and Ruin: the downfall of moderation and the destruction of the Republican Party from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. You might imagine that story would be depressing, but I’m finding it strangely hopeful, for this reason: Republicans have gone crazy before, and they more-or-less recovered from it.

So they might recover again.

Regular readers of the Weekly Sift know that I think the current Republican Party is insane. I agree with David Frum that conservatives have created an alternate reality “with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics”. As a result, the main Republican “accomplishments” of recent years have been to prevent the country from dealing with real-world problems like global warming or growing inequality, and they’re fighting a last-ditch effort to stop Democrats from doing anything to help the 50 million Americans who lack health insurance.

Delusional thinking is understandable when the fantasy is at least pleasant. But in the conservative Bizarro World, our country is ruled by foreign-born usurper who is trying to destroy the Christian religion and replace the Constitution with either Communist dictatorship or Sharia or (somehow) both. We are beset by all manner of bizarre conspiracies, mapped out from beyond the grave by Saul Alinsky and orchestrated by Marxist multi-billionaire George Soros.

The real world has many problems, but at least it’s not that bad. If somehow we could shake our Republican countrymen awake from their nightmare, we’d be doing them a favor.

So anyway, I’m down on Republicans these days. But what you might not realize — because I have assumed it goes without saying — is that I fully support the idea of a Republican Party. I agree with a recent Thomas Friedman column: America doesn’t need a third party,

What we definitely and urgently need is a second party — a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country.

On all sorts of issues — education, pollution, housing, poverty — we need a vigorous two-party debate on national standards vs. local control. Neither side should win that debate once and for all, because both represent American values that go all the way back to Hamilton vs. Jefferson.

Similarly, all the way back to the construction of postal roads and the Erie Canal, American economic development has balanced the public and private sectors. We need one reality-based party championing public-sector development and another championing private-sector development.

Isolationism vs. internationalism, workers’ rights vs. owners’ rights, preserving traditional mores vs. correcting past injustices — what’s called for in each case is not a final victory of one side over the other, but a continuing tension between conflicting values. That’s why we need two parties.

Two sane parties, that is.

Consider the budget. Just about everybody understands that it’s a bad idea to borrow another trillion dollars every year from now on. So there’s room for reasonable people to debate whether to close that deficit primarily with spending cuts or with tax increases; how that pain should be spread among the rich, the poor, and the middle class; whether to start tightening the screws immediately or wait until the economy is stronger; how to split the spending cuts among safety-net programs, investments in education or infrastructure, and defense; and many other questions.

Instead, last summer we debated whether or not the United States should pay its bills. That was not a sane discussion. And in a Republican presidential debate in August, none of the candidates would accept a hypothetical deal in which spending cuts outweighed tax increases 10-to-1. Instead, all Republican candidates have proposed tax reforms that would substantially decrease revenue. They focus tax cuts on the rich, while sometimes actually increasing the taxes of the working poor. Vague or completely unspecified spending cuts make up the difference.

On social issues, Republican presidential candidates (eventually including Romney and Paul) have endorsed an anti-abortion “personhood” position so radical that it was decisively voted down in Mississippi. Got that? Mississippi is too liberal for the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.

It’s crazy over there.

So here’s the comforting lesson from Rule and Ruin: Republicans were at least this crazy in 1964, and they got over it.

Those of us old enough to remember Barry Goldwater at all have had our memories sepia-tinted by the mellower Goldwater of the 80s, and 90s, who warned against the dangers of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. But the Goldwater of 1964 was every bit the full-blown loon that Michelle Bachmann is today.

Just like present-day crazies, the 1964 extremists imagined a previously invisible conservative majority that Richard Nixon had failed to inspire in 1960, but which would turn out in droves if Republicans nominated a “real” conservative this time. In the defining pro-Goldwater tract A Choice Not an Echo Phyllis Schlafly explained:

it looks as though there is no way Republicans can possibly lose so long as we have a presidential candidate who campaigns on the issues. But … how did it happen that, in four major presidential campaigns*, Republicans were maneuvered into nominating candidates who did not campaign on the major issues?

It wasn’t any accident. It was planned that way. In each of their losing presidential years, a small group of secret kingmakers, using hidden persuaders and psychological warfare techniques, manipulated the Republican National Convention to nominate candidates who would sidestep or suppress the key issues.

Top that, Sarah Palin.

[*the four treacherous candidates were Wendell Wilkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1944 and 1948, and Richard Nixon in 1960]

The Tea Party of 1964 was the John Birch Society, whose founder believed Dwight Eisenhower had been a communist sympathizer. “It is difficult,” he wrote of the five-star general and two-term Republican president, “to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.”

But within a few years all that had been swept away. Just as Goldwater’s elderly mellowness brightens our memories of him, Kent State and Watergate have darkened our picture of Nixon, who presided over a very moderate administration overall. From the Nixon years we get the Clean Air Act, OSHA, the EPA, and the first SALT treaty with the USSR. Nixon opened relations with China, appointed more blacks than Johnson had, and increased the minority role in federal contracts both on the small-business level and in labor unions.

Nixon’s Republican Party is what I wish we had back: a party of diverse views, leaning conservative and sometimes pandering (as any party does) to the electorate’s baser instincts, but by-and-large facing the nation’s real problems and trying to solve them. Even the party’s right wing was purging itself, as Bill Buckley succeeded in marginalizing the Birchers.

So how does an insane party get its mind back? First, it has to nominate a true extremist like Goldwater. (Rick Santorum would fill the bill nicely.) Until it does, the delusional system will explain every defeat as it did McCain’s in 2008 or Nixon’s in 1960: He wasn’t extreme enough.

Second, the extremist has to go down to a historic defeat (like Goldwater’s 61-39 shellacking by LBJ) that proves for a generation that the invisible majority does not exist. Again, I’m confident Santorum could handle this part of the script.

And finally, the sane-but-cynical conservatives who thought they could harness the crazies have to become targets of insanity themselves. This is already happening. Fox News and the Drudge Report, for example, are already under fire for having “turned left”. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have been assailed as “liberal” and even “socialist“. Newt Gingrich is “not a real conservative” either.

This will keep getting worse, because when reality becomes optional, no one is safe. At some point, even conservatives with impeccable credentials will realize that the beast is eating its own and has to be put down.

And then they will put it down. It happened before. It can happen again.

Politics in 2011: The Tragedy of the Tea Party

Years of American politics don’t usually boil down to one story, but to a large extent 2011 does. The main character is the Tea Party and the story is a tragedy.

Like any populist movement that catches on, the Tea Party started out embodying some simple and compelling ideas:

  • When the government plans to go another $1 trillion in debt every year, as far as the eye can see, something is seriously wrong.
  • The will of the people doesn’t seem to make much difference any more.
  • On many issues, the two parties don’t offer much of a choice.

What really brought these points home was TARP. It was proposed by a Republican administration in the middle of an election campaign. Polls said it was unpopular, but it passed anyway. Then after the Democrats had a landslide victory, the new administration carried out TARP as if the people had said nothing at all.

If those initial ideas had been all the Tea Party was about, they might have sparked a long-needed public conversation about what the government does and the way governance happens. We could have talked about

  • the cost of an aggressive foreign policy and the wars it gets us into,
  • what kind of safety net we want or can reasonably expect,
  • what a fair tax structure looks like,
  • how big a role should government take in trying to manage the business cycle,
  • what dangers we need the government to protect us from and what we can handle ourselves,
  • how to reduce the influence of special-interest money,

and many other subjects. My answers would probably have comflicted with many Tea Partiers’ answers, but at least they are the right questions.

For a variety of reasons, that conversation never happened. Nonetheless, the Tea Party dominated the elections of 2010 and entered 2011 triumphant. It had provided the energy for a stunning Republican comeback that retook the House, significantly cut down the Democrats’ advantage in the Senate, and took complete control of many state governments. Tea Partiers looked to be in a position to dictate the 2012 Republican nominee.

And then things started to go wrong.

In any tragedy the hero has a flaw, some collection of character traits that were visible even in his triumph, but which eventually bring him down. From the beginning, the Tea Party had a number of tragic flaws.

  • Anti-intellectualism. The Tea Party drew the wrong conclusion from TARP, blaming economists and bureaucrats more than bankers. In general, the Tea Party became suspicious of expertise, not of power. What developed was not a set of policies, but a few slogans like “stop the spending” and a belief that we just need to elect good people willing to “stand up for common sense solutions“. In 2011, Herman Cain could appeal to Tea Partiers by claiming not to know things like “the president of Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.”
  • Hidden motives. Simplistic slogans can mask unsavory agendas. And so a legitimate desire to see institutional power return to the people got conflated with the belief that white, English-speaking, fundamentalist Christians built this country and need to take it back. So although the Tea Party pitched itself as nonpartisan and not concerned with social issues, in practice “good people with common sense” came to mean right-wing Republican Christians.
  • A Faustian bargain. The “nonpartisan” Tea Party got much of its leadership training from FreedomWorks (run by Republican lobbyist Dick Armey), much of its funding from billionaires like the Koch brothers and their associated organizations, and much of its publicity from Fox News. (A Breitbart attempt to “debunk” these claims actually ends up supporting it if you read all the way through.) The danger of being co-opted by corporatists and billionaires was there from the beginning.

As a result, the Republicans who took power in January, 2011 had little in the way of a public agenda. In Congress, that mostly meant opposing whatever Obama wanted to do. But in the states, new governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio had enough support in the legislature to do more-or-less whatever they wanted.

On Day 1, the governors started implementing a detailed and aggressive agenda that hadn’t been part of their campaigns — the same agenda in one state after another: break the public employee unions, make it harder to vote and harder to sue corporations, cut funds for education and medical care, privatize public schools, cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, and slash any regulations that protect workers or the environment.

This agenda did not bubble up from the people; it came from the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) — a group funded and controlled by corporations, in which corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators work together to write model bills that serve corporate needs.

That agenda proved to be wildly unpopular, and energized a liberal populist backlash. In Wisconsin, two Republican senators were recalled and Governor Walker will face a recall election later this year. In Ohio, Kasich’s S.B. 5 was repealed by a wide margin in a November referendum. In states that did not allow such direct voter action, the governors’ approval ratings have plumented. (Friday Rachel Maddow reviewed how this played out during 2011.)

In addition, both in the states and in Washington, the right-wing Christians that the Tea Party had elected on economic issues turned out a series of new laws restricting abortion. (Maddow has kept track of this in her series on Really, Really Big Government.)

In Congress, the new Tea Party Republicans have identified little in the way of wasteful spending (such spending cuts as they have gotten are of the across-the-board variety), but instead have gone after the EPA and Planned Parenthood. They have carried water for Wall Street by watering down the Dodd-Frank bill (which they now want to repeal entirely, returning to the pre-crisis status quo) and for the oil companies by pushing the Keystone XL pipeline. They have opposed cutting the deficit by raising taxes on incomes over $1 million a year, even risking a tax increase on working people in order to protect the rich.

In short, a movement that billed itself as returning power to ordinary people instead has implemented a pro-corporate, pro-billionaire agenda. Vague slogans co-opted well meaning Americans at the grass roots into working to benefit the 1%. (I urged them to reconsider this summer by comparing them to football players who run the wrong way.)

By the end of 2011, the Occupy movement had seized the anti-Wall-Street pro-ordinary-people energy that used to power the Tea Party, exposing the Tea Party as a stalwart defender of the 1%. The Republican establishment is pulling its hair out over the extreme positions presidential candidates are taking to woo Tea Partiers. And in the House they’ve been embarrassed into retreating on the payroll tax bill.

In any general election, the Tea Party has become poison. By fall, no one — literally no one — will claim to be a Tea Party candidate.

How the mighty have fallen.

One Word Turns the Tea Party Around

Did you ever watch one of those football blooper reels, where guys run for touchdowns in the wrong direction?


Sometimes they look really good doing it: fast, agile, determined. None of their teammates can catch up and turn them around.

This last year or two I’ve been feeling that way about the Tea Party — not the corporate lobbyists who run the organizations or the billionaires who fund them, but the rank-and-file types who wave signs and bring their babies to rallies. A few are the stereotypic gun-toting racists, but a lot of others are low-to-middle-class folks who have figured a few things out:

  • Honest, hard-working Americans are seeing their opportunities dry up.
  • The country is dominated by a small self-serving elite.
  • Our democracy is threatened.
  • The public is told a lot of lies.
  • People need to stand up and make their voices heard.
  • If we stand together, we’re not as helpless as we seem.

I could go on, but you get the idea. They’re on to something. The country needs people like this carrying the ball, if only they weren’t running the wrong way.

How they should turn around is pretty easy to describe. Tea Partiers think:

The threat to our way of life comes from government, and the solution is to shrink government while freeing corporations from government control.

Just flip government and corporations in that sentence:

The threat to our way of life comes from corporations, and the solution is to shrink corporations while freeing government from corporate control.

Perfect. Now you can explain things like too-big-to-fail banks gambling trillions on the unregulated credit-default-swap market, sinking the economy, and then getting the taxpayers to cover their losses.

And more: Did the USDA put salmonella in our meat? No, meat-packing corporations did. And they’ve got enough lawyer-and-lobbyist power to keep the USDA regulators at bay. Did the EPA dump raw oil into the Gulf of Mexico? No, BP did. They cut corners on safety and no regulator was in a position to stop them. Did the government kill the 29 miners at Upper Big Branch coal mine? No, Massey Energy did, and had enough clout to keep the mine going even after inspectors had found more than 500 safety violations.

By getting the government/corporation thing backwards, the Tea Party has channeled populist anger into the idea that corporations need even more power. Get those mean bureaucrats off the back of poor, beleaguered Goldmann Sachs. If we just let the Koch brothers’ paper plants dump more phosphorous into Wisconsin’s rivers, the economy will be fine. Let’s kill off the unions, and then the corporations that own the mines and the factories will treat working people with more respect. Let corporate money flow freely into political campaigns, and then the voice of ordinary Americans will really be heard in Washington.

Guys! The goal line is over here!

On the other hand, the government/corporate flip fixes just about all the Tea Party rhetoric. For example, John Boehner was trying to pander to the Tea Party when he said:

The bigger the government the smaller the people.

But what if he had said “The bigger the corporations, the smaller the people”? That would have been really insightful, and (among other things) would have explained why the working class needs more unions, not less.

Go to one of those Tea Party web sites full of their favorite anti-government quotes. Do the flip to make them anti-corporate, and you’ve got rhetoric that’s dead-on:

When one gets in bed with corporations, one must expect the diseases they spread. — Ron Paul

The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and corporations to gain ground. — Thomas Jefferson

The corporate solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem. — Milton Friedman

We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where a corporation is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission. — Ayn Rand

Ronald Reagan becomes the font of wisdom Tea Partiers believe he is:

In this present crisis, corporations are not the solution to our problem; corporations are the problem.

A corporation is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.

Lord Acton said power corrupts. Surely then, if this is true, the more power we give the corporations the more corrupt they will become.

Man is not free unless corporations are limited.

“We the people” tell the corporations what to do, they don’t tell us.

After the flip, even Sarah Palin makes sense:

People know something has gone terribly wrong with our corporations and they have gotten so far off track.

Grover Norquist is still a radical, but now he’s attacking the right problem:

We want to reduce the size of corporations in half as a percentage of GNP over the next 25 years. We want to reduce the number of people depending on corporations so there is more autonomy and more free citizens.

Here’s another rhetoric-flipping trick: Replace Washington with Wall Street. Then Rand Paul has it right:

Wall Street is horribly broken. I think we stand on a precipice. We are encountering a day of reckoning and this movement, this Tea Party movement, is a message to Wall Street that we’re unhappy and that we want things done differently.

Go Rand! Go Tea Party!

Now let’s translate the Founders:

A corporation, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one. — Thomas Paine

It is error alone which needs the support of the corporate media. Truth can stand by itself. — Thomas Jefferson

If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in our corporations, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin. — Samuel Adams

Like fire, the corporation is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. — George Washington

When you understand who today’s powerful elite really is, many of the Tea Party’s favorite Founder-quotes don’t need any translation:

The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite. — Thomas Jefferson

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. — James Madison

There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. — James Madison

So true, James. Little by little we are losing our privacy, our access to information, and even our political system to the corporations.

And in spite of the economic collapse Wall Street’s machinations have brought upon us, how do we explain the market-worship we see all over the corporate media? The 19th-century French economist Frederic Bastiat had that one nailed:

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

I got that from the Venango County Tea Party Patriots. Again, no translation is necessary once you know which way to look.

But that’s the real problem with the Tea Party rank-and-file: Like the guns of Singapore, they’re facing the sea when the attack comes over land. They know they’re under somebody’s thumb, but they’re confused about whose thumb it is. So when they strike back, they swing at the wrong guys.

If any Tea Partiers have read this far, I’m sure they think I’m the one who has it backwards. But I ask you, as you run free and clear towards the goal line: Whose goal line is that? Look up in the stands and see who’s cheering for you: The billionaires. The CEOs. The traders on the floor of the big exchanges. The investment bankers.

Isn’t that just a little strange? Have they all suddenly started rooting for everyday middle-class Americans?

Or are you running the wrong way?