Well, that didn’t take long, did it?
It began yesterday morning, with a Politico article by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, and an accompanying video by Allen, suggesting improper actions of the IRS resulting from its inability to adequately handle the tsunami of exempt-organizations applications, coupled with the DOJ’s overly aggressive use of its subpoena powers in trying to ferret out the source of a national-security leak to an AP reporter, might cause voters to conclude that what is needed is more Republicans in high office.
Apparently that would be because voters can’t distinguish between economic libertarianism and civil rights libertarianism of the First Amendment and Due Process variety. And this must be so, because within just 24 hours after the Politico folks asserted it, there’s been another tsunami, this one in the form of a slew of mainstream pundits repeating the claim. John Dickerson of Slate. Reid Wilson of the National Journal. To name two.*
Dickerson argues that the Obama administration “is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did.” He says this is because “[s]howing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.”
Yup. I don’t know about you all, but the fact that the IRS mishandled some exempt-organizations applications in the wake of Citizens United, and that the Justice Department has been crazily overzealous in its handling of national security leakers, partly in order to hush the criticism from, um, conservatives that there has been insufficient investigation into the leaks, sure as heck makes me think Paul Krugman is spouting dangerous nonsense by arguing so forcefully for more fiscal stimulus, as opposed to ever more fiscal austerity. It’s not surprising that Boston Federal Reserve chief executive Eric Rosengren is pleading for a turn away from further budget cuts; he does, after all, work for the federal government in an unelected position, and so of course he wants the federal government to be ever more inherently rapacious.
No matter that the most inherently rapacious unelected federal officials sit on the federal bench, and in the name of conservatism pathologically gut Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. And I won’t even mention the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 9, Clause 2. ”The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Or unless when the conservative Supreme Court majority privileges state courts’ rights over the Supremacy clause. As it does regularly.
What we need to secure our individual civil rights is more Samuel Alitos and Antonin Scalias on the Supreme court and on the lower federal courts, in order to ensure the continuation and expansion of the inherently rapacious federal and state criminal and civil justice system against non-corporate persons. The voters surely will look at the dual scandals of this week and draw that conclusion. In addition to the obvious conclusion that financial-services regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other Dodd-Frank provisions should be gutted along with the social safety net, taxes should be lowered for the likes of the Romneys, and that we need to kill the EPA.
To hell with climate change! Pun intended. And let hungry children and seniors eat cake and pay for their own healthcare! After all, the IRS mishandled the post-Citizens United influx of exempt-organizations applications. So what we need is more Citizens United. The court opinion; not actual citizens united.
Greg Sargent says of Wilson’s article in the National Journal that he “makes the case that 2014 will look more like 2006” than 1998, when the public was so disgusted with Republican scandal-mongering and the Clinton impeachment thing that Democrats routed Republicans in that year’s midterm election even though it was the sixth year of the Clinton presidency, thus countering historical trends. Wilson argues the case, but unsuccessfully. “The beginning of Bush’s second term bears the most resemblance to the current predicament in which Obama finds himself,” Wilson says. “ The war in Iraq had grown unpopular during 2005, and the government’s bungling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina gave voters the sense that Washington was inept.”
Yes, it gave voters the sense that the Bush administration was inept. The concern was that FEMA did not do enough for Katrina victims, precisely because conservatism is against having the government provide assistance to people in need. The Bush administration got us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, precisely because that was what conservatives wanted, and then bungled the war itself.
And curiously absent from Wilson’s analysis is that Bush spent the first year of his second term campaigning to privatize Social Security. Does Wilson think that the public changed its mind about the wisdom of privatizing Social Security, or, for that matter, privatizing or ending the social safety net–or FEMA!–by November 2006? Does Dickerson? Really? What about Allen? (Okay, maybe Allen does.)
A surprisingly common characteristic of current political punditry is the presumption that what matters to voters is policy semantics rather than actual policy. And the more generic, sweeping, and ill-defined, the better. Actual policy and specifics of ideology don’t matter. What matters is such generic phrases as “big government,” “small government,” and “conservative,” however unrelated to one big/small-government issue another big/small-government issue is.
Another problem with mainstream pundits is their mindless custom of incessant analogy based upon some tenuous or tangential common fact between the earlier and the current or future situation. I realize that it is their job to say something about big political stories, and that, at least for most of them, they don’t have the option of adhering to the wise adage of not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything worth saying. But this nonsense becomes viral. Really quickly. As though it’s actual wisdom rather than the simplistic, formulaic vapidity that it is.
The danger right now is that Democratic politicians will cower in the face of it. Politically sensitive IRS error and DOJ subpoena overreach = we should lower taxes on the wealthy and gut the social safety net and environmental and financial regulatory authority; that’s an odd mathematical equation. Except maybe in Washington, a town not known for Einstein protégés.
Wilson, in his National Journal article, acknowledges that “[t]he mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the various troubles Obama is answering for now are completely different types of scandals.” He just doesn’t think the voting public will recognize the difference. He thinks that the “message” the IRS and DOJ matters “send to voters about the aptitude of governing is remarkably similar” to the Bush administration’s mishandling of Katrina and Iraq. “Once voters lost confidence in Bush’s ability to manage government, the Republican brand began to suffer…If voters begin to believe that Obama is similarly ill-equipped to govern, it will be the Democrats in Congress who bear the brunt of the political punishment.”
Unless, of course, the voters conclude that what happened to those applicant nonprofit organizations in the hands of the IRS–that they were temporarily denied tax-exempt status and asked to identify their donors, and that the DOJ issued sweeping subpoenas for the AP’s phone records in a national-security-leak investigation–really does not actually mean that we should privatize Social Security and Medicare. That is, that they conclude that those former things don’t just naturally lead to the latter ones, even though these political analysts think they do. That they conclude that linking the two is bizarre and outright crazy. Which is a real possibility, since it is.
*CORRECTION: This post initially and incorrectly included Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post among the political analysts who are making this argument. Actually, Tumulty’s piece says that others–specifically, Republicans–are pushing this claim. Also, this post has been edited slightly for clarity after its initial posting. 5/16 at 9:20 p.m.