Understanding Election Cycles

Combined--Control_of_the_U.S._House_of_Representatives_-_Control_of_the_U.S._SenateI would like us to think about the most recent election in terms of election history over the last 50 years or so.

From about the Korean War to the Reagan years we had a Democratically controlled Congress with the presidency alternating between Democrats and Republicans. We should note that this period was a period of massive economic growth, which on the downside also gave us the Vietnam War (and with it the start of the current national debt) and Watergate.

Then from about 1983 to 1989 the GOP controlled the Senate and the White House while the Democratic Party controlled the House.

From 1989-93 the Democratic Party again controlled Congress while the GOP controlled the White House.

For two years, 95-97, the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, but then after that, control of Congress switched to the GOP while the Democrats controlled the White House (this is under Bill Clinton).

And then for four years — George W. Bush — we had GOP control of both houses of Congress and the White House (2005-2009).

The Democratic Party took control of both houses of Congress for the next four years, and for two years the Democratic Party controlled Congress and the White House (first two years of Obama’s presidency).

So it is, I think by now, very predictably swinging the other way again. The GOP is regaining control of Congress. If the pattern holds the GOP will hold both houses of Congress and the White House for the first two years of the next President’s tenure, and then will lose it to the Democrats after that. I’m unsure who the Republicans are going to run, or if they even have a viable candidate, so the White House may be a toss-up in 2016 regardless of election history.

So I’d like us to think about the most recent election in terms of recent history. It’s not a major upset. It’s just part of a predictable pattern. And it’s hardly a “mandate” either, since we had the lowest voter turnout in 72 years for this most recent election. I’m unsure what the Democratic Party was doing: I was very aware of their fundraising efforts but (at least here in Ohio) didn’t see or hear a lot of campaigning. Perhaps they expected to lose and are just gearing up for the Presidential year election. I don’t know. I think we had a slightly mobilized GOP voter base and a demoralized and unmotivated Democratic Party voter base.

The most recent election is bad news in a lot of ways, though. The current GOP is unrecognizable to GOP leadership in the 1990s. In the 1990s, the GOP attempted to govern responsibly and minimally, but it did attempt to govern. It even tried to transfer to an opposition president the line-item veto, which would cut pork barrel spending, and to institute term limits while it was in power, so the GOP was willing to limit its own terms in office.

For the last six years, the GOP seems to have become anti-government on principle, except for inflating our already bloated defense budget — but not on actual defense, or supporting our troops, but on defense contractor profits. In the education sector, what you can expect from the GOP are major cuts to education and, even worse, deregulation, which will not promote “innovation” in higher ed, or make schools better, but will just allow the proliferation of predatory practices.

Regardless of the pattern, the next two years are important, and the next Presidential election is meaningful. The lesson that we should learn either way is this: if you don’t like how things are going, get out and vote.

In the meantime, let the buyer beware in higher ed.

Yes there are good economists: Ha-Joon Chang author of “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism”

You might want to read this one…

Punkonomics (@DearBalak)

Check out Ha-Joon Chang’s RSA talk about his “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.”  It’s an excellent book that manages to be entertaining while preserving analytical depth and should be read by anybody interested in economics:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whVf5tuVbus

Ha-Joon Chang: Economics Is A Political Argument

Posted: 04/09/2014 3:51 pm EDT Updated: 04/10/2014 2:59 pm EDT


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Ha-Joon Chang teaches economics at Cambridge University. He is the author of “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.” His new book,“Economics: The User’s Guide,” will be released on May 1, 2014 in the U.K. He spoke recently with The WorldPost South Korea editor and former Oxford Union President Seung-Yoon Lee.

Seung-Yoon Lee: You have said that “economics is a political argument,” that you cannot really separate economics from politics. Even the concept of “free market” is determined by politics. “What is free” is determined by society and…

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The Lion King: Hamlet and the Myth of Happy Vengeance

lionkingThe Lion King: Hamlet and the Myth of Happy Vengeance” is my September 2003 Metaphilm article exploring both the Disney classic as a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the implications of a vengeance plot with a happy, Disney ending.

Babel in Biblia: The Tower in Ancient Literature


The Tower in Ancient Literature” is my 1998 essay for towerofbabel.com surveying the Tower of Babel in ancient semitic literatures and meditating on its commentary on wealth, power, and politics. This essay was translated by volunteers into the following languages:

The Dark Knight Rises

Dark_knight_rises_posterJust assume a few spoilers are forthcoming in this article.

The latest and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy — The Dark Knight Rises — has the potential to be the most discussed action film since The Matrix because it engages with social currents deeply felt by most people in the world, even those with only secondary connections to western capitalism. It completes the storyline begun in the first of Nolan’s installments, Batman Begins, in which audiences discover that a secret, world-wide vigilante force, the League of Shadows, has decided that Bruce Wayne’s beloved Gotham City has become irreparably corrupt and must be destroyed in order to restore balance to the world. Batman, of course, thwarts their plot and destroys the League of Shadows at the end of the first film.

In the third film the League of Shadows returns, intent once again upon destroying Gotham City. Batman must return from an eight-year retirement to fight them as they carry out a plan to take over the city and threaten to destroy it with a nuclear bomb. But the interesting twist here is seemingly political: the League of Shadows employs the rhetoric of freedom, encouraging Gothamites to “take back their city” as they wrest it from the hands of the big money interests that control it. While I haven’t been following most of the buzz about the film, I have noticed several comparisons to the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps suggesting that what the film represents is a caricature or extension of OWS taken to its furthest extreme.

What’s particularly interesting is that the capture and then fight to retake the city is punctuated by trial scenes in which wealthy city occupants are not tried, just sentenced to either death or exile (a verdict of guilty is assumed: “This is just a sentencing hearing”). Exile, in this case, means being expelled from Gotham City by walking across a river covered in thin ice, meaning almost certain death. While I’m unsure if the parallel that I’m about to suggest has been suggested already (as I said, I’m not reading most of the buzz about this film), these trial scenes most reminded me of the French Revolution. Bane, ostensible leader of the newly resurrected League of Shadows, is then Robespierre leading the Terror, and “exile” in this case is equivalent to the guillotine, while Gotham City represents revolutionary France, particularly Paris, at the height of the Terror. The director revealing that the film was inspired in part by Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities undoubtedly reveals his primary source for his imaginative reconstruction of the French Revolution as well.

Now the central question of the film seems to me to be focused upon the role or meaning of the film’s political discourse. I would like to suggest that the terrorists’ politics are irrelevant to the film’s meaning. First, we need to remember that the destruction of Gotham City was the goal from the very beginning. Bane’s rhetoric about “freeing” Gotham and returning it to its people was a known lie when he spoke it. It was designed to give Gothamites hope, but hope is not here understood as a positive quality, only as a precondition to complete despair. One must hope, Bane argues, in order to truly feel despair, so Bane encourages hope in order to ensure the psychological as well as physical destruction of both Batman and his city.

So a political message was never the point: only the destruction of Gotham City. The rhetoric justifying this destruction can come from a variety of political viewpoints: the initiation of a communist state; the purging of Jews from a pure-blooded Aryan race; the freeing of oppressed people from religion and monarchy; the wrenching of democracy from the interests of the wealthy; liberty, equality, and fraternity — these are all equally important, equally interchangeable, and equally useful and meaningful only as pretexts to mass killing. But, from the beginning, mass killing itself was the only point and nothing else.

I think we need to get this point to really understand these films, perhaps then understanding why the character of the Joker — who personifies chaotic and random destructive force following nihilistic impulsiveness — was necessarily central to the trilogy. The Joker, as far as plot development is concerned, was irrelevant to the plot line that was established in the first film and then completed in the third film. His presence does not follow directly from the events of the first film and is unnecessary to any of the action that takes place in the third film. Keep in mind that the material in the second film essential to the third film — Dent’s corruption, death, and then the lie told about it — could have been set up on any variety of pretexts. These events could have been developed in less time at the end of the first film, excluding any need for the second film altogether. But thematically, the Joker exists at the center of the trilogy. He embodies the reason why we must not attempt to politicize the evil criminality that runs through Nolan’s Batman trilogy from beginning to end. The Joker reveals its true nature by revealing that the pretexts for destruction are equally interchangeable and equally pointless regardless of their supporting political rhetoric. Only the destruction itself matters. To fully understand this mindset, I think Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right (published in 1821 from lectures started in 1817) may be instructive:

If it [the will abstracted from intellect, or what Hegel calls “the freedom of the void”] turns to actuality, it becomes in the realm of both politics and religion the fanaticism of destruction, eliminating all individuals regarded as suspect by a given order, and annihilating any organization which attempts to rise up anew. Only in destroying something does this negative will have a feeling of its own existence [Dasein]. It may well believe that it wills some positive condition, for instance the condition of universal equality of or universal religious life, but it does not in fact will the positive actuality of this condition, for this at once gives rise to some kind of order, a particularization both of institutions and of individuals; but it is precisely through the annihilation of particularity and of objective determination that the self-consciousness of this negative freedom arises. Thus, whatever such freedom believes that it wills can in itself be no more than an abstract representation, and its actualization can only be the fury of destruction.

In other words, some people really do just want to watch the world burn, and that’s it.

But the question left open, then, is the question of violence. The Dark Knight Rises observes that sometimes “our structures become our shackles,” and when these structures are seemingly omnipresent violent revolution seems to be the only way out. Furthermore, American audiences have before them the continual reminder of the example of our Founding Fathers: God may have granted us our rights, but the American revolutionaries had to claim them by force using the barrel of a gun. Because we had to use violence and death to obtain our freedoms, a return to violence and death to ensure them is always a possibility. I do not propose a solution to this dilemma. I would like to observe, however, that the appeal of the Batman films is a strong signal that we are feeling our structures as shackles and are, as a nation, seriously considering the possibility of violence. We don’t do this openly. We do it through our films. But, we are still doing it. I hope we consider what that means, and how serious we really believe our current political and economic situation to be.

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