Creative Destruction

December 22, 2007

Political Stratagems

Filed under: Politics — Brutus @ 2:28 pm

This got my attention in regard to the recent report that the Republican minority in Congress manages to hold sway through filibuster:

… Republicans in the congress are willing to take the heat for obstructing popular legislation, even when they have an unpopular lame duck president of their own party who could veto it and let them off the hook. Normally politicians, survivalists that they are, would be trying to distance themselves from a 30% president by this time and he would be forced out there on his own. But here you have them racing over the cliff right along side him. That they have maintained such solidarity in the face of dramatic failure is quite impressive.

After identifying this puzzling behavior, the article offers this comment:

If one assumes that we are dealing with a party and a political movement that operates as the constitution expected politicians to operate, this would all be very odd. But they aren’t. The modern Republican party has somehow managed to create movement loyalty that supersedes not only the national interest but their own political self-interest.

The final justification for all this, according to the article, is that disgraced politicians feel secure that whatever their short-term losses may be, they will always end up landing on their feet, which is to say, there is no real disgrace. Lose one job or office and one is subsequently offered another position of influence. There doesn’t even appear to be personal finance consequences worth considering.

This may all be true, of course, but in explaining the what, how, and why of conservative politics as practiced today (and indeed for the last 30 years), the author misses perhaps the most obvious explanation: the conservative movement is populated by true believers. The willingness to put their reputations and livelihoods on the line suggests to me a hardened ideology rather than the knowledge that they’re secure taking a few personal hits before moving onto the next thing.



  1. This all may be true, but the main reason for the Republican behavior in Congress is that it’s an effective strategy for winning the 2008 elections. Democrats swept in on promises of change and reform, and they’ve been blocked from implementing their agendas. Blocking them on the floor of the House is better than having the president veto it, because it (a) shows the conservative base that they’re working hard at least at keeping the Democrats from passing God only knows what, and (b) shows the moderate voters that the Democratic party is not capable of leading.

    And the creation of the perception is aided by its fundamental truth. If you guys (you guys/you = “the Democratic party”) can’t convince, what, nine Republicans out of fifty, to break ranks, how on earth are you going to convince Pyongyang to give up its nukes? If you can’t shove the minority around and get what you want without having to suck up to Republicans, then how are you going to shove Al Qaeda around? If you can’t logroll and deal-make to get at least a little bit of your agenda through, how are you going to negotiate with Europe and Asia and the rest of the world?

    Demonstrating Democratic fecklessness is worth a pretty high political cost, because it pays off in future elelections. It’s definitely worth the cost in this scenario; we’re not losing any of our voters and we’re discouraging millions of yours.

    Comment by Robert — December 23, 2007 @ 5:30 am | Reply

  2. Eh. Mostly what this phenomenon demonstrates is the power of computer-aided gerrymandering. With the acquiescence of the Supreme Court, states have drawn congressional districts that are die-hard Democratic or die-hard Republican. The only thing most Congressmen have to fear is loss of support from their own party. So largely they can demonstrate party loyalty without fear of consequence.

    The Framers intended to insulate the Senate from swings in the popular mood by 1) giving them longer terms and 2) making them selected by state governments. We amended the constitution to eliminate the second factor, making the Senate more responsive. Yet now through the magic of gerrymandering we’ve earned ourselves an unresponsive Congress. Ironic, no?

    Comment by nobody.really — December 24, 2007 @ 2:04 am | Reply

  3. Gerrymandering sucks. Maybe we should follow Heinlein’s lead and elect Congresscritters at-large (from within their state) – everyone who can get X verified voters to sign their “send me to Congress” petition, goes off to Washington.

    It couldn’t be worse than the trainwreck we have now.

    Comment by Robert — December 24, 2007 @ 2:15 am | Reply

  4. […] friend Brutus posts an inquiry into Congressional political malpractice. Of equal interest to me is something I just […]

    Pingback by Bob Hayes » Blog Archive » Three Generations of Dynastic Presidencies… — December 24, 2007 @ 4:24 am | Reply

  5. We could do what they did in Iowa and have an independent contractor draw the districts. I’ve heard it claimed that Iowa elections are some of the most seriously contested in the country. And this from a state that prides itself on “nice.” I wouldn’t be so quick to pick up Heinlein’s suggestions. It can always be worse.

    Comment by Dianne — December 24, 2007 @ 11:59 pm | Reply

  6. True. There could be snakes in here with us.

    Not sure how an independent contractor is going to do a better job, necessarily; what happens when the Demopublican majority in some state hires their “independent” buddies to gerrymander on their behalf?

    Comment by Robert — December 25, 2007 @ 1:05 am | Reply

  7. what happens when the Demopublican majority in some state hires their “independent” buddies to gerrymander on their behalf?

    Too late. Already happened.

    It’s a feature, not a bug.

    Comment by Off Colfax — December 25, 2007 @ 2:32 am | Reply

  8. what happens when the Demopublican majority in some state hires their “independent” buddies to gerrymander on their behalf?

    An obvious problem, I’m afraid. Probably only works in Iowa because there isn’t that much power in Iowa politics, except for the early presidential primary and Iowans actually like being fair to each other.

    This whole issue of gerrymandering strikes me as a sign of lack of confidence on the part of the Demopublicans, though. If you believe your position righteous and your candidate competent, shouldn’t you expect to win in a fair election and therefore not need to cheat?

    Off topic, happy Newton’s birthday, all.

    Comment by Dianne — December 25, 2007 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  9. While gerrymandering is a legitimate concern worthy of debate, it
    doesn’t have the hypnotic pull on my attention that Robert’s initial
    response to Brutus’ post does. Sorry, guys, for attempting to steer
    things back around. There’s just something underneath his comments
    that I don’t want to ignore. I’m also wondering how everyone else
    participating in this discussion feels about both Robert’s comments and
    the one I’ll make now in reply.

    I won’t comment on the (a) and (b) assertions that Robert makes in his
    first paragraph. You may be correct there. You sound fairly
    politically astute in general. What concerns me is that the things you
    see as characteristic of Republican politics seem to advocate as
    appropriate means to an end instead end with negotiation (at the point
    of a barrel, no less) rather than begin with it. Let’s just say that
    this guy Pyongyang (who may pose a bigger threat to us than any
    gerrymandering that’s done at this point, if it’s true that he’s
    developing and/or stockpiling weapons of mass destruction) is watching
    us. What is he seeing? He’s seeing our brand of “convincing” people
    to do what we want, which is basically shoving them around without
    “sucking up” to them, whatever that means. I suspect that’s an ego and
    arrogance issue of inflexibility on the part of the “sucker,” who’s too
    afraid of being played to truly be interested in any form of peace that
    means he’d have to relinquish any part of his agenda. He sees
    logrolling and the kind of dealmaking that indicts us as not always
    having the high moral ground of a supposedly benevolent true believer
    superpower. In essence, he sees us eat our own young.

    Once he sees all this stuff we do to each other in service to business
    as usual, he’s certain to be plagued by that same survival instinct we
    all share as animals that manifest itself as fight or flight. So he
    assesses the situation and realizes that there’s nowhere on earth for
    him to run from us. He then decides to hole up in his country, grab
    all the ammo he can get, and wait for the zombie true believes, who
    cannot be reasoned with and cannot stop their destructive crusade to
    get their way by any means necessary, to come for him.

    While I don’t understand the man’s politics and I don’t get too
    involved in politics in general, I do understand fear and the survival
    instinct. I also don’t believe that any governing party’s ultimate
    agenda is best served by activating these two impulses in those
    governed or in other governing bodies worldwide. History seems to back
    me that the result of aggression is backlash. Of course, I could be
    wrong, and maybe this time, force will work in a non-Skinnerian way
    that can produce a heathy, harmonious relationship with Pyongyang and
    anyone else we encounter.

    Comment by presentpeace — December 30, 2007 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

  10. We can’t have a healthy and harmonious relationship with a totalitarian communist government.

    Comment by Robert — December 30, 2007 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  11. We can’t have a healthy and harmonious relationship with a totalitarian communist government.

    What about China? You know, the place where all your stuff is made? The US government might occasionally make tsking noises at it, but I see no real evidence that the US-Chinese governmental relationship is anything other than harmonious. It’ll probably be healthy too as long as it stays away from the Chinese manufactured toothpaste. And totalitarian non-communist governments are clearly cool with “us”: Saudi Arabia, Pinochet era Chile, Shah era Iran, etc. It’s not whether the government is totalitarian or not that determines its status in Washington, but whether it does what the guys in DC believe is in US interests or not.

    Comment by Dianne — December 31, 2007 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  12. They aren’t totalitarian anymore. When they were, we couldn’t get along with them.

    Comment by Robert — December 31, 2007 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  13. They aren’t totalitarian anymore.

    I assume you mean China. I don’t know a lot about Chinese history, but for a non-totalitarian regime they produce a lot of asylum seekers. Are they really less totalitarian or are we just less afraid of communism these days?

    Comment by Dianne — December 31, 2007 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  14. They’re less totalitarian.

    Comment by Robert — December 31, 2007 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  15. If there is such a thing as a totalitarian scale, perhaps China and Saudi Arabia, to take two examples, are becoming less so, whereas the U.S. is becoming more so. But this is really a distraction from the criticisms levied against the Republican styles of politics, which you (Robert) appear to be explaining away with an appeal to mere utility. I’m still interested to see you respond to such criticisms in terms of Republican ideals, as I don’t think the simple fact of winning means nearly so much as how and what one wins.

    Comment by Brutus — December 31, 2007 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

  16. So what’s your criticism, Brutus? That Republicans are mutually loyal? That we’re composed of “true believers”?

    Your post seemed to amount to professing puzzlement that Republicans don’t believe what you believe. Well, no shit.

    Comment by Robert — January 1, 2008 @ 5:14 am | Reply

  17. My basic criticism is that Republicans are stalling, confounding, and obstructing legislative activity out of sheer partisanship. In short, they’re pissing in the well so no one else can use it. Comment 9 has more criticisms you haven’t addressed.

    Comment by Brutus — January 1, 2008 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  18. My basic criticism is that Republicans are stalling, confounding, and obstructing legislative activity out of sheer partisanship.


    Comment 9 is a wail that people act like people, instead of like the benevolent android aliens that commenter 9 thinks are all around us.

    Comment by Robert — January 1, 2008 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  19. I gather, then, that like the Republican political stratagems I find pointless and even injurious, Robert intends to “win” the debate by refusing to engage in meaningful discussion, pretending to not see faults as faults but merely as ways of overcoming opponents via distraction and impertinent reframing. If the business of government is not about serving the public good but rather about merely occupying office and forestalling others’ attempts at governance, then Republicans definitely “win.” But what have they won, exactly? There is an answer to that question, but I doubt we will get to it without unpacking things a bit.

    Comment by Brutus — January 1, 2008 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  20. If you want a non-partisan political system and government, we can have that. It will have very little power, and will be concerned with weights and measures and scraping up funding for the Coast Guard. It suits me just fine.

    We don’t have that kind of government. We have a money-vomiting everywhere government with more power than God on a methamphetamine binge. Governments like that are automatically and everywhere going to be partisan. Decrying that one of the participants in the game is actually playing the game as it is designed is futile – and when the other players do the same thing but just aren’t doing it as well, it comes across, not as a critique of the system or of the players, but of the fact that the people you like aren’t playing the game as well as the people you don’t like.

    We aren’t the ones who said hey, let’s have a giant government. That was your lot. And now you don’t have control of it, you’re unhappy with how it’s being used. Hard cheese.

    But nonetheless, have a happy New Year!

    Comment by Robert — January 1, 2008 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  21. Sheesh! Here’s what I want to know, Robert, and I guess that’s always part of what I’m asking to a certain extent: Why can’t we dismantle the system if it isn’t working and put up another one that just might, if we give it a chance? We act as if the system were created by something other than us human beings, something supernatural, and we abnegate our responsibility to change things for the better while devoting our attention and efforts to assisting or becoming that which is most odious and ineffective for both the short and long terms.

    How about dismantling this system and constructing one that has a few more options from which to choose than the two that have somehow formed a twisted union in their level of corruption and social irresponsibility? We can do it. Sure we can. If we have all this power to push and shove and connive and finagle to get what we want, then why can’t we do right by our people and our neighbors, especially if that means giving and receiving even more respect, and therefore, having longevity as a benevolent superpower? (Hey, wasn’t Rome once a superpower back in the day?)

    Must we give up those basic family values that even some crack mothers instill in their kids just so we can be on top of the world? What kid ever grows up wanting to be a monster? Monsters are feared, not respected. Fear is not the same as respect. Any street hood seeking cred can pick up a gun and get what he thinks is respect, what amounts to a knee-jerk survival response, when others back down. The thing is, they back down only to regroup later and use the same tactic to get what they want by taking the guy out. The cycle repeats and asserts itself in the public mindset as progress and might equals right, which is a stupid glitch in consciousness that sends us all marching to the gallows. It’s simply the cycle of greed, loss, and aggression in which we currently find ourselves looping endlessly.

    You’re telling us that’s all there is and that’s all there should be? You’re also telling us that you want to see more of the same and don’t wish to work for change? That’s what we hand down to our progeny? That’s the world we want them to have, the no-good world of the lesser of two evils? If that’s all there is, then I’m in the same camp as Maynard Keenan of the rock band Tool. “I’m praying for tidal waves. I want to watch it all go down.” Happy Same Old New Year! Fortunately, 2012 is just around the corner ….

    Comment by presentpeace — January 6, 2008 @ 12:05 am | Reply

  22. Why can’t we dismantle the system if it isn’t working and put up another one that just might, if we give it a chance?

    Because you (speaking broadly) haven’t been able to convince a critical mass of people that you (a) know what you’re talking about when you try to (b) “put up another [social system]” that can (c) can make things better.

    So the answer is that, in principal, we can. People try all the time. Communes, co-ops, religious communities, libertarian freeholds, Christian dominionist compounds, hippie art colonies – all of these are smaller or larger-scale attempts. But they haven’t “won”; in the marketplace of ideas, they attract some attention, but not enough to displace the other systems that have been evolved.

    Come up with something and pitch it. Then we can argue about why your new idea(s) are better or worse. “Why can’t we change???” is a sophomore’s lament.

    Comment by Robert — January 6, 2008 @ 12:27 am | Reply

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