Monday, September 21, 2009

The conservative cri-de-coeur

Let's hear it from the Billy Bennett memorial choir, all sub-prime mortgagors and all almost gentlemen:
I was rich but I was honest,
Then she came from 'umble stock,
And her greedy heart was beating
Underneath her tattered frock.

So I thought that she was needy,
I knew not her base design,
So I lent a sub-prime mortgage
To stop her constant whine.

It's the same the whole world over,
It's the rich what gets the blame,
It's the poor what wants the credit,
Ain't it all a blooming shame?
Thenkin' yaow, ladeez and genelmen, thenk yaow. We'll try and get them back again later on. Meanwhile ... on with the show!

But, first to more serious things.

The sinking of John McCain

There's a certain inevitability about what comes next. Nearly a year on from the McCain car-crash (it was in some large part the fault of that nagging woman in the back-seat) and history starts to be re-written.

Surely John McCain knew he had undertaken mission impossible: it was his turn eight years before, when the Bushies stitched him up for the first time. The power of money, the ingrained Bushie lack of principle and Karl Rove -- those last two are political synonyms -- defeated him. In 2008 McCain was again trounced by the same man and the same factors: the dire Bush legacy would surely have been too much for any Republican.

So Dubya slinks off into the shades of history?

Naah! No political movement can afford that round their necks. So, two possibilities:

1. Let's expect a rehabilitation.

Tim Montgomerie's been at this lark for months. In his view, Dubya was Africa's saviour and a great philanthropist, particularly in regard to child-welfare around the world. That last one surfaced in ConHome in recent days; don't tell the family-planners, they'd split their condoms laughing. Anyway, just think of all the Iraqi and Afghan infants he saved for Jesus [concept © Abbot Arnaud Amaury, 22nd July, 1209].

2. A Stalinist air-brushing, perhaps?

That's what Ross Douthat (right) implies in an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times, extrapolating from a digest article in GQ:
Adding insult to injury, the umpteenth insider look at Bush administration’s dysfunction was unveiled last week as well, courtesy of an obscure second-term speechwriter named Matt Latimer. (Next up: Bush’s White House chef tells all!) Latimer’s memoir, excerpted in GQ, offers grist for Bush-whackers of both parties. For liberals, there’s Dubya the incurious frat boy, flubbing policy details and cracking wise about Hillary Clinton’s posterior. For conservatives eager to prove that the most unpopular president in 50 years was never really one of them, there’s Bush the crypto-liberal, who dismisses the conservative movement and boasts that he personally “redefined the Republican Party.”

If there is life, breath, sanity and intellect left among conservative Republicans, Douthat is one of the vital organs. He is to "obscure second-term speechwriters" as Claude Monet to any Saturday dauber (all of whom are "impressionistic" at best). With Reihan Salam, formerly his colleague on Atlantic Monthly, he produced, last year, Grand New Party. The sub-title of that book spills most of the beans:
How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream
Douthat and Salam retread an old path:
The interests of the working class--the common man, the hardworking but unexceptional citizen--have been at the heart of every great American political movement. From Jefferson to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan, our most successful leaders have sought the democratization of wealth, competence, and social standing--not so that every American might be rich or famous, but so that we might all be independent and self-reliant and secure. In this sense, the American dream is ultimately a dream of home, of a place to call your own, earned and not inherited, and free from the petty tyrannies of landlords, bureaucrats, and bankers. It's a dream of a country in which ownership is available to everyone, provided that they are willing to work for it, rather than being handed out on the basis of wealth or caste, brains or beauty.
That provokes a couple of wry thoughts:
  • Doubhat's article, as we shall see, is about to nibble the mortgaging hand that fed just that property-owning dream.
  • It is curious how FDR is now being exhumed as the Right's holy relic and shibboleth. Time and again his name re-appears in conservative musings, inevitably in a tone between approval and adulation.
  • British Tories, or the few who can cope with anything more taxing than Cameron's dog-whistles, the Sun's grunted monosyllables and Iain Dale's over-simplifications, must be studying Douthat and Salam. Similar rhetoric, however, is denied them. The term "working-class" is being ruthlessly expunged from the contemporary British scene. That's not just the consequence of aspiration. It also reflects the post-industrial context of Britain (and the near-future for the United States): Thatcher effectively eliminated heavy industry and the class-loyalties and communities that went with it: she made "work", in the "working-class" sense, anathema to some, and merely a memory for others.
  • Douthat's and Salam's historical "analysis" (all of one paragraph in the opening chapter) is fatally flawed. The assumption is that American government has consistently been warm, cuddly and caring-sharing, while those snooty Europeans were oppressive and hostile:
The contrast with how Europe's governments treated the working class during the same period is instructive. Both continents extended the franchise, but Europe's nations did so out of fear ...
And, it seems, all other social benefits were opposed for similar reasons of social control:
The goal [of European régimes] was to create a docile working class, not an educated and ambitious one. America, in contrast, expanded schooling first and adopted social insurance programs only in the twentieth century. In each case, America's leaders wanted self-sufficiency and independence; Europe's wanted conformity and obedience.
Which, conveniently, ignores that, both sides of the Atlantic, basic rights had to be won -- at Peterloo via Dearborn to Selma and beyond -- with gutters running with working-class blood and guts. It also denies the status given by Scots Presbyterians to self-improvement: one of the prime motivators of schooling in colonial America.
Doubtat on Bush

A swift recursion to that New York Times article, and the original intended thrust of this entry, before Malcolm's usual over-complications, finds Douthat's best effort at rehabilitating Dubya going like this:

Bush-era bipartisanship did produce some defensible legislation (No Child Left Behind, for instance). But more often, it produced travesties like the failed attempt at “comprehensive” immigration reform, lobbyist feeding frenzies like the 2005 energy bill, and boondoggles like the Department of Homeland Security.

By contrast, Bush’s best initiatives often lacked a constituency outside the White House: His AIDS-in-Africa program; his insistence, vindicated by subsequent scientific breakthroughs, on seeking alternatives to embryo-destroying research; his failed second-term proposals for Social Security and tax reform.
Well, bless me:
  • Bone-headed blocking of bio-science was a good thing!
  • Dubya, single-handedly (there ought to be more of that around: there'd be less of an AIDS problem) saved a million in Africa!
  • Pumping out concessions to the mega-rich was a "tax-reform"!
So why not equally celebrate the environmental vision that thought global warming was a wimpy myth? That wanted drilling in the Alaskan reserve? That thought flogging off the forests and wildernesses to Big Business was as "green" as the dollars it would generate?

We can confidently expect all that, and more, to become the mantra of Dubya-deniers, Montgomerie's merry men and suchlike. Yet, were that quotation translated into the Saturday-afternoon performance of a Premier League striker, it would appear as seven attempts at goal, one almost on target, no score.

Douthat's "explanation" for Dubya's failure is equally intriguing. Try it:
it’s worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency — that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.

In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war’s cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody — right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street — was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.
At first taste there's a pleasant taste in that. What it means is the shambles of the Bush presidency was all our fault. We, the public, got it wrong. We misled the poor unfortunate Dubya into populist measures.

No: it doesn't work, does it? How can two hypothetical antinomies be reconciled? -- the disconnect of the Dubya government from its electorate versus unreasonable popular demands for sub-prime mortagages and federal bail-outs. No mention of Lehmann Brothers, which must count as the worst call in recent times.

So, welcome back the Billy Bennett memorial choir...

Led by their star soloist and Ricky Gervais lookalike, Mister Ross Gregory Dothat ...
Everybody knows me, Dr. Goosegrease, M.D.
All the best paying patients, I've got 'em.
Harley Street's my abode, No. 6 down the road,
No. 9 if you start from the bottom.

All your doctors are saps - all excepting me, p'raps,
And I speak without swank or bravado.
I've taken the place of the late Dr. Grace,
Doctor Crippen, and Doctor Barnardo ...

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1 comment:

Dewi Harries said...

Malcolm - forget all that crap - you need to comment on slugger on the wonderful Staffordshire hoard.

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