Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Saturday, August 31, 2019

FRIDAY LIST #5, A DAY LATE


David Palmeter said:  Recurring contribution to DLCC.

Bryant Durrell said:  $25 to Warren, $25 to Castro.

Charles Perkins:  I attended an online training (on canvassing) for Elizabeth Warren's campaign.
I put my EW sign in my window.
I registered for another EW training (phone banking).
I made sure I was registered to vote in California and got my "REAL" ID (ugh) at the DMV ("ugh")— but now I can vote for Warren in the California primary.
I gave $5 to Elizabeth Warren.

Robert Paul Wolff:  I donated $100 to a local candidate for NC Secretary of State
I gave my usual small donation to Bernie
I signed up for some local political work
I curated the Friday List [this is cheaty, I know]

Thursday, August 29, 2019

EVERY SO OFTEN IT IS USEFUL TO REMIND OURSELVES

This link takes you to a news report of a wealthy donor fundraiser for Joe Biden last June in which Biden is quoted directly as saying "It’s all within our wheelhouse, and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change."

This was not a gaffe, this was the authentic Joe Biden.

GOOD GRIEF, IT IS THURSDAY

Time to assemble another Friday List.  I am still mulling Jerry Fresia's suggestion of ways to expand its reach and impact.

Send in your accounts of your doings.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

AS PROMISED, AN ANSWER TO TOM CATHCART


I promised Tom Cathcart an explanation of my cryptic remark that the NY TIMES’s 1619 Project was “the wrong story.”  I thought I could get away with referencing my book, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, but Tom has read that [one of the few!] and is still puzzled, so here goes.

The standard story of America is that it is exceptional, a nation founded on an idea, The Idea of Freedom, a land, to be sure with defects [brief allusion to slavery], but nonetheless dedicated over its long life to the gradual realization of The Idea of Freedom, first by the freeing of the slaves, then by the slow extension of suffrage to women, to Negroes, then by the modern Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the LGBTQ Movement and throughout by the steady, onward, upward perfection of the vision of the Founding Fathers.  For this reason, America has been and remains a City on a Hill, a model for all mankind, the Leader of the Free World, the Last Best Hope for Mankind.

For eighty-five years, going all the way back to W. E. B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction, four generations of great scholars, Black and White, have been challenging and revising that story.  The 1619 Project is a splendid popular compendium of the results of their research.  The Project places the slaves and their descendants at the center of the American story rather than at the periphery.  But it is still a story of free White men and women and their slaves.  The story is so changed as to be almost unrecognizable, but it is still the same story.

The true story is different [and here I rely entirely on those very same scholars, for I have contributed not so much as a single brick to the edifice they have reared by their splendid work.]  From those earliest days in the 17th century, America was a colonial outpost built on unfree labor White and Black.  In early Colonial America, there were very few Whites whom we today would recognize as free, free to live where they chose, free to work as they chose, free to marry whom they chose.  At the outset, there was no clearly defined status of chattel slavery, for no such status existed in the English Common Law that the settlers brought with them.  Slowly, over almost two centuries, in inseparable interaction with one another, two legal, social, and economic statuses crystallized:  Free White Citizenship and Black Chattel Slavery.  The process was local, complex, messy, and never successfully carried through, for indentured servitude for Whites continued for a long time and there were, contrary to all theory, free Black men and women prior to the Civil War.  But the status of free citizenship for Whites was defined in contrast to and even in terms of, the status of chattel slavery for Blacks.

America has never been a City Upon a Hill, the Only Nation Founded On An Idea, the Last Best Hope on earth.  It was, at the outset, a White Settler colony built on unfree labor, White and Black, and that fact must be made central to any understanding of its nature today.

Something like that is the true story of America.

RESPONSE TO JORDAN

Jordan asks whether I might videotape and post the sessions of my course.  I think that would not be a good idea.  It would transform a course into a performance, and demote the students to an audience.  I have, after all, already posted fourteen YouTube lectures on Marx, Mannheim, and Wilmsen!  The world is not crying out for more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

THE FALL SEMESTER UPON US

And come next Tuesday, I shall be flying up to NY every week to teach with Todd Gitlin.  For those who are interested, here is the syllabus:


Mystifications of Social Reality
SOCI GU4600
Fall 2019
Tuesdays, 2:10-4 pm
Pulitzer Hall 202
Instructors:  Professors Todd Gitlin (Sociology, Journalism, Communications) and Robert Paul Wolff (Philosophy, Afro-American Studies)
I.                    Rationale for the course
            The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were marked by the discovery of a new object of systematic inquiry in addition to Nature and the Individual:  Society.  First Economics, then Anthropology, Sociology, and Political Science developed strikingly new understandings of the actions, beliefs, and institutional arrangements of men and women in society, which were seen as obeying regular laws not derivable from, or reducible to, either the laws of nature or the laws of individual behavior.  But these new disciplines, which came to be called the Social Sciences, were different from their predecessors in one fundamental and centrally important way:  They revealed the study of society, and indeed society itself, to be mystified, ideologically encoded, shaped and distorted by the interests and beliefs of men and women even though those living in society or studying it often were oblivious of this fact.
            In this course we shall read in depth a series of texts by authors who explored the ideological mystifications of social reality in their disciplines.  The goal of the course is not merely to inform students of these authors and their ideas but to strengthen the ability of students to understand their own involvement in, indeed complicity in, ideological mystification.
II.                  Major Readings [there may be other assigned and suggested readings and videos]
  1. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume One; Communist Manifesto; “Alienated Labor” [Economics]
  2. Max Weber, Economy and Society [Sociology, https://archive.org/stream/MaxWeberEconomyAndSociety/MaxWeberEconomyAndSociety_djvu.txt]
  3. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism [Sociology, History; https://www.ttu.ee/public/m/mart-murdvee/EconPsy/1/Weber_Max_1930-2005_The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism.pdf]
  4. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia [Political Sociology]
  5. Edwin Wilmsen, Land Filled With Flies [Ethnography]
  6. Charles Mills, The Racial Contract [African-American Studies]
  7. Robert Paul Wolff, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man [African-American Studies]
  8. Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams:  Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars [Sociology]
III.       Weekly assigned reading
Sept. 3:            Intro to seminar.  No assigned reading
Sept. 10:          Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848); “Alienated Labor” (1844)
Sept. 17:          Marx. Capital, Chapters 1-6
Sept. 24:          Marx, Capital, Chapters 7-10
Oct. 1:             Weber, Economy and Society, Part One, Chapters I and III, i-v
The Types of Legitimate Authority: The Basis of Legitimacy, The Three Pure Types of Authority: Traditional Authority, Legal Authority, Charismatic Authority; pp. 212-231,  241-254
Oct. 8:             Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
                        Short paper due
Oct. 15:           Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, Parts I and II
Oct. 22:           Mannheim, Part IV
Oct. 29:           Wilmsen, Land Filled With Flies. Watch Professor Wolff’s four YouTube lectures on
                        Wilmsen. The first is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbU3yW2xIGE.
                          Students should bring comments and questions.
Nov. 5:             Mills, The Racial Contract
Nov. 12:          Wolff, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man
Nov. 19:          Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams (excerpts)
Dec. 3:             General discussion and afterthoughts
Dec. 14:           Final paper due
III.               Writing Assignments
Each student is required to submit a 7-10 page mid-term essay on a topic of the student’s choosing, and a 15-20 page final essay due December 13.  The topic of the final paper must be approved by the Instructors no later than November 12.  Students are asked to submit two hard copies of assigned work, one for each Instructor, along with an electronic copy.
IV.                Grading
 Roughly one-third of the grade will be based on the mid-term essay and two-thirds on the final essay, with adjustments made on the basis of class participation.
V.                Supplements
Students who wish to explore the subject matter of the seminar in greater depth are invited to read Professor Wolff’s two books on the thought of Karl Marx, Moneybags Must Be So Lucky and Understanding Marx, the remainder of his book on race in America, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, and to watch on YouTube his series of lectures on The Thought of Karl Marx and the other six lectures not assigned in his series of lectures on Ideological Critique.
It will also be beneficial to read Max Weber’s essays, “Science as a Vocation” and “Politics as a Vocation,” both online.

Monday, August 26, 2019

INTERESTING STUFF


I have been reading my new numbers guru, Rachel Bitecofer, and here are some takeaways.  Much of this is not surprising, but some is, at least to me.  You can check out her analysis here.  All of this rests on the well-known but often under-appreciated fact that voter turnout in American elections is astonishingly low – maybe 60% of eligible voters in presidential years and [usually] 35-40% in off years.  One might ask whether, with turnout like that, American voters deserve a democracy, but that is a discussion for another day.

Remember, even in solidly Republican House districts, with an off-year turnout of 35-40% there are large numbers of non-voting Democrats [often clumped together in big cities, college towns, and the like.]   Suppose in a Republican district with 400,000 eligible voters, the entire electorate breaks 55-45 for the Republicans, a seemingly unbeatable +10 advantage for the Rs.  This means there are 220,000 Republicans and 180,000 Democrats in the district.  If only 40% turn out, and there is equal enthusiasm on both sides, a ten point Republican victory means that 88,000 voted R and 72,000 voted D, a 16,000 margin.  But there are still 108,000 non-voting Ds!  If 15% of them can be motivated to get off their asses and vote, the Democrats win narrowly.  Common sense suggests that it may be easier to motivate 16,200 non-voting Ds than it is to turn 8,100 Rs to the D side.

OK, with that as background, let me summarize what Bitecofer says she has found.

First:  Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, the big Democratic House victories in 2018 were not driven by voter concern about health care, nor were they driven by Republican defections to the Democrats.  The victories were the result of an enormous surge in the turnout of reliably Democratic segments of the electorate driven by hatred of Trump.  This may sound unsurprising, but it has enormous implications for the choice of candidates up and down the ticket, including at the very top.

There is a hunger out there in the hearts and minds and stomachs of scores of millions of Americans for a chance to vote against Trump.  I saw this the day after Inauguration Day in 2017 when I attended the Women’s March in Washington.

Second:  the single most significant determinant of the relative popularity of candidates for the Democratic nomination is the astonishing, unfathomable, too easily overlooked sheer ignorance of the American electorate.  Bitecofer has some fascinating and rather complex analysis of the role of name recognition in the poll results we have all been seeing.

I recall many years ago, when I was living in Massachusetts, reading a news story about name ID among voters.  Various Democratic and Republican politicians had name IDs in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, but topping the list, unsurprisingly, was Teddy Kennedy, the senior Senator, who had the astronomical name ID score of 95%.  The author of the story oohed and aahed about this astonishing figure, but all I could think was, “Dear God!  One in twenty people I pass on the street have never heard of Teddy Kennedy.  What alternate universe do they live in?”

As Bitecofer shows, “Statistically, low levels of name recognition have massive impacts on polling data. It is not possible to compare favorability of low and high name ID candidates.”  Now, political preferences are relatively difficult to change, but name recognition changes considerably as more low information voters turn their attention to what we junkies think about obsessively every day.

A thought for the day



Sunday, August 25, 2019

THE 1619 PROJECT


I have now read 72 pages of the 85 pages of text of The New York Times1619 PROJECT, which appeared a week ago as the Sunday Magazine Section, and I want to respond to TheDudeDiogenes’ request for my evaluation of it.  I hope everyone reads what I say here carefully, because I suspect no matter what I do, a good many people will misunderstand me.

What do I think of the text?  I think it is terrific.  It is very well done, very powerful, very much up on the latest scholarship, and of course beautifully produced.  I don’t agree that it provides ideological cover for capitalism, which anyway has no need for such cover, so far as I can see, inasmuch as no one currently on the political scene, not even Bernie, poses the slightest threat to capitalism.

Indeed, the text is an enormously skillful and effective popular rendition of several generations of revisionist American historiography, the authors of which have been devoted to telling the American story in the most honest, confrontational, accurate, and racially sensitive manner possible.  It is vastly better than any of the American History textbooks I have seen, and would serve well as an assignment in high school and college American History courses.

Its only fault is that it is the wrong story.  I am not going to say here what the right story is, because I wrote a book about that subject, and although virtually no one has read my book, I am enough of an author and not propagandist to let that book stand as my say on the subject.

A RESPONSE TO TWO COMMENTS


Richard Lewis offers this comment on my animadversions against Columbia: 

“One theory favored by more neo-liberal types is 'Baumol Cost disease' whereby human labor intensive services get relatively more expensive over time as technology makes manufacturing, communications, transport, etc cheaper in relative terms. In other words, you can automate production of toothpaste but not nursing or university teaching, so costs in health and education will tend to rise relative to the technology intensive parts of the economy. The neo liberal aspect of this is a kind of 'automatic compensation' principle whereby fridges and airline tickets get cheaper while health and education get more expensive.”

I decided to do a little Googling to check this out, and my scattered investigations suggest Baumol is correct.  For example, in 1965 one year of Columbia tuition bought 1462 pounds of steak.  In 2019, one year of Columbia tuition will buy 8400 pounds of steak.  [And so forth for many other consumer items.]  But how does Columbia do compared with other labor intensive elite services?

Well, in 1965, Columbia tuition was $1900, and my psychoanalyst on the Upper East Side charged me $25 an hour, so one year of Columbia bought 76 hours of analysis [I will leave it to others to decide which was a better bang for the buck.]  Today, Google tells me that New York analysts are charging $200 an hour, which means that one year of Columbia buys 295 hours of analysis.  Somehow Columbia has managed to raise its prices almost 400% as much as Manhattan psychoanalysts.  I trust no one will accuse analysts of selling themselves cheap, so William Baumol to the contrary notwithstanding, Columbia’s dramatic escalation of its tuition requires some additional explanation.

Professor Goldfarb offers a more detailed objection.  I am afraid I have a long history, going back almost seventy years, of bad mouthing Harvard, and Professor Goldfarb has on sever al occasions taken me to task for my carping.  Here is his comment:

“Prof. Wolff posts on this topic regularly, but his point is completely undercut by his inattention to JKR's point. Sticker price is paid only by the well-off. The elite private institutions have very robust financial aid for most of their students. In fact, I am surprised that Prof Wolff does not applaud this highly redistributive arrangement. The colleges and universities bump up their sticker prices with an eye to how much the well-off can pay, and then give it back to the less well-off.  Here's an example. TwinBob is a senior at Forest Hills High School applying to Harvard in 2019. His father is a high school principal in NYC, in his third year in that position. His mother is a secretary at a non-profit. He has a sister already in college. As a guess, I'll take his father's salary to be $125,000, his mother's $45,000. According to the Harvard financial aid tool, he can expect a tuition scholarship of $51,400, making his tuition payment $7,520, about 12% more than what 1950 tuition would be in current dollars. Now the following year, TwinBob's mother has to retire due to health concerns, but his father gets a hefty seniority raise, so the family income is now $140,000. In that case, TwinBob pays $600 in tuition.  Financial aid at the elite institutions nowadays also eliminates the necessity for students to take out any significant loans.  The sad story, however, is in the public institutions. Here the sharply rising tuition costs are driven much more by legislative strangulation.”

First of all, let me say that this is an extraordinarily gracious and rather touching comment, drawing as it does on details of my family history to be found in my on-line Autobiography.  Now, I am and always have been an admirer of noblesse oblige, whether at Versailles under the ancient régime or in Cambridge in the elite redoubts of mature capitalism.  So I applaud Harvard’s redistributive efforts, even if they are made necessary by its inexplicable ballooning of the tuition it charges its undergraduates.  I confess that sitting here in North Carolina, far from Harvard Square, I experience a perhaps reprehensible suspicion that this is not just some clever scheme to soak the rich, but Professor Goldfarb is on the spot, and so I bow to his superior wisdom.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

THE FALL SEMESTER IS UPON US


In ten days, I shall start flying up to New York from North Carolina every Tuesday to teach at Columbia.  Once again, I shall co-teach a seminar in the Sociology Department with Todd Gitlin, a very well-known radical activist and author who was, among many other things, the third President of SDS and my student at Harvard in 1960.  The course, which I designed, is called Mystifications of Social Reality, and in it we talk about Marx’s demystification of capitalism, Edwin Wilmsen’s demystification of Ethnography, Karl Mannheim’s analysis of ideological and utopian thinking, Charles Mills’ demystification of social contract theory, my account of the demystification of the American Myth, and Todd’s critique of identity politics.

At the very end of the course, if time permits, I thought it might be fun to spend some time demystifying the Columbia undergraduate education, of which they are inordinately proud on Morningside Heights.  To start, I had three bits of incommensurable data: the tuition I paid at Harvard in 1950, the salary I earned as a new tenured Associate Professor at Columbia in 1964, and the undergraduate tuition charged this year at Columbia.  Clearly nothing much could be made of that collection of apples and oranges, so I went in search of some more facts, and with the very kind assistance of some research librarians in Butler Library at Columbia and a nominal fee of $30 to compensate someone for digging documents out of the archives, I very soon had in hand the tuition at Columbia every five years from 1950 to the present.  It turned out, by the way, that in 1950 Harvard and Columba charged the same tuition.  Here is what I was told:

1950
$600
1955
$750
1960
$1450
1965
$1900
1970
$2500
1975
$3680
1980
$5730
1985
$10,280
1990
$14,472
1995
$19,730
2000
$25,044
2005
$31,924
2010
$39,296
2015
$50,526
2019-20
$58,920

But that was not terribly helpful, because over that seventy year period, the dollar has undergone a considerable inflation, so I Googled a CPI Deflator [Consumer Price Index calculator, for the uninitiated], and tediously converted all the nominal dollars into 2019 dollars.  I then calculated the percentage real dollar rise over each five year stretch [more an amusement than a labor, to quote Immanuel Kant], and came up with this table:

1950
$600
$6309

1990
$14,472
$27981
14.9%
1955
$750
$7153
13.38%
1995
$19,730
$33043
18.1%
1960
$1450
$12568
75.7%
2000
$25,044
$36,992
12%
1965
$1900
$15426
22.7%
2005
$31,924
$41,207
11.4%
1970
$2500
$16362
6.1%
2010
$39,296
$46155
12%
1975
$3680
$17293
5.7%
2015
$50,526
$55469
20.2%
1980
$5730
$17501
1.2%
2019-20
$58,920
$58920
6.2%
1985
$10,280
$24354
39.2%




   Year            Tuition        in 2020 $     % increase    Year              Tuition            in 2020 $    % increase  

The first thing that pops out of this chart is that the education offered by Columbia [and Harvard] in 1950 cost $6309 a year in 2019 dollars, while the cost of a 2019 Columbia education in those same 2019 dollars is $58,920.  So in real terms, Columbia’s education costs 9.3 times as much now as it did in 1950.

How come?

Well, the first answer that comes to mind is that the education now on offer at 116th st. and Broadway in Manhattan is 9.3 times better than the education offered there in 1950.  So I thought about that.  To be sure, I was a student at Harvard, not at Columbia, in 1950, but I made the heroic assumption that the two educations then were roughly comparable.  As I am teaching at Columbia this year, I can judge firsthand the quality of the education it now offers.  It will perhaps not come as a surprise to you to learn that after careful consideration, I have concluded that the education Columbia now offers, even though I have a hand in offering it, is in fact not noticeably better than the education offered to me seventy years ago at Harvard.  [I shall resist the old man’s temptation to say that it was better then than now.  Just as good is all I need for this analysis.]

If the education is not nine times as good, then maybe it costs nine times as much to produce.  Well, in the Liberal Arts, the principal, indeed nearly the only, cost of an undergraduate education is the salaries of the professors who provide it.  Once again, I used the bits of data I had and sought out some additional data in an effort to evaluate this proposed explanation.  I wasn’t teaching at Columbia in 1950, but I was in 1965.  I was then a newly tenured Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department, and my salary in 1965 dollars was $11,000.  This was pretty much the bottom of the salary range.  Columbia did not have to bid up to get me.  If I may adapt an iconic line from Renée Zellweger in Jerry McGuire, they had me with hello.

Eleven thousand dollars in 1965 is the equivalent of a bit more than $89,000 today.  Google tells me a low end Associate Professor at Columbia these days is making upwards of $120,000, so there has been maybe a 33% increase in pay.  Columbia has of course responded, as any rational corporation would, by seeking cheaper labor, which it happily finds not overseas, which could create problems for office hours and such, but right on the campus.  In 1950, the jewel in the crown of Columbia’s undergraduate curriculum, Contemporary Civilization, or CC as it is usually called, was taught by professors.  [The course, even then, was 31 years old, having been created in 1919 just after WW I.]  Today, all but a handful of the 62 sections scheduled each semester are taught by graduate students and new PhDs who cannot find regular tenure track Assistant Professors. 

In short, Columbia does not charge nine times as much today for its undergraduate education as it in 1950 because the education is nine times as good, nor because it costs nine times as much to produce.  Why then?

That is the subject for another post, but I will offer one simple answer that might start us on the road to an answer.

Because they can.

Friday, August 23, 2019

ANOTHER GOLDEN OLDIE


I got up this morning irritated at Susan Collins, not for anything she has just said but simply for being Susan Collins.  I think my bad temper was actually triggered by a TV appearance of David Ignatius, who has never seen a road he did not want to drive down the middle of.  Before going off to the start-of-the-year party of the UNC Philosophy Department later this afternoon, I decided to write a lengthy post laying out an idea I have had for some time about the political spectrum and the Myth of the Broad-Minded Moderate, as I label it in my musings.  But first, out of an excess of caution, I checked to see whether I had written about this before, and sure enough, there was a post on the topic from March 10, 2012.  That time I was irritated at the outpouring of praise for the retiring Olympia Snowe [what is it with me and women Senators from Maine?]

At first, I decided to scrap the idea, but then I thought, seven years is several lifetimes in the Blogosphere.  I think I will highlight what I wrote then, copy it, and post it again, inasmuch as it is still true.  So, with a warning to really long-time readers, here is what I said then:

The retirement announcement of the soon to be late and already unlamented Olympia Snowe has predictably unleashed yet another tsunami of punditry by the usual suspects about the regrettable rigidity of today's Congressional Democrats and Republicans.  This has been coupled with bathetic nostalgia for the good old days when giants of accommodation walked the halls of Congress, regularly reaching out across the aisles to craft compromises in the sacred middle of the political spectrum.  This, I believe, is what is referred to in those compressed fragments of communication called tweets as the CW of the MSM.  Those of us with pretentions to a somewhat better class of education prefer the phrase consensus gentium, believing, as we do, that it always sounds better in Latin.

Never mind the false and self-serving claim that the ideological rigidity of those on the right is mirrored by a like rigidity of the few remaining Members of Congress who can plausibly be described as "on the left."  Rachel Maddow has nicely skewered that fiction.  [I leave it to someone more agile at these things than I to provide the link in a comment.]  I should like to call into question the central thesis, namely that the vanishing breed of "moderates" like Snowe [and her colleague with the extraordinarily irritating voice, Susan Collins] are more open-minded, more flexible, more willing to engage in the quintessentially democratic act of compromise, than their more inflexible colleagues to the right or the left.

What follows is an hypothesis, not a thesis, because I do not have hard data to support it.  But I would be happy to put money on the proposition [not a Romneyesque ten thousand, to be sure, but certainly a fiver], because I am sure its central idea is correct.

Let us choose a single very large and complex issue of public policy -- health care reform, say, since we all remember the debates and maneuverings that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act [also known, to Republicans, as Obamacare, and to some candidates for the Republican presidential nomination as Obamneycare].   In a leap of conceptual simplification worthy of a neo-classical economist, let us suppose that all the many possible positions, pro and con, on health care reform can be arrayed along a one-dimensional spectrum from left to right.  We may imagine that at the extreme left is true socialized medicine, with no insurance companies, no for-profit hospitals, and the central government paying the entire bill from the general tax fund.  Somewhat to the right of that terminus,  but still situated well to the left, is a single payer version of the current health care system.  The extreme right, we may suppose, is represented by the position of Dr. [and Congressman] Ron Paul, who says that uninsured trauma patients who show up in the Emergency Room of a for-profit hospital should be left to die -- rather like the old nineteenth century practice of letting a house burn if it did not sport a plaque showing that the owner was a subscriber to the private firefighting service.  [Those plaques, incidentally, are now valuable collector's items of Americana.]

Each member of the House or Senate, we shall now assume, can identify some point on that spectrum of positions that corresponds to his or her ideologically most preferred policy -- some complicated combination of coverages and exclusions, guarantees and options, in the maelstrom of the American health care system.  Now I am going to make a really serious conceptual simplification, genuinely worthy of a General Equilibrium theorist.  I am going to assume that each person, having located himself or herself at some point on the line, finds that each position to the left is less acceptable, the farther to the left it is from that point, and that each position to the right is also less acceptable, the farther to the right it is from that point.  [Those who have actually read my Tutorial on the use and abuse of formal models in political theory will recognize this simplification from the work of the Australian political scientist Duncan Black, but that, as they say, was in another land, and besides the wench is dead.]

OK.  Got that?  A line the points of which are different health care reform positions, arrayed from left to right, and Members of the House and Senate positioned along that line, looking with increasing disfavor to positions to their left or right according to how much farther right or left they are.  Let us suppose the line looks like this:

            ___________________________________________

Now, imagine some senator positioned somewhere along the line -- to the right, let us say.  Let us invent a name for him, a name so absurd and comical that no actual senator could ever actually bear it.  I know, how about Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, or Jeff Sessions, for short?  Let us suppose that Jeff Sessions is positioned, on the issue of health care reform, like this:

            __________________________________JF________

Jeff Sessions, we assume, prefers the package of health care reform proposals identified by the point on the line where we have located his initials, and if he had the power to enact a bill, that is exactly the bill he would choose.  But I am betting [this is where the hypothetical part of all of this comes into play] that he would be willing to compromise to at least some extent to get most of what he wants, striking a deal with Jim DeMint to his right or Jon Kyl slightly to his left [but still securely within the conservative segment of the line, of course.]   I may be wrong, of course.  Maybe Jeff Sessions is totally and immovably inflexible on the issue of health care reform.  But I would bet more than a fiver that that is not so.  Recall our assumption that the various positions are less and less acceptable to anyone located anywhere on the line the farther away they are, to the left or the right, from where he or she is located.  It follows from this assumption [never mind the proof, if it isn't obvious] that there is a compact space of possible positions around Jeff Sessions, all of which would be acceptable to him in a compromise, if he were able to get one.  Let us suppose this situation looks like this:

            ______________________________(___JF____)_____

Presumably, every single Senator and Representative can be modeled on the line in the same fashion.  Some will have very wide brackets around their initials, some very narrow brackets.  The width of the bracket, in this little model, is a visible representation of that politician's flexibility, or willingness to compromise.

Now, my hypothetical thesis is this:  the people located near the break between the Democratic [left] side and the Republican [right] side of the line, people like Olympia Snowe, do not in general have brackets around their initials that are noticeably wider than the brackets around the initials of people located near the left end or the right end of the line.  But because they are more often in play when one side or the other is attempting to assemble a winning coalition, they acquire the undeserved reputation for being reasonable, willing to compromise, non-ideological, or public-spirited.

I watched the very public wooing of Olympia Snowe during the health care debate, and it was my distinct impression that she had an extremely narrow bracket around her initials [so to speak].  She just happened to be located at the fault line between the two parties.  My informal guess is that the most flexible members of the Senate were actually the most liberal Democrats, who were willing to make enormous compromises to get something, anything, done.

There is of course not the slightest possibility that anyone in the MSM will take note of this, or will adjust the CW by so much as a micrometer.  That would require intelligence and the willingness to consider a new idea.