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The politics of nope

[My story in the Style section. It's conceivable that it's too cynical about cynicism, too negative about negativity, but I'm throwing it out there to give everyone something to masticate (that's just a saying, not to be taken literally). There was one line in it that I was pleased with, making me feel that I earned my salary for a few minutes there. But it's one of those your-mileage-may-vary stories. Comments and contrarianism welcome as always.]

The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything.

That sounds like nihilism, but they're against that, too.

Consider the poll last week by The Washington Post and ABC News. People were asked a standard question about how much confidence they had in President Obama to "make the right decisions" for the nation's future. A majority -- 53 percent -- gave the two most dismal of the four possible responses: "just some" and "none at all." The same question had been asked a year earlier; in just 12 months, the "none at all" camp had tripled, from 9 percent to 27 percent.

We are at a strange moment: a crescendo in American anger even as the man in the White House hums along in a state of preternatural equanimity. Obama, who will take over prime-time television Wednesday night for his annual address to Congress, has seen such a drastic erosion of popularity that he may get only about 35 or 40 standing ovations instead of the usual 50 or so.

Lawmakers will feel some kinship with the president, because they're all getting pummeled by the public. Democrats in Congress did worse than Obama in the Post-ABC poll, and Republicans in Congress did worst of all. The health-care bill that lawmakers have labored on for the past year has gotten a national thumbs-down: According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans want Congress to suspend work on the current health-care bills and start over.

And that $787 billion stimulus package? No, thanks. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 56 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the government's effort to juice the economy.

"You know the way to boost your poll numbers is not do anything," Obama said at a town hall gathering in Ohio last week. "That's how you do it. You don't offend anybody. I'd have real high poll numbers. All of Washington would be saying, 'What a genius.' "

The Againstness Epidemic has been years in the making. Individual strains of opposition have been cultivated in the petri dishes of special interest groups, religious fundamentalists, blogs, cable TV shows, talk radio, fringe subcultures (birthers, truthers, tea partiers). They feed into, and are fed by, entrenched industries of disagreeableness (fossil fuel companies, labor unions, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh). We live in a country in which being contrarian now means advocating a mainstream initiative.

The orthodox view among pundits is that Americans have lost faith in government. That argument masks a deeper truth: Americans have also lost faith in pundits.

Also in orthodox views.

In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama imagined a new path forward, one in which partisans would overcome their differences, suppress their rancor and work together to achieve wonderful things:

"[I]t's precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country. . . . What's needed is a broad majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and independents of goodwill -- who are reengaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others."

The book now seems as dated as "The Iliad." The common ground that Obama hoped for has turned out to be the size of a bathroom scale.

Far more in tune with the times is a new book titled "We Are Doomed," by John Derbyshire, who argues that his fellow conservatives have succumbed to "foolishly utopian ways of thinking," and need to get in touch with their inner pessimists.

"I call you to the politics of despair!" Derbyshire writes.

Also on the shelf in the Politics/Government/Hysteria section of bookstores:

"Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" (Ann Coulter)

"Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America" (Mark Levin)

"Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time to Take It Back" (Jim Hightower)

"Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class" (Thom Hartmann)

"Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Self-Serving Congress, Companies That Help Iran, and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments, Are Scamming Us . . . and What to Do About It" (Dick Morris and Eileen McGann)

There is much talk these days about populism, the political movement advocating the interests of ordinary people rather than elites and capitalists. Increasingly, populism is inseparable from anger. Can someone be a happy populist? Not today: All populists must carry metaphorical pitchforks.

When he ran for president, Obama benefited from the tide of anger. He viewed his victory as a mandate for change, but really he had a mandate to be someone other than George W. Bush. By October 2008, Bush had achieved a "strongly disapprove" rating of 58 percent. Polls showed that voters didn't see much difference between Bush and John McCain. And thus Obama -- who got the Democratic nomination in part because of Hillary Rodham Clinton's unusually large "negatives" -- probably would have been elected even if he had rolled across the country in a tiny clown car.

He has since learned that the American people are almost as opposed to change as they are to the status quo. It now appears that the three major ideological groups that object to the health-care plans under discussion in Congress are: the conservatives, the moderates and the liberals.

Obama's critics on the right have been implacable in their opposition. What's new is how mad liberals are. Conservatives loathe Obama; liberals are merely disgusted with him. Here are a few headlines from liberal blogs Tuesday morning in reaction to the announcement that the president wants a freeze in non-security-related federal spending:

"It's Official: Obama Is an Idiot" (Paul Rosenberg)

"Barack Herbert Hoover Obama?" (Brad DeLong)

"Obama Liquidates Himself" (Paul Krugman)

"Obama's Self-Inflicted Lobotomy Proceeds Apace" (Jonathan Zasloff)

The political winds are gusting, and in no particular direction. Conventional wisdom has become conventional disorientation. The party in power is utterly powerless. The president's last true friend is his dog.

Fickle is the new steadfastness.

The Republican minority has been accused of having no message other than "No." As if that weren't a winning message. As if we lived in an era when the things people were in favor of were more numerous than the things they were against.

That's just not the way it is now. Today, the nays have it.

Polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 26, 2010; 11:07 PM ET
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First in reposting from the earlier Boodle:

Everyone's agin everything, apparently... *SIGH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 27, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

President Obama will be the scapegoat for the one that got away? Isn't that how it always been? What's different?

In this country "we" are expendable, oui? When there's a menatality of no, that points to frustration, disappointment, so someone has to be the object of that, right? From the little history I've read, the minority always fills in that vaccum, non?

Hey, I could be wrong, school me?

I can see me going one way, and the crutches the other. Perish the thought!

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 27, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I've often wondered if any of those polls talk to that "silent group", you know the one that shows up when people get really, really, tired of mess? The people we don't see? You think?

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 27, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

To be fair to the Republicans, they really want to go all "Hoover" on the economy. With states cutting budgets (paying fewer state employees), We are at risk for another ratcheting down of the economy. Controlling federal spending now would be like throwing the roast in the freezer. It will take a long time to thaw out.

What's worse, the Republicans are still drooling about the opportunity to derail Social Security and Medicare. Putting all this together could really test the depths of American electoral stupidity.

While I'm on this riff, we just realized the price we have paid for allowing Bush to stock the court with Right wing Activist judges (remember the hysteria about left wing activists?) AND that was the last time we discussed the Nucular option in the Senate.

Now, when we are trying to right the nation, I am hearing numbers where Republicans are filibustering (without having to do a darn thing) 70% of the legislation and actions.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

For a sec there, I thought Fickle was the dog's name.

Posted by: Buddy999 | January 27, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, you are right that the press and polls tend to ignore what people think on the edges, especially those who feel like they are left behind.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

There are lots of good lines here. My fav was "That sounds like nihilism, but they're against that, too."

Clearly, people are worried about the economy. Many have lost savings, their jobs, and their confidence. And they are terrified of losing even more.

This sort of atmosphere naturally encourages conservative thinking - by which I mean "small c" conservative. You know, the mitigation of risk by doing nothing. And sometimes this is a perfectly good approach. It's that whole Gene Kranz "Let's not make things worse by guessing" philosophy.

The problem is, at some point a legitimate desire to do no harm can segue into the paralysis of fear. It stops being a rational response to ill-defined threats and starts being hiding under your covers hugging your favorite stuffed animal while the house fills up with smoke.

And that's Obama's challenge. To get people to accept that there are threats out there, like a health care system spiraling out of control, that justify listening to the nice firefighter and getting out of bed. Even if our inclination is to just hug Mr. Bear harder and shriek no.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Joel, thanks for offering us something to masticate, but I already had breakfast... and I'm in no position to eat your words.

I looked at the comments to your column last night, and decided against posting "Negativity is the new hope," there, I'm as guilty as anyone, I suppose.

But honestly, it is (perhaps humanly) comical about how we've become a culture - and even a civilization - resisitant to change, when the nature of life and the universe *is* change.

If it is easier to continously simply complain about what we don't like, and to allow fears to let us subconsciously - or even consciously - sabatage any change we may start, then perhaps we will end up with what we deserve. Bitterness. Social disasassociation. Stagnation. Decline. Entropy.

But nature has a way of addressing more entropic states by filling it up with more energetic states. Maybe I'll learn to speak Mandarin or Hindi?


Posted by: -bc- | January 27, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps we're not all that negative, but the data is skewed because of who participates in these polls? Maybe the people who would answer the questions differently don't participate because they aren't home to take the call; they are out Getting Things Done while enjoying life, spending time with friends and family. Yes, they see how things are, but they roll with the punches, come up with a plan, and still find beauty wherever they look. Maybe those who participate in these polls do so because they are home wallowing in their own misery, and are negative about *everything*, not just the current administration/Congress/economic situation. We all know those people, the kind who take a peace offering of pudding and throw it with full force at the nearest wall.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 27, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Too true, LiT, all too true... I wonder if the pollsters ask questions to provide a broader context of the respondents?

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 27, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I am sorry that you had such an awful time at the doctor's yesterday. I encourage you to go slowly and carefully on the crutches. Watch out for throw rugs and be especially cautious on stairs. But use them, as they will take the strain off your legs.

I don't know who I'm more upset with here, the Dems, the Repubs or Obama. Dems have no spine, Repubs just have 'no' and Obama seems to be flailing about trying to please everyone and pleasing no one. I have stopped watching and reading much of the political news as it just makes me feel more angry and powerless.

Posted by: badsneakers | January 27, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I see no point and no need to be fair to the Republicans, Weed.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 27, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

"Maybe the people who would answer the questions differently don't participate because they aren't home to take the call; they are out Getting Things Done while enjoying life, spending time with friends and family."

I wish I thought that was it, LiT, but it sounds a lot more like whistling past the graveyard.

Posted by: byoolin1 | January 27, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

That's a great insight LiT. Polls often ignore what one could call the uncomplaining majority.

Also, I think bc's point relates to the earlier discussion of cynicism. It is a seductive philosophy because looking for fault in others invariably makes one feel more important.

And this leads naturally to another explanation for Joel's point that many want nothing to happen. Cynicism can make one convinced that the world is full of morons. And why would anyone want morons to try to fix anything?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, we may have to be nice to them since the Supreme Court just opened up the path to a Corporatocracy.

BTW, I can't write about the Supreme Court without posting this video:

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

RD, to be more accurate (I am the most inaccurate poster here, so...), polls ignore almost everybody. That's their job.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

That's a really nicely constructed column, Joel, thanks. It's funny how good writing can make an enjoyable experience out of reading something depressing.

Cassandra, ouch. I'm thinking of you and the crutches. At least you got a diagnosis -- let's hope it's the first step toward improvement.

My voice is somewhere between a whisper and a croak this morning. We were going to talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet in one of my classes today, but it looks like demonstrating sounds is out. I'll figure out some creative combination of the board and the computer and lots of arm waving and see how it goes. Thanks for the croissants this morning, slyness -- they really hit the spot on a day when I need that comfort food.

Off to brew more tea.

Posted by: -bia- | January 27, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I'm sorry about your severe arthritis, don't be afraid to ask for more options.
When my day comes, may there be a kid running around with a red flute.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Justice Stevens is voicing his opinion with respect to the disregard of legal precedents by the majority that wrot the ruling you referred to, RT.

It seems to me that the public has such tunnel vision and such a short attention span that big picture items like this aren't worth their collective attention. The President was saddled with so many of these big problems, that people don't appreciate the extent to which we are fortunate that things in the economic, healthcare and GWOT realm have not gotten worse. Recent inaction and infighting by our senators and congressmen and congresswomen, IMO, are only making matters worse. I shudder to think of the consequences of maintaining the status quo, like not raising taxes and freezing spending. The SC legislature is now looking at ways to make even deeper cuts to the state education budget. The rumour mill has the cuts approaching 30% of the current spending level.

Posted by: -jack- | January 27, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I read Joel's article in the paper this morning and couldn't find the phrase "nattering nabobs" anywhere. A serious omission in my mind.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 27, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Joel, in your article I found it just quirky that J-O-B-S weren't mentioned at all as the rampaging elephant in the room.

Many people can't find jobs precisely because government funding has been cut for things like education, etc.

It's time to start playing hardball. Republicans aren't in favor of smaller government, they're laying off people and preventing the growth of jobs.

The Democrats aren't seeing things right, they're throwing money at the private sector instead of focusing on what's under their noses-- like they could TAKE money and use it to make jobs...

No wonder Americans are disgusted.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

bia, you hit the nail on the head with good writing. A good logical and interesting column gives the mind a quick chance to open up and find some new views. Most writing these days starts with the conclusion framed with some sort of declaration that the writer's point is the only sane one to hold.


Can't stop watching. Very simple heart felt sentiments in a classic song from the past. World class musicians come together and knock the snot out of the song. If you love good acoustic, try it with headphones or ear buds.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Everything is opposed by somebody.
Nothing is opposed by nobody.
Everybody opposes something.
Nobody opposes nothing.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 27, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

GOOGLE this: "obstreperous Dyspepsia"

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

ACHOO... all better now...

I think my blasted troll virus is gone, but dude... use a virus scrubber around here, your blog's contagious.

H1N1 ain't the only thing making us gloomy and paranoid (or dead) in this country, and it's your patriotic duty not to infect people willy-nilly.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

FPA: the Boss' article is listed as #2 in the most read category, but it's not linked over here, yet. I left some chips, dip, and drinks in the bunker, just for gp's. and put a new roll of paper on the tp dispenser. the other one was coming off backwards. again. defective rolls.

Posted by: -jack- | January 27, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, Republicans are afraid that we, the poor, might "breed."

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

Bone-chilling cold in TWC today. Sunny though.

Cassandra, I was going to say take your time in learning how to use crutches and to watch for throw rugs, wet leaves on the pavement, icy patches and the like. But a wise poster from an earlier time zone beat me to it. Good advice by you, sneaks.

In a way, I am heartened that the docs are giving you crutches. It's a low-cost, non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive option that, once you get the hang of them, might really help. I hold that possibility in my heart for you.

As for Mr. A's column, I am greatly amused by the book titles. All the authors seem to be tripping over themselves in their eagerness to tell us WHAT to think. What would be nice is a book telling us WHY we think as we do and how to address that.

Turns out it has little to do with who's running the country. That's just a smokescreen all the pundits want you to focus on so they can sell more books.

Posted by: MsJS | January 27, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I read the column and then the posts in the non blog section of the Post and must say I am sadly disappointed. People are so tribal about their political affiliation. Pointing fingers at people depending on which type of ballot they get in the primaries is just absurd.

The problem is us, all of us. We want the government to wrap us in warm swaddling against the vicissitudes of life and we want them to do it on the cheap, or, if there is a price to pay, we want somebody else to do it. We all need to grow up.

No person in the White House can manipulate the economy like pulling the strings on a marionette. He has no magic wand to disarm our real enemies in the world. He can't make life a bed of roses for all our citizens.

I have problems with many of the policies of the current President is pursuing but I hope I never fall into the pit of name calling and blame that rabid partisans find as their only trick. I also hope that I always see value in what those who have different political views want for our country.

Posted by: edbyronadams | January 27, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

bc, Mandarin and Hindi both, probably.

FYI, I have to have a serious sit-down with the SEO person about my bad habit of posting additional material to existing kits. This is an SEO no-no, a disaster, a breach of the rules designed to maximize our Search results, because it's just not how the Google spiders work. I have explained that I see no reason to create new URLS (kits) and interrupt the flow of the boodle just because I had a spare notion. But the upshot is that in the future I'll probably be posting a couple of more times a day in some instances. While reserving my right to silence on other occasions. So, just fyi, there's that.

I'm going to post a new kit later this morning fyi.

Posted by: joelache | January 27, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. Holy carp! I thought the "Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, bla bla bla..." title was a joke. It's not, unfortunately.

There are some downsides to 10% growth and rapid expansion of the cities. In China for example not only do you have to check for falling bisons but also for falling condominiums.

And Cohen in the NYT yesterday was exposing the sh1tty way the small property owners of China were treated when they were in the way of "progress".

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 27, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

i don't think obama is doing a bad job, but he's got an idealistic streak that is highly unrealistic. i never believed the kumbaya rhetoric of his campaign, so i'm not surprised by any of this. i hope he can get some decent legislation passed and not break the bank in the process.

and my what a short memory the public has. and my how easily the republican disinformation and character assassination campaigns work. and my what a bunch of spineless, bickering wimps the democrats are, whining because they're one vote shy of a super-majority. good grief, get over it and get something done. they should be using the majority they have to pass as much legislation as possible before the next elections (when they will inevitably lose ground in their majority).

Posted by: LALurker | January 27, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but the idea that spiders are crawling all over the kit kind of creeps me out.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, Boodle. Great story, Joel, beautifully written. You're now on the front page.

Cassandra, I hope your pain is relieved with the medication and crutches. You'd think after all these years the treatment protocols would be standard.

In happy news, my meds have been substantially reduced following nearly three years of lifestyle changes. Yay me! But, it is a grinding daily rededication to the effort that does it, not big resolutions at the start.

Big day today, off to see #2 perform on stage, and another evening out. Two in a row is enough for these old bones.

Have a wonderful day, all.

Posted by: Yoki | January 27, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Mr. A,

Thank you for the heads up.

I'm giggling because in his book "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley thought we'd worship Ford. Turns out we're worshipping Google instead. Omnipotent search engines 1, assembly-line manufacturing 0.

Posted by: MsJS | January 27, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

It's all right, RD, they're just lots of Charlottes weaving webs that say things like "Some kit!"

It's great of you to think about us, Joel, but don't worry -- the boodle can flow right on over to whatever new kits you happen to post. It's no trouble to move from being off-kit in the first one to staying off-kit in the next. Feel free to serve the spiders.

Posted by: -bia- | January 27, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

But come on, if you really want to maximize your search options, you need to include some more provocative terms. I'm thinking more headlines like "Leading Democratic Women Wrestle with the Naked Truth of Three-Way Legislative Mud Slinging"

Just a thought.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

*From last night, faxing bc a one-way ticket to Mianus, and a point due north.*

I don't know why LiT sits on your couch and twiddles with your keyboard, bc, but I can only think that your recent posts are just another form of harassment, a crying to Daddy (hubby? somebody?) perhaps.

It's not as though you didn't take your daughter or daughters to the emergency room, bc, and post about it--or other people have posted here about their troubles, woes, home repair problems, health issues, computer glitches, modem connectivity, hang nails. Why should I all of a sudden be singled out all of a sudden? Hmmm?

My husband will be in the salt mines tonight, again, after a day's work. He informs me he'll have to work probably all night Sunday. He's taking this Friday off, but says the underground broken water pipe going into the house (broken, we think in the long stretch of freezing nights this month) needs to be fixed. Instead of the ground being just soggy, it's now marshy. It'll probably take all of Friday to replace and repair that pipe. And working 18 hours of last weekend certainly did make work on the pipe possible, at least not to my way of thinking. I guess I'll scatter the wet laundry on plants around the yard in the hope that they dry within 48 hours.

There were cuts recently in my husband's work group, as I've mentioned. Arturo (not his real name), a man the group really respected with a sharp set of skills, recently got cut from his position in the North Carolina unit. Arturo, were he still on the payroll, certainly could be assisting with the workload, I'm told, thereby making everyone's load lighter, more realistic. Arturo, a symbolic sign of the times.

Yes, Wilbrod, I agree the gigantic (not pygmy, as exists in the paleo record...see Komodo dragon diet) elephant in the room not mentioned in Joel's piece is JOBS, along with about 1/4 to 1/3 of homes' values not worth the mortgages being paid on them, home sales down, still unacceptably high foreclosure rates, the mortgage relief program helping only a smal fraction of those it was intended to help, Obama scoring cheap political points with faux populism (see Tom Friedman today at the NYT), commissions set up to study issues without doing much about them, hunger in America, very high levels of frustration and anxiety.

That's not nihilism, that's reality.

For the best article I've seen about the state of affairs today, read Frank Rich's column this past Sunday. Rich nails it.

And Cassandra, when did you start speaking French, do tell? Your 8:12 is just too, too clever! Comment allez-vous?

Posted by: laloomis | January 27, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

SEO is a cruel, cruel mistress. If only people knew how much of the looks, content, and architecture of the internet is shaped by SEO!

Posted by: schala1 | January 27, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

joel, add-ons or multi-kit days, it's all good. we just ramble along.

Posted by: LALurker | January 27, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

And certainly Elizabeth Kucinich must be doing *something* newsworthy.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

??? You ever notice that if one little detail is wrong, regardless of the import of that detail, it makes the rest of the argument look suspicious? Looks like someone put two and two together, came up with 22. And it's all downhill from there.

There's numbers to crunch, responses to be written, long-term plans to be tinkered with. None of which detracts from the beautiful day I'm enjoying. Have a happy day all.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 27, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

That "Fleeced" book by Dick Morris and his wife claims that it was written to look out for the interests of ordinary taxpayers, a group to which they themselves do not appear to belong. The IRS filed a $1.5 million tax lien against Morris in 2003. The state of Connecticut reports that he owes $452,367 in back taxes and penalties.

Posted by: kguy1 | January 27, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

You know, the Washington Post offered a fascinating graphic on its home page yesterday that should have invited readers in to explore the nation's unemployment numbers by county. I shared some of the numbers with my husband a little bit later, after zipping my cursor around the map.

There was a county in the center of Michigan with an unemployment rate of 18 percent, the state colored in a wide swatch of darkest blue, indicating the state with the highest unemployment in the country. Our own Bexar County (San Antonio) in Texas--a rate of about 7.9 percent, IIRC.

I've far better recall about the counties in California that I used to call home. Kern County, 15 percent. San Joaquin County, which hold our old hometown of Tracy, about 17 percent. Stanislaus County, which holds Modesto, where I used to work and where there are friends, also 17 percent. There's high unemployment in the agricultural parts of the entire San Joaquin Valley, and the northern tier of counties in California, those that rely on timber and tourism.

The dark blue states on the map really popped out--Michigan, California, South CArolina, Nevada, Arizona, parts of Oregon, and if I could get to the map again, I'd call out some others.

I hardly think fingers can be pointed at pollsters or those who answer the phones and respond to the surveys, as the source of the feelings of hopless and despair. Only a rope-a-dope would think it's the culture of nope. Again, let me point out, the facts on the ground are reality.

Posted by: laloomis | January 27, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I think bc raises an excellent general point as to how much personal information is appropriate and how much is not. We have all shared information and anecdotes about our personal lives. I guess the difference between what is appropriate and what is not is one of those subtle things having to do with protecting information traditionally considered privileged. There really is such a thing as Too Much Information, and it is a Faux Pas. Like having spinach in your teeth. And sometimes it is actually beneficial to have such things pointed out.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I think it is extremely classy that Joel pointed out that this article is just one interpretation of reality. You know, a starting point for a conversation. This indicates a certain humility sometimes lacking in commentary.

Because, as I have pointed out ad nauseam, people are motivated by narratives. This notion of the "politics of no" is certainly not the only narrative out there, but it certainly is a provocative one.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Let me restate my last graf--the feelings of hopelessness and despair are not the results of surveys and pollsters. The results of the surveys reflect the horrible situation in many states and communities; the results reflect how people are faring everyday.

Perhaps a given household is doing O.K., but people in the household have friends, relatives, neighbors, former co-workers who have been impacted, some more dramatically or drastically than others, by the Great Recession.

When George Stephanopoulos recently interviewed Obama, Obama shared that he had made mistakes, without going into any detail. Wouldn't it be interesting to have had a follow-up question from George, George asking Obama to name one or two of his mistakes? (I grant that Obama's admnission was far more honest that GWB's to the same question when GWB was president.)

The State of the Union tonight and the Republican response ought to be must-see-TV.

On to my day...

Posted by: laloomis | January 27, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Too much information, too many recipes, too much poetry or haiku, too many identities and faux identities, too much blame on "bias" rather than confronting the facts, too much trivia, too much sexism, too much ageism, too much profanity, too many trips to the faux bunker, too much snorting... *l*

Hey, I'll say it one more time. I'm a big, big fan of moderated discussions.

Posted by: laloomis | January 27, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I have a theory that the "politics of no" is related to the growth of independent voters.

Independents have historically been people who reject the traditional solutions associated with political parties in favor of a more flexible approach. But such people (and I consider myself one) still adhere to the underlying premise that political solutions are possible, they just might be hybridized monsters repugnant to either side.

Alas, I worry that many of the newer independents are simply rejecting the whole notion of a political solution. They really are becoming nihilists. And yet, oddly, many still seem to vote. However, the criterion used doesn't seem to be political solutions (what are quaintly called issues) as much as an implied endorsement of a particular lifestyle.

In other words, they don't care as much about what a candidate will do, since none of that really matters, but more about who a candidate is.

Now, none of this is new, of course. I just suspect that the current environment is making it far worse.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Implied in an endorsement of moderated discussion is the assumption that the moderator will support the same critera as the advocate.

That isn't a given.

This assumption is like that classic Twilight Zone episode in which a man advocates a technology that makes all evil people tiny only to find that the one who ends op tiny is himself.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

"Just say no to negativity" is my motto. But irony is dead.

Anger is a motivator, but it has its drawbacks, to say the least. I think a lot of people like the kick anger gives them. It's probably related to its temporary success in allaying the stress of perceived lack of received esteem. When angry we don't feel beaten down. We feel stronger. But retribution is often not so satisfying as seeing contrition. Which often doesn't happen.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 27, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

loomis, believe it or not, I was simply thinking of you, your family, and your husband and saying that I don't understand how posting personal information in the Boodle helps any of these situations.

Seriously, is this helping you? I do not understand how all this helps your spirit, your business ventures, your mood, your daily life experience, and your relationships. Does this help you care and trust in those close to you, and they in you?

I also think there is a difference between complaining and sharing.

There *are* moderated discussions all over the Web -- feel free to find one. Or several.


Posted by: -bc- | January 27, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

No is easiest. Saying yes to change is saying yes to the unknown and that invokes fear. Fear is the prime motivator, IMHO, of the body politic whether it is fear of terrorists or fear of getting sick and losing your possessions. Perhaps recalling the early lines from Dune might help.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Posted by: edbyronadams | January 27, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

laloomis, if you don't like how things are done here, why don't you go elsewhere?

there's a big wide internet world out there.

Posted by: LALurker | January 27, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I would add that my short educations in statistics and communications lead me to believe that poll results can be skewed in a variety of ways.


Posted by: -bc- | January 27, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Don't let the door hit you on the butt as you depart the Ablog.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 27, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Coq au vin from Ina Garten:

2 tablespoons good olive oil

* 4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced
* 1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
* 1 yellow onion, sliced
* 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
* 1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
* 1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
* 1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
* 10 fresh thyme sprigs
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
* 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
* 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.

Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.

Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Weed, yer killin' me. That sounds so good.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 27, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

*laying out the haul from the building's bake sale on the bunker table next to Weed's chicken*

The white-chocolate-covered pretzel rods are particularly scrummy, full stop. :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 27, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I think the Politics of No might also be derived from something as simple as a sense of being powerless. Anyone who has done time with small children knows that their favorite word is "no." Often with a petulant stomp of the foot. They say "no" because it is the only way to exert any power at all. In other words, we might be looking a political temper tantrum.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Mmm. Ina Garten. The things that woman can do with fresh spices make my toes curl.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I could go for some Haiku right about now.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

How about a hearty round of "Little Rabbit FouFou" instead?

Posted by: rickoshea1 | January 27, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I say "yes" to Weed's coq-au-vin. Merci!

Our luncheon meal (cheeseburgers) pales in comparison.

Posted by: MsJS | January 27, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

RD, I agree that a feeling of powerlessness is a factor. It seems like more a Big Plan is promoted the more people feel empowered by voting it down. I'm thinking of the failed referendums in Europe. Also the attempts to tinker with the Constitution up here (though perhaps the politics of no have also worked to keep the country intact).

Posted by: engelmann | January 27, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Am I unusual in thinking that a Reuben sandwich is properly served grilled? Three times recently I was served them ungrilled, so I've gotten in the habit of preemptively ordering them grilled, but I always thought that "grilled" was the default mode. Is that not correct?

Posted by: bobsewell | January 27, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Lunchtime! No coq au vin, though. Just leftover brandied shrimp with fettuccine.

Faux identities are useful. Besides deterring stalkers and whackjobs, if everyone knew which boodler is really Selina Kyle, the woman would never get a moment's peace.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 27, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Hey you guys. Weed, that recipe *definitely* makes me want to come over to your house to eat! Definitivement!

Cassandra, as a fellow arthritis sufferer, I send you ample amounts of sympathy, along with all my good wishes. It's so hard when the body starts betraying its owner, isn't it? I dutifully did my exercises and stretching this morning, and will try to do more later. Arthritis needs movement, even if it hurts. *faxing chicken soup, since it can't hurt, and it's wonderful comfort food*

Ivansmom -- I've got about 1/4 of the second book left to go. I don't think I like it as well as the first one. There's too much talking, and frankly, since I already have the third book and read the back blurb of that book already, I know more than I should at this point, thereby flattening whatever "suspense" there might be lurking out there. Apparently, according to the Swedish newspapers (and Swedish television), the TV film of the first book took a lot of prizes this week in the Swedish version of the Oscars, and the woman who played Lisbeth Salander won, as did the film itself. The guy who played Mikael Blomqvist wasn't even nominated and was grumpy about it in the press. Nevertheless, I'd like to get my hands (eventually) on the TV series.

frosti -- I am absolutely *loving* the DVD series of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency. I just keep wanting more and more and more. Fabulous!

Yep, time for some lunch before the afternoon hits me the way I think it will.

BTW, I think we've found that certain degrees of irony does not comport well with profound literal interpretations.


Posted by: -ftb- | January 27, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

bobsewell, I would go so far as to say that it is only a Reuben if it is grilled. Ungrilled is some other beast.

To Lose Thee
by Emily Dickinson

To lose thee, sweeter than to gain
All other hearts I knew.
'Tis true the drought is destitute
But, then, I had the dew!
The Caspian has its realms of sand,
Its other realm of sea.
Without this sterile perquisite
No Caspian could be.

Posted by: Yoki | January 27, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

i am FOR the following:

reasonable health care programs for all citizens.

reductions in toxic emisssions of all kinds.

supports for education for all citizens.

a sensible energy policy that will reduce our need for oil tyrants/bandits.

term limits (4) for persons in congress.

decent wages for people who work.

crushing our enemies where ever they may hide.

moderate tax increases for everyone to help pay down the deficit, etc.

i am AGAINST the following:

racism masked as 'tea party' conservatism.

government by the rich for the rich.

six-figure bonuses for wall st. thieves.

talk-radio and cable tv news.

the idea that a corporation, e.g. Exxon, and myself are the same in the eyes of five our our supreme jurists.

obviously i am a simpleton. so it goes.

Posted by: butlerguy | January 27, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Yoki... That was so good.

Posted by: russianthistle | January 27, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: curmudgeon6 | January 27, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

new kit!

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I'll agree with you, butlerguy, on all your points except term limits. I think that reform of the redistricting process would do away with much of the "eternal incumbent" problem. Not all, but much of it.

Virginia has a term limited governor (single term) and it's a terrible system. The office is inherently weakened both in terms of the ability to implement long range programs and in accepting responsibility for past actions. Gov. Allen did away with parole. Gov. Gilmore campaigned to end the property tax on vehicles. Neither was in office when the state dealt with the results of those initiatives- packed prisons and budget deficit.

Posted by: kguy1 | January 27, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

loomis, I thought that unemployment graphic was interesting as well. It certainly answered the question of why my year-plus-long job search in lovely Washington County, MD did not go well. Great scenery, no jobs. Went back and begged for my old one in Harford County a few months ago. So now I'm employed, but not co-existing with my husband during the week.

As for the kit, I'm constantly amazed that in our government things like teamwork or reaching a partial solution for the common good seem to be like water to Elphaba. Once anyone suggests compromise or paring down agendas into common nuggets everyone can agree on everything melts down into name calling and grandstanding until the bribes come out.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | January 27, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I'll be a little contrarian and say that the reason that so many people are against everything is that everything has been tried before and failed... and people know it. The GOP wants to cut taxes... again. The Dems want to increase spending... again. These two actions repeated over and over have been the cause of the problem. We are in hock. Somehow, the best of the two parties have thought it over.. and decided to do what they always have done... which will put us deeper into hock. Ludicrous.

I have no sympathy for the most crazy of crazies that are out there. The problem is that when you take the crazies away, all you have is the same old thing.... and that is really crazy.

When the people who have caused the mess keep dithering and blaming, the only people left to do anything seem to be the crazies. Their solutions are moronic and terrible, but people will listen to them... because people have seen that what everyone else is saying is also moronic.

Nobody ever proposes what really needs to be done, for it would be political suicide, and there lies the blame. We punish anyone that tries to do the right thing.

What needs to be done is a recalibration of our countries expenditures to put us into surpluses. Now. We need to cut spending, particularly social spending AND raise taxes. We are California all over again unless we do this. Everyone knows it, but nobody has the stones to admit it.

Posted by: steveboyington | January 27, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

There needed to be a better reason to "return to the moon" than was ever offered in order for this to be worth the money. Until it is a part of something worth doing, for example building a base there for purposes of manufacturing space craft for further space using materials found on the moon, the return to the moon was what Texans other than the simpleton whose idear this return was would call "all hat and no cattle."

Posted by: dolph924 | February 3, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I would pay alot of money to have sent George Bush and alot of his right wing republicans to spend alot of time on the moon.

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | February 3, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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