Monday, December 13, 2010

Beltway "Pragmatism," an Oxymoron.

In a class move that illuminated what a hopeless rube our President is, Jim DeMint just pulled the rug out of a tax bill “compromise” floated for the lame duck session. From a purely partisan elbow throwing perspective it was a thing of beauty. After Obama had caved in on a central plank of his 2008 campaign, tax cuts for the rich, it was still not good enough for Jim DeMint.

His Club for Growth talking points reported by, where else, Talking Points Memo:

President Chris Chocola, Club for growth President:

"The plan would resurrect the Death Tax, grow government, blow a hole in the deficit with unpaid-for spending, and do so without providing the permanent relief and security our economy needs to finally start hiring and growing again."

"Instead, Congress should pass a permanent extension of current rates, including a permanent repeal of the death tax, and drop all new spending," Chocola said. "A month ago, the American people repudiated Washington big government. It's time for both parties to finally hear that message and act on it."

Senator DeMint on the compromise:

“It raises taxes, it raises the death tax. I don't think we needed to negotiate that aspect of this thing away," DeMint said. "I don't think we need to extend unemployment any further without paying for it, and without making some modifications such as turning it into a loan at some point."

With this move the Republicans still hold unemployment benefits hostage, are still demanding a repeal of the estate tax and are still holding out to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Without Republican support, the Obama tax bill goes nowhere. He needs the Elephants to pull him through because the Donkeys are gathering the pitchforks and torches, they absolutely hate this bill. A majority of Democrats will not vote for the bill.

So why in all that is named holy did Obama do this compromise in the first place? Why did he allow the Republicans to play him like a five dollar banjo? Because dear reader, Barack Hussain Obama is the most conventional of believers in the “Conventional Wisdom.” In this alternate reality Obama is only being “pragmatic.” As Mandy Patinkin playing Inigo Montoya would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Pulling our heads out of the sands of the Potomac, what does the word “Pragmatic” mean?
“hardheaded: guided by practical experience and observation rather than theory; "a hardheaded appraisal of our position"; "a hard-nosed labor leader"; "completely practical in his approach to business"; "not ideology but pragmatic politics"..”

In the real world Pragmatism is all about results. It is a philosophy or more properly an anti-philosophy that posits that grand schemes mean little to nothing. It is steadfastly anti-ideological. It is concerned with what “works.” It is facts based and results orientated.

In the looking-glass world of D.C. Pragmatism is all about what can get passed in the sausage factory of the political process. It does not matter if the policy is good, bad, indifferent, or insane; success in D.C. is equating in passing a bill. Thus, it does not matter that the Republican notions about fiscal policy were shown to be disastrous. It does not matter that the Bush economic policies resulted in the weakest job growth, and the weakest economic growth since the 1940’s. It does not matter that Bush economic policies lead to the worst economic melt-down since the Great Depression. It does not matter in 2008 that the voters soundly rejected Republican notions of government by sweeping Democrats into office. No, Republicans get to try their notions again. Tax cuts and less government spending ( except of course for their cronies and the police / military state.) Republicans insisted that we continue their failed policy of trickle-down economics. It was very much like the demands of a binge drinker after an epic bender. The reason, he argues, that the last episode got out of hand was because that he only got to consume tequila, if Everclear would have been served, it would have all worked out. In this scenario bartender Barak “compromised” with the drunk that just recently trashed his bar, and served up Bacardi 151.

In a nutshell this is the transactional genius of our President. He keeps trying to reach across the aisle, only to get his hand bitten. It was barely acceptable in the beginning of his term, he was new, there was hope, the Republicans had just gotten a serious spanking by the voters. Maybe the Elephants would play nice. That notion was proven false by the stimulus vote. Not one Elephant strayed in the House of Representatives. In the Senate Obama got a grand total of three Republican votes. The swift punishment of those three Senators forced two of them back in line, and one right out of the party. After that fiasco, Obama should have surrendered on the idea of bi-partisanship.

The Republicans are not a group that can be reasoned with. They are an ideologically driven cult masquerading as a political party. With the eruption of the TEA Party faithful in 2010, they tack even more to the hard right. These people genuinely believe that theirs is the only acceptable political and policy solution. They reject the very legitimacy of the Democratic Party. They reject the very legitimacy of the liberal ideal. They see their opponents as anti-American, Socialist, Communist, and Thuggish. No Democratic victory is ever legitimate in there eyes. Democrats only win through voter fraud and intimidation. When “real” Americans vote, they vote for Republicans. The “real” Americans vote to “take back” “their” country. They vote to return the nation to the right path, the only path. By voting for the “right” people, taxes will be low, government strong, and the hard working would be rewarded. No longer will “lazy” unemployed people, illegals, feminist, etc. be coddled. No longer would “real” Americans be forced to press 1 for English. God would be in his heaven and all would be right with the world.

You can’t negotiate with the people who have this mindset. There is no compromise with them. The Pragmatism of D.C. does not work when one party of a two party system has become a group of lock-step fanatics. The notion that “truth is in the middle,” falls apart. Policy formation falls apart when one side becomes wedded to an ideology that has a problem with verified facts.

As an illustration take global CO2 poisoning, or as it is more commonly known as “Global Warming.” The Republicans believe it is a myth. They believe it is a fraud. To believe this they have to reject the findings of over 900 scientists. But it gets better, or worse depending on one’s view, they actually believe that the U.N. and its scientists are a part of some conspiracy to foist controls because they ( the U.N. and the scientists) hate America and Capitalism. It is all part of a socialistic plot and they have the e-mails ( stolen, distorted ,taken out of context, and flat-out lied about) to prove it. In a just world any person screaming about “Climategate” would have been placed in an I-love-me jacket and whisked away to a padded room a long time ago. But instead of seeing those nice young men in their clean white suites, climate change deniers are paid multi-million dollar salaries by Fox News to spin their paranoid musings. Or they become a force in the Republican Senate leadership. Thanks to the blow-out of 2010 these ideologues will now scotch the House subcommittee on global warming. See, we told you it was fake. Meanwhile, in the real world, climate change continues and accelerates despite the best efforts of the Republicans and their corporate backers to “refudiate” it.

We could go one with examples of the Republicans’ issues with the liberal bias of reality. We could continue to point out were ideology has trumped objective reasoning, but it is far too depressing. The point is that when “Pragmatism” is defined by “negotiating” with extremists; it is not any type of pragmatism worth the name. When the choice offered by this “Pragmatism” is between bad policy and hideous policy; it is not a choice worth mentioning. Real pragmatism is about offering policy that works, that is reality based, that has objective markers. No failed notions need apply. Show me measurable results.

It there is to be a third party in the USA, let it be the Pragmatist Party. It would be a party dedicated to preserving and then re-expanding middle class democracy. Its goal would to rebuild the USA, not only material but also morally. As a public entity its top concern would be to reinvigorate the public realm, especially the infrastructure of the nation. It would be allergic to grand notions, especially when those notions lead us far from our shores. The Pragmatist Party would always keep three things in mind: facts on the ground, facts on the ground, facts on the ground. It would borrow its motto from Abraham Lincoln “let us reason together.” The Pragmatist Party would avoid overheated rhetoric the way an Ultra-Orthodox Jew avoids pork. It would have no time or patience for the fear mongering of either the Left or Right. It would be small c conservative, unwilling to interfere with its ordinary citizens private lives unless there was a compelling reason.

In the economic field it would focus like a laser on expanding the middle class. It would understand the difference between the creative destruction of Capitalism and the chaotic destruction of Capitalism. It would intervene early and often to correct the excesses of Capitalism. It would have no use or patience for extremist laissez faire Free Market notions, It would not equate vast sums of personal wealth with a proof of moral superiority. It would understand that there are parts of our lives that can not be ruled by the notions of competitive capitalism. It would understand that talent in making money does not translate into any other discernible talent. A Pragmatist Party would neither hate nor worship wealth. Its only concern would be to harness the wealth of individuals to the wealth of the nation. When great wealth started to causing great harm, when income inequity became a threat to the stability of the political and policy process, it would intervene. A Pragmatist Party would understand that too much wealth concentrated in too few hands is ultimately toxic to the health of the nation.

If the overarching idea of modern Conservatism is that people are basically evil, and the overarching idea of modern Liberalism is that people are basically good, the overarching idea of Pragmatism is that people are basically human. Most people are what they are, judge them by their behavior and nothing else. To a Pragmatist results matter, they are the only thing that matter. The utilitarian measure, the greatest good for the greatest number is the only measure that matters.

We as a people need to reclaim the idea of Pragmatism. We need to take Pragmatism back from the apparatchiks of the chattering class. We need to recover Pragmatism from the corrosive and corrupting cesspools of the Potomac fever swamps. If do not reclaim the true meaning of this most core of US core values “Pragmatism” will degenerate in to just another synonym for “sell out.”
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