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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anger Management?
Maimon Schwarzschild

Here is Simon Schama, in the Financial Times, on his fellow-passengers on the New York commuter train:

Heavy-set thirtysomethings on parole from suburbia, fists popping cans of Bud Lite, boomed to all who wanted to hear (Ben Bernanke maybe?) that they were "gonna do some serious shopping DAMAGE dude!"

Schama's political point?

[A]s the pontificators of the rightwing media insist, it’s only deluded bleeding-heart liberals who persist in thinking that massive and growing income inequality is a bad thing when why-oh-why can’t they understand it is actually the engine of national prosperity! The farther apart the haves and the have-nots get, the more loaded the plutocrats are with tax-cuts, loopholes and tax-free inheritances, the more likely they are to give job-hiring business some of that good old trickle-down.

The dominant reality for the Republicans will be who can recite the nostrums fiercely enough to establish themselves as the true voice of the Tea Party; the cant of the disingenuous directed at the aggravation of the credulous. Instead of an honest look at the chastening of America – whether in military overreach or corporate irresponsibility – their hope is for a perpetuated national tantrum all the way to a foot-stomping, red-in-the-face, shrieking and bellowing election in 2012.

But read the whole, blindingly enraged, thing.

Here (quoted and linked by Ron Radosh) is Jeffrey Sachs, on  MSNBC, giving his view of Victor Davis Hanson:

JEFFREY SACHS: Anything that Hanson says I’m likely to disagree with, cause no commentator has done more harm to the American people actually than that guy who led us into all these disastrous wars. But aside from that —

SCARBOROUGH: My God! That is serious.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: OK, then!

SACHS: No, that is real. Because this is an extremist. So quoting him doesn’t really make the point.

SCARBOROUGH: And I will put Victor Hanson —

SACHS: Sorry, that’s a side point, but that man — that guy’s done a lot of damage.

SCARBOROUGH: I will put Victor Davis Hanson to the side, you obviously, you guys aren’t on each other’s mailing lists, Christmas card lists.

SACHS: That guy got us into more wars, and more militarism, than anybody.

(Here is VDH's response to Sachs.)

Simon Schama is, or was, a serious historian.  "Citizens", Schama's history of the French Revolution, is a formidable (and far-from-cheerleading) book.  Schama's work - in art history as well as in political and social history - is very much worth reading.  Yet here he is, sounding like the left-wing equivalent of a drunken Colonel Blimp holding forth in a pub.

Sachs, for his part, has always been a more overtly partisan figure than Schama, but he is a celebrated liberal economics professor at Columbia University.  He too: almost incoherent with hatred.

Schama and Sachs are not isolated cases, of course.  This sort of talk has become commonplace among people who used to be liberal but serious, sophisticated, and certainly not hysterical.  You hear it from public figures like Schama and Sachs, and you hear it very commonly in private, from left-of-centre (or once left of centre, but now seethingly leftist) friends and acquaintances.

What is going on?  I can't claim to explain it.  Surely part of the story is that you can get away with it, or you might reasonably feel you can: the (One-Party) media will never criticise such talk, or even cover it in a way that might expose it unfavourably.  But this is surely not the whole story.  If anything it's a symptom as much as a cause.  So why, in the early 21st century, do a great many people proud of their sophistication talk, and sometimes write, like Communist hacks in the 1930s?  There seems to be a weird kind of political tribalism at work: this kind of talk marks you as "one of us".  Still: I don't really get it.

UPDATE: Several of the comments suggest, quite rightly, that I was a little unfair to Colonel Blimp: at least Colonel Blimp before and during the Second World War.  As J. M. Keynes, and indeed George Orwell, pointed out at the time, the "Blimps" got it right about Hitler; or at least they were more reliable on that rather important subject than some of the intellectuals.  A propos, but without any political or polemical edge, is the wonderful and quite touching film, made during the war, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.  If you haven't seen it, you have a treat in store.  It's online, for instant viewing, on Netflix.

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Comments

Schama has descended into a self-parodying fatheadedness. "Citizens" was good stuff, yet now he's appointed himself to a figurative Committee for Public Safety. He's become so mannered and silly that I saw an impersonator making fun of him on the telly recently. I don't think that the impersonator had picked up on The Hate, though - or chose not to make a comedy routine too sour by alluding to it.

I suspect that he must have fallen into bad company.

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 4, 2011 4:23:37 AM

P.S. I doubt that Schama would be as much use as Colonel Blimp. In a letter to The Times, Maynard Keynes said:

"The intelligentsia of the Left were the loudest in
demanding that the Nazi aggression should be resisted at all costs. When it comes to a showdown, scarce four weeks have passed before they remember that they are pacifists and write defeatist letters to your columns, leaving the defence of freedom and civilization to Colonel Blimp and the Old School Tie, for whom Three Cheers."


Posted by: dearieme | Jan 4, 2011 4:58:57 AM

Pray tell, was the flip-flop Kaynes decried pre- or post-Barbarossa? It makes all the difference in the world, for the Commie and Comsymp gyration when the Panzers stormed to the East was one of most infamous reversals in the history of treason.

No better way to sniff out Commie witches that to see how they dance to the tune of the Party Line.

Posted by: Lou Gots | Jan 4, 2011 7:36:40 AM

Pre: that letter was written, if I remember the source correctly, in '39 or '40.

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 4, 2011 8:16:01 AM

Here we are: Oct '39.
http://www.maynardkeynes.org/john-maynard-keynes-the-war-years.html

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 4, 2011 8:17:51 AM

What's so goofy about all this equality stuff is it's mostly privileged people who care about it Most poor people are too busy worrying about real-world problems to care about a hypothetical comparison between the middle and upper classes You should take a look at Fred Siegel (and others) on the parallels between modern "progressivism" and the Tory Party in 19th century England: basically a coalition of the privileged and people dependent upon them, nothing progressive about it . . .

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 4, 2011 9:39:04 AM

As one prisoner of Tito said, the hardest thing about Communism is trying to predict the past. No wonder, when 100 year old legal documents like the Constitution are emanated out of existence.

Leftist intellectuals dislike capitalism because it has virtually no use for them, and they cannot stand to be ignored.

Garrett-
Capitalism was not designed. It came not from thinking but from doing. In the beginning and for a long time it had no more theory about itself than a tree; like a tree it grew, and its only laws were remembered experience. When the writers of political economy began to provide it with a theory they had first of all to study it to find out how it worked. Many capitalist were innocent of its existence.

Shortly before his death, Keynes admitted that the invisible hand was for more important than he had believed. Good of him, but he forgot to send the memo out to his servile academic flock.

Posted by: james wilson | Jan 4, 2011 9:48:12 AM

The Schama column is a bit overwrought but it is ultimately a call for seriousness, and ends with praise for incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as a serious person who has made serious deficit cutting proposals. This is hysteria? As late as today's NY Times, we see cataclysmic predictions of massive GOP budget cuts but specific programs are still not mentioned by the GOP firebrands. We will soon see what this is about, if anything. Liberals and conservatives talk past each and attempts at dialogue are usually futile. But what is bothering liberals these days and causing some to be a bit ill mannered is really not that our plan to impose Socialism is now imperiled. It is the other party appears to have been taken over by its Lunatic Fringe. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), incoming chair of the Commerce Committee subcommittee with jurisdiction over climate change, proclaims his disbelief in it, based on God's promise after The Flood, as recorded in the 'inerrant' Book of Genesis. Great. I guess that saves money on scientific research. And many new GOP members think it is a swell idea to allow a default on the country's already incurred debt rather vote to increase the "debt limit." That will certainly help to stabilize the world economy. And it does bother us that so many rank and file Republicans
admire Sarah Palin and want to make her president, despite her probable inabilitiy to tell you what century J. M. Keynes lived in.
Most liberals are now actually willing to engage in serious discussions of means testing Medicare and favor saving money by avoiding more trillion dollar wars. But they will resist being ruled by ignorant fanatics.

Posted by: liberalcentrist | Jan 4, 2011 12:00:08 PM

Dearieme: Thanks. Bingo! Got it. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was late August '39, so the Commies would have been veering from pro- to antiwar around the time Keynes wrote his letter, not to turn their coats a second time until June of '41.

Posted by: Lou Gots | Jan 4, 2011 1:55:03 PM

Liberalcentrist:

Ah, the cherished the-GOP-has-been-taken-over-by-its-fringe trope, complete with citation to a former vice presidential candidate and the incoming chair of a House subcommittee. I might find this argument more compelling if liberals had not been flogging it since at least the Reagan presidency. I'm afraid familiarity has bred contempt.

Since 2007, House Democrats have chosen as their leader Nancy Pelosi, whose district largely consists of San Francisco -- hardly the most middle-of-the-road jurisdiction in America and a choice not especially indicative of centrism or moderation. Meanwhile, Charlie Rangel, the erstwhile Democratic chair of the House Ways and Means Committee was censured for tax offenses.

I'm not enamored of Palin, and Shimkus sounds like a genuine doofus. But the idea that the sort of failings these two politicians embody is confined to one party represents wishful thinking or propaganda. When Democrats finally usher Sheila Jackson Lee into retirement, I'll know they are serious about removing lunatics from government.

Posted by: The Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Jan 4, 2011 1:57:13 PM

Maybe the left feels that the centrism of Clintonism is a dead end. It didn't work for the party, its constituents, its ideology such as it was, or even ultimately, Hillary. There is a general consensus that reasoning with the GOP is reasoning with the enemy. When your talking to the enemy in public, conversations cannot be had in good faith, and compromise is a ceasefire at best. The anger of the left is caused by a feeling that right wing policies caused the current economic downturn and that the political fallout has been the election of right wingers to the House. The people expressing their anger are academics and journalists who of course should know better than to expect fairness in life, but that is the best explanation for the visceral anger I can think of.

Posted by: molly | Jan 4, 2011 5:57:20 PM

"he forgot to send the memo out to his servile academic flock": someone wrote a book comparing (if memory serves) Keynesianism with the Economics of Mr Keynes.

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 5, 2011 8:30:11 AM

Victor Davis Hanson got us into wars? Wow, the guy's really good, especially since he did it without me, or apparently anyone besides Sachs noticing.

Perhaps Sachs is merely jealous that his war avoidance skills are inadequate against the awesome warmongering Hanson.

Reminds me of a remark by Buckley in National Review years ago in response to a typically hysterical and over the top rant by... forget whom: "He's right, everybody generalizes too much. And you shouldn't exaggerate either, that's what gets everybody killed."

Posted by: Steve Skubinna | Jan 5, 2011 3:52:30 PM

Turds, pure and simple.

Posted by: Watson | Jan 5, 2011 4:01:17 PM

Liberalcentrist, I'd take your chinpulling BS about the "lunatic fringe" more seriously if there had ever been an attempt on the left to "refudiate" people like Alan Grayson. Or Sheila Jackson-Lee asking why the Mars rover didn't take pictures of Neil Armstrong's flag. Or Maxine Waters saying anything. Or Hank Johnson, who was worried about Guam tipping over because too many US servicemen were standing on one end. That's intelligent, sober-minded discourse?

Oh, and the 5 trillion dollars your guys rang up in 4 years? Nope, not the wars. Congressional Budget Office numbers show that the total cost of the eight-year war was less than the stimulus bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009. And your answer is means-testing Medicare? Get serious and try some simple arithmetic.

I take this about as seriously as Steny Hoyer calling for compromise on the part of Republicans. Short answer: no. We won. You lost. You want compromise, go ahead and compromise. We want the Federal government shrunk 20%, you want it expanded 20%; we'll compromise at shrinking it only 10%.

Posted by: Orthodoc | Jan 5, 2011 4:18:15 PM

You commentators are not judging the words correctly. You think there is an argument buried in their words, however ad homen, that their ideas are better discription of truth and reality, than VDH's.

That's not what is going on at all. Its simply status, having no more factual content than "we are cooler kids than you are". Just because words are used doesn't mean there is an argument being made.

If that sounds intellectually cheap and lazy, you're on to something. Its not only our political class, but the bit players, the journalists, academia, the entertainment industry, have been struck down by a plague of intellectual laziness and incoherence. In default, its all about power, status, victumhood.

Posted by: pashley1411 | Jan 5, 2011 4:24:51 PM

"It is the other party appears to have been taken over by its Lunatic Fringe."

Yes, I guess living within our means and honoring the spirit of the Constitution, i.e. a limited Federal government with specific enumerated powers beyond which its not allowed to go, is a lunatic proposition. How could those crazy people believe that sort of thing?

And what's worse, they gained 60+ seats in the house and a commanding majority. Somehow, it seems to me, when a group gets elected to a commanding majority the word "fringe" doesn't particularly apply any more. You might not like the ideas of the winners, but they are hardly fringe ideas with those kind of numbers on election day.

So the conclusion seems clear that the problem is that certain elements on the Democrat and Left side have lost touch with reality. They are acting crazy because they are thinking crazy. The question should be why and how have they so deluded themselves that they don't even recognize the principles they are arguing against have a long and sound tradition in American history. It's those principles that are the bedrock on which we've built the last 200 years and have gotten us here, in fact. We didn't become the country we are because of the silly, unproven theories that the Left is always trying to impose on us because they've convinced themselves (without evidence) that they are so much smarter than everyone else.

Posted by: kcom | Jan 5, 2011 4:27:20 PM

Orthodoc

Bearing in mind that you don't have the senate or the white house and so the idea that the Democrats can be ignored is just silly. Checks and balances remember. If the GOP tries to pull a shutdown, the public will side with the president on general principal. Maybe if the dems are lucky, the GOP house is so stupid as to try. Although I do doubt the humanity of GOP conservatives, I don't question their leader's intelligence, so my guess is that the lizardman from North County, Rep. Issa, will chair an inquisition that will ask when did you stop beating your wife questions of people who are connected to the stimulus or bailouts.
You seem to be repeating the same basic mistake every party that ever won a majority makes: that the ideology of the representatives elected is the same as that of the voters who put them in office. Voters put Dems in office in 2006 over the war and corruption. Voters elected Obama from general weariness with the GOP. Voters put the GOP back in office in 2010 because the economy is bad. You could argue that ideology came into play, but an electorate that could have put men like Kerry, McCain, Obama, and Bush all in the White House does not have discernible ideology. If the GOP feels there has been a genuine liberatrian awakening, by all means they should try to take a chainsaw to entitlements and see who the pubic sides with.

Posted by: molly | Jan 5, 2011 5:06:43 PM

Molly, we won't have to take a chainsaw to entitlements. We just have to stop working and sending our taxes to you leeches. Sooner or later, other people's money runs out. When it does, we'll have the guns and the will to defend ourselves against the nationwide version of the South-Central riots sure to ensue when the food stamp cards won't swipe.

Posted by: SDN | Jan 5, 2011 5:18:19 PM

"Schama's history of the French Revolution, is a formidable (and far-from-cheerleading) book."

I read the book in 1989 when it was published (to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution). One of Schama's themes was that the contemporary world leader most like Louis XVI, in leading a bankrupt state into reckless aggression was Ronald Reagan. Of course by the time the dust had settled, the guy playing the busted hand was identified to be Gorbachev.

Schama is a conventional academic liberal, it doesn't make him a a bad historian, but it doesn't make him a good expositor of contemporary politics.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Jan 5, 2011 6:21:27 PM

What happened to the sane people?

Shimkus really is a genuine doofus, and he's not alone. There's far worse in the GOP. The Leftist commentariat are, by and large, educated far beyond their intelligence, and often have little education. The DOJ politicised beyond belief, "Justice" a hopeless joke.

Granted. The thing is, how come the Left gives its own idiots a pass? How come the Right does exactly the same? How come the best either party can do when confronted with proven corruption is to say "Oh but the other side does it too".

We know that. That makes it worse, not better.

"We won. You lost. You want compromise, go ahead and compromise. We want the Federal government shrunk 20%, you want it expanded 20%; we'll compromise at shrinking it only 10%."

How about studying the issue first, and doing what's best, not what is ideologically pure? Personally, I think a shrinkage of 30% might be better, but the point is, I'm not dogmatic about it. If an expansion in some areas, or ALL areas, is proven to be better, go for that. (I'll also go watching for flying pigs of course).

It shouldn't be about Us vs Them, Our Team vs Their Team, and no tactic being too dishonest as long as it We who win.

When are the sane people going to be put in charge again? When will we get rid of politicians who dodge taxes, or receive kickbacks, without looking to see if they have a (D) or (R) after their names first? The Electorate is getting pretty sick of what's happened the last 20 years or more.

Keep on doing business the way we have done, and there'll be a new breed coming in in pre-selections. Some (R), some (D), but both committed to cleaning out the stables of corruption, be the beneficiaries the Well-Connected Friends of Angelo, or the CEOs getting bailouts that enrich them personally while the economy circles the drain.

Blimp was right, you see. Stare into the Abyss too much, and the Abyss stares into you. What does it matter if you beat the Nazis, when you become a Nazi yourself? You win in the short term, but lose in the long.

Posted by: aebrain | Jan 5, 2011 6:25:01 PM

Excellent analysis by Molly. Rather than cut entitlements, the Republicans should replace welfare with workfare. The R's should also focus on outsourcing government jobs to shrink government and increase efficiency and relentlessly investigate governmental corruption and abuse of power. State governments like Texas need to take the feds to court in favorable fed courts to claw back states' powers that have been usurped by the feds.

Government spending is going to have to decrease. Lower taxes are always popular and are good for the economy. Our grossly bloated federal government can be significantly decreased in size with a net positive impact on the USA.

Posted by: Steve Koch | Jan 5, 2011 6:31:57 PM

Pashley1411 (above) nailed it in saying very aptly:

"You commentators are not judging the words correctly. You think there is an argument buried in their words, however ad hominem .... That's not what is going on at all. Its simply status, having no more factual content than 'we are cooler kids than you are.' Just because words are used doesn't mean there is an argument being made."

"Just because words are used doesn't mean there is an argument being made" -- that catches it exactly.

Posted by: Edward Sisson | Jan 5, 2011 6:41:26 PM

SDN,

I see you want Latin America, or have been reading Atlas Shrugged again. An embattled gorgeous and educated tax evading middle class armed against the looter horde outside. Latin America is what happens when you have an armed and intransigient middle class. If you're not careful you can get South Africa. Its not Road Warrior exactly, but its worse than Europe, and is where this country is headed under Conservative principals.

Posted by: molly | Jan 5, 2011 7:06:03 PM

Latin America is what happens when you have an armed and intransigient middle class.

Your political analysis is skewed left. Latin America is what happens when elite socialists believe they are smarter than everyone else and deserve more. They act on the belief and can push the middle class out of existence. A modern example of this is Chavez, who follows Castro.

See Cuba (once one of the Western Hemisphere's richest countries...

now an economic basket case who's leader's recognize that "socialism doesn't work" http://gawker.com/5634553/castro-socialism-doesnt-even-work-for-us-anymore

and which constantly lies about the quality of its health care "WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system Authorities feared footage of gleaming hospital in Michael Moore's Oscar-nominated film would provoke a popular backlash" http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/21/wikileaks-cuba-sicko.

Its nice you lefties cling to your Mel Gibson fantasies... why don't you look at the real world?

Posted by: go_gipper | Jan 5, 2011 8:33:31 PM