Friday, January 15, 2010

Ad Hominem 3-fer

Too shrill! Too shrill! I am still surprised to find myself rising (or sinking) to the level of politically-motivated Tourette's blogging, never mind of the lefty stripe (hey, I used to think fiscal responsibility implied something fiscally responsible), which is why I keep apologizing. But it's the silly season, again already, here in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, and it's been getting to me. I'm purging this from my system, see, which means it has to end up somewhere. I'm just going to sneeeeeak it in here right before another book review. Yeah, just like that. Nothing to see here.

1. Scott Brown.
So a number of my acquaintances support this guy, out of some sense of contrarian spirit mostly. Maybe that's understandable in some sense. Ms. Coakley is evidently a solid Democratic functionary (with all that might entail), and doesn't lend much in the inspiring leader department (her message: Scott Brown's a Republican!). As with any election, we have differences in party, uh, campaign themes, and some corresponding differences in policy, how "minor" depending on whether they affect you, but there's a large amount of institutional resistance to any big issue ever getting changed, which is evidently insurmountable in those areas of policy where money has already collected. As always, and despite everything, the willing suspension of disbelief descends over the electorate like smog.

The more responsible voters are forced to guess which things the heretofore anonymous candidate is lying about, and which things he or she actually intends to (or is able to do), and keep their expectations low. Dispense your requisite bullshit if you must, but don't expect me to believe you can reroute the Alpheus and the Peneus into your own stables, even while you're adding so prodigiously to the steaming pile yourself. Anyone who's been through this exercise more than twice should realize by now that a budget-cutting Republican is as rare and phantasmal a creature as an anti-war Democrat, and with this in mind, all I ask is that they don't insult my intelligence too aggressively with their endless campaign. In Scott Brown's case, it doesn't help that he speaks in a bellowing mad-lib of conservative code words, proudly spouting them in that passive-aggressive, indignant tone of voice that you only find in political ads and empty-Senate C-SPAN harangues. Or in debates, evidently. (Doghouse Riley blames Nixon for this. I trust him.)

I listened to about five minutes of the debate. It's pretty hard to stomach these things at all, and while Scott Brown didn't "hold his own" in the following assessment as laughably as George W. Bush did back in the day, he didn't exactly come off as a shining beacon of wit, integrity and sensitivity. I mean, in the current political climate, it takes a special kind of belligerent obliviousness for a conservative to campaign like it's 1992, or even 2002. A good Republican is for the war industry, for unrestricting the finance industry (so is a good Democrat of course, but Republicans are the extroverts), and is ...anti-spending? This was insane back then, but after the last ten years? That takes some big brass ones.

You can come out against general spending, hard as it is to believe you can do it with a straight face, but let's list some priorities. Show me where you are pointing those scissors, asshole. In the light of undisclosed trillions for optional and privatized wars, for bailing out banking, for insurance industry deals, what pisses you off, what really grinds your gears, is Medicare? I mean, helping out sick old people is where you draw the spending line? Fuck you, Scott Brown, you shrivel-souled, pea-brained, terror-scared, bedwetting whore.

Sadly, he's an uptight white dude with light brown hair who fills out a suit okay. He'll probably win.

2. Bruce Bartlett.
I have some memory of not detesting Bruce Bartlett, probably for being soberly, anti-deficit. I don't think I ever bought into the supply-side economics he once championed, but back in a younger life, it was easy to imagine that wealth correlated strongly to the extent one could perform generally useful tasks, goods-n-services, renting excess capital, blah blah blah. Huge caveats implied, but I don't think most of us object on principles to some version of a do-more, get-more kind of economic system. The problem is that in terms of principles and surprising reality, like Madgie said, you're soaking in it.

Anyway, Bruce Bartlett. Those are some tired poses, moreso given the last thirty years. No, we can't expect helping out the rich to automatically benefit the poor, but look, the rising tide thing: are those especially buoyant arks benefiting from the swell (or suffering from the ebb) proportionally to their contribution to it? That might contribute to the "aesthetic," you insensitive shithead.

"[N]either does it follow that there is no limit to how much we can soak the rich without average people suffering some of the consequences. We really don't want the rich spending all their time figuring out how to hide their wealth from the tax man or engaging in conspicuous consumption; we'd rather that they invested their wealth in businesses that will increase their wealth but also create jobs and income for the rest of us, too."

And that's just it. Are we within miles of that limit? The U.S. government has been eagerly outlining an investor class and reducing their economic burdens (and we can include Mom and Pop's pension fund here if you want to) for three decades now, and it's not clear that investment in job-producing companies is where enough of it went. It looks like a good fraction of value got extracted from job-producing companies (or from the the labor generated at formerly-job-producing companies) through some combination of liquidation (hey look, if we get rid of payroll, share values go up a lot!), marketing (the old rules don't apply! your home value will only go up!), pressure (better let us manage your 401(k), we got our thumbs on Social Security's jugular), and taxes (sometimes directly transferred, whee). Some jobs and infrastructure emerged from the tech bubble, and I guess we got some extra buildings out of the real estate one, although a lot less real economy than advertised. And yes, Joe Homeborrower walked away with a big TV and a new pickup that came out of his HELOC, which will be hard to give back now, and for which he's still on the hook, theoretically. How's that stack against the billions in guaranteed corporate payola?

The argument isn't that economic transactions are zero-sum, and I'm unclear why zero-sum is particularly relevant to describing a fucked-up distribution anyway. In terms of the comparative advantage thingie, someone's adding less to the system than claimed, and reserving more of that somewhat-optimized (and inflated) sum for himself. This is the opposite of the do-more, get-more idea, isn't it? I won't tell Bruce Bartlett to fuck off without a better body of evidence: I'll take a thoughtful conservative if I can find one, and it's not really his fault he looks like a cartoon of an evil banker. You can at least catch him questioning his assumptions sometimes, which I guess is better than not doing so, but that column is a blatant fucking anachronism.

3. That "Ladders" Guy
I don't have a six figure job, but if I had self-confidence, motivation, or a talent for bullshitting, I could presumably pursue one with my credentials. (Those traits would probably also have made me "successful.") I'm a Phucking Dork with years of experience, and I get that job-hunting would be less depressing if I could weed out appropriate positions from the more frequent calls for recently-graduated ivory tower silage. Which isn't to say that those eager youngsters aren't often smarter and more useful than I am. They are, and it's the sort of knowledge that keeps me in this stew of vanity and self-loathing when it comes to employment, at least when I relent to its seriousness.

Maybe you've seen this ad. Here's some earnest-looking manchild, decked out in country club attire, just about to take his first swing at a tennis ball, when an athletic woman slams him out of the way to poach his shot. The court quickly swarms with the usual suite of office incompetents, humorously flailing at imaginary balls. Funny stuff.

And what a message. If that guy is six figure material, we don't know it, because we never see him actually swing his racquet. Evidently, to earn above $100k, it's who you are more than what you can do, and that person is well-represented by some preppie prick who stole John Cusack's girlfriend in 1986, the sort of guy that plays on clay, pays a pro for private lessons, wears pristine collared whites to match his peachy complexion, and, rather than doing anything corrective or competitive, casts whithering, beleagured looks at the dusky but unworthy officials when things aren't going his way. A six-figure man already owns the court, in other words, and deserves to have the riffraff and the underclass kept out.

And the really killer part is that woman, were she not barred from club like in the bad old days, would totally mop the court with that guy. So fuck you, you privileged, pencil-armed, Hugh-Grant-looking motherfucker. Learn to deal like the rest of us.


artandsoul said...

What the hell? I'd never seen that "Ladders" guy but man, what a blatant manipulation!

Do people really fall for that?


(I guess so, or it wouldn't be on TV)

When I was in Law School I was continually floored by the level of relief and nascent exclusivity that grew with each passing year among most of my fellow students. As if some level of 'unattainable' and 'exclusive' were being conferred with each day they breathed the air of "Law School."


Keifus said...

It apparently runs on CNBC (and during NFL games). I realized this morning why I'm seeing it so much again--it's one of those no-sound specials that they air on the tvs at the gym, and I'd been out for a month due to a flu-ravaged holiday season.