Subscribe via RSS Feed

Wingnuttery Without Strategery

[ 134 ] November 26, 2013 |

Julia Ioffe’s article about Heritage Action is fascinating reading. As IB notes in comments, it’s not that Heritage was ever non-hackish, but “[w]hat has changed, however, is the organization’s ability to think strategically and act effectively. It’s gone from being an extremely effective hackish pressure group to becoming a much less effective one.” Their contempt for strategic thought, shared by crucial members of Congress, is dumbfounding:

After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.

Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”

It’s not that this inability to think in terms of means and ends is entirely absent from the left; sure, there are people who think that because single-payer is better policy it could have been passed but Obama didn’t even try, or who think that 1. Elect Romney 2. ???? 3. ???? 4. ???? 5. ??? 6. The White House and Congress will be controlled by Scandanavian Social Democrats! is a viable strategy. But, particularly since 2000 discredited irrational spoilerism (and even that was a tiny faction of the left that mattered only because of an unusually close election), this segment of the left has very little influence. On the right, it’s influential enough to actually cause the Republican conference in Congress to run themselves off a cliff again and again.

Their irrationality has even extended to their own influence:

Shortly after this summer’s farm bill debacle (Heritage Action pushed members to rid the bill of its food-stamp half, then still sent out a “no” alert on the revised bill, hanging out to dry members from agricultural districts), the outrage was such that the Heritage Foundation was bannedfrom the weekly lunches of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a conservative caucus of House Republicans. This was particularly ironic as the RSC and Heritage were once interwoven: In the 1970s, Feulner had been the RSC’s first executive director. “It really speaks volumes about a betrayal of trust,” says the Republican strategist. The House GOP aide puts it more starkly: “There are over two hundred thirty bridges to be burned in the House. Over two hundred of them are burned, and they maybe have about thirty more left.”

The frustration grew in the build up to the budget fight as Heritage Action organized DeMint’s nine-city tour, and Needham blitzed the conservative media—giving constituents the impression that defunding Obamacare in one knockout move was perfectly plausible. In meetings, congressional staffers couldn’t even get Heritage Action to entertain the possibility that the strategy might fail. “They never wanted to discuss anything past defund,” recalls the Republican staffer. “We would ask, ‘What if [Democrats] say no and don’t budge, what do you do then?’ They kept saying: ‘That’s not our role. You figure it out.’ ” In an August interview with CSPAN, Needham was asked a similar question: How can Republicans achieve their goal of defunding Obamacare without control of the Senate or the White House? “I think that, rather than trying to figure out where we’re going to be at the end of September,” Needham said, his underbite jutting contemptuously, “we should actually fight for something.”

I also enjoyed this:

DeMint was known nationally as a warrior for purity, spending more of his time seeking out like-minded candidates for the U.S. Senate rather than passing legislation. But, at Heritage, DeMint found kindred spirits in Saunders and Needham, who created a Heritage Action scorecard to grade Republican members of Congress on their ideological mettle. (The standard is so high that, at this writing, the House Republican caucus gets a paltry 66 percent rating.)

But the whole thing is worth etc.

…see also.

Share with Sociable

Comments (134)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. postmodulator says:

    Alex Pareene’s sort of appealingly high-concept take is that Heritage is now under exactly the governance regime they infallibly recommend for every other institution in America, and they think it sucks.

    Will this first-hand experience change their belief that everything should be run like a business? Tune in tomorrow! To find out that it won’t.

  2. Anon21 says:

    It’s gone from being an extremely effective hackish pressure group to becoming a much less effective one.

    Hmm, I don’t know. Ioffe’s article suggests to me that it has actually become extremely effective in a really short period time in its new role, which is, as she puts it, “ideological commissar.” Republican reps and staff hate them, but hew rather slavishly to their increasingly crazy line on key votes because they are scared of getting 600 angry phone calls (and of getting primaried). It seems like old Heritage didn’t have that kind of power to command acceptance of its priorities and positions.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that it’s no longer able to exert pressure on Republicans. What I meant to say (as Scott suggests) is that it is now utterly incapable of moving actual policy outcomes in its direction, which Heritage absolutely did in the ’80s (and at times even in the ’70s and ’90s).

      • Dilan Esper says:

        I actually do think they were less hackish before. They actually did do policy in the old days- Romneycare, Robert Rector’s welfare reform stuff, etc.

        They slowly morphed from policy into pure ideological enforcement, I suspect because that brings in more money.

        • ChrisTS says:

          I agree. I might not have liked most of their policy recommendations, but they were carefully thought-out and defended.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Just because an organization “does policy” and publishes large volumes of policy proposals does not make it non-hackish. Here‘s the historian Jason Stahl (who’s written a book on think tanks) on the eternal hackishness of Heritage.

            • rea says:

              They were always hacks, but they used to be rightwing policy hacks, and now they’re rightwing politcal hacks.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                Yeah, and there’s a big difference.

                Hackish ideas are still ideas. They can still be part of the public debate. Indeed, I mentioned two Heritage policy ideas that eventually became law.

                Obviously, in the end, Heritage was never going to propose the sorts of policies that might offend their paymasters. But within those parameters, they could still explore conservative approaches to solving public policy problems and then put those ideas out there.

                That’s a very different role from being a pure spin operation. The old Heritage was very different than, for instance, Karl Rove who doesn’t give a crap about policy. The new Heritage is just like Rove– all tactics.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Hackish ideas are still ideas. They can still be part of the public debate.

                  Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

                  I’m sorry, but just because one is generating “ideas” does not mean one is adding to the policy debate in any meaningful or useful way.

                  From the Stahl piece linked above (it’s worth reading the whole thing):

                  Producing rigorous policies, whether liberal or conservative, takes time. For an institution like Heritage, taking too much time meant losing relevancy. However, in a policy-debating world where one’s institutional identity as conservative was enough to be heard, speed was rewarded over rigor. Heritage capitalized on this dynamic.

                  Heritage publications from the 1970s reflected these priorities. For instance, a 1974 publication titled “Federal Child Development: What’s Developing?” lacked rigor and peer review, relying on decades-old “research” to argue against federal aid for childcare assistance and against the very ideas of child development, child advocacy and expertise in early childhood education—all seen as insidious plots hatched by the women’s movement to free women from their natural roles as caregivers and, ultimately, undermine “the family, qua family, as the basic institution of Western civilization.” The document even claimed that “maternal separation and deprivation” can “disrupt the action of the pituitary gland, the ‘master gland,’ causing abnormal growth and metabolism patterns, even dwarfism.”

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Stahl is wrong. See the Atlantic piece, or look up some of Heritage’s stuff on welfare. They were always hackish, but this idea that everything was rushed out to provide GOP talking points is wrong. They did plenty of real work.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Stahl’s piece was actually written in response to The Atlantic piece. IMO, Stahl has the better of this argument. The Atlantic‘s essay was just another example of the tired (and lazy) “once conservatives were honorable” narrative that gets endlessly repeated, usually with little basis in fact.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Incont:

                  It isn’t that conservatives were once more honorable. It’s that Heritage used to put out stuff that could be used by policymakers to draft real, non-talking point style legislation. They were a right wing think tank. Just like AEI, or Cato, or Manhattan, but more partisan and yes, more hackish.

                  And we know this because a number of laws and executive orders, including notably Clinton’s welfare reform and Obamacare, and Reagan’s beginning-of-term executive orders, were based on Heritage policy research.

                  This isn’t a comment about conservatives being less evil. It’s a point about conservatives being interested in policy. Remember John DiIulio’s statement that the Bush White House was full of “Mayberry Machiavellis”? That’s what he meant. DiIulio was a conservative interested in policy, and he got to the Bush White House and found it was full of people who had no interest in policy.

                  Heritage, now, is basically not interested in policy. It once was. It was always hackish, but there’s still a big difference.

                • Jason Stahl says:

                  I just want to add my two cents here since I was the one who wrote the Salon article.

                  I actually think the title Salon put on it was a bit mis-representative of what the piece was arguing. In the article I was, in part, making the case that the way policy was debated in the United States fundamentally changed in the late sixties and early seventies. Under the new policy debating model, policy rigor was not a prerequisite for entering the debate. However, this did not mean that policies being produced by places like Heritage were never rigorous. I agree with Dilan that Heritage, since its founding, did produce rigorous policies (even if I happen to disagree with many of them). However, I think they also realized (as IB quotes from my article) that rigor was not required to enter into policy debates and so, the majority of the time, they weren’t too concerned with rigor.

                  Here is another section from my article which I think most clearly makes this point (I’ve bolded the key sentence):

                  Lawmakers, opinion makers and the public alike should realize that the current moment in Heritage’s history is nothing new. Heritage’s ascendancy to the politically powerful and politically relevant position it holds today is because of a refinement of the institution’s original political project not because it has become something it once wasn’t. In particular, liberal opinion makers need to stop telling themselves stories about the “serious conservatism” that existed in a mythic past—one that has been tragically displaced by the rowdy Tea Party conservatism. Without a doubt, serious, rigorous conservatism has existed and will continue to exist in the United States. But, in the policy debating world in which we live, which has existed since Heritage’s early days, rigor is not required for entry. Speed, responsiveness and political identity are what’s needed. It is hard to blame those at Heritage for realizing this as early as they did. As someone interested in rigorous inquiry on questions of policy, I find this dynamic to be lamentable, but it is unlikely to change any time soon.

                  Thanks for all the interest!

                • Jason Stahl says:

                  Ugh, sorry for all the italics. I meant to only ital the word “never” and it caught the rest of the comment

            • Jason Stahl says:

              Thanks for the link!

        • mark f says:

          The Atlantic actually ran a similar article back in September that shares Dilan’s analysis. Between the TNR and Atlantic pieces I’d say a lot of folks at Heritage must be dismayed.

          A real pity, that.

      • Anon21 says:

        Maybe, but that could just be an artifact of the fact that they’ve scaled up their scorecarding activities at a time when political conservatives don’t have a ton of power in D.C. They might have an enormous influence on policy direction once the GOP starts winning a few elections, even as they’re rapidly shedding capacity to shape the finer details of policy by driving all the smarter wingnuts out.

        • postmodulator says:

          How about that 66% average score for the Republican house caucus, though? What could be on that scorecard? It’s terrifying.

          • Anon21 says:

            Well, the scorecard matters less than how they use it. Presumably, only they know the cutoff past which a rep is declared a RINO and inundated with angry calls 24/7. (I doubt they have the muscle to field a primary opponent on their own, but they surely have the ability to get the wingnuttiest constituents so riled up that a primary campaign begins to seem like an attractive opportunity.)

          • Jeremy says:

            Well, Jim DeMint’s a South Carolinian. So I’m guessing a 100% rating involves treason in defense of their ideology.

            • potsherds says:

              Well, Jim DeMint’s a South Carolinian. So I’m guessing a 100% rating involves treason in defense of their ideology.

              If that’s the case, there should be at least a few GOP members damn near 100%.

    • fledermaus says:

      Looks like they are taking a page from Caligula “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me”

  3. Rob in Buffalo says:

    Karl Rove’s “we create our own reality”, taken to its logical conclusion.

  4. Malaclypse says:

    Further proof that today’s wingnuts are the real Leninists.

    • Anon21 says:

      Yeah, I mean, it’s an inflammatory comparison, but the apparent desire to winnow the ranks of True Conservatives by inventing increasingly extreme and arbitrary* demonstrations of fealty does bear more than a passing resemblance to internal Bolshevik politics. In both situations, the political ground shifts extremely rapidly underneath officeholders’ feet, such that the official party line of yesterday is now a literal betrayal of the movement’s principles. Good thing the Tea Partnichiks haven’t developed a secret police yet.

      *In the sense that they don’t really map well onto a conventional left-right axis, e.g., willingness to endorse the tactic of defaulting on the U.S. federal debt in order to extract fantastical concessions on Obamacare.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Considering that the Bolsheviks managed to come out on top in Russia and run it for several decades, I’m really not sure if this is a good thing.

        • John F says:

          I think they behaved more like that AFTER taking power rather than before, they also only took power due to an EXTREME crisis- one that was largely externally driven- oh sure the Tsarist regime was doomed one way or the other, but no Great War, no Bolshevik takeover.

          • Anon21 says:

            I’m not as familiar with pre-1917 Bolshevik history, but my impression was that they were always ruthless ideological purifiers, but that before they got their hands on the machinery of government this took the form of expulsion from the party only, and not show trials and murders. Of course, many of Stalin’s enemies were accused of stuff like espionage and sabotage in addition to ideological deviations, but if I’m remembering my history right it was often political “errors” that got them kicked out of the Party and removed from government, and trumped-up charges of Fascist spying and wrecking that got them shot.

            • burritoboy says:

              It’s not that, precisely. The Leninists were ideologically committed to the concept of a revolutionary vanguard, a vanguard that defines the course of world history through their radical action. It’s a melding of Marx with equal measures of Sorel and Nietzsche. The Republicans are mixing Sorel with various volkisch American strands. They’re junior fascists, or are about to become junior fascists.

              • The Vanguard says:

                We create our own reality. We’re history’s actors, nd you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

                • postmodulator says:

                  Of course, nine years later, the guy can’t even create his own reality on Fox News. Look on history’s actors, ye mighty, and despair.

              • LeeEsq says:

                It was more of a question of party organization and membership. The Mensheviks believed that the Russian Social Democratic Party should have broad-based membership even if not everybody was totally comitted to revolution. The Bolsheviks wanted a narrower, more dedicated party.

                • Lurker says:

                  The thing was not about ideological purity only. Mensheviks believed that any person who believed in social democracy could become a party member. On the other hand, Bolsheviks made party membership a vocation.

                  A Bolshevik party member of the revolutionary period was first and foremost a professional revolutionary. He needed to place party and revolution above all human ties. If the party told a communist: leave your job and family and move to another place to work as a toilet cleaner, the member was obligated to do this without question. (Of course, in reality, it could not be this strict, but this was the ideal.) The principle of “democratic centralism” meant that the party hierarchy could be questioned only in general assemblies that took place irregularly.

                  Stalin’s rise was very much due to this system. He was sidetracked into the relatively non-important position of general secretary, but it gave him the possibility to control the personnel assignments of the party. By using it to the fullest, he was able to consolidate power very effectively.

  5. Shakezula says:

    “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”

    Ideas that would have worked out better = Ideas that would fail in a less spectacular manner.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased to watch these blowflies feast on each other. But I’m even more pleased to see they don’t know why they keep failing. I suppose I should worry that the GOP will break up with HF and find effective strategists, but how is that possible when the party’s voters have been trained to reflexively reject anything that looks like dealing in a reasonable manner?

    “I think that, rather than trying to figure out where we’re going to be at the end of September,” Needham said, his underbite jutting contemptuously, “we should actually fight for something.”

    Yeowch.

    • DrDick says:

      I heartily endorse the Republican embrace of Heritage and its agenda.

      • Barry Freed says:

        It reminds me of that quote attributed to Napoleon about never interrupting your enemy when he is making a mistake.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Speaking as a Democrat, the idea of the Heritage Foundation’s tactics and strategy taking over the whole Republican political operation makes me feel very, very angry.

        • NonyNony says:

          And scared! Don’t forget the overwhelming fear that corresponds with the undiluted rage!

          • Shakezula says:

            Huh? Oh, crap!

            Don’t get me wrong, as a blah feminist with six Obamaphones, I’m pleased can’t bear to watch these blowflies feast brave patriots fight on each other. But I’m even more pleased to see they don’t know why they keep failing And I really hope they go back to conducting their cunning plans that fill me with such rage I can’t go to the grocery store and use my weekly stipend of $500 in food stamps.

            I suppose I should worry that the GOP will break up with HF and find effective strategists who are even more conservative, all-American and dangerous to the liberal plot to destroy marriage, the church and make everyone watch Shaft movies, but how is that possible when the party’s smart, courageous, attractive and generally vastly superior to liberal voters have been trained to reflexively reject anything that looks like dealing in a reasonable manner appeasing the nasty, filthy, Godless Obamocrats?

            Phew.

  6. howard says:

    there’s no reason to doubt that this will continue until the biggest fear in the gop isn’t being outflanked on the right, it’s losing general elections, and i suspect we are quite some time from that shift.

    • mds says:

      Yeah, this is what I dilute my schadenfreude with, too.

      On the right, it’s influential enough to actually cause the Republican conference in Congress to run themselves off a cliff again and again.

      What cliff is that, again? Public approval ratings? They’re going to gain seats in the Senate next year, almost certainly retain the House, and continue hamstringing the functioning of the government until 2017 at the earliest. And the very idea of electing another Republican president isn’t yet met with universal derisive laughter. Meanwhile, the sequester alone is massively eroding the commonwealth, and the GOP’s sugar daddies continue to prosper off of the misery and destruction. If this is losing, I really hope they don’t start winning again.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Neither gaining seats in the Senate nor keeping the House are sure things for the Republicans.

        The only reason they are not sure things is the self-destructive behavior of the Republicans over the past year.

        • mds says:

          Well, if you have a way to keep West Virginia and South Dakota in the Dem column, it might be a good idea to share it. I suppose if Kentucky and Georgia(!) flip thanks to the Christine O’Donnell Effect, Alaska stays put for the same reason, Montana somehow stays blue, Mark Pryor manages to convince enough voters that he’s a DINO, and the erosion in Kay Hagan’s numbers reverse themselves, we could be looking at a wash. But that’s aligning the stars with a pretty high degree of precision. Unless there’s another Snowe-style retirement on favorable blue ground, 2014 simply manages to be a really uphill year for Senate seats.

          • Random says:

            Again I must point out that we’re already pretty deep in the GOP’s territory just having the Senate at all for the last 4 years. They were structurally favored to take it back in both 2010 and in 2012 and blew it both times, and both times as a result of their own penchant for self-destruction.

          • The Sheriff's A Ni- says:

            The same way the Dems won North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana last November?

      • Random says:

        It’s good that they are going to win some Senate seats next year, because they were supposed to have been running the Senate since 2010. Some of the reasons why they haven’t been is covered in the article.

  7. zoidberg says:

    I don’t know, I think we should take every opportunity to applaud the work of Needham and DeMint every chance we get for their work destroying the once-great Republican party from within.

    Can we throw them a banquet dinner or something and tell them to keep up the great work?

  8. somethingblue says:

    It’s not that this inability to think in terms of means and ends is entirely absent from the left …

    #bothsidesdoit

    • JMP says:

      Yeah, he’s totally saying both sides do it – if you completely ignore the entire rest of that paragraph that is.

      Oh, and sticking a number sign in front of your cherry-picked attacks just makes it look stupid.

  9. LosGatosCA says:

    Most surprising part of all that:

    “The House GOP aide puts it more starkly: “There are over two hundred thirty bridges to be burned in the House. Over two hundred of them are burned, and they maybe have about thirty more left.”

    I’m astonished any of them are that self-aware, never mind 200 + at least 1.

    Of course, a think the underlying reason that these wing nuts are completely counterproductive is not the policies but that they are showing most of their members to be spineless cowards.

    • BigHank53 says:

      This was an aide, someone who is considerably more familiar with the sausage-making process than the average Congressman. When your job is supporting your boss, you tend to remember when a lobbying group shits on him.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        Completely understood – that’s what the ‘+ at least 1′ was referring to.

        I’m amazed that 200 Republican congress critters have the level of realization that Heritage is screwing them over.

        The fact that most sentient beings realize this and they also realize that those 200 folks STILL can’t effectively deal with the loony lobby or the other 30 pure wackos in their caucus is the most lasting damage.

        As Josh Marshall might put it, the majority of Republican caucus being ‘bitch slapped’ every day by these folks isn’t helping them one single bit.

        • Pat says:

          They are also losing countless opportunities to help their other constituents, because they can’t accomplish anything. To get anything done, Obama has to agree with them, and that lowers their conservative score.

  10. FMguru says:

    One of my pet theories is that the sudden collapse of Republican and Conservative decision-making ability is caused by an unforeseen consequence of the early-1990s effort by conservatives to build their own media ecosystem. In the early 1990s, conservatives went from simply complaining about liberal media bias (which they did in the 1970s and 1980s) to building their own media institutions (FoxNews, Drudge, Limbaugh and his thousand imitators, bookstores crammed with Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly books, etc.). This was very useful to them and gave them a huge messaging advantage over liberals, peaking with their ability to gin up the Teabaggler movement in 2009-10. A giant omnidimensional propaganda machine is useful provided the people running it understand that it’s propaganda and not real information.

    But twenty years have passed since it started, and whole generation has come of age while marinating in Limbaugh/Beck/Hewitt bubble, and they don’t understand that what they’ve taken as gospel was in fact carefully-crafted nonsense meant to gull the rubes. The rubes are moving into positions of decision-making authority in the GOP and the conservative movement, and they’re bringing they’re amazingly defective understanding of how the world works with them. Which is why we have things like the Romney campaign buying into that “unskewed polls” nonsense, the GOP refusing to adapt to changing demographics because of some laughable numerology about “missing white voters”, and Congressional Republicans believing that the way back to power involves voting to defund Obamacare 45 times and then shutting down the government.

    They have no strategic sense because they think the world operates exactly like it is described on the Rush Limbaugh radio program and in the books of Sean Hannity. So they just keep driving that car off the cliff over and over and over.

    • BigHank53 says:

      Your use of the word “gospel” is more apt than you think. Bringing the conservative Christian political movement into the GOP tent meant bringing in their habits of thought as well:

      1. Knowledge is dispensed from on high.
      2. It is inerrant.
      3. No asking questions or critical thinking.
      4. Tampering with the inerrant Word is playing with Satan.

      Look familiar?

    • Ramon A. Clef says:

      Add to that the recruitment of the religious right, who were supposed provide a solid voting block and otherwise shut up, but have now decided they should also have a voice at the table.

      • Murc says:

        You know, people keep saying this, but I’ve never really been sure if it were true or not.

        It seems to me that movement conservatism reaches out to the religious right because they’d discovered that the religious right had become ideologically congenial to them, not as part of a wholly cynical power play. I mean, what positions do the religious right culture warriors hold that the plutocrat faction of conservatives actually don’t like? They’re against social justice, want to keep the boot on the necks of anyone who isn’t white and male, and even preach a prosperity gospel. There’s nothing there that’s at all ideologically objectionable to people who want to establish a neo-feudal economic arrangement; hell, adding a theocracy in on top of that can only make it work BETTER in their eyes.

        It can be argued that politically speaking the religious right has become an inconvenience, but that’s a very recent development.

        Sure, the conservative establishment kept them at arms length for awhile, but the establishment of any political movement has always done that with new partners and coalition members they recruit whenever possible, simply because a lot of people 1) don’t like sharing power, and/or 2) have the feeling that people need to “pay their dues” before given a seat at the table. But I see no evidence the religious right were ever supposed to be patsies.

        • burritoboy says:

          I think you are underestimating how much work it took to get a functioning ecumenical religious right. It took well over 50 years and still is only skin deep. Remember, the right-wing evangelicals so hated the Roman Catholic Church that the point of their previous political movement of the 1920s was primarily to keep the Catholics out of political office (besides hating on the Negroes, Jews, Commies and anyone living in a city). The right-wing evangelicals so hated the Catholic Church and Mainline Protestantism their entire response to Darwin’s evolution challenge was designed less to be coherent or plausible as simply “we’re not the Catholics” – i.e. strict biblical inerrancy, one of the stupidest theological moves anyone can make.

          It took a very long time and a great deal of effort (and still somewhat hasn’t happened) to try to drive the old business elite out of Mainline Protestantism into right-wing evangelicalism. It took a very very long time to push the American Catholic Church from its previous quirky economics of the 1900-1960s to accepting Chicago School Economics, for another example.

          • Murc says:

            Yeah, but most of that effort occurred WITHIN the religious conservative community, as a deliberate effort to make them politically relevant; there were many who weren’t happy with their whole “withdraw from a sinful world” stance and instead wanted an outright push for theocracy.

            I mean, I ask again; if the conservative establishment expects the religious right to deliver votes and otherwise shut up, that implies that it has some ideological objection to them exercising power. Why? What positions do the theocons espouse that are actually things the money men oppose in any way, shape, or form?

            Generally speaking, people don’t have a problem with ideological fellow travelers exercising power.

            It seems far more likely to me that the movement conservatives noticed that the religious conservatives were winning the internal battles among the religious right, and decided that a robust coalition could be formed. And that’s a much different calculation than simply deciding to soak some rubes.

            • burritoboy says:

              You’re ignoring that what is now the religious right didn’t simply appear. There was no religious right (in the sense that we currently use it)at all until very recently (the 1970s at the earliest).

              The elite business conservatives of the 1960s were Mainline Protestants, and, in their religious opinion and in their religio-class identity, were bitter enemies of the evangelicals as well as economic enemies of the Catholic Church. The evangelicals were not reliably conservative in a political sense. The Roman Catholic Church was a. not reliably conservative politically, b. politically opposed the evangelicals and c. were involved in continuous ethnic and class conflict with the Mainline Protestants.

              It took a huge amount of manipulating each group into building an ecumenical religious right. The elite business conservatives actually had to change more than the other groups – they essentially had to abandon Mainline Protestantism.

              • Lurker says:

                I agree. I am a mainline Protestant (a Lutheran), living in Europe, and I consider the American evangelicalism to be a satanic heresy at worst, a sorry aberration at best. (On the other hand, I consider Catholic Church to be a respectable institution that has only a few minor flaws that are not important for salvation, but prevent them from full communion with us.)

                If you want to read good Christian critiques of evengelicalism, Fred Clarke, the Slacktivist, is your guy. He gives a very good example that not all Christianity is centered around obsessive compulsions on sexuality.

              • Murc says:

                You’re ignoring that what is now the religious right didn’t simply appear. There was no religious right (in the sense that we currently use it)at all until very recently (the 1970s at the earliest).

                This is all true, I’m just not sure how it’s relevant.

                Once you’re done creating, or at least, taking advantage of the other people who created, the modern religious right, why would you have an issue sharing power with them? The initial comment I was responding to, by Ramon, trotted out the old “riding the tiger” chestnut, that establishment Republicans cynically took advantage of the the culture warriors and are now discovering that the culture warriors want to be taken seriously.

                My contention is that establishment Republicans found, and continue to find, the religious right to be ideologically congenial fellow travelers, and don’t have any problems whatsoever granting them a seat at the table; at worst, they are indifferent to the things the culture warriors are passionate about.

                • Jeremy says:

                  My contention is that establishment Republicans found, and continue to find, the religious right to be ideologically congenial fellow travelers, and don’t have any problems whatsoever granting them a seat at the table; at worst, they are indifferent to the things the culture warriors are passionate about.

                  With the exception that the evangelicals want their rules to apply to everyone, while plutocrats want their rules to apply to everyone except themselves. But human beings have a remarkable capacity for self-interested hypocrisy, so I’m sure that that’s easily papered over.

            • John F says:

              It seems far more likely to me that the movement conservatives noticed that the religious conservatives were winning the internal battles among the religious right,

              The victory of the religious conservatives over their rivals in many denominations is what formed the religious right (they were not internal battles among the “religious right” but internal battles among the religious)

              What movement conservatives (and religious conservatives) seemed not to realize or care is that the conservatives’ victories over many denominations produced no net gain for their cause- the non-conservative religious people did not become religious conservatives they ceased being religious. In essence the Southern Baptist Convention did not become almost wholly rightwing by converting the moderates and liberals to the right, it became almost wholly rightwing by driving the moderates and conservatives OUT.

              That’s a fine strategy for taking over a group or an organization, doesn’t work for taking over a country unless you are prepared to fight and win a civil war.

          • Pat says:

            This is a great thread, but everyone’s omitting the role of the Southern Baptists in this thing. A lot of home-bound, rural Southerners just adored all the televangelists. (I loved you Granny, but it’s true!) Moreover, the Baptists were one of the driving forces behind the white racism movement in the South. So as the South retreated from the Democratic party, it makes sense to me that Republicans appropriated a lot of the Baptist methods.

        • mds says:

          I mean, what positions do the religious right culture warriors hold that the plutocrat faction of conservatives actually don’t like?

          An excellent question. It’s not like right-wing fundamentalist Christians unreservedly embraced the Social Gospel beforehand. Sure, plenty of them were still sensible on economic issues, but “Impeach Earl Warren” began to change that. It was actually figures within the religious right who began to gin up the culture wars (especially Francis Schaeffer), and establishment conservatives were amenable to their ideas.

          I mean, if it’s all a cynical powerplay that backfired on the establishment, where’s their effort to fight back? Like, at all? At least Barry Goldwater declared his contempt for the religious right; John McCain originally echoed that rhetoric, yet chose to crawl over and lick Jerry Falwell’s balls anyway. And why not? The earlier parroting of Goldwater was the cynical power play. John McCain is anti-choice, anti-gay, and pro-war against the subhuman Muslim filth or anyone else who looks at Israel the USA funny. What positions that fealty to the religious right require does he actually find personally odious? Believing that Barack Obama is a Muslim from Kenya? Wow, congratulations, John.

          • burritoboy says:

            You’re underestimating how much tension there was between the evangelicals and Mainline Protestants.

            For just one example, one of the most important political objectives of the evangelicals in the period 1900-1940 was to reduce immigration to the US. Why? Because immigration to the US was primarily Catholic (or non-Anglo Saxon Protestant), and the evangelicals greatly feared that the US was going to change it’s evangelical Protestant character.

            The Mainline Protestants strongly favored the immigration. Why? Because the folks in the mainline sects were quite wealthy and needed the immigrants to work in their factories and rent their apartment buildings. And the members of the mainline sects weren’t worried about losing electoral power (they never had large memberships anyway, and dominated through cultural or economic power, not having a lot of members).

            This wasn’t some minor controversy – this was perhaps the most important political question of the 1920s.

    • LeeEsq says:

      I think this is pretty spot on. Very similar things happened in a lot of Communist and Fascist countries. They built up their ideological-media ecosystem so well and allowed for no dissent. They lost the ability to know whats really going on and could not form effective policy as a result.

      • postmodulator says:

        It’s why Eco says that fascists are doomed to lose wars. (Someone cited that article just a couple of days ago here.) I’d be willing to generalize that to all totalitarians in a rough way, not just totalitarians on the right, but then again the USSR was on the winning side in World War II and in my (low-knowledge) opinion was principally responsible for the victory over the Nazis.

        But having something like thirty million soldiers and considering them all nearly expendable could be regarded as cheating.

        • LeeEsq says:

          I was thinking more of Mao’s China than the USSR. Even at its most ideological moment, Soviet leaders made sure that they had some grasp of whats actually happening. Mao and his cohort were convinced by their own propaganda.

          • postmodulator says:

            Well, for both Maoist China and the USSR, especially the Sovs under Stalin, I’d think that’d be far more glaring with domestic policy than foreign.

            Backyard iron smelting. Great.

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              Hence the idea of socialism in one country as opposed to permanent revolution. But, it is almost always easier for authoritarian states to do crazy stuff within their sovereign boundaries than beyond their borders. It is only democratic states like the US and the European states that find it easier to do crazy stuff abroad than at home. The only exception to this rule I can think of is Nazi Germany being an authoritarian state whose worst excesses were in Poland and the USSR. But, for the USSR (even noting wars of pacification outside its legal borders in the Baltic States and Afghanistan) as well as China most of the lunacy occurred within their recognized borders. In contrast since 1890 and especially after 1945 the majority of US state violence has been directed overseas rather than at people within the US.

              • It is only democratic states like the US and the European states that find it easier to do crazy stuff abroad than at home.

                The Rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March…..

                • postmodulator says:

                  Pearl Harbor was an attack on a military target and it was only a surprise attack due to bureaucratic screwups. The intent was for it to follow a declaration of war.

                  However, to make up for my removing one item from your list, you can add “Korean comfort women.”

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Okay in addition to Nazi Germany we can throw in Imperial Japan as exceptions to the rule.

              • Random says:

                Tibet. Afghanistan. Japan in Korea. Japan in China. China in Vietnam. China in Cambodia. Kuwait. And pretty much other invasion that a totalitarian regime has undertaken in the last 50 years….

                The rule seems to be that you can treat foreigners worse than you treat your own people no matter what type of regime you are.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  I already mentioned Afghanistan. Which is one of few places not recognized as part of the USSR by the international community where there was mass Soviet violence. But, collectivization and terror within the 1937 Soviet borders was considerably greater.

                  Tibet unlike the Baltic States (1940-1991)is recognized as part of China’ sovereign territory so it does not count as foreign anymore than Chechnya or Kazakhstan do for the USSR. China’s 1979 attack on Vietnam was only a mere drop compared to the violence Mao unleashed against Chinese citizens in China.

                  China in Cambodia? I think you mean Vietnam in Cambodia and their violence paled compared to the Khmer Rouge. Indeed it paled compared to Hanoi’s violence against people in Vietnam. Kuwait was again minor compared to Saddam Hussein’s violence against Iraqi citizens including the Kurds.

                  So overall authoritarian regimes with the exception of Nazi Germany and Japan tend to focus violence inward. Whereas democratic ones focus it outward. It isn’t a perfect match, but it seems to hold overall.

                • Random says:

                  No it actually doesn’t hold very well in almost any of those cases, including the ones where you redefined the definition of ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ and redefined the definition of ‘barbarism’ to include ‘scarcity’.

                  We can go back thousands of years on this if you want, the pattern is that people are much more militant to foreigners than they are to their own people.

        • burritoboy says:

          Not precisely. The problem is that the true fascist regime must engage in a series of wars of ever increasing size – eventually, the successful fascist regime must conquer the world, or at the very least a very large portion of it.

          The fascist regime will often win its beginning smaller wars, but must continually up the ante until it gets into wars that it cannot win.

          • postmodulator says:

            I don’t know that they have to be of ever increasing size. I think a fascist regime could simply pick up some small country once in a while — in the Middle East, say — and throw it against the wall, to show the world that it meant business.

            Ooops.

            • burritoboy says:

              I would say that the enemies do have to be (in general) of ever-increasing size or power. It feels good to beat up the small or weak countries initially. But your followers need to see themselves as part of a grand heroic historical narrative. It’s not going to be emotionally satisfying to go beat up on yet another weak or small enemy – that’s no longer heroic or of world-shaking importance (unlike the first few conquests, which you convinced them were earth-shatteringly important).

              Plus, by that point, the fascist regime usually really is quite powerful in actuality. The first small wars were harder, because the regime needed to build up the military, both in actual physical equipment and organization but also in the ideological / narrative sense. Now that’s done the followers are not going to feel the same will to power by just using what has already proven to be an effective military to slap around another weak enemy. You don’t get to be Napoleon II by being satisfied taking over Moldova this decade, and Romania the next decade.

              • John F says:

                Or taking over Ethiopia (to avenge losing there 40 years earlier*), then taking over Albania… then moving up the food chain and getting your tail kicked by Greece… and then in 1940 by getting kicked out by France (a virtually defeated by that point France, Mussolini literally waited until France was 99.9% militarily defeated to join in, and still got licked)

                *Ethiopia defeated Italy in 1895/96. Growing up I’d always read that the 1905 Russo-Japanese War came as a shock to the West since it was the first real war won by a non-European country over a European Country in literally centuries- actually it wasn’t, Ethiopia had kicked Italy’s ass ten years earlier, but Europeans collwctively decided to look away and pretend it didn’t happen.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Italy wasn’t seen as a great power when they got beaten by the Ethiopians, so it was a lot easier for the rest of Europe to shrug it off as a fluke. Russia was seen as a great power so when they lost to Japan it couldn’t really be ignored. So I think the original narrative still applies to a large extent.

                • ajay says:

                  I’d always read that the 1905 Russo-Japanese War came as a shock to the West since it was the first real war won by a non-European country over a European Country in literally centuries- actually it wasn’t, Ethiopia had kicked Italy’s ass ten years earlier, but Europeans collwctively decided to look away and pretend it didn’t happen.

                  First Afghan War?

    • Cheap Wino says:

      You can elevate this higher than “pet theory.” It’s pretty apparent that Limbaughitis has metastasized from voting rubes into actual legislators. I’ve been saying this ever since tea party nuts started actually getting elected.

      The art of lying and obfuscation that Limbaugh has perfected eventually created people who are acting as if that world is reality — the basic lie ‘lower taxes creates more wealth’ is unassailable truth — and they’re in our government. That “carefully crafted nonsense” is now fact, with people with power acting on that belief. D’oh!

      • BigHank53 says:

        I believe it was our old friend Steve King who insisted that major US corporations like GE were being socked with tax bills that amounted to 30-40% of their operating expenses. He knew this–no need to go look it up!

    • mark f says:

      I think this is spot-on.

      Yesterday Kevin Drum wrote this:

      [E]very year there’s a spate of blog/magazine pieces about how to discuss the political hot potato du jour with your crazy right-wing relatives at Thanksgiving. [. . .] Mostly they provide stock liberal responses to imaginary conservative talking points, and as Hayes says, they don’t really do any good.

      [. . .]

      [C]ome up with the kinds of comments that your Fox-watching aunts and uncles are really likely to drop into the conversation, and then come up with replies that might actually persuade someone who’s a conservative [. . .] maybe you’ll be able to seed a few doubts about Sean Hannity’s commitment to the straight dope.

      I recently tried this. I cited Tim Carney of AE-fucking-I on how, with the 47% crap (yes, wingnuts still mention it) Mitt Romney was actually attacking a lot of hardworking, middle class people. White people, even! I was told they were nonsensical, obscure liberal quotes :(

      • catclub says:

        I have two that may be relatively good stoppers:
        1. In all those other countries that have single-payer, or some other abominations, NOBODY is making political hay by demanding to have our present healthcare system. NOBODY.

        2. If you want fewer illegal immigrants – empower the unions.
        I don’t even know that it is true, but so what.
        The discussions seems to stop there.

        • Malaclypse says:

          In all those other countries that have single-payer, or some other abominations, NOBODY is making political hay by demanding to have our present healthcare system. NOBODY.

          Imaginary Canadians are always sneaking over the border to get around the years-long waiting lists they suffer under with socialized medicine. All wingnuts know this.

      • Pat says:

        This reminds me so much of Gov. 47%’s strategy for defeating Obama in 2012. His guys sat around imagining what Obama’s strategy was going to be, and then they figured out how they would counter it.

        Because it was apparently much easier than gathering data on Obama’s strategy, see…..

    • Random says:

      Well said, though you left out the part where we were going to be greeted with candy and flowers as we systematically invaded and occupied half the Middle East.

    • Jerry Vinokurov says:

      Or, in the immortal words of Ice Cube: Don’t get high off your own supply.

  11. Calming Influence says:

    Pushing for a loud public discussion about how single payer might be desirable doesn’t preclude negotiating to the result we’ve ended up with. The extremes of both parties function best to pull debate in the desired direction. Now, with the growing number of positive stories in getting people the healthcare they need, you could hope that it might make the concept of single payer that much more viable to past doubters in the next tug of war over healthcare.

    And if the debate over healthcare is likened to a tug of war, and the right’s strategy was to cripple their own team members, the left’s strategy was to walk 10 yards closer to the line.

    • NonyNony says:

      If you want to liken the health care debate in this country to a tug-of-war, you can’t narrow it down to two sides. Just because we have two organized political parties, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there are only two interests involved in a debate.

      In fact, the tug of war analogy works better if you make it a three-way tug of war – Republicans on one corner, Liberals on another, and Conservative Democrats on the third. That’s why the bill ended up the way it did – if you want to talk about Democrats walking 10 yards closer to the line it’s because the Conservative Dems wanted them to go 20 yards closer to the line but were willing to compromise at 10.

      • Calming Influence says:

        We ended up with a Republican solution (Romneycare) that is certainly better than what we had, and probably the best we could hope for. If we had started further to the left, we might have been able to force the Republicans to be the ones to fight for Romneycare. But when Democrats decided to frame their side of the debate as “we’ll never get single payer/medicare buy-in so let’s take it off the table”, they essentially started negotiations by asking for Romneycare, which allowed Republicans to rename it Obamacare when it passed and hang it around his neck like a frickin’ albatross.

        I’ll repeat, we probably would have ended up here anyway, and it’s going to help a lot of people. But with regard to future debates on improving healthcare in this country, we didn’t do ourselves any favors by basically conceding to the Republicans that single payer is a radical left-wing slippery slope to Communism. Consequently, serious fiscally sound alternatives to our current system were never seriously debated, and will face a steep uphill battle next time.

        • Random says:

          I find it not as straightforward that we would have ended up here if we had started with single-payer. ACA and single-payer are entirely different programs and it’s not at all clear that the Democrats could have simply pivoted to health-care exchanges in mid-negotiation.

          Probably the most plausible liberal alternatives to ACA were the expansion of existing programs, not the creation of new ones.

          • Calming Influence says:

            Medicare buy-in. A highly popular existing program with a much lower administrative overhead than private insurance providers carry. Allow people to choose between that and private insurance. Choice and free market competition. Sounds positively capitalistic, doesn’t it?

            • NonyNony says:

              Choice and free market competition. Sounds positively capitalistic, doesn’t it?

              Sounds like the kind of thing actual capitalists despise, to be honest.

              • stickler says:

                Which is why the insurance industry was so vehemently against it. They can’t compete with Medicare on costs (because Medicare doesn’t spend 30% of premiums on CEO pay), and they know it.

                No profit-making capitalist really wants competition. Cuts into profits!

                • Pat says:

                  Medicare has negotiated much lower prices with all providers than insurance companies can possibly get. It’s not just the CEO pay – even if the CEOs get nothing, insurance companies can’t compete with Medicare because they pay more for each procedure.

            • Anonymous says:

              No it doesn’t. Capitalists look to maximize profits, and this is done by minimizing or eliminating competition.

  12. oldster says:

    You want strategy? You want means-end reasoning? They got it!

    “…Needham said, his underbite jutting contemptuously,…”

    1) Imagine a Randian future
    2) jut underbite contemptuously
    3) Libertopia!!

    If that’s not proportioning means to ends, I don’t know what is. Why, it beats the Green Lantern Theory all hollow. Anybody can keep an adamantine will, but how many people can jut their underbite contemptuously, huh? Can you do it, you liberal wuss? Thought not.

  13. politicalfootball says:

    I think this bit really gets to the heart of what sophisticated liberals misunderstand about the right-wing “nuts”:

    After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.

    Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”

    To understand Needham’s move here, you have to remember that he and his type aren’t Republicans at heart. They have a set of policy goals that are different from those of the Republican Party establishment, and of most of the members of the party.

    If the hard-right were boneheads, they’d back a third party. But they’re not, so they work within the existing party, with stunning success over a period of decades.

    Even the current rightwing “failure” – much like the right’s “failure” to oust vulnerable Democrats like Harry Reid – was the result of the pursuit of a sound strategy.

    Needham et al managed to turn 20 House members into a House majority that issued a serious threat to the presidency and the separation of powers, and moreover threatened to do huge damage to the United States and its government – goals that are completely consistent with rightwing rhetoric, desires, and best interests. It’s a hell of an accomplishment, especially given the unpopularity of their goals.

    • politicalfootball says:

      Another money quote from the article:

      “I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation.

      Because nobody takes the Tea Party seriously.

  14. PopeRatzo says:

    Whoa. It’s not at all that “Obama didn’t even try”. It’s that he didn’t even talk about the possibility of suggesting that perhaps there could be some discussion of a future proposal for a public option.

    No, what those of us who were trying to push for something that wasn’t tied to the insurance conglomerates got instead was the President’s chief of staff calling us “retards”.

    Now some loyalist liberals get called a “retard” by the administration and it’s all washed away by the President’s historicalness.

    Stop pretending that progressives were expecting Obama to change the world and thus we’re all emotards or progrocks or firebaggers or whatever clever appellation the loyalists have come up with this week. We didn’t need for him to be FDR, but it would have been nice if he’d at least been as competent as Gerald Ford.

    So please, if you don’t mind, don’t act surprised if there are some who aren’t taken with the idea of another historical incompetent in 2016. We don’t mean to piss in the feelgood swimming pool, but there are people out there who have gotten hurt pretty bad in the past 5 years. It’s time for some help, if you know what I mean.

  15. Shwell Thanksh says:

    Also today, Heritage Action announced that failure to vote against confirmation of Janet Yellen would be noted down as “naughty” on their scoldy scorecards of GOP Senators.

  16. Rosalina says:

    Hello! I’m at work browsing your blog from my
    new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all
    your posts! Keep up the outstanding work!

    Here is my site :: Anti Inflammatory Capsules (Rosalina)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.