Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Invasion of the economic underpants gnomes

Step 1: Cut taxes for the super-rich/increase spending/decrease revenue
Step 2: ????
Step 3: Profit

That’s the basic premise of the economic con-men that have managed to make their views mainstream despite the fact that these same views have been demonstrated to be false whenever they are put into practice. Jonathan Chait sets out to explain how and why that happened in The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics.

I’ve mentioned numerous books on this blog, but there are only a few that I have categorized as essential reading (Perfectly Legal for example.) This is one such book. The reason is that one of the themes I’ve tried to develop is the manner in which movement conservatism is based in a constant form of reality revision; Chait has managed to lucidly examine how this dynamic works in the specific realm of economic reality revision. And I noticed while googling that Anonymous Liberal feels pretty much the exact same way about the book, so I can save myself the trouble of explaining what I mean since A.L. already did that for me.

Based on the title of the book, I had expected it to be more or less a history of the rise of supply-side economics, and Chait certainly covers that ground. But the book is actually much more ambitious than its title suggests. Chait uses the story of how supply-side economics took over the Republican party as a case study on how modern politics operates. The first part of the book, which is everything you would expect based on the title, serves as a springboard for the second half of the book, which offers an incredibly insightful and accurate analysis of the fundamental structural asymmetries of American politics. In particular, Chait does a really good job explaining how prevailing norms in the media and fundamental differences in the way the Democratic and Republican parties operate have allowed conservative ideologues to inject what were once (rightly) considered fringe ideas into the mainstream.
Before proceeding with the review, I’ll take a moment to note that the introduction to The Big Con is available online. It lays out the purpose of the book and might be worth reading before continuing on with this review (which will be part review/part me dumping my notes without regard to organizing them into coherenace ... you were warned.)

Okay, back?

Chait uses the metaphor of global warming to explain what has been happening to the country for several decades now. Similar to how we have dips and dives in the temperature yet the long-term trend is for increased temperatures, we see rises and falls in the popularity of movement conservatism, yet the long-term trend has been for the country to drift ever towards the right. I've tried to make the same point to people in conversation by borrowing the metaphor that Richard Dawkins used in The Ancestors Tale about a bottle floating in the Gulf Stream: at any given moment its direction may appear random but in actuality the current is taking it in a specific direction. American politics has been becoming for years now ever more "conservative."

Jumping back to what I was saying about the reality revision, I have in one of my notebooks notes (duh) for a post I never wrote about movement conservatism being an assault on reality, that m.c. is constantly manufacturing its own truth as a means of making the world hospitable to its ideology (much as creationists do with evolution.) I have written down that whether it be science, press, history, economics, or whatever the pattern is the same: attack truth, characterize it as "liberal," then proceed to construct revised "truth" which is fit to an ideological mold. (With Regnery's P.I.G. series of absolutely attrocious and factually challenged books being the most vivid example of this process. ) I also noted that this pattern resembles dogmatic religious thinking, comparing the way the conservative movement revises reality to the way that creationists revise biology. (Chait noticed this similarity, as well.)

Towards the goal of creating its own reality the movement creates psuedo-institutions that parallel actual institutions like Fox News or the Competitive Enterprise Institute and employs pseudo-experts and pseudo-journalists like Michelle Malkin in order to create a parallel reality that meets its ideological needs. Which leads to Chait's next point about "the rise of pseudo-economists known as supply-siders."

This small cult of fanatical tax-cutters managed, despite having been proven decisively wrong time after time, to get an iron grip on the ideological machinery of the conservative movement.
These cranks formed an alliance with business lobbyists who took the opportunity to turn the GOP into a plutocracy. Over the last three decades, supply side economics has become something that is pursued by the Republican Party with an almost theological fervor and which is enforced with cult-like zealotry; their beliefs are not falsifiable.

The supply side movement originated in the 70s with the Laffer Curve and its promotion by Jude Wanniski and acceptance in 1974 by Dick Cheney despite glaring flaws with the “theory.” As just stated, supply side thinking managed to take over the party despite the fact that it was laughed at by other economists and that Arthur Laffer was already a laughing stock in economic circles for a dead wrong prediction he made about Richard Nixon (illustrating a truism of the conservative movement: being disastrously wrong doesn't count against you so long as what you said advanced the conservative movement ideologically.)

Chait explains that supply siders seem like priests rather than economists because supply side thinking is a “totalistic ideology” which can explain all economic activity in terms of tax rates on the rich. In practice, what this means is that “tax cuts for the rich are always good” irrespective of any other considerations or even demonstrated reality. There are arguments for cutting tax rates or reducing spending and what not, Chait observes, “but what sets the supply-siders apart from sensible economists is their sheer monomania” for tax cuts for the rich.

They believe they have completely revolutionalized and replaced standard economics: “Pure supply-siders [in contrast to economists who consider a variety of factors] see changes in tax rates as the single drive of all economic change.”

It is difficult to stress how ridiculous their views are - Chait points out their hysterical cries of impending economic doom as a result of such things as raising the top tax rate from 28 to 31 percent while failing to recall that our economy grew with a rate as high as 91 percent.

It is quite remarkable to consider that these “sheer loons” have captured the GOP and gained mainstream media acceptance despite the fact, pointed out by Paul Krugman in his 1994 book Peddling Prosperity, that “Not only is there no major deptartment that is supply-side in orientation; there is no economist whom one might call a supply-sider in any major [economics] deptartment.” The biggest advocate of tax cutting in academia is the conservative economist Gregory Mankiw who himself has written a book describing supply-siders as “charlatans and cranks” and which compared them to snake-oil salesmen.

So this didn’t originate from academia. It originated in places like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and neoconservative Irving Kristol’s The Public Interest, circumventing academic debate and going straight to the public claiming to have defeated economic thought. Remember that this is the same strategy that has been employed by Intelligent Design Creationists.

Two of the biggest promoters of supply-side were the “deranged” quacks Jude Wanniski and George Gilder. That might seem like an unfair label to put on them, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it's an accurate descriptor after listening to Chait. For supply siders their theory explains everything. For instance, he points out that Wanniski’s view of the utility of the Laffer Curve is so absolute that he even manages to turn it into a theory of developmental psychology! Quoting from Wanniski’s supply side book:

Even the infant learns to both act and think on the margin when small changes in behavior result in identifiable “price changes.” The infant learns, for example, something that politicisans and economists frequently forget, which is that there are always two rates of taxation that produce the same revenue. When the infant lies silently and motionless in his crib upon awakening, mother remains in some other room. The “tax rate” on mother is zero, yielding zero attentiveness. On the other hand, when the baby screams all the time demanding attention, even when fed and dry, he discovers that mother also remains in the other room and perhaps even closes the nursery door. The tax rate is 100 percent, also yielding zero attentiveness.
After pointing out that Wanniski also manages to explain the Nazi invasion of Poland in terms of supply side economic theory (Hitler had to invade because he left tax rates too high) Chait dryly observes, “It is amazing that Bill Clinton’s tax hike did not lead him to invade Canada.” Yet even though Wanniski is now widely recognized as unbalanced within even conservative circles his supply-side ideology is still dominant.

Chait gives four basic reasons for this dominance:
1. 70s “stagflation” (a phenomenon now better understood) cast doubt on traditional economic wisdom.
2. It gave Republicans a “Santa Claus” way of winning votes, casting Dems as Grinch. Irv Kristol saw political advantage
3. It benefited the rich so the powerful and rich supported the theory.
4. People are economically uninformed and fell for the pseudo-economic jargon.

Supply siders vs. Reality

They predicted that the Reagan tax cuts would not cause a loss in revenue. Deficts proceeded. They explained this away.

They predicted the Clinton tax hike on the highest income bracket from 31 to 39.6 percent would cause the economy and tax revenue to shrink. The deficit disappeared and was replaced with a surplus with “the economy enjoy[ing] its longest expansion in U.S. history” and with "the highest revenue growth [coming] from those same rich who were supposed to be adversely affected.” They explained this away.

They predicted that cost of the Bush 43 tax cuts would be small and that the budget surplus would be larger than anticipated. Revenues dropped to their lowest point since 1942 and the surplus disappeared and was replaced with a deficit. They explained this away.

Despite having been proved so ginormously wrong*, the supply-siders show no sense of contrition or shame. They proceed on, safe in their pundit positions and think-tank perches saying the same things inspite of the very obvious reality that their ideas are bunk. They don't need to be actually right about anything, all they need do is continue to propose ideological explanations for economic activity.

For example, they claimed the Clinton boom was in fact the result of Reagan’s tax cuts. Huh? This is particularly absurd given that they had already disavowed anything that happened to the economy after Bush 41 broke his no new taxes pledge. But then when economic growth began to slow at the end of Clinton's term they switched back and blamed Clinton for the economy! This is heads we win, tails you lose thinking.

Chait captures this absurdity perfectly where he describes the supply side reaction to collapsed revenue after Bush 43 cuts taxes for the rich:

As with the Clinton surpluses, external circumstance certainly played a role. Revenues would have fallen whether or not Bush cut taxes, and it made sense anyway for the government to run a temporary deficit in the face of the 2001 recession. But the point is that, once again, events confounded the supply-side view of the world. Sensible economists qualify their predictions because they understand that outside events can always intervene unexpectedly. The supply-siders do not qualify their predictions because they are monocausalists. Whatever else may come along to buffet the economy – the popping of the tech bubble, the Enron scandal, the war on terror and the war in Iraq – tax cuts ought to overcome it. Again and again this has proven horribly wrong. It is impossible to think of how events could have turned out worse for them, short of God appearing on Earth to denounce the Laffer Curve as an abomination.
Despite this failure to get anything right, the movement has been extremely succesful as gaining legitimacy, so much so that “fiscal conservative” in media reports now usually means supply-sider rather than someone who favors responsible spending and balanced budgets.

Chait then talks about the corruption of business merging with government, resulting in economic policy that combines tax cuts for the rich with increased spending for powerful lobbies. Laffer Curve theology (about tax cuts for the rich always being good for the economy) lends itself to creating an atmosphere which venerates business corruption. This corruption is also a result of movement conservatism’s disdain for experts and neutral advice (aka "liberal" advice.) The vaccum is filled with lobbying and ideologically driven policy.

Lord Reagan

Ronald Reagan is worshipped and regarded as a savior by movement conservatives because he mainstreamed movement conservatism by bringing it from the political fringe to the White House. It is for this reason that Reagan has been canonized

In the conservative mind, the Reagan presidency lives on in the golden shimmering past, an ideal that Reagan’s succesors must always strive to approach but can never fully live up to, like the teachings of Christ. There is indeed something distinctly religious about the expressions that the adoration of Reagan has taken.
Yet his actual record is not what his acolytes remember it as. For example, it has gone down the memory hole that while president Reagan was “frequently savaged … for his ideological infidelity.” Reagan is remembered as a champion of tax cuts but his tax raises are no longer recalled.

It is true that Reagan cut taxes for the wealthy in 1981, but he signed the largest tax increase in American history in 1982 and another large tax hike in 1983. He signed the Tax Reform Act in 1986 that conservatives still rail against today … they just somehow manage to forget Reagan did it.** I would offer the additional observation that Chait does not make: perhaps it is easier for movement conservatives to forget Reagan's tax raises because it is convenient to forget that they tended to shift the tax burden onto the middle class.

Reagan deification kicked into full gear after Bush 41 lost his re-election. The loss was blamed by supply siders on his fiscally responsible raising the highest tax rate from 28% to 31% in return limitations on spending from Democrats. By the time 1996 rolled around, Republican presidential candidate Bod Dole had jumped fully onto to the supply side bandwagon, signalling the triumph of ideological enforcers like Grover Norquist who have made sure that it is nigh impossible to be a Republican in good standing with the conservative movement without being a supply sider, despite the fact that most general Republican voters are not supply side zealots.

The anti-tax movement’s triumph does not represent a bubbling up of grassroots sentiment within the Republican Party. It is a top-down takeover by an elite ideological vanguard that has successfully redefined Republicanism as conservatism, conservatism as Reaganism, and Reaganism as a relentless and uncrompromising opposition to taxes, especially those paid by the rich.
The clearest example of this dogmatic belief in tax cuts for the rich is offered by a study conducted by William Niskanen in 2006 which found that since 1981 tax cuts have increased spending while tax hikes have reduced spending. Given that conservatives campaign on a supposed goal of cutting federal spending, how is it that they continue to support tax cuts for the rich? Because they have a faith-based belief in tax cuts for the rich that can not be disproved by reality.

As an example of how effective the supply side machine is at setting the agenda, witness John McCain. McCain in 2000 demonstrated the gulf between those who set the party’s economic agenda and the GOP electorate by being popular with the public despite not being a supply sider like Bush. Yet he was hammered by the base and activists for being basically a party traitor. In 2008, McCain has now embraced the economics that he had been against until deciding to run for president around 2004 (he had voted against the Bush tax cuts in '01 and '03). He even decided to vote for permanently repealing the estate tax which he had previously championed as the great cause of his hero Teddy Roosevelt. McCain's transformation into a supply sider is complete: he also now favors making permanent the tax cuts he had denounced on both moral and practical grounds.

The need to lie

Republicans have to lie to get elected because their economic policy is not favored by the public. “Lying has become a systematic necessity” for them.

So, when Bush and his allies came to the task of selling their tax-cut plan, what was required was not mere spin or exaggeration but a giant Potemkin edifice of rhetoric. The administration offered the public three broad rationales for cutting taxes. The first was the need to eliminate “overpayments.” The existence of a surplus, Bush said over and over, “means the government has more money than it needs.” Or, as his spokesmen sometimes put it: “It is not a budget surplus. It is a tax surplus.” Obviously they didn’t remotely believe this. If a surplus was a tax surplus, then a deficit would be a tax deficit. But of course when the surpluses were replaced by deficits, Bush maintained nothing of the kind.
When the surplus existed the purpose of tax cuts was to eliminate it. When deficit arrived the purpose of tax cuts was to regenerate the surplus! Like a character out of Alice in Wonderland these back and forth flip flop rationales continued and still do. It is standard operating procedure for the pseudo-experts in the movement.

Conservative populists argue that progressive taxation is class warfare, but the underlying principle of modern liberal economic philosophy is that progressive taxation benefits the rich as much as the poor by helping to stabilize and maximize the potential of our economy and society.

Conservative populists also claim that growing income inquality and concentration of wealth at the top of society is evidence that the tax sytem is punishing the wealthy!

Republican policy amounts to the upward redistribution of income. Republicans in Congress have set their sites on cutting spending programs that help the poor like Medicare and Social Security while cutting back on enforcement of rich tax cheats to instead go after poor tax cheats who cost the country less; concomitantly they want to increase spending that benefits corparations and the rich.

So if you decrease spending programs that help the middle class and the poor and increase spending for rich and cut their taxes what does that equal? It is to give people a government that is less for them and more specifically for the really rich. It would be one thing if that was what the public wanted, but it is not. Which is why movement conservatives have to lie and try to marginalize any debate about the equity of their policy by calling it class warfare and what not.

Republicans have defined “class warfare” as “a term for any analysis that points the different impact some policies have on various income groups.” And as we saw in the 2004 presidential election, Republicans do not mind themselves attacking the rich when a Democrat is their target.
This need to lie is tantamount to an attempt to subvert the democratic process: “Conservatives’ distrust of populism has turned into a distrust of democracy, a belief that they can prevail only by trampling the processes that are meant to do the people’s will.”

The Media

The 2000 election marked a huge turning point in American politics but thepublic had no idea of this because the media didn’t inform them. The mainstream media told them the candidates were both consensus moderates.

For instance, liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote:

We’re stranded with two establishment, tightly scripted, often robotic candidates who are about as different as from one another as J. Crew and Banana Republic … The substantive disputes between the men are, in truth, minimal in a prosperous post-cold-war era when both parties aspire to Rockefeller Republicanism.
Joe Klein even wrote an article from the GOP convention in August where he asserted that the supply-siders had been driven from power in the party. This even though the supply-siders were running Bush’s tax policy and supported it fully!

This was typical of the election coverage: conventional wisdom was asserted over and over without evidence – both equal moderates with little difference in matters of policy – and thus the focus was on trivial issues of aesthetics. This allowed Bush to hide his true economic intentions.

So when we ask why it is that the right has successfully pushed to the fore deeply unpopular economic policies, part of the answer must lie in the failure of the news media to do its job properly. Political parties in a democracy are not supposed to be able to carry out an agenda by hiding it from the public. And, since most voters have neither the interest nor the expertise to follow the intricacies of Washington policy debates, the primary mechanism to prevent this is the press. That mechanism has begun to break down.
Media with a right-leaning fiscal bias tend to describe Republicans who dissent on social issues as “moderate” but Republicans who dissent on economic issues not so much. Media describes the belief that privatizing Social Security is really about crippling or eliminating SS as unhinged conspiracy theory even though that is exactly what it is by the admission of the people who came up with the idea.

During one of the debates in 2000 Gore was asked about the extremely popular Dingell-Norwood bill for a Patients’ Bill of Rights. He pointed out that he supported it and Bush didn’t. Bush called Gore a liar saying that he supported “a national patients’ bill of rights” and that he had brought Republicans and Democrats together to do that in Texas. In reality, Bush supported an Orwellian alternative bill which was believed by HMO advocates would weaken relevant laws rather than strengthen them and in Texas the healthcare reform he was speaking of passed over his objection.

Gore tried to interject to point this out, but the host Jim Lehrer tried to stop Gore and asked him if he would agree that he and Bush agreed on a patients bill of rights. Lehrer was in effect making Bush’s point for him! After Gore explained why this was not so, Lehrer told Bush he could answer Gore’s challenge of supporting Dingell-Norwood if he wanted, but that he wanted to know differences in the candidates and needed to move on. Bush responded that the difference between them was that he could get the bill done.

The hilarious postscript to this sorry episode occurred the following year. Bush browbeat Norwood into denouncing his own bill, arguing that Republicans had to stick together and deny victory to the Democrats. As a result, the bipartisan coalition for the bill, which until that point had appeared unstoppable, fell apart, and the bill died. Thus a saga that began with Bush promising to bring the parties together and to “get something done” ended with Bush tearing the parties apart and preventing something from getting done.
A problem (evident in the above scenario) identified by Chait is that the media tends to assume that both parties say what they mean. They lack skepticism, which makes them an easy mark for manipulation. Before Bush unveiled his tax plan he released it to reporters a day early on the catch that they could not show it to economists for review. This was a propaganda success as they bought the spin and hype of Bush's people that it wasn’t tax cuts for rich (though it was.)

But the biggest problem for the media is the fear of appearing to take a side in a partisan dispute.

It is often said that we’re entitled to our opinions but not to our own facts. The practical reality, though, is that in politics you are entitled to your own facts so long as you can marshal your fellow partisans to insist on them in unison.
This is an essential feature of the conservative movement. When the press plainly states the factuality of some policy, get everyone to call it a "liberal" lie and partisan bias, then the press eventually backs down, leading to he said, she said reporting where actual facts are not verified. So in 2000 Bush could lie about his tax cuts (Mathew Yglesias excerpted the specific passage, here.)

Character making

In 2004, the public favored Kerry on most issues and rejected Bush on most. But Bush got elected on the basis of perceptions about his and his opponent's character. The same thing happened in 2000. And both times the Democrat was characterized as a flip-flopper and exaggerator. Even in the '92 and '96 elections Republicans campaigned against Clinton on character.

This serves a strategic purpose. With policy that is unpopular, movement conservatives need to find another reason to get people not to vote for their opponents. Another necessity is anti-intellectualism which is a consequence of having to disregard facts which reflect poorly on the conservative cause.

Towards both ends, the partisan Republican media has a character machine that manufactures non stop stories about candidates character. These seap into and become a part of the mainstream narrative because reporters are more interested in personal narrative than issues. In other words, the press tends to be neutral on policy, partisan on character.

Chait says that the difference between conservative partisanship and liberal partisanship is demonstrated by comparing Clinton bashing books with Bush bashing books. The Clinton books are mostly based in rumor and gossip and unsubstantiated scandal, while the Bush books focus mostly on actual policy. Conversely, pro-Bush books leans toward hero worship while pro-Clinton books are more balanced.

There is also a difference in “liberal” and conservative think-tanks (one is interested in the pursuit of non-partisan research and one is interested in generating ideas and propaganda that promote movement conservatism.) And again there is a difference in liberal and conservative opinion; with the case in point being Sidney Blumenthal who lost his job for being too partisan for Bill Clinton. There is no such thing as "too partisan" within the conservative meda (just ask Sean Hannity.) And there is also an asymetry in partisan loyalty, with there being little that compares in the world of liberal opinion to the flat out hero worship displayed for President Bush by Fred Barnes.

Chait also makes the obligatory comment about liberal blogs being unhinged and intolerant equivalents of Michelle Malkin and what not but that unlike their conservative counterparts are not seen as credible by the mainstream media. This is true in the sense that it does demonstrate another difference in how conservative and liberal opinion is treated by the mainstream media, but it is fairly dissappointing that Chait can’t connect the dots and bother to notice that liberal blogs tend to represent the mainstream of public opinion he talks about in contrast to the establishment that has been shifting right. Chait seems to have a blindspot for the ways that he himself is part of the process by which people who turn out to be right factually and who hold views held by a large proportion of the population are maginalized as left-wing extremists. As Glenn Greenwald put it

In 2006, TNR's Chait denounced those who were trying to defeat Lieberman in the Democratic primary as "a pack of crazed, ignorant ideological cannibals" -- "exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s." But just a few weeks ago, Chait himself expressed shock that "there's hardly any sense in which Lieberman is an independent figure" and is now nothing more than "a cog in the Republican message machine" -- exactly the basis for the primary challenged mounted by the people whom Chait was villifying as left-wing screeching radicals, and exactly the basis for the derision directed at TNR when they said in 2004 that their mission in life was to have Democrats be guided by Joe Lieberman's political principles.
Um ... ok, where was I before that digression? That's right. The character machine.

As an example of "the most brainless form of partisanship imaginable” which now embodies the style of conservative punditry Chait focuses on Peggy Noonan.

Noonan personifies the character propagandists who have emerged on the right … she uses her perch as a Wall Street Journal columnist to wax poetic on the moral virtues of leading Republicans and savage the character of Democrats. The closest Noonan has ever come to explaining her ideology came in a column written during the impeachment drama in 1998. Dcscribing the moment that the Republican Speaker of the House Bob Livingston confessed his extramarital affair and resigned, she concludd that eh episode showe “different styles, almost characterological differences between Democrats and Republicans these days. The Democrats in Congress now are like the young Chuck Colson, partisan, ruthless and tough. The Republicans seemed like the young William Cohen, thoughtful and stricken.” This was during the height of the GOP’s impeachment fervor, no less.
He gives another example of her mind-numbing and substance free partisanship

In 2000, she said of the Clinton administration’s efforts to suppress leaks: “The code of omerta ran strong and was obviously enforced.” The next year she devoted the bulk of a column to praising Bush’s staff for the very same thing. (“They are loyal to him, and they are loyal to each other.”) When Al Gore’s campaign criticized Bush in 2000, she painted it as a monstrous evil. (“Al Gore is surrounded by tough mean operatives whose sole political instinct is to rip out the other guy’s guts and dance in the blood.”) But after Bush’s campaign attacked John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary – disparaging his military record and implying that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was a black love child, among other tactics – she took it with equanimity. “You make the best case possible for yourself and what you stand for, and you paint your opponent in less attractive light,” she wrote calmly. “That’s what politics is."
Summing Up

This partisanship translates into a different style of governance, as well. Where as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton had Democratic majorities that challenged them on various issues, the Republican Party has acted in near complete unison with President Bush. This has allowed the President to abuse his power and cloak his government in secrecy. This secrecy and withholding of information from the public is vital to the conservative movement since it needs to conceal its agenda from the public. To further achieve this democratic subversion, Republicans use fierce partisanship and Congressional rules and tricks to hide the consequences of their policy and actions. This plus the gerrymandering of districts allows Republicans to stay in power despite having a radical and unpopular agenda. (Chait notes that had the war in Iraq went better the GOP would have retained control of the government.)

One of the most important observations that Chait makes in the book comes when he cites political scientists showing that Democrats have scarcely moved left over the last 30 years while Republicans keep going farther right. The center is defined as the space between parties, but with one party shifting radically right the "center" continues to shift right, too.

Another key observation is that

One of the classic traits of sectarian thought is a belief that failure can result only from doctrinal impurity. This is one of the defining features of modern conservatism. Every conservative setback is invariably followed by a purification ritual, whereby the conservative leader is declared a heretic.
Which means that conservatives now define leadership in purely ideological terms, i.e. there is no such thing as a good leader who is not a movement conservative. Ideological purity is all important even inspite of reality. Which might help to explain why movement conservatives consider any government that isn't run by themselves to be illigitimate, and why they don't seem to mind corrupt and undemocratic government so long as it can be said to advance their ideology. That sort of dogmatic thinking also serves as a template for authoritarianism to thrive on.

This "review" was more me transferring my notes from the book into a blog post. I promise the book is much more lucid than this post. In fact, to see what I mean you can read the lengthy article "Feast of the Wingnuts" at TNR which was adapted from the book by Chait.

*They were so wrong that I needed an invented word to describe how wrong they are.
**Chait views the TRA as being over-all a progressive reform, but misses something David Cay Johnston picked up on in Perfectly Legal, that the TRA had loopholes in it that led to the Alternative Minimum Tax eventually creeping up on the middle class. Kevin Phillips has also argued (in Boiling Point) that the TRA provided in a stealth manner lopsided benefits for the richest 1 percent of taxpayers; nevermind that it cut the top rate from 50% to 28% while raising the bottom rate from 11% to 15%.


bill greene said...

Hume is probably spinning in his grave over all this. I have heard that he eventually regretted his "crazy" liberal views debated in the Select drinking clubs of Scotland because they drove John Witherspoon to America to not only steer Princeton University where Witherspoon presented a common sense view, that respected the Great Religious Awakening, and also instructed James Madison to prepare a Constitution that severly limited government's functions. Apparently his ghost is unaware of this flip-flop, and actually supports unelectable candidates like Gore, Kerry and Obama? Even the original Hume might describe that as a "mental disorder."

C2H50H said...


Saying Obama and Gore are "unelectable" is evidence you be delusional. What you've heard may only be the voices in your head, so really, it would be best to check them against the facts before sharing -- and then a citation to the source would not be out of line...


An interesting, and thought-provoking, post.

Hume's Ghost said...

"Unelectable" is an interesting way of describing them, particularly Gore, who won the the popular vote count and lost Florida by about 500 votes.

I've read Greene's comment a couple of times now and I still can't figure out what he's talking about.

Hume's Ghost said...

"Apparently his ghost is unaware of this flip-flop ..."

I'm not sure I understand what flip-flop you're talking about, but I am aware of the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment on American democracy.