Free Markets, Free People
Jacob Weisberg of SLATE goes on a rant pretty typical of those on the left these days, casting about for a reason why his chosen one is having such difficulty changing the world. As I’ve pointed out before, one of the new favorite words the left has been slinging around is “ungovernable”. Ungovernable, to mean those of us who resist the left’s attempt to pass legislation which has been their dream for decades. Centuries even.
As most of us who read pundits on the left have come to realize over the years, they don’t have a very high opinion of the proletariat. In fact, truth be told, they’re pretty sure we should all just be glad they’re around to save us from ourselves and should shut up and let them do it. And when we’re not compliant in that regard, we get rants like this which Weisberg penned entitled, “Down With the People” and which he further subtitles, “Blame the childish, ignorant American public—not politicians—for our political and economic crisis.”
You really don’t need to read the article to understand the thesis involved here. But to give the devil his due, there’s a kernel of truth to it – certainly some of our problems stem from “the people.” The left for instance. Those who don’t pay anything into the system for another. Both of those groups have forever been fans of more government, more spending and more goodies. And those desires have been enabled by their politicians (with, admittedly, help from some politicians on the right).
Anyway, Weisberg tries to justify his thesis on the back of polls he finds contradictory at best. For instance:
Anybody who says you can’t have it both ways clearly hasn’t been spending much time reading opinion polls lately. One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it.
A couple of points here. One – Obviously 41% of the American public didn’t like it from the beginning. My bet is they didn’t represent the left or those who had no tax skin in the game. It’s easy to be for “stimulus spending” when paying for the resultant deficit created by that spending isn’t going to come out of your pay check. And that is a class of people the Democrats have judiciously created, nurtured and expanded over the years. So that is a political result, isn’t it Mr. Weisberg?
Secondly – it became obvious fairly quickly even to the “no tax skin” group that what was being called “stimulus spending” wasn’t stimulating anything. Consequently when they saw no direct benefit coming their way – like that of not having to pay taxes on their income they presently enjoy – they quickly abandoned their support.
Tim Cavanaugh, at Reason’s Hit and Run, has an even more pointed rebuttal:
If Weisberg is looking for consistency, he might look to an earlier debate over massive government intervention in the private sector: the $700 billion bailout plan that eventually became the Troubled Asset Relief Program. A large majority of Americans continue to oppose this bailout, just as they opposed it at its inception — a time when Weisberg, and a good two dozen guys exactly like him, were welcoming the TARP proposal as a respite from the ravages of capitalism.
And the auto bailout. And the Wall Street bailout. Etc. Weisberg, much like the East Anglia CRU, is engaged in a little cherry-picking of data to support his premise. Had it been the majority of the people and not the politicians who had their way, TARP and the “stimulus” would have never happened and GM, Chrysler, Wall Street and a good number of banks (plus Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac) would be emerging from bankruptcy right about now – or not.
Much of the rest of the article is more poll quoting along the same vein and with similar rebuttals. Cavanaugh spends sufficient time properly ripping the arguments apart that I don’t have to waste mine.
All of that is only a prelude to the real reason for the Weisberg article:
The politicians thriving at the moment are the ones who embody this live-for-the-today mentality, those best able to call for the impossible with a straight face. Take Scott Brown, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts. Brown wants government to take in less revenue: He has signed a no-new-taxes pledge and called for an across-the-board tax cut on families and businesses. But Brown doesn’t want government to spend any less money: He opposes reductions in Medicare payments and all other spending cuts of any significance. He says we can lower deficits above 10 percent of GDP—the largest deficits since World War II, deficits so large that they threaten our future as the world’s leading military and economic power—simply by cutting government waste. No sensible person who has spent five minutes looking at the budget thinks that’s remotely possible. The charitable interpretation is that Brown embodies naive optimism, an approach to politics that Ronald Reagan left as one of his more dubious legacies to Republican Party. A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.
You have to love the “pivot” and the projection. Classic. Barack Obama and the Democrats have just introduced budgets and deficits which, in Weisberg’s own words “threaten our future as the world’s leading military and economic power” and it’s Scott Brown’s fault. And he has the further audacity to then claim Brown “is consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.”
Really Mr. Weisberg? Are they the ones saying “deficit reduction is important, but not now” as President Obama said in the State of the Union address? Is it Scott Brown and the Republicans who are responsible for the planned deficits we see in the chart below? Is it really they who are “consciously pandering to the public’s ignorance and illusions” by claiming we can have these massive deficits now and our cake later?
The 40% of those who’ve consistently objected to the profligate spending, increased programs and expanding government are those who actually do have “tax skin” in the game. The problem for Democrats and the left is these polls now show that it is they who are gaining allies out here due to their opposition and not the left. That obviously has Weisberg and his cronies all but apoplectic and casting around everywhere for an acceptable scape-goat.
That scape-goat are the people, who don’t know what’s good for them, and the Republicans, who haven’t had the power to even stop the leftist juggernaut in Congress if they tried. Of course the latter is a simple fact of numbers and has been for a year – and we don’t need polls to tell us that.
Perhaps Atlas is finally shrugging. Those that pay the freight – and you see them represented in the tip of the iceberg known as the Tea Parties – are standing up and saying “no”. No more. We’re done with this.
That means both Democrats and Republicans – even Scott Brown if he can’t figure it out – are starting to be held to account. And while it doesn’t appear that Weisberg understands that building dynamic, it is clear that a demoralized and scared Democratic party heading into midterm elections is beginning too.
I agree with Weisberg in one respect – politicians “who embody this live-for-the-today mentality” need to go. The difference is I see more in Mr. Weisberg’s chosen party than I see in the GOP. Those of both parties need a pink slip.
That said, blaming where we are on the people has some cache – after all, the politicians aren’t in a position to do what they do without the people’s support at the ballot box. And, even when they’re obviously corrupt like Jack Murtha, they’re left in office, year after year after year. That can indeed be laid at the feet of the people, at least in that district. But when he spouts off inclusively about “the American people”, Weisberg ignores a good 40% if not half of this nation which doesn’t, has never and will never support the tax and spend nonsense that has gotten us to this point. Pretending that’s not so doesn’t make it true.
Democratic politicians are now trying to pass legislation that a frustrated Weisberg and the left want but, per the polls he likes to quote, the people don’t. They’ve sent very clear messages to national politicians via votes in VA, NJ and MA to remind them for and at whose sufferance they work. Weisberg prefers to call that the actions of a fickle, ignorant and childish public. Instead, thankfully, it is a system actually working as it was intended to work – and just in the nick of time.
UPDATE: Kathy Kattenburg at The Occasionally Moderate Voice doesn’t appear to understand what’s been written here and thereby gets it wrong – as usual.
I definitely lean toward defining his presidency as “catastrophic” in more than a general sense. I read a piece by Jacob Weisberg in Salon that managed to inadvertantly define the idelogocial rift between the right and left very well (not that it is any secret, but it is interesting to see it laid out so blatantly at times) and understand how catastrophic Obama could be to our existing way of life if not vigorously opposed.
In his article, Weisberg is essentially trying to explain away Obama’s lack of accomplishment in this first 10 months in office by saying that should he pass just one of his “transformational” agenda items before his first State of the Union address, he will be the most accomplished president in the last 70 years.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Obama wins passage of a health care reform a bill by that date, he will deliver his first State of the Union address having accomplished more than any other postwar American president at a comparable point in his presidency. This isn’t an ideological point or one that depends on agreement with his policies. It’s a neutral assessment of his emerging record—how many big, transformational things Obama is likely to have made happen in his first 12 months in office.
Of course Weisberg’s “neutral assessment” isn’t at all neutral. His assertion that what Obama is trying to accomplish are “transformational” implies that they’re also positive. And that’s the difference between the right and the left as we consider these “things” Obama wants passed into law. The right, of course, wouldn’t consider passing Obama’s agenda to be an accomplishment at all. In fact, the right considers that agenda to be destructive, not transformational. If the right was to use the term “transformational”, it would do so describe the agenda as destructive to the traditions which made America’s great. Or, more succinctly, the right sees his agenda as an erosion of freedom and liberty and a huge step toward the collectivism of America.
But how does Weisberg – and the left – see them?
We are so submerged in the details of this debate—whether the bill will include a “public option,” limit coverage for abortion, or tax Botox—that it’s easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the impending change. For the federal government to take responsibility for health coverage will be a transformation of the American social contract and the single biggest change in government’s role since the New Deal.
Weisberg sees this huge expansion of government control as a feature, not a bug. This is a “good thing”, and he implies even more would be better. So there’s little doubt that he will consider such an “accomplishment” as wonderful and Obama as a “consequential” president in a most positive way. Meanwhile the right will also see him as a consequential president but in a catastrophic way – essentially changing forever the dynamic that has made America the exception in the world and instead turning it into another western European semi-socialist “paradise” destined for mediocrity and decline.
And guys like Jacob Weisberg will be standing on the sidelines applauding the whole way down. It is that applause, so to speak, that absolutely puzzles the right. We’ve yet to understand, given what this country has accomplished and done in its short history – its short exceptional history – why people like Weisberg want to so fundamentally change it and make it like the rest of the mediocre countries of the world. It’s simply unfathomable to most of us.
Interestingly, many of those who bought into the campaigning Obama’s promise to be “transformational” are finding his definition (and that of the liberal left) as put into practice to not at all be the transformation they were assuming when they supported him. They’re beginning to realize they were gulled. The problem, however, is now they’re stuck with him, can see the catastrophe on the horizon and can’t really do a whole heck of a lot about it. It’s like New Orleans with Katrina bearing down on it. Stuck in town without a bus ride and getting ready to see life become a whole lot worse than it is now.
Obama the political Katrina, about to lay waste to the exception that has been America and Weisberg and his ilk will tout the destruction as an “accomplishment” and be cheering it on the entire time.
That’s just wrong. It’s also why there can never be accommodation or compromise with the political left.