…they’re fatuous and trivial-minded and kind of childish, in fact.
The Very Serious People among the the Washington press corps elite don’t believe that their new favorite Very Serious Politician, Paul Ryan, is actually serious.
They don’t believe he wants his budget to do what his budget does, kill Medicare and turn the tax code on its head so that it’s regressive instead of progressive, punishing the working class and the middle class while giving more rewards and benefits to the rich.
You’ve probably read this exercise in College freshman rhetoric by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post. Marcus fantasizes a conversation between her dream men, “Barack” and “Paul”, in which these two Very Serious People put politics aside and negotiate a budget compromise. What makes this a fantasy is that Marcus appears to sincerely believe that “politics” is a problem that can be wished away, as opposed to, well, you know, the way the world works.
This is a theme Atrios comes back to again and again. The Beltway Elite believe in “good” government, but they find politics distasteful and are openly contemptuous of democracy. (Actually, in the United States to say that someone despises democracy and hates politics is a tautology.) These Very Serious People believe that the best way to govern the country is to leave it to small groups of technocrats from the right schools working together in private without having to bother with politics, which is to say, without having to worry about what voters think and want and need.
Besides the arrogance and vanity behind this, there’s the simple-minded belief that every problem has an obvious and clear-cut solution that all the best and the brightest can agree on and that that solution can be applied swiftly and cleanly with no muss, fuss, or bother.
In this elitist dreamland, there are no competing interests, no regional differences, no unknown variables, no surprises, no such thing as human frailty, no chance that the technocrats in charge might miscalculate or misbehave, no imperfect solutions so that there’s never a case that what works here desn't work over there or that while this process solves this part of the problem, it makes this other part worse. And there is no possibility---none, zip, nada---that any of the Very Serious People in charge of coming up with the solutions are stupid, incompetent, venal, greedy, vicious, or just plain acting in bad faith.
(Via the Linkmeister, Jon Chait on Mitch McConnell: “…the next time McConnell does something in the national interest ahead of his partisan interest will be the first.”)
What’s more, the Very Serious People assume, practically unconsciously, that no one living or working outside of the Beltway has anything to contribute.
This, by the way, may explain their inexplicable fascination with the charisma-challenged, pretty much unknown outside of Washington and Indiana, generally ignored and rightfully so by the few people in rest of the country who know who he is, elitist dream President Mitch Daniels. Daniels is the only viable Republican candidate, potential or actually running, who is one of them. Think about it. None of the rest has spent a significant portion of his or her (Hello, Sarah Palin!) career working in Washington. (Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Santorum aren't going anywhere. Howard Cain is more viable than those three.) Daniels was George W. Bush’s budget director, which ought to immediately disqualify him for any public office anywhere, but the fact that he helped bring about economic calamity doesn’t count as much as how many parties he attended and lunches he ate with our elite journalists while he was helping to wreck things for the rest of us. Of course, this is part of the point. What happens to the rest of us doesn’t figure in their thinking.
Neither does what we want or what we think we need. Which is why they think we should just shut up and let the Very Serious People decide things for us and why they wish the Very Serious People who are also politicians could just ignore us when we squawk.
This is infuriating, of course, but what makes it even more maddening for Democrats and progressives is that the Very Serious Journalists think that it is the Very Serious Republicans who offer the best solutions and it’s up to the Democrats to grow up and get serious and let the Very Serious Republicans do what they know to be for the best.
They don’t believe that Democrats should believe in anything or hold any principles dear or think that they have good solutions of their own to offer or care what their voters believe, think, or hold dear.
On top of all this (!), these Very Serious Journalists think of themselves as liberals!
And whenever they are moved to second-guess themselves they are inclined to think that they’ve been too liberal and then they attempt to correct for that.
It gets worse.
Not only do they believe that Democrats shouldn’t believe in anything, they believe that Republicans don’t believe in anything, at least not in any of the things they tell voters they believe in.
They don’t believe Paul Ryan is serious about his budget.
They don’t believe the Tea Party types in Congress are serious about not raising the debt ceiling. They don’t believe the Tea Partiers don’t care if by blocking it they will bring about economic chaos and calamity and they certainly don’t believe that the Tea Partiers may even want to bring it about because they, the Tea Partiers, believe that something better, purer, cleaner or at least something not appreciably worse will rise like a Phoenix out of the rubble.
They, the elites, don’t believe that anybody could be so apocalyptic in their thinking (As I wrote the other day, I have a problem with that one myself.) which means that they don’t believe that the Right Wing Christians who make up a significant portion of the Republican base and the Republican Caucus in Congress believe what their faith teaches them to believe.
They don’t believe that a significant portion of the Republican base, including the Right Wing Christians, are Right Wing yahoos and reactionaries, ignorant, angry, and sincerely and seriously racist.
And they don’t believe that the Very Serious Republicans in Washington have to answer to the yahoos or care what the yahoos want and they certainly don’t believe that any of the Very Serious Republicans believe what the yahoos believe and want what they want.
Which means that they don’t believe that the Republican Party has become what it is, what Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich pushed it to become, the party of petty middle class resentments and fears, the party of greed as the solution to all problems, the party of “I got mine, you get yours, unless I’m afraid that if you get yours I’ll lose some of mine, in which case it’s better if you don’t get any,” a principle, if you can call a commitment to vice a principle, that applies not just to health care, jobs, housing, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but people’s place in heaven---it can all be summed up theologically as If I can only get to heaven by consigning you to hell, well, then God damn you!
Very Serious People like Ruth Marcus and her Broderite mentors and bosses at the Post don’t believe that people like Nixon or Newt or Tom DeLay or Jesse Helms or Dick Cheney or George W. Bush or Rush Limbaugh or Ralph Reed or Grover Norquist or Jack Abramoff or Roger Ailes has had any influence on the Republican Party as it is today.
David Broder thought of Karl Rove as a nice guy.
Like I said, they don’t believe Paul Ryan is serious about his budget. They also don’t believe Eric Cantor is serious about leaving the people of Joplin to suffer in the dust and the rubble. They don’t believe anybody in the Republican leadership means what he says he means.
They don’t seem to believe that any Republicans exist outside of Washington or, if they do, that those Republicans matter. Not Scott Walker, not John Kasich, not Rick Scott, not the dope up in Maine, not the oil and gas company stooge in Pennsylvania, not the lunatics who control the state legislatures in Arizona, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, North and South Dakota, Tennessee, and…and…and…I’ve lost count. In how many states are the inmates running the asylums now?
But putting partisan frustrations aside, the Very Serious People’s attitude towards the realities of the Republican Party is consistent with their attitude towards Democrats, both of which can be summed up as Voters Just Get in the Way.
Basically, they’d like to see the Preamble to the Constitution rewritten so that it begins, “We the Elite, who know better what’s best for the People than the People do themselves…”
Hat tips all around to the Linkmeister.
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Updated to let other counties be heard from:
p m carpenter reminding George Will what’s what and why Will’s favorite Very Serious Republican Presidential Candidate, Jon Hunstman, is going nowhere fast:
The reason for Will's frustration is quite simple. His party, the once grand old one, has been hijacked by the petty young thing of profound unseriousness: a seething, tempestuous horde of geezers and bigots and thumpers and temperamental medievalists and Hayekian hayseeds who prefer to soar blissfully on the goofweed of ideological purity than swoon over a candidate's dignified record of accomplishment.
It's the latter, of course, that has blighted Mitt Romney's nomination prospects. Watching him run from his singular success as Massachusetts governor is painful for everyone, not just the GOP base. Now Huntsman must run a similar gauntlet of suppressing public-policy knowledge and radiate, instead, a simpleminded slavishness to contemporary Republican doctrine.
Tackling a similar case of Very Serious Person blindness in the New York Times’ new “liberal” columnist, Joe Nocera, Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog points out that Paul Ryan and the Republicans are in fact serious about their budget, more than serious, actually; they believe in it as gospel. It’s part of their religion:
…these are modern Republicans we're talking about. You can have a serious debate, and an acceptable middle-ground solution, with people who merely have a different ideology. But Republicans' belief in Ryanism is -- this is the most charitable interpretation -- theology.
At best, Ryan and the Ryanettes believe that Ryancare will provide satisfactory coverage of seniors' health care needs, at an appropriate cost to both government and seniors themselves, because the omniscient, omnipotent Invisible Hand will provide -- it is God, therefore it must provide. It is good and beneficent; it can do no wrong.
The less charitable view is that they believe Ryancare would sort the senior population into the saved and the damned…
One aspect of American politics that receives insufficient attention is that a significant percentage of self-identified Republicans—around half—are complete idiots. And the candidates who wish to be elected by them must pander to them, either by being idiots themselves—see “Bachmann, Michele”—or pretending to be. Nobody in the MSM is empowered to say this aloud. Indeed, the very act of pointing it out brands one a “liberal elitist” who is biased against proud, patriotic conservatives…
…the Republicans are in thrall to liars and lunatics serving as a smoke screen for a conservative class war against the poor and middle class, but the real problem is those damn Democrats who celebrate their victories, and defend their constituencies. Advantage, idiots…
Got to keep reminding myself, the Post employs writers like Howard Meyerson who are not Very Serious People and are therefore capable of noticing that not all the Republicans work in Washington:
If you think it is Rep. Paul Ryan’s gutting of Medicare that is pulling the Republicans down, you need to think bigger. The House Budget Committee chairman’s proposal to convert Medicare into a private insurance-voucher plan is indeed a political calamity for the GOP, as the results of last week’s congressional special election in Upstate New York showed. But it’s far from the only disaster that the party has visited upon itself.
For even as Republicans have imperiled themselves on the national level, they also seem to be committing political hara-kiri in one statehouse after the next. Republican governors who took office this year or last — the ones as determined as Ryan to do a wholesale rewrite of America’s social contract — have approval ratings that we normally associate with strains of bacteria. What’s more, they’re tanking in many of the swing states that will be key in next year’s presidential election.
Read all of Meyrson’s column, Republicans continue to be their own worst enemy.
And via Steve M, Josh Marshall on how Washington is wired for Republicans.