Okay, I’m Convinced

I’ve been having a little back and forth with reflectionephemeral from the blog, Poison Your Mind about whether small, annoying instances of government over enthusiasm essentially pave the way for right-wing, anti-government rhetoric. But, he’s convinced me that I’ve reversed the causal dynamic. Many people are annoyed about things like toilet water usage rules, but I think RE is ultimately right that this is manufactured outrage, and that absent such rules/regulations the right-wing perpetual outrage machine would just find something else to rail about and would convince a certain percentage of the population that this is another example of creepy tyranny on the road to serfdom or something.

Anyway, he’s right, I was wrong.

But I come about being wrong honestly in the sense that a lot of these little annoying government rules and regulations (and stuff like the idiocy of the TSA) annoy ME, and I was projecting my feelings onto the broader populace when in reality there is scant evidence to support my argument, and more to support his. Anyway, read his full The Point Of The Resentment Is The Resentment. A snippet:

There didn’t appear to be all too much antigovernment resentment during the Bush Jr. presidency, as the GOP pushed for Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the executive’s asserted power to wiretap and to detain & torture US citizens without charges or a warrant, surpluses turned into deficits, the right in Raich v Gonzales to imprison folks for activity legal under state law, and the invasion for bogus reasons & failed occupation of an arbitrarily selected Middle Eastern country.

The cause of the receptivity to the talking points is the right wing’s efforts to gear up the resentment machine, which then trickles into the public consciousness. It’s not the result of anything that the government has done.


On the other hand, I was right about Romney winning the nomination easily.


4 comments to Okay, I’m Convinced

  • Wonder what you both think of this then?

    As far as rhetoric and public sentiment, it seems to me it’s a chicken-egg argument – is GoP rhetoric the cause of anti-government sentiment, or are they simply exploiting a sentiment that already exists? Personally, I think it’s the latter. Distrust of government has a long history in this country, but more than that there’s a strong generational component as well – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the modern rise of anti-government rhetoric and sentiment began with the political ascendency of the boomer generation. Here’s how and AARP analysis put it:

    Whether or not the popular characterization of the Boomers as self-interested is correct, this survey suggests that, politically, Boomers of all orientations are now and will continue to engage in politics on their terms, and with clear self-interest in mind.

    The best illustration of this is the manner in which Boomers regard entitlements and obligations. In the survey, Boomers are more likely to name more “definite responsibilities” of government, yet they are less likely to believe that they owe the country certain obligations, including military service, paying taxes, and paying attention to political issues. The sense of obligation increases among the Silents and is highest among the GIs.

    The survey also suggests that Boomers are more skeptical than Silents and GIs about the political process, and more likely to regard issues (and not political parties or personalities) as the most important consideration when casting votes. Unlike the GI Generation and the Silent Generation for whom issue politics takes a strong back seat to the personal qualities of candidates, Boomers are almost equally likely to pay attention to issues as personal qualities when choosing a candidate for national office. Focusing on issues, which can change easily, may lead to a more volatile and fragmented electorate.

    Finally, at the end of the day, good policy and good government matters. IMO we should support good policies regardless of what the right wing or anyone else thinks. If one wants to change the perceptions detailed in the Stanley Greenberg op-ed, then reforming government becomes a no-brainer IMO.

  • Thanks for reading and engaging, and thanks for the link!

    Yeah, this conversation was solely about how vague discontent becomes militantly politicized. I certainly don’t mean to argue that no one could ever experience genuine frustration about a misguided regulation.

    It seems to me that the state of affairs we’re discussing here is the result of the two key features of our current political discourse.

    #1: The Republican Party has abandoned policy beliefs for resentment. That’s the larger point I was trying to get at in the portion of my post you excerpted here. The GOP can support Keynesian stimulus, an uncheckable executive, cap and trade, the health insurance mandate, etc. when they’re in power, then literally weeks later decry their own policies as not merely unsound, but unconstitutional and indeed tyrannical. They’re now militantly averse to compromising with the president, which is no surprise. The raison d’etre of membership in the GOP is tribalism, meaning resentment of liberals, out groups, and foreigners. Compromising with Democrats is, therefore, antithetical to what it means to be a Republican. There are no policy concerns.

    #2: The media is terrible at reporting the news. They’ve abandoned the ideal of reporting the news *accurately*, seeking instead to present *balance between the two sides*. This means that one side can be making stuff up (we found the WMD, cutting revenues balances the budget, global warming is a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists), and those lies are given exactly equal weight to fact. And when “both” sides are wrong– e.g., the run-up to invading Iraq, where the folks the media deemed “serious Democrats” generally supported the radical policy in the offing– the media creates the illusion of universally accepted fact, rather than the illusion of controversy.

    Andy is, of course, correct that we should be working to prune irrelevant or counterproductive regulations and enforcement. But in a world where the GOP has abandoned all interest in policy, it doesn’t matter what the government does. Bill Clinton can spend his whole presidency trying to balance the budget and Reinvent Government, but the right wing will be talking about how principled militias are and shooting melons in their backyards to prove that the president murdered Vince Foster. They spent the whole 1990s demanding that we shutter the Department of Education, then spent the Bush Jr. era federalizing and centralizing education policy, and now spend the Obama era arguing that all federal policy is socialism. There’s no government reform that can diminish that unquenchable, irrational tribalism. That resentment seeps into the public consciousness, because of constant repetition, and because the media is terrible at reporting the news.

  • […] emerged from a back-and-forth I had with the wise and insightful commentator Bernard Finel. That discussion culminated in his post, “Okay, I’m […]

  • […] LATE UPDATE: Finel is convinced by my argument. Victory!) This entry was posted in News and Current Events, Politics. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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