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Leftier-Than-Thou Comedy Classics


It can be argued, as some commenters have tried to, that favoring Obama’s refusal to negotiate over the debt ceiling is in some sense a “heighten-the-contradictions” argument. But at a minimum it’s different than the typical one, in that negotiating with Republicans would hurt things short-term compared to the status quo (paying the ransom), would hurt things going forward (new ransom every year), and fail to advert the crisis that is the only reason to make things worse (eventually the negotiations will fail because the ransom is too big and there will be a default anyway.) So it’s only a heighten-the-contradictions argument if you assume that paying the ransom will permanently eliminate the chance of default; since I think that assumption is obviously wrong, refusing to negotiate isn’t really a “heighten-the-contradictions” argument; it’s a “allowing the default now is better, all things considered, than allowing the default later.” This isn’t the same as the heighten-the-contradictions arguments for defeating the ACA, because this would clearly make things far worse in the short term (no Medicaid expansion, no guaranteed issue, etc.) while doing nothing to improve things in any foreseeable future (the idea that a failure of the ACA would have led to single-payer is a ridiculous fantasy belied by the entirety of the history of health care policy in the United States.)

Anyway, if you want to see what a real heighten-the-contradictions argument about the shutdown/default looks like, here we go:

When, here, I explicitly call for the government shutdown, it is not to bring on more suffering to the already afflicted, which would follow from a subsequent default, but to clear the air, blow off the fog of false consciousness, and force the issue, especially percolating from below, as to why the distortion of social priorities (x billions to dictators, past, present, future, around the world; y billions to US megabanks and AIG; and z for an all-devouring military machine eating up the nation’s resources which might—dare we speak democratically?—otherwise create a vital social safety net) has been allowed and in various guises pursued for more than half a century.

Shutdown, ideally, equals wake-up, an exposure of widespread impoverishment on one hand, widespread waste, corruption of democratic institutions, and military aggression pure-and-simple on the other. If nothing more, scaring the folks at Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs until the legislative conflict is papered over, is worth the candle, considering that nothing will be done for the poor in any case.

Here’s a convenient tip: if your argument that making things far worse for people less affluent than you will in fact advance a progressive cause in the long run crucially depends on the phrase “false consciousness,” your argument is worthless. You might as well go all the way and posit a magic pony that will provide the poor with unlimited supplies of money, food and shelter. And if you think that it will be the wealthy who bear the primary brunt of a default on the debt, you may be many things but the tough-minded leftist you think you are is not one of them.

….(Erik): I appreciate Scott writing this piece so I didn’t have to. Norman Pollock, who wrote the linked Counterpunch essay, is the author of the great 1962 history of Populism, Populist Response to Industrial America, which was a key book in the development of a left-leaning historiography in the United States and part of the revision of Hofstadter’s condescension to the Populists. But this essay is garbage. Not to mention Counterpunch really needs some editorial standards.

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