The (Immense) Hole in the Star Tribune’s Sunday Quartet.

My vaunted sense of fairness that compels me to give the Star Tribune’s editorial page credit for trying — not valiantly, mind you — but trying to cover all points of the ideological spectrum with this past Sunday’s quartet of pieces on Minnesota’s governmental gridlock. In an age long past the point where big city newspapers made much if any difference in candidate endorsements, I kinda doubt the mind of anyone anywhere was nudged, much less changed, by what they read. If they read it.

In old school journalism jargon, Sunday’s pieces, by commentary editor D.J. Tice (thoughtful, cautious Libertarian-esque), Lori Sturdevant (earnestly maternal but lately increasingly indignant mainstream pro-government), ex-Strib political reporter Dane Smith (informed and puckish think tank liberal) and talk radio host Jason Lewis (superficially intellectual, rationalizing the irrational for Ayn Rand-validated personal gain) , were a perfect “package”, designed to address all the significant, vital issues in the “deadlock”. Except of course they left out the most profound issue of all. So in the end they really didn’t advance problem solving in the only direction it can go. if the point is effective government for five million people. (If the point is just academic bonhomie … well, they knocked themselves out.)

The missing element in each and every piece, and the most significant element in the state (and much of the country’s retrograde political dynamic) is the devolution of the Republican party from something like rational conservatism — minimal government, lower taxes, yadda yadda — to its current state, populated and itself gridlocked by lock-stepping, dime-deep, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-science ideologues whose “ideology” is as flagrantly ill-informed as their projections for how their financial solutions are supposed to actually work. I suspect the Strib editorialists decided they as a paper have covered this devolution so thoroughly in the past there was no point burdening their “package” with repetitious dogma and partisanship. As a broadly-directed, “mainstream” entity the paper lives in a perpetual fear of the latter. Story after editorial after commentary pushes the plea for “compromise” and “coming together” in the “best interests of all”, which would be a fine, wonderful and heart-warming thing if only one side had any interest in “compromise”.

Here’s a shocker. The two pieces I have the most problems with are Tice’s and Lewis’s.

Tice is a writer/thinker I’ve always admired. (He was my boss briefly way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) If not Noam Chomsky or Bill Maher, Tice would be my choice for The Least Likely Guy to Enjoy a Tea Party Gun Show Pro-Family Picnic. His style of conservatism is coherent, with clear appreciation for historical precedents. But oh does Doug — as an outlier to contemporary conservative “thinking” — love the “both sides are equally at fault” rhetorical position.

He writes:

Dayton has also talked incessantly about his willingness to compromise, his heartbreaking longing to compromise — thus skillfully winning credit as the flexible one in the situation without the disagreeable necessity of actually doing much compromising. Consider: Dayton is now claiming the meek middle ground for a proposal that would leave Minnesota essentially tied with Hawaii and Oregon for the highest top income tax rate in the country. This is a descent from the vertigo-inducing rates Dayton first proposed (the textbook negotiating ploy), but it’s not exactly a wrenching sacrifice of his beloved tax-the-rich vision.

Okay, so Dayton’s original “tax the rich” numbers were “textbook negotiating”. But in textbook negotiating fashion Dayton has moved/compromised in pursuit of the great historical concept of giving something to get something.

Tice’s distillation of the GOP position is that:

GOP leaders have been so adamant that state government must get along on existing revenues that they’ve left themselves no obvious route for graceful retreat. Almost any accommodation could look like a surrender, if not a betrayal of principle. They have burned their boats and can only go forward.

I would strongly suggest there’s room in that paragraph for an explicit reminder of how far off the beam this GOP is from the GOP of Tice’s youth and that therein lies the foremost impediment to effective governance.

As for Lewis. Well look, he’s in the Strib because like every American paper of any size, the Strib believes it is so inherently liberal and therefore anathema to modern conservatives, they must have someone who speaks to the talk-radio informed mentality of their readership. So who better than a talk radio jock? Again, in fairness, Lewis is a world apart in terms of rhetorical ability and marketing savvy from the Bradlee Dean, AM 1280 Patriot lunkheads. (Much like Tice, I can only imagine Lewis gritting his teeth while — only rarely —  enduring their company). Lewis’s greatest talent is lubricating — I don’t think there’s a better word for it — bullshit — in away that makes it digestible among a brighter class of people. His arguments amount to a spun candy confection with an appealing appearance and no nutritional value.

After artfully glossing past how the state avoided actually paying bills amid all that “deferment” and “unallotting” voodoo, (short answer — the DFL let Pawlenty get away with it), Lewis writes:

… disproportionately relying on income taxes from the “wealthy” is a recipe for budgetary chaos. Incomes at the top tend to ebb and flow with the economy, so once the downturn hits, you see massive drops in revenue streams. It’s no coincidence that the high-income tax states of California, New York and Illinois are those with the biggest budget problems.

Point being of course that the truly, deeply, madly wealthy are so vulnerable to economic fluctuation and chaos … why, there must be numbers somewhere that prove this … that their tax status must be protected above all others (like their customers, for example). Later, he quotes Reason magazine, every ’60s era Libertarian’s fanzine of choice, which notes with some alarm that after a similar “tax the rich” plan “a third of the millionaires had disappeared from Maryland tax rolls.”

Lewis of course glosses, talk radio host-style, over the actual years involved in this terrible “disappearance”. Says Neil Bergsman of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute:

What about the 30 percent drop in millionaires cited in media stories? Here again, some claim it means millionaires left Maryland because of the tax increase. Again, the evidence says otherwise. Almost certainly, these taxpayers suffered in the poor economy to the point that their income declined from over $1 million to under $1 million. That also happens every year. The comptroller reported that over the past seven years, between 31 percent and 52 percent of millionaires failed to repeat. In 2008, reductions in investment income, business income and real estate proceeds very likely brought several hundred former millionaires under the million-dollar level in 2008. A 30 percent drop this year isn’t exceptional. In fact, it’s a trend seen nationwide.

But, you know, “whatever”. It’s his schtick, it sells on the radio and the Strib believes they need it for balance.

The essential point is that the Strib, as its Op-Ed habit, chose to avoid the unraveling of one of the state/country’s two political parties in its “packaged” analysis of what is causing “deadlock”.

IMHO? You can not exclude the obdurate radicalizing of the contemporary GOP from any discussion of governmental breakdown. It is the PRIMARY issue, not a peripheral issue.

48 Responses

  1. I thought you were going to say the missing member of the quartet was a firebrand liberal. I’d argue they have two measured, thoughtful liberals in Sturdenvant and Smith, one measured, thoughtful conservative in Tice and one fireband, no-holds barred conservative brawler in Lewis. Lacking a no-holds barred liberal to counterbalance Lewis, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see the kind of unvarnished critique of the GOP that you seek.

    Who could fill the liberal firebrand brawler gap? Jeff Rosenberg from MN Publius? Brian Lambert from MinnPost? Other nominations?

    • BL doesn’t have the chops. Quimby is factual, credible, and readable.

      Lewis isn’t a firebrand. I think ultimately your complaint is that he’s too effective.

      • I used to listen to Lewis a lot, and for a while the Constitutional citations and philosopher references made me think there was thoughtfulness there.

        But I came to understand it was a facade. Even more than most talk radio guys on both the left and right, Jason is the king of the straw man argument. Frame your opponents’ position inaccurately so that it’s easy to discredit, and then beat the straw out of it bully boy style, while dropping in some erudite sounding Adam Smith and Federalist Papers nuggets.

        We all are guilty of some degree of straw man laziness in our argumentation, but Lewis’s logic is especially lazy.

      • Well Joe, invisible hand vs. central planning plus original intent vs. living constitution pretty much sums up the nature of the contemporary political debate.

        Lewis has salient arguments. It’s rather lazy to just want to dismiss his points rather than rebut them. Either that or it’s plain avoidance.

      • Characterizing Obama/Dayton/me as being for “central planning” is a perfect example of a straw man argument.

        My handy online economic dictionary tells me that “central planning” is “a system where the government plans all business activity, regulates supply, sets production targets and itemizes work to be done.”

        That’s not Obama’s position, and it’s not the position of 99% of Democrats today. Discrediting Democrats’ support of “central planning” is a waste of my time, and lazy argumentation, because that’s not the position of American Democrats.

      • Lewis has “salient” arguments, Erik? Yeah, like Weiner’s alleged Tweet is salient. So what? So does Glenn Beck. So does Michelle Bachmann. The pastor who claimed to predict The Rapture. Yes, all quite salient and hard to miss. For what reason are Lewis’s arguments “salient”?

        I would submit it’s not for their deeply-reasoned cogency.

      • Poor word choice, perhaps mockably so. Upon reflection I’d substitute relevant.

        You have a long way to go before you can put the emotional power behind a scare quote like BL does. Maybe if you used more of them.

    • Joe: A big “ha!” to that. But then how many times have you seen actual “liberal” — other than Paul Krugman — show up on those Sunday morning wonkfests?

      • Krugman has come up with a pretty neat WPA idea. Road building and other infrasturcture projects to sop up the unemployed who have no hopes for jobs.

      • Well, given the faltering employment picture, it actually seems to be a pretty poor idea to me to be talking about drastic cuts in government spending. If there really were any signs of inflation at all in the economy, all of the talk about the deficits and cutting spending might make sense, but there are none. Frankly, I think that Krugman is right about Keynes being far from dead. Given the historically low inflation, the historically low interest rates, and the high unemployment, it makes sense to really tackle our infrastructure deficit—but a certain group (wedded to an ideology, not reality) will have none of that.

      • He’s also noting the Obama administration’s reluctance to get behind WPA style public works. And that’s what it would be… something remarkably different from just saying we’re going to build some stuff, let’s start getting bids and making payments to private contractors. Presumably the long term unemployed would get public works jobs.

        It’s hard to think of either Krugman or the administration being wrong here, they are both so astute. I suppose the person to ask is BL. He’s a fan of both, but also a guy who has no hope of remunerative work in his old profession and would benefit from public works jobs.

      • Paul Krugman’s latest on what we need to do (from a Keynesian point of view, of course):

        http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/fatal-fatalism/?src=twrhp

      • PM:

        No inflation? What realistic economist other than government economists would not include food and energy in the core inflation numbers? Put those in, and they do belong in the inflation picture, and we sure do have inflation.

        Business is sitting on all its cash because of regulations coming down the pike, uncertainty about taxes and trade and a host of other unknowns.

        The government can spend all it wants. Without business hiring and spending money, we are in deep shit. Sorry but more taxes and regulations ain’t going to do the trick.

      • Mike:

        Saw in the paper today that since Obama took office, private employers have added 1,000,000 jobs, while there are 1,100,000 fewer public jobs (police, teachers, etc.)

        As for inflation, it is not just core inflation numbers that are saying there is no inflation–look at interest rates. historic lows there as well. Clearly, if investors feared inflation, they would not be willing to put $$ in t-bills with long term or even medium term rates at historic lows. Sorry, but despite everyones fears about inflation because of all the loosening $$ supply, it is just not there.

        And, besides, Obama has already lowered taxes. As you point out, that didn’t work as a stimulus. And, frankly (although we have gone over this many times) our current problems have a lot more to do with lack of regulation than with too much regulation.

        And the biggest worry of all is that those idiot republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage–threatening to destroy international credit flows if they don’t get their way. There is uncertainty–give us what we want or we will destroy the economy.

        No, the last time we had no deficits, low unemployment and a good economy we had MORE taxes and MORE regulation–your formula for success simply has no factual basis in reality.

        (sorry for the hyperbole, but I just think that the case for Keynesianism gets stronger and stronger as we get farther into this recession)

      • PM: You are saying theres no inflation?

      • there is very low inflation– certainly not something for us to be worried about now.

  2. Well, thank goodness we have you, BL! ;-)

    Seriously, I do generally agree with your two main points (1: faulty “balance” arguments, 2: growing extremism on the right).

    I am not certain that this can be fixed by an equivalent extremism on the left (is that your argument, joe?) I think that those on the right are engaging in a massive form of self deception (see: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/republicans-may-need-exit-strategy-from-medicare-plan/) (let me know if you can’t make it past the paywall, and i will post the entire article).

    I am hoping/expecting that the next election will result in a repudiation of these tactics. I could be wrong, however….

    • PM: Look, I get described as a “way out there radical” all the time, even while I’m re-planting hosta and Armor All-ing my dashboard in my Edina driveway. But the fact that someone as utterly middle-class normal as me is labelled “radical” or “firebrand” says a lot more about the crowd doing the labelling. It’s a real “consider the source” thing. And for them, as Ms. Sturdevant took pains to say in her Sunday piece, Kurt Zellers is … a “grown up”.

      • FWIW, you hardly seem like a firebrand to me…..
        (he said, trying to let BL down gently….)

      • Yea actually, I’m pretty sure that’s not what they say about you BL.

        There is some anticipation for you to weigh in on Weinergate though. Over the years I don’t think anyone has given as much thought as you have to the political male and his…

    • Sorry PM, you are factually incorrect. There is inflation in the economy, about the average inflation rate we’ve had over decades — 3.2 percent or so annualized off the latest reported month. My argument was that it was not higher or lower than historical norms. It was simply that it ignores energy and food, something people buy regularly and I think those things belong in the core inflation numbers. As to your argument that more regulation is needed, I find it utterly unconvincing and lacking in any proof that more regulation would better the economy. Corporations are still sitting on record amounts of cash, and I can’t say I blame them.

      • I don’t think that regulation and corporations sitting on cash are in any way connected. Total non sequitur on your part there–but please, try to build a case if you think it exists.

        As for why we should have regulations, and why it is good for the economy, i know you do not believe this, and i do not think that there is anything that anyone could say that would get you to change your mind on this topic (indeed, there have been epic discussions on this topic here, and you have done a great imitation of the immoveable object), but for the sake of others (who might have a more open mind on the issue), here is a really fascinating article on just this topic:

        http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2011/06/13/110613ta_talk_surowiecki

        As for the issue of inflation, my point (in case it was not clear to you) was that the LAST thing that we should be worrying about right now is inflation–this is not a problem for us right now. We should be worrying about growth–particularly job growth, and economic stimulation, despite the possible adverse impact on inflation, would be far better for us. We still should be worrying about deflation rather than inflation–and Krugman makes this case the best (and i know that you never agree with Krugman):

        http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/the-rentier-regime/

        Now i know that most of your clients would fall into that group that Krugman refers to as rentiers–so do I, for that matter. but what is good for them (me) is not the same thing as what is good for the economy as a whole. And that is my point, and Krugman’s as well.

  3. Thank you, sir. I appreciate the velvet touch and calm bedside manner in these times.

  4. BL – Being the go to guy on penis complexes, inadequacy and otherwise, your Weinergate analysis is probably committed to a big time freelance payday. So we don’t want to usurp that and have you spill the beans here. But there probably are some things you could share some insight on so as to get in front of any incorrect narratives that are building.

    Figure, Weiner has probably been using the innuendo of his name to talk about his penis since his adolescence. The college student in Seattle is a pretty black woman though. To navigate the Twitter conversation to that point where Weiner can send a picture of his erection, he almost undoubtedly asks “Have you been with Jewish guys before / do you think they’re small compared to black guys / would you like to see mine and comment?”

    Now, that’s all fine insofar as we have societal references for Jewish masculine insecurity. Woody Allen and what not. We can laugh it all off. But inevitably someone will compare Weiner to the teabagger gun lovers, whose anxiety is also tied up into fear and awe of black men. When someone claims that equivalence , how is Weiner’s relative superiority demonstrated? This is important insofar as Weiner represents liberalism. And the thing is, we all know we can ultimately pull the trump card and nullify the equivalence argument by noting that Weiner is liberal, and therefore a good person and not evil or stupid, but you don’t want to overuse that or go to it to early. What’s an alternative argument that can be used prior to that?

  5. @BL: I agree with your recent comments about the Onion. There’s nothing out there as spot on.

    I thought this one was timely, but maybe your insight is needed to really parse the irony.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/educated-bigot-that-much-more-terrifying,20630/

  6. I knew that in buying the Saturday strib with the color comics and the coupons while saving a couple of bucks by ignoring the Sunday I was doing the smart thing. I check the online Sunday strib to see which of the decayed Republican presidential speech writers from Fred Hiatt’s hack factory at WAPO I had missed.

    Eric Black, BL and other people I respect say Tice is okay, but what I know of him is the guy who picks out the abysmal wankers from the Times and WAPO to put on the op-ed page when there are actually good things available. If not that, he gives somebody like Andy Brehm a third of the page to write, for the second time, pure bullshit on the electoral college.

    What I would like to see, to counter-balance all the screaming about how everything that is not objectivism is socialism, is an honest to God socialist or at least a social democrat on the page. About the only available candidate is Bernie Sanders, so we might have to recruit somebody from the NDP, which recently did rather well in the Canadian elections.

  7. @BL: I liked your line today in the Glean about Emmer and Davis working for cheap and with no editorial control. Heh. I am student of irony though, but maybe a poor one. I couldn’t tell if that was a laughing with them or laughing at them kind of punchline on your part. Because I figured doing the Glean was about a $50 a day gig. What would be cool though is some Lambo like analysis on conservative penis inadequacy appearing in the pages of MP. That sort of editorial and creative control would be a good tradeoff for the low wages. That must be coming in the near future.

    • Erik:

      Look, I am no BL fan (didn’t even know who the hell he was until he showed up on this site, never met the guy, and apart from what he writes here, i really don’t follow him at all), but you seem to have a thing for him. or against him. or he just seems to irritate you–a lot. Care to share?

      • What, too rowdy for The Same Rowdy Crowd?

        Me too – never met, do not expect to. I don’t think it can be said my comments are all that out of step.

      • Well, excluding your most recent post, on this subject you have posted 10 times. Three of those posts have no mention of BL, and seem to fit in with all of the comments by other people. But the other 7 all contain such dismissive/belittling gems as:

        –BL doesn’t have the chops.
        –…behind a scare quote like BL does.
        –I suppose the person to ask is BL. He’s a fan of both, but also a guy who has no hope of renumerative work in his old profession and would benefit from public works jobs.
        –I don’t think anyone has given as much thought as you have to the political male and his…
        –BL: being the go to guy on penis complexes, inadequacy and otherwise…
        –…but maybe your insight [BL's] is needed to really parse the irony.
        –What would be cool would be some Lambo like analysis on conservative penis inadequacy…

        Now, I suppose if BL had made some penis analogy in his article, all of your penis references might seem more appropriate, but he didn’t (and no, i do not think the few references to “package” or “lubricating” are enough to count as penis analogies–the context simply is not there). Nor can i find any justification to your references to BL’s lack of employment/employability (which may or may not be accurate–I don’t know, nor do I think it would be germane to his arguments), other than as a textbook example of ad hominem argument–you aren’t attacking his points, you are attacking him as a person.

        So, why? What is the big deal with you about BL? Generally, you seem to be a pretty intelligent person, and you are clearly capable of interesting and informed comments (unlike BJ, who appears to be nothing but a troll). Newt, who regularly and reliably attacks BL’s positions does not have that personal edge, nor does Mike or pretty much everyone else. Nor do you offer those personal barbs when you disagree/debate/argue with other people.

        I’m not saying that personal barbs are always out of place, but you seem to be relentlessly focusing on one person, and it seems rather disproportionate to me. Care to explain?

    • SPJ Page One Awards:

      Best Profile Story – Magazine
First Place
      Brian Lambert
Mpls.St.Paul Magazine
      “Destiny’s Child?”
This was a well-written article from top to bottom. Lambert set the scene so clearly, brought the reader there. By the end of the profile, I felt I knew the subject. Great job making this topic interesting. Solid.

      What, no dog to kick, Erik?

      • You think I’m a bit of a dog kicker, figuratively at least?

        It was not long ago that Lambo articulated his theory that conservatism is explained by an innate penis anxiety among its members. And you know the rest…..penis anxiety explains conservative’s inherent racism, which explains their antipathy to social programs… penis anxiety explains their fixation with guns…pass the bong.

        I merely think this is the kind of thing that can’t be discussed enough within a certain context. That context being Lambo regularly claiming the intellectual high ground while also streaming an invective of slurs.

        I don’t like stupid vulgar bigots and I do like irony. So yeah, this can be a bit of sporting for me.

      • Yeah, the subject matter, assumptions, audience, and set of disdains that article was built on made it a strong contender for a guild award. And thus it received one. It was a belt high batting practice fastball as far as that goes.

        I had this experience going to a party in Kingfield not long ago. ‘You’re from the 6th?,’ you’re asked. Yes I am. ‘You must have voted for Bachmann?’ Yes I did.

        It’s completely absurd.

      • Well, at least with respect to BL you are behaving like a dog kicker, which is what prompted my questioning.

      • I see, so this stems from nothing more than you as aggrieved victim. How boring.

      • What reason would you find sufficient Jim. I’m not wrong, just boring. And no one raise any objections lest their grievance be thought absurd. But not actually incorrect.

      • So tell me if i have this straight–at a party someone made the assumption that if you were from the 6th district that you must have voted for bachmann? And you find this absurd, even though it was correct?

        Maybe you merely resent them because their assumptions were accurate.

  8. No, thats not quite it.

  9. Well, Erik, you’re a bright enough lad, why not stick with refuting Lambert’s overarching thesis about conservatives and their unaddressed feelings of inadequacy rather than oddly confirming its seeming accuracy with these “my-income’s-bigger-than-your-income” ad hominems?

    • I’m not an income snob. I think of it in terms of being able to earn an adult income. This is about misanthropy.

      In any event…no. I’m not going to feel obligtated to refute something so stupid. It should go without saying. Mockery is a completely proper response.

      • Uh…okay, how about just going for coherence, then? Because I really have lost track of your point. You’re protecting us from misanthropy by making fun of displaced workers in the journalism business? As one of those people, I don’t experience it as an anodyne to misanthropy, but, rather, its quintessence. Pull yourself together, man.

    • Gentlemen (and all too rare ladies): After all these years of reporting/columnizing/blogging I’m kinda inured to the troll factor in the media game. In my experience, the most common rationale for weird, aberrant responses to opinion pieces I’ve written is to avoid any kind of coherent response and therefore any rational exchange of ideas. Hence, a popular form of “debate” (not so much here at The Crowd, but elsewhere), has been assert to idiocy and incompetence on my part and let that suffice as a rebuttal. As I say, that is pretty familiar. It comes with the territory.
      My attitude is that this being a democracy everyone is free to say what they please, even when it occasionally veers off into the creepy weird, painfully self-revelatory stalkerazzi realm. I have no clue who “Erik Peterson” or “John Stitches” is, or what the roots of his apparently obsessive animus are, but he seems to need this relationship. Several readers have e-mailed or called to suggest I block “Erik” on the basis he is a bridge too far on the creep scale. But even if I thought that was a good idea, I’d have to know how.
      Kind of likewise, I’m not quite tracking his fascination with my income. For the record, I’m doing fine. I have more work and more deadlines than I care to think about and wish I had more time free to … blog here and annoy my trolls. Anyone who has ever worked for a local daily newspaper will tell you it ain’t all that difficult to recreate that income in the outside world.

      And that, as Bill O’Reilly said about his “falafel in the shower” incident, will be the last I’ll say about this matter.

      • I’m just trying to get him to stop, because he is making me feel sympathy for you, BL. and that makes it harder for me to object to the crazy things you say!

    • You’re sexy when you speak in a foreign language, Jim.

  10. As Sen. Sam Ervin, said to an equivocating John Ehrlichman, “English is my muthuh tongue…”

    Nota bene: I’m irresistible in a dead language.

    • How are you at…Italian?

      • Il mio italiano è molto cattivo. But “makeoverguy” was just giving me a gentle insider’s elbow to the ribs with his post.

  11. who would have thought that there would be academic advice on how to deal with trolls?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/13/internet-trolls-improbable-research?CMP=twt_gu

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