Sunday-Night Shutdown Reader: Advise, Dissent

"Maybe it is just that Baby-Boomer trash": potential sources of error on my part
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I haven't forgotten my promise to report back on the views and activities of the Atlas Shrugged Guy. It will happen—for now I'm hoping to hear back from him.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of transparency, here are specimen "You are full of crap" and "The situation is worse than you're saying" messages. This is the kind of thing the daily mailbag holds; both messages are in response to the same item this weekend.

First, dissent, though couched as "more in sorrow ..." Forgive my quoting the flattering-seeming part at the beginning; you'll see that it's a set-up for the criticism that follows.

You are such a nice person. Really nice, I have no doubt. You are a lover of good beer, lover of a good woman, and good father to some (I assume) fine American children. [JF note: On wife and children, you're right, and thanks! But what about my skills as an aviator? Or one-time tennis player and current runner?] You are a talented writer. I am not well enough read to call you great, but you seem to hit the mark more often than not, and have for many years. There is something to be said for that.

But ... you are so fundamentally mistaken about some important things (like the nature of republican democracy, and America) that I am at a loss to figure out how you could be all those other good things!

Tone deaf comes to mind, but that can't be right. Blinded by decades of leftist cant also, but you seem (I do not know you) too smart for that.

Maybe it is just that Baby-Boomer trash. For instance, I cannot imagine that you have anything but the rankest contempt for Sens. Reid, Schumer or Landrieu, but you reserve your vitriol for the contemptible McConnell and (not so much, in my view) Cruz. It is clear that both named sets pursue the interests they have, and that yours conform to the former, not the latter, but still you act as though the latter have no right (even duty) to obstruct and oppose, which is what the opposition DOES in a democracy. Is it possible that you are not a democratic republican (both small, mind you) but a real believer in benevolent despotism? Perhaps a sort of pleasantly strict meritocracy? It is bit a short step from there to Fascist. I hate to think that of you.

These are such interesting times. You left a list of Representatives to be remembered in a recent post. I was reminded (second-hand, I was not alive then) of Sen. McCarthy, and that is not fair to you. But still ... lines are getting drawn, people are lining up. I know that I am on the side of a radically smaller government, and know that a lot less government will be best for every American. You are stone-cold certain that we need a lot more government to ensure the best for every American, and every other person who can manage to land here. There is very little room for compromise here. Do you realize that?

I think that there are about 25-30 million Americans who get most of the important work in this nation done. I think you are not among them, and that you do not know many people that are. I recommend that you widen the scope of your acquaintances. If the line drawing continues (as I think it well may) you might just find yourself among a bunch of people that you are fond of, but who are incapable or unwilling to do what it takes to keep this nation going. On the other side might well be the people that do. That might not end well.

On the other side, a letter in response to this item earlier today, from someone with recent service as a U.S. military officer:

I always thought I was a Republican. The Grand Old Party (GOP) that I grew up in stood for individual opportunity, confidence in the free market; and belief in the great human promise and purpose of the United States of America. The GOP's heroes: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, were leaders with conservative instincts, but pragmatic dispositions.

They did not idolize federal government, but they honored and wielded its power to achieve great, practical ends: emancipation of the slaves; preservation of the Union; the defeat of global totalitarianism; and the conservation of the great natural treasures of America for our children. This kind of Republicanism inspired me to consistently vote for Republican candidates. The same spirit led me to repeatedly seek opportunities to serve, first as a soldier in the United States Army, more recently as a federal prosecutor, and constantly in my community as a tutor, coach, scout leader, and involved parent.

But the cynical zealots who have hi-jacked the Republican Party in recent years have torn away the moorings of my political identity. Tea Party radicalism has no respect for the practical business of governing a democracy. They deride as "Republicans in Name Only" (RINOs) anyone with regard for the virtues of moderation and effective government. Tea Partiers seem to have more in common with the fire eating secessionism of John Calhoun, than with the statesmen of the GOP. Like Calhoun, the Tea Party is obsessively fixed on a peculiar institution, regarding which they will accept no compromise. Congress must defund Obamacare, they insist, or they will burn down both our government and the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

This Tea Party strategy is simultaneously lunatic and moronic: lunatic because House Republicans have put themselves in the position of a hostage-taker: in order to succeed, they must convince Democrats that really are insane enough to put a bullet through the head of our nation's economic well-being. The strategy is moronic because the Government shutdown spectacle has rescued the Obama Administration from the political consequences of a disastrous Syria policy and incompetent Obamacare launch. And while the Republican Party plunges along on this game of blind chicken, true American public servants and hard-pressed families are paying the real price in missed mortgage payments and life opportunities ....

I believe it is past time for pragmatically-disposed citizens, RINO or otherwise, to stand up and take back the political space that the Tea Party has dominated for too long. This duty is greater than allegiance to any single political party; our nation and children's interests require it. A clique that despises and dishonors American government can no longer be allowed to cripple American politics. The United States of America will overcome the problems of Tea Party zealotry by citizens challenging that creed's advocates in the public square and at the ballot box. We should start that process right here in [his home area].

I will not try to answer or reconcile these now. I am just saying: these are the passions of our times. I am moved (a little) toward sympathy for our politicians when I imagine trying to govern, lead, or form consensus in circumstances like these. More soon.


AP picture, via WaPo. John Galt painting, which I added to the reader's note, from here.

And to spare those tempted to write: Yes, in fact I do know that the standard legal formulation is "advice [not advise] and consent [not dissent]." I changed the words on purpose!

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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