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April 26, 2012

eric cantor, taxin' the poor

Nice little piece in TNR by Timothy Noah about Rep. Eric Cantor, that man-ferret who imagines himself somehow possessing the qualities of electability.  Well, not really about the ways in which he resembles a ferret (I'll take credit for that), but about the ways that the wing of the GOP led by Cantor (which lead is shared with Rep. Paul Ryan) is no longer flirting with taxing the poor, but actually just saying it out loud.  It's a good post, and Noah does a good job explaining how this new effort is dissimilar from conventional conservatism of our grandfather's generation.

But in middle of the unpacking of Cantor's heinous admission that the poor should fund tax savings for the wealthy, Noah quotes from an interview of Cantor, in which Cantor tries to double-speak/hypnotize with run-on sentences the interviewer into coming to his own tax-the-poor conclusion:

Cantor: I’m saying that, just in a macro way of looking at it, you’ve got to discuss that issue. What is going to fund the necessary operations of the federal government. How do we allow for that to take place in a way that we can see a growing economy. Because whatever scenario you may choose to embrace about cutting the spending or reforming the entitlement programs, the necessary piece is a growing economy or you're never going to manage down and back to balance in the budget. So that's gotta be the goal...

Whoa, I'm gonna stop that record right there.  Notice that Cantor just inadvertently admitted his goal in shepherding a national economy: balancing the budget.  No, not growing the economy, that's just a tool to achieve budget-balancing.  Budget balancing is the end-goal, the reason why Cantor and his troops have deposited themselves in DC.

I'm sure there's a longer conversation to be had over this, but I just find it unfathomable.  Greed, I get, as I get protecting the interests of the wealthy class that fund the campaigns of Cantor and guarantee him a fat salary once he deigns to lose an election.  And I get obfuscating, saying that the goal is balancing the budget and then winking, as that's just a sober-sounding thing to say instead of, "consolidate and increase the wealth and power of my patrons."

But are these guys actually believing their hype?  Are they living the gimmick?  Is budget-balancing some hitherto unknown virtue of which we were not informed?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:37 AM

obilgatory newt gingrich

Today it the third to the last day in which we will all have to share our obligatory thoughts about Newt Gingrich.  He called Mitt Romney yesterday, you see, and pledged to drop out of the presidential race next week.  So, according to the arcane rhythms of the modern news cycle, we will all wax nostalgic about Gingrich.  (For example, that call to Romney?  Unlike Gingrich, as telephone courtesy has not always been his bag.

So steel yourselves.

Me, I'm going to sit this one out, as I've already written three or four Sayonara pieces about Gingrich and how I hope he never ever stops running for something.  Besides, this is only the third to last occasion, so there's two more coming: First, next week when he actually steps down (which I'm sure will be a moment filled with sober humility).  And finally, the last occasion we will have to file our Newt Gingrich thinkers, will be (sorry to be morbid) the day he dies.

Which will be a sad day for thrice-married adulterer Messiah-Complexed lobbyists everywhere.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:00 AM

April 25, 2012

compare and contrast

I caught the advance text of Mitt Romney's speech last night (under some story about how Team Mitt was chuffed that networks weren't going live with it — hoo, boy), and actually spent a little less than an hour taking it apart.  You know, last night was the point at which the prospect of Mitt Romney as Republican nominee for president transmogrified from presumptive to eventual, so it was a Very Big Speech!  And stuff.

But you know what?  This ain't 2004, and playing tee-ball with every misbegotten dogwhistle thing out of Mitt Romney's mouth (yeah, his lips move, but you have to pay close attention) is something that doesn't have the same appeal that it once did.  It's still important to have opinions and to argue for them forcefully, and to track down the transparent insipid notions whose only use is to convince the down-trodden to vote against their own self-interest and step on the necks of these notions before they spawn, but it's beyond futile to try and act like a one-man response team.  (And, er, I have other responsibilities.)

So instead of that thing I was working on, I suggest that you start you day by watching the actual president slow-jam the news, as it's a lot more illuminative than any silly speech that was begging (boo-hoo) for national attention.

(Yeah, that's right, no link for the Romney speech.  In your face, Brisbane.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM

April 24, 2012

david brooks -- i'm sorry

OK, I'm apologizing in advance, but I read David Brooks again.  I'M SORRY.  Clearly this is some sort of problem.

On this Tuesday, David Brooks uncovers hitherto unknown visionary Peter Thiel, who is this leading light libertarian who is in favor of seasteading and dropping out of college and, well, smoking pot, I suppose — isn't that what libertarians do?

Brooks makes some sort of point about Peter Thiel, and about how the ideas of Peter Thiel resemble those of David Brooks in positive ways, but I was distracted by this passage, in which David Brooks attempts a sports analogy:

If somebody hits three home runs against you in the top of the inning, your job is to go hit four home runs in the bottom of the inning.

I never played or managed the game professionally, but I've watched an awful lot of it, and read an awful lot about it, and I know that David Brooks is a fan, but if there is a sentence that is a better candidate for, "Trying to sound like I know something about baseball but in fact have only had it described to me by a blind person who does not speak English," then I'm Bucky Dent.

Oh yeah, Peter Thiel!  Thiel's idea can be condensed into neologisms, which is maybe why it so appeals to David Brooks.  Thiel thinks that Americans concentrate too much on competition and not enough on monopoly, which he uses to mean creating a skill that does not exist and then becoming the only individual offering this service.  (Thiel has spent some time in Silicon Valley/Alley, you might have guessed.)  And David Brooks enthusiastically agrees!

Everybody worries about American competitiveness. That may be the wrong problem. The future of the country will probably be determined by how well Americans can succeed at being monopolists.

Oh really?  Well, according to the BLS, last month we had a civilian labor force of a little less than 155 million.  So that's 155 million discrete little fiefdoms of talent that we're going to have to gin up somehow, if we want to have the future of the company not involve anything like doom.

Unless, of course, this idea of monopolists is some sort of 1%, entrepreneurial, elitist, social reengineering, leaving us with a handful genius John Galts of the world (and then everyone else the Morlocks.)

I know that David Brooks has to churn out two columns a week, but couldn't he have found something harmless, like some sociological study of the correlations between punctuality and GPA or some such toothless waste of time?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:50 AM

April 23, 2012

arthur brisbane thinks what?

Last weekend's Public Editor column, Arthur Brisbane (the public editor of the NYT, natch) laid out a screwball proposition:
Now, though, the general election season is on, and The Times needs to offer an aggressive look at the president’s record, policy promises and campaign operation to answer the question: Who is the real Barack Obama?

I am (obviously) a daily reader of The Times, and I cannot figure out what on earth Brisbane is talking about.  You know, he refers to the long-held belief by certain partisans that The Times leans left in the first couple paragraphs, and you can certainly argue that the editorial page does (if Ross Douthat is your token conservative... well, that's not an awful lot of firepower, there), but the reporting?  It's a bunch of baloney, and the men and women that work there as reporters will fight you over this.  They are reporters, and are assiduous not to take sides.&nbsb; Even the mildly-sedative analysis pieces that run with the news as reported are assiduously impartial, as if written by The Watcher.  The majority of complaints of bias come from people so steeped in their own that they are unable to contemplate a venture that does not involve bias.

And the odder thing is that the last portions of the column are Brisbane talking to the editor overseeing political coverage, Richard Stevenson, who positively dismantles the assertion.  As in, when Stevenson is done, there is nothing but pink mist floating where the assertion used to stand.

The whole thing comes off like a marginally better-hinged Glenn Beck ("I feel like what I want to say is that I think the NYT is tanking Obama coverage..."), and it's making me reconsider my opinion of Arthur Brisbane.

Though I guess the rule of thumb is that if you don't suck when you're hired as Public Editor, you will before you leave.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:22 PM