Legacy And Language: Politico vs. Tim Noah

Timothy Noah had a typically sharp article this morning in Politico about the Obama administration implementing new rules that help promote a progressive policy, the most important being the new overtime wage rule, which guarantees the dangerous and un-American notion that people should be paid for the work they do.

The reason there is a rush of rules is due, as Noah explains, to a regulation passed in 1996 by Newt’s Congress. Per Noah:

Blame the Congressional Review Act. Enacted by a newly Republican Congress in 1996 as part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the CRA law gave Congress 60 legislative days after a regulation was issued to block it by using an expedited procedure.

Aimed at taming the regulatory leviathan, the law proved almost entirely ineffective because presidents could — and did — routinely veto resolutions of disapproval against their own agencies’ rules. But under one circumstance, the CRA could be deadly. Late in a president’s final year, 60 legislative days (which extend much longer than calendar days) could carry over into another administration. A new president of the opposite party would be tempted to squelch a predecessor’s pet project.

Now, since then, there have only been two changes of administration: Clinton to Bush and Bush to Obama, so this is still new. Geroge W. Bush knew to protect himself. He was the first President to use the law, overturning a late-term Clinton regulation that instituted ergonomic standards to protect workers against the crippling problems of repetitive stress. It’s important to remember that Bush wasn’t a hapless doof thrust into global chaos; he was an evil boneheaded dork who ran a cruel administration from the jump.

Regardless, he understood the rules, and so did the same thing that President Obama is doing now. As Noah said, Obama is actually behind the Bush pace for pushing rules. Obviously, that means he’s a tyrant, because nothing that happened before Obama was elected counts, but that’s not really the point. I’m interested in Politico here.

I don’t know if Noah writes his own headlines. But the headline here is at clickbaity and incendiary odds with the rest of the piece: “Obama Rushes Out Rules To Guarantee Legacy.” To be fair, Noah’s first sentence includes the weighted and misleading phrase “shoveling out regulations nearly one-third faster in its final year than during the previous three”, mentions the cost to business, and has a GOP congressman talk of a “regulatory onslaught” before any explanation, but the rest is sober and measured and comprehensive.

So a lot of this is on Politic, though some on Noah. If you read the headline, and skimmed the beginning, you’d think this was some kind of dastardly new scheme. “Rushing out rules” and “shoveling” at a clip nearly 1/3rd faster (which isn’t that much faster if you think about it- I don’t know how much heavy lifting “nearly” does there). It’s dramatic, and makes the continuation of the job he was elected to do seem nefarious.

But it’s the word “legacy” that really sticks. Journalists, especially of the Politico ilk, love to do this. The Climate Change accord was Obama shoring up his environmental legacy. The deal with Iran was his foreign policy legacy. Now, Presidents, as are people who aren’t in history books, are concerned with how they’ll be remembered. There’s no doubt about that. But the quest for a”legacy” is really them doing the job they were elected to do. The Climate Change and the Iran Accord were smart policy: progressive and important and a chance to make the world a better, more livable, and more peaceful place. Even if you disagree, this was policy. It was policy he was elected to enact.

But to Politico, all is artifice. The actions don’t matter; just the perception. It’s a TV show and a ratings grab, a garish tent of fools. It’s not just that they paint these pictures. They assume everyone is acting in equally bad faith, and that makes it easy for us to believe they are. It’s both cynical and credulous, and misses the point in every way.

Politico’s  main sin isn’t that it is a suck-up fest of conservative 3rd-wayism or that it is as shallow as it is insipid (writers like Noah notwithstanding). It’s that it wants you to be as dumb as it is. It believes that you want it. It degrades anything that is real because it can’t understand how someone can look beyond tomorrow’s headline. That’s the main reason Obama has always confounded them. He refuses to see the world in the same blinkered and pointless way that they do.

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Labor and The Environment: Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Yesterday I said I hoped that Eric Loomis at LGM would do a post on the “environmental/labor rift” that the Times said was threatening Dem turnout this year. And he did!  He frames it as a long-standing rift in the labor movement.

This is related to changes in the labor movement over the past four decades. What the CIO did was undermine the building trades’ domination over the labor movement. But even though the rise of public sector unionism has to some extent replaced it, the loss of the giant and generally progressive industrial unions like the UAW (now only the 11th largest union in the country) and USWA has left a vacuum that the building trades were more than happy to fill. So what you have in the labor movement, other than remnant industrial unions, are the often very politically conservative (although not universally so) building trades that have been conservative for a century or more and the public sector unions that really operate with very different classes (and races) of workers and that sometimes really have very little in common with a union like the Laborers.

That makes sense, and it really gets to the heart of what “unions” mean these days. We have the romantic notion of them being about helping people in the rough and dangerous trades, which they have, for the betterment of the nation. But those aren’t the only unions, and in a time when they are under assault, certainly not the most powerful, and obviously not the most progressive (those trades were the heart of the “Reagan Democrats”, who are now just called “Republicans” by everyone but the media). It’s probably time the media realized they aren’t the sole voice of unions.

Sanders and the Kentucky Recount

(Note: I really wanted to do some kind of “Sanders” and “Kentucky Fried Recount” joke, but it’s one of those things that sounds like a joke, but it really isn’t, under any scrutiny. It’s just a collection of words that trigger the referential part of your brain. Scientifically, it’s the Family Guy Correlation.)

As The Guardian reports this morning, the Sanders campaign is “mulling” over calling for a recount in the Kentucky primary, an extremely close race. This is, simply put, narcissistic madness.

There is really no good outcome from this. Even if Sanders doesn’t demand a recount, even mulling one over makes the whole thing seem suspect, like the Hillary team and the crooked Democratic Party are trying to steal things, trying to put one over on Sanders and his supporters, the only ones who have a true passion. Everyone else is a hunchbacked pack of Ralph Steadman caricatures, lurching grotesquely hand-in-hand with blood-soaked billionaires, trying to erase the specter of real democracy.

In short, it’s getting ugly. The narrative that Sanders is now pushing- we’re the real voice of the people, despite being outvoted by the millions- has some validity, but not much. His wins are narrow, not just in delegates, but in total votes. And that’s fine: he’s doing amazingly well, and shouldn’t even still be here. But he has triggered something real and genuine, and something important. It’s why I voted for him. He’s highlighting the ur-issues of American politics, the role of money in distorting any electoral equity.

But this narrative comes with inherent dangers, mostly that anyone standing in the way is a counter-revolutionary. Anything that is messy about voting (and much of the system is bizarre and counterproductive) isn’t seen as a glitch to be fixed, but an enemy to be overcome. An enemy put in place to stop the Voice of the People, the popular tribune, the one man that can save us all. And the number one enemy is Hillary Clinton.

That’s why calling for a recount is dangerous. It doesn’t make sense electorally, as virtually no delegates will shift. But it highlights the dangerous game Sanders is playing. He’s trying to negate the votes of millions of people (largely older and minority) that genuinely want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, by claiming that the real voters want him to be President. He wants to demonstrate that something is being stolen from him, and his most eager supporters are all too willing to believe it.

That isn’t right, and for such a populist campaign, it is weirdly tyrannical. The nomination is mine, because more people cry at my rallies. Their voters don’t count. Only mine do. Sanders should by all means continue his campaign, and keep pushing for genuine progressive policies. But it is possible to do so in a twilight, accepting that he isn’t being robbed, but that the voters of the Democratic Party chose Hillary Clinton. That’s what happens in elections.

As ugly as 2008 was, Hillary moved toward unity. I believe that Bernie can do so, and that he has to in the face of Trump. But this coalescing idea that if Hillary wins it is because she is a thieving harpy will make it harder to win. Remember, this isn’t about the lesser of two evils. It’s about the greater evil being a genuinely epochal disaster, a country-defining tragedy. Fighting the good fight doesn’t mean imagining yourself Spartacus, and demanding a revolt.