Wednesday, December 29, 2010

They're Not Just Stupid and They're Not Just Evil, Ian

First of all, thanks for taking the time to read this analysis, Ian, it's much appreciated.

Second, I apologize in advance for taking so much of your time with this novella-sized response below, but it's important that I'm clear, and so I hope that you read all of it, and follow the links that I provide to source my claims. Sometimes it just has to be this long, I'm sorry.

So, you ask "what makes you think they don't desire high unemployment rates?", and that's a question I'd love to answer.

But before I do that, let me address your sense that the sort of "Third Way vs Conservative, Center vs Right" stuff I'm asking folks to consider is basically a meaningless taxonomic exercise ("how many angels dance on pins").

As I'm sure you're well aware, Ian, we movement liberals are getting our asses kicked down here, politically speaking.

Our liberal Democrat representatives --the ones who aren't merely machine pols-- seem to be in a miserable state, unable to withstand virtually any pressure applied to them, or to effectively respond to messaging directed against them. And, when I say they seem incompetent at resisting "pressure" or "messaging," I mean that it looks like they're the Polish cavalry up against the Wehrmacht of the establishment political press corps, Democratic leadership and the White House. The Polish Army at least knew that they were being blitzed; liberal Democrats don't even seem to know that there's a campaign being waged against them. Not that I'm a huge fan of Dennis Kucinich, but when he votes for the PPACA because, as he says ( "I had a higher responsibility to my constituents, to the nation, to my president and his presidency," that's a big indication of how fucked we are. This guy, the supposed paragon of liberal "purity" wouldn't say "My president" about Bush, but he'll say that about the Larry Summers-appointing, Petraeus-lionizing, "government can't create jobs"-proclaiming, New Democrat Obama, and that's a huge problem for us --and America.

But there's a bigger problem, Ian, even bigger than the one you pointed to in your excellent post from July of this year (, entitled "Netroots Schizo," in which you described two camps of attendees at this year's Netroots Nation, one being a disparate faction of non-Obama loyalists (in which you and I fall), and the other being:

"the folks who would characterize themselves, in general, as hard nosed pragmatists and “realists”. These range from the “Obama is the greatest liberal president since FDR” types, who think that the Obama is just wonderful and those progressives and liberals who don’t agree are simply delusional to those who feel that a lot of what he’s done has been watered down pap in general but that it’s certainly better than nothing and that those who are disappointed are unrealistic idealists who simply don’t understand the constraints Obama and Congressional Democrats are working under.

The second side is angry at what they parody as fairy tale thinking and deeply unrealistic. “Obama couldn’t fix everything, but he’s better than the Republicans will be if they get back in power” is their mantra, ranging from “really, he’s wonderful and you’re insane for thinking otherwise” to “well, yes he sucks but he sucks less than what the Republicans will do when they get in power.” Either way, they see the attacks from what they consider the “purists” as deeply damaging. Democrats may or may not be a ton better than Republicans, but either way, they are better, and there is a moral case to be made for sucking it up one more time and working hard to elect, as the old progressive battle cry runs, “better Democrats”. This is a two party state, with those parties having an unbreakable oligopoly on power. Dissing Democrats just helps the even worse party win, at which point they will do even worse things. So get over your problems, whether they are with economic policy or Obama’s continued shredding of fundamental civil liberties like Habeas Corpus, jump back into the trenches with your bowie knife or bayonet and fight for Democrats, not against them because by constantly bad mouthing Dems all you do is make it more likely that Republicans will win, and if they win, well, that will be baaaaddddd. Very, very baaaaaddddd."

That bigger problem is that the latter group you've identified, the ones who hold the opinions with which you and I disagree, actually represent the vast majority (79%) of those who self-identify to Gallup as liberals (, down in the tax deal December from November's obscenely high 88% approval amongst liberals.

That situation is what allows Progressive Policy Institute's (formerly the DLC's) Ed Kilgore to fatuously proclaim ( in "Agony of the Liberals Versus Obama's Liberal Approval Ratings"

"Sure, you can find elite opinion on the Left that's been souring on Obama steadily as we head towards the midterm elections. But it's a useful reality check to note that when it comes to actual voting Americans of the liberal persuasion, if there's any "agony" over Obama, it is mostly derived from anger at the president's opponents."

That's the Third Way ideologue Kilgore exulting over the fact that the very rhetorical position from which movement liberals would prefer to argue, i.e. representing popular small-d democratic reform against neo-liberal elite consensus, has been effectively denied to us. The message that Obama's opponents from the left are "elites" is also in play, which is another triumph for the New Democrats, one of which they probably had to have been aware when they chose Obama to be their representative: "elites" is code for "white limousine liberals whose pseudo-intellectual disaffection masks unreconstructed racism." There's no shortage of those willing to employ arguments like those found in Tim Wise's Daily Kos diary "With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left" (,-Who-Needs-Glenn-Beck-Racism-and-White-Privilege-on-the-Liberal-Left) for partisan ends:

"Class-Based Reductionism on the Left

Perhaps the most common way in which folks on the left sometimes perpetuate racism is by a vulgar form of class reductionism, in which they advance the notion that racism is a secondary issue to the class system, and that what leftists and radicals should be doing is spending more time focusing on the fight for dramatic and transformative economic change (whether reformist or revolutionary), rather than engaging in what they derisively term "identity politics." The problem, say these voices, are corporations, the rich, the elite, etc., and to get sidetracked into a discussion of white supremacy is to ignore this fact and weaken the movement for radical change."

Even worse, the folks in that latter category you identify are essentially echoing what those with all the messaging power of the establishment are repeating every single day. Very few people exposed to politics hear anything other than this message. The "rank n' file", therefore are virtually indistinguishable in this regard from those with the biggest, most repetitive, most strategic and most expensive megaphones, the New Democrats'. Liberal Democratic voters by a nearly 8 in 10 majority, believe a fundamental lie they're told about Obama and the Democrats who hold all of the Party cards in the capital: he's a "progressive" like them.

If you were to speak to fellow movement liberals in the States about Obama and the Democrats, and you told them that Obama was indistinguishable from Bush on the things that matter, you would receive one of a number of fact-based arguments in return, any of which seem intuitively true, correspond highly with received common knowledge, and are therefore understandable to and repeatable by even the least informed. Obama did appoint Sotomayor, Bush appointed Constitution-In-Exilist "Sc-alito." Obama did repeal DADT, Bush would never have signed that law. Bush did invade Iraq, Obama would not have --even if we can reasonably argue that he probably would have voted for both AUMFs, had he been in the Senate at the time. The Democrats did pass "Health Care Reform," the Republicans unanimously opposed it. The Democrats did pass a nominally Keynesian "stimulus package," the Republicans unanimously opposed it. The modern GOP is still the party of the Southern Strategy, and the Democratic President of the United States is Barack Hussein Obama. Over and over again, any liberal Democrat in this country with even a cursory understanding of current politics will mostly likely make the case that the policies of the Democrats are vastly different than the policies of the Republicans. Most Liberal Democrats know who Sarah Palin is, and they hate her worse than anything. Many Liberal Democrats know who Ralph Nader is, and they hate him, too. They've won.

Like I said, we're getting our asses kicked down here, Ian.

Your arguments, however useful in many contexts, seem to be of questionable practical value in addressing this ass-kicking, especially because the latter folks you wrote about have heard them a million times, can therefore predict them, and some have already spent decent money strategizing and implementing powerful messaging to counteract and discredit your position. They rarely hear the kind of arguments I am advancing, and tend not to understand them when they do. They will be slow to react to this new kind of rhetoric from movement liberals, and when they do, it will probably be ineffective and predictable.

The previously-mentioned DLC swell Ed Kilgore warned his New Democrat Network counterparts last year in The New Republic piece “Taking Ideological Differences Seriously” ( that the center's strategy may have revealed an ideology-based weakness :

“on a widening range of issues, Obama’s critics to the right say he’s engineering a government takeover of the private sector, while his critics to the left accuse him of promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. They can’t both be right, of course, and these critics would take the country in completely different directions if given a chance. But the tactical convergence is there if they choose to pursue it.

For those of us whose primary interest is progressive unity and political success for the Democratic Party, it’s very tempting to downplay or even ignore this potential fault-line and the left-right convergence it makes possible. “

What may seem like a Scholastic theological argument about the angelic capacity of pinheads to you is an attempt to address that fundamental lie, by exposing the vast ideological differences between movement liberals and Third Way Democrats, instead of continuing to argue the policy regime similarities between Obama and establishment conservatives. Movement liberals' failure to make that case have allowed New Democrats "whose primary interest is progressive unity and political success for the Democratic Party" victory after victory. Maybe it's time for us to do something about that.

They will do and say things in accordance with certain ideological tendencies. I argue that it is possible to predict what they will do and say, and so it is possible to wage successful political war against them, which is what I’m advocating, since they are currently waging successful political war against us. Because of their victories against movement liberalism, we currently have no political power to stop them from ruining peoples’ lives, and the country’s future.

It's not that I'm wrong and misguided about the donor class and its interests, Ian, it's that I'm correct on the facts about what the Third Way is and who New Democrats are, and I'm trying to do something different with those facts than you are.

Help me out, man. It might work --maybe, probably not in time, but who knows? It's my country we're talking about, and because I truly love my country, I have to ask for you to at least honestly consider that, in addition to being venal, stupid, morally corrupt, other-directed, coward politicians, they might also be in the grip of another horrendously wrong ideology. I'm not asking you to deny what you know, I'm asking you to consider that this explanation may fit at certain times, and therefore it may help our understanding --so that we can win, one of these days.

Finally, to answer your question, "what makes you think they don't desire high unemployment rates," I would point out two things

1. when Third Way ideologues believe they aren't speaking to a mass audience, they're far more honest about what they actually think about anything, including unemployment

2. based on my reading of what position papers these people put out year after year, it's not that they desire high unemployment, it's that they don't care as much about it as neo-New Dealers do

You're absolutely right about their aversion to wage rate increases, that's absolutely true, although less "stuck" wages is how they'd put it. Their occasional advocacy of the repeal of Davis-Bacon, the New Deal-era prevailing wage laws (here's PPI circa 2002 blaming Davis-Bacon for schools not being built is evidence of that.

But they do consider themselves "New Keynesians," and, to the extent that Third Way policy people find high unemployment to be an unacceptably unproductive use of human capital, they don't seem to favor Neo-Classical attempts to get back to an employment equilibrium via wage decrease. They adhere to this brand of economics-speak they call "The New Growth Economics," which posits that high growth is more important than high unemployment rates, as Robert Atkinson lays out here in "The New Growth Economics: How to Boost Living Standards through Technology, Skills, Innovation, and Competition" circa 2001 (

"As the Progressive Policy Institute has articulated in its New Economy Index, the New Economy is more global, more knowledge-driven, more entrepreneurial and dynamic, and driven by digital technologies. In this New Economy, neither Keynesianism nor supply-side economics provide the right answers because today's economy is fundamentally different than the one of even 15 years ago. The Clinton Administration moved toward a new conception of economic policy. It's time to build upon that and fully embrace growth economics

This means placing the focus of economic policy squarely on boosting per-capita incomes, and that means focusing on productivity. As Paul Romer states, "the most important economic policy question facing the advanced countries of the world is how to increase the trend rate of growth of output per capita."

It may seem obvious that productivity growth should be the object of our economic policies, but strikingly, both liberal and conservative economic doctrines want to take a shortcut to growth, focusing not on productivity but on redistribution. Conservatives want to raise after-tax income by cutting taxes -- taking from public expenditures to boost private incomes. Liberals want to tax the rich more, dramatically increase the minimum wage, and spend much of the surplus to funnel the proceeds to programs to benefit "working families." Neither approach recognizes that the only long-term answer to improving the economic well-being of Americans is to focus on productivity.

In addition, neither liberals nor conservatives embrace fiscal discipline. Conservatives would see the surplus go to tax cuts, not paying off the debt. Some have even recently begun preaching supply-side Keynesianism, arguing that large tax cuts are needed to spur consumer demand. Many liberals continue to believe that because government spending boosts consumer demand it leads to more jobs and in turn higher wages (but lower profits or higher inflation since higher wages would have to result from increased bargaining power by workers, not higher productivity). As a result, they attacked efforts by the Clinton administration to pay off the debt, calling it Calvin Coolidge economics. Yet, with full employment, cranking up large new spending programs or tax cuts would only produce inflation and efforts by the Federal Reserve to counteract the stimulative effect.

Growth economics also challenges the mistaken notion of natural limits to growth. Until last year, most economists postulated that the economy could not grow faster than 2 percent to 2.5 percent per year without sparking inflation. Growth economics recognizes that the economy can grow much faster without inflation, as long as productivity grows as fast. In fact, the new administration should set a goal to double living standards for American workers within 30 years. This would require maintaining an annual productivity growth rate of 2.5 percent -- even less than the 2.7 percent productivity growth rate the country has seen since 1996.

Embracing growth economics does not mean ignoring past economic policy goals, such as job creation and inflation control. While these still matter, they are no longer central. The information technology revolution, as well as a highly competent Federal Reserve policy, has led to the longest expansion in economic history. Because globalization, increased market competition, and the technology revolution have reduced the threat of inflation, the Federal Reserve does not need to induce anti-inflationary recessions as much as it used to."

Listen, I'm truly sorry to have to make you read through that dreck, Ian, but that's the policy that these people advocate, when they're so certain that nobody in the public is listening that they can afford to admit that the Fed actually creates recessions to inhibit inflation, something that virtually no politician will ever say (and if they do, they'll be ignored by the political press corps).

They don't desire unemployment as a means to keep wages low to enrich their donors, they desire high productivity as a means to enrich their donors, which they then believe will also enrich the nation. While they don't advocate abandoning "past economic policy goals, such as job creation," they don't ultimately believe the government should knock itself out addressing them, since, while policies that put large amounts of people back to work "still matter, they are no longer central."

This is what they say:

"Under the old economic policy model, it was not clear that there was a role for government in economic policy beyond managing the business cycle and protecting intellectual property rights. Growth economics makes it clear that government policies can boost long-term income growth. It recognizes the conservative insight that free markets, competition, and innovation boost growth. But it also recognizes the liberal insight that government investments, particularly in science, technology, education, and skills, can provide a foundation upon which productivity growth depends. And finally, growth economics recognizes that fiscal discipline underlies all of this."

That's austerity speaking, in February, 2001, but not the market fundamentalist variety, not the GOP variety, and certainly not the popular conservative variety.

That's the Third Way. They've been looking for an opportunity like this economic crisis we have in the States for years. It's what they do. They're better than us at this.

And having read reams and reams of this kind of stuff, positions and strategies that orgs like PPI have been putting out repetitively for the past sixteen years, and then having watched the Obama Administration and New Democrats in Congress pass as much of it as they possibly could (given conservative opposition), I think they're telling the truth in these policy papers, Ian. I started reading their "Health Care Reform" proposals from over the past ten years during the Democratic primaries, and then I watched those awful policies actually become law two years later --and watched liberal Democrats vote and ultimately clap louder for the DLC's premier think tank's flagship policy.

That's why I don't think they desire high unemployment, despite the obvious logic of their donor class benefiting. It's not high enough growth policy for these people. It's by definition unproductive, under-utilized capacity, which their economists seem to abhor, although (laughably) they tend to view unemployment in the context of the current crisis as structural, and therefore out of the bounds of counter-cyclical policy, anyway. In this way, much like the way Project for a New American Century had the recent opportunity to prove they are elite idiots and ideologues, they're wrong as wrong can be, but will never admit it.

I hope that answers the question of why I think the way that I do at least somewhat satisfactorily, Ian, thanks so much for reading and considering all of this.

Maybe someday we'll get a chance to speak together about this on Jay Ackroyd's "Virtually Speaking." I've listened to you on that program, and have tried to honestly paraphrase your arguments when Marcy Wheeler and I were panelists this December (here's the relevant segment of my appearance on YouTube: ).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Larry Summers Really a Conservative?

Is Larry Summers Really a Conservative?

(At Swampland, Michael Scherer posts the wisdom of Larry Summers in the form of his exit address to the Economic Policy Institute, the transcript of which is well worth reading in full, and then after which the question is equally worth answering: Is Larry Summers a conservative or a liberal...Or is he something else? My commentary response to Scherer's applause follows.)

Michael Scherer: mention whatsoever of Larry Summers' disastrous advice with respect to dismantling New Deal banking industry regulations and deregulating credit derivatives ten years ago?


Isn't this sort of like having a person who, while in positions of power in government, strongly advocated (and ultimately accomplished) an invasion of Iraq --twice-- opine on today's foreign policy?

Why didn't you feel compelled, as a journalist, to mention Summers' role in the past decade's financial disaster, Michael Scherer? I assume you are aware of it...

As such, one could leave the criticism right there, but this

"He is approvingly quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan's argument that increased government involvement in the health care sector is a risky idea."

really can't go without some kind of remedial examination --it just can't.

If you take Summers at his word, it is just incredible for its depth of denial.

Summers makes the fatuous pronouncement:

"every five years the share of GDP devoted to government spending on health care goes up by 1 percentage point"

, and one really wonders what kind of ideological hoops the guy has to jump through in order to leave the increases in private sector health care spending out of that analysis.

The thing that's particularly dishonest about Summers' orthodoxy is that he knows these data exist:

CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services), US Department of Health and Human Services

Projected National Health Expenditure, 2009-2019:

* Growth in NHE is expected to increase 5.7 percent in 2009 and average 6.1 percent per year over the projection period (2009-2019).

* The health share of GDP is projected to reach 17.3 percent in 2009 and 19.3 percent by 2019.

* Medicare spending is projected to grow 8.1% in 2009 and average 6.9% per year over the projection period.

* Medicaid spending is projected to grow 9.9% in 2009 and average 7.9% per year over the projection period.

* Private spending is projected to grow 3.0% in 2009 and average 5.2% per year over the projection period.

Summers is apparently just incapable of honesty when it comes to analysis that contradicts his favorite theories.

What other explanation is there for omitting the fact that it isn't only public spending on health care that will be wildly out of control over the next 10 years, but private health care prices that will outpace inflation, as well?

And this descent into political hackery:

This is why the recent tax agreement concluded between the President and congressional leaders is so important. It averts what could have been a serious collapse in purchasing power and adds far more fiscal support than most observers thought politically possible through:

• An extension of unemployment insurance,

• A payroll tax holiday,

• Refundable tax credits and business expensing.

is equally disgusting, equally par for the course with Summers.

It's almost unimaginable, the effrontery with which this individual, so recently discredited by a "serious collapse" of far greater significance which they personally helped to bring about eleven years ago, speaks to the "necessity" of deal-making which serves to increase inherited wealth and privilege in the same breath as he effuses about the "middle class."

Does he really believe that serious people will fail to notice that he continues his jihad against New Deal policies that place reasonable restraints on the activities of the financier class ("We need non-traditional approaches.") at the same time as he venerates the "institutions" that he empowered to catastrophically fail the country?

His definition of American greatness as the product of its virtuous institutions --not its people-- pretty much says it all:

"our strength must come from establishing uniqueness, establishing that which is difficult to replicate, that which comes from more collective action.

Any idea or machine or even individual capacity can be transplanted. Far harder to transplant, imitate, or emulate are our great institutions – the national laboratories and the national parks and the national highway system, great universities and great cities and great technology clusters, a diverse culture, deep capital markets, and a tremendous ethic.

To Summers, the rabid, unrepentant ideologue, America's elite institutions are not the cause of its decline, but it's very identity as America!

Summers is America, in other words!

People are interchangeable, individuals (without great wealth) may be transplanted, but the combination of the force of the giant federal state, the expertise of "great universities" and the well-honed interests of "deep capital markets," on the other hand --that's what makes America uniquely wonderful in the least according to Larry Summers' warped ideology.

No wonder he and his people think HAMP is a crashing success!

Do you actually take this rot seriously, Michael Scherer?

Can you not see this for what it is: a rigid, fanatical orthodoxy that sees both New Deal liberalism and market fundamentalism as its implacable foes, and is literally willing to sink the country rather than admit its obvious, profound failures?

"I believe that at this point the risks of deflation or stagnation in the United States exceed the risks of uncontrolled growth or high inflation. But unless we change our course, we are at risk of a profound demoralization of government.

That's why Bowles-Simpson so important.

, after proclamation

"be clear that compromises that were necessary with a weak economy in 2010 should be inconceivable as recovery accelerates in 2012."

, after proclamation

"I am not one who sees financial collapse on the imminent horizon. "

What kind of pathology allows an individual with a record of failure as great as Summers to make those kind of claims with no apparent shame?

Of course Larry Summers is not the one who sees financial collapse on any horizon! He didn't see the last financial collapse when it was staring him in the face! When has he ever successfully predicted anything?

It's more of the same high-theoretical garbage that put us in this ditch, isn't that clear?

Can't you see the ideology there, Michael Scherer?

Do you honestly believe that Larry Summers is some font of wisdom, simply because he's not a movement conservative, and he's not a movement liberal, and he says things that people at cocktail parties in your part of town all agree that Serious people should believe?

Summers is reiterating the same things that the Progressive Policy Institute has been saying for over fifteen years!

At some point, don't you think that your ethic as a journalist compels you to take a closer look at how what was prescribed decades ago is now being proclaimed again as the magical, theoretical cure-all for everything, Michael Scherer?

It doesn't disturb you that Summers' whole speech is taken right out of Progressive Policy Institute's papers from 1995 --even the bit about "orthodoxy?"

Will it never occur to you that the reason Fareed Zakaria and this guy sound exactly the same is not necessarily because they possess Merlin-like expertise and erudition about everything, but because they believe the same things?

And, if they believe the same things, what is the name of their preferred ideology? What is not rightist, but not leftist, either? What philosophy is chiefly concerned with the demoralization of big government and the empowerment of our "excellence" in the form of our "unique" financial system? What advocates "collective action" and Keynesian solutions, but worships elite institutions, venerates wealthy individuals, and finds "strength" in our "deep capital markets?"

What is that ideology called, Michael Scherer? What's its name?

Larry Summers is saying things that sound right to you and people like you, Michael Scherer, and for that, you are willing to grant him all sorts of objectively undeserved credibility...just like us rubes the voters out here do with our favorite huckster politicians.

Can you at least consider that possibility, Michael Scherer?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Not ConservaDems, but Centrists

I'm going to get killed by the Wongster for saying this, but, no, "ConservaDems" are not conservatives, they don't look like conservatives, they don't act like conservatives, they don't think like conservatives.

Conservatives don't fetishize compromise, do they?

It looks right-wing to us because we're liberals, and it looks like liberalism to rightists because they're not conservative.

For example, Nate Silver, who doesn't really know or care much about political philosophy, makes the case that Evan Bayh is really a fine Democrat in his voting record, because, compared to his state, he's liberal: (link to "Bayh, Relative to His State, Was Valuable to Democrats"):
The positive score indicates that we'd expect a Senator from Indiana to be slightly more conservative than average. Bayh's score is -.171 instead, meaning he is slightly more liberal than average. In total, he's .274 DW-NOMINATE "points" further to the left than we'd typically expect of a Senator from Indiana.

Note that, conditionally upon his being a Democrat, Bayh is conservative, even relative to his fairly conservative state. Other Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, for instance, are slightly more liberal than Bayh, even though they hail from more conservative states. And some other red-state Democrats like Mark Begich and Jon Tester are much more liberal than him. Nevertheless, a Republican from Indiana would probably also be at least reasonably conservative, and would rarely align with the Democrats on key votes.

In Nate Silver's world (as in much of the horse-race reporting world), there's no separate, distinct "Third Way," there's only a single line from conservative on the right all the way to liberal on the left, and Evan Bayh sits on that line somewhere, either being more or less conservative or liberal.

That's how he can make a nonsensical statement like "Other Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, for instance, are slightly more liberal than Bayh" without expecting raucous laughter to greet it.

If there wasn't such a thing as the New Dems and the DLC, if there wasn't such a movement as Pearlstein advocates called "the Radical Middle" (Google it!), then there wouldn't be such a thing as an Evan Bayh or a Blanche Lincoln.

These are not "moderate conservatives," since they do vote reliably Democratic and against the Republicans most of the time (which is why the right labels them liberals). They're not "moderate liberals" --I think they'd be insulted by that characterization-- since we know they always vote against liberal ideas that haven't been compromised in some significant way.

The centrists are the centrists, and people like Pearlstein don't believe in conservatism or liberalism, they believe in centrism.

For whatever reason, the press corps has largely disappeared the topic of the Third Way (much of the mainstream press corps bought into the Third Way along with Broder, and so, as reporters, they can't come out with their ideology), but it is distinct from liberalism and conservatism.

Conservatives believe in a market in which the dominant forces are private corporations operating free from government interference. Liberals believe that the state needs to step in to stop private corporations from ruining the market for everyone (big and small) in blind pursuit of their individual interests. Centrists believe that the government should work with the biggest corporations to keep things the way they are, which means only interfering in the market when the biggest corporations want the state to interfere, in exchange for only the regulation that industry agrees it can handle --that's the Third Way.

The fake-populist mythology of the Radical Middle is the politics of the Third Way. That's the mythical "independent voter" that Pearlstein and Broder adore.

If the press corps were ever to define centrism, it wouldn't look like conservatism and it wouldn't look like liberalism --it would look remarkably like the Village press corps itself.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this.

Centrism vs Rightism & Leftism --"It's a Wonderful Life"

Oregon JC:
doesn't it strike you as the least bit unseemly, engaging with this wanker. It's akin to missionary work isn't it?

I'm a little tired, so I'll be forced to keep this short.

Bear with me please --this fine, perceptive (in terms of technique) commentary of yours deserves better, but it's been a rough week.

I should probably try to say this simply, since my fatigue may obscure a thorough treatise at this hour, but here goes.

Part of the power of the centrists in this government has also been derived from their appropriation of an intermediary role between right and left, don't you see?

The centrists act to render opaque everything they touch. Their freak mediation ideology causes them to symbolize and signify everything to an even more profound degree than right and left. Splitting the baby in half requires that something new be created from that ideological act of willful, sociopathic destruction wholly out of fictional, mythological cloth. The institutions that they worship need a language to be constantly re-created and maintained in accordance with consumer capitalism's "new product/new season/new spectacle" fetishization, and this function also serves to mask devotion to unchanging elite structures. They insert themselves and their language and signifiers even in between right and left, obscuring these enemy ideologies from each other. When the left does not know the right, and the right does not know the left, in a very real way they do not know themselves. They cannot fight each other effectively. They chase phantom brigades of the other. The centrists maintain power over both, as each becomes exhausted in turn.

Centrists seek to be the unseen road beneath our vehicles, determining through control of language our ultimate national destination, as the left and right briefly, blindly wrestle the wheel from each others' control. Centrists' hegemonic mediation, their relentless focus on relationships of power, their cultivation of natural allies in the "objective", reportage-as-amoral-commodity, power-parasitic, sibling-corporatist, frame-mongering fourth estate, all serve their small "c" catholic purpose: technocratically managed, elite-directed change.

The more left and right see each other as Platonic shadows to box, the less control we have, the less self-knowledge we gain. The centrists make this possible by exploiting that ignorance for their own ends. We perpetuate it by fighting at the expense of energy spent signifying. We lack discovery, our ideology stagnates, we are alienated from ourselves.

I had a talk with my Marxist accountant the other night after P&L statements had been gone over, in which I casually mentioned that "Gentleman's Agreement (1947)" was a leftist film.

He was genuinely taken aback by this statement, because, to him, this couldn't be left as he understood it to be, because there was no mention or context of class struggle to explain the motivation of the characters.

He brought up "It's a Wonderful Life" as an example truly leftist film, because (of course) there was Potter (lord/capital) vs George Bailey (everyman/worker productivity). After I gently reminded him that the film wasn't socialist in the slightest --after all, the premise is the petty-bourgeoisie represented by George Bailey somehow identify with the proletarians with whom they endow the structure of shared capital (savings and loan), which hardly resembles Marx's predictions of classes' tendencies during struggle-- I explained how a context bereft of class conflict could be "leftist as hell" (as I put it).

I first pointed out that the film was about primarily culture, and the deliberate changing of it. It was about consciousness, and its direction and appropriation. The premises of the film are that unexamined, solidly constructed social relations tolerate traditional injustices and harms, and therefore must be examined, consciousness altered, power overthrown, and culture changed. This is revolutionary, of course.

I then asked my accountant to imagine a conservative perspective, in which things are presumed to be the way they are for good reason, that social relations, relations of production, culture, morality, religion, all are established knowns closely correlated to qualities of value --like "rice and fish go well together". .
It took how many centuries for humans to have been stable enough in their environments to move the adaptation process along to the apex of "rice and fish"? How many centuries did it take for us to have stopped chasing the caribou across Pacific ice bridges long enough to create olive oil? Or geometry? Or romantic love? Or God? Think of these characteristics not as inevitable outcomes of an upward modernist developmental line, but the hard learned lessons of millennia. Things are as they should be, because we've come this far. The great men of history have bequeathed to us, their worshipful descendants, precious gifts of common knowledge, a book of laws, social order, rice and fish.

In the conservatives' world, change --even change that seeks to alleviate known and tolerated harms and injustices-- carries a terrifying risk of unintended consequences, and an even more terrifying risk of societies losing the collective memory of the value rice and fish together. In their universe, modernity is literally destruction. The upward line of historical human development to them is a death spiral, a melted ice cube, a recipe forgotten. The dark ages are always at the end of empire, in the rightists' history.

The destruction of that established collective wisdom --in the case of "Gentleman's Agreement", the dominant culture's anti-semitism-- isn't necessarily a good thing, even if individual examples of tradition's failure are demonstrated. After all, is there really a difference between prejudice against the infidel other, and the preference for rice and fish? Each is an artifact of tradition, custom, ritual. Each is, in its own way, an inheritance. What if, in discarding one, we let go of the other? What if culture is character, and good inextricable from bad?

The film "Gentleman's Agreement" is leftist because it answers that question with "So be it. What is lost is lost. Improvements can and must be made. The status quo is intolerable. We must rebuild anew. Consciousness must be altered. Patterns must be disrupted. Culture must change. Humans can be different. It is inevitable. Look forward to a better tomorrow!"

(Did you see "Escape From New York" yet, Oregon JC? It's a profoundly right-wing film, isn't it?)

I mention this because it is from intimacy with the rightists' perspective that this perception can be derived. My Marxist accountant hadn't seen things from that other side, and had perhaps forgotten what a threat we are to the right. The context of class struggle isn't necessary for a story to be leftist, if its premise is of history as a long march to justice, in which people along the way shed their arbitrary, harmful practices, and, individual by individual, join the line moving forward toward the good goal.

Sometimes knowledge of the other is knowledge of the self. In confronting the right, we both reveal ourselves and unmask the center. The centrists' mediation of left and right must be mitigated back to its proper role, so that this perverse imbalance ends, and their domination ceases. They must not be allowed to translate our experiences of the world, and our ideologies to each other, by holding up a curtain of language between us. They must be shoved out of the way, so that we can clearly see the right. We --both populist left and populist right-- must be able to speak for ourselves and directly to each other. If we can't engage, we can't fight. If we can't fight, we can't win. If we can't win, the centrists win --but I believe that the left can win that fight, if we engage directly.

Only in this way can we on the populist left re-assert ourselves, and lift the centrists' heavy break on popular will, so that we are the masters of this nation's fate again. We will then have the democratic power to set their beloved institutions --corporate and state-- competing against each other, and maintain individual liberty, genius and conscience in their rightful place as the true heirs of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

If we're still not shooting at each other, then the debate needs to be between us, right and left, and not between the right and the centrists, the left and the centrists and then, ultimately, the centrists and the centrists. Up until the time I notice the slime left by tadpole brownshirts in the streets learning to breathe on dry land, I'll keep talking.

I'm patient.

I hope that this hasn't been too terribly tedious, Oregon JC, I'm really, really tired. Thanks for reading and (I hope seriously) considering this.

Response to moderatelyinterested

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond.
[Obama] spoke to me and probably many tens of millions other Americans within one standard deviation of the political center of the country.
While there are, no doubt, many tens of millions of Americans that feel comfortable politically leaning the right of, say, Rachel Maddow, there are just as many tens of millions who are right there with her. We are not a minority in this country --far from it. We are the tens of millions who have been marginalized by a centrist-centric politics and political media that unfortunately treats low-information, low-engagement, maybe-likely voters (who have no other perspective other than "moderation" just "sounding right" to them) like the holy electoral grail. We were the people who said to each other in offices and over dinner tables "Hey, I don't know about this Iraq thing. It sounds like they're cooking something up, and everybody's just going along with it. This looks bad." ..
There are tens of millions of leftists, tens of millions of centrists and tens of millions of rightists in this country. Given the economic and foreign policy deterioration in this country, the policies we on the left have been advocating --what "sounds right" to us-- for the past eight years (in almost total media darkness) look pretty good to even more folks these days. An alliance with one side is necessary for centrists to have any democratically legitimate political power at all. How did that "Bush is a good guy" and "Cheney knows what he's doing" alliance with the rightists work out for centrists? You folks got way more than you bargained for, didn't you?
I gained additional confidence that this administration is a "thinking" administration and that makes me content, even if I don't agree with every decision.
The thing is, we're not content. We have goals beyond minimally competent government. The rightists are correct, in as much as they (inconsistently) declare that we have a duty as citizens not to assume that the state --even if the people we like are in charge-- is doing the right thing. This is an enormous bureaucracy with a gigantic impact on all of our lives (and a track record of miserable failure over the past decade), and if that the guy at the top inspires confidence is good enough for you, that's super, but there are a lot of other folks who think that the government should actually do things that benefit their lives --by staying out or helping out, whichever is best. Didn't George W inspire confidence in you, too? Isn't it about time we didn't use "inspire confidence" as a measure of leadership, and looked at results instead?
Joe's title was "Moderation vs. Extremism" and I am in full support of moderation. I enjoy reading the comments on Swampland, but some of the more left wing commenters are almost as extreme as the right wing commenters. I'm not looking for some sort of Centrist Party...
Well,'s the thing: you actually do have "some sort of Centrist Party" --it's called "The Village" by us on the left, and if there were an officially acknowledged name for it, it would be "The Washington Political-Media-Corporate-Military-Financial Establishment". The prime tenet of this party's ideology is that ordinary people in the rest of the country --left or right-- are incapable of making good decisions for the country, and so the people's will must be "moderated" by this set of elite institutions for everything to be in "balance". As it happens, these people enjoy the fruits of that elite power greatly, and have turned into a sort of courtier-class that stands in the way of real, American democratic impulses.
Do you really think that Americans are against the government providing access to quality, affordable health care to everyone? Of course we're not.
The thing is, "moderation" with respect to the goal of providing access to quality, affordable health care is not pragmatism, except in the political sense of the word. It's not that "moderation" produces the best results for Americans, it's that moderation feels comfortable a lot of the time, especially to those that are easily frightened of change. For people who think that things are going badly, for people whose lives are in crisis along with the country's economy, for people who really do want things to change for the better, "moderate" adjustment are simply not the most reasonable course of action. For elites, power to change in the hands of ordinary people --left or right-- is dangerous, and therefore always to be labeled "extreme". For the people who populate the Beltway, "moderation" means they can count on still doing business as usual.
The thing is, though, that there is a centrist ideology that is in many ways more frightened of people-directed change than even arch-conservatives are. This is the ideology that always declares "The truth lies in the middle somewhere!" even if that's patently absurd --and the least pragmatic course. For these people, it means that the solution to the leftists calling for a bridge to be built, and the rightists calling for no bridge to be built is to call for half a bridge to be built, magnanimously congratulate themselves on their glorious compromise, and tell all the people who think that the situation is idiotic to shut up and go back to their little homes --and to take their "extreme" opinions on getting across the river in order to show up for work with them.
We've been right about health care for decades, just as we were right about Social Security decades before that. We've been right about equality, as we have been for decades. We're right about progress --we want it. We're right about individual liberty, which is why we're called "liberals". We do not trust the government, we want the government to work for us. We were right about the Iraq war, about distrusting the Bush Administration, about the farcical Clinton impeachment, about the dangerous instability of our financial system, about evolution, about climate change, about abstinence-only education, about...well, a lot. If we had been proven as factually, empirically wrong as the rightist and centrist coalition have been proven over the past decade, then maybe it would be prudent for us to consider moderating our views. Perhaps centrists might consider moderating their perspectives, given the disaster they've helped the rightists put the country in.
...but we should be grateful for what I think will be an outstanding presidency if President Obama continues the way he has started.
I'm not sure what you mean. If Obama continues the way he has started, with half-measures, compromises and reversals, this will be a better presidency that Bush II's, but not the New Deal II that the country is desperate for. My future criticism isn't predicated on getting his every bridge built in four years that people on my side demand, but on Obama not leaving a legacy of half-built bridges for the American people to travel on.
Thanks for reading and considering this, moderatelyinterested.