Archive for August 1st, 2011

How Dune Explains Tea Party Republicans’ Dominance of the Debt Debate

“The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.”
Paul-Muad’dib to the Guild navigators, Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)

Variations on that line have been going through my head ever since the debt-ceiling debate cranked up in earnest a few weeks back — to me, it explains the fundamental strength that conservative Republicans possessed as the negotiations progressed. Basically, they don’t CARE about government, and most seem as though they’d be happy to see it go away entirely. Democrats, by contrast, BELIEVE in the need for government and are hence horrified at the thought of taking actions that risk damaging it and the people who count on it.

Many people have compared the House Republicans’ position on the debt ceiling to a hostage-taking or a shakedown (“nice economy you got there — it’d be sad if something bad happened to it”), and it’s a good analogy in the sense that their power derives from their ability (and willingness) to destroy something of value to their political opponents. Of course, government services might just be valuable to their constituents as well, something we’ll learn more about in 2012.

It’s also worth pointing out a deeper selfishness involved involved in the equation: Democratic states functionally subsidize Republican states, and as I found in my distant days in the Texas Legislature, (relatively) pro-tax urban areas typically subsidize low-tax rural counties (think of Michelle Bachmann’s family farm subsidy payments as an example). It must be easy to bad-mouth government when someone else is footing the bill for the benefits it gives you and your neighbors….

cpd

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Debt Deal Online; Meanwhile, Obama Praises Internet Activists

If you’re into reading legislation yourself (zzzzzzz), the House Rules committee has now published the text of the proposed budget deal in both PDF and XML formats — apparently, the committee staff stayed up late to take care of the formatting and publishing. Ah, the glamorous life of a Hill staffer….

Also, President Obama gave a shout-out to citizen activists in his announcement of the deal last night, both of the digital and analog varieties, who’d flooded Twitter at his requrest and crashed Congressional websites and the House switchboard this week:

“Most of all, I want to thank the American people,” Obama said. “It’s been your voice, your letters, your emails, your tweets, your phone calls that have compelled Washington to act in the final days. And the American people’s voice is a very, very powerful thing.”

True or not — this deal had gotten to the point in the process where outside voices were unlikely to make much of a difference, since the real decisions were made in the negotiating room — it’s good politics to reward activists with a little love. The more they think their work matters, after all, the more likely they are to jump into action next time. Update: Well, White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer is saying that the emails and Tweets mattered, so perhaps they did…either that or he’s just on-message.

Also in that Yahoo piece, note the (eternal) bias of the digital enthusiast for social media: the President cited letters, emails and phone calls alongside the tweets, but the reporter (and the headline writer) focused on the Twitter angle in the story. Thus it ever was.

cpd

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