Thursday, April 23, 2015


I understand why George Packer, writing for The New Yorker, is saying he's tired of politics -- other longtime political observers (Jon Stewart, Andrew Sullivan) are also throwing in the towel. (Politics is making me weary these days, too.)

But Packer says what's been lost for him is the "fun."
It might not be wise for a sometime political journalist to admit this, but the 2016 campaign doesn’t seem like fun to me....

American politics in general doesn’t seem like fun these days. There’s nothing very entertaining about super PACs, or Mike Huckabee’s national announcement of an imminent national announcement of whether he will run for President again....
Packer goes on and on about what he's anticipating in the upcoming campaign that, in his view, won't be "fun" -- but when he gets to a list of proposals that he says "would make American politics more relevant, more interesting -- maybe even more fun," the list doesn't sound like fun, but rather like eat-your-vegetables earnestness. A couple of examples:
2. A Republican should run against the Republican Congress. Its negativism has become a disgrace to the party and the country....
Oh, please. Republicans run against the Republican Congress all the timer -- they just do it by saying that Congress isn't radically right-wing enough. And negativism? Packer thinks that's what's really awful about congressional Republicans? What, they're too grumpy? Replace "negativism" with "nihilism" and you're a lot closer to the truth.
6. A Republican and a Democrat with national reputations should hold hands and break the partisan rules. They should announce early on the intention of making the other his or her running mate in the event of winning the nomination -- if only to test whether the political center is really as dead as it seems.
Oh, good Lord. David Broder lives!

Seriously, George, have you looked at Congress? Or the states? We're electing ideologues -- the ideologues your magic Third Way dream team would have to work with if they somehow came to power. Also: This, to you, would be fun? Here, check out this recent column by Jon Huntsman and Joe Lieberman, co-chairs of the centrist group No Labels (which, yes, still exists):
Our movement, No Labels, identified ... goals by asking the American people what national problems they most wanted their representatives in Washington to solve. The resolution will establish a framework for a National Strategic Agenda that can appeal to citizens and leaders of all political stripes:

• Create 25 million jobs over the next 10 years;
• Secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years;
• Balance the federal budget by 2030; and
• Make America energy secure by 2024.

... For our government to change course, goals must first be agreed to and set, then substantive policy negotiations can be held. That’s what a National Strategic Agenda is all about -- think of it as setting a destination in your GPS or favorite navigation application on your phone. The GPS or app may give you multiple options to reach the destination (goal), and there may be alternatives suggested along your way, but you know where the journey will end. You know you will accomplish the goal of arriving at your destination.
Hey! Hey! WAKE UP!

Packer rails against the sclerotic nature of our politics -- a would-be presidential candidate makes a "national announcement of an imminent national announcement" and so on. But what's more sclerotic than this No Labels proposal? A national survey that leads to a resolution that leads to a framework that leads to an agenda (or an Agenda) that leads to ... um, "substantive policy negotiations"? Which simply have to bear fruit, because Huntsman and Lieberman say so? Because everything in Washington ultimately always gets resolved once there's a framework for an agenda for a negotiation?


What's odd about Packer's essay is that there's a lost Eden for which he's nostalgic, and it doesn't seem like the Third Way, good-government, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington era he appears to crave now:
Since I was eight years old, and the Republican candidates were named Nixon, Rockefeller, and Reagan, and the Democrats were Humphrey, Kennedy, and McCarthy, I’ve been passionate about American politics, as a student, a witness, and a partisan. Politics was in my blood, at the family dinner table, in my work and my free time. But at some point in the past few years it went dead for me, or I for it....
So Packer is nostalgic for the period of our politics that started in 1968? The year we made Richard Nixon president? Packer wants earnest statesmanship, but he longs for forty or so years of dirty tricks, secret slush funds, candidate demonizations, foreign policy failings, ideological warfare, sexual embarrassments, and financiers given leeway to destroy the economy repeatedly? That was, I suppose, a grim sort of fun, but it wasn't good government.

We're just getting the first New York Times story built on Peter Schweizer's book about Bill and Hillary Clinton's ongoing search for cash, and, well, it's a bit sleazy. But Schweizer also swears he's going to go into Jeb Bush's secret deals. And Scott Walker and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, to name three, have plenty of sleaze in their past.

So this campaign might be a hell of a lot more like what Packer actually lived through starting in '68 than he imagines. But much of what he lived through was bad for the country, and for most of its citizens, just the way the future he dreads will probably be.

So enjoy the ride, George. You've been on it before.


Victor said...

'But Packer says what's been lost for him is the "fun."'

Yeah, "fun..."

I'm 57, and this is nowhere even close to the country I was raised in.

There's been no "fun."
Just a ton of misery.

And, as part of our "Fourth Estate," you make me want to down a 'fifth." *

* Ok, make that a liter..........

D. said...

Somewhere, if the fanatics of IS haven't already smashed it, is a cuneiform tablet with Mr. Packer's article (names and circumstances changed, of course).

petrilli said...

• Create 25 million jobs over the next 10 years
Eliminate tax credits for shipping jobs overseas. Import tariff ALL products made in factories overseas, American owned or not. Rebuild infrastructure. Trains everywhere.

• Secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years
Remove the salary cap completely. Lower retirement age back down to 65 for everyone and keep it there.

• Balance the federal budget by 2030
Admit that this goal is a bullshit goal for a made-up bullshit problem.

• Make America energy secure by 2024.
Price fossil energy to include the environmental and health costs, then invest that into alternatives. Build a working thorium reactor and see if it really works as advertised

M. Bouffant said...

I was amused that Packer dated the decline & malaise to 2008.
Especially in the years after 2008, the worst tendencies of American politics only hardened, while remaining in the same place.

1980, if not earlier.

Steve M. said...

1980, if not earlier.


petrilli said...

Yeah, this post modern shit storm has been going on a while now.
The first post war generation of vicious house reactionaries I remember was led by John LeBoutillier in the early 80's. Repubs ate their own back then too, recalling the public eviceration of Senator John Tower during his confirmation hearing for def sec (not that he didn't deserve it.) Malaise for me began with the cowardly ascent of Democratic caucus as republicans railroaded speaker Jim Wright. The party's been playing catch-up ever since IMO.

But that's beside the point, which is, politics has not been "Fun" since forever. Why are Villagers only getting this now?

Sommersby has some really good insights into the subject in his "incomparable archives" on the treatment of Al Gore by the elite press. I agree a lot with Jay Rosen and his ideas about "The church of the Saavy" The game strategy aspect of policy making is a lot more fun (and easy) to cover than the effects of policy on people's lives. Maybe politics have finally gotten so rancid that elite journalists have to start taking sides and standing for something. Why they wouldn't find this new paradigm fun, I couldn't say.