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January 23, 2011

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/21/obama-picks-jeffrey-immel-ge-jobs-overseas_n_812502.html

Obama hires GE prez; GE runs MSNBC; O'Donnell just called the 11% of Americans that consider Obama conservative "insane."

Thanks for asking.

"Versailles" also represents a direction the country's going in, not necessarily a settled one-to-one correspondence (it IS an analogy after all). It's meant to shorthand a variety of circumstances, from record corporate profits & executive bonuses concurrent with high unemployment to, for instance, the appointment of Immelt to head the jobs council, to the retroactive immunity for telcos.

The Democrats' failure to deliver on the economy generally or jobs in particular reflects a disinterest (at best) in the wellbeing of the peons which echoes a similar disdain in most historical systems of servitude.

The fact that we don't have a King (we do have a unitary executive) or that the laws of the system are different isn't really dispositive, if the effects are similar.

The upcoming assault on Soc. Sec., long longed for by the Rs and now adopted by the Ds, despite widespread opposition by voters
is an example
:

while increasing the Social Security retirement age is considered a fairly benign change inside the Beltway, 7 in 10 voters oppose the idea, most of them very intensely, said Lake....

"Raising the retirement age is a great thing for wealthy professionals, and a terrible thing for low-income women and working men," said EPI's Ross Eisenberry.

It's easy for professionals to imagine working a few extra years; much harder for people whose jobs are physically demanding or highly unpleasant.

(btw, I rather favor analogies to the tsars myself, but then I'm more a student of Russian history than French).

...and that's the kind of "1+1=7" logic that I think underlines the whole "Versailles" argument. You could point out, as we just did, that Comcast will now own NBC/U and GE has exited the media business (and that Immelt, in fact, was both a lousy media CEO and the architect of dumping GE's NBC properties, which were really the prize captured by previous CEO Jack Welch). Or you could point out that labeling Obama as not a Democrat doesn't necessarily make sense to most people, or most Democrats. But even so... why do I care what O'Donnell thinks? Why do you? O'Donnell, over his career, has shown a fantastic inability to convince almost anyone of anything, and his new MSNBC show - best of luck - is mostly defined by his surliness and his hectoring of people supposedly on his side. That might prove entertaining (I don't think it has so far), but I don't think "Establishment" is the problem with it. And still, I ask... how does any of this metaphorically match up to Versailles or 18th Century France?

I think Valhalla more than adequately explains the Versailles metaphor.

Or you could point out that labeling Obama as not a Democrat doesn't necessarily make sense to most people, or most Democrats.

except that's not what O'Donnell did

http://www.correntewire.com/lawrence_odonnell_idiot_i_repeat_myself

"And my favorite people in america, the 11% who think barack obama is a conservative, let's ignore them for the purposes of adult analysis of this poll."

i.e. Those wackly liberals aren't just hard to understand; they're to be ignored. If we skew the numbers without taking them into account, well looky here, the country continues to tack right.

Valhalla -

a) The effects aren't similar. And we do not rest the kind of power in a unitary executive that a feudal monarchy did - cause, um, that's why we declared independence from Engaland, for one thing.

b) "shorthand" appears to be another way of saying "never mind where it's inaccurate"

c) like many "end of the world" fears... let's actually see where the next Social Security debate leads before assuming the worst. As of right now, Social Security has not changed, and the political will to make serious, damaging changes has not fully materialized.

Finally, yes, I agree that the real issue here is the drift of elites in the Democratic Party away from the Party's historical connections to the issues and needs of the working class. That's troubling, bad, a disaster for us... all the rest. What it is not, so far, is akin to the disaster of feudal society for the poorest citizens of 18th century France. That's the problem with "Versailles" specifically, and the point of this post, specifically, is that the Versailles metaphor is more mistaken than not and more conspiracy theory than the kind of productive historical analysis that might provide some insight on advancing our political concerns. If we want to shake up an entrenched political elite, there's an easy answer... get more involved in politics, and advocate for more active approaches to change (actions that would underscore, after all, how "not Versailles" our world today really is). That's not happening, and without it, shouting "Versailles" is really no answer at all.

You claimed O'Donnell was a liberal. You were mistaken. You are now being deliberately obtuse.

We're witnessing the greatest transfer UP of wealth in a generation, the president and democrats ARE making noises about cutting SS and other programs benefitting those who will need them most...and you have the gall to prattle on about conspiracy theories? LOL

O'Donnell is a liberal, and an Establishment Democrat. He may not be the kind of liberal you like - he's not my preferred flavor of it - but "liberal" is about as accurate a description of his politics as one's got.

"Noises" about cutting Social Security in some form or fashion are just that... noise, until someone moves to take action. There's little to indicate that the public is in any way onboard for major changes, and there's no indication that even within the Democratic Party, there's unity on what changes or how to implement them. Noise is noise. Doing something is actually doing something. That hasn't happened. I will wait to see if it does. Until then, descriptions of dark conspiracies of media control and unseen hands... are conspiracy theories.

As for "greatest transfer of wealth", I tend to take the long view, and in the long run, there's little to suggest to me that some of the kinds of vast wealth that's being amassed is sustainable for society as a whole. That's not the most hopeful view, I know... but it's more hopeful than what you and the "Versailles" theory have to offer, which is basically that the wealth transfer has happened, will continue to happen... and cannot be stopped. I'd at least prefer to think about how to stop it. Wouldn't you? If that amounts to the "gall" to "prattle"... well, I'd just as soon keep talking, merci. :)

Oh and... I do know the O'Donnell quote you mentioned, I was watching when he said it, and I thought it was more to the point that he can be a jerk than to any point about his politics. I think "poll analysis" discussions on shows like O'Donnell's - and Maddow does a lot of this nonsense too, as do the others - are generally about smugly reconfirming the host's, and by extensions, the audience's, prejudices. Which is why, generally, I turn them off. O'Donnell's a bright guy and a trenchant political observer... and kind of a jerk about it. That's what he was as a guest on other shows, and what he's been as a host. And again... I tend to think that's the problem with his show, not his politics. In any case, I think - and stand by the assessment that - "Versailles" as a label has little to do with O'Donnell's strengths or weaknesses on television, and like most "Versailles" labeling says more about who's applying it than about a historical metaphor to pre-Revolutionary France. The problem with O'Donnell goes beyond his support of the Democratic elite (which is idiosyncratic on his part, anyway), and the problem with the Democratic elite is about more than a historical equation with the French Revolution. That's my point, vraiement, and I stand by it. Still.

I think "Versailles" can be useful without being complete. The useful part is breaking down the D vs R and right vs left distinction and reorienting to the richest and most powerful (who cooperate with each other more often than not on financial and economic issues) versus "the rest of us".

We can argue about how exactly analogy and metaphor have to correspond to reality before they're "wrong". But I doubt anyone using or hearing Versailles is really being misled into thinking we have a absolute monarchy and not a presidency, or that they're actually French peasants.

As for Obama and Soc Sec, he's been making noises about having to do something about "entitlements" like SocSec since 2007, accompanied, since taking office, with rhetoric of "shared sacrifice." So far, the sacrifices have been shared only among non-elites. His SocSec commission (which Congress wanted nothing to do with)was made up of a clear majority of SS-cutters, not to mention pals of Pete Peterson. Wall St, who Obama has never said even 'boo!' to once, has been eyeing all the money in SS for ages. Plus we just got that great tax 'deal' which included the SS-weakening payroll tax cut.

So while I hope you're right that Obama won't go after SS, the signs are not good. The fact that cuts are not favored by the populace just supports the 'Versailles' construction, not weakens it; it means "the rest of us" are distinct from the D and R leadership.

O'Donnell is a liberal, and an Establishment Democrat. He may not be the kind of liberal you like - he's not my preferred flavor of it - but "liberal" is about as accurate a description of his politics as one's got.

Not in the least sure what this means.

Valhalla, your response sort of answers itself - "useful without being complete" is an acknowledgment that, on some level, as analogy or metaphor the comparison doesn't exactly hold; I agree. I'm not expecting pure correlation, but I think for a metaphor to be useful, or an analogy to be truly analogous, there has to be more connection than the "Versailles" label has. And I think it falls on those who plan to use it heavily - more than I do, surely - to really make that connection stick. My point is, so far, it doesn't.

Politicians may not listen to the public, but at the same time, they're not brave, and they pay a price when defying the public's wishes. The most obvious example is the recent elections, and the most obvious example of the lack of bravery, these days, is the reality that Medicare is unlikely to be reformed in significant ways because Congress fears the wrath of older voters. That's similarly true, though, of Social Security; noises to touch benefits or change the rules tend to make older voters upset. Thus, no real change. Republicans are banking on tying proposals to an age (probably 55) where older voters won't object, and Obama may support that construction... but I think that just means the anger starts with voters over 50. Not to mention people like me, over 40. Let's wait and see if politicians develop a sudden urge to defy voter sentiments on an issue they've usually wilted over.

J, there's more than one way to be liberal. Is all I'm sayin'. And that's one reason labels - be it "liberal" or "Versailles" - are only but so useful. The fact that O'Donnell is liberal and Establishment doesn't force one to negate the other. It does, I think, help to give some shape to what each label means.

O'Donnell continues to beat the drum on the myth that "SS needs fixing."

Liberals don't do that.

O'Donnell continues to beat the drum on the myth that "SS needs fixing."

Liberals don't do that.

Sadly, some liberals do... which is why Valhalla's not wrong to point out that the potential for Social Security mischief in the next few months shouldn't be entirely ignored. The idea that there's a funding problem - or an expenditure problem related to the wave of Baby Boomers about to enter the system - is pervasive and does cut across political lines. The difference between conservative and liberal on this is that conservatives use the "potential bankruptcy of the system" as proof of their argument that Social Security was a bad idea all along (and that, still, they loathe Roosevelt). Liberals convinced of the "social security is broken" line tend to argue for fixes of one sort or another (or "mend it, don't end it").

Myself, I think the reason the arguments get muddied is because of the deficit problem - if the government takes on too much overall debt and fails to get a handle on overall expenditures, then the "borrow from Social Security to pay other expenses" part of budgeting does indeed become a problem. I don't think we need to "fix" Social Security... but I think we need to figure out how government can be smaller and spend less.

I'm sort of fascinated that this Versailles discussion has become a proxy debate on Social Security, which I think (still) is not the most pressing problem of the coming months of Obama and Congress. On the one hand, I think the worries about Social Security reflects lefty concerns about Obama not being sufficiently liberal (which, in itself, is not "Versailles", but something more basic about ideology); on the other, I tend to think it's why lefty opposition to Obama continues to be somewhat unfocused and sputtering. Whether Obama is sufficiently liberal on this or that issue seems kind of beside the point; the bigger weakness he has is his weakness as a leader with a clear set of plans and practical goals. I don't think a lot of concerned liberals have figured out how to make this case in a way that voters can understand... and I think without a clear explanation of Obama's failings as an executive can you make a case for replacing him that many loyal Democrats can embrace.

And I guess, really, this is my objection to "Versailles" as well - "Versailles" is not a metaphor for the Obama Presidency that will resonate with the kind of Democrats who need to be swayed. And if we want some sort of discussion, on the left, about dissatisfaction with Obama.... then we need to organize an argument for it.

.... all of which probably means I should probably start writing another post.

I didn't follow this comment thread too closely, but I definitely also find this post odd and overstated. I, like your critics in the thread, agree that as an ANALOGY (let me also use caps), it works quite well, given some similar contours that should be evaluated according to specific historical contexts. (i.e., of course 21st century US doesn't have a king; somehow that ruins the analogy? What are you, a Scalian originalist?) ;)

And I could be way off on this, but the only people I know who use the term Versailles are far left bloggers like Digby and Corrente. Do the mainstreamers, e.g., Ezra, who I think are establishmentarian, use this term? I actually think one of the flaws here is it's totally unclear what population you're describing, and just because the lefty bloggers who use this term aren't on the "right" as in "authentic" side of the digital divide for you to award them the right to criticize our government for being out of touch, I wouldn't consider them to be part of the establishment and part of the problem.

I guess I'm wondering who exactly you're trying to criticize here...

"Versailles" is not a metaphor for the Obama Presidency that will resonate with the kind of Democrats who need to be swayed

That's another discussion.

Something can be true without being marketable; though, of course, VERSAILLES will disagree. ; )

I'm happy to let this trail off... but I did miss Leigh's feedback, and I do feel compelled to try and offer one last coda:

- I think to say an analogy holds, one needs to be clear on why one thing is analogous to another; I'm not denying the surface links between our current situation and Versailles... but I think looking at the history of France and our own... the analogy mostly falls apart. I think we need a good, descriptive term for the narrowing of America's elite and the opportunities for many to become part of that elite... but "versailles" just misses the mark, for me. It's striking to me that none of the three objectors to this post can really point, in depth, to how the analogy between modern Washington and 18th Century France actually compares. It's not even my analogy, and I can at least take the time to try and break down whether it holds up.

- "I actually think one of the flaws here is it's totally unclear what population you're describing, and just because the lefty bloggers who use this term aren't on the "right" as in "authentic" side of the digital divide for you to award them the right to criticize our government for being out of touch, I wouldn't consider them to be part of the establishment and part of the problem." I have to be honest... I am not at all clear what the objection is here. I'm not trying to deny anyone's legitimacy with this post; I don't even read Digby, much of the time. As for Corrente, I find plenty there to disagree with, but also respect their passion to promote a challenge to conventional wisdom on nearly every level. It's not criticism of the elites I have a problem with - and I'm mystified as to why that's even in doubt - it's the specific choice of an analogy that strikes me as inaccurate that I'm objecting to, nothing more... and nothing less. Words matter, word choices matter, and analogies matter. I think "Versailles" is an intellectually lazy metaphor and mostly a tricked up conspiracy theory to boot. I can't stop anyone from using it (lord knows)... but pointing out the absurdity of it does seem to get under people's skin. Which, it strikes me, is interesting enough to have justified writing this "overstated" post. But also, I think the rankling points to some sense that, really, I could be right about this being a poor analogy. Let's all criticize the cozy relationships of the elites... but perhaps let's do it with a little more rigor than a cheap, easy fallback like "Versailles."

- Or, conversely, if "Versailles" is so accurate... could someone at least take the time to explain, in a little more depth, why they find it so true? Because the explanations so far are seriously, still, wanting.

On some further reflection, I think Leigh is pointing to this:

one thing it denies, clearly, is much of the inherent elitism of the conspiracy theorists themselves. "Versailles" is meant to be what they're not - connected to the realities of economic hardship, doubting of various politicians, critical of the Establishment View - yet these critics are well educated, insulated from economic hardship (a laptop and high speed internet alone tend to separate you from real poverty), and able to influence the discourse - yes, you, Glenn.

... which I admit may seem garbled; I was simply pointing out the fact that "elite" in the context of this Versailles analogy is kind of elastic: there's the members of a certain Establishment elite who fit the "Versailles" label (which, really, is arbitrary to whoever chooses to use it), and then there's the fairly well off, well educated writers and bloggers throwing the term around - some of whom, like Glenn Greenwald and David Sirota, may prefer to avoid "Establishment" cred, but have considerbale impact on the national discourse nonetheless. "Versailles" is bad and conveniently... bad is other people. And in that, I guess my objection to Versailles is that it's also too narrow: I think elitism, in many forms, is bad. And I'm conscious enough of my own privileged background and upbringing to admit that, on some of this, I , too am part of the problem. Does that make me Versailles? I'm thinking no... but then, I'm not THAT bad, am I? :)

(and PS, I try to refrain from all caps in comments. I think it's mostly unneeded to make a point.)

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