Vote for me, I know nothing and hate the same things you do

This immortal line – the key to the Republican nomination (With Mitt Romney having to play along to try to win the nomination) is from a column by Richard Cohen. It captures the spirit of the times, which I have said before is like the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  Most of us orient ourselves with various ideological tribal loyalties. But sometimes things are serious. Sometimes one’s own side goes metastatic. Sometimes it’s the left, and sometimes it’s the right. Fortunately in democracies this kind of thing is self-limiting. Certainly if the right leaning candidates in Australia were as nutty as those left in the Republican race (with the exception of Mitt who does at least convey his reluctance to say the things he has to say to win the nomination), they wouldn’t even be competitive against the current government – which is saying something. It seems that betting markets think something similar will happen in the US – despite the much greater importance of motivating the base over there owing in part to voluntary voting.

So what a pity it was that Cohen couldn’t quite finish the column without a neutralist flourish (note I don’t use the term ‘centrist’ flourish).

So far, the Palin effect has been limited to the GOP. Surely, though, there lurks in the Democratic Party potential candidates who have seen Palin and taken note. Experience, knowledge, accomplishment — these no longer may matter. They will come roaring out of the left proclaiming a hatred of all things Washington, including compromise. The movie had it right. Sarah Palin changed the game.

Well yes of course a technique taken up by one side is then available to the other. But it’s not as if Republican idiocy and craziness is a sure vote-winner. The crazy dumb candidates don’t seem to perform particularly well at the voting machine. So what’s driving this is not electoral appeal (it’s not like micro-targeted direct mail or robot phone calls), but a deep pathology of the Republican Party that has driven out moderate and sane republicans – you know those who think the world was made more than 10,000 years ago, that climate scientists might be right, that pollution is bad for you, that there are problems that tax cuts to the wealthy may not be able to solve.

And here’s a newsflash for those who think Paul Krugman is some wild leftie. Read his stuff from before the Bush years. He hasn’t recanted any of his broadly centrist views – he’s pro free trade, competition, incentives to innovate and get rich. But he proclaims a hatred of all things Washington including compromise with crazies – and Obama’s delightful habit of compromising with himself before he even goes near the Republicans. That’s because he always was and remains a liberal centrist. Everyone is always saying how the Democrats have an equal and opposite craziness to the Republicans. Perhaps they do, and you just need to be close up to see it. But from this distance, people like Clinton and Obama look like centrists to me. In fact I can’t think of a single prominent Democrat influential within their party who isn’t of that mould.

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24 Responses to Vote for me, I know nothing and hate the same things you do

  1. Roger Wegener says:

    Nicholas, I can *feel* your passion. And that is a good thing.

  2. Jacques Chester says:

    I believe it’s structural, going back to the combination of FPTP, voluntary voting and the use of primaries as a selection process. Just as the sheep play a simple game to avoid being picked off by predators, Republican nominees must follow a certain logic dictated by the structure of the electoral system.

    In the US, general elections are settled by who was better at exciting their own base and demotivating the other guy’s (hence the mix of soaring rhetoric and crushing negativism). Who is missing from this picture? Everyone who’s not in either the Republican or Democrat bases, ie most people.

    Primaries just amplify the situation. Now it’s only the most-motivated of an already concentrated electoral pool who make the difference. And that concentration has only been amplified by modern electoral technology. These days to be a pukker Republican you pretty much have to promise to institute an ultraorthodox theocracy. Meanwhile in Democrat land the trick is to oppose wars and repugnant abrogations of freedom … until you are elected.

  3. Pedro says:

    Maybe this is the answer to your question. The different sides take turns with the crazy ideas.

    Though it has to be said that the GOPnuts are particularly stupid right now.
    I blame religion. I think Chesterton was correct (though maybe not for his reasons), once you believe in God pretty much any rubbish could be plausible.

  4. michaelfstanley says:

    I believe it’s structural, going back to the combination of FPTP, voluntary voting and the use of primaries as a selection process. Just as the sheep play a simple game to avoid being picked off by predators, Republican nominees must follow a certain logic dictated by the structure of the electoral system.

    That’s part of it, but my own pet theory on the craziness of the U.S candidates also has to do with how easy it is to throw a spanner in the works.

    Between the Senate filibuster, co-equal branches etc it doesn’t take much to block things. In turn politicians can go around saying things that they know they will never get called on.

    Look at the size of Obama’s victory and the hold the democrats had on both houses – yet all he could push through was a modest legislative agenda and weak stimulus.

    I’m not arguing that checks and balances are a bad thing entirely but a few tweaks (like our double dissolution triggers for an obstructive Senate) would mean people’s choices would be a little more considered.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:


    As I think you know, I’m sympathetic to the concerns raised in that post. But then so are Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard. That’s not to say you should support them, and it’s true that their side of politics harbours some of the idiocy that made such a mess of the 1970s. But so what, the fringes of both sides are – kind of by definition – crazy. The question is what influence they have. In the US the crazies have a dangerous amount of influence. They have already started the most frivolous of modern wars (I’m thinking of the invasion of Iraq) and it is now impossible to defend basic commonsense inside the Republican Party. That’s pretty scary and I’m ‘reaching out’ as the twenty somethings say these days, to say to people on the right if you’re sane, we need you to call out against this madness. We’re at an invasion of Hungary moment. Whatever your tribal sympathies are – and if we’re truthful most of us orient ourselves around one of the poles – it’s important right now to assert commonsense over that kind of orientation.

  6. Dan says:


    I too am sympathetic to most of the concerns raised in that post too (albeit I wasn’t around in the 70s, when it seems – at least, conventional wisdom would have it – that the left was at its most divorced from reality).

    Nick’s right – conservative thought needs to re-establish its connection with reality pronto, for all our sakes.

  7. TomTom says:

    Nicholas, you’re right about the state of politics in the US. It wasn’t so serious it would be hilarious. If one were to measure the achievements of the Republican field, then Romney would be a clear winner. This is especially the case with his business experience, fixing the Olympics and gubernatorial experience. Yet, he is the one who has the hardest time connecting with the Republican base.

    I think GOP moderates (what few there are left) should grow a spine and start fighting back. The RINO hunting in the GOP has meant that the ideas emanating from the party are incestuous and backward. With few competing ideas, the “base” has convinced itself that past failures (in terms of electability and especially in the case of McCain) are the result of candidates which were not pure. They were somehow forced upon the GOP by the “establishment”. The situation now shows what complete nonsense this is. The fact that Romney was the conservatives choice back then, yet is considered too moderate now defies belief.

    Another problem for the GOP is that that they are too obsessed with the media (what Newt calls the elite media). This obsession has manifested itself in a complete inability to condemn stupid comments or ideas from Republicans. The recent Limbaugh episode is a good example. Limbaugh relies on controversy to gain attention and attract revenue, its time that the GOP recognise that he does not have the party’s (and more importantly, the country’s) best interests at heart.

    Having said that, it may be beneficial for the party in the long term to elect Santorum, even though this is unlikely ( This ties in with what Ezra Klein has had to say about presidential persuasiveness ( No amount of debate will change the hardcore conservative mind, only a magnificent defeat of epic proportions may open the party.

  8. Steve X says:

    What then powerful prominent Democrats opposed the Iraq War? How about Blair? Beazley?

    A anti-war conservative I know firmly believes that if Gore had won he too would have invaded Iraq. It’s not unreasonable. Look at the severity of the strikes carried out by Clinton.

    But as for when the Republican Party changed it’s probably when Bush Snr said ‘Read my Lips’ and then raised taxes when it became clear that was the prudent course of action.

    Then the American people showed what they thought of that. From then on The Republicans have just become more and more financially irresponsible.

    But these things change. If, as is likely, the Republicans lose to Obama there may well be some soul searching.

  9. Tel says:

    So Richard Cohen comes to the conclusion that Mitt Romney is the best and brightest Republican candidate, which is exactly the decision reflected in the results of most of the Republican primaries. This synergy supposedly proves that Richard Cohen and his readers are smarter than the average Republican voter.

    Strangely, I can quite clearly see the logic at work here… a logic that says you sell more newspapers by telling readers what they want to hear, just like you get more votes by telling voters what they want to hear. As the Southern goobers say, “How about that?”

  10. wmmbb says:

    “Centralist” seems too kind a description for the President and Secretary of State. Any such description would be off beam because public opinion, other than as manufactured consent, has become irrelevant to the elected, and non-elected, governors.

  11. john says:

    Jacques Chester Could I be a bit pedantic about your choice of words?
    “promise to institute an ultraorthodox theocracy” Many/most Orthodox regard “American folk religion” and Fundamentalism generally as “Heresy”.

  12. Pedro says:

    Well I called them the GOPnuts and mentioned the god-bothering that seems such a part of it, so I think we are on the same page. As a libertarianish type, I support conservative parties because they’re generally closer in outcomes to my preferences. The republicans seem to have an awful lot of down-right crazies, though I don’t subscribe to every criticism of the GOP.

    In the 70s the mainstream left parties in some countries were being strongly influenced by stupid socialists and dopey anti-nuke types, think Michael Foot. These days the god-botherers have gotten hold of the republican base. Rick Santorum, say, is not a conservative, he’s very radical. The religious radicals have taken hold of a conservative party and, like nuts everywhere, they’re stupid about a whole bunch of stuff, so that party is going to seem more stupid.

    I think that tide will recede, but happy to help with the criticism till it does. However, ignoring the GOP, I can’t see any evidence that conservative parties generally have gone crazy.

  13. Mr Denmore says:

    This long piece from Foreign Affairs provides some historical perspective on the missing middle in American politics and how the Republican moderates became extinct.

  14. Nicholas Gruen says:


    My only claims of craziness are of the Republicans. Conservatives remain pretty normal in all other places I know about.

    The only thing I would add is that I have grave fears about plutocrats tossing a few pennies in every squillion dollars they are worth into media to ensure that we’ve got wall to wall Fox News coverage. But then I’m a worrier. On more thoughtful reflection I expect we’d hold up under the pressure a lot better than the Americans.

  15. Pedro says:

    I don’t know if the yanks have wall to wall fox news, but they seem to be holding up ok. It’s pretty lamentable all round as it seems they accidentally elected a naughty boy.

  16. Avi Waksberg says:

    One reason that Republicans behave the way they do is they are responding to a substantial part (unusually large?) of the US electorate and the way the primary system selects candidates that appeal to a party’s base. Matt Yglesias says “Liberals just aren’t the “base” of the Democratic Party in the same way that conservatives are the base of the GOP” citing a poll here:
    That said, the ever increasing craziness of the Republicans seems like it might be starting to hurt them at the polls but the primary system makes it difficult for the party to walk back from the edge of the precipice.

  17. Dan says:

    I wonder if there would be any losers if the Republican Party split into the Tories and the Berks.

    1) The Democrats would be happy, because they’d always be in power.
    2) The Tories would be happy because they could engage with the Democrats in the realm of the real, unencumbered by the crazy noisiness (or is it noisy craziness?) of the Berks.
    3) The Berks would be happy, because they could live in conspiracy-land 24/7 and never have to worry about compromising with Muslims and Communists to win an election.

  18. Mike Pepperday says:

    I agree with Jacques #2 that it is structural but deeper than merely FPTP and voluntary voting. I think it is the presidential system. Presidential systems don’t work. They failed in South Korea and in the Philippines and have failed countless times in the rest of the Americas. They are failing now in eastern Europe.

    The US periodically goes nuts – Ku Klux Klan, the 1920s stock market, the 1930s Depression, compulsory sterilisation of inferior women, McCarthyism, Vietnam… No country flips out like the US.

    “Presidential system” is defined as where the executive does not require the confidence of the parliament. It is erratic, lurching, unstable.

  19. Pedro says:

    You know, its all very well to go on about the republicans, but lately I’ve been thinking that the ALP has been heading in a very bad direction. The current crop of leaders are downright nasty and instinctive liars, and now I see this

  20. Dan says:

    Yeah – why aren’t they social democrats any more?

    However, your example made me thing of another three-letter acronym: BFW.

  21. Pedro says:

    I’ll largely ignore the snide and just be surprised that TISM were (are?) still around in 2001. Still with the hoods or whatever?

  22. Dan says:

    Appreciate your graciousness. I just can’t bring myself to care a jot about sport. Unorstrayan, I know.

    Yeah, I don’t think they ever took the balaclavas off.

  23. Pedro says:

    Great live show in the 80s, and great sarcasm, I wonder how they evolved.

  24. Pedro says:

    Ross Fitzgerald has made my point in the Oz today.

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