One of the most impressive aspects of modern conservatism is how completely a-historical the movement and its ideology have become. Most humans tend to remember things that happened in the past; some even learn from the experience. American conservatives, conversely, not only prove staggeringly ignorant of historical details but they also have a habit of proposing ideas that have failed spectacularly in the past as though they are new and untested.

Let's deregulate capitalism and let the free market govern us! We tried that during the Industrial Revolution; try Googling "robber barons." Let's engage in regime change and nation-building! We won the Vietnam War, didn't we? Tax cuts produce runaway economic growth! Except for when they don't. And now we're hearing the backbenchers who are morons even by the standards of House Republicans proposing that defaulting on debt obligations really won't be such a big deal. As shocking as this will be for a group of people with the long-term memory of goldfish, we tried that once as well. It ended up being expensive. Really, really expensive.

It would be overly optimistic to think that the nation, or at least a small group of people with considerable political power, could analyze a historical event, draw conclusions about its consequences, and perhaps learn something useful from it. You know, the kind of things we ask high school students to do with a history textbook. You may claim that the GOP remembers this incident but simply does not care or they welcome its destructive consequences. I am more pessimistic. If the over-under on the number of House Republicans who have heard of and can explain something about the 1979 default was set at 50, I'd take the under. All in.

59 thoughts on “BLIND SPOT”

  • Many House Republicans are probably just barely literate and fatally incurious about things like, oh, the history of our country after 1776.

    But, relatedly, it has to do with the nature of ideology. The most radical House Republicans, I'm convinced, are so deep down the rabbit hole of anti-government, anti-Obama ideology that they're entirely untethered from the world of empirical analysis. There is a Kevlar shield of ideology around their small brains that repels all facts and hard data. They start from the logical premise that gub'mint is bad and Obama is evil and organize the world strictly around those principles. That's why argumentation is useless, and reference to historical precedent is useless, and even – to some exent – bad poll numbers are now useless to sway these people. House Republicans are hunkered in Hitler's bunker dreaming of total victory, the only alternative being the blow everything up.

  • Yeah–to be totally fair, I'd be willing to bet that the House Dems are, for their part, as consistently ignorant about matters of history, science, and economics as their Republican counterparts, but that's utterly immaterial at this moment. Right now, only the ignorance and stupidity of the GOP Representatives matters, because they're the ones who are insisting that it's OK to drive off the cliff because, really, how bad could a crash into the mile-deep ravine really be?

    And really, pity the GOP Old Schoolers, who've seen the proud brand they'd spent over a century building turned into the Koch Brothers' Glory-Hole Rest Stop. John Boehner, in particular, needs to realize that this is not going to get any better. Ever. Not for him. That he is not the leader of his party in the House, and that he will never be so, because he can never satisfying a caucus with no fixed goals (their goals are goalposts that move eternally in relation to whatever the Democrats have agreed to)–that the Tea Party minority will never "follow" him, or indeed anyone in the GOP Power Structure proper, because such people are "Washington Insiders," whom the Tea Partiers loathe with a positively Soviet hatred for the counter-revolutionary.

    He needs to decide: is he going to be the pathetic, limp-dicked sack of bruised ego that this arrangement has rendered him, or is he going to recognize that maybe having the dignity to do his job, do right by the country, and damn the consequences to his title might, *might* be the only way to salvage his reputation as a non-whore?

    Because you can't "lead your party" when that party is made up of people who believe that faith-based ideology will have magical consequences. That's mass delusion, and if a sane man knowingly joins it, he's chosen madness over sanity–and if that's not an impeachable offense, it really ought to be.

  • middle seaman says:

    In defense of the rightwing crazies, can we point any island of sanity in our public life? Let's start with the media. Almost all our pundit are constantly wrong. People such as Tom Friedman and Cokie Roberts have been paddling lies and nonsense forever. Listen to a summary of the current shutdown on local news (DC) doesn't resemble anything anyone has ever seen.

    The Democrats are slowly fighting to reduce the safety net. That being totally against their own voters' interests and desires make no difference. In 2008, the Democrats made a rightwinger called Obama their candidate. Hello, is anyone home?

    The list is endless. The Teas just stretch it a little further.

  • You have no idea how much this pisses me off. Recently I was talking to a certain family member in my home state about how I was considering a move back to the US(utter last resort to be honest) but not to my home state, where the aforementioned family member lives. It's my home state and it's right-to-(not)work. I explain to family member that the state I was considering moving to has much higher living standards, better jobs, and most of all it's a union state. That's when I get the speech about how unions take your "freedom of choice." The same kind of shit they show Wal-Mart employees, as far as I know.

    At this point there are several things to consider:

    1. Family member's father was once a president of the local union(I assume prior to the state's right to work law).

    2. Family member is in late 50's, yet for the past year was busy working 14 hour days for $10 an hour, event security.

    Despite that, they apparently believe that it's great when there's nothing between employers and workers.

    As is usually the case, I have to inform family member that this kind of non-union existence was actually the norm for a large part of American history, and guess what- it wasn't good, to say the least. Do you know what the result is when you start bringing up historical facts? Their eyes will often glaze over(yes, I have seen this via webcam) and they start looking around as though they're thinking, "Oh my GOD what is he TALKING about? I'm talking about today times and he's going off on some tangent about the 19th century? What does that have to do with ANYTHING? What the HELL is a 'company town?' How long is he going to go on about this?" After this they will change the subject.

    I attribute it to an extreme version of the metaphysical view which permeates all bourgeois society, all across the political spectrum. We are trained in countless ways to see things as separate from one another. History class is designed to indoctrinate and make one remember a collection of names and dates(just long enough to pass an exam) instead of teaching young people how the past relates to the present.

    This is why you get people who say "Obama ruined the economy," and then who go catatonic when you start explaining that 1. crisis is inherent in capitalism and 2. this current crisis has roots in the 1970s.

    "Hey dumbass! This isn't the 1970s! It's 2013! Ever hear of something called THE PAST?!"

  • As is usually the case, I have to inform family member that this kind of non-union existence was actually the norm for a large part of American history, and guess what- it wasn't good, to say the least. Do you know what the result is when you start bringing up historical facts? Their eyes will often glaze over(yes, I have seen this via webcam) and they start looking around as though they're thinking, "Oh my GOD what is he TALKING about? I'm talking about today times and he's going off on some tangent about the 19th century? What does that have to do with ANYTHING? What the HELL is a 'company town?' How long is he going to go on about this?" After this they will change the subject.

    To be fair, liberals have done this too. I was discussing fascism and how we are moving in that direction in the US, in a facebook group, and I mentioned the rise of Nazi Germany. One woman was actually saying "What does 1930 have to do with now?" (This is a college graduate, by-the-by; I barely resisted the urge to write her off-group and tell her that she should return her degree.)

  • It's part of our compartmental education and mind set, mixed with a healthy dose of laziness. Part of it has do with teaching history — and other subjects as well — as just a set of dry dates and data points. Thus dead and boring with nothing drawing these events into a rich tapestry against which they make up a story.

    Did I know about the default of 79? No. Did I know about the effect it had for years to come? No. But I do now. Now I need to act on it.

    But Arslan as you said a while back: what's so special about capitalism that it's given repeated opportunities to fail, while all other models are deemed an utter failure if they do not achieve complete success? (Or some thing close to that).

  • @Sarah, I totally agree. In many ways progressive liberals resemble conservatives in that they both think the 1950's were a Golden Era that we can easily go back to, albeit for different reasons. Telling them that it's called the post-war economic boom for a reason generally confuses them.

  • "One of the difficulties, as I see it, is that we worship money instead of honor. A billionaire, in our estimation, is much greater in these days in the eyes of the people than the public servant who works for public interest. It makes no difference if the billionaire rode to wealth on the sweat of little children and the blood of underpaid labor. No one ever considered Carnegie libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead steelworkers, but they are.

    We do not remember that the Rockefeller Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and a dozen other similar performances. We worship Mammon.

    It is a pity that Wall Street, with its ability to control all the wealth of the nation and to hire the best law brains in the country, has not produced some financial statesmen, some men who could see the dangers of bigness and of the concentration of the control of wealth. Instead of working to meet the situation, they are still employing the best law brains to serve greed and selfish interest. People can stand only so much, and one of these days there will be a settlement. We shall have one receivership too many, and one unnecessary depression out of which we will not come with the power still in the same old hands…

    Our unemployment and our unrest are the result of the concentration of wealth, the concentration of population in industrial centers, mass production and a lot of other so-called modern improvements."

    – Senator Harry Truman, 1937

  • c u n d gulag says:

    What we face is a potentially deadly mix of Evangelical Christian "True Believers," John Birch "True Believers (the Koch Brothers father, was a founding member)," and Authoritarian Corporatist "True Believers."
    Now, add a heaping helping of nationalism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia – and for the most part, this mix is called The Tea Party.

    We need to rebrand them into "The New Know-Nothing Party" – The Know-Nothings were an actual political party, pre-Civil War.

    The New Know-Nothing Party.
    Spread the word.

    These people are absolutists – aka: Manicheans.
    And Manichean "True Believers," don't question.
    They believe what they're told by their leaders.
    And they follow.
    They are Authoritarian followers.
    And their leaders are Authoritarian uber-rich Corporatists – aka, Fascists – like the Koch Brothers.

    If you don't believe the part about Fascism, please read this list, and you tell me where we aren't now a Fascist State – or damn close to one:

    But I won't hold my breath.

  • The reigning civil religion of the US has been Progress. Alternately, the reigning model of crackpot religiosity is Road to Rapture and Apocalypse. In either case, history has exactly zero relevance for what comes next. To claim otherwise is a great and stupid heresy.

  • I would like a good explanation as to why the deficit and the national debt are THE COUNTRY'S BIGGEST PROBLEM right now, and yet the same people didn't give a shit about the debt during Bush the Younger's administration. Dubya could have kept tax rates where they were and probably paid off the national debt during his administration, but at that point it was more important to cut taxes and keep spending. "Deficits don't matter," we were told then. Amazing how people's opinions change depending on which party is in the White House.

  • @arslan; the only nostalgia any liberal I've met has had for the 1950s was the tax rate; the rich paid far more of their share back then and the strong unions that ensured a fair day's pay for a fair day's work for so many people. Otherwise, the 50's were terrible for women, people of color, and people who thought for themselves.

  • I agree, Anonymouse, but I've seen MANY liberals who ignore the reality of the 40's and 50's(for women, non-white minorities, etc.) and you have people like Michael Moore who repeatedly speaks in awe of the 1950s.

    Even when we look at the positive aspects of that era, they still existed in a certain context, one in which the United States had made billions supplying the world while not suffering the destruction visited upon Europe, not to mention the fact that America's competition was either totally destroyed or bankrupt/

  • @J. Dryden: "…it's OK to drive off the cliff because, really, how bad could a crash into the mile-deep ravine really be?" Oh come on, they've seen Road Runner cartoons. They know we'll survive, and continue to be able to buy Acme products, no less.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Regarding the debt ceiling, the Republicans sound like that famous Conservative explorer, who, when told by the Native Americans that if he and his group kept going down that river in their canoes, there was a huge waterfall that would surely kill them all, and he said, "Says you, Tonto! How big a f*cking waterfall can a little f*cking river like this end in?

    Don't listen to him! FULL SPEED AHEAD MEN!!!"

    If I'm not mistaken, they named that waterfall after that late famous Conservative explorer:

    Sir Ron Niagara.

  • @arslan; maybe nostalgia for the 1950s is an age thing? I wasn't born until the very end of the 1960s and have no memories of anything before 1970. Many of my associates and friends are about the same age, or younger. We know the tv show "Happy Days" was not a documentary. The people I know who think the 1950s were supreme are all white male conservative Baby Boomers.

  • I think the lure of capitalism is the illusion that you have (economic) choice. Now it shows itself as: You can work two $7 per hour part time jobs with no benefits or you can work one 29.5 hour per week $12 per hour job with overtime but no benes.

    Plenty of jobs are available in the US – take your pick.

    The other choice is to start your own business – it is often a daunting task made more difficult by stupid government regs.


  • c u n d gulag says:

    Two things – first, there's no OT that I'm aware of, unless you work over 40 hours in a single week.

    Second, you said:
    "The other choice is to start your own business – it is often a daunting task made more difficult by stupid government regs."

    But maybe starting your own business will become easier, if you (and your family, if you have one) don't have to worry about losing your company health insurance, and can take advantage of PPACA.

    I think that that's one of the main reasons for the fear we see from Republicans.
    They've always boasted that they're the party of small business.
    How would it make them look, if PPACA is successful, and MORE people can start their own small businesses under a Democratic President?

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's a major factor for their fear.

  • @ bb,

    'Stupid government regs' is really broad stroke to paint everything with.

    I find some government regs quite smart (not perfect, not always to my particular liking). I like that school was mandatory. I like that building codes exist. I like that you need a drivers license to operate a car or a CDL to operate a truck.

    We also have three levels of government to write regs, fed, state and local. What happens with local laws, can only be influenced by the fed government very very remotely.

    Finally, having capital is an obstacle that dwarfs regs in starting a business.

  • Isn't the easiest answer that someone stands to benefit financially by ignoring the lesson's of the past? The robber barons (then and now) got rich. Lots of people got rich off of Vietnam and Iraq.

  • @bb

    "Plenty of jobs are available in the US – take your pick."

    Last I checked there were still roughly 3 applicants for every for every open position.

    And pray you don't get downsized past the age of 50 or you're pretty much done for. If you're really lucky you just might get to sell used cars or stock shelves at Best Buy.

    The next time you see a middle-aged man giving you a test-drive at Car Max or stocking shelves somewhere, ask him how he came to be there. I think you'll find it informative.

  • guttedleafsfan says:

    Anonymouuse, Happy Days was not about the 50s but the early 60s, which arrived late in my hometown but still arrived. It is more of a docu than you think. It evokes the feeling of utter security combined with personal adventurousness which I remember well from that era.

    Eat your hearts out Late Boomers! "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was..very…at least bearable."

  • I was a child in the 50's. What I mostly remember is the terror I felt from the threat of nuclear annihilation. We had air raid sirens on our block that blasted off every Monday at noon. At school, we had "duck and cover" drills. People built bomb shelters in their yards.

    Every night, poor little terrified girl that I was,I prayed that my family and I would survive an atom bomb or a nuclear attack. I actually pleaded with Jesus to save us.

    The fifties were hell for kids. Our parents scared the shit out of us by buying into the Cold War scenario and talking daily about how the Russians were going to decimate us. I couldn't grok the "better dead than Red" attitude because I didn't want to die

    Anybody who is nostalgic for the fifties has his head up his patio tie.

  • Right BB, those big bad regulations that keep the water safe, as the kid down here playing in the tap water (New Orleans Area) who died from a brain eating parasite, cause they didn't put enough chloring in the water. the 2nd case in a short time. we obviously don't need regulations for that kid, i'm sure you'd agree. costs too much, the Water people said.

    regulations that keep food safe, like right now with the outbreak of Salmonella across the country, due to the shutdown, proof we don't need no stinking gov? right?

    you typify the successful mindset i easily cite as proof of the indoctrination of the Right.

    of course i could go on, but you will deny everything i say or cite that might dent your "mindset." safe in your world of the Big Bad Gov.

    there's just too much nonsense and irrefutable inanity that totally colors reality for followers of the Right and that BIG BAD Gov. or as St. Reagan said," Gov is the problem, not the Solution.

    what would be interesting though is to have the "left" demand taxes on the Rich or no CR, like the Right is doing with Romneycare/Obamacare. and Obamacare is Romneycare, no matter how anyone will pretend otherwise. oh and i think Romneycare is a sop to Big Business and will screw us away from Single Payer. yes, i am a proud Socialist, i believe in Society. i grew up under the illusion that we are in this world together, yes, i know, silly me, living in the Rightwing Wonderland of America. Damn educaiton and thinking are not compatible with the Faith Based Fantasyland called "St. Reagan's Revolution."

    i wouldn't expect you, BB, or any right winger to accept a reality different from your own choosing. the last 40 years have shown me who successful that Fantasyland has been shoved down our throats. i just never did buy lies and deception, that i had to pretend was real. lol. not my cup of tea. i was raised to question Authority. and In American that is tantamount to treason. lol.

    Oh well. we are going to see soon how well the Right can handle the debt ceiling fiasco. the chickens are coming home to roost. i will be keeping my umbrella open, too.

  • i do wish this had an edit feature. but like life, there are something without edit features.

    enjoy the ride to Hell, since the country voted Reagan in. and there is only one way out. hold on tight, it's going to be a bumpy ride! Bette Davis was such a wonderful vamp.

  • I think people like Michael Moore like the '50s because there was so much less inequality – Bosses made only 4x the lowest paid workers – Unions were strong, the middle class was real, strong and growing. Top tax rates were huge so the bosses lived in the next subdivision or the slightly larger corner houses. Excess wealth was vulgar. I attribute to an "all in this together" attitude left over from WWII. Reagan ended all of that by letting the rich get paid huge amounts. And killing unions. Capital gets all of the gains while labor gets the scraps.

  • Our Tea Party overlords remember History just fine. They know that to wreck government, and delegitimate democracy is the best way to achieve their goals.

    I think they will fail, and fail badly this time. But the tactics are sound and will be used again in the future.

  • @Major Kong as a felow car guy you get 2 Thumbs Way Up for the Fireflight. Very, Very Cool! I was a Mopar guy prior to getting into Studebaker's and I'm still a huge fan. But my current car a 1951 Studebaker Starlight Coupe – the infamous "which way is it going car". But like you, I have no real nostalgia for the 50's, I just like the sheet metal.

  • bb,

    Rather than being vague about these "evil govt regs", spell out exactly which ones are so onerous as to kill off nascent businesses.

    Personally, I like knowing that the product I buy is what it says it is, does what it's supposed to and more importantly won't kill me or a loved one. As a Christian you more than anyone should know that people/businesses will do what they can get away with — ie the Chinese milk fiasco.

    Is it better to catch the person putting the crap into the milk before or after someone dies? As a pro-lifer, are you as concerned about the life of the child who's been given dodgy formula as you are its well being in-utero? Should your neighbour be preserved from the harm that the tainted milk could do them?

    The "market" will only punish the vendor of the dodgy product *after* the harm has been done.

    So tell me again this list of specific grievances you have.

  • As for regulations, while the FAA can be a pain in the butt sometimes, I rather like the regulations that govern how many hours I can be made to fly in a given day and how much rest I have to be given before flying.

    You'd probably just as soon not have me plant 300,000 pounds of screaming metal and jet fuel in your front yard at 4:00 AM because I'm too tired to do my job.

  • @Mjr: what's your point? You're compensated for the job you agreed to do for the most you're employer said they would. Now you're denying your employer actualising full benefit of capital investment in you. If you can't stand the heat and all, get out of the kitchen.
    Hmmm… with a bit of practice I just might make a randroid. What do you think? ;)

  • Jason Jones on The Daily Show just had a hilarious interview with a Republican "strategist" who displayed a complete lack of historical knowledge.

  • B.B. has a point, regulations can be written and interpreted to protect incumbents, it's one of the hings campaign contributions buy. Our Compound Failure has so many elements, but a good start is realizing allowing a Randroid job creator into your town is like tolerating a meth cook in your neighborhood. BTW, can I have one "60's", hold the inequality, pollution and cold war, please?

  • As a downsized, too expensive mid-50s person eleven years ago!! y'all don't need to school me on that. I was extra fortunate to qualify for a pension.

    There are plenty of jobs advertised in GA of the types I described with overtime too. Can they all be fake? My point is that plentiful jobs of that variety (low wages, no benes) do not make for a recovery.

    Stupid govt regulations example: The magician that had to come up with a 'disaster' plan for his rabbit per Fed regs.

    Whenever anyone questions government in the slightest, Liberals always seem to be the ones who say this means the end to firefighters, police, and teachers,…and clean air and water and the FAA. It's part of what Tim H points out – Incumbent (whether political or civil servant) protection.


  • Has anyone considered that the Teahadis are fully aware of the 1979 incident, and are actually counting on an increase in the cost of borrowing? After all, what better reason to slash and burn entitlements than an increase in the cost of borrowing. I've seen economists say that now is the right time to borrow, with rates being so low, so this would take care of that issue.
    Of course, we could raise taxes to pay for the increase, but what are the odds of that happening?

  • bb: One or twelve dumb regulations does not condemn all regulations. Further, your stupid reg is someone else's absolutely essential reg, just like the ones that might make sense to you might actually be harmful to other people.

    Additionally, none of our regulations are set in stone. If things are that asinine and harmful, we should be able to petition the government for alterations – and be heard. The process to change these things is the process of government and politics, but it's broken now because we have a bunch of people in the system who don't want to do that work and want to eliminate all regulations just because a few are poorly written and/or applied.

  • daveawayfromhome, I doubt that the Teahadis are thinking in those terms. If they are aware of the 1979 default, they are thinking more about spearheading a second Reagan revolution so they can fully dismantle every gain made in the 20th century for good.

  • Ursula:

    In FY2000 under Pres Clinton the budget was $2.0 Trillion (or $1.8 depending whether you include Govt Business revs)

    We are closing in on spending $4 Trillion per year with a regular $1 T deficit.

    Even with all that has gone on in the last 12 years, do you really think we can justify doubling the size of the Federal Gov.

    Don't the 'Teahadis' have any ground at all?


  • @bb; you forget, a lot of our federal debt was run up by the international war criminal who lied the USA into two wars that we had no business fighting, to enrich the oilmen related to the other international war criminal. It's not free to fight wars.

  • Who is talking about doubling government spending? I'm in favor of doubling the minimum wage, which would decrease the number of people who need government assistance. But that's not the topic of the conversation.

    And yes, going into two wars (largely off the books under Bush, put back on the books by Obama), decreasing taxes, bailing out banks, and the unpaid prescription drug law cost money. Did they double the debt? It's an entirely logical assumption, but I'm not the best one to answer the question.

    The Teahadis have some valid complaints (not all, just some), but they blame the wrong people and think responses with a failed track record (see Ed's post) will solve things, while writing off responses that have worked before.

  • Don't the 'Teahadis' have any ground at all?

    Considering that they didn't start bitching about the deficit and the debt until January 20, 2009, no.

    Ya know, I remember thinking, in 2001, after it was revealed that Clinton (remember him?) left us with a goddamn SURPLUS, that it would be a great idea to pay off the debt with that money. But nooooo, Mr. "tax cuts for the rich" "we can 'go it alone' on two wars" "deficits don't matter" BUSH decided to give that money to one-percenters. I don't remember any "Teahadis" complaining about that.

  • B.B.,one of the reasons regulations have become so byzantine large businesses, with ample staffing to deal with paperwork want them that way, it makes it that much more difficult for would-be competitors. That, and being written by and for lawyers. Any deregulation I've heard of seems to involve creating economic opportunities for campaign contributors and hurting workers.

  • Bb… I love it that the terrible reg that you cite for supporting evidence has something to do with magicians and rabbits. That's a real winner.

  • The only historical precedent the TP is interested in is Germany, 1933 – and they're COUNTING on it working again…

  • You don't have to be fond of the 50s or 60s to learn something from them. Our current dogma says high taxes on the rich and powerful unions mean no economic growth. The 50s and 60s say otherwise. The 50s and 60s were really scary. There were good reasons for thinking that the USSR was as crazy and the Republicans are today.

    Conservatism is a moral philosophy in which good and evil are defined by whether the moral actor is a member of the in group or some other group. History and precedent are only useful in so far as they reinforce this polarity. Liberalism defines good and evil by the consequences of each act and their impact on symmetric individuals. A moral judgement requires some follow up and investigation beyond the identity of the actor.

  • Oh, Lord, Ed.

    You have committed sin.

    …try Googling so and so…


    Just say no to "Google this, and Google that!"

    Explain what you mean in your article. Fuck hyperlinks and fuck saying Google this if you know what is good for you! If you must have a hyperlink, explain what it is, and why you are referencing it. And why your visitors should click on it.

    Please, I like your blog, I like what you write. Don't whore yourself out.



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