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March 12, 2008

The Conservative Crack-Up

Tim Hall explains it all:

I have my own theories about why the Republican party is experiencing a kind of colony collapse disorder these days. Part of it is simple Hate Fatigue-too many goddamn demagogues spouting too much ignorance and hatred on talk radio and cable news, manipulating people so much that when times get tough and serious thought and debate are needed a lot of people get disgusted and/or confused and walk away. Another part is the authoritarian bubble-just like in real estate or tech stocks, politics has its own speculators and profiteers who automatically rush to whichever side is in power and don the garments, spout the arguments, and try to position themselves for a piece of the pie-which is, more often than not, merely symbolic. When the bubble bursts they just move on and find a new power source to suck off of. That's why roughly 15% of all sitting Republicans are either retiring early or not seeking reelection (at least, among those who have not already been indicted). It's not about politics; it's about perceptions of power, who wields it, who is gaining and who is losing it. When you take those speculators out of politics you're going to lose a lot of people. And if the Democrats keep gaining in power, a lot of those same people are going to be switching sides, and will ultimately destabilize and screw up the left as well. Hopefully that won't happen for a couple of decades, at least, but it WILL happen.

The problem with this model, as I see it, is that it leaves out of the picture the existence of a very efficient system for making people stupid and keeping them that way.

And this apparatus seems to be able to pay for itself while creating lots of raw material for the politics of fear and resentment.

In which case, we're talking perpetual motion machine, here, rather than market bubble. It might slow down every so often, but I bet it'll get fixed. (Not that I don't hope Hall is completely right, and that I am off base.)

Posted by smclemee at March 12, 2008 11:08 AM


At the risk of mistaking sequence for symmetry, the excerpt reminds me of another post I just read on the function of bubbles:

I like anyone who builds a worldview around bubblesome finance. Nevertheless, putting on my skeptical academic hat, I think he has slipped into the dangerous waters of functionalism, believing that social or economic events happen because they are needed to happen. There is a longstanding critique of such reasoning, but I'll spare you. The point is that functionalist explanations don't really explain. For instance, Janszen's article doesn't explain why some economies are more bubble-prone than others, nor does it offer a reason why efforts of insiders to inflate a new sector will necessarily succeed.

Posted by: Shane Taylor at March 12, 2008 6:50 PM

Hi there, thanks for the link and thoughts. To push the analogy over the cliff, I'd say that Fox News is the subprime lender of the authoritarian bubble, Jonah Goldberg is the poor sap who bought into the hysteria at the peak of the market and is now completely underwater, miserable, and losing his mind, and American Idol is...why, John McCain of course!

Posted by: Tim Hall at March 13, 2008 1:14 PM

I would find your argument a bit more believable if it didn't rest on the assumption that your fellow citizens are stupid. That's not a very democratic idea yet sadly it's a very Democratic one these days. It's hard to win a majority when you call everyone not in lockstep with you racist or misogynist.

BTW, good luck with the primary fight. There are still a few American voters the Dems haven't alienated yet.

Posted by: Murphy at March 14, 2008 11:07 AM

By no means do I believe all of my fellow citizens are racist, misogynist, or stupid. Not at all. Most of them never listen to talk radio or watch the Faux News Channel. Most Americans are smarter and more generous in spirit than that.

But those who do tend to be so loud, and so prone to temper tantrums, that they have a disproportionate effect on the whole conversation. I'd like to think this might change, at some point. Chances are, most citizens would, too.

Posted by: Scott McLemee at March 14, 2008 11:16 AM

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop.

Posted by: Anonymous at March 14, 2008 11:51 AM