All Political Parties Are Delusional In Their Own Special Way

The professional left and the professional right are delusional in their own special way, according to two essays in this week's New York magazine, which can be summed up as "Why can't you people be happy?" vs. "Why are you people happy with this?"

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The professional left and the professional right are delusional in their own special way, according to two essays in this week's New York magazine, which can be summed up as "Why can't you people be happy?" vs. "Why are you people happy with this?" Liberal columnist Jonathan Chait argues that the psychology of liberals means they were destined to be depressed by the fruitless compromising of President Obama, just as they were dismayed by the fruitless compromising of his Democratic predecessors, whom they not hold up as pure-hearted heroes. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says his party has been taken over by a "political movement that never took governing seriously" that is now being "exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising."

Chait explains that liberals are constantly comparing Obama unfavorably to Democratic presidents of yore -- saying the old guys who have stood up to House Republicans and pushed all kinds of liberal legislation through Congress. Bill Clinton, for example, was smart enough to use the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." But if you go back and look at the record, liberals weren't so pleased by Clinton in the 1990s. Chait writes:
It is odd that Bill Clinton’s imagined role as ass-kicking economic savior has become the object of such extensive liberal fantasy. We don’t have to speculate as to what Clinton would have done if Republicans had blocked his economic stimulus. It actually happened. Clinton had campaigned promising a stimulus bill to alleviate widespread economic pain, with unemployment at 7.5 percent at the start of his term. Like Obama, Clinton needed a handful of Republican senators to pass it (Obama needed two Republican votes to break a filibuster, Clinton three). Clinton’s proposed stimulus was $19.5 billion. Unable to break a Republican filibuster, Clinton offered to pare it down to $15.4 billion. Republicans killed it anyway, creating an image of a Clinton administration in disarray.
And the guys who came before Clinton? They were heretics, too. Carter is now seen as a solid liberal, but his biggest successes were conservative, like deregulating the airlines. Lyndon Johnson was loathed for Vietnam. John F. Kennedy was attacked by his compromises on civil rights, like nominating an arch-segregationist as a federal judge to appease southern Democrats. Even liberal saint Franklin Roosevelt made tons of compromises, like placating Southerners by excluding domestic workers from Social Security because more black people did those jobs.
For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. (Except for Johnson, who was a bloodthirsty warmonger.)
Chait says this is because of how liberals' brains work. They are less likely than conservatives to agree that "It is more important to be a team player than to express yourself." Further, Chait explains, "Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor, defines the contrasting moral styles of right and left like so: Conservatives excel at competition between groups -- your team, your nation, your tribe—while liberals care more about fairness within a group." That goes for both the far left and centrists, Chait writes, pointing to Thomas Friedman, who is calling for a third party candidate to fulfill the same legislative agenda as Obama has but in a slightly different order. But even if this disaffection is silly, Chait argues, it comes with a cost: the elections of 1968 and 2000, for example. But even if Democrats constantly torture themselves, he says, "the current state of the Republican Party suggests it may be healthier than the alternative."
Frum says Republicans, on the other hand, are far too easily satisfied. He offers a long list of examples to show how the party has evolved in the last decade. (Here's one: "It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as 'balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.' By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations -- or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place.") And he explains that that evolution is due, in part, to the Tea Party, which Frum says the media has enthusiastically praised despite its poor track record.
[I]t’s telling that that movement has failed time and again to produce even a remotely credible candidate for president. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich: The list of tea-party candidates reads like the early history of the U.S. space program, a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff. A political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.
Why has this happened? Frum lists three reasons: First, the debate over who will feel the pain of the bad economy, because cutting the liberal programs conservatives hate won't do much to shrink the deficit. Second, the Republican Party will continue to be propelled by "a deep sense of dispossession and disinheritance" because it is the party of the white working class, which is indeed losing out to foreign competition and immigration. Third, Fox News and talk radio has caused conservatism  to evolve "from a political philosophy to a market segment."
The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much...
When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it’s tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process ....Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base.
Frum writes that the "ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society." Though he's fretting for a different party, clearly Chait agrees.
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