COMING ATTRACTIONS

In grad school I had a professor who was big in the study of state politics, and he enthusiastically referred to states as "laboratories of democracy." He didn't coin the term but he certainly believed it with all his heart. Basically it means that in a federal system, one state implementing a new policy offers the other states an opportunity to watch and learn. If it succeeds it is imitated; if it fails everyone learns a valuable lesson from someone else's mistake.

Pavlov and Skinner and the other pioneering behavioral psychologists proved that almost any animal can be trained to learn from its mistakes through reward and punishment. That is, all animals except Republicans, whose brains never progress beyond an attachment to ideology. Combined with never-ending internecine litmus testing, it makes damn sure that no one ever learns from experience or the available evidence. Just keep doing the same thing over and over again, torpedoes be damned.

John Carl Baker has an outstanding piece ("Austerity in Heaven's Corridor", h/t Mike) on one little Laboratory, Florida, that has dived headfirst into austerity with its 2012 budget. It's like a sneak preview of what other states, and likely Congress as well, will be doing in the immediate and near future. No one will wait to see if it works in Florida or learn any lessons when it fails. It's just the only acceptable course of action, and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Baker points out that what little opposition gets in the majority's way comes from factions bought off by lobbyists. For example:

The reality is that Governor Rick Scott, elected during the 2010 wave of Tea Party victories, is so stridently right-wing (and the state Democrats so weak) that opposition to the leadership’s more draconian proposals inevitably comes from other Republicans. A few, such as centrist Paula Dockery, have fairly consistently voiced disapproval of their colleagues’ more egregious actions, but this dissent is highly circumstantial: decisive opposition to the notorious prison privatization plan, for instance, came from two Senators with direct ties to law enforcement. And the Parent Empowerment Act, a highly controversial proposal allowing for the swift conversion of neighborhood schools into publicly-funded charters via parental petition, was scuttled not by a united front of political moderates, but by intra-Republican skepticism.

Florida narrowly dodged $100 million in cuts to mental health and substance abuse programs, once again through a last-ditch ad hoc coalition: a motley crew of law enforcement officials, Republican politicians, health care advocates, and members of the judiciary successfully lobbied for funding that approximates 2011 levels. Florida’s per-capita mental health financing is already ranked 50th in the U.S. [pdf], and deep cuts would have had immediate disastrous effects across the state. Even redneck county sheriffs recognize the apocalyptic shadings of forcing hordes of the mentally ill to roam the state’s multitudinous strip malls.

His brief description of the benefactors and the driving force behind these legislative moves struck me as particularly keen:

The full list of tax breaks paints a grotesque but accurate portrait of the diverse subgroups within Florida’s bourgeoisie: faux-populist ranchers, managerial charter profiteers, neo-Confederate citrus plantation owners, still-panicked real estate swindlers eager to take a mulligan and rewind to 2005. But Scott’s plan—which may eventually eliminate corporate taxes entirely in a right-to-work state that already lacks a personal income tax—is the Hayekian wet dream everyone in Florida’s ruling class freak show can agree on. Banks got in on the feeding frenzy too.

For the better part of my post-adolescent life I've been waiting for the voting public to figure out that the Republican Party is a front group for both the New Money and Old Money plutocracies, and it isn't happening. Intellectually I understand why people who vote for guys like Rick Scott do so. But on a psychological level I don't get it. I can't empathize with some woman with three kids and two jobs who lines up to support the Palin/Gingrich/Scott/Walker/Ryan types. Regardless of how little sense it makes, it's not going to stop anytime soon. Consider Florida's budget a sneak preview of what will be appearing in your local legislatures soon. The Florida Experiment has been a smashing success at the one and only thing it was designed to do – line the pockets of the usual suspects on the right – and as such other states will be tripping over themselves to replicate it.

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28 Responses to “COMING ATTRACTIONS”

  1. Nay Says:

    I'm a low-income, single mother of two, Florida native (one town over from Sanford; Florida's getting a lot of attention these days and none of it's positive). The sheer amount of civil negligence and complete ignorance 'round these here parts fucking blows my damn mind.

    I used to work as a file clerk for a law office that strictly handled DCF-generated child support cases; my coworkers were these kinds of people. The lawyers paid shit for wages and most of them worked two jobs just to pay their bills. Most of them were extremely religious. One took great pride, especially given her kind of work, that she and her husband had made a conscious choice to never have children–which is why she felt she had no reason to pay taxes that went to welfare or public schools or anything like that. She repeated an oft-used and infuriating sentiment (considering her faith): "Why should I be responsible for the mistakes OTHER people make?" And, though I knew I would be stepping in THE shit, I passive-aggressively muttered, "Why should God have sacrificed his one and only son to die for YOU?"

    I didn't last much longer there. People are awful. Florida's the worst.

  2. Middle Seaman Says:

    One reason it works for the Republicans: Democrats never tell.

  3. Major Kong Says:

    Molly Ivins once called Texas "The National Laboratory for Bad Government".

    Sounds like they've got competition.

  4. Xynzee Says:

    Not sure what it is. It's almost as if the Rs acknowledge they're talking bollocks, and keep moving the post further and further to the right, to see how far they can go before someone calls them on it. And the left is too nice to say no.

  5. Hobelhouse Says:

    Isn't Scott's popularity slightly above that of anthrax at this point?

  6. Arslan Says:

    Oh but don't you see? If they only got rid of all corporate taxes, the corporations would employ more people and pay them massive wages! And if it weren't for all the taxes I pay, I would be a millionaire running my own business instead of being a night manager at Denny's! You know, I'd probably be a millionaire anyway, but to be honest I have often felt that if the government is going to punish my success with taxes, I might as well not start my brand new, revolutionary business.

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    People vote against their best interests, because the R's are masters at wedge issues, framing issues, and then propagandizing them.

    D's suck at that.

    D's aim at logic and the brain.
    R's aim at fear and the heart.

    D's, for the most part, speak for themselves.
    R's stick to a carefully vetted script made of talking points.

    People look at that, and figure R's MUST be telling the truth, since they're all saying the same thing. And it's the same things they hear at their Fundie Church, on AM/FM radio, see on MOX News, and that they read in the Editorial and Op-ed pages of their local newspaper.

    People think – "They can't say it on radio and TV, and they can't print it if it's not true, right?"
    WRONG!
    Idjists – that's the whole point of propaganda!

    We are a nation of stupid sheep who choose wolves to be our shepherds.

  8. comrade x Says:

    Working class Republicans are a virus. I have seen an influx of refugees from Red States to my home state of Minnesota, which was very blue and prosperous. Having fled their worker's paradise of Alabama or Texas or somewhere else in the Confederate Third World, they settle here. And bitch about high taxes, welfare, liberal democrats, etc, etc, etc. even though our progressive tax system is very lenient on them, they take their gub'mint check every month ( hey, its hard to feed 8 kids on a $30,000/ year salary ), and those same liberal democrats fight for their rights as workers. So these dumb crackers vote for the very same type of people who destroyed the economies of their home states.
    How do you think Michelle Bachman got into Congress?

  9. RosiesDad Says:

    It has been my observation that

    1. Americans are, in general, stupid

    and

    2. America has to learn every freaking lesson the hard way.

    I view the fact that America gave control of the House of Representatives and turned so many governorships over to crony capitalists in 2010 as evidence that 1 and 2 are true.

  10. acer Says:

    @comrade x:
    The same thing has happened many times over in my sunny California home. Boom times and fantastic public amenities brought in an influx of stupid assholes. They voted for people who thought that stuff like this "austerity" racket was a good idea. We all got Prop 13, which tanked the state budget forever, which these people use as an excuse to demand more cuts.

    There are two sorts of Republicans: millionaires and suckers. Sorry if that sounds condescending, ye Pick Six trailer park dreamers, but fuck you.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    And it's not as if the rubes need to move anymore!

    No, with the expansion of mass media, and control of the MSM by corporations/wealthy individuals, and no regulations like "The Fairness Doctrine," any rube in any of the 50 states, can turn on the AM/FM radio to listen, hit the remote and turn to watch MOX News, or go open their their papers and read a syndicated Conservative columnist, and never hear an 'encouraging word all day.'
    "All fear and hate – 24 X 7 X 365!"

    And, "All the news that's print to fit!" (the narrative).

  12. Rick Massimo Says:

    High on my list of lies that I can't believe conservatives have been getting away with for 30 years is the lie that state government is more responsive, more transparent and less corrupt than the federal government (and for that matter, that local government is even better).

    I mean, who DOESN'T have a story about dealing with the crooks and morons in their state and local governments?

  13. Mo Says:

    Alaska was invaded by southern oil workers during the pipeline years, who liked the place and decided to stay. It's now Arkansas north.

    Nay's got a bead on the problem, I think. The Anchorage Baptist Temple is a noxious political source of comfort to the Republican party. And, after observing religious relatives, it's definitely the urge to punish that's the emotional engine on Republican affiliation. Sluts! Welfare cheats! Perverts! Educated Liberal snobs! Bring down the wrath of God upon these sinners! Seems to be sort of the weak sauce version of having the power to actually boss people around. Passive aggressive vindictiveness. "I may be downtrodden, but I'm righteous, and I'm gonna be saved, and you're not, neener neener."

    Behavioral researchers have cottoned onto this phenomenon. Someone please remind me what the technical term is before I have to do Google homework…

  14. mothra Says:

    Oh, last night on NPR I heard some Tea Partier (self-identified) who was protesting the AFCA on the steps of the Supreme Court. He brilliantly stated that he was against it, even though he currently couldn't afford insurance for himself, because "What's Obama going to force me to buy next? A Chevy Volt?" I said back to the radio "no, Obama will force you to buy a brain next. That's what he will force you to buy."

    I honestly don't know what to do with people this stupid. But you know, the one reason Republicans want to defund public education is so they will have a stupid citizenry they can lead around by the nose. I've been saying this for years and people think I am a crackpot conspiracy theorist. I say the proof is in the stupid pudding the media calls "Real Americans."

  15. c u n d gulag Says:

    mothra,
    + infinity…

  16. terraformer Says:

    It's rapidly coming to the point, at least in my dream of dreams, that rational people will say: "Okay, have it your way. Go ahead and secede; create this paradise that you want so much with no taxes, no gay marriage, no abortions, etc." And we'll live in our little worlds. See how that works out.

  17. RosiesDad Says:

    @mothra

    I rest my case.

  18. ladiesbane Says:

    Three problems jump to mind — an incomplete list.

    1. Folks don't understand the purpose of government. It's not to make a few people rich. The poor folks want to be the rich folks, and they think a system that creates a few Scrooge McDucks might one day make them Scrooge McDuck as well. It's the right wing version of buying lottery tickets.

    2. Folks who want to join The Rich Few For Which The Game Was Made think poor people who don't cater to the rich are thinking like sheep and deserve to stay poor. When they see someone in a Mercedes drive past a starving child, they don't think, "Why in hell doesn't that rich person feed that kid?" they think, "If I were rich, I wouldn't want to have to share, either." The poor have to help each other, but the rich get to say, "Screw you, I got mine," and drive on. Because it's the kid's fault.

    3. The intersection of Religion and Stupidity. If a politician dangles the promise of anti-gay, anti-choice policies in front of the crowds at that intersection, he will own their votes forever. That mob doesn't decide those particular matters with the head, but the heart. Budgets and finances and administrative laws are complicated and challenging; it's so much easier to switch off the brain and quote Leviticus. Their base doesn't think much or think well, but has a lot of feeeeelings about restricting other people's lives.

    That's why so many educated, moderate Republican politicians end up spouting extremist stuff they don't really believe (such as Reagan, Bush Sr., Dole, Gingrich, and Romney): they need the right wing voters. The voters who don't know the difference between a zygote and an adult citizen, or the similarity between not allowing gays to marry gays, and not allowing blacks to marry whites.

  19. Arslan Says:

    "Behavioral researchers have cottoned onto this phenomenon. Someone please remind me what the technical term is before I have to do Google homework…"

    I believe the term you are looking for is "butthurt."

  20. Southern Beale Says:

    That sounds exactly like Tennessee, where we have just been informed that our governor has no fucking clue how laws are made.

    Which just explains so much.

  21. Da Moose Says:

    The next time there's a right wing T-baggeresque demonstration here in DC, I've decided that I am going to show up with a large sign that reads: "Sorry. We made a mistake. You can secede now. I promise we won't stop you this time."

  22. merl Says:

    I was told by someone that she knows the repub party is screwing people like her, but the Democrats want to give more money to "those people in New Orleans". Pretty fucking suck, ain't it?

  23. Major Kong Says:

    @merl

    And we all know who "those people" are, wink wink nudge nudge.

  24. Xynzee Says:

    Sorry if my post appeared twice about the Aus Teabaggers, it's not showing on my side. Effectively it proves commrad x's point: Teabaggers show up, and destroy things.

  25. Da Moose Says:

    merl's right:

    It's a "pretty fucking suck…"

  26. JazzBumpa Says:

    WTF?!?

    A meaty post about cluster-fuck big-bidnez owned state gumment, 26 comments and no mention of ALEC?

    Point 2:
    That mob doesn't decide those particular matters with the head, but the heart.

    A couple of you have made comments like that; but it's clearly wrong.

    This is correct:
    That mob doesn't decide those particular matters with the head, but the spleen.

    Mind your organs, now.

    Oh, BTW –

    WASF!
    JzB

  27. Bernard Says:

    if only the Red states would secede. if only. but they depend on the Blue states' taxes to keep the sheep in line.

    and down here in New Orleans," those kinds" of "people" clearly know who is sticking to them and the rest of us.

    i do wish there really was a God just for payback.