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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

 
Greatest Hits: On the spirit of partisanship

by digby



I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who donated to the Hullabaloo Fundraiser this year.  It was much appreciated.  Ten years is a long time to be doing this, but it's still fun and I think we'll keep doing it a while longer.


The events of the last couple of days have been frustrating to say the least. And much handwringing and rending of garments has been taking place about the unique nature of the opposition and their unprecedented obstreperousness and obstructionism.

I think for this last Greatest Hit post I'll share this one from 2004.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Tooth And Nail, Might And Main

by digby 
As we think about the relentlessness of the Republican machine and its propensity for playing hardball, it pays sometimes to remember that their ruthless tactics are actually a matter of temperament rather than ideology. Conservatives have always been this way. The problem today is that they are operating with a radical agenda, an incompetent president and a country with much too much power to be allowed to run wild with either.

This interesting post takes us back to 1820 and reminds us that brutish conservatives are nothing new:

William Hazlitt explained the nature of it in his 1820 essay, "On the Spirit of Partisanship."

Conservatives and liberals play the game of politics differently, Hazlitt wrote, because they have different motivations. Liberals are motivated by principles and tend to believe that personal honor can be spared in political combat. They may, in fact, become vain about their highmindedness. Hazlitt condemns the mildness as a mistake, both in moral reasoning and in political strategy. "They betray the cause by not defending it as it is attacked, tooth and nail, might and main, without exception and without remorse."

The conservatives, on the other hand, start with a personal interest in the conflict. Not wishing to lose their hold on power, they are fiercer. "We"---i.e., the liberals, or the "popular cause," in Hazlitt's terminology---"stand in awe of their threats, because in the absence of passion we are tender of our persons.


They beat us in courage and in intellect, because we have nothing but the common good to sharpen our faculties or goad our will; they have no less an alternative in view than to be uncontrolled masters of mankind or to be hurled from high---

"To grinning scorn a sacrifice,
And endless infamy!"

They do not celebrate the triumphs of their enemies as their own: it is with them a more feeling disputation. They never give an inch of ground that they can keep; they keep all that they can get; they make no concessions that can redound to their own discredit; they assume all that makes for them; if they pause it is to gain time; if they offer terms it is to break them: they keep no faith with enemies: if you relax in your exertions, they persevere the more: if you make new efforts, they redouble theirs.
 
While they give no quarter, you stand upon mere ceremony. While they are cutting your throat, or putting the gag in your mouth, you talk of nothing but liberality, freedom of inquiry, and douce humanit√©. Their object is to destroy you, your object is to spare them---to treat them according to your own fancied dignity. 
They have sense and spirit enough to take all advantages that will further their cause: you have pedantry and pusillanimity enough to undertake the defence of yours, in order to defeat it. 
It is the difference between the efficient and the inefficient; and this again resolves itself into the difference between a speculative proposition and a practical interest.

It is not fair play, and Hazlitt thinks that liberals who decline to fight fire with fire are fools. "It might as well be said that a man has a right to knock me on the head on the highway, and that I am only to use mildness and persuasion in return, as best suited to the justice of my cause; as that I am not to retaliate and make reprisal on the common enemies of mankind in their own style and mode of execution."
Hazlitt was right. And never more than today when the stakes are so high. 
As I said, we have been fighting this beast forever. Conservatives are just more inclined to fight and more serious about winning. But, I have seen the Republican agenda change from conservative to radical in the last 30 years and their candidates from steady, stolid leaders to firebrands and incompetents. America is the most powerful nation on earth. 
If the modern GOP boasted prudent, tested leadership and a simple desire to avoid radical change, I would still oppose them but I would not be worried. But, these people want to wildly experiment on a global scale and their track record of the last three years is devastating. History proves that bad things do sometimes happen. Being barely left standing to say "I told you so" will be no compensation.
It should be noted progress does happen, so it can't be that liberalism never prevails. In fact, in the long run, it always does. But there's often a backlash and so it's always two steps forward one step back. And the step back can be a doozy.

We're in the middle of a doozy. And as you can see it's nothing new.  They've been like this forever to one degree or another and even as recently as 2004 we were stunned by their ruthlessness and wondering if it could get worse. But when I look over the events of the past few days it is clear to me that while the zombie Republicans are relentlessly destructive they also have many weaknesses which can be exploited if the Democrats will use their heads.

Keep in mind that these people are fine with throwing the needy on to the streets but voting to allow taxes to rise is the most painful vote these Republicans ever have to make. Yet, only the fringiest of the fringe GOP Senators didn't vote yes. So we know that even rightwing nightmares like Inhofe are subject to McConnell's discipline. That big vote, in turn, led to Boehner having cover to keep his freakshow in line. After a little Tea Party kabuki yesterday, the House fell in line as well. And they did --- in a big way. They allowed the Senate bill to be voted on with short notice, on an almost unanimous vote, which gave Boehner the ability to bring the vote to the floor. So they too are still subject to some discipline --- at least when they know they have a losing hand.

What this means isn't that they are normal legislators and patriotic believers in good governance. But it is clear that they are still subject to some rational motivations under the right circumstances. They realized that taxes were going up on their precious rich people (and themselves) and there wasn't anything they could do about it. And they made what amounts to a tactical retreat, from which they will come out fighting, with vengeance on their minds.Take note. The next battle is likely to be extremely bloody --- and the outcome isn't just going to affect a few very well off people who will whine but never suffer.  It's going to affect millions and millions of voters, many of them Republican voters. The Democrats can win that one if they really want to.

It's important that we make sure they want to. Because these zombies don't operate in a vacuum. The other side of the story in that Hazlitt screed, you see,  is the vanity, pusillanimity and pedantry of the liberals.


Update: it's been brought to my attention that the bill was brought to the floor by unanimous consent which means that none of the Tea party Senators who voted against it really voted against. They could have stopped it if they wanted to. This means that this vote was really unanimous in both houses.





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