There is a term for a family that pretends away terrible and self-destructive behavior, and it's not "healthy." It's time to confront some hard truths about our own, even if we often agree with them, especially if we do.
The Right's political chattering class is exactly as useless as that on the Left and the ... well, the rest of the Left.
I need to clarify what I mean by "useless." I'm sure they're largely
capable of tying their own shoes, and most of them can tie their
one-to-two children's shoes quite well. I'm reasonably positive they can
operate microwaves without emptying the utensil basket from the
dishwasher inside first. Many of them show fluency with English
somewhere between recent monolingual arrivals from Mongolia and people
who graduated with journalism degrees; some are even functionally
literate. At least a quarter have read the Constitution in toto.
Some have met elected officials in a situation other than a very, very
large dinner party, and a handful have met a range of successful and
unsuccessful politicians during the candidate stage.
because most political coverage is not hard, as the subject is not hard,
they are capable of writing more-or-less sensical things about politics
with some regularity. In the sense that one uses their commentary to
inform oneself about whether continued quantitative easing is a good
idea or bad idea (without getting into the channels by which the
liquidity enters the system), whether certain kinds of stem cell
research are good or bad (without discussing at length the science that
goes into this), and whether Harry Reid is a vicious partisan, they are
In specialized situations, that is, when politics becomes hard, they are basically useless.
is because they are essentially English or journalism or political
science or sociology or psychology or some equally useless kind of major
who have never worked a political campaign, run a business, done hard
policy in an elected office, handled any sort of negotiations more
complicated than demanding a raise from their parents, or indeed, had
life experience of any significant sort other than bill-paying on
compensation not quite as low as they'd have you believe.
If that sounds like Barack Obama's resume, you said it, not I.
for them and for us, right now, national politics is hard because there
are no clear lines.
To frame this from a certain perspective:
We have been in a situation in which the House was refusing to fund the
government because the majority has decided not to without certain
conditions; a majority in the Senate wouldn't agree to any spending plan
put forward by the House unless they meet yet more conditions; the White
House wouldn't agree to anything unless its own conditions (similar to but
not identical to the Senate's conditions) are met; and none of these
groups have (quite) yet found a compromise.
So the object of these events is the funding of the government. It is the largest part of the leverage
each side has with the other (because each side is, in the aggregate,
seeing a negative reaction from the voters). However, what each side is
negotiating over is not the government's re-opening, but rather over the terms
on which the government will-reopen (or more accurately, the 17% of the
government plus property under the control of the Park Service will
It is of course more complicated than that.
Boehner was expected by his caucus to take a hard stand with a Senate
Majority Leader who hates Boehner's caucus (and Boehner) and who does
not want to negotiate and a President who hates Boehner's caucus (and
Boehner) and who does not want to negotiate, while also trying to pacify
or at least serve his caucus (who mistrust him and almost tossed him
from his position earlier this year), while in turn not wanting to take a
hard stand at all, but rather preferring to pretend to take a hard
stand in an impossible position so he could yield quickly and claim the
stakes were too high.
Basically, he was a man in an impossible position
from which he cannot easily escape and who wanted nothing to do with
this fight at all, yet has no choice but to be in it.
is not the only actor on his side. He has a caucus of over two hundred
individual Congressmen who do not particularly care about generic
ballots, and indeed, really only care about the ones with their names on
it. A huge portion came into office in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012;
which is to say, they either swam against Democratic tides or came in
response to anger at Democrats in general and Obamacare in particular.
Many if not most of them either believe they were sent to defeat
Obamacare, believe they will be primaried out of office if they don't
make the attempt, or both.
Now, you'll note that I did not mention
Ted Cruz here. That is because Ted Cruz has very little to do with this
except in the sense that he is very popular with the people who could
toss them in primaries.
You'll also note that I did not say these
men and women are idiots, though many of them are. That's because their
intelligence is not actually at issue in the way national pundits
assume, because national pundits come from a group of people who are not
only likely to have an IQ slightly higher than 100, but they assume
everyone outside of their class and Nobel laureates is kinda stupid.
What matters is whether these men and women have an instinct for
political survival, and by and large, the evidence suggests they do.
this complicated morass of conflicting interests and negotiating
figures, someone with experience closing hard deals, mediating or
negotiating between principals who hate each other and with conflicting
desires, or indeed, someone who did something more complicated than
writing a really kick-ass paper on political choice theory after college
can understand that statements like "the Republicans are being stupid"
or "the GOP is being stubborn" or "this is all Ted Cruz's fault" or even
"Boehner is making the best of a bad situation" are remarkably
simplistic and, let us not thread the needle too carefully, dumb.
me take an easy example here: Ross Douthat. (An easier example would be Conor Friedersdorf, but it's not fair to single out people suffering from actual mental retardation.) Not to pick on him; Douthat
is an incredibly sharp fellow, and I don't say this just because he
once worked somewhere besides the New York Times. But he rather clearly never worked anywhere in which negotiations happen before, because, as we see here, he apparently believes that Boehner agreeing to re-open the government would be a concession in terms by itself.
Joseph Weisenthal. The Left is allowed to be stupid. They and their
fellow-travelers in the media excuse each other all the time, so when
they say dumb things, they get away with it. We have to be smart, or at
least not stupid.)
Now, as I've laid out above, this is exactly
wrong. By Douthat's reasoning, the plaintiff mediating in a lawsuit is
conceding on the lawsuit itself, when really, he's conceding on how much
money he will accept and the terms of the release in order to dismiss
The concession will be over what terms Boehner
accepts and includes in a spending bill (and in turn that his caucus
accepts). Boehner is absolutely horrible at this sort of thing, as the
2011 debt ceiling showed, and as this year's tax hike also showed, and
only part of his being awful at it is because he contrives to place
himself in situations where he will lose by design.
It is the terms
Boehner extracted during the debt ceiling fight in 2011 that so rankled
his caucus, not the fact that he agreed to extend the debt ceiling per se. (Assuredly, some of his caucus were upset about that, but they're a minority of a minority and not wholly relevant here.) The terms
he accepted -- and that his leadership team backed -- are part of why
his caucus (and Ted Cruz!) and more importantly, his caucus's primary
voters, don't trust him to make hard decisions and to take hard stands.
This is because the terms were themselves concessions that satisfied virtually no one in his caucus.
It's why it's entirely reasonable to expect Boehner to try to sell something weak that by its nature would be a concession in terms
to his caucus as the condition for funding the 17 percent of the
government currently not technically funded. (This is, apparently, what
Again, I'm not picking on Douthat. He really is a very
bright and persuasive fellow, and he has a knack for constructing
conservative arguments in a way that is very hard for men and women of
good faith to treat as ridiculous regardless of their place in the
political spectrum. His last few years of work in particular have been
But he, and so many others like him, walked into
punditry without understanding from their own life experience how hard
things in human interaction work. This means they're very, very good (or
sometimes terrible or mediocre) at making the philosophical argument
for this policy or that policy; but they don't understand what really
motivates most political actors, they don't understand so much of what
those actors do, and so they fall back on easy, cheap, and ultimately
stupid simplifications that do a disservice to their readership.
this means is that right-of-center readers (and people who read
right-of-center writers to understand the motivations and cross-currents
in the conservative movement and Republican party) are being profoundly
The problem is that most of the people with life
experience to explain these things have other things to do with their
lives. Hell, this took two billable hours from my day, and I've only
done the working-a-campaign part briefly and I do the
negotiating-with-people-who-hate part every day of my life. The group of
people who have all of the qualifications, or most, needed to do this
have better things to do with their lives.
So here's my quick and
easy solution: Every, single pundit on the right who draws a paycheck
for these things needs to actually get some political experience first.
Lefties get to do it, you should too. A state-level campaign is fine,
but really, anything will do. Try to spend a term or so in office with
real demands and real negotiations and real fights.
Then come out and tell us how the GOP is being stupid. You'll be right both on the substance, and on the particulars.