Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Obedience For Dummies

Megan McArdle has an authoritarian dilemma. She is paid to propagandize for the banker class but the bankers have issued new, contradictory orders. The right is being told to stop fighting Obama's evil government and thereby lose the battle to force the left to publicly conform to the right's authority. Instead, the right must give Obama what he wants, a raise in the debt ceiling. It is what all sane people want, hence the bankers' concerns, but hard-core authoritarian followers are operating by their own standards of reality.

What is a Big Thinker to do? Most mouthpieces for the elite attempt to convince their followers that such capitulations are expressions of moral worth. They cast anyone who rebels against the elite as an outsider, as David Brooks does in this execrable post on the debt ceiling battle. The centrists are wise, the extremists are insane, and worse of all, the president is acting as if he is an authority, one of the grown-ups in the room, when he is really a child because he refuses to obey.

So Megan McArdle gets out her Fair-n-Balanced hat and tells her audience that they must obey their political leaders.

The deal does not go nearly far enough towards resolving our real fiscal problems: the growing burden of entitlements, and an inefficient tax system loaded with distortionary tax preferences. On the other hand, I don't think there was ever much chance that it was going to. Deficit reduction and fiscal reform are not going to occur overnight. It is going to be a series of painful confrontations and unpleasant choices. This is a decent start.

That said, while I'm basically pleased with the deal, I am not pleased by the way the GOP got us here. Holding the debt ceiling hostage has threatened our credit rating, and further eroded the already dangerously frayed institutional bonds that keep Washington running. I know, I know--you don't want Washington to keep running. But if history is any guide, the Democrats are going to eventually retaliate with something even more extreme--and then the very people saying they despise collegiality and business as usual will be found in my inbox and my comments section, moaning that this unprecedented breach of tradition is the End of Democracy. And I warn you now, I am apt to be very peeved with those people.

Your parents elite know what is good for you and will be angry if you disobey. But the children did not listen, and McArdle was forced to scold them for imagining that they knew better than their authority. Yes, she had frequently told them that the government would spend itself into extinction, but now they were supposed to ignore her earlier instructions and support raising the debt ceiling instead. Her audience is not willing to give up the emotional benefits of fighting the enemy. Wars are an endless extravaganza of conformity and nothing makes an authoritarian happier than the chance to bond with his fellow tribesman by vilifying someone outside the tribe.

Frustrated, McArdle once again addressed the recalcitrance of her followers who were refusing to follow.

One of the frustrating things about the debt ceiling debate has been dealing with the competing narratives spun by those supporting the various positions. It isn't that these narratives are necessarily wrong, but that the people offering them present them with the confidence of someone describing settled history, rather than one possible way (and often far from the most likely way) that events could play out.

Nobody can know anything--meaning only the elite know what is good for their followers.

A lot of conservatives describe a potential shutdown or default as if it were ripped straight from the pages of Atlas Shrugged. Their explanation of why we need to precipitate a crisis is that it's going to happen eventually, and so better now than later.
Silly, gullible, Atlas-Shrugged-reading conservatives who believed Jane Galt when she told them the government would collapse. Why won't they believe Megan McArdle when she says they must obey or the government will collapse?

The logic of this is dubious--
That's what we said.

we're all going to die eventually, but that doesn't mean I'm eager to hasten the day. As Dave Ramsey says, you don't declare bankruptcy until the bailiffs are at the door: as long as you haven't defaulted, you preserve the important option not to default.

But leave that aside. The problem is really with the larger narrative, in which there is no option but to slash spending, and readjust to a newer, much smaller government.

In this case, "narrative" seems to be defined as "what the elite tell me is true." McArdle says the tea partiers " getting swept away by the power of their narratives," instead of forgetting their old narrative to listen to her new narrative.

I happen to think that my plan--a decade long series of negotiations which will end up with higher taxes and lower spending, and hopefully a welfare state reconfigured to focus on the truly needy--is better than the status quo. But it seems much better than pointlessly shooting up the joint before you get thrown out.

Since "the center" is also defined by the elite, McArdle tells her audience that they all must find the center way, which just happens to collate perfectly with her elite propaganda.

Now, because this a Megan McArdle post, I must point out that the tea partiers are not the only ones getting swept away by the power of their narratives. The left are not, of course, taking their cues from Atlas Shrugged. Instead they appear to think that we are in a particularly gripping season finale of the West Wing, where steely counterbrinksmanship forces moderate Republicans in the House to join with the Democrats to enact a bill more to their liking.

Note the similarity in the base narrative to the Tea Party story: catastrophe has already happened (confidence in the US political system/our fiscal balance has already been destroyed), and the only thing that can avert total disaster is the courage to stand strong in the face of our nation's enemies. They're not risking our credit rating by throwing a tantrum rather than accept that they can't have what they want; they're saving the country from something even worse. We'll thank them later.
McArdle neatly invents a little narrative of her own right here; the first lie is that Democrats refused to accept a deal and the second is that they threatened to shut down the government. Democrats capitulated thoroughly, which coincidentally is just what they elite wanted them to do. But pointing this out would reveal that the center is actually far right, so McArdle lies instead. She throws in an accusation of sanctimony as well since corporate shills must constantly fight off accusations of callousness, which rankles because it is true.

And what happens if they're wrong, and the GOP is maybe a little mad that Democrats left them hanging out to dry? What if they don't cross the floor to make a deal on terms more favorable to the Democrats, but decide that as long as they're going down, the jerks who sold them out might as well go down with them? Or what if they decide the same thing that Krugman and Judis are trying to convince the Democrats of: that it would be better to shut the government down than sign a deal that utterly violates their beliefs about what's right for the country? In other words, what if the GOP old guard start acting like the freshmen and the progressive Democrats?
Another lie, an unbelievably obvious one. Progressive Democrats are not threatening to shut down the government if they are unable to prevent Republicans from shutting down the government. Krugman's thought are, unsurprisingly, far more complicated than McArdle tries to portray.

August 1, 2011, 11:01 am
What Would I Have Done?
That’s the question Obama’s kinda-sorta defenders keep asking; it’s supposed to be a conversation-stopper.

But the answer is clear: I would have made a statement declaring that giving in to this kind of blackmail would constitute a violation of my oath of office, and that my lawyers, on careful reflection, have determined that there are several legal options that allow me to ignore this extortionate demand.

Now, the Obama people say that this wasn’t actually an option. Well, I hate to say this, but I don’t believe them.

Think about the history here; think about all the misjudgments, all the reasons this administration has come up with not to act — not to act against the bankers, not to act on taxes, and down the line. Think of the colossal misjudgment over Republican intentions on debt. Why, at this point, should anyone trust these people when they say that they did all they could?

It’s much, much too late for Obama and co. to say “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.” My reservoir of trust is now completely drained. And I know I’m not alone.

Crickets again. That's not in the script. In the script, Martin Sheen gives a stirring speech, and shamed GOP freshmen join Benedictine monastaries [sic] in order to hide from an outraged public.
Yeah, that Krugman post sure was a rallying call to join together at Obama's side.

Maybe you find these narratives more plausible than I do--but no one who has been reading something besides his own side's press releases could possibly think that they were certain. And the risks are huge--far greater than the potential gains.

This isn't a novel. It's messy, unpleasant reality. But the activists on both sides do not seem to be living in the same world that I am.

Obey your authority or risk being tossed out of the tribe for refusing to publicly conform to their version of reality.


Anonymous said...

And much to the point - considering the tortured logical loopholes the Obama administration is willing to slide through to explain how they Libya war is not a war, and not an elision of the War Powers act... that he would so quickly reject the 14th Amendment as even a bargaining option.

One of the things that helps the Tea Partiers and extreme republicans is the sense that they may be crazy and extreme, but at least they actually believe in and are committed to their ideology.

I'm perfectly willing to support someone who doesn't believe in anything, but most voters are not.

M. Bouffant said...

She quotes Dave Ramsey?

This Dave Ramsey?

Hoo boy.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The Dow is down 700 points since Monday because the last thing this weak economy needed was another government of Hoovers.

And that is all economics moron, Ms. McTeabag, need be told.

Susan of Texas said...

dlgood--I wonder how far the tea partiers would go in the name of ideology. Would they give up Medicare and SS? They always say that if someone wants to give you money (or tax deduction etc) then you should take it. Perhaps nothing short of actually losing Medicare would change their minds.

M Bouffant--do you remember, she wrote an article for the magazine and a couple of posts. She said she and P. Suderman use his money-handling principles, except for the tithing and giving up credit cards, a sign of status that McArdle could never part with.

NonyNony said...

It looks like Jon Chait is muscling in on your McArdle watch territory Susan.

Lurking Canadian said...

Yes, clearly the Democrats were going to retaliate. Remember how they filibustered everything during the Bush administration and threatened to bankrupt the country if thru didn't get their way?

What's that? They bent over backwards to give Bush everything he wanted? Huh. Could it be that Megan is listening to the voices again?

Lurking Canadian said...

I wonder what misspelling of "they" caused my phone to substitute "thru"? "Thru" isn't even a word! Stupid iPhone.

Anonymous said...

Well, the one thing Obama's deal is supposed to do is force republicans to choose between tax cuts and defense spending. The one area republicans are Keynesians. (Acquisition = jobs!)

My guess is, all but the most hawkish Tea Party type will choose tax cuts over spending even on defense. Not because the Pentagon is a socialistic, inefficient mess, or as a means to scale back imperial foreign policy adventures - but because they are absolutely in love with Tax cuts at all cost.

Batocchio said...

"Counterbrinksmanship"...! Both sides are equally to blame! Krugman recently quoted Lincoln:

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!

As the saying goes, people who say "Let's not play the blame game" are almost always losing. Somehow, no one can say anything for sure when McMegan and her side are to blame. But strangely, she always has the authority to scold liberals and actual moderates, even if she has to invent hypothetical future crimes for them.

Nony linked Jonathan Chait upthread. He's odious when discussing war, but pretty good on economic matters, and ripped into the glibertarian princess nicely. This may be my favorite part:

McArdle is insisting here that we shouldn't care who caused the deficit, we should care about fixing it. That is a strange case to make immediately after trying to affix Obama with the blame for the deficit. It seems also to assume that understanding which policies caused the deficit interfered with the task of reducing the deficit. I don't understand the logic of this. It might make sense of Obama were arguing that the fact that he inherited the deficit absolves him of any responsibility to address it, but in fact Obama is arguing the exact opposite of that...

Determining which policies led to what outcomes seems like an important function in an electoral democracy.

Ah, but glibertarians have never been fond of democracy.

Batocchio said...

As for that Medicare and Social Security question, Susan, I think Matt Taibbi answered that conclusively last October:

Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about — and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin.

Susan of Texas said...

I wish I could be there when they all finally realize, far too late, that getting rid of entitlements means taking away their money.

I would bring a video camera, and popcorn.

Mr. Wonderful said...

And then when they say, " least the Koch brothers won't get their entitlements either. That's some consola-- what?"