Monday, October 11, 2010

Centrism as the path of least resistance

Sue Collins's op-ed is as awful as others have said. I particularly agree with this. In between the self-righteous posturing about the bipartisanship of the "Gang of 14" (which was bipartisan but a double-victory for the right, since they got to keep the filibuster as well as their right-wing judges) and enough complaints about being picked on by both sides that brings out my inner Livia Soprano ("Poor you!"), we get nuggets like this:
During the past two years, the minority party has been increasingly shut out of the discussion. Even in the Senate, which used to pride itself on being a bastion of free and open debate, procedural tactics are routinely used to prevent Republican amendments. That causes Republicans to overuse the filibuster, because our only option is to stop a bill to which we cannot offer amendments.
This might sound fine to an uninformed person. I am not an uninformed person. Susan Collins was, for a time, a gettable vote on health care reform. She and other Republicans offered tons of amendments that were considered and even accepted in some cases, but she still filibustered and voted against the final bill. When you consider that Collins, like very other Republican, voted to filibuster the motion to proceed on the DISCLOSE Act--not even the actual bill, just the motion to consider the bill and offer amendments, her big sticking point--this whole argument is revealed to be a farce, and a poignant one, since Collins is sure to be primaried in a few years and all that undisclosed money is sure to work against her. Ultimately, Collins wants (and has) to stand with her party's filibusters or she's going to get primaried and/or lose plum committee assignments, but she has to come up with an argument for why she's blocking things she ostensibly agrees with. That is the path of least resistance, and she's characteristically running it.

Collins's version of moderation deeply annoys me, and this op-ed is clearly a pitch to the establishment for the idea of a GOP-led Senate. The idea that such a Senate would enact a moderate agenda seems ridiculous to me, but I don't think Collins would care all that much about what gets passed because there's no evidence she ever has cared before. There are different kinds of moderates in the United States, some see moderation as being in between the two parties, and others see it as more a sober, evidence-based sensibility than a set of positions per se. Collins's view of moderation, in view of her record, seems to define the term as the path of least resistance. She voted for the stimulus, sure, which would make her a Keynesian, except that she voted for the second round of Bush's tax cuts, which was such an extreme extension of supply-side logic that her colleague Olympia Snowe voted against it. These are radically different economic positions that Collins would have a hard time reconciling, if she ever cared to. The only thing in common with both was that a popular president proposed both ideas, and she presumably wanted to get in on the hot-hot inside dealing and influence-making that both occasions provided. Her position with the whole "Gang of 14" business--that the Senate should preserve the filibuster but allow votes on Bush's right-wing nominees--is the sort of "centrism" I'm talking about, one that is not based on either the principle of majority rule nor one that is opposed to judicial extremism, so much as a stance that sets out to maximize the power of the Senate and, incidentally, the pivotal members in the center (such as Ms. Collins). She's been on both sides of cap-and-trade and immigration reform as well, depending on the political climate. What shines through at every turn is someone who adapts to the political environment rather than someone who tries to shape it, someone who is more interested in holding power than wielding it to any constructive end. I personally don't believe that our political problems stem from "incivility" in any respect, so much as I think they stem from an excessively powerful business lobby that renders the notion of a public interest quaint, a media that sees cynicism as practically a sport, and a number of figures who mostly exist to shut down any attempt at a dialogue between different sides in the political debate. These are the real problems we have, not civility. Gilded Age politics, as a counterexample, were extremely civil and polite, as well as deeply corrupt and craven. Everyone agreed on everything because powerful people were owned by the same corporate masters. I don't think things are that bad yet, but it is worth noting the supreme idiocy of this whole notion and its holders. Either that, or it's just another flavor of cynicism.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.