Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Little Libertarian on the Prairie

In this morning’s post, A nation of spoiled babies looking for work, I went off on a short tangent about the inherent Libertarianism in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Reminded me. Back in May of 2011, I went off on a long tangent on the same idea. Here’s that post:

image Reading The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.

The Wilder Life is as the subtitle suggests about McClure’s attempts to reconnect with the books that meant the most to her when she was a little girl, the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the course of re-reading Wilder’s books and biographies and critical studies and even a cookbook, McClure learns things she didn’t know about Laura Ingalls and her family and one of the things she learns is that the little house in the big woods wasn’t as deep in the woods as it seemed in the book named after it. The nearest town, which McClure had always imagined as a long, long way off from the Ingalls little house, was actually nearby.  Laura and her family had neighbors and more than McClure would have thought.

What astonishes her, though, is that the town was a town.

In the book Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder…John E. Miller points out that the Chippewa River valley region where Laura’s family lived was home to a bustling lumber business district; he cites a local newspaper editorial, written a few years before Laura’s birth, that describes Pepin, the town only a few miles from the Ingallses’ log cabin, as having a “busy hum”: “The air was alive with the sounds and voices of intelligent and independent industry,” the editorial claimed.  Miller thinks that was likely an exaggeration, too, but you can’t help but think that even if the industrious hum wasn’t that loud, Pa Ingalls and his family might have been close enough to hear it, so to speak, in between the sounds of the whispering trees and the howling wolves.

There was a school in the area close enough for Laura to walk to and Pa Ingalls was the treasurer for the local school district:

…so in between making bullets and tanning hides with brains, he must’ve found time every now and then to wipe the bear trap grease from his hands and attend some boring meeting like an 1870s soccer dad.

Even more astonishing was discovering that De Smet, the town in what’s now South Dakota that’s buried and battered by blizzard after blizzard during The Long Winter, had a roller rink!

“How,” McClure asks, “did the town progress so quickly from nearly starving to death to building teen hangouts?”

I’m only three chapters in, so maybe McClure answers that question later in her book, but if De Smet was like most frontier towns from the beginning of the white settlement of America, starting with Plymouth---Jamestown wasn’t founded as a town; it was a fort or, from the Indians’ point of view, a bandits’ lair.---it didn’t have to progress because the town itself was the progress.

The settling of the continent was a progressive process.  The image from the movies of the settling of the west occurring as a lonely log or sod cabin is built in the wilderness with maybe a trading post a day’s walk away and the settlers fighting off Indians, wild animals, and starvation while waiting for the cavalry to arrive and civilization to catch up---that happened, here and there, but mostly in wilderness areas we now regard as the East.

Mainly, what happened, though, was that whole towns sprang up practically overnight.  Daniel Boone did a lot of solitary exploring but then he came back to the woods to cut it down and found a town.

imageLooking at the iconic image of wagons rolling west, it’s easy to forget that wagon trains were in fact trains.  They were doing what trains still do, carrying lots of passengers with all their attendant baggage and delivering goods.   And when we picture those pioneers bumping along in their wagons, the sounds of pots and pans clanging in the beds behind them, we need to remember what else they were bringing with them besides cooking utensils and some bedding.  They brought books and musical instruments---think of Pa Ingalls and his fiddle---and clocks and pictures to hang on the walls of their log cabins and sod huts once they got them built.  They were also bringing themselves.  That is, they were bringing their attitudes, customs, and habits and generally these were not the attitudes, customs, and habits of “pioneers.”  The people we call pioneers had been born and raised and had lived most of their lives in towns and cities.  There were of course countryfolk among all these townsfolk and cityfolk, but almost from the moment the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, living in the country meant living close to town instead of in it, and countryfolk could hear that same hum, so to speak, that McClure was astonished to learn the Ingallses heard in between the sounds of the whispering trees and the howling wolves.

The pioneers were bringing civilization with them.

They didn’t settle themselves in the wilderness and then build civilization from scratch.  It came with them, pre-fab.

It often happened like this, because along with everything else they brought with them they brought their religion and they brought children:  As soon as they could, the settlers built a church and the church usually served as a schoolhouse until they could build a separate one.  And around the church they built stores and offices.  Not everyone who went west went west to farm.  A lot of people went west to sell things, goods and services, to farmers.  They were storekeepers and blacksmiths and lawyers and doctors and newspaper editors, all of whom brought the tools and rules of their trades with them.  Things got social very quickly, and complicated.   That meant hiring or appointing a minister and a teacher and a town police force, which may have included only one man, but he still had to be hired and paid.  In order for the farmers to get to and from town and for people in town to get around, there had to be roads and those roads had to be kept relatively clear.  There were all these wooden structures right up against each other, all lit and heated by flames.  They were fire hazards and that meant they had to watched carefully.  Do you remember the episode of Deadwood that revolved around appointing a fire marshal?  A fire brigade had to be organized, just in case.  Now who did all that?  How did they do all that?  Usually by committee.  Essentially, then, one of the first things they did was put together a town board.  That is, they formed a government.

Some people lit out for the territories like Huck, to escape being civilized.  But most people went west in search of opportunity, the kind of opportunity that is made possible by being civilized.  Even the most self-reliant, anti-social, temperamentally anarchistic, libertarian-minded farmer had to come into town from time to time to buy supplies.

What I’m saying is that it’s not really surprising that whole towns, some with roller rinks, sprang up very shortly after the first settlers felled their first tree or plowed their first furrow, because they needed towns in order to settle.  And a town is almost by definition a government.

Which brings me to libertarianism and libertarians.  Which is not a change of subject away from The Wilder Life, as you’ll see.

Generally, I don’t give much thought to libertarianism because I don’t think libertarians themselves give much thought to it.  As far as I’ve ever been able to see, libertarian describes a temperamental aversion to certain ideas, one in particular, which I’ll get to, more than a philosophic attraction to any.  The libertarians I know are either conservatives who think they’re too cool to be Republicans, hate anyone telling them how to behave, and don’t like be told they owe anything to anybody else or they are liberals who think they’re too cool to be Democrats, hate anybody telling them how to behave, and don’t like to be told they owe anything to anybody else.

That last point of agreement doesn’t mean that either type acts as if they don’t owe anything to anybody else.  Most of them have strong senses of civic responsibility, duty, and obligation. It’s why they believe that a libertarian society would work.  They would do all the pitching in that would be required if the government didn’t plow the roads and put out the fires.  It’s just that they feel scolded when they’re told that they have to pitch in and that makes them cranky.

The libertarian ideal is predicated on the notion that if you leave people alone, their self-interest if not their innate decency will compel them to live together as if they had a government.  You don’t need to enact lots of laws and impose lots of rules and regulations if people are going to act lawfully and follow the “rules” and regulate themselves on their own.  In other words, societies are self-regulating.  But as the most libertarian of the Founders was in the habit of saying, People were made for society and therefore they were made for government.  Society and government are practically synonymous, because the first isn’t possible without the second. As I said, everywhere they settled, one of the first things the pioneers did was form a government.  They didn’t wait around to find out if their neighbors were going to act as if they had a government.  They just set to work setting one up, using as their models the governments they had seemingly left behind.  Another way of putting this, is they brought government with them. 

The thing about libertarians that I find alternately annoying and amusing is that virtually none of them live as self-reliant farmers far from towns they only come into when they absolutely have to.  Most of them live in some of the most well-governed, well-ordered, well-regulated, civilized places on the planet.  Suburbs.

Those who don’t, live in cities.

Rand Paul didn’t wander in from the hills.  He was born in Pittsburgh.  He grew up in Texas but in a city, a little city, but still a city of over 20,000 people.  He went to college at Baylor University, a little city on its own of about 14,000 people, in Waco, Texas, population of about 125,000, then went on to medical school at Duke University, another little city of around 14,000, in Durham, North Carolina, a city of close to a quarter million people.  He hung out his shingle in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a city of only 58,000 or so.

You can’t have that many people bumping up against each other without lots of rules and regulations just to control the traffic.

It’s not simply the case that Paul’s lived his whole life sheltered and protected by governments large and small.  His life as it is wouldn’t have been possible except for those governments.  He is a pure product of government.  And this is the case for most self-proclaimed libertarians.  Their lives wouldn’t be possible without not just government but without liberal government.

What libertarians hope for is that the democratic-republicans who found and run towns and cities create a solid, functioning, and unobtrusive government that the libertarians can then pretend isn’t there.

It gets down to this.  It’s surprising that De Smet had a roller rink but not that much more surprising than the fact that it had a school Laura could play hooky from one day to go to the roller rink.  Life on the frontier was only possible because there were towns like De Smet that could provide schooling for the children of the pioneers and support businesses that sold things the pioneers needed and among those things, the pioneers being civilized folk and civilized folk need to sustain their minds and spirits as well as their bodies, were recreation and entertainment.

Now.  The connection between the Little House books and libertarianism doesn’t end there.  It ends with an irony.

Here’s another surprising fact McClure turned up in the course of her research.

Laura Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was a founder of the Libertarian Party.


Here’s Wendy McClure talking about The Wilder Life at NPR.

Lance Mannion on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 in First as tragedy, then as farce, Ruining my eyes | Permalink


Friday, June 13, 2014

Bobby Lee

Gettsyburg Longstreet Lee
Tom Berenger as the increasingly disenchanted and doubtful Confederate general James Longstreet and Martin Sheen as a noble but slightly and tragically vain Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg.

Over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Scott is doing a virtual spit-take at the ad copy for a new biography of Robert E. Lee, a man Scott calls, in keeping with LGM’s stylebook rule of calling the American Civil War the War of Treason in Defense of Slavery (also in keeping with history), “traitor in defense of slavery”:

In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, Michael Korda, the New York Times bestselling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence, has written the first major biography of Lee in nearly twenty years, bringing to life America’s greatest and most iconic hero.

Scott’s bold-facing. Now his response:

Really? The very greatest American hero? We can’t think of a single of the many Americans who have not rebelled against the American government in order to protect the right of wealthy whites to own black slaves who might be worthy of this honor?

And he offers a few suggestions:

Martin Luther King? Abraham Lincoln? Willie Mays? The tailor who successfully hemmed the sleeves of my sports jacket last week?

Here you can feel him pause for a silent but definite Jesus H. Christ on Toast! before he continues:

I figure we should get around to honoring confederate generals sometime well after we lionize the nation’s telemarketers. Although I might be willing to rank Lee above the people who created those DirectTV marionette ads.

The object is to sell books, of course, as Scott knows, and he suggests the target audience for that blurb. (Commenter Jim is more direct if less colorful: “this is a sales pitch aimed at the re-enactors and lost cause-rs”.) Knowing that is only mollifying to the most jaded cynic.

Coming up on a hundred and fifty years since Lee was allowed to ride off from Appomattox Courthouse instead of being clapped in irons and hauled off to Washington to be tried for treason, we’re still selling an alternative history of the Civil War to Southerners and Confederate sympathizers in which slavery played no role and the South’s was somehow a noble cause or at least the soldiers who fought for it were noble men.

Another reader, Michael Confoy, links to a review by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner in which Foner gets quick to the point that Clouds of Glory isn’t an alternative history or a hagiography or an apology for Lee or the South.

As its subtitle suggests, one of Michael Korda’s aims in “Clouds of Glory” is “disentangling Lee from his myth.” In this he mostly succeeds. Although Korda greatly admires Lee, he challenges the image of a man who could do no wrong. He also challenges the Lost Cause portrait of the Old South as a bucolic paradise of small farmers and courtly aristocrats, a vision in which, he notes, “the reality of slavery played no part.”

This is good, but Foner goes on to make the case that Korda is still more than a tad too respectful of his subject and even somewhat neglectful of the actual record, and that’s too bad. Lee’s image in the popular imagination needs a thorough debunking.

Since the War ended, Lee has been used to help sell Southerners a flattering view of a war the South started as a defensive war taken on reluctantly to protect hearth, home, family, and, incidentally, “our peculiar way of lahf,” from Northern aggressors.  Why, look at Bobby Lee, gentleman soldier, reluctant warrior (as reluctant a warrior as a career military man can be, at any rate), good and decent man, practically the reincarnation of George Washington, neither at heart or in principle a secessionist or a die-hard proponent of the South’s peculiar institution, forced by fate and the blunders of politicians to choose between his nation and his country, Virginia.

We’re not supposed to consider that Lee might have done Virginia more good by sticking with the Union.

This only works, of course, because Lee so looked the part. So handsome. So dignified. So fatherly. That stoically impassive expression not quite hiding the sadness in his eyes.  How could a cause that had such an honorable man as its military commander be anything but honorable?

Not only could and did the focus on the image of Lee as a tragic hero take the focus off what he was actually fighting for, it can take the focus off the fact that the South lost, even be used to allow the South to award itself a moral victory.

Yes, we were outmanned and outgunned in the field but still our boys, Bobby Lee’s boys, were the better men.

As William Faulkner wrote in Intruder in the Dust about Lee’s biggest blunder, known gallantly as Pickett’s Charge:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is stll time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago....

“This is my fault. This is all my fault,” Lee said to the remains of Pickett’s division staggering back from Cemetery Ridge.

Yes, it was, General, but the mistake began when you decided to cast your lot with the slavers. Your fellow slavers.

Ironically, Grant’s image has been used to help burnish Lee’s, the contrast between the two portrayed as complementary, two sides of the same wholly American coin.  On the one side, the stately, formal, courteous aristocrat of the Old South, defender of a passing glory, on the other, the bumptious, brusque, impatient, practical citizen solider, harbinger of a new Western-looking America in which Billy Yank and Johnny Reb would be united again at last.  And there’s that whole brother against brother thing again, sentimentalizing the war and taking the focus off its cause, the South’s real cause.

Lee and Grant weren’t complements. They were opposites. Comparisons should highlight that, not obscure it.

This, by the way, is one of the (many) things I like about the movie Gettysburg, how it subtly takes on the mythic image of Lee.

Martin Sheen’s Lee looks the part, acts the part, has qualities that make him right for the part, but still has a touch of vanity and a suggestion of emotional fragility that makes him suspect in the part. Add Tom Berenger’s Longstreet’s growing doubts and horror and it’s really something of a subversive portrait. Pickett’s Charge becomes emblematic of the Southern Cause—thousands of men sacrificed for the vanity and ambitions of elderly aristocrats.

On the other hand, one of the most stirring moments in Lincoln for me was Jared Harris’ entrance as Grant. The second he appeared I wanted to jump up and point at the screen, yelling, “That’s HIM!”

Lincoln Grant enters 

And the scene between him and Daniel Day Lewis on the porch broke my heart for both men.


Make sure you read all of Scott’s post and stick around for the comments.

In his review of Clouds of Glory, which you should also read the whole of, Eric Foner writes:

Korda has a knack for describing the complex unfolding of Civil War battles in lucid prose. Most of the book consists of gripping, if perhaps excessively lengthy, accounts of Lee’s military campaigns…

If you’re looking for a book by a professional historian featuring lengthy (but I don’t think excessively so), lucidly written, and gripping battle sequences that gives Lee his due as a military leader but that’s it? I recommend Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam. Besides not glorifying Lee, it has the additional virtue of showing up Union General George McClellan as the magnificent asshole he was.

And Foner’s own The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery is a must read, must own.

Lance Mannion on Wednesday, June 04, 2014 in First as tragedy, then as farce, Now Playing at Cine 1001-2000 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

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Saving Sergeant Bergdahl

I wonder how many people think that the soldiers who died looking for Bowe Bergdahl were on a Saving Private Ryan style mission together.  That’s apparently not what happened.

They weren’t out looking for Bergdahl. They were on the lookout for him while they were out on other missions. This isn’t a trivial distinction. It means that it is in fact almost impossible to say that they died on account of Bergdahl or for his sake because they were in harm’s way for reasons that would have placed them there even if Bergdahl hadn’t gone missing. They died in combat in a combat zone and, although it sounds callous, their deaths may have been routine. So it’s debatable how much they should figure in deciding whether Bergdahl was worth saving.

But while they’re thinking of Saving Private Ryan they should be thinking about this.

Saving Matt Damon was not worth losing Tom Hanks.

1083_CTS1248.jpg Now, Private Ryan seems to be a good enough kid. Definitely not someone who deserves to die. But he’s ordinary. Captain Miller, though, is extraordinary or at least exemplary. In the grand scheme of things, the world can do without a few Private Ryans here and there, but it needs more Captain Millers. Sending Miller to die for Ryan is a great unfairness, and Miller himself feels that unfairness, on behalf of his family and his men more than on his own. But he does still feel it. It infuriates him. He resents it. He would resist it except that he accepts the principle.

We don’t judge each other’s worth that way.

We don’t say,  “Before I bother to care what happens to you, prove to me you deserve to be cared about and cared for.”

We operate from the belief that we are all worth it.  In and of ourselves and not relative to other human beings.

We are all worth it because we are all human beings.

We care about and care for everybody, including the least deserving, because it’s our responsibility to care for the whole human race. You are worth it because you are one of us, no matter how much you’ve done to make us think otherwise. In caring for you, we are caring for everybody. On the individual level that means that in saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller is saving himself.

Say Sergeant Bergdahl was a deserter, and we have to say it because we don’t really know that he was, that’s an accusation made by members of his outfit who may not have been worth saving themselves had they been taken prisoner.  Given all we know that’s gone on over there, they might have committed atrocities, they might have been cowards and shirkers, they might have been rapists. The same goes for the men who died looking for Bergdahl. We don’t know. We’re not asking. It’s beside the point, at the moment. Bergdahl may have been a deserter, he looks more like a bit of a flake with a history of going walkabout, but he may have deserted, and, again, say he did.

Does that make him less than one of us?

And by us, I mean us human beings, not us Americans.

Did he deserve to be left to die?

More than you? More than me? More than whom?

The war---wars---have been going on for thirteen years.  Every grown man and woman in the country under fifty could have volunteered to go fight.  Every one under forty still could. Bowe Bergdahl did. He fought that war for several months before he was taken prisoner. How many people now saying he deserved to be left to die did not fight a single minute because they were too frightened, too complaisant, too selfish, too indifferent, too willing to let the Bowe Bergdahls do it for them?  How then do they dare give themselves the right to judge Bergdahl’s deserving?

Bowe Bergdahl went. It didn’t work out very well for him. But he went.

In my judgment that makes him more deserving than any of the chickenhawks and Sunshine Patriots.

But who am I to judge?

What makes me think I’m deserving?

Ryan Private Ryan And this is another, more selfish, reason we don’t judge each other’s worth that way: In the grand scheme of things, which of us is worth it?  Which of us is all that deserving?

It’s as I’ve said, “Looked at close, none of us is worth it” or as Hamlet said, “Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping?”

So we don’t just treat each other as if we’re all Private Ryans. We assume we are. And we don’t assume we, ourselves, are Captain Millers. We assume we aren’t.

We don’t demand proof someone deserves saving because we believe everyone does.

And because someday we may need saving ourselves and we don’t want to have to prove we’re worth it.

In saving Private Ryan, and Sergeant Bergdahl, grandly and meanly, we’re saving ourselves.

Lance Mannion on Saturday, June 07, 2014 in Now Playing at Cine 1001-2000, Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

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That’s the trouble with Millennials, they don’t know how to blame the wrong people

Dear Mr Bruni,

After reading your op-ed in the New York Times the other day, about how our generation has screwed things up for the Millennials (known in some circles as our children) and we owe them an apology, I tracked down the two Millennials I know best, my college-aged sons, and told them they’re free to resent their not-rich grandparents for selfishly gobbling up Social Security and Medicare money to help afford themselves a comfortable and healthy retirement even though the old folks know that there might not be enough money left in the till for the young folks when they’re old folks themselves.

My sons wouldn’t hear of it.

So I told them they’re free to resent their mother and me for having had to buy a house we couldn’t really afford at a price it wasn’t really worth during the housing bubble and for their mother’s having lost her job because some venture capitalists bought up her company and set out to make it “profitable” by gutting the workforce and she’s having trouble finding a new one probably because of her age and gender and I work in academia which when I started out was a comfortably middle-class profession but has since discovered the benefits of temp workers and wage slavery so we don’t have the money on hand at the moment to pay their way through college and they’ll have to take out loans.

I also told them they can resent us because the crash that followed the bubble devastated the 401k’s the middle class of our generation’s forced to fund in place of real pensions because the banksters and Wall Street wolves figured out that was a good first step towards getting their hands on all the money and so we probably won’t have a lot of dough to help them buy their own houses and put their kids through college when the time comes.

They wouldn’t hear of that either.

I told them what you wrote, about how for “decades they’ll be saddled with our effluvium: a monstrous debt, an epidemic of obesity, Adam Sandler movies” and how thanks to global warming “In their lifetimes the Atlantic will possibly swallow Miami Beach” and they should resent not just their grandparents and parents, but their aunts and uncles, their friends’ parents, most of their teachers and professors, a lot of their neighbors, the nice lady who cuts their hair, their favorite clerk at the convenience store who works there as his third job because he needs the money to help put his Millennials through school and on and on.

Well, I left out the Adam Sandler bit because they kind of liked him in Bedtime Stories.

But, know what? They still wouldn’t bite.

Instead they insist on resenting oil companies that have bought and paid for politicians to do nothing about global warming…

And Republicans in Congress who’ve voted to protect and extend the usurious student loan industry...

And extremely profitable corporations that resist hiring, deny raises, scrimp on benefits, and think laying off thousands of workers is the greatest good they can do for the economy…

And elitist politicians and members of the media who make too much to collect Social Security when the time comes insisting that the only way to save Social Security is to cut it drastically as opposed to, oh, say, raising taxes even a little bit on themselves and thus making sure their parents will have even less money in their old age to help them out in their middle age, which they will be spending worrying about how they’ll get through their old age because, you know, Social Security was cut at the insistence of the above mentioned elitist politicians and members of the media.

They also suggested that any apologies due them might come first from fawning journalists whose sycophantic coverage in 2000 helped elect the budget-busting, two-unpaid-for-wars-starting, let’s-make-privatizing-Social Security-a-thing George W. Bush whose idea of an environmentally responsible energy company was ENRON.

That’s the trouble with Millennials. They don’t know how to blame the wrong people.

Yours in abject apology,

Lance Mannion

PS. I know how it pains you to use the words Democrat and Republican in your columns. But the parties exist and they do stand for things or in the case of the Republicans stand against doing anything about the problems “we’re” leaving to the Millennials.

Also, you might get a kick out of reading Dean Baker’s evisceration of the what passes for economics behind the points you’re trying to make in your column about Medicare and Social Security, Frank Bruni Is Angry That the Government Pays 1000 Times as Much to Peter Peterson as It Does to the Average Kid.

(Psst. Baker’s post title is sarcastic.)


This post is adapted from a Twitter rant I went on the other day. Longtime blogging colleague and regular visitor to Mannionville, Jonathan Korman, who blogs at his own place Miniver Cheevy, did a great and remarkable and very kind thing: He Storify-ed that rant.

Lance Mannion on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 in Newshounds, Where the money is | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


(I wrote most of this post Wednesday morning intending to publish it by the afternoon. But you know how it goes.)

Always impressed by how journalists and pundits covering an election night can know what the results mean before the sun comes up and their last cup of coffee’s gone cold on their desk.

But lots of them know already what happened in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district Republican primary and why House Majority Leader lost to Tea Party challenger and “liberal college professor” Dave Brat.

They all know. They don’t all agree.

Which makes me suspect they’re all just giving it their best guess and trying to pass it off as “analysis”. Ain’t I the cynic?

My favorite guess, though, is that Cantor lost to a coalition of personal complacency and smart-aleck Democrats sneaking in to vote in the open primary.

Have to wait for the polls to see how much of an effect those sneaky Democrats had---it already appears not much---but complacency definitely cost him.

Cantor lost because he didn’t get enough votes. I mean, he and his campaign workers didn’t go out, round up their supporters, and bring them to the polls, and that includes Cantor himself. According to Ezra Klein, on primary day, Cantor wasn’t back home rallying the faithful. He was in Washington, fundraising for the general election in the fall. Brat got his voters out to vote. There weren’t a lot of them. Just enough of them.

Hmmm, says the Press Corps. Can’t be that simple. An election like this has to mean something or else why do we do we need political journalists?

Let’s find another narrative.

How about immigration reform?

The most commonly shared best guess that I’ve seen is that Cantor lost because he wasn’t sufficiently hardline on keeping out the you know whos.  That sounds like Cantor, doesn’t it?  “Give us your tired, your poor…”  If that’s the case, that voters in VA07 thought Eric Cantor was too welcoming, it goes to show that you can’t be angry enough, hateful enough, frightened enough to keep the love of the Republican Right Wing base, which is another way of saying the Tea Party faithful, who were supposed to have been chased back under their rocks by the sensible, reasonable, responsible, moderate, establishmentarian Republicans. I’ll get to that.


One thing there does seem to be universal agreement on, the secondary story here: Cantor’s defeat has shocked the folks back in Washington.

Nobody saw it coming.

His was supposed to be among the safest of safe seats.

Lindsey Graham, it was acknowledged, had some work cut out for him. Mitch McConnell too. But I’m not sure people in DC even noticed Cantor was being challenged in a primary. Like I said, Cantor acted like he didn’t notice either.

But I suspect another reason for the surprise, especially among pundits and journalists, is that the Tea Party uprising was, like I mentioned, supposed to have been put down by the sensible, responsible Republicans.

The pundits and the journalists know about polls showing the Tea Party’s unpopularity---they’ve heard of them, at any rate. I’m still not sure they bother to read polls even after Nate Silver showed them how it’s done with all his math and stuff back in 2012. But the fact appears to be that the Tea Party is unpopular everywhere except where it is popular.  You don’t have to read a lot of polls to figure that out.

You want to see the Tea Party in action? Get out of D.C.  Visit the states where Republicans control the state houses. All the craziness coming out of those places is not due to moderate establishmentarians fearlessly fighting to find common ground with Democrats.

Now look at who’s the current front-runner for the Republican nomination.

No, Mr Pundit, it’s not Jeb Bush.

It’s Ted Cruz.

But the Tea Party is on the run!

People know this because they’ve been told so…by sensible, responsible Republicans.

Like Mitch McConnell.

As if there is such a thing anymore as a sensible, responsible Republican.

I don’t know why, but the Washington Press Corps persists in believing there is and, like believers in ghosts for whom all houses turn out to be haunted, they keep finding them.

One thing that makes this easier is their definition of a sensible, responsible Republican apparently doesn’t include being responsible.

Responsible Republicans aren’t Republicans who vote responsibly on issues like combating global warming, balancing the budget, creating jobs, protecting women’s health and well-being, controlling gun violence, immigration reform, and so on. Responsible Republicans are Republicans who would, they swear, vote responsibly if only the Democrats would compromise by inventing positions for Republicans to take that were both responsible and still conservative, that is, that did not cost money, raise taxes, benefit the Democratic base, or, well, actually solve anything.

Basically, a responsible Republican is a Republican who can sound sincerely disappointed about how Republicans are given no choice by those Democratic bullies in Congress and the really arrogant one in the White House but to vote irresponsibly.

Then there’s that word moderate. It’s used as if it means “not guided entirely by ideology; willing to consider others’ points of view and compromise; not stubbornly partisan”. What it really is is a description of people who moderate. They moderate their voices. Moderate their rhetoric. Moderate their demeanors. It’s a way of saying without saying, “Here’s someone who won’t embarrass me by acting as if his politics and his views on a given issues matter.”

The political press loves this about these moderates because it helps them play the She said/He said game without having to think about what He actually said, and that, it turn, lets them continue in their fondest dream about what goes on in Washington, that it is a game.

They can go on with their sports reporting without having to take sides.

They can keep up their Both Sides Do It dodge. Both sides turn the ball over. Ball sides talk trash. Both sides steal signs. Both sides do everything they can to win. Both sides have star players who can be cast as heroes or villains. Both sides are just playing for a trophy.

So the sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans told them the Tea Party was no longer a worry, and they swallowed it.

Never mind how those sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans actually vote.

Never mind that they rarely and barely say boo when one of their Tea Party colleagues or nominally fellow Republicans in Congress or back home says something like non-Christians are damned or homosexuals should be stoned to death.

Never mind that how sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans have beat back Tea Party challengers by un-moderating their rhetoric and championing views that are decidedly not sensible or responsible.

Never mind that the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and the presumed next Speaker of the House was a Tea Party darling until he was deemed to be not Right Wing enough.

You’d think by now worshippers in the Church of the Savvy would have savvied that the Tea Party was not a spontaneous grassroots uprising of regular folks riled up by Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant against the irresponsible borrowers he blamed for crashing the economy and infuriated by the passage of the ACA.  It was a well-financed, well-thought out, well-organized mobilization of forces already at work within the Republican Party making it the party of Right Wing Reaction. Tea Party types and sympathizers didn’t give up and go home. They were home. Are home. And they didn’t give up. They won.

Dave Brat isn’t just a Tea Party hero. He’s an up and coming Republican star.


This is interesting but probably academic. (Academic! Get it? I’m talking about Dave Brat who’s a college professor!) Brat ran a vociferously anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate money in politics populist campaign.  He tied it in with the usual Tea Party rage against immigrants, but in sound, feeling, and, possibly, principle, it was old-fashioned populism of the kind that gives the elites of both parties nightmares.

And in this post at the New Yorker, David Brat, the Elizabeth Warren of the Right, Ryan Lizza writes that Brat’s message is being “embraced by Tea Party candidates around the country.”

I’ll believe it when I see it, but wouldn’t it be something?

The Tea Party Types have been steadily adding to their list of the people relegated to the status of THEM, the THEM who are not US and are responsible for whatever’s wrong with America at the moment, and it would be funny if they’ve finally hit on a THEM who are in fact responsible, the banksters and fraudsters of Wall Street and their pet journalists and bought and paid for politicians of both parties.

There are progressives looking for reasons to Stand With Rand. Maybe we’ll start seeing Tea Party types who want to Start Roarin’ With Warren!

That’s not me making my best guess, of course, or even a wild guess.

That’s me dreaming.


Pierce will believe it when he sees it too:


From Vox: 12 things to know about Dave Brat.

At the New York Times, Trip Gabriel and Richard Perez-Pena does a compare and contrast between Brat and his Democratic opponent in the fall, Jack Trammell, who is also his fellow professor at Randolph-Macon College and teammate on a faculty basketball team.

Kevin Drum agrees that the Tea Party has won, but he as he sees it that means FoxNews has won too.

More on Right Wing populism from digby, The American right wing populist strain was perfectly realized in David Brat's campaign.

Lance Mannion on Friday, June 13, 2014 in Newshounds, Smoke-filled rooms | Permalink