Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

21 May 2012

The Gang’s New Capo

What makes a “gang”? First, you must have a dangerous group of mostly males. Then you need absolute and inflexible loyalty, enforced by rites of initiation. Finally, you need a tendency toward crime and violent extremism.

Isn’t that precisely what the so-called Grand Old Party has today?

The huge and well-publicized “gender gap” reflects its male dominance and orientation. It pledges absolute loyalty to no-tax guru Grover Norquist, no matter how great the national need. Its ruling philosophy is strict adherence to dogma—notwithstanding its demonstrable causation of our nation’s decline.

Today’s GOP has two gang-like rites of initiation. First, members must hate the President, no matter what he says or does, largely because of his race. But they must never admit that. On the contrary, they must protest their freedom from racism—and even accuse the President of their own sins—until they remind all of Shakespeare’s famous line, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

Second, members must raise their hands in ardent support of moronic positions. The most crucial is allowing no tax hikes, ever, whatever the national debt or national need. Remember all those candidates rejecting a ten-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases?

But no-tax-increases aren’t the only moronic ideological initiation rite. There are also: (1) increasing military spending despite pending national bankruptcy and long-unmet domestic needs; (2) discrediting evolution, which is the source of (ever-growing) bacterial antibiotic resistance and the foundation of all modern biology; (3) filling our nation’s homes, streets and even political arenas with small arms in the hands of ill-trained, trigger-happy and often demented gunmen; and (4) taking every chance to evince utter scorn for science and specialized knowledge, including climate change and the Fed’s quantitative economic governance.

As for tendencies toward violent extremism, who wants to bomb Iran, with or without Israel, the sooner the better? The GOP’s right wing. Who wants to start a trade war with the Chinese—out most important trading partners—because, supposedly, they have more to lose than we? Mitt Romney. Who wants to further enhance a military-industrial complex that charged into two unnecessary wars and made messes of both with excessive force and outmoded tactics, before the President brought terrorists to heel with ninjas and drones?

The GOP doesn’t confine its violent tendencies to foreign affairs. Who constantly trumpets the so-called “Second-Amendment solution”? The dangerous gun nuts who inhabit the GOP’s right wing. Who constantly rails against the President, inconsistently and counterfactually, as both a “socialist” and “fascist”? Who motivates—and probably ghost writes—the thousands of online comments that sound like nothing more than testosterone-fueled male teens spoiling for a fight? These daily rants, so reminiscent of the Brown Shirts, don’t come from Democrats or their PACs.

So what ties the GOP together? As I’ve noted before, it’s not a real political party. It’s a collection of extremists of various stripes. Name almost any extreme group, and it’s in the GOP’s legions: jingoists, America-firsters, immigrant bashers, racists, xenophobes, homophobes, extreme libertarians, government destroyers, anti-intellectuals, and Christian apocalyptics eagerly awaiting our planet’s willful self-destruction so they can enjoy their radioactive “rapture.”

Only two things hold this odd collection of nut cases together. The first is hatred of the President, based on little more than his dual race. The second is extreme selfishness—the notion that we’d all be better off in a state of nature, with no taxes, no government, and no inhibitions on our most primitive impulses.

At base, the “drown government in a bathtub” zombies want to return to the caves. No doubt they think, like most adolescent males, that they would be strong enough all by themselves to prosper, if not dominate. Male teenagers’ euphoric dreams have become the GOP’s governing philosophy.

Mitt Romney is an odd capo for this sort of gang. He’s no longer a teenager. He’s a mature, rich businessman with—as far as the paparazzi can tell—a model family. He’s well educated and can sound reasonable. He doesn’t screech like Adolf Hitler.

But he does have some earmarks of a gang leader. He’s capricious and willful. He changes his positions at will, with every political wind. Right now, he’s following the mob. But what will he do when and if he begins to lead it? Does anyone know?

Just like a real capo, Romney encourages and exploits the worst traits of his gang. He’s a know-it-all who claims expertise in every field—even things like science, about which he knows nothing. He’s rich, so he must be smart. Right?

But Romney’s own list of personal accomplishments is alarmingly spare. His chief claim to competence is having made enormous amounts of money for himself. In his entire, brief public life, he’s done only two things of note that the rest of us should care about. He helped make the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City a success. And as governor of Massachusetts, he helped enact and implement a version of so-called “Obamacare.”

But now he disclaims the second feat as a mistake. Otherwise, he couldn’t bash the President for doing the same thing on a much larger scale. So he’s left with the 2002 Winter Olympics. Isn’t that a bit thin for president of the United States?

Like Dubya before him, Romney has a gang leader’s public personality. He’s a jerk who makes “points” by “chopping” others. He just can’t resist glib one-liners that make absolutely no sense when analyzed. He’s a frat boy who would be our Frat Boy in Chief. That trait ingratiates him with his gang members, who are happy to haze the President.

Apparently they would be overjoyed to see our President crash and burn, even if they and our nation went down with him. We used to call that sort of thing treason. But no more.

Yet Mitt Romney is not really the problem. Everyone, including his most ardent enemies and most avid followers, expects him to “pivot” and become more reasonable once he gets the GOP nod. The problem is what will follow him after he fails, which he most certainly would do.

Germany’s Weimar Republic had six chancellors before Hitler’s rise. They, too, seemed decent and smart men. They tried to do their best. But their inept democratic governance in the face of a gathering storm led directly to Nazism and Hitler.

Weimar was the false calm before the storm. Romney would be, too.

I almost feel sorry for the many self-assured young bulls who say things like “November can’t come too soon.” What they mean, of course, is that they expect their lives to change magically and dramatically the day Mitt Romney is elected, even before he is sworn into office. Some of these hopefuls are the very same ones who childishly expected the same of Obama but turned on him when no miracles ensued.

Of course their wish for magical, instantaneous solutions to decades-old problems is even less realistic than it was for Obama as candidate. Obama is a far more skillful politician, with far more emotional intelligence and empathy than Romney. He has accomplished much more than a decade-old Winter Olympics, despite the most extreme scorched-earth opposition since our Civil War.

So no miracle of relief will come for GOP gangsters—even for the rich—if by some dark miracle Romney wins. With his four years as governor of Massachusetts, he would be the least experienced president in our history. He’s a self-important, self-centered, selfish, know-it-all lightweight with little diplomatic skill. Domestic gridlock would increase dramatically as he clashed repeatedly with Democrats and their durable Senate majority, as well as with every foreign country—fried or rival—whose national interests don’t precisely match ours. (And Democrats don’t even need a majority to cause gridlock. All they need is forty votes. During the last three years they learned obstruction from the masters.)

So what will these testosterone-fueled Obama-haters do when their chosen champion proves far more inept than the President and accomplishes nothing? Will they accept the blame they deserve for their stupidity, impatience and lack of realism? Will they recognize that switching horses in the middle of a stream in full spring flood is not a good idea?

Unlikely: not in character. They will get more extreme, more self-assured, and more violent. And people like Rush, Glenn, and Sarah will egg them on, not so much willfully to destroy our country, but because that’s how they made their own money: riling up the mob regardless of consequences.

Pity the rank-and-file gangsters if you please. They aren’t smart or realistic enough to succeed in our complex, interdependent, twenty-first-century world. They are the ones who are sure to be left behind, far more quickly under Romney than Obama.

But fear them, too. It’s not just their own ignorance, intransigence and incompetence that will bring us down. It’s what might come after they got their foolish wish, our national decline had steepened for four or eight years, and millions more of them began to feel real economic pain. Then we Yanks might begin to understand what brought Adolf Hitler to power, in a nation that mere decades before had stood at the pinnacle of human achievement.

The most dangerous thing about Mitt Romney is not that he’s an inexperienced blank slate. It’s not that, after a decade of flip-flops, lies and prevarications, we have no idea what he would actually do in office. It’s not that he lies as easily as Bill Clinton, but much more often.

It’s his gang, stupid. We haven’t seen a major political party like the current GOP on our soil since the Civil War pro-slavery Democrats. And paradoxically, the very same strain of virulent racists that started the Civil War by seceding from our Union now drives the “party of Lincoln.”

We are supposed to believe that this mild-mannered ex-investment banker (of the private-equity subspecies), will stabilize our economy and create jobs for the working person. We are supposed to trust that, with only four years of elected political experience under his belt, he will tame and civilize the like of Rush, Glenn, Sarah and their followers, as well as the two rabid Ricks (Perry and Santorum). We are supposed to believe that he can mold his willfully ignorant, fundamentalist, gun-toting rabble into a force that will solve our gravest national problems, which have festered for an average of 17.5 years.

We are supposed to trust that a man whose “solution” to every financial crisis is to give private bankers yet more power will resolve the still-festering consequences of the 2008 meltdown and save Greece, Spain, France and the EU. We are supposed to credit the man who opposed (and still opposes!) the rescue of our auto industry and its millions of jobs with secret means of restoring employment and resurrecting manufacturing here at home. (Remember Richard Nixon’s secret plan for peace with honor in Vietnam?)

We are supposed to believe that a man whose entire family has never served in uniform, who has never held any position remotely related to foreign or trade policy, and whose only experience with foreign languages or cultures was in France will keep us safe and prosperous in a globalized economy increasingly centered on Asia. And we are supposed to think that a man who wants to expand our private health-care insurance system—the most expensive in the world because its risk pools are too small even to qualify as “insurance”—will solve our health-care crisis.

In other words, we are supposed to believe that the man who professes to follow every policy that got us into this mess will get us out. And we’re supposed to trust a man whose idea of “leadership” is to follow the most ignorant rabble in postwar history—the ones who cried, “Get your government hands off my Medicare!”

No, our most dangerous course is not to stick with our centrist, middle-of-the-road, ever-reasonable President, who tries to find common ground with the very worst. Our most dangerous course is the “leadership” of the man who has won his nomination by following the very worst, pandering to their most nonsensical rantings, and whose sole notable accomplishment in his entire life has been to make himself rich.

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  • At Tue May 22, 10:37:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,

    Here in Ohio, I'm somewhat surpized at the amount of Obama and Romney political ads already running each day here! It by far exceeds anything I have ever seen before. As you know my family watches very little TV but the few minutes I try to catch a general feel for the news each morning has for several weeks been filled with back to back Obamba, Romney, Senator Sherrod Brown (D), Josh Mandel(R) for US senate....etc, etc, each morning!!!! So much money is being spent in Ohio I don't think much more money could be spent on poltical commercials.

    Even so, as an Obama supporter I think one of the best for his cause is this:


    However what really gets my nerve up is Josh Mandel for US senate!!!


    He is a total WORM! He was just elected to the Ohio State Treasure and after a few months on the job and after appointing all his friends to high/excessive salaries in Ohio govt. he is now running for US Senate based merely on the fact that he was a marine. Really? His ads all say as a in effect he "tested US Marine Josh will never lie to you, always do what is right". Marines are men of honor...or words to that effect. Marines this, marines that.... As a former Naval officer that has always worked hard, tried to educate myself and think for myself... I am totally sickened to see Josh try to say he is more honest and patriotic then very well educated Sherrod Brown. Josh is only gifted at creating 20 second (or maybe it is 10 second sound bites) to create the illusion that his is worth voting for simply becuase he was a "marine" for how long??? 2 or 4 years????

    Jay, I know your rule is to "keep your blog civil" so please edit my comments or delete them as necessary, but I do consider Josh Mandel a "worm".

    Best, R.H.

  • At Tue May 29, 11:30:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Maqx said…

    I agree with this analysis spot on but the question that gnaws at me day and night is how to get this across to those who don't want to see this. Repub, Indies or Dems.

    The Repubs I don't worry much about because they are lost already.

    The Dems that now have "reservations" about Obama since he decided to try to be pragmatic and govern for all.

    The Indies that change their minds at any change in the winds.

    My one effective rebuttal against Romney's "business" chops is comparing PE to Equity by Acquisition.

    I have a background in finance and I can assure most people that Romney's motives in PE were NOT egalitarian for the workers of those companies. It was mainly about leveraging (using the tax shelters of debt) for the gain of the new management. If BAiN was serious about growing companies and creating jobs, they would have been a Venture Capital company.

    If you want to see REAL Equity ownership in action, look to the example of Warren Buffet and his team. They buy companies to build, grow and hold them. This creates wins for everyone.

  • At Sat Jun 02, 02:48:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Maxq,

    Thanks for your comment.

    It seems obvious that Romney, in his private-equity role as founder and CEO of Bain Capital, was working for private shareholders, not employees or the larger society. But Fox and current popular memes have portrayed “business” and business “leadership” as some sort of pixie dust that magically makes anything and everything better for everyone. It’s fuzzy thinking at its most expansive.

    If people really understood what private-equity investment bankers (which is what Romney was) do, they might have second thoughts about his qualifications for president. It appalls me that people as smart and educated as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former President Bill Clinton seem not to have a clue. But then, business was never their forte.

    The thing the Obama campaign should continually emphasize is that Romney and Bain Capital were nominally and actually working for management and ownership of the companies they “saved.” If voters want a president who will work for the “owners” and “management” of our country, that’s for whom they should vote.

    Europeans (much maligned these days) had a good word for such folk. They called them an “aristocracy.”

    Once upon a time, we tried to outlaw an aristocracy in our Constitution. Article I, Section 9, of our Constitution purports to outlaw titles of nobility. But now the GOP wants to restore the aristocracy without the titles.

    I hope “we, the people” can see that a skunk without the name smells just as sour.



  • At Sat Jun 02, 03:32:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear R.H.,

    Thanks for your comment. It illustrates a big problem with our democracy.

    Campaigns these days, whether for president or senator, have degenerated into ad hominem mudslinging contests. They are no longer about policy; they are about personality. The prime example is the 2008 presidential campiagn, when the GOP had nothing to offer in policy and so went after the President personally.

    What a person was is less relevant to what he will do in office than what he has done and what policies he proposes. But campaigns all look backward, rather than forward.

    No job interview for any important position would do the same. Of course employment history is relevant. But smart hirers ask questions about a candidate’s experience and approaches to solving problems. Some high-tech companies, like Google, Apple and Microsoft, even ask candidates to solve real problems, on the fly, in job interviews.

    As I’ve noted (1 and 2), I wish we could do that with our political candidates. But the consultants and media appear to have decided that bashing the other guy and destroying his character is the best way to get elected. And they seem to have some data to back up their claims.

    So voters mostly have to guess at what a candidate would actually do in office. The most diligent among them can peruse candidates’ websites, which are maintained by underlings. They best we educated voters can do is look for major speeches and read or watch them on line.

    That’s what I did with Obama’s 2007 speech on terrorism. It impressed me as the only serious take on a significant problem. After reading it, I predicted/hoped that Obama would get bin Laden in his first term. He did, and I was not suprised.

    Staying informed matters. Succumbing to mudslinging by either side can make you part of the problem. So I never watch TV ads, except when they become fodder for analysis by major news sources or Jon Stewart.

    You wouldn’t buy a car based on a TV ad, would you? So why “buy” a president or senator, whose acts in office might determine not just your future, but your family’s as well?




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