Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 26, 2010

GERSON MAKES HIS CASE.... It's not every day I'm called out in a Washington Post print column, so I suppose I'm compelled to return once again to the discussion surrounding Saturday's "sabotage" item.

Today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who passed along a message on Twitter the other day calling me an "idiot," devotes much of his print column to the observation I raised. Not surprisingly, the Post columnist wasn't especially impressed by my presentation.

He suggests at the outset that my argument is somehow an attempt to avoid dealing with the "inadequacies" and "failure" of "liberalism." It's an odd line of reasoning -- Gerson's former boss bequeathed an economic catastrophe, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit, and a housing crisis, among other calamities. Democratic policymakers, scrambling to address the catastrophic failures of Bush-brand conservatism, have managed to create an economy that's growing, creating jobs, and generating private-sector profits, while stabilizing a financial system that teetered on collapse. (What's more, if Gerson believes the size and scope of the Obama administration's economic agenda are consistent with what "liberalism" has in mind, he knows far less about the ideology than he should.)

If Gerson is anxious to explore the "inadequacies" and "failures" of a modern political ideology, I might suggest he's looking in the wrong place.

But more importantly, Gerson's column takes issue with his perceptions of my argument.

[T]here is an alternative narrative, developed by those who can't shake their reverence for Obama. If a president of this quality and insight has failed, it must be because his opponents are uniquely evil, coordinated and effective. The problem is not Obama but the ruthless conspiracy against him.

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for "deliberate economic sabotage" from the GOP - as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that "Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there's a Democrat in the White House." Steve Benen explains, "We're talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country -- on purpose, in public, without apology or shame -- for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012." Benen's posting was titled "None Dare Call it Sabotage."

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating "massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system."

That's incomplete, at best. Use of the phrase "seems to have something to do with" is Gerson's way of summarizing a larger argument that he may have struggled to fully understand.

So perhaps I should clarify matters.

We are, by all measures, in the midst of a fragile economic recovery. Under the circumstances, Americans very likely hope that policymakers in Washington are committed to improving economic conditions further.

It's against this backdrop that congressional Republicans have vowed to take capital out of the economy, create more public-sector unemployment, eliminate effective jobs programs, urge the Federal Reserve to stop focusing on lowering unemployment, and fight tooth and nail to protect a tax policy that's been tried for nearly a decade without success. By their own admission, GOP officials have said economic growth is not their priority; Hoover-like deficit reduction is.

While advocating this agenda, one of the most powerful Republican officials on Capitol Hill has argued, more than once, that his "top priority" isn't job creation, but rather, "denying President Obama a second term in office."

Taken together, I suggested it's time for an uncomfortable conversation. I obviously can't read the minds of GOP policymakers, but it seems at least worth talking about whether they're prioritizing the destruction of a presidency over the needs of the nation.

It's also worth emphasizing that my point about "uncertainty" was meant as a form of mockery. The right is obsessed with the debunked notion that "economic uncertainty" is responsible for the lack of robust growth, so in raising my observation, I noted that it's the Republican agenda that seems focused on adding to this uncertainty -- vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing to re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibility of sending the United States into default.

What's more, I'm fascinated by the notion that I'm describing a "conspiracy" -- a word Gerson uses four times in his column. I made no such argument. There's no need for secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms; there's no reason to imagine a powerful cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. The proposition need not be fanciful at all -- a stronger economy would improve President Obama's re-election chances, so Republicans are resisting policies and ideas that would lead to this result.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn't especially cagey about his intentions: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.... Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

Given this, is it really that extraordinary to wonder if this might include rejecting proposals that would make President Obama look more successful on economic policy -- especially given the fact that McConnell's approach to the economy appears to be carefully crafted to do the opposite of what's needed? After Gerson's West Wing colleagues effectively accused Democrats of treason in 2005, is it beyond the pale to have a conversation about Republicans' inexplicable motivations?

I'd hoped my original argument would generate a larger discussion, and I suppose it has to a certain extent, but it's nevertheless striking to me that Gerson's column makes no effort whatsoever to respond with anything substantive. He finds it sufficient to dismiss the very idea casually, as if the observation merits a print column, but not a policy-focused refutation.

And that's a shame. It's not uncommon for Republican media personalities to make the transition from "loyal Bushies" to sanctimonious pundits, but I'd hoped Gerson, after having several days to think about it, would come up with a more compelling, more thoughtful, argument on an issue of national importance.

My hopes, alas, were in vain.

* Update: I'd originally included an incorrect sentence in this post about Gerson on Krugman, so I removed it. Apologies.

* Second Update: Greg Sargent raises some terrific points in response to Gerson, most notably the fact that GOP leaders have, repeatedly and on the record, said "they needed to deny Obama successes for their own political purposes."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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Comments

I can't understand how Gerson didn't make the War Room Hack 30:
http://www.salon.com/news/war_room_hack_thirty/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/11/24/the_hack_thirty

He deserves to be in the top 10, I think.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on November 26, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

You have Gerson on the run. Submit today's post or something like it as an Op Ed to the NYT or WaPo. I suggest NYT because we want this discussion to be heard and considered by the widest possible audience.

Posted by: Ron Byers on November 26, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Must be getting pretty close to the sore spot Steve. Keep poking!

Posted by: the seal on November 26, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Hello? The head Republicans have said their #1 goal is to defeat Obama in 2012. Not help Americans get back to work. Not protect America, or get the economy growing, or cut the deficit. Their goal is to defeat the President of the United States.

Gerson needs to read his own team's statements.

Posted by: R on November 26, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson very conveniently leaves out any facts that will show how wrong he is. He doesn't care how carefully your argument is documented. He doesn't care what the truth is. He only cares about creating his own "reality". therefore, once the obvious (Republicans care more about regaining power than the economy or jobs) becomes public knowledge, it must be discredited, facts be damned.

It amazes me how some of these people can so clearly project their own faults onto others and not see how obvious it is.

Posted by: atlliberal on November 26, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, since one of their columnists has mis-characterized your argument, you should ask to be allowed to respond in your own op-ed. It's worth a try.

Posted by: Azelie on November 26, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I think many of the Tea Partiers would not only agree with you but cheer on Republicans who are willing to "sabotage" the economy because they believe that in the long run the country will be better with an economy reminiscent of 1910.

Posted by: tomb on November 26, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson is the worst kind of 'hack.' A talentless, naroow-minded one who can't write.

Steve, yes, please do try to submit something to the WaPo, or especially the NY Times - where you may have a better chance, and a far larger readership than the Washington Postule.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 26, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson didn't respond substantively because to do so he would have had to consider that your argument had some merit, and that is something Republicans simply cannot allow themselves to entertain.

To modern conservatives, the only legitimate ideas or opinions are conservative, and Gerson is unlikely to ever be convinced otherwise.

What is important is that you and others have brought the matter of politics-first, country-last to into the sphere of public discourse, where others not so jaded as Gerson are hearing it for the first time.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: beep52 on November 26, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Booyah!

I find it amazing that Gerson could be so dumb as to address this at such a high level. Either people on that level are already talking about this in a way that Gerson felt needed to be addressed or he's a thin-skinned fool that just made things worse for his team. In no case will his column serve the purpose he intended it to serve, unless his plan was a little secret sabotage of his own.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on November 26, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

"...Gerson's column makes no effort whatsoever to respond with anything substantive."

Shorter Gerson: "Look! Squirrel!"

Posted by: delNorte on November 26, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Steve,

I'm a big fan of yours and agree that to a certain extent the GOP are trying to sabotage Obama (e.g. New START). But I think you've overstated your case.

There is no doubt in my mind that Conservatives really do reject Keynesian economics. And they genuinely believe that cutting spending (even jobs programs!) and (rich people's) taxes will help the economy. And the reason I think that? Look at England. Conservatives are in charge there - and they are cutting away at everything. In fact they are probably keener cutters of stimulatory measures over there than Conservatives are here. No (intentional) sabotage at all.

I believe the GOP are wrong. But I think it's hard to make a case that they are pursuing any other economic course than they would if they were currently in govt.

Let's just hope they don't get their way.

Posted by: chas on November 26, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Package the part from where you say you'll clarify matters and send it to the WPost as an op-ed in response.
And folks here might suggest to the Post's ombudsperson that something such as that should run in the post.

Posted by: Larry Reilly on November 26, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Nice pun about taking [the] "capitol" out of the economy.

Posted by: Ned on November 26, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

It has become a Republican policy to confuse the issues by accusing the Democrats of
conservative crimes . They are disaffecting the economy so they can occupy both the low and high ground. They believe people in general and conservatives specifically dont have
the intelligent where-with-all to connect the dots. They have succeeded in this so far, however, their slight of hand seems to be getting the attention conservatives hoped to avoid. I can only give the Democratic strategists this advise: its the narrative stupid ! Quite I say quite trying to avoid attaching their false narrative and peruse telling the truth; the truth will set us free.

Posted by: Jim keating on November 26, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Years ago I had a friend who pulled an appeals case out of the firm's pro-bono barrel in which the perp had walked into the station house, placed a gun on the desk sergeant's desk, and said, in front of witnesses blue and civilian, 'I shot him. I shot the MF and I'm happy'.

Didn't leave my friend much to go on for an appeal.

McConnell's party admission against interest wasn't quite that bad but it was close.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on November 26, 2010 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Gerson, when Republicans have openly declared political war on a President, his party, and their policies (which have generated positive results, BTW) it's pretty clear what they're doing. You are the idiot.

Posted by: Varecia on November 26, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

He makes the same argument that David Brooks does; it's a failure of liberalism that got us where we are. That's a lazy argument, and even if you accept that premise, then he'd have to argue that the eight years of the administration he served is proof that conservatism is a failure because cutting taxes and loosening regulations -- two of their mantras -- were spectacular failures. So too was their bulging-crotch foreign policy. So liberalism failed because Obama couldn't clean up that mess in one-third of the time.

As for the "conspiracy" meme, the pundit [Gerson] doth protest too much, methinks. He's caught in the act.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on November 26, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson is doing his level best to submit "an argument" against you with mis-characterizations and glaring omissions of fact. His dismissive attitude toward your viewpoint probably was supposed to have been the authoritative last word.


I encourage you to follow up on the idea of an responsive op-ed. If only to bring into focus the merits of the argument rather than allow a conservative hack frame the debate - to attribute falsehoods to your own viewpoint --with straw men and omissions of truth.

Posted by: jcricket on November 26, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

What team Obama better figure out pretty damn quick is that the point of the game is to make the Gersons scream. Not to appease them. If they approve of what you are doing and saying that is a sure sign that you are fucking up.

Posted by: SW on November 26, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

What I have failed to hear from Gerson and McConnell and Boehner is their fidelity to their policies. We haven't heard from them how returning to supply-side economics, compassionate conservatism and the Bush tax cuts will change our economic woes, or for that matter, we haven't heard them defending any of their recent actions from the last time they held the gavel.

I want McConnell to more fully explain what he means when he says he wants to see Pres. Obama be a one term president - Gerson needs to address such rhetoric. I want to know more from Joe "You Lie" Wilson about his willingness to denigrate decorum, and from Boehner when he says his is the Party of Hell No.

I want to know more specific policy plans from our friends in the Republican party, but I'm sincerely afraid they are coordinating do-nothingism to politically sabotage their political opponent when we Americans want all politicians to work together toward economic recovery for the middle class, and toward putting working Americans back to work.

We need to witness engagement from the Republicans these next two years, or the likes of Gerson's will be seen for the bullshit it is! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 26, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Sabotage is only an extension of their "party of no" for the last 2 years. Since the voters rewarded that strategy, why not take it up to the next level?

I understand that Gerson needs to deny this. But it should come as no surprise to anyone that they'd adopt such a strategy.

It will be up to the media and the voters to let them know that this will not be tolerated. So I welcome the conversation you've started.

Posted by: Nancy on November 26, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Gerson: "we're stupid, not evil".

Posted by: Bob on November 26, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson says that it's not sabotage, they're truly pursuing what they think is right for the country. This shouldn't be a hard debate to resolve.

The key question: when offered the choice between their ideology (which they think, perhaps wrongly in the left's view, will improve the economy) and their political interest (ie opposing Obama, even at the cost of something that, according to their ideology, would be bad for the economy), which do they choose?

Time and again, they've chosen their political interest. Some examples:
- They claim to oppose spending, but they rushed to attack the ACA for seeming to cut some Medicare payments.
- They claim to support small businesses, but they rushed to oppose a FULLY PAID FOR package of aid to small businesses.
- They claim to support a monetarist approach to macroeconomic policy, and to support central bank independence, but they vocally opposed the Fed's QE policies.

The conclusion is obvious - whenever they had a chance to gut the economy (EVEN BY THEIR OWN WORLDVIEW) but advance their political interests, they went for their political interests. That's politically-motivated sabotage in my book.

Posted by: Basilisc on November 26, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

It seems that the word "sabotage" hits a nerve over there, on the Other Side. Keep it up!

Incidentally, the word derives from the French, during the Industrial Revolution, when workers threw their wooden shoes (sabots) into the machinery, as a protest against progress- an apt description of today's Republican machinations.

Posted by: DAY on November 26, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Before the Republican Party became a church, there was the possibility of engaging them in real-world policy approaches. Even Richard Nixon showed this pragmatic bent as president. But in the aftermath of Reagan, the trimuph of ideology has scuttled even partial bipartisanship. And the result is Total Political War with the True Believers refusing to participate in anything tainted by pragmatism. Gerson's counterattack here is meant to justify not only the horror of supply-side economic theory but the radicalization of the GOP. And to call this politics "sabotage" is hardly impolite. Indeed, it's virtually an euphemism for something much darker. Insofar as Democrats back off from this necessary accusation, the situation will only grow worse. That's the real tragedy confronting this nation.

Posted by: walt on November 26, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Ask for an op-ed. I know I'm totally behind you. I'm so tired of bloviating hacks like Gerson.

Posted by: IndigoJoe on November 26, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are willing to ignore Global warming evidence, turn their backs on the uninsured and returning thousands of returning vets, vilify the unemployed and illegal immigrants while committing felonious acts in order to maintain power; why is it so difficult to even consider the argument that several leading GOP members may be in favor of creating an unproductive Congress in an attempt to shore up wide public support for 2012?

Posted by: Nuty Littlt Nut Nut on November 26, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Basilisc has hit on the key rhetorical move that needs to be made here. Add to the list: They claimed the stimulus would not create jobs but were first in line to apply for stimulus funds to create jobs in their own states/districts.

Posted by: MudFunk on November 26, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kick his A$$, Seabass !

Posted by: Phil in Denver on November 26, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Mitch McConnell's avowed goal of making Barack Obama a one term President tells you everything you need to know about the American political system.

It's no longer about governing or wielding power. It's just about getting to the top of a rather stinky heap and planting your flag. It's not about ideology so much as it is about winning.

In his book, _Idiot America_, Charles Pierce pointed out that one thing we in this country are good about is choosing up sides and rooting for our team. We start doing it on the schoolyard and we keep on doing it throughout life. We learn to hate the "other side," whether it's a team, a country, or a political party almost from the moment we can walk.

And, of course, the media explicitly and implicitly encourage us in our hates and our side choosing, since conflict sells newspapers, books, and magazines, and draws eyes and ears to the teevee and radio.

In his largely misdirected criticism of Keith Olbermann, Ted Koppel made one point which I do find to be important: when CBS's "60 Minutes" started making money, the networks realized that news could be a profit center, not a loss leader sop to the FCC's public service requirement.

This was perhaps the beginning of the end, since in order to draw the maximal number of viewers for a minimal expenditure of cash, the easiest and most convenient way to do it is to turn domestic politics into a form of sport, with winners, losers, and daily box score standings.

With the advent of cable news and the 24 hour news cycle, it was perhaps inevitable that we'd end up with networks themselves becoming part of the system, with FOX News blatantly and unashamedly becoming first a cheer leader for one side and eventually becoming an almost literal player on the field, and now MSNBC sidling up to the other side.

Perhaps it's human nature that everything in this country eventually becomes a competitive sport: even something as benign and creative as cooking, for heaven's sake. Just look at the programming on Food Network (if you can stomach it). "Cupcake Wars," of all things.

It's all just a game: we cheer for our side, boo the opposition, and there's no referee.

Mitch McConnell is simply more out front about it than most.

Posted by: Steve on November 26, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Hit 'em where it hurts!

Posted by: John Henry on November 26, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Well, if you hadn't touched a nerve, Steve, there wouldn't be this orchestrated pushback. The best part is now that the possibility has been raised in a Dead Tree mainstay like the WaPo by a partisan hack like Gerson, even though in opposition, your very credible assertion will be injected into the "mainstream" discourse. Kudos.

Posted by: tomvox1 on November 26, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

The evidence for sabotage is clearest with START. If Republican senators were serious about making a case that the everyone in the military, the Defense Department, and the national security establishment, was wrong about the treaty, they would be behaving quite differently. But they just mumble evasively about reservations concerning this or that technicality, and in fact everyone knows what they are doing. No one it trying to credit them with sincerity or any motivation other than undermining Obama.

Posted by: Andy McLennan on November 26, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

"Add to the list: They claimed the stimulus would not create jobs but were first in line to apply for stimulus funds to create jobs in their own states/districts."

And lets not forget the giant cheques and photo ops when the money got there.

I want to see your rebuttal to Gerson, in both NYT and WaPo!

Posted by: Pat on November 26, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Good thing Gerson put this in the WaPO since it has become nothing but a Republican mouthpiece, almost as reliable as WSJ and fauxnews. I agree with all who suggest Steve answering in NYT since that is the only credible print source now available.

Posted by: withay on November 26, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

@chas - I appreciate the willingness to concede the GOP may be genuine in their opposition to stimulus due to anti-Keynesianism. But it's not true, the GOP is committed to Keynesian solutions to economic slowdowns. Tax cuts are a Keynesian solution, just not an efficient one.

The GOP does not have an ideological objection to stimulating the economy, just a political effectiveness objection. If Obama succeeds, they are in trouble for a generation, and they know it.

Posted by: danimal on November 26, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson is such a pathetic hack. Clearly, this analysis hit a little too close to home for him.

Posted by: TR on November 26, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Steve: keep telling it like it is.

Your are absolutely correct on this one.

Posted by: jjm on November 26, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

It amazes me how some of these people can so clearly project their own faults onto others and not see how obvious it is.

Posted by: atlliberal on November 26, 2010 at 9:50 AM

I've said it before and I'll say it again: these are hideous people. Nothing matters to them except their own self-gratification and lust for power. Gerson is a typical low rent D.C. hack who cares about one thing only: David Gerson. Please, someone, do the world a favor and bring back the guillotine.

Posted by: electrolite on November 26, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Correction: Michael Gerson, not David Gerson above.

Posted by: electrolite on November 26, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

"while stabilizing a financial system that teetered on collapse." Credit for this has to go to what was done in the Bush administration mostly by Paulson and Bernanke. Of course while the financial system was prevented from collapsing at that moment, little has changed and it is probably still teetering.

To bad that time and space have to be devoted to answering Gerson, who is by definition a political hack.

Posted by: skeptonomist on November 26, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

The phrase "conspiracy theory" has been applied in the media in such a way that anybody who holds one is, by definition, crazy. But when the overwhelming evidence supports such a theory, then it is the ones who refuse to believe it who should be considered crazy.

What overwhelming evidence? For one, the fact that Republicans were for various Federal Reserve policies for decades (e.g., fighting unemployment and quantitative easing) before they were suddenly against them.

For another, the fact that Republicans were for various Obama appointments, policies, and initiatives (e.g., TARP, auto company bailouts, health insurance mandates, middle class and business tax cuts, treaties with Russia to reduce nuclear proliferation, non-controversial judges and other appointees, and on and on and on) before turning on a dime to oppose them.

It doesn't take a crazy conspiracy theorist to see that the GOP seeks to sabotage any progress by this President, even at the expense of jobs, our security, and the economy. It just takes somebody who is paying attention.

Gerson's crocodile tears don't fool me. He's part of the problem, and he knows it.

Posted by: Chris on November 26, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Steve, Greg Sargent has your back.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on November 26, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

chas wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that Conservatives really do reject Keynesian economics. And they genuinely believe that cutting spending (even jobs programs!) and (rich people's) taxes will help the economy."

FYI, cutting taxes to help the economy is Keynesian economics.

Posted by: Chris on November 26, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Gerson: "we're stupid, not evil". - Bob

Even shorter: Petard. Hurts.

Posted by: Marko on November 26, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Gerson can try and pretend the wingers' actions on economic issues are borne of a difference in philosophy, but how does he explain the unprecedented obstruction of non-controversial judicial and executive nominees? How about the historically non-partisan START treaty and/or extension of unemployment benefits?

The right's attempts to destroy are obvious to anyone with an ounce of objectivity.

Posted by: Holmes on November 26, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I also support the idea of an op-ed response. I would suggest that you go into a little bit more detail on how the GOP is frustrating proven economic solutions, such as the program that was not renewed at the end of September and praised by Haley Barbour (can't remember the program name), and some of the numbers demonstrating why the Bush tax policy has done nothing for the economy.

Also, perhaps the op-ed would have a better chance of being accepted if you and Matt jointly submitted it.

Food for thought. Go get 'em!

Posted by: Drew P on November 26, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Now you see it - Now you don't.
Gerson inexplicably brings up a favored screed of the old John Birchers from the Goldwater era written by a seriously demented wingnut :

In 1964, John Stormer, a sabotage theorist of the right, came out with the book "None Dare Call It Treason," which asked: "Is there a conspiratorial plan to destroy the United States into which foreign aid, planned inflation, distortion of treaty-making powers and disarmament all fit?" Stormer's progressive descendants are just as discrediting to the ideas they claim to serve.

I can't figure out how Gerson got the progressives of today to be descendants of Stormer.
Did Stormer maybe rape a bunch of DFH girls during the Summer of Love?

The Amateur Left has it's own conspiracy theorists and gerson is a pig for ignoring them and using a RW pinhead like Stormer for his BS analogy.

Posted by: cwolf on November 26, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Those of us who - because we live in NYC - suffer away on Wall Street jobs - know there is a full-scale strike of business against Obama in place.

Posted by: Jim on November 26, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Consider the source when anything comes from WaPo and espoecially Gerson. The only interesting thing about Gerson is that he was hired at all by an organization with so many right wing crackpots already on board. Earth to WaPo: we get it, you want to be another War Street Journel.

Posted by: max on November 26, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

And of course, Gerson is indulging in the hackery of the presumptous pscyhological motivation:
"If a president of this quality and insight has failed, it must be because his opponents are uniquely evil, coordinated and effective. The problem is not Obama but the ruthless conspiracy against him."
That's a way to dodge the substance, just spin a yarn about motives. Sometimes of course such motives are the case, but the critic must both deal with the substantive issues in a substantive way, and give cause for believing the motivational charge.

"Fine minds make fine distinctions."

Posted by: Neil B on November 26, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Gerson is only calling attention to your views. Keep it up and he'll keep it up, and your views will be more widely known.

Bring it on!

Posted by: Steve on November 26, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Gerson also exhibits the classic Bush tactic of selective omission of facts to manipulate reality to conform to his ideology.

Keep telling the truth. It's driving him nuts.

Posted by: Steve on November 26, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

You can use Gerson and his ilk as something of a probe of your rhetoric. If they coo and nod their heads approvingly you have screwed up and made yourself a patsy. If they go ballistic, you are on the right track and have hit an exposed nerve, close to a vulnerable location.

They are screaming because you are right, and if the press was doing its job it never would have been allowed to get to this point. Fifty years ago, any party that behaved in this manner would have been pilloried. Would have been considered treasonous. But there is no press today. Just corporate mouth pieces. And the vestigual remnants of the press are terrified to stray from a twisted vision of objectivity that has taken common sense out of the equation.

Posted by: SW on November 26, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Please tell me he didn't use the electrical grid as an example?

Yes when a chamber of commerce darling like Enron deliberately cut off electricity and gas rather than accept non-monopolized market prices the chamber of commerce and the GOP had their back. Now to get away with that Enron had to spend millions lobbying by becoming the biggest financial contributors to the Bush white house. (Need a plane? Have ours! Need an attorney General, have our attorney, he comes with his own political strategist/dirty trickster)

So what did Republicans do when they watched the misery Enron caused in California unfold on their TV? What did they do when they saw American citizens and businesses in the 20th century having to spend hours without electricity? They keep demanding their cut of the proceeds in campaign contributions.

Thanks to the craven desire for power by the GOP and some dems the basic common good of working electricity, key to the Californian economy, gets sacrificed.... yes, mr Gersom, thats exactly what Liberals think happened and worry will continue to happen but this time on a global scale.

If Gersom is busy evaluating the state of liberalism then he should know that Enron and Sarbannes Oxley are kind of important to liberals. For the benefit of Mr Gersom, lets go over the economics of Enron one more time:

  • You are a for profit entity, nothing wrong with that, it just means you have to increase profits every year
  • You cant really convince people to use more electricity*
  • You can, however, strengthen your monopoly and raise prices
  • At some point people will can afford you product, but only just. Some start buying less so you have to squeeze the 99% of costumers you still have even harder.
  • If at this point if you wish to raise prices then you have to create a credible threat of what life looks like without your service: "pay up or the frozen turkey in your freezer gets it... with a rolling blackout"

*) It works pretty much the same with financial services, health insurance and pharmaceutical products. If the biggest players weren't monopolies they couldn't hold their own customers hostage and demand to be let to continue their anti-competitive practices or, even worse, demand a no questions asked bailout.

When Ronald Reagans tax plans didn't work out for the US economy as a whole, he changed course. When the current republican and deregulating dem plans ended up sacrificing the entire worlds economy, what did they do? They, unlike even Bush himself, stayed the course. How long can someone keep doing that before you start asking whether maybe they are just happy with the status quo?

Sure republicans will vote for a bailout, they will probably also vote for expanding the dept ceiling and START, question is will the do it before or after the DOW take its biggest one day plunge in its entire history....? (How is that for uncertainty?) Maybe its the interest on US government bonds that explodes way beyond Greece because republicans are a little to eager to play political chicken with the creditworthiness of uncle Sam. Or maybe its the situation with power cuts to nuclear alarm systems, nukes being flown around the country with nobody noticing, peace protesters pretty much wandering into the high security hangers that store tactical nukes throughout Europe and Turkey and nuclear parts mistakenly being send to Taiwan, well maybe that situation deteriorates further because the GOP is not serious about the nuclear legacy of the cold war... well don't say the liberals weren't there with priorities that are remarkably similar to those of the the US public and offering solutions that tend to poll more than 60% is all I am saying.

Anyway, watch the person who has been driving the republican economic policy, their economic advisor, if you will. Now tell me what the difference is with elected republicans? That video make you long for the days of Phil-mental recession-Gramm.

Posted by: rt on November 26, 2010 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

@chas: I understand the comparison you're drawing to the current Conservative budget-slashing in the UK, but there's one major difference that hasn't been mentioned yet: the matter of accountability. Because the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition can implement its choice of policies, it owns the results. If the program fails to revive the economy, or otherwise proves to be unpopular enough, voters know whom to blame. In the US separation-of-powers system, in contrast, any failure to get the economy going will be placed largely on the president, however culpable Congressional opposition might be. Each side will point fingers at the other, but the easily confused public will be inclined to blame the White House. In short, the British system gives its parties incentives to do their best while they're in power, while the American system currently gives an opposition party in Congress incentives to undercut the president, no matter what the costs to the economy.

Posted by: Jeremy B. on November 26, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

It's no co-incidence that PBS News Hour inserts Gerson with Shields when Brooks is away. He's just a watered-down, dumbed-down low-key apologist for the same regressive crap these people have been peddling for years and years.

Go after the smarmy son of a bitch.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on November 26, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Keep the pressure on. Use the 'S' word freely. Cite examples, they are plentiful. Couple it with the failed policies of the past that benefited the plutocratic Republican base to the exclusion of the middle class. Link to their constant lying. The Republicans have a very significant motive to undermine a sitting Democratic administration, and they are just stupid enough in the short run to make this public information.

As I predicted a few days ago, this criticism hits the Republican Party where they are vulnerable and Gerson is just the guy to run his mouth and keep the issue front and center.

Keep it up. Yeah, give the Post a nice little op-ed rejoinder. Put them in the uncomfortable position: if they run it they get torched by the Republicans whose butts they kiss regularly. If they refuse to publish it they are clearly endorsing the Republican strategy of political scorched earth at the expense of the American public.

Posted by: Nat on November 26, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

may I suggest that "seems to have something to do with" is also Gerson's passive-aggressive disclaimer. Translation: "if it turns out I'm wrong, at least I didn't make the claim assertively." Real coward he is.

Posted by: daphne on November 26, 2010 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Driftglass had a great piece yesterday on David Brooks (who's almost as big a tool as Gerson), suggesting how Brooks might respond to a police investigator questioning him following a mugging. I don't think I'd spoil the surprise if I suggested he might have blamed liberals. The piece is entitled "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Congress with His Head Up His Ass While Sucking His Own Balls". Which didn't really have anything to do with the narrative that followed, although it provided a nice lead-in for a direct comparison between David Brooks and a Naked Mole Rat. The rat is even wearing a pink tie, like Brooks. You can find it here:

http://driftglass.blogspot.com/2010/11/beast-that-shouted-love-at-heart-of.html

Posted by: Mark on November 26, 2010 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Keep at it! The more Gerson feels it necessary to reply, the greater the chances that the MSM will, eventually, pick up on it; if only to comment on the feud.
Once THAT level has been reached someone on some news hour will notice how what the Republicans are saying now are exactly opposite of what they were saying then*. It's a question the Republicans fear because they have no answer for it, other than one of extreme partisanship.

*"Now" being with Mr. Obama as President and "then" when Mr. Reagan was President.

Posted by: Doug on November 26, 2010 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

When you have nothing to argue...be as condescending as possible. It pleases and convinces the authoritarian addicts.

This GOP obstructionism was announced the very first day Obama took office and their tactics were obvious long before your article which merely pointed a finger at it.

Gerson lacks the ability to look beyond his own partisanship in his feeble attempt to dismiss the truth. In this case the truth hurt so he felt the need to attack the truth-teller.

Posted by: bjobotts on November 26, 2010 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

It's very simple to counter anything Gerson might spew forth. Have him explain how, if the Republicans were actually trying to sabotage the country, their actions would be any different from what they are now. In other words, what difference would there be between the Republicans' actual behavior and their behavior if they were trying to screw up the works.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on November 26, 2010 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Angry Bear documents Alan Greenspan's use of FED monetary policy to aid Republicans presidents re-election prospects and sabotage Clinton's re-election run in '96.

Angry Bear How about 1996? 1996 saw the single biggest decline in real M1 per capita in all the years going back to 1959. Sure, the economy was growing at a good clip, but it was only the 17th fastest growing year in the sample.

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2007/03/did-alan-greenspan-illegally-manipulate.html

This really is nothing new. Nixon sabotaged peace talks with North Vietnam in '68 and Reagan sabatoged Carter's hostage negotiations with Iran in '80.
Republicans are on a holy mission, and their god approved destiny to save this country for capitalism always justifies the means.

Posted by: patrick II on November 26, 2010 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Great post, Steve Benen! I hope you are able to push back in the NYT or WP. It would be a great thing if the MSM actually tried to show both sides of the story this once.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the burden is on the Republicans to explain and provide evidence that their economic policies will accomplish something good for the US; since this is impossible to do, they simply make claims and go use character assassination and and distraction when challenged.

Posted by: PTate in MN on November 26, 2010 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with chas @10:09. From Gerson: "One is tempted to respond that it is $1 trillion in new debt, the prospect of higher taxes and a complicated, disruptive health-reform law that have created "massive economic uncertainty." For the purposes of this argument, however, it is sufficient to say that all these economic policy debates have two sides."

On one point - It's unhelpful to imply that the health care bill has not created uncertainty (See write-downs, personal health savings accounts, "will my company choose to drop their plan?," "what I can't keep my doctor?", "wait it's a tax? you said it wasn't a tax?" ) The health care bill has clearly created uncertainty. If repealing it - or the prospect of repealing it - also creates uncertainty that's a discussion to have. Not proof that Republicans want the economy to suffer.

If Gerson's article lacks nuance, Benen raises and goes all in: "It's against this backdrop that congressional Republicans have vowed to take capital out of the economy, create more public-sector unemployment, eliminate effective jobs programs, urge the Federal Reserve to stop focusing on lowering unemployment, and fight tooth and nail to protect a tax policy that's been tried for nearly a decade without success." This is an attempt to engage in an "uncomfortable conversation"? Seems like thoroughly one-sided spin.

Posted by: Trying to discuss on November 26, 2010 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

More and more people are on to them. This clearly worries Gerson, especially when it's put out in the public sphere like that.

Nicely done. I wholeheartedly agree that you should submit this for print in some way.

Posted by: John O on November 27, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

I think this discussion NEEDS to be had.

But Steve, I am not sure you are going to like the results of this.

The American people are pretty much sick and tired of people wandering around accusing those who disagree with them of being "UnAmerican" and of committing "sabotage".

How did that work out?

When the Bush admin called Iraq War protesters unAmerican, things started to unravel. People started to notice all the flaws.
When Pelosi and Reid called the protests at Town hall meetings unamerican ... the approval rating of Obama started to plummet.

I don't think you will like the results of this discussion.
So by all means lets have it.

Especially since I suspect quite a few ( and I mean a HUGE amount ) of progressive leaders will be shown to be just as guilty of such charges.
And like all true believers. You won't be willing to throw all of them under the bus.
( And they should ALL be thrown under the bus if they are guilty. Regardless of party or progressive/conservative credentials ).

Posted by: Chromehawk on November 27, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Ditto what everyone else said, plus this (which is so obvious, it must have been said elsewhere, and many times -- just not in this thread, yet):
The Pubbies are fond of accusing Dem's / lib's / progressives / what-have-you of naivet� -- in that "all you have to do is listen to what the terrorists / Axis-of-Evil are saying!"
Ahmedinejad intends to wipe Israel off the map! The Islamofascists want to take over our country and institute Sharia Law! etcetc.
Along with everything else, all it takes is just a few words to point out that it's not just McConnell, and not just recently, that Pubbies have said, out loud, in public, and repeatedly, that they know liberal policies -- if actually applied -- would work, and would do so effectively, and for that specific reason, it's crucial that they be blocked from ever being implemented.
This goes back at least as far as the Kristol memo at the start of the battle over healthcare reform in the first Clinton administration, and continues thru the recent fights over not just HCR, but almost everything else that's been up for action over the past two years.
Are they really suggesting they were lying when they admitted, repeatedly, they were selling out the country for the sake of their own power?

Posted by: smartalek on November 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Let's ask a republican:
Its not clear to me what it is, said Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush who noted that this START treaty is not very different from previous ones negotiated and ratified under Republican presidents. Ive got to think that its the increasingly partisan nature and the desire for the president not to have a foreign policy victory.
I'd say foreign policy and military matters are even more important than our economy the republicans are systematically destroying for political gain.

Posted by: LauraNo on November 28, 2010 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK
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