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David Dayen points to Jared Bernstein's response to Paul Krugman's take on political realism. Bernstein wrote:

It’s also congenitally hard for politicians to get behind “a serious program of mortgage modification.”  Those who advocate for this (the NYT editorial page, e.g.) are right, but they’re also downplaying a very binding constraint.  The politics of this idea are deeply wound up in moral hazard.  People forget, but it was precisely this action—giving mortgage relief to someone at risk of default and not to someone who was struggling to keep up their payments—that birthed the Tea Party.

I ran into this "the Tea Party made them do it" argument before - see this. It struck me as specious at the time and still does. But it does point to an important issue- how activists can change political realities. Consider the Tea Party. What was it really? Nothing more than the usual suspect Right Wing Republicans ranting about the same things they always rant about. But not only did the Media pretend it was something new- apparently so to did the Obama Administration. The strange thing about it is would the rantings have been any different no matter what course the Obama Administration chose? I mean if the worries were the Tea Party, how then can the health bill effort be explained?  There is a lesson in all of this and I will explore it on the flip.

Consider Krugman's confession:

In pointing out that we could be doing much more about unemployment, I recognize, of course, the political obstacles to actually pursuing any of the policies that might work. In the United States, in particular, any effort to tackle unemployment will run into a stone wall of Republican opposition. Yet that’s not a reason to stop talking about the issue. In fact, looking back at my own writings over the past year or so, it’s clear that I too have sinned: political realism is all very well, but I have said far too little about what we really should be doing to deal with our most important problem.

As I see it, policy makers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there’s nothing they could do. And those of us who know better should be doing all we can to break that vicious circle.

A stonewall of Republican opposition was not new, nor should it have been surprising. Alas, what Krugman describes as "learned helplessness" is also neither new nor surprising coming from Democrats and progressives.

And this stonewall of GOP opposition and Dem helplessness has played out over and over again. Some believe it is feigned. Perhaps so. But for the activist and citizen, it is irrelevant whether it is or not. Yes, pols are pols and do what they do.

The Tea Party provides lessons in activism. Dem blogs are crowing over the damage the Tea Party is doing to the Republican Party. Perhaps so. But should the Tea Party's primary concern be the political health of the GOP, or advancement of their policy goals? And are they advancing their policy goals?

Consider the lack of concern over unemployment, the homeowner crisis and the plight of the less well off. Consider the prime concern for the health of the TBTF banks and the low tax rates for the rich? Consider this:

[The GOP] Medicare plan should be a sinking ship for Republicans, and will be provided Dems stay away from any Medicare benefits cuts in their debt ceiling and budget negotiations. There's some indication that they might just be willing to trade it way. That's what Greg Sargent is hearing.

[I]t’s now clear that Dems think it’s politically impossible not to accede to the GOP demand for deep cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

And so, with the Biden-led deficit negotiations set to resume this week, Mitch McConnell has now begun insisting that big Medicare cuts will be necessary in exchange for GOP support for the debt ceiling hike. Thanks to their willingness to draw a hard line at the outset, Republicans now appear poised to win big concessions in exchange for supporting something that they and everyone else have already said is inevitable.

As I reported on Friday, some Dems are insisting that there will be no Democratic support for any reductions in Medicare benefits in the Biden-negotiated compromise. But it may be too late for Dems to draw any hard lines. It’s unclear whether Dems will hold fast behind this vow and how it can be squared with the GOP’s insistence on deep cuts in exchange for the debt ceiling hike and with the obvious Dem eagerness to reach a deal. This is the dynamic to watch this week.

It may be that at the end of all of this, the Dems will win a political battle in 2012 - hold the Presidency, take back the House, etc. But who will have won the policy war?

Can it honestly be said that the Tea Party lost? That progressives won?

The phrase the "desert of the real," popularized in the movie "The Matrix," comes from the work Simulacra and Simulation, by Jean Baudrillard. The Wikipedia article on Simulacra and Simulation states that:

Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is of a simulation of reality. Moreover, these simulacra are not merely mediations of reality, nor even deceptive mediations of reality; they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality, they simply hide that anything like reality is irrelevant to our current understanding of our lives. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media  that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the "precession of simulacra".

Political reality is infinitely mutable. High unemployment, record foreclosures, weak economic growth and record breaking income inequality is the new political reality. Is this result a Tea Party failure? I think not.

Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

Originally posted to Discussing The Law: TalkLeft's View On Law and Politics on Tue May 31, 2011 at 02:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by A Perfect Conversation.

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