I want a new car. I'm looking for something that meets the following criteria: drives like a Formula One car (0-60 in no more than 4 seconds), has eye-catching supercar styling, seats 7 with plenty of room for luggage, gets 90 mpg, and costs less than $30,000. I tried entering this into some online search tools and there were no matches. What gives?

While it might seem silly, this is not too far off from what many Americans want from the political process. The basic problem with American politics is that our elected officials do (or try to do) what we want, and what we want is increasingly stupid. We want a government to do all kinds of stuff (Just the stuff that benefits me. Go ahead and cut everything else.) and we don't want to pay for any of it. We've dealt with this not by taking a closer look at our expectations through the lens of reality and realizing that this is impossible. No, we've taken comfort in magical thinking and voodoo theories that tell us, yes, you can have it all. We can lower taxes and somehow the government will end up making more money! People in suits say this with straight faces, blissfully unaware of how closely their product description matches the "Miracle 100 mpg fuel additive THEY don't want you to know about!" ads in the classifieds.

And so it is that in the year 2012 one Willard Mitt Romney offered an economic plan that claims to do the following over the next decade:

– Add $2,000,000,000,000 to the Department of Defense budget
– Balance the budget
Cut taxes by $5,000,000,000,000

On the opposite side of the ledger, of course, are the "spending cuts" that will make all of this magic work. Mittens offers examples such as – and I have no clue where these numbers come from but let's, uh, assume the proposed savings are somewhat optimistic – privatizing Amtrak ($1.5 billion), "repealing Obamacare" ($95 billion), reducing foreign aid ($0.1 billion), eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and Title X funding ($0.09 billion), and the ever popular "reducing waste and fraud" ($60 billion. Right.) Without even adjusting these figures downward to account for reality this adds up to a little over $150 billion. See? It all balances out…once we account for whatever fairy dust is going to "fix Social Security and Medicaid" without reducing benefits for anyone who currently receives them or will soon.

The math behind his proposal is so self-evidently stupid that I have to return to the list of options that I end up at increasingly often these days. One of the following things must be true about people who believe that this will work:

1. They know it doesn't work and they don't care. They just want their tax cut.
2. They believe that it works because they want to and/or they're not smart enough to understand that it can't.
3. They're pretty sure it makes no sense but they're highly susceptible to persuasion and commonly get suckered into things that sound too good to be true.

As a guess, I'd assume that the GOP donors and insiders are mostly #1, the poor/working/middle class base is #2, and old people are #3. A few weeks ago we talked about how even Romney doesn't seem to believe this, yet for some reason there are people in the electorate who do. It depends on that mix of greed, hubris, and rank ignorance that defines us in the eyes of the rest of the world.

When people believe this kind of voodoo I don't question their sincerity. They are serious. It's a testament to the power of motivated reasoning that so many people could believe, or publicly claim to believe without dissolving into laughter, anything half as stupid as what Romney is offering as his "serious" economic plan. At some point this ceases to be a political platform, though, and it turns into a religious creed; we believe it because we believe it and logic no longer applies.

42 thoughts on “FOR SERIOUS”

  • The main voodoos are: the assumption that just getting elected will grow the GDP and inmprove tax revenues by $2 trill, as businesses will be all, "uhh thank god, we can start spending and loaning again". And then theres the good ol' "Tax cuts pay for themselves, as everyone just starts spending and producing and investing again for whatever. Fuck demand, lets just produce shit now that we have more money to blow! Wooohooo!"

  • I had an experience in this yesterday, when I had a discussion about the southern strategy with a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, who continues to believe the "party of lincoln/democrats are the real racists/always been at war with eastasia" nonsense that they like to tell themselves.

    It's like converting hardcore creationists: keep assertively presenting your case, and eventually somebody is going to figure out they've been wilfully blind. The problem being, the conversion rate is incredibly low, and may in fact be outstripped by the reproductive rate of said population (e.g., the Quiverfull insanity).

  • The Romney Budget is a specific case of the American ability to fantasize. American voters imagine a President who is much like your fantasy car. Then when he doesn't turn up after they elect him, they are disillusioned and vote for the next new shiny object. E.g., in our particular electlon cycle, the smiling Romneybot who is going to make all that magic you described re the budget actually come to pass. Meanwhile, Heaven is the place where nothing really happens.

  • If you want to sell bullshit to the peeps, you need a complicit media. It is no coincidence that a very large percentage of mass media in the US is owned by large corporate entities. We have a national news organization which is a front for a political party, and which is quite willing to spew total bullshit to keep low information voters in the dark.

    The real question, however, is where are the other media outlets to call out the fantasy?

  • An important difference between Romney and the guy in a cheap suit hawking miracle cures on late-night TV: Romney wears a very expensive suit and is nominee for President of the Republican Party.

    In other words, Romney's superficial appearance is that of someone you should take seriously. He also benefits from not coming across as a swivel-eyed lunatic. The GOP would have a lot less success if the same product was being pushed by Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich. Accordingly, Romney can pull in a greater number of marks from categories 2 and 3.

    It's the same principle followed by other truly successful con artists, as in Enron or the subprime mortgage scam: Put some money and effort up front into looking plausible, and your con will be far more successful.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Remind me again, please, of why we all laugh when these people talk about secession?

    You wanna go?

    Turn over the military hardware, and go start your own Albino Jesus Fairyland – minus the "fairies," of course.

    We'll figure out some way to exchange our Northerm crackers for the good Liberals stuck in the Red States later.

    I'm serious!
    LET 'EM GO!
    Let 'em make abortions illegal.
    Let 'em make Jesus prayin' 'n church-goin' mandatory.
    Let 'em do whatever the feck their tiny little Adam and Eve, NOT ADAM AND STEVE, rode dinosaurs, brains, and their heartless blood pumps, desire.

    We won't give a sh*t.
    They'll be their own country – Jesus-stan.
    Let 'em pray and whistle "Dixie" all feckin' day.
    What will we care?

    And the rest of us? We can live our lives peacefully.

    Ok, we MIGHT have to build that wall that they wanted to build on the Mexican border, and put it on the Mason-Dixon line.

    Not to keep out the people who want to escape Jesus Dixieland.

    To keep their armed cracker militias from coming across the border and stealing sh*t from the rest of us.
    Piss-poor white motherfeckin' dumbass crackers have a bad habit of turnin' nasty 'n sh*t when their much better 'keep-'em-barefoot-'n-pregnant' halves, and little white mothereckin' dumbass cracker chillun's, be hungry, and mocking piss-poor white motherfeckin' dumbass cracker Daddy for not being able to provide for them, 'cause he's too busy prayin', and now there ain't no black people left to blame their situation and hate on – 'CAUSE THEY WERE SMARTER THAN THE WHITE MOTHERFECKIN DUMBASS CRACKERS – and left while the leaving was good.
    And I do so hope that Allen West and Herman Cain stick around for the white motherfeckin' dumbass cracker rage. Maybe then they can understand why people mock them for selling the 'souls of their, and other black folks,' for pieces of silver, votes, and face time on FOX "News."

    You want to secede?
    "Bless your hearts…"
    FECKIN' GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I know I've said this before, but it all makes perfect sense once you come to realize that:

    1. It's not about the deficit
    2. It never was about the deficit
    3. It never will be about the deficit

    It's about getting rid of programs that conservatives don't like.

    If they were serious about the deficit they wouldn't be pushing for another big tax cut and a huge increase in defense spending.

  • Whenever I hear about Mitten's economic plan, I'm reminded of a quote by Steve Solomon: "Politics is the art of making the impossible seem possible–and getting fools to pay you to try".

  • @Kong, re: "If they were serious about the deficit they wouldn't be pushing for another big tax cut and a huge increase in defense spending."

    Exactly. Much like Bush slashing taxes while initiating a decade-long war in the middle east, Romney's plan to slash taxes while funneling trillions to the DoD does not make any financial sense. You cannot increase outlays, decrease intakes, and expect the math to work out in your favor.

    But it has not been and never will be about reducing the deficit or balancing the budget. It's about funding the "kill all non-christians" department and giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

  • The budget smoke and mirrors can't work forever, when it ceases to work, the wealth of the 1% is liable to evaporate. Perhaps they're hoping to die before the crap hits the fan.

  • Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer's long-lost brother gives him total authority and an unlimited budget to design his dream car? When put together, Homer's somewhat-plausible ideas for features combine into a hideous nightmare of a vehicle with a sticker price of $500,000. And a horn which plays "La Cucaracha". His brother's car company is ruined.

    I think the parallels to a potential Romney administration are evident.

  • As a recovering political theorist, I think that Ed's comment on "motivated reasoning" hits on a key (theoretical) point. Any justification for our current institutions must assume that voters are (1) able to at least retrospectively evaluate parties' policy performance and (2) capable of rewarding or punishing performance based on, let's say, empirical reality, more or less. We could add the Machiavelli-V.O. Key corollary that elites (party leaders) have an obligation to be honest. Otherwise, they "corrupt" the people (Machiavelli) by making promises that will secure them office w/o a plausible chance of actually carrying through. But even if they lie, they should be punished retroactively.

    But we are now facing a very different reality. One political party is doing exactly what shouldn't work–running on *recently failed* failed policies, while acting at all times to sabotage the welfare of the country to the extent that it undermines the incumbent president.

    But instead of being punished, the voters very well might return the party that it tossed out less than 4 years ago to power *to pursue the exact same policies*.

    Cut to the chase: The theory that justifies our current "democracy" as a rational form of government does not exist. And yet, I'm sure that many of Ed's colleagues continue to make the theoretical case for it in PSCI 101.

  • Here in Virginia, there have been anti-Tim Kaine for Senate ads that both fault him for being associated with excessive spending, AND for defense cuts that are going to result in lost jobs. In the same freaking ad.

  • Random Internet Person says:

    I think that this just proves that Americans, in most unwittingly I'm sure, have become Accelerationists. They subconsciously realize that the system is so broken that the only way to fix it is to burn it all to the ground.

  • @Major Kong:

    A/k/a "starve the beast." An idea that, if clearly articulated, would be very weird and frightening to a lot of people who repeatedly vote for this shit.

    If only a few people in the media would put as much energy into exposing the Cult of Norquist as they currently invest in Scientology…

  • I suppose this dovetails off of reason 2, but I truly believe the other reason any of this works (works in the loosely defined sense that some people will buy the faulty math) is that some people simply have no concept of the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion.

    Some of them genuinely don't understand what those words mean in relation to one another, but far more of them just tune out when they start hearing words that end in -illion. It's such a massively large amount of money when compared to what they own and what they'll make in a lifetime.

  • Much like the republicans you can get what you want…it's just going to cost you. The Tesla model S Performance series:
    drives like a Formula One car (0-60 in no more than 4 seconds)
    4.4 – but close enough

    has eye-catching supercar styling
    Not a supercar – but great styling (besides supercar styling+seats 7 aint gonna happen)

    seats 7 with plenty of room for luggage
    Yes! with the rear facing jump seats you can seat 7 and still have space in the front trunk (frunk?) for (some) luggage

    gets 90 mpg
    89mpg equivalence with cheap overnight charging and I'm sure you can get it much higher if hypermiling. Of course if you're going 0-60 in 4.4 all the time this is probably 10mpg equivalence but that's nit-picking.

    and costs less than $30,000
    Ah. The above is over 100k but just under 100k after tax rebates

  • mel in oregon says:

    the question is how could romney be in a possible position to win, when a month ago all the pundits said he was toast? look at all the negatives about this character. he won't release his taxes. he hides his money offshore to escape american taxes. he won't say what his program to restore economic health to america is other than vague generalities. his record at bain was a vulture capitalist destroying american jobs. he can't open his mouth without a lie coming out. he chooses for a running mate a hero of the tea party who's views are closer to italian fascism of the 30s than american democracy. well it's because the obama ass kissers haven't convinced very many people that reelecting barack will help them. obama chose wallstreet lackeys such as emanuel, summers, geithner & rubin for his advice. he left bernanke in as fed chief, who more than anyone with the possible exception of his predecessor greenspan is responsible for today's economic morass. he chose for his head of the deficit commission erskine bowles, who when you look up wallstreet lackeys, you won't find a bigger lackey. he chose immelt for his head of restoration of american jobs. only thing is immelt sent thousands of jobs overseas. the biggest reason jimmy carter lost is he was perceived as so weak. he was chased by a rabbit for crying out loud. obama to most people is the same type of temperment. he reminds you of the weakling that loses his lunch money every day to the class bully. he won't pick up a club & beat the hell out of the bully. he just meakly compromises all the time & gives away like he did in the first debate important issues to an overwhelming majority of americans, saying, "mitt, our position on ss & medicare is virtually identical". the american people did not want to hear that. so if obama loses, & the democrats lose the senate & the house, they have no one to blame but themselves, not the american people. the american people wanted a choice, not an echo.

  • My only disagreement is with your closing sentence.

    At some point this ceases to be a political platform, though, and it turns into a religious creed; we believe it because we believe it and logic no longer applies.

    The reality is that it STARTS as a quasi-religious belief system. Then its practitioners cherry pick whatever scant data supports their pre-concieved notions, and go on to make up all kinds of other shit in "think tanks" like AEI and the Heritage Foundation that purports to validate the view point.

    How many people have a set of political beliefs that –
    1) is actually based on some objective set of rational analysis, and
    2) is actually intentioned to promote the general welfare of the U.S. population?

    I will posit some small to very small number.
    1 in 10.
    1 in 100.
    1 in 1000.

    It's no coincidence that the religious right, the authoritarian followers, and the approval rating for GWB all hover in the low 20% range.

    It's all the same damned people.

    This is also why the conservative bubble cannot be penetrated.

    And why WASF!

  • Both John and Jon are correct. To the former's insight that people just tune out the million/billion/trillion discussions, I'd add that most people are quite innumerate; they're basically unable to think about anything more abstract than a grocery receipt in quantitative terms at all.

    And I lean more to the G37 than the 370z, but that's more a matter of personal style than anything else; the cars cost about the same and share most of the same components.

  • I also think that a lot of Republican voters are whites who live in all or mostly white neighborhoods and are quite sure that the government spends billions in transfer payments to undeserving minorities. Remember, these are the same people who are quite sure that illegal immigrants are tipping the vote in favor of the democrats (despite the fact that there is not the slightest reason why someone who knows they are illegally in the country would want to call attention to that fact by trying to vote). But of course due to political correctness no-one can openly complain that the government is spending billions of their hard-earned tax dollars on transfer payments to the nonworking blacks and the illegal browns (except on talk radio) but to these people that lacuna represents the missing math.

  • I also think that a lot of Republican voters are whites who live in all or mostly white neighborhoods and are quite sure that the government spends billions in transfer payments to undeserving minorities. Remember, these are the same people who are quite sure that illegal immigrants are tipping the vote in favor of the democrats (despite the fact that there is not the slightest reason why someone who knows they are illegally in the country would want to call attention to that fact by trying to vote). But of course due to political correctness no-one can openly complain that the government is spending billions of their hard-earned tax dollars on transfer payments to the nonworking blacks and the illegal browns (except on talk radio) but to these people that lacuna represents the missing math.

    In other words, the Republican Party is the party of racist shitbags. Which should surprise no one. Not even our resident trolls.

  • Option 4: They don't even really know this discussion is taking place, they just know that Romney's a Republican and not Obama.

  • There’s a more basic reason for all of this.

    If you buy a car, you will drive home in the car you bought, and be without the money you used to buy it. The concept of the “rational consumer” is way overblown, but it has at least some connection to reality. If you vote for candidate X… so what? Anyone not consumed by magical thinking must realize that ones chances of incurring a life-changing injury on the way to the polling place exceed the likelihood that one vote will change the outcome. The margin of error in counting is far greater than one.

    There can be no such thing as a “rational voter.” Whatever compels us to vote, it must be connected with psychological and social advantages. This in turn directs our personal politics: we believe what we do (and the apt word is “believe,” not “think”) because of its psychological and social advantages. Very few of us are in a position where our arguments will make a practical difference in anything beyond our own sense of self-worth and our relationships with our colleagues and friends. (And those few who can make a difference nearly all must be aware of the difference between what they think and what they say, though at least they do have a good motivation to think… and, usually, lie.)

    And so we have a political process that resembles professional wrestling. It’s all about picking a side and convincing yourself it matters.

    Perhaps democracy can work, but not the way we do it.

  • Go get you a Ford Focus with the new turbocharged "Eco-Tech" engine. It will get 30+ mpg, cost less than $30K, and come as close to F1 performance as you are likely to use. I want one real bad.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    It's a struggle between two mythologies. The Repubs myth is cut taxes will make you richer, happier, freer, orgasm will last longer and the wolf and lambs will wed. (Is it sanctified by the church?)

    The Dems have a new born myth. The old one of working hard, treating workers nicely and helping the poor is passé. Now it's hope and change, middle class is it, the poor can die, social secuirty goes banky, medicare is for wusses, Obama beats FDR.

    Logic has nothing to do with politics anymore. Passé

    Big crapola, but we vote for lesser crappy.

  • Thirty Twice, I drive a 30 year old Volvo Diesel Wagon. It seats 5 if you're friendly, or 4 if there's a child car seat in the back. If the back seat is folded down it'll carry a shitload of stuff. It looks like a brick on wheels, and drives like a tank. But I get *30*mpg. I don't know another 30 year old car that does that. Only real problem with it is that it's old enough it is very difficult to get parts. We just had to replace the fuel lines and it took 6 weeks to get all of them.

    At to the politics? I know damn well when I fill out my ballot that I'm not going to get all of what I want. If I did, I'd ask for a pony too. So I have to vote on the overall, and assume that there will be compromise. I figure that compromise is the price we pay for living in the company of other humans. With that in mind, I'm voting for Obama. His positions mostly line up with my own, and I trust him to be reasonable and try to work with the other side. I am very certain that they will not extend the same courtesy, and we'll have to figure out how to deal with that. Letting them win is too frightening a prospect.

  • The problem I always run into with talking about the delusions underlying American wingnuttery at this point is that once you've articulated the problem in these clear and straightforward terms (they're essentially running on the principle of pure short-term, blinkered instant gratification of the most idiotic variety) – once it's clear that we're stuck with a bunch of psychotic children running everything off a cliff, and there's nothing you can do to stop them: what else is left to talk about? The bottom drops out and you plummet through a nightmare of infinite, bottomless space that would bring a happy tear to Kafka's eyes. Once you've reached that perspective, the only thing you can hope for is a meteor strike, supervolcano eruption or zombie apocalypse to consume the unworthy and break us out of the impasse we're held hostage in by tens of millions of psychotic idiots.

  • Someone please post a detailed description of Mormon Hell. After watching Mitt lie for 1.5 hours to an audience comprised in substantial part of hand-picked rapt wingnuts, I think I'll want to imagine him someplace that's like Dante's Inferno only with less creative decor.

  • Double high five c u n d gulag – agree let them go and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out idiots.

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