Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

Bobo is whistling past the graveyard again.  In “The Republican Glastnost” he gurgles that speeches this week by Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan were the faint beginnings of a Republican revival.  No, Bobo, they weren’t.  They were fine examples of pandering, but not revival.  And let’s not forget that Mr. Rubio thinks the world was created 6000 years ago.  Mr. Cohen says “Thanks for Not Sharing,” and that there is a new urge to behave as if life were some global high-school reunion at which everyone has taken a horrific tell-all drug.  Prof. Krugman looks at “The Forgotten Millions” and says the “fiscal cliff” has everyone talking about a fiscal crisis. But what we should be talking about is a very real job crisis.  Here’s Bobo:

Senator Marco Rubio won the Jack Kemp Foundation’s Leadership Award earlier this week. In his speech accepting the award, he sketched out his Republican vision. Some of the policies he mentioned were pretty conventional for someone of his party: limiting regulations, approving the Keystone XL Pipeline. Some were less conventional, at least as the Republican Party has recently defined itself: creating more community health centers, investing in more teacher training, embracing Pell grants.

But the speech really began to sing toward the end. Rubio made an oblique rebuttal to some of the Republican gaffes during the campaign: “Some say that our problem is that the American people have changed. That too many people want things from government. But I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people just want what my parents had: a chance.”

Then he recalled an episode: “I was giving a speech at a fancy hotel in New York City. When I arrived at the banquet hall, I was approached by a group of three uniformed employees from the hotel’s catering department. They had seen my speech at the Republican convention, where I told the story of my father the banquet bartender. And they had a gift for me. They presented me with this name tag, which says, “Rubio, Banquet Bartender.”

As he was telling this story, Rubio motioned to some of the service staff at the Kemp dinner. They stopped to listen to him. “It all starts with our people,” Rubio continued. “In the kitchens of our hotels. In the landscaping crews that work in our neighborhoods. In the late-night janitorial shifts that clean our offices. There you will find the dreams America was built on. There you will find the promise of tomorrow. Their journey is our nation’s destiny. And if they can give their children what our parents gave us, the 21st-century America will be the single greatest nation that man has ever known.”

People at the dinner say that there was a hushed silence for a second as Rubio concluded with this refrain. Then a roaring ovation swelled and filled the room.

The Republican Party has a long way to go before it revives itself as a majority party. But that speech signifies a moment in that revival. And I would say the last month has marked a moment.

Over the past month, the Republican Party has changed far more than I expected. First, the people at the ideological extremes of the party have begun to self-ghettoize. The Tea Party movement attracted many people who are drawn to black and white certainties and lock-step unity. People like that have a tendency to migrate from mainstream politics, which is inevitably messy and impure, to ever more marginal oases of purity.

Jim DeMint, for example, is leaving the Senate to go lead the Heritage Foundation. He is leaving the center of the action, where immigration, tax and other reforms will be crafted, for a political advocacy organization known more for ideological purity and fund-raising prowess than for creativity, curiosity or intellectual innovation.

Second, politics is being reborn. For a time, Republican candidates like Richard Mourdock of Indiana proudly declared that they didn’t believe in compromise. Political activists spent more time purging deviationists than in trying to attract new converts.

But that mania has passed. There are increasing signs that House Republicans are willing to unite behind Speaker John Boehner so he can cut a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.” There has been an epidemic of open-mindedness as Republicans try to win minority votes and create a version of their party that can be competitive in states like Connecticut and California.

Finally, there has even been some shifting of economic values, or at least in how the party presents those values. The other speaker at the Kemp dinner was Representative Paul Ryan, who spoke about how to alleviate poverty. He didn’t abandon any of his fundamental beliefs, but he framed those beliefs in a more welcoming way and opened up room for growth and new thinking.

The obligations to combat poverty, Ryan said, are beyond dispute. “The real debate is how best we can meet them. It’s whether they are better met by private groups or by government — by voluntary action or by government action. The truth is, there has to be a balance. Government must act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do.”

Like Rubio, Ryan projected a more balanced and attractive vision. He spoke with passion about those who long to rise.

The Republicans may still blow it. If President Obama is flexible and they don’t meet him partway, Republicans would contribute to a recession that would discredit them for a decade. But they are moving in the right direction and moving fast. These are first steps, and encouraging ones.

You keep on whistling, Bobo…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Let us ponder oversharing and status anxiety, the two great scourges of the modern world.

The third, by the way, is the safety obsession of today’s “wuss generation.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about — other people’s need for Icelandic lumpfish caviar, their numb faces at the dentist, their waffles and sausage, their appointments with their therapists, their personal hygiene, their pimples and pets, their late babysitters, their grumpy starts to the day, their rude exchanges, their leaking roofs, their faith in homeopathy, their stressing out, and all the rest.

Please, O wired humanity, spare me, and not only the details.

It is tempting to call this unctuous ooze of status updates and vacation snaps seeping across Facebook and Twitter and the rest information overload. But that would be to debase the word “information.”

Now I was determined to get through 2012 without doing a peevish column, not wishing to appear cantankerous or curmudgeonly, determined to be sunny and youthful as the times demand, but everyone has a tipping point. Mine occurred when I came across this tweet from Claire:

“Have such a volcanically deep zit laying roots in my chin that it feels like someone hit me with a right cross.”

Good to know, Claire.

I was just recovering from that when I found Deanna tweeting that she had “picked up pet food” and was heading to “the dreaded consult on colon stuff. The joys of turning 50.” As for Kate she let the world know the status of her labor: “Contractions 3 minutes apart and dilated at 2 cm.”

Social media does not mean that you have to be that social.

And then there was a Facebook post from Scott telling Addie how she is “my lover, my heart” and — my own heart sank — his “best friend.” It is very fashionable these days to call the love of one’s life one’s best friend. I cannot imagine why. Surely one has best friends in part in order to be able to talk to them about the problems with one’s loves.

What is this compulsion to share? Sometimes, of course, it is just a mistake, the wrong button hit, or mishandling of privacy settings on Facebook. But there is a new urge to behave as if life were some global high-school reunion at which everyone has taken some horrific tell-all drug.

My theory is this. Humanity has always been hardwired to fear. That is how we survived. But the fear used to be of wild beasts prowling, the encroaching Visigoths, plague, world war. Now, in the pampered present, all that anxiety has to find a new focus. So, having searched long and hard, and helped by technology, we have come up with being anxious that our status might be falling or — the horror, the horror! — disintegrating.

Number of Twitter followers shrinking or not growing as fast as your friends’? Status anxiety attack begins. No e-mails or texts received in the past 78 minutes? Status anxiety attack accelerates. Got unfriended or discover by chance on LinkedIn that your 29-year-old college roommate is now running an agribusiness fund out of St. Louis that has assets of $47 billion and owns half of Madagascar? Status meltdown kicks in.

The only antidote, the only means to push that status up again, it seems, is to keep sharing more and more. Here I am — the posts and tweets and pix say — a being not anonymous but alive. I overshare therefore I am.

As you have seen, dear reader, oversharing and status anxiety are twinned phenomena turning humanity into crazed dogs chasing their tails.

I thought reading snail mail might provide some relief only to open a letter today from my dentist reminding me that I am due for a visit to the hygienist (I know, I am oversharing here.) The letter went on: “Surveys have shown that the first thing people notice when they meet is a smile. If you would like some advice on how we can help you improve your smile then please ask at your next visit and we’d be happy to advise you on the best solution.”

Being in a dark mood, I imagined some advice like: “After long reflection, sir, we are sorry to inform you that the best solution would be to change your face.”

Aaah, well, I decided to go up and see my 15-year-old daughter who, astonishingly, had her laptop open and was on Facebook. “I can’t believe this girl from camp,” she said. “She’s so in love she shares everything.”

“Like what?”

Adele read a couple of Amanda’s recent posts: “Lying in bed wearing my boyfriend’s sweatshirt wishing I could be with him.” And: “If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you’ve made me smile the entire evening sky would be in the palm of my hand.”

We laughed. You have to.

Last but not least, here’s Prof. Krugman, still a voice crying in the wilderness:

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. It is, however, still very much experiencing a job crisis.

It’s easy to get confused about the fiscal thing, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Indeed, one recent poll suggests that a large plurality of the public believes that the budget deficit will go up if we go off that cliff.

In fact, of course, it’s just the opposite: The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail as a bargaining strategy, and the president seems ready to call their bluff.

Moreover, despite years of warnings from the usual suspects about the dangers of deficits and debt, our government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates — interest rates on inflation-protected U.S. bonds are actually negative, so investors are paying our government to make use of their money. And don’t tell me that markets may suddenly turn on us. Remember, the U.S. government can’t run out of cash (it prints the stuff), so the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.

Yet there is a whole industry built around the promotion of deficit panic. Lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now now now — except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused.

Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year.

When you see numbers like those, bear in mind that we’re looking at millions of human tragedies: at individuals and families whose lives are falling apart because they can’t find work, at savings consumed, homes lost and dreams destroyed. And the longer this goes on, the bigger the tragedy.

There are also huge dollars-and-cents costs to our unmet jobs crisis. When willing workers endure forced idleness society as a whole suffers from the waste of their efforts and talents. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that what we are actually producing falls short of what we could and should be producing by around 6 percent of G.D.P., or $900 billion a year.

Worse yet, there are good reasons to believe that high unemployment is undermining our future growth as well, as the long-term unemployed come to be considered unemployable, as investment falters in the face of inadequate sales.

So what can be done? The panic over the fiscal cliff has been revelatory. It shows that even the deficit scolds are closet Keynesians. That is, they believe that right now spending cuts and tax hikes would destroy jobs; it’s impossible to make that claim while denying that temporary spending increases and tax cuts would create jobs. Yes, our still-depressed economy needs more fiscal stimulus.

And, to his credit, President Obama did include a modest amount of stimulus in his initial budget offer; the White House, at least, hasn’t completely forgotten about the unemployed. Unfortunately, almost nobody expects those stimulus plans to be included in whatever deal is eventually reached.

So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.

No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions.

So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.

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