free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

--- The French have Spoken! What does it all Mean? ---

Yesterday, the Blogosphere's overgrown right hemisphere chirped and clucked approvingly over a rightist's upset victory in the French Presidential derby. ("Victory" means finishing second with 17%, putting Le Pen into a runoff with incumbent Chirac.) In Germany, conservatives surged as governing Social Democrats sank. In Hungary, Right outpolled Left, even as Left displaced Right at the Top.

Informed analysis soon quashed the "right ascendant" euphoria. Some took the event as pretext for comparative analysis of voting systems (see this by Sasha Volokh). InstaPundit is trying to leverage that angle into a rear-guard defense of the Florida Fiasco.

Is there any rightward shift? In France, no. In Germany, less clearly no. In Hungary, no. But something shifty is happening.

In France, 40% of the votes went to parties with no seats in the Assembly! Assorted leftish greenish vehicles shaved the near-left candidate's numbers to a third-place 16%. Trotskyites topped 10%.

Germany's rightmost major party (Free Democrats) gained just enough ground to vie with near-left Social Democrats as prospective coalition partners for near-right Christian Democrats. At the other end of the teeter-totter, Democratic Socialists (the party formerly known as "Communist") out-polled Social Democrats

What's the pattern? The center lost mass to the extremes. (As Volokh notes, it's hard to confirm this from raw vote totals. Sampled discourse is a better guide.) 2002's popular themes include nativism, grudging anti-global/anti-EU reaction, law-and-order xenophobia, diffuse economic malaise, acute fingerpointing, disparagement of elites. Most consistently -- regardless of ideology -- the in-party lost support.

Europe witnessed something similar a while back. A directionless politics of discontent -- reaction to the vertigo of "modern times", craving for security, trumped-up nativism/nationalism/nostalgia, impatient populist disparagment of governing parties -- dominated the run-up to World War II.
Elites caught blame for everything, especially immigration.

Immigrants and off-white minorities (especially Jews) caught blame for everything, especially "disorder".

Governments of the Left and Right won control and lost popular support in rapid succession, swinging farther out with each cycle. Left and right became increasingly hostile and fearful, and the center was hollowed out.

Elites readily mastered the fingerpointing process and artfully defended their interests by deflecting attention. They promoted classic values and virtues as tonic for decadence, police discipline as a antidote to insecurity, comic-opera militarism as a shield against uncertainty. Vulnerable subpopulations paid the highest price.

Many contemporaries saw Hitler's ascendancy as a pragmatically favorable development, even as they deplored his style. ("Many" included many in the US ... legacy names like "Bush", new-money names like "Kennedy", plutocratic house organs like the WSJ.)
Contrary to the myth of "appeasement", Germany at the onset of hostilities was [with one unimposing exception] surrounded by like-minded antisemitic, anti-Stalinist, law-and-order rightist regimes.

Does the analogy fit perfectly? Of course not. Does history repeat? Not exactly. Can it happen? Yes. Must the pattern run to completion? Maybe, maybe not. Can it happen here, too? Maybe. Maybe it already is.