Lies, Willful Ignorance, Shortcuts, and the Pseudocracy

The rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Healthcare Act continues to fascinate.

**For instance, it has been labeled Obamacare by the GOP–and then by the media. That tells us something about about the media. Need a shorter headline? Try AHCA or AHA. I grew up reading headlines that included JFK and LBJ. That said, President Obama practiced rhetorical aikido when suggesting that he welcomed the nickname, “Obamacare.” Is there a valid gender-related point to be made about “Hillarycare” and “Obamacare”? Hard to say.

**President Obama famously said that if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it. What he failed to say, or chose not to say, is that you can keep your plan if the insurance company lets you keep it. So he was deemed a liar. He is a politician; therefore, he prevaricates. However, I suspect he was taking a shortcut so as to keep things simple. For we live in a time when sophisticated, complex utterances (as if adding the bit about the insurance companies were complex) won’t fly in politics. The president’s lie, gaff, elision, or shorthand (you choose) was ironic, in part, because the AHCA is in fact not socialistic. You can’t keep your plan if the insurance company won’t let you BECAUSE the insurance company is a private entity, a capitalist corporation, which makes a profit on misery and/or on the prospect of misery. Or perhaps I’m being Dickensian here.

**The AHCA is “big government” and “socialist,” claim some GOPers. When large insurance-corporations became socialist and were taken over by the government, I do not know.

**Then the flap about the health-exchange website. Yes, a classic governmental eff-up, out-dated technology included. A gaff that may have turned President Obama briefly into a Casey Stengel impersonator. When Stengel was managing the hapless Mets, he once (or more than once) yelled, “Can anybody play this game?” However, a reality-check might induce one to mutter instead, “First World problems.” Oh, the Americans are having some software problems with their new health-care initiative. Let us pray! Meanwhile, consider the catastrophic slums in Venezuela and India, for example; or the horrendous problem with the trafficking of girls in Cambodia; or thousands dying of thirst and hunger around the globe.

**The Congressional Budget Office produced a report suggesting that the AHCA might influence workers to work less (fewer hours). The GOP translated that as “the AHCA will cause unemployment.” A CBO spokesperson responded more or less like the unnamed correspondent in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “That is not what we meant at all.” Paul Krugman asked whether Eric Cantor, for example, had spouted off about unemployment before reading the report, or whether he had read the report and decided to lie. Cantorian willful ignorance was operative no matter what, Krugman argued.

**In “News of the Weird,” we learned that the cost of a scanning-procedure in Philadelphia hospitals can range from about $1200 to $200. Welcome to retail! “How much does this treatment cost?” “Give me your debit card, and then I’ll tell you!”

All of it seems like a cry for help. Swedes and Germans, among others, must look at the spectacle, rhetorical and otherwise, and think, “How effing hard can it be?” Meanwhile, politicians and pundits continue to play the came because (pax Stengel) they can play the game, just not the game that matters to people when they become ill and/or infirm.

The GOP Adjustment as Rhetorical Problem

Adapt or wither: that seems to be one major piece of advice the GOP is receiving. However, I did hear at least one “progressive” radio-host advise, “Please don’t adapt!”

Adapt to what? Allegedly, changing demographics, contrary attitudes toward some social issues, and the perception that the GOP chiefly represents “wealthy interests.”

If the problem(s) were seen in rhetorical, not strictly political terms, I might advise the following:

1. Define the “immigration problem” as “an immigration problem”–not as a problem of race and not as a threat to “culture.” If you think immigration-processes should be more orderly and consistent, then work with Democrats to make them so. Or don’t adapt and keep making the issue more about race and culture, and keep intimating that Latinos are “taking our jobs.”

2. Don’t swallow this business about “a changing America” whole. African Americans have made up 10-12 % of the population for a very long time. This isn’t a change. They vote largely Democratic because you, GOP, have basically pushed them to do so and because you have treated the first Black president like dirt. You can still play traditional rough politics and treat him with respect.

And if I were you, I’d have somebody confess that the Southern Strategy has always been about race, and I’d have the official confessor apologize.

3. When it comes to politics and governing, stop defining “gay marriage” as a religious issue. Treat it as a religious issue in your respective religions. If your church doesn’t want to host gay marriages, then it need not do so, obviously. But otherwise marriage is a civil matter, even if some couples–gay and straight–behave uncivilly after they get married. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy. I’ve met Tea Party people who agree with me on this, by the way.

4. Stop running the trickle-down con. People are catching on that’s it complete economic bullshit. More than that, there’s concrete evidence from Clinton’s 8 years that modestly raising taxes on the wealthiest helped the economy without hurting (as if!) the wealthy. Romney tried to run the Reagan con again, and enough people didn’t go for it (apparently) for you/him to win. It’s a pathos-move that’s quit working, and it never made logos-sense.

5. Look, we all know all politicians have to be data-deniers sometimes. Politicians lie. They deceive. But when it comes to data about evolution, global warming, dirty water, dirty air, and running out of fossil fuels, you all need to grow up.

6. When both you and the Democrats discuss budgetary issues and government-intrusion issues, you have to stop pretending the military is beyond enormous. It’s a data-thing. Empiricism.

7. If the question of abortion were as simple as you want to make it, a lot more people would agree with you now. If the question weren’t in large measure about women and their right to control what happens to their bodies, a lot more people would agree with you know. If you really want fewer abortions, support education and contraception. Or: don’t adapt.

Or–don’t adapt, as your progressive “friend” suggested.

My Advice to the GOP

I like to give advice to people who would never, in a million years, take it because then I can’t be held responsible. So, after what seems to have been a mild debacle (oxymoron?) yesterday for the GOP, here is my advice:

1. Vary the haircuts. Seriously. Both GOP men and women have that look–the men’s hair is too perfect, with that kind of Trent-Lott helmet thing going on, and too many of the women have that Texas, big-hair look (which in Texas looks just fine). Nothing like a fresh new “do” to make you feel better and to project the sense that you are not all in lockstep.

2. Realize that President Obama is just a guy. Sure, he’s president, and that has to piss you off. Yes, he’s Black, and that may bug you. Why, who the hell knows. Blacks have been Americans since 1619.

But seriously. He went to high school in Hawaii. He was rather handsome, but still, he looked like we all did in high school: kind of goofy. He married his sweet-heart, and they have two kids. He’s very ambitious, but then so are you. He drinks beer and smokes cigarettes and, like most men, knows way too much about the minutiae of the NCAA basketball brackets. He likes the blues, R&B, and country. He’s a little tedious when he gets wonky, but so are you. He eats hamburgers.

Assert yourself against him politically if you will. That’s entertainment! But just flat-out give up on the socialism, Muslim, Kenya, Manchurian candidate stuff. It didn’t work, for one thing. And it’s silly, for another. Read any definition of socialism. Then check how closely Obama resembles Eisenhower re: policies. He’s just a guy.

3. Don’t elevate guys like Paul Ryan to be your intellectual leaders. Ryan seems like a good politician, but he’s not an intellectual. Nothing wrong with that. He just isn’t.

4. Tell the people who act like they’re Rip Van Winkle and have awakened in an unfamiliar century to chill out or get out. You know who they were. Invite Bachmann to get help, and hint to Palin that the gig is over. Send her to Hollywood. After all, what has either of them done for you lately? End Rove’s long confidence-game. Hasn’t he bilked you enough? Haven’t you bought quite enough vinyl siding?

5. Go back to basics: Make deals and bring home the pork. Be corrupt in the usual American congressional ways; drop the new ways. If Demo Senator X will vote for fixing your highway, then vote for Demo Senator X’s microscopic tax-increase on millionaires. Get in touch with your inner Everett Dirksen.

6. More broadly, fix stuff. The place is falling apart. Highways, bridges, sea-walls, the electrical grid, schools, universities. Your job is not to bore people with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, just as no one wants to read some Dem’s latest book of verse. You’re supposed to fix stuff in your state and in the country. How did you forget that?

7. Get out more. Go clubbing. Hang out with a broader range of people. Have some laughs–laughs that don’t hinge on racist jokes, anti-woman “humor,” or gay-bashing. Surprise yourself. Go to some festival in your state that no one would expect you to attend. Show off that new hair cut.

Cattywampus Politics

“Cattywampus” means askew, and not purposely so. That is, one doesn’t want the foundation of one’s abode to be cattwampus even as one might tolerate and even enjoy a cattywampus cubist-painting.

Is the political realm inherently cattywampus? Is careening what it does “best”? Perhaps so. Even so, American politics now seems extraordinarily cattywampus because of how politicians with power and those who egg them on seem extraordinarily uninterested in agreed upon facts and, arguably, persistent crises. Let’s look at some examples:

1. Agreed upon fact: the U.S. budget is cattywampus, moreso than usual. Agreed upon fact: Congress and W. allowed two wars to be fought without raising taxes or selling “war-bonds.” President Obama and the current Congress are doing the same. Agreed upon fact: President Reagan and the Congresses during his terms drastically reduced the tax-rate on those with the greatest means to pay taxes. Agreed upon fact: successful programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are in trouble, partly if not largely because of demographics (here come the Boomers).

2. The responses to the agreed upon facts: Both the GOPers and President Obama seem to want to correct the budgetary imbalance chiefly by making the three successful programs less successful, in a variety of ways, including using a different (and worse) cost-of-living-increase formula. I think this is called cheating, but I’m not sure. Both are afraid to raise taxes in any serious way because they are afraid they won’t get re-elected. However, the most sensible thing to do (in my opinion) would be to go back to pre-Reagan tax-rates and stop the wars as soon as possible–and/or sell war-bonds.

3. Worse, the GOPers chief response to the alleged budgetary crisis is to make it worse, to turn it into a zero-sum game. GOPer-friendly pundits egg them on. Call Obama’s bluff, they cry. Obama, for his part, negotiates craftily, but at the same time, he is essentially GOPerish in his willingness to make successful programs bear the main burden of fixing the budget. Sure, he mumbles things about private jets, but he’s not willing even to propose the sort of tax-increases Clinton instituted. Apparently Clinton raised taxes on those of means about 3%, and that helped the economy a lot, although even I, a mere poet, realize that many economic changes are cyclical; that is, to some degree, Clinton got lucky. Still, his economic policies were less cattywampus.

The current overall response to the cattywampus economy seems profoundly stupid, almost the worst of politics. One impending result seems to be to hurt those who are hurting already: the aged, the infirm, the working class. Either the structure or the powerful inhabitants of American politics or both seem incapable of looking at a cattywampus situation and bringing it back into balance–even when their response seems to hurt them politically! That is, lots of Obama’s supporters have turned their backs on him, and in California (for example), GOPer voter-registration is down to 31%. Yep, only 31% of registered voters are Republican in California. Additionally, the Democratic Party seems to be an ineffective version of the old moderate Republican Party, while the Republican Party seems to define itself more narrowly and freakishly every day. Good grief, McConnell and Boehner are the best they have, apparently! Bachmann is ahead in the polls in Iowa.

The Pseudocracy is ascendant, or so it seems to this poet. The carpenters on the job seem unable or unwilling (or both) to correct a cattywampus foundation. Political scientists and historians may have different, less pessimistic views. I hope so–I think.

The Wages of the Pseudocracy Is Dysfunction

I’ve long been intrigued by the sentence, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” The main source of intrigue demonstrates, again, what a nerd I am, for I wonder why the sentence wasn’t translated, “The wages of sin are death.” Another source of interest is the word “wages,” a nice surprise, different from “price” or “cost” and emphasizing the arguable fact that we earned it, brothers and sisters: we all have it coming, as Clint Eastwood’s character suggests in “The Unforgiven.”

Speaking of the unforgiven (ah, the creaking of a clumsy transition), politicians shouldn’t be forgiven for not behaving in a statesman-like fashion in these times. The wages of the pseudocracy, in which seemingly all political communication and action spring from extremely narrow, vile, self-serving motives, is dysfunction. Consider the debt-ceiling crisis, which has been MADE a crisis by the pseudocracy. As Senator Jim Demented said, “We will break him” (of Obama)–and when a white Southern senator says that of an African American president, listeners may be forgiven (pax Clint) for wondering about the extent to which the country has evolved.

Republicans want Obama gone. Fine. Politics is rough. But it also happens to be the way the country gets things done. That is, politicians actually do have a job besides lying. No, really. There’s a time to go after the opponent (the Book of Ecclesiastes), and a time to do what’s better, if not best, for the country. The health-care crisis remains because the only compromise that could eke by Congress is a mess. Few politicians will talk soberly about how long the American Empire can be sustained, and by Empire I mean all the bases (and therefore treasure) scattered around the world. You know the stats about “defense”: how we spend more than the rest of the world, combined, on it. Not sustainable. Few if any in Congress discuss the high rate of imprisonment in the U.S., especially among African Americans but also among the working class. Few if any will discuss the widening gap between rich and poor or the demonstrable folly (or knavery) of “trickle-down” economics, and we’ve discussed here before how, even at its imagined best, trickling isn’t a good economic model. And it is perhaps indicative of the pseudocracy that that phrase was ever allowed to slide by. To quote my students, “WTF?” Not in so many letters, all journalists, not to mention citizens, should have asked that, continually, of Reagan and his boys. And now of Boehner and his boys and girls, who continue to sell the Trickler to willing buyers (order now and get the Slice-o-matic free).

No, of course, the Dems aren’t immune from pseudocratic nonsense. Most of them are mussels and clams. Mr. Obama negotiates in perplexing ways, and Senator Sanders is correct in asking what, exactly, Obama stands for since he seems to stand for (tolerate) any GOPer ridiculousness.

The wages of the pseudocracy is dysfunction, now not just chronic but acute in the USA. When Michelle Bachmann is a serious presidential candidate, then the Party from which she comes must be deemed foul and ghoulish. When Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate, the Party he represents must be deemed mollusks. When Mr. Sanders, alleged socialist, is as mainstream as most Dems used to be, then one suspects the nation’s politics have lurched. Spasmed. Live by the wedge-issues, die by the wedge-issues. Ignore revenue when discussing the budget? What working-class American family could get by with that crap? Say things like “the American people won’t tolerate taxing job-creators” (Boehner), and you are pseudocratically stewed, a slobbering drunk at a country-club bar.

But I guess we have it coming to us.

Of “Doctrines” and “National Debates”

Online, in print, and from TV/radio, I’ve heard references recently to “a new doctrine” of foreign policy advanced, implicitly, by President Obama’s decision to help European air-forces bomb Libya. For a longer time, I’ve heard commentators and politicians suggest that “we” have a “national debate” on this or that issue. My listening has led me to ponder the value of the two words, “doctrine” and “debate,” in connection with American politics. Both seem highly problematic because of the state of American politics.

The Monroe Doctrine–no more colonizing the Western Hemisphere, Europe–was probably worthy of the term, as it was written down, established a clear point of view regarding Europe, and articulated to Congress. But “the Bush Doctrine” or “the Obama Doctrine”? I don’t think so.

There certainly was Bush Behavior: reckless, arrogant, probably counter to international law (debatable; however, several countries now regard Bush as a war criminal), and slippery: the reasons for invading Iraq kept and keep shifting, and markers of success in Iraq and Afghanistan kept and keep shifting. Christopher Hitchens and others supported the wars because it was (I paraphrase) better to fight “them” over there than over here; that line of reasoning made me think that there was an impeding invasion, and it also reminded me that the terrorists responsible for “9-11” and the Iraqi regime had nothing to do with one another. In other words, the line of thinking didn’t and doesn’t make sense–to me, at least. It does, I realize, to others.

At any rate, if impetuous, hasty, illogical, dishonest, and ill conceived translate into a doctrine, then there is a Bush Doctrine. And is slightly more cautious and cooperative translate into an Obama Doctrine, well, there you go.

I think the more pertinent issue may be that presidents don’t need no stinking doctrines anymore. They can order an invasion or bombing missions whenever and against whomever they want, without consulting Congress. When was the last declared war, after all (duly declared by Congress)? It was World War II, as you know. Congress’s weakness in this area keeps getting worse, to the extend that shaky old Robert Byrd had to be the one to ask why Congress didn’t even discuss or debate the invasion of Iraq. How sad is that?

Which brings us to “national debate.” Maybe one was possible once, but I can’t see how one would be now. The rise of the pseudocracy means almost all discourse is subject to constant manipulation, distraction, and spectacle (thank you, Murray Edelman). There are no agreed-upon facts with regard to most if not all important issues, and once “counseling in connection with terminal illnesses” becomes “death panels,” there can be no debate, only a kind of improvised playground scrum.

Into the debate-vacuum strolls the Executive Branch, especially with regard to foreign policy. Into the debate-vacuum strolls whoever happens to be in charge of Congress for a two-year span–to address problems that require sober thought and action over many years. Into a debate-vacuum strolls the Supreme Court, who may turn a corporation into a person and unleash a flood of cash from unknown headwaters–cash that will make the manipulation, spectacle, absence of agreed-upon facts, and so on even worse.

To deploy a Nixonesque term (Nixon seems so charmlingly amateurish by comparison these days), “doctrine” and “national debate” no longer appear to be “operable.” Have a nice day.

Facts Are Good: Walker Meets With Luntz, and 1 Billion Is a Lot of Money

Running errands in an ancient Volvo yesterday, I heard two facts from a radio interview between Norman Goldman and a member (Democratic) of the Wisconsin legislature (whose name, alas, I have forgotten).

Fact one: In the midst of the budget-crisis, Scott Walker met with GOPer dis-information specialist Frank Luntz. The meeting was unearthed by a Wisconsin newspaper and reported widely elsewhere, including at Mother Jones by Andrew Kroll, who noted:

On the right, Luntz is the man behind the message. He described last year’s much-needed financial reform bill as “a permanent bailout fund.” (Which it wasn’t.) He urged GOPers to paint President Obama’s health care reform bill as a “Washington takeover.” (Wrong again.) He also coined the phrase “death tax” to replace estate tax. In their fights against Democrats, Republicans have eagerly latched onto each of these Luntz-isms and more. And he likely offered Scott Walker, whose public support had begun to erode at the time of their meeting, some tips on how he, too, could rework his message.

“Disinformation specialist” is not unfair or unkind to Luntz, who revels in his ability to deploy language precisely in ways to which Orwell objected.

What does the fact of the meeting mean? Opinions vary, but I think it adds to sense that Walker and other Republican governors are following a strategy set out by Rove, Luntz, and others. One purpose of the strategy seems to be to wreck unions and thus deprive President Obama’s campaign of money; another purpose seems to degrade public education further. Another purpose borders on insane: to refuse federal money for important projects–just to make some kind of point, which eludes me. Approximately 70% of Wisconsin’s population lives within easy access to a railway that federal funds would have turned into a high-speed corridor. So refusing the money is at least a two-fer: reject a project that will put people to work; reject a project that will be good for the economy in the long run.

Fact two, provided by the Democratic legislator, who displayed a kind of bemused, sanguine attitude we’ve come to expect from the Midwest: there are @ 1 billion dollars of outstanding, uncollected taxes “out there” in Wisconsin. They remain uncollected because the revenue department has lost so many employees. Pragmatically, the legislator suggested increasing the staff and collected the money. The overall budget-gap is, I gather, about 2.5 billion, so 1 billion of outstanding tax-revenue is, as highly technical economists would say, quite a chunk of change. But let’s be cautious and assume the Democratic politician may be over-stating. Let’s only “give him” half a billion of un-recovered tax-revenue: still a large percentage, large enough to make one wonder (or not), again, why Walker is spending so much time and political capital on breaking a union–and on “reworking his message.” Love that euphemism: reworking. It means keeping the same message, which isn’t effective, and restating it in such a misleading way that it might well work. Go, Luntz! Damn Eric Blair, full speed ahead!