John Nance Garner once said the Vice-Presidency was “not worth a bucket of warm spit. “  (Some say he mentioned a different liquid.) Well, clearly Tea-Partiers disagree with him. I already blogged about the possibility of Representative Allen West being Romney’s V.P. and today I saw this NPR story which quotes Tea Partier Bill Miller as saying: “At this point, the only thing [Romney] can possibly do is who he picks for V.P.”

Well, the V.P. slot has been getting more attention lately. Why, there’s even a new HBO series about it. Shows you what John Nance Garner knew.

I assume Romney plans to follow this Miller’s advice, and pick a Vice-President who will excite the base. This is a good plan because it will make appeal more to the Tea-Party crowd without having to hand any actual power to an extreme conservative. Though, as John McCain discovered, this method is not altogether foolproof.

Besides, it’s not that the Vice-President has no power; if the Veep is clever enough, the position can certainly be a powerful one. Dick Cheney practically revolutionized the position, and I suspect that his actions in office has made subsequent Presidential candidates be much more cautious about who they select for the role. But there’s no denying Cheney was one of the most powerful Vice-Presidents ever.

So, the question is: will Romney go for an insider in the mold of Cheney or an exciting figure in the mold of Palin?

There’s a great  article by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone about “how the G.O.P. Became the Party of the Rich”. Overall, it’s a great read, though I do have some criticisms of it. The first is that, although the article tries to portray President Reagan as a tax-raising, pragmatic individual from whose wise leadership the party has sadly deviated, the truth is that they have were “the Party of the Rich” in his time as well, and indeed were such before him.

This isn’t, so far as it goes, an inherently bad thing. After all, political parties are made of interest groups, and “the Rich” are certainly a sort of interest group. Admittedly, not one that can win a fair democratic election, but then the Republicans of today are not just the “Party of the Rich”. They also are the party of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and many other things.

(It should also be remembered that they won many fewer elections when they were simply “the Party of the Rich”, from the 1930s through the 1960s, than they did when they became “the Party of the Rich and of other things” in the 1980s.)

The point is, it’s not like representing the rich is a new thing to the party. In fact, I think the Republicans have always been that way, or at least it has since the 1870s. Having said that, it is probably true that they are now more fanatical in their pursuit of low taxes. this is largely because whereas the Republicans of decades past were motivated by an (understandable, if not laudable) antipathy to paying taxes, the current version of the party has a Nationalistic wing which opposes the supposedly non-Nationalist liberal government, and wishes to deprive it of resources. This gives a visceral passion to their rhetoric and policy that was lacking before.

The second issue is the author’s claim that the idea of President Bush’s tax cuts providing an economic stimulus:

“…was lousy economics. The previous two decades, after all, had demonstrated that “trickle-down” tax cuts don’t juice the economy – they create bubbles and balloon deficits.”

This is sort of true, but it obscures one thing: “juicing the economy” and “creating bubbles” are almost the same thing. Bubbles almost always result from a booming economy; indeed, I do not believe it is possible for a bubble to arise without a booming economy.

This means that, in fact, the tax cuts were “good” economics, in the sense that they probably did help achieve their proponents’ promise of aiding a short-term stimulus to the economy. Of course, they did have a dramatic downside, as we can see, but this is often the way with such booms.

In my opinion, the Bush administration was right to cut taxes in 2001-2, but they should have (a) made them more favorable to working class people and even more importantly (b) raised taxes in about 2005, during the relatively good economy.

These issues aside, it’s a very good article.

“Pilate saith unto him, ‘What is truth?’…”–John 18:38 

Most people probably believe that of the two major political parties in the United States, it is the Democrats who are more prone to relativism. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that there are more intellectuals, who are always given over to questioning traditions, in the Democratic party. The second is that many years of conservative propaganda has told everyone so.

Most of this is the work of the religious Right, though the Atheist philosophy of Ayn Rand also rejects the idea of anything other than absolute Truth, and it is certainly more widely heard in “conservative”,or–if we must use the term–“right-wing” circles. And there is some truth to all this; after all, does not the word “Conservative” itself suggest a certain intellectual and philosophical rigidity?

But, of late, there have been signs of a creeping relativism among conservatives. For example, this column from paleo-conservative writer Patrick J. Buchanan. An excerpt:

““Naked reason,” pure rationalism… ignores that vast realm of sentiments, such as patriotism and love, that reside in the terrain between thought and feeling.” 

Buchanan, admittedly, is far from one of the major players in the Republican party, having been effectively ostracized years ago. But there is altogether something very “post-modern”, as Andrew Sullivan often says, about the behavior of the conservatives of late. Recall the odd incident early this year when Rudy Giuliani and other prominent conservatives appeared to have forgotten about the 9/11 attacks.

(As Henry Leland says to Mike Thorton in Alpha Protocol: “There are only so many coincidences that can happen before they stop being coincidences.”)

Of course, one could easily explain away such things by pointing out that it is merely the inevitable result of competing–nearly warring–political parties. A strategy, nothing more. Indeed, I suspect a credible case could be made that changes in the media and the education system have produced a general increase in the relativistic outlook, and we only notice it with conservatives because they are, historically, less susceptible to it.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that strategically speaking, the Republicans are moving more and more towards a relativistic approach to reporting and analyzing every issue. Much of their criticism of Obama is based on how he makes them feel, or the image he projects.

Perhaps Lee Atwater had some part in it. (On some sites, I have seen the phrase “Perception is reality” attributed to Atwater. I doubt he originated it, but it does encapsulate his worldview.) Still, from at least Edward Bernays onward, propagandists, strategists and ad men, or whatever name, must have at least a touch of relativism to carry out their duty.

Now, I cannot stress enough that it is mostly the conservative intellectuals and strategists who seem to think this way. All the examples I gave, with the partial exception of Giuliani, were very much the behind-the-scenes tactician sort, not the leaders, and not the rank and file. I don’t think we will ever see Sarah Palin, for example, engaging in anything other than black-and-white moral reasoning. (“We win, they lose…”)

That’s part of what’s so odd about it, in fact. On the one hand we have the traditional non-relativist view of the world characterized by most of the Republican politicians, but pull away the curtain and we find men like Karl Rove–heir to Atwater–and other such strategists. Buchanan, let us not forget, was a strategist for Richard M. Nixon. (Nixon, by the way, was interested in the works of Nietzsche.) Even Dick Cheney, in his role as an adviser to Gerald Ford, famously said: “Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose.”

It is pointless to counter by saying that the same is true of Democrats. Of course it is. Carville, Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel and the rest are all doubtless cut from the same cloth. But the Democrats as a whole are already supposed to be the party of relativists, to hear the Republicans tell it, and they’re kind of correct. Nothing reveals this more than the fact that Democrats in general will tend to attack Republicans for being too absolutist. Whereas, the Republicans pride themselves on seeing through the moral haziness in which the liberal intellectuals lose themselves by understanding the absolute, God-given differences between True and False, Right and Wrong.

Let me, as Obama would say, be clear:  the majority of the Republican party believes in a rigid, absolutist, traditional Christian morality–or wants to, anyway.  But many of their strategists are willing to do almost anything to achieve victory, and are more than happy to bend the truth in order to get what they want. And they are fairly open about it.

In short, their strategists appear to be using moral and factual relativism in order to justify the rank-and-file and their leaders behaving like moral and factual absolutists.

All comments are welcome, and disagreement is encouraged. 

Andrew Sullivan is “trying to understand the Tea Party.” It’s interesting, though he doesn’t seem to have reached my conclusion, at least not yet.

One thing Sullivan realizes:

 “The Bush-Cheney presidency was, in some respects, the perfect pseudo-conservative administration. They waged war based on loathing of the experts (damned knowledgeable elites!); they slashed taxes and boosted spending for their constituencies, while pretending to be fiscally responsible; they tore up the most ancient taboos – against torture – with a bravado that will one day seem obscene; and they left the country in far worse shape than they found it.” 

Following Biden’s remarks on the health care bill, President Obama reportedly decided that enough was enough, and that the time had come to replace the Vice-President with someone with more gravitas. Dick Cheney came readily to mind as the leading candidate.

Most political observers deemed the move “brilliant”, saying the combination would produce a super-popular team that would unite a divided country.

Full story here.

Karl Rove has been defending it lately, so I thought I’d throw in my opinion on this.

It’s torture. There is no way around it.

I just thought it was time to clear that up. No more “harsh interrogation techniques”, folks. It is what it is.

Now, you might still say it was justified. It may well be that it was used to save American lives. Still, we have to be clear about what it is we’re talking about. I would have much more respect for guys like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney if they’d just come out and say: “Yes, it was torture. I don’t care, because it was the right thing to do to save innocent lives.”

Frank Rich writes: “And so leadership on financial reform, as with health care, has been delegated to bipartisan Congressional negotiators poised to neuter it.”

He writes this like he wishes President Obama would take control of the legislative process, and he seems to be faulting him for not doing so.

Maybe Cheney had a point about executive power, eh?