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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Virtuous Sabotage

by digby

Following up on my post from last night about the administration meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, I was struck by Steve Benen's post this morning about the possibility that the Republicans have decided to affirmatively sabotage the economy and important national security initiatives like the START treaty, the opposition to which from the GOP has even the GOP elder statesmen astonished.

He says:

Historically, lawmakers from both parties have resisted any kind of temptations along these lines for one simple reason: they didn't think they'd get away with it. If members of Congress set out to undermine the strength of the country, deliberately, just to weaken an elected president, they risked a brutal backlash -- the media would excoriate them, and the punishment from voters would be severe.

All that assumed they thought they would be found out --- Dick Nixon being the prime example of someone who sabotaged a peace process as well as Ronnie Reagan, who is suspected of double dealing in the Iran hostage crisis. And on economics, there's always been widespread belief that the Fed manipulates interest rates on behalf of Republicans in election years. But be that as it may, these efforts were always covert and the politicians were always careful to keep up the fiction that they put the national interest above all else. So something has changed.

I think it's just another step in the degradation of our societal norms. We are not living in a country anymore in which there is even a consensus about something as immoral as torture, so why should political sabotage be beyond the pale? And the mainstream media, which Benen points out should be charged with bringing some perspective to these issues and calling attention to the fact that the Republican Party is actively working to undermine the national interest, is so deep into their "Church of the Savvy" that they literally laugh at this phenomenon and then proceed to call balls and strikes as if it's a sport to find out who can win with the most cynical strategy.

Yesterday, for instance, Andrea Mitchell interviewed Senator Richard Lugar, elder statesman and nuclear disarmament specialist. He was extremely agitated that the Senate was about to scuttle the START treaty for reasons that were petty and unintelligible to anyone who cares about the idea of a loose nuke or accidental launch of an ancient soviet missile. (One would have thought that group would include all elected officials, but clearly not.) Anyway, she interviewed him and then had on Ambassador Richard Burt who negotiated the original START treaty back in 1991. She said, "I haven't seen Richard Lugar that fired up about this issue in quite a long time, and it's because, on the face of it, what is the explanation? When you read this treaty, the preamble to the treaty, what is the explanation for saying that this is bad for U.S. interests? He replied, and I kid you not, that he thinks Republicans only want nuclear treaties to be signed under GOP administrations. Mitchell, of course, just said "ah" and blithely carried on as if they were talking about Karl Rove's election strategy and that was that.

Perhaps one can attribute all this to the new media world in which everyone is now a political pundit and so strategy is considered a moral value in itself. And it's certainly the case that those who live inside the conservative media bubble believe that Obama is a Muslim socialist terrorist sympathizer so, in their view, stopping anything he does by definition isn't sabotage, it's patriotism. (And when you saw people interviewed at the Glenn Beck rally, many of them simply couldn't believe that Beck repeatedly called Obama a racist --- so it's possible that many right wing citizens haven't totally abandoned these social norms, but that they just don't realize their leaders have.)

Whatever the case, I do know that the the old "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue" thing is long gone in national Republican politics and they are just blatantly proclaiming themselves to be virtuous by undermining the national interest in order to win elections. That is now seen as a positive good, not a shameful unpatriotic act. Because in American life, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

(This is also, by the way, why Wall Street criminals and banksters are given a pass. They "won" which means they are better and more worthy than the rest of us. Indeed, the Church of the Savvy, it turns out, is just an offshoot of the Church of Ayn Rand.)

Update: Kevin Drum talks a bit about this too, although I don't think he agrees with me ...