Tom Allen on Why We are Split

Very interesting excerpt from his new book, one which clarifies why the political split in this country just keeps getting worse and worse. The book is called "Dangerous Convictions: What's Really Wrong with the US Congress", from Oxford University Press.

The principal reason for our polarization is the increasing incompatibility of Democratic and Republican ideas about individualism and community. The inability to compromise is primarily driven by the growing ideological rigidity of Republicans, which has become hostile to almost any form of government action across a wide range of disparate subjects.

The sources and power of that ideological rigidity are worth further examination. The set of ideas that led American conservatives into what is essentially a libertarian camp were not much in evidence for the 25 years after the end of World War II. Then they grew, promoted by thinkers like F. A. Hayek, Robert Nozick and, perhaps most significantly, Ayn Rand, whose two novels about heroic individuals captivated many Americans.

A second important factor was the organization and funding by wealthy American conservatives of right-wing think tanks, university chairs, and ultimately mass media, talk radio, and Fox News. The Fox News Channel has captured a significant portion of the American public with its emotional, opinionated commentary, but it is frequently judged the least accuate news channel with the least well-informed audience.

Another factor was the explicit strategy developed by Newt Gingrich when he entered the House of Representatives in 1978 — a strategy designed to win power for his party by portraying Congress as a corrupt institution not to be trusted by people outside of Washington. In his first term in Congress, Gingrich participated in a program of the American Enterprise Institute tracking members of Congress over several years. He had from the beginning a fully formed strategy for winning control of the House by intensifying “public hatred of Congress” so the voters would throw out the majority Democrats. It was a remarkably successful political strategy but achieved at great social cost.

Warning - this is not an article for TL;DR types. Stick with it and think about the points.

Very interesting read.. I will have to see if I can find the book at my local library.

I know, I'm gonna grab it on Kindle if it's available (not sure if Oxford is big into Kindle). I admit that I favor his interpretation because it tracks with my take on things over the years, but it's good to see someone else do the analysis more rigorously and arrive at similar conclusions.

Edit - It is on Kindle, $10.99.

I got two paragraphs in before I realized Tim Allen is much smarter than I thought he was... then I reread the title of the thread.

Living up to your tag, are you?

Demosthenes wrote:

I got two paragraphs in before I realized Tim Allen is much smarter than I thought he was... then I reread the title of the thread. :lol:

NOW look who's the host of Tool Time.

Spoiler:

It is you.

Wow, where to start with this one. Economics, I guess:

On economic issues, most Democrats accept mainstream Keynesian analysis about the federal government’s capacity to reduce the adverse effects of recessions by stimulating aggregate demand (private and public) through a combination of spending increases and tax cuts. Republicans, on the other hand, are drifting with no coherent economic theory.

Virtually all Democrats and Republicans, with only a handful of exceptions, are mainstream Keynesians. Did he somehow forget that President Bush presided over the passage of not one but two Keynesian stimulus bills, one in 2002 and another in 2008? And that both bills passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority? And that libertarians opposed all of the stimulus bills, to absolutely no effect? And that Republicans routinely voted to increase spending during the Bush administration? And that both sides routinely talk about "creating jobs" and "giving the economy a boost" through government spending while passing ever-increasing budgets? And that the Republicans fiercely oppose even imaginary defense cuts, citing job losses? And that Ben Bernanke, the world's most prominent Keynesian, was appointed by President Bush?

The principal reason for our polarization is the increasing incompatibility of Democratic and Republican ideas about individualism and community. The inability to compromise is primarily driven by the growing ideological rigidity of Republicans, which has become hostile to almost any form of government action across a wide range of disparate subjects.

Uh, what? What subjects would those be, exactly? Did he miss the majority of Republicans who routinely protect Medicare and Medicaid, and who voted for the (unfunded!) Part D Medicare expansion in 2003? Or the majority of both parties who have no issue with a President of either party having a secret kill list? The majority of both parties who continue to support the war in Afghanistan and the use of drones to murder civilians far from any combat zone? The majority of both parties who stood by while the President unilaterally launched a war in Libya? The majority of both parties who continue to vote for spending in vast excess of revenue? The majority of both parties who routinely vote to increase the debt limit and refuse to make even the most minor spending cuts? The majority of Republicans who completely folded on the "fiscal cliff", giving the President the tax increases he wanted with virtually nothing in return?

The fact is that the majority of current Republicans and Democrats simply disagree on how to expand government - neither has put forward any sort of credible plan for reducing government size or spending, which would be the first thing one would expect from anyone who was even remotely libertarian (and indeed, libertarian plans have been presented by the handful of libertarian-leaning legislators, to precisely zero effect). Both sides are neck deep in the crony capitalism and corruption that is the primary output of "stimulus".

Privatizing government functions, restraining government oversight of markets and cutting taxes were the core principles — apparently regardless of evidence of the short- or long-term consequences.

What government functions were privatized? Under Bush, government oversight and control of markets was vastly expanded. While cutting taxes did happen, it occurred alongside huge spending increases, which is about as anti-libertarian as it gets. Did the author simply miss the vast expansion of regulation that was Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002? Or the fact that Bush increased regulatory outlays more than any other President in history, and hired nearly 100,000 new regulators?

The sources and power of that ideological rigidity are worth further examination. The set of ideas that led American conservatives into what is essentially a libertarian camp were not much in evidence for the 25 years after the end of World War II. Then they grew, promoted by thinkers like F. A. Hayek, Robert Nozick and, perhaps most significantly, Ayn Rand, whose two novels about heroic individuals captivated many Americans.

Really? What is the evidence that Hayek has any influence over recent Republican policy? What part of this philosophy:

FAHayek wrote:

To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.

FAHayek wrote:

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine the can design.”

FAHayek wrote:

It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.

is demonstrated by Republican policy over the last two decades? When have Republicans ever acknowledged any limitation to their supposed ability to revitalize the economy, nation-build in other countries, or do whatever it takes to fight the global war on terror? When have they ever restrained themselves from using coercion to stamp out drug use, Four Loko, Dungeons and Dragons, violent video games, or any one of a hundred other moral evils? How does the current mainstream Republican policy align in any way with such a philosophy of humility and restraint?

In short, the article presents a strawman argument that is easily dismantled to support a simply preposterous conclusion. The fact is that libertarian philosophy, while currently present in a small minority of the Republican Party, does not and has never had any significant influence on policy. While the libertarian minority in the Republican Party is growing today, for the vast majority of the time he is talking about it has been represented by a single legislator from Texas who gained his reputation by voting "no" when everyone else was voting yes, and whose inability to have any significant impact on the course of legislation or policy has been routinely discussed on this forum.

And the reason libertarian support is growing is pretty simple: Hayek was right. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats possess the knowledge to do what they claim they can do, and in their flailing, corruption, and cronyism they continue to do great harm.

Well, I've been trying to be extra nice since I'm in the running for the next GWJ writer, but since Aetius has jumped in it's on like Donkey Kong baby!

In all seriousness, the most interesting thing I found about the article was the part that talks about values of the average liberal, conservative and libertarian. It helps me realize why I get upset at say the military being disrespected or why I'll support certain religious arguments which other posters consider absurd. However, I'm glad the article attacks the misperception about conservatives hating any and all social spending and wanting poor people to starve to death. We may have different ideas about what the federal govt should do about poverty and other social ills, but if that article is correct there's lots of overlap and common ground where both sides can meet. I will try to remember that in future discussions.

I was also surprised at Grover Norquist's idea that we can go back to only spending 8% GDP on government. While I don't want to see the US spend 50+% GDP on government, only spending 8% is ridiculous for any modern country.

Otherwise, I'll echo Aetius's points that there's lots of corruption and cronyism in Washington. One of the reasons there's little bipartisanship is for the same reason Google and Microsoft or Coca Cola and Pepsi aren't "Bi-partisan." Going into politics is big business and working across the aisle is only going to cost you campaign dollars in the short run and multi-million dollar lobbying and consultant gigs in the long run.

I found this line to be particularly poignant.

Above all, the abiding clash between the view of government as a vehicle for the common good and the view of government as an obstacle to progress and personal freedom sits close to the center of our ideological gridlock.

Other than those two cents, I'll go back to reading the writings of smarter folks than I.

Grumpicus wrote:

I found this line to be particularly poignant.

Above all, the abiding clash between the view of government as a vehicle for the common good and the view of government as an obstacle to progress and personal freedom sits close to the center of our ideological gridlock.

That may be, but the truth is that both views are simultaneously true and false.

RolandofGilead wrote:
Grumpicus wrote:

I found this line to be particularly poignant.

Above all, the abiding clash between the view of government as a vehicle for the common good and the view of government as an obstacle to progress and personal freedom sits close to the center of our ideological gridlock.

That may be, but the truth is that both views are simultaneously true and false.

If you're talking about overall political motivations, then yes that sentence is correct. But I don't believe that's how Congress actually operates. Aetius has put forth excellent points about how the conservatives are not really for small government no matter what their ideology. And in a week where Jesse Jackson Jr steps down in the face of serious corruption charges, I certainly don't buy that all Democrats simply want good government for the people.

jdzappa wrote:

If you're talking about overall political motivations, then yes that sentence is correct.

I meant that it depends on your position in society and your current circumstances.

But I don't believe that's how Congress actually operates.

Neither do I. They do what works until it stops working, the job of a politician isn't good government, it is to be re-elected. They are supposed to be thrown out when they cease to provide good government. They have successfully shifted the battle from how to provide good government to a culture war. You can't quibble over silly little matters like policy when there are grand ideological implications and you need your side to be represented so that the other side doesn't trample all over you!

Aetius, slow clap.

jdzappa wrote:

In all seriousness, the most interesting thing I found about the article was the part that talks about values of the average liberal, conservative and libertarian. It helps me realize why I get upset at say the military being disrespected or why I'll support certain religious arguments which other posters consider absurd.

I found that the most revelatory, too, and was tempted to follow the primary material.

I got depressed, though, thinking that conservatives who are part of the Religious Right equate their values with their morals. Morals derive from religion, which derives from the Bible, which derives from God, who is infallible and unassailable; therefore, their morals and thus their values are infallible and unassailable. [size=10](Bad logic, yes, but done irrationally and unconsciously.)[/size]

The attending problem is that one value so blessed with divine imprimatur tends to infect the others. So we go from opposing abortion because it's the snuffing out of a life that carries an echo of the divine spark, to treating the American flag as a holy relic because Jesus.

This sort of "everything comes back around to X" thinking isn't the domain of the devout, of course. Hardcore Marxists, extreme environmentalists, libertarians—values can get filtered through telescopes.

H.P. Lovesauce wrote:

The attending problem is that one value so blessed with divine imprimatur tends to infect the others. So we go from opposing abortion because it's the snuffing out of a life that carries an echo of the divine spark, to treating the American flag as a holy relic because Jesus.

This sort of "everything comes back around to X" thinking isn't the domain of the devout, of course. Hardcore Marxists, extreme environmentalists, libertarians—values can get filtered through telescopes.

I would argue that none of this matters, except in one circumstance: when those who believe themselves blessed with divine imprimatur or revelation attempt to impose their system and beliefs on others. As long as people stick to their own business and their own lives, it's not an issue; it's only when they attempt to make other people do what they want them to do that you run into trouble. Which leads us to:

RolandofGilead wrote:

They have successfully shifted the battle from how to provide good government to a culture war. You can't quibble over silly little matters like policy when there are grand ideological implications and you need your side to be represented so that the other side doesn't trample all over you!

I don't think it was/is a conscious shift as much as it is the unfortunate reality of big government. The more government is used to push people around and try to control them, the stronger and more visceral the reaction in the people being pushed. Government is not good at dealing with the vast complexity and variety of modern society, and instead tends to present the "simple and wrong" kind of solutions. These "solutions" inevitably step on one group or another, because the knowledge required to produce the complete set of correct solutions for everyone in the society simply cannot exist in one person or a small group of people. (And that's ignoring the influence of special interests and cronies, who guide the solutions to benefit themselves.)

For example, imagine if the government assumed the power to force people to shop at a single grocery store - let's say Trader Joe's or Wal-Mart. The store not chosen in the legislation would be taken over by the winner. Can you imagine the vicious, acrimonious battle that would be waged over such a law? The resources deployed on both sides by both the corporations themselves and their allies? The corruption, bribery, and political horse-trading that would occur in Congress over such an act?

Yet we have none of that today. Why? Because the government mostly stays out of it and people can just go to the store they prefer, or one of hundreds of other choices. When you take choice away from people and put it in the government's hands, you set yourself up for vicious public conflict. Whether or not evolution is taught in school becomes a public issue with special interests on both sides, not a (relatively) simple choice about which school to send your kids to. Drinking raw milk goes from being a personal choice to a public issue, resulting in the absurdity of heavily armed raids by Federal agents on Amish dairy farms. Smoking pot or snorting a line of cocaine goes from a somewhat harmful way to alter your consciousness to an enormous government War on Drugs that has ruined the lives of millions of people, killed tens of thousands, created a violent black market, and even resulted in the destabilization of neighboring countries - all while failing to reduce drug usage by any appreciable amount.

Aetius wrote:

RolandofGilead wrote:

They have successfully shifted the battle from how to provide good government to a culture war. You can't quibble over silly little matters like policy when there are grand ideological implications and you need your side to be represented so that the other side doesn't trample all over you!

I don't think it was/is a conscious shift as much as it is the unfortunate reality of big government.

It's very well documented that the use of culture as a wedge issue - the "culture war" - was a deliberate strategy by Republicans to energize and make active the religious conservatives who had stayed out of politics on the whole through the 70's and into the 80's. That was not caused by "big government". The fear of evolution and other similar aspects (drugs, teh gayz, etc) already existed and were simply pumped into the propaganda machine as tools. It was put in place by the people who ran the GOP and associated interest groups at the time, and took years to ramp up before it succeeded, given that the scale was national. It was a real achievement in American politics and changed the country in major ways, and it arose out of a strong desire to bring the Party back out of 40+ years of powerlessness with methods that had never before been used on a national scale. We're still living with the effects.

I have to say this is one of the weirder attempts to stuff something into the category of "problem caused by big government", since there were no government mandates to teach evolution or to force people to shop in particular stores that would have started the culture wars. And we have books by the people involved, like Ralph Reed, describing how and why they decided to do the thing you believe sprang up grass-roots style from government over-reach...

Maybe you didn't live through it, but this is very much like reading a Marxist critique of history where all thing spring magically from the Dialectic...

Robear wrote:

It's very well documented that the use of culture as a wedge issue - the "culture war" - was a deliberate strategy by Republicans to energize and make active the religious conservatives who had stayed out of politics on the whole through the 70's and into the 80's. That was not caused by "big government". The fear of evolution and other similar aspects (drugs, teh gayz, etc) already existed and were simply pumped into the propaganda machine as tools.

I'm well aware of the deliberate use of culture as a wedge issue. You're missing the entire point of my argument. It's simple: the very ability to use culture as a wedge issue is entirely predicated on the use of the government to enforce cultural norms on society. If the government did not have control over school curricula, how could the teaching of evolution - or intelligent design - ever be used to energize supporters? If the government did not try to control women's bodies, how could abortion have become a hot button issue? If the government did not control marriage, how could gays - or blacks and whites - getting married become a wedge issue?

The Republicans were only able to do what they did because the government assumed control of areas of society where it didn't belong. I did in fact live through this time, and it was pretty obvious to me - much of the conflict was engendered simply because the government got involved and began forcing decisions on people. Once the government is directing things cultural issues become an all-or-nothing fight, mandate or not.

Aetius wrote:

I'm well aware of the deliberate use of culture as a wedge issue. You're missing the entire point of my argument. It's simple: the very ability to use culture as a wedge issue is entirely predicated on the use of the government to enforce cultural norms on society. If the government did not have control over school curricula, how could the teaching of evolution - or intelligent design - ever be used to energize supporters? If the government did not try to control women's bodies, how could abortion have become a hot button issue? If the government did not control marriage, how could gays - or blacks and whites - getting married become a wedge issue?

The Republicans were only able to do what they did because the government assumed control of areas of society where it didn't belong. I did in fact live through this time, and it was pretty obvious to me - much of the conflict was engendered simply because the government got involved and began forcing decisions on people. Once the government is directing things cultural issues become an all-or-nothing fight, mandate or not.

Local governments controlled school curricula when this started. Abortion and gay marriage became issues for Federal legislation when a large part of the population disagreed with *local* laws on them. In none of these cases did Federal government involvement *initiate* the problem.

Now, you've moved back to "all government control over policies is bad". You don't have a clear delineation for where it's *good*; you simply look at any situation and say "if the government is involved, it's the problem". That's a really, really broad scope, and it means that your arguments don't really have any counters. There's not really an alternative to government as a way of running societies.

But hey, I'll bite. Suppose the government was not allowed to mandate things like equality in marriage, or women's equality, or school curricula. How exactly would that bring people together, and ensure better outcomes than today? Because my naive thinking about that indicates that it's a recipe for strongly separating communities ideologically at a local level. We'd essentially balkanize the country, not at the state or region level like we do today, but at the neighborhood level. How are people better served by that? To say nothing of the problems of tens of thousands of different educational standards, the ability of employers to discriminate freely, and all the other issues we've discussed in the past.

When the argument is "government is bad", there's got to be something better put on the table, because that's a change that's not had good examples of success in history.