Inmates Running Half the Asylum

The news today is full of the chaos in the House of Representatives where the party in control, the Republicans, cannot elect a Speaker of the House (a position that is third in line for the presidency, after the Vice President). Long story short seems to be that a cadre of some 20 extremist MAGA Republicans will not approve the presumptive favorite for the job, Kevin McCarthy, without grave concessions. They’re rather like a third party candidate ruining the chances for the mainstream party to win an election, throwing it instead to the minority party. (This has happened.) Except I’m not sure how this will play out in a chamber that cannot function without a Speaker. We shall see.

For now I will note some related topics.

Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 4 Jan 2023: Opinion | Republicans want to gut the House ethics office. They will regret it.

Now why would Republicans want to eliminate oversight into House ethics? The answer is left as an exercise for the reader. It’s similar to why Republicans don’t want to fund the IRS sufficiently to catch tax fraud by the wealthy. (Or to audit the president.)

Also, The Hill, 3 Jan 2023: Metal detectors removed from outside the House chamber, the ones installed after January 6th. Freedom. Second Amendment.


NY Times, Paul Krugman, 2 Jan 2023: We’re Going to Miss Greed and Cynicism

Why would we miss the good old days of greed and cynicism? What’s key here is Krugman’s take on the American political parties, a take I’ve long subscribed to, witnessing politics over the decades.

As late as 2015, or so I and many others thought, we had a fairly good idea about how American politics worked. It wasn’t pretty, but it seemed comprehensible.

On one side we had the Democrats, who were and still are basically what people in other advanced nations call social democrats (which isn’t at all the same as what most people call socialism). That is, they favor a fairly strong social safety net, supported by relatively high taxes on the affluent. They’ve moved somewhat to the left over the years, mainly because the gradual exit of the few remaining conservative Democrats has made the party’s social-democratic orientation more consistent. But by international standards, Democrats are, at most, vaguely center left.

On the other side we had the Republicans, whose overriding goal was to keep taxes low and social programs small. Many advocates of that agenda did so in the sincere belief that it would be best for everyone — that high taxes reduce incentives to create jobs and raise productivity, as do excessively generous benefits. But the core of the G.O.P.’s financial support (not to mention that of the penumbra of think tanks, foundations and lobbying groups that promoted its ideology) came from billionaires who wanted to preserve and increase their wealth.


The problem for Republicans was that their economic agenda was inherently unpopular. Voters consistently tell pollsters that corporations and the rich pay too little in taxes; policies that help the poor and the middle class have broad public support. How, then, could the G.O.P. win elections?

The answer, most famously described in Thomas Frank’s 2004 book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” was to win over white working-class voters by appealing to them on cultural issues.

[ … ]

As Frank described it, however, the culture war was basically phony — a cynical ploy to win elections, ignored once the votes were counted. “The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ,” he wrote, “but they walk corporate.”

Things have not gone Republicans’ way.

Yet despite underperforming in what should, given precedents, have been a very good year for the out-party, Republicans will narrowly control the House. And this means that the inmates will be running half the asylum.

As we see in the current news about the fanatics undermining the votes for Speaker of the House.

Krugman concludes,

And what I don’t understand is how the U.S. government is going to function. President Barack Obama faced an extremist, radicalized G.O.P. House, but even the Tea Partiers had concrete policy demands that could, to some extent, be appeased. How do you deal with people who believe, more or less, that the 2020 election was stolen by a vast conspiracy of pedophiles?

I don’t know the answer, but prospects don’t look good.

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