No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
The crisis on Wall Street that began last week has provided the clearest evidence yet that conservatism no longer exists in any meaningful sense. Its standard bearers gave up the facade of cohesion in foreign policy around the time they realized they could not sustain interest in dictators ruling in areas of no geopolitical import. They have been irretrievably corrupted on domestic policy for much longer - the governmental spending spree and reckless deficits of 2001-2007 is all you need to know about how they really approach
monetary fiscal (correction per CMike) policy - but the enormity of the problem we face now has had a wonderfully clarifying effect on just how bankrupt of ideas the right is.
Some brave souls have attempted to explain it in a way that puts all or most of the blame on Democrats. Republicans controlled Congress from 1994 through 2006, the period of deregulation and neglect that created the tidal wave just now cresting. Conservatives used to forcefully argue for a concept of accountability that meant the buck stopped at the top. Even if those at the top didn’t know, couldn’t know, they still were expected to stand up and accept blame. Not any more. Now it is all about duck, hide and point fingers. But those who attempt to explain why it is liberals’ fault just end up proving Mark Twain’s maxim that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people suspect you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
Kevin Hassett takes the honors in this category with, sorry to be blunt, a laughably stupid explanation: “Fannie and Freddie did this by becoming a key enabler of the mortgage crisis. They fueled Wall Street’s efforts to securitize subprime loans by becoming the primary customer of all AAA-rated subprime-mortgage pools.” For the sake of the argument I will accept (!) that Fannie and Freddie = politically correct loan policies to unqualified (and disproportionately black) poor people = Democrats.
According to Hassett it had less to do with the Wall Street invention of securitization, which encouraged banks to sell off their loans as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that in doing so their incentive changed from writing a solid loan that would turn a profit only by being repaid into writing as many loans as possible in order to maximize fees before getting them off the books entirely. Nor was the fact that investment banks were (ahem) “working” with rating agencies in order to make sure these questionable securitized loans received the highest grade possible. Surely Moody’s was just trying to provide excellent customer service and Merrill Lynch was seeking this guidance out of a heartfelt desire to properly value them. And the insurers that blandly gave their blessing to these bonds with virtually no due diligence couldn’t possibly have been expected to know they were in fact pledging to back up worthless paper. No, none of these folks were key enablers. It was Freddie and Fannie, operating as intended: Increasing liquidity in the market by being the final resting place for what to all appearances were high grade, insured, solid, unspectacular mortgages. I do wonder, though, why Hassett did not also blame the state of Massachusetts and those horrible people at the Jefferson County (Florida) school board for their dastardly enabling as well.
Others have (correctly) decided that trying to explain it is a loser’s game and are desperately trying to deflect attention elsewhere. Some leading lights want to recast it in terms that no longer appeal to any ostensible conservative principle. Instead we should not “insist on some sort of ideological purity or free-market fastidiousness” and keep in mind that “The global financial turmoil has pulled nearly everybody out of their normal ideological categories.” This is “not a time for ideological purity” (via, and it is fascinating to see how a universally rejected (via) transfer of wealth to Wall Street is what finally got some on the right concerned about reckless spending. But under the circumstances it is probably best not to quibble too much.) It is, quite simply, the total elimination of pretense. Conservatism as practiced for the last quarter century has produced the mess we all must now clean up. It has also produced a horrifically costly war based on lies and fear, and crippled our bureaucracy to the point of incapacity in the face of natural disaster. We are now living with the logical result of the authoritarianism, militarism, corruption, fearmongering, callousness and greed that conservatism has meant in practice. It is understandable that its defenders want to change the subject, or feebly claim that we now need some kind of post-ideological paradigm or are reduced to farcical attempts at distancing. But that is no reason for the rest of us to accept such silliness.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Some updates on past items.
- Mississippi is going with a proper ballot design after all.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the special election to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) – who resigned last December – will appear near the top of the November ballot. The court ruled 8 to 1 that the ballot layout approved by Republican Governor Haley Barbour violated state election law by listing the race at the very bottom of the ballot. Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.I’m glad the court rejected it so emphatically. Now we need to work on making this kind of manipulation something to be ashamed of. No one attempts poll taxes or literacy tests anymore. Tactics like this deserve the same general opprobrium.
- Ohio is getting sued over its effort to throw out some of the absentee ballots it’s received:
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, issued a memo on Sept. 5 to all 88 county boards of election instructing officials to reject the applications if that box is unchecked because it leaves to question whether the person who filled out the application is indeed qualified to vote in Ohio. Brunner said she is only following Ohio law. She blamed the McCain camp for the confusion because it added the box to the form, which was not needed. But because it is there it must be checked or applications are invalid, her office contends.Knock it off, Sec. Brunner. Count the votes and redouble education and outreach.
- The lawsuit against journalists detained at the RNC has been dropped. I’m happy to give Amy Goodman the last word:
The St. Paul City Attorney’s office announced Friday it will not prosecute Democracy Now! journalists Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also issued a statement Friday that “the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention.”…Upon learning of the news, Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman said, “It’s good that these false charges have finally been dropped, but we never should have been arrested to begin with. These violent and unlawful arrests disrupted our work and had a chilling effect on the reporting of dissent. Freedom of the press is also about the public’s right to know what is happening on their streets. There needs to be a full investigation of law enforcement activities during the convention.”
That was the good news at the ballot box. Here’s the bad: New tactics to exclude voters based on a novel tactic called “exact matching” of names:
Exact matching, however, could mean that a woman who recently married and changed her name would fail to match government records containing her maiden name. Voters who have double last names or unusually spelled names might also fail. Everything depends on how a state’s matching algorithm is designed.This kind of abuse of discretion is exactly the sort of bad faith that encourages calls for an inflexible, uniform national standard. It’s hard to argue for local autonomy, deference or home rule when questionable (to put it generously) tactics are used to “shape” the electorate.
This week’s reason why I have the Electronic Frontier Foundation on my Liberty Huggers blogroll:
Plaintiffs who had been pursuing a suit against AT&T have shifted their focus to government officials to circumvent Congress’s grant of immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is continuing to pursue its case against AT&T. “Today we’ve opened a second front in our battle to stop the NSA’s illegal surveillance,” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston told reporters during a conference call Thursday….Bankston said the lawsuit’s aim is to “obtain personal accountability from the architects” of the warrantless surveillance and to say to future government officials, “If you break the law and violate people’s privacy, there will be consequences.”…Congress also has been complicit. When it adopted several amendments to FISA earlier this summer, the Democratic-led Congress gave in to Bush’s demands that the updated spy law provide immunity for participating telecoms like AT&T. Bankston said EFF is arguing that the immunity grant itself was unconstitutional and has not given up its original case, Hepting v. AT&T, but the group is pursuing the separate case against the government officials to avoid getting bogged down with the fight over immunity.I love how they keep fighting.
I like Russ Feingold, so it pains me to write this: Senator, in the face of Democratic Congress’ relentless capitulations to the President and ominous signs of another one this week maybe citizens have started taking matters into their own hands because they wish you and your fellow party leaders would just slink off the stage. And maybe if you were interested in fixing problems now we might not feel that way.
UPDATE: I forgot to include the following comment from Mark Kernes a couple weeks ago:
It’s been my observation that when Repugnicans are in power, they sound like fascists, and when they’re out of power (or going out), they do their best to sound like libertarians. It’s about time less-observant people quit being fooled by that crap.I would have worded it differently but in light of the coming Wall Street bailout it’s probably become even more accurate in just the last week.
UNPACKING JANE: On pp. 156-7 Mayer describes how James Mitchell, a former military psychologist, was apparently in charge of the interrogation of terror suspect Abu Zubayda. He had no background in the middle east, the Muslim religion or Islamic terrorism. And he spoke no Arabic. Mayer delicately uses the word “oddly” to characterize putting someone like that as a lead interrogator. When the torture of Zubayda is proposed Mayer writes:
Fearful that they would be implicated, and adamantly opposed to what Mitchell proposed doing, the FBI agents picked up and left. In the following days, reports of deliberate prisoner abuse reached the top rungs of the FBI, causing the Director, Mueller, to bar the Bureau’s personnel from participating in the CIA’s coercive interrogations. The use of these controversial methods thus deprived the United States of many of its most experienced terrorism experts. It also abandoned the interrogations of the most valuable suspects to the intelligence officials with no great interest in prosecuting them, lessening the incentive to play by the rules.The people in charge of terrorist interrogations were more interested in cruelty than in effectively extracting information with an eye on getting the suspects into a court of law. In other words, there was no desire or intent for these detainees to be handled or processed according to the rule of law.
I’ve heard this week’s crisis in financial markets as an economic 9/11. I agree completely, and think the analogy can be extended beyond just a generic catastrophic event. Republicans have done a great job of casting the attacks as completely out of the blue and unknowable. They have also adopted the unfathomably bizarre reasoning that the President has done a great job protecting us ever since the first 3,000 Americans were murdered on his watch. (This is the same tactic that allows them to claim The Surge - accompanied by an assassination and ethnic cleansing campaign - worked while ignoring the much larger strategic failures that surround it.) But as I’ve written previously there was plenty of warning before the attacks for those with eyes to see. Some in the intelligence community were desperately trying to get this lazy, indifferent administration’s attention when the red flags started popping up. The event was foreshadowed well in advance, and the biggest failures came at the very top. As then, so now. Plenty of people have been warning for years about the hazards (via Blue Girl) posed by the Republicans’ unwavering commitment to deregulation and toothless oversight. It was obvious that dismantling the structures erected to enforce a certain modest degree of prudence and good practice was not all about streamlining Byzantine procedures, modernizing the financial industry to compete in the modern global marketplace or any of that happy horseshit. It was not about creating a Randian paradise of unfettered capitalism, but unleashing the instant-gratification attitude that controls the mental six year olds on Wall Street. We created an environment that rewards the absolutely worst behavior. We knew it, the results were easy to predict and we could see it coming from a long way off. Let’s not even start with how no one could have known, or that spending some time on an autopsy is politicization - especially when the right was only too happy to politicize it when it worked for them.
And a trillion dollars is a lot of fucking money.
And please - spare me the wailing about how conservatism cannot fail, only be failed. When you postulate that government is evil you will necessarily view abuse of it as a virtue if not a moral imperative. And lofty claims of fiscal probity can self-evidently not survive extended contact with Washington, D.C. We have now conclusively seen that its claims and objectives are not practical and are essentially impossible to implement in the real world. Communism suffered the same crisis of idealism and now is on the ash heap. Time for conservatism to join it.