Belmont Club

The White Swan

An irrational electorate. A man bites dog story.  No, let’s not use that unfortunate turn of phrase. A fluke then. Somehow the AP had to characterize President Obama’s surprisingly close victory over Keith Judd, a prison inmate, in a Democratic primary.  This was their lead. “Just how unpopular is President Barack Obama in some parts of the country? Enough that a man in prison in Texas got 4 out of 10 votes in West Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary.” According to another outlet, the reason for the close result was voter ignorance.

Even in the more liberal Eastern Panhandle, some voters subscribe to widely discredited rumors about the President. “I know he’s a Muslim,” said voter Charlie Teal here in Martinsburg. “The Islamic religion is not just anti-Christ, it’s anti-freedom for the American people…. He’s a dictator.” The President is a Christian.

Well the labels are coming unstuck and mixed up and the press is having a hard time getting them on again. Take Richard Lugar, whose 36 years in the Senate ended when Republican primary voters chose a relative unknown. His loss is being described as a defeat for ‘centrism’ and ‘GOP nonpartisanship’. Lugar, it now turns out, was the standard-bearer for nonpartisanship.

“Another domino topples. With Sen. Richard Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana Republican primary, it is now possible to count on one hand the number of centrist GOP senators with a track record of working with Democrats on legislation.” For those old enough to remember it, the “domino theory” was a phrase coined by President Dwight Eisenhower to describe cascading failure.

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Well only yesterday the liberal establishment was being warned by James Carville not to get too cocky because they could scarcely conceive they might lose power. Today the barbarians are at the gates.  Even the Washington Post’s editorial on Lugar sounds almost like an epitaph. Where have you gone, Dick Bipartisan, the nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

The defeat of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in Tuesday’s Republican primary is disappointing not only for the loss of a valuable legislator. It is particularly discouraging because of the confrontational, partisan attitude of the victor of the Senate primary, Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock. Most observers of Washington do not look at the capital’s gridlock and prescribe more partisanship and less cooperation. That, unfortunately, seems to be Mr. Mourdock’s view — both during the primary campaign and in his post-election comments.

Woo-hoo-hoo. But the alternative view, to which the Washington Post gives no space, is that gridlock is just another name for stasis, and the result of the fact that there is only one party in the capital — the party of the incumbents. What is called “bipartisanship” in the narrative is nothing but a synonym for one party rule.

How did such a reversal of fortune occur so swiftly. Suddenly the idea that incumbents can be held to account at the primaries is no longer dismissed as a joke in Washington. It’s an idea which has been bannered by the Campaign for Primary Accountability and which may now be going mainstream. The Washington Post described them:

But no super PAC has sought to tap into the public outrage toward Congress quite the way that the Campaign for Primary Accountability has.

“We’re trying to make the electoral system competitive, so that Congress will become more accountable to the voters,” Leo Linbeck III, the founder of the new super PAC, said in an e-mail interview. “It’s not about policy, it’s about governance. We’re not interested in shifting power between Republicans and Democrats. We’re interested in shifting power between Congress and the people.”

Well the crackpots are no longer so cracked.The Huffington Post’s Greg Casey says this can’t be happening and the “reality based” community of liberals can’t believe it. “Many of us already knew it, but Sen. Richard Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana Republican primary puts things into stark relief: In 2012 any vote for a Republican is a vote for crazy. Any vote. Any Republican. No matter how sane the Republican, it’s a vote for crazy.”

And we’re talking crazy. It’s legal to carry a loaded gun into a bar in some states because somehow that fulfills the Second Amendment — and pleases the NRA. Women who desire abortions now face involuntary and invasive medical procedures as a deterrent. Police in several states find themselves saddled with investigating every person they might suspect of residing in the United States illegally. Bowing to the religious right, some states free their teachers to promote creationism in biology classes.

Crazy and crazier. We all have received those “Obama is an Islamic terrorist” emails from our nutty relatives and acquaintances — but is it fair to believe the whole right wing has lost its tether to reason? Some Republican candidates in North Carolina are once again raising the “birther” issue. The Greene County (Virginia) party newsletter includes a call to “armed revolution” should President Obama win reelection. Florida Member of Congress Allen West claims he knows of about eighty members of the Communist Party in Congress — and then defends his outrageous claim. Not long ago at all, Republicans in Wisconsin and other states even attacked public school teachers as greedy and overpaid “freeloaders.”

But it is his incredulity at what should have been obvious and rising discontents that is itself interesting. How could Casey have missed the rising gas prices, string of foreign humiliations, climbing unemployment, the stagnating incomes? How? How? As Naseem Taleb put it, most “unpredictable” events are really White Swans which are obvious in retrospect and were a long time coming. The only reason nobody saw it coming was that they didn’t want to. As Saul Bellow once wrote “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

Maybe liberals should ask themselves: what else are they so certain of that maybe ain’t so?

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