Free Markets, Free People
Ari Berman of "The Nation” does an op-ed for the New York Times in which he pushes for the removal (or at least the non-support) of the blue dog Democrats such as Heath Schuler of NC.
Now that doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me – just as the Tea Party wants the less than conservative members of the Republican party replaced with more reliably fiscal conservative members.
That said, however, I loved the “reasoning” quoted for this desire:
Margaret Johnson, a former party chairwoman in Polk County, N.C., helped elect Representative Shuler but now believes the party would be better off without him. “I’d rather have a real Republican than a fake Democrat,” she said. “A real Republican motivates us to work. A fake Democrat de-motivates us.”
Well there you go – remember the left has been lambasting the right for who knows how long for not offering a “big tent” but essentially being a narrow based “all white male” party. Howard Dean and Rahm Emanuel concocted the 50 state strategy which recruited blue dogs like Schuler because they were “electable” in those districts and that strategy gave Democrats a “super majority”. But what real good did it do?
The argument is “wouldn’t you rather have someone that would vote with you 70% of the time rather than someone who will vote for your programs 0% of the time? The answer is “no”. Not if you actually want to get those things done which require critical votes and the 30% of the time they don’t vote with you is when those votes occur. Tea Partiers figured this out a while ago. And again, they’ve been lambasted for being so non-inclusive. Karl Rove, an inveterate seat counter, focuses solely on the number of “Republicans” in each chamber. Tea Partiers and conservatives focus on the ideology of those running and only support those who are, in Ms. Johnson’s words, “real Republicans” as the TP and conservatives define them.
It appears Democrats, lately of the “big tent”, are now looking toward a smaller tent. That would include the architect of the 50 state strategy, Howard Dean:
Ms. Johnson is right: Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said.
Yeah … exactly what a number of us have been saying for years. Look, people throw the word “ideology” around like it is some sort of bad word. It’s not. It is your political philosophy, your principles, your belief in what politics should reflect.
Does anyone believe those that founded this country weren’t ideologically driven? That they didn’t have a definite set of principles that were foundation of what they created?
“Big tent” is a wonderfully nebulous and useless concept that implies that inclusiveness is more important than principles. It’s nonsense as both sides are discovering. You’re either for something, in terms of principles, or you’re not. “Including” others who don’t necessarily share your principles is simply an exercise in, well, seat counting, which as both the GOP and Democrats have finally discovered, is a waste of time.
George Will’s column today is a “must read” if for nothing more than this succinct description of why government exits (and why it should be a “limited” government:
Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.
Will uses his column to describe the dueling concepts of government that have arisen in this country. He identifies, properly in my estimation, Woodrow Wilson as the first “progressive” President and the one who began this move away from limited government that had served the nation so well to that point, to the more progressive version. It is a version we’ve yet to escape. FDR was just a continuation of the Wilsonian ambition who happened upon the proper crisis at the right time (sound familiar?).
With our recent discussion of rights and privileges in the comment section of a post, I found this to be dead on target:
Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government’s ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights — entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.
The name “progressivism” implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
The cheerful assumption is that “evolving” must mean “improving.” Progressivism’s promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.
And, progressivism’s method of choice for all this improvement is the vehicle of “big government”. What other institution can carry out such a massive project. And who has the time or patience for cultural change or to let markets sort it all out. Besides, only government allows the use of force.
Of course, as Will implies, the method of expanding government is the expansion of “rights” or entitlements and the declaration that only government is capable of ensuring their fulfillment. This flows directly from the Wilsonian idea that it is government’s job, as society evolved, to identify, enable and protect new “rights” as they emerged.
He repudiated the Founders’ idea that government is instituted to protect pre-existing and timeless natural rights, promising “the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”
The result, as William Voegeli correctly identifies it, is government’s “right to discover new rights.” The result is preordained:
“Liberalism’s protean understanding of rights,” [Voegeli] says, “complicates and ultimately dooms the idea of a principled refusal to elevate any benefit that we would like people to enjoy to the status of an inviolable right.” Needs breed rights to have the needs addressed, to the point that Lyndon Johnson, an FDR protege, promised that government would provide Americans with “purpose” and “meaning.”
Although progressivism’s ever-lengthening list of rights is as limitless as human needs/desires, one right that never makes the list is the right to keep some inviolable portion of one’s private wealth or income, “regardless,” Voegeli says, “of the lofty purposes social reformers wish to make of it.”
Lacking a limiting principle, progressivism cannot say how big the welfare state should be but must always say that it should be bigger than it currently is. Furthermore, by making a welfare state a fountain of rights requisite for democracy, progressives in effect declare that democratic deliberation about the legitimacy of the welfare state is illegitimate.
How many time have you heard the international criticism of the US for not having a national health service? That’s symptomatic of Will’s last point. Progressivisim, or at least the European equivalent, has had its way in Europe and we see the result today. Will correctly identifies the fatal flaw of progressivism – the lack of a limiting principle. Instead, progressivism sees the job of government in an ever expanding role of catering to almost any need or desire it can imagine and make a “right”. The most recent government invented right is the right to health care. The fact that the fulfillment of that “right” involves the labor, time and abilities of others doesn’t seem to register with progressives. Having identified the right and legislated it into existence, it is simply the role of those others, forced by the state, to fulfill that new right.
All of this, of course, leads to the inevitable conclusion – such a system is unsustainable:
“By blackening the skies with crisscrossing dollars,” Voegeli says, the welfare state encourages people “to believe an impossibility: that every household can be a net importer of the wealth redistributed by the government.” But the welfare state’s problem, today becoming vivid, is socialism’s problem, as Margaret Thatcher defined it: Socialist governments “always run out of other people’s money.”
That’s been the starting position for everyone who supported the health care reform monstrosity that just came out of Washington DC. It’s stated in various ways, such as health care being a “right”, but the axiom is always that in our society everyone should have health care, or as a practical matter, health insurance.
It sounds so compassionate and decent doesn’t it? But that little phrase packs in some nasty principles.
It’s one thing to say that you deserve to control your own life, or property or income. That’s pretty uncontroversial. But when you say, “I have a right to have health care–or a pension, or a home–provided for me even if I can’t afford it”, then what you’re really saying is that I have an obligation to provide you with those things. Whether I wish to provide them to you, or whether it causes me some degree of privation, is irrelevant. To say that you–or anyone else–has a right to something I must provide is to say that you have an irrevocable claim on my life, labor or property. I owe you.
No matter how you try to gussy it up, or dress it in compassion, the fact is that by claiming that such an obligation, you place me in indentured servitude. My wishes are irrelevant.
Indeed, it’s not even indentured servitude. At least in an indenture, I have to agree to provide you with my labor for some period, after which I am manumitted. In actuality, by claiming such an obligation on me that I cannot evade, you make me, to some degree, your serf. You are the laird of the manor, and I have my obligation of labor days to provide you.
Now, perhaps I should be willing to provide you with health insurance. Perhaps that is the moral and/or ethical course of action I should undertake. But that, too, is irrelevant. By demanding it, and by forcing me to provide you with a good or service by law, you not only ignore my conception of morality, you impose your morality on me. Whether I agree with your morality is not even a consideration for you. You have a claim,you say, so your morality trumps mine.
Moreover, once you’ve accepted that it’s perfectly all right to impose a form of servitude on me, in order that I might provide you with a good, what’s your limiting principle? If you may impose an obligation on me to provide a part of my income or property in order to procure a good for yourself, why can’t you simply take all of it? After all, you’ve already signed on to imposing slavery in principle, because you’ve decided that you can impose an obligation on me against my will. Why stop at serfdom?
Slavery, to one degree or another, is, of course, the inevitable outcome of any attempt to enforce some sense of cosmic justice on life, and the lives of your fellow men. Because there is no such thing as cosmic justice. Nor is there any general agreement on what cosmic justice should be. So, your attempt to impose it on others invariably must be done by force, either through the majesty of the law, or with a knife to the throat.
Which is often the same thing.
So, what you are really saying when you claim that “Everyone deserves health care,” is, “I have the right to enslave you, in whole or in part, in order to require you provide health care to me.” When you strip the high-sounding phrases to the principles, it doesn’t sound nearly so moral and compassionate, does it?
Oh, and by the way, it does no good to tell me that I also have the same claim on others, and can force someone else to provide me with health care, too. Because all you’re really telling me is that I can become a slavemaster, too. The fact that I don’t care to be a slavemaster, or that I find it morally abhorrent, is utterly irrelevant to you. Again, your morality trumps mine.
Because, after all, if you can get everyone else to join you in your crime–indeed, to glory in it–who will condemn you?
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Those of us who are familiar with this process and have seen it at work before (Rathergate) won’t be particularly surprised, but Richard Fernandez does a fascinating essay comparing the CRU scandal to differing civilization types, discussing the main difference between nomadic empires (Mongols) and more traditional ones (Rome) and how they are represented by the internet:
The story of these ancient empires acquires a renewed interest today because many of the conditions present in the vast, unsettled steppe superficially resemble the uncharted borders of the online world. In the 21st century just as in the 13th century, powerful ideological and economic forces move effortlessly across settled boundaries in ways that no single nation-state can easily control.
So, we have the Mongol Empire and the Roman Empire (a true “Barbarians At The Gate” scenario) opposing each other:
Whereas one side believes that government should be limited to tasks that the individual or local government cannot perform and that relationships between the parts are regulated by a distributed program expressed in the Constitution and Judaeo-Christian tradition, the other side believes that “government should be there for you”. It should be there for you in the bedroom, in the playground and recycle bin. It should be there when you are eating transfats or farting. It should even be your sexual mentor, where possible in school. Like every good imperative program, it should leave no room for anything but itself.
And, as Fernandez points out, the Romans almost won:
The endless proliferation of treaties, laws and regulations were the imperative rules; and their embodiment in a never-ending expanse of organs of governance from local governments to the UN — with NGOs and activist groups filling every conceivable gap — was the instrument by which the ungoverned were going to be fenced in. Even private life was brought under cultivation by slow degrees and a code of Political Correctness suffused every aspect of life. In time it would become impossible to even think a subversive thought; the language would be incapable of expressing it. The vast increase in government over the last sixty years brought the settlement of the world — some might call it the End of History — almost within reach.
But then Al Gore “invented” the internet, and the internet recreated the steppe on a virtual scale:
The “climate change” debate is almost a perfect example of intellectual combat between the two sides. It is a modernized re-enactment of a struggle between one side operating under distributed programming and another using a top-down paradigm. The construction of the “climate change” meme followed the traditional socialist pattern. The idea was built up with articles written about it in the press. Advocacy groups formed around it; authority from some academic source found to bolster it; celebrities were engaged to tout it. The UN was persuaded to give the whole its imprimatur. It had always worked before. Post after post was driven into the ground anchored around Kyoto, the UN and the EU. Strand after strand of wire was fastened to the timbers. And then, just as the gate was going to be closed, the nomads of the Internet charged the wire.
They have almost broken through. Led by individuals like Plimer, McIntyre and Lomborg and followed by a motely, a growing tide of discussion on the Internet has pushed in the wire so hard that it might actually collapse. The nomads looked at the data, the computer models. Someone may have hacked the CRU documents or leaked them. And once the data was out they knew where to look. The site Watts Up With That is a perfect example of the demolition of a staid University Department meme under the cut and thrust of the terrors of the intellectual steppes. Watts Up With That goes through one instance of the CRUs data fiddling in step-by-step detail and by the end it you have gone along for the ride. You have followed the process and find it impossible to simply say that “the CRU may have been naughty but the data is good”. The data itself may be bad or intentionally corrupted.
It is a fascinating spectacle. What the nomads have on their sides is reality. What the sown has on its part is manner and method. And the struggle between the two sides is one whose outcome, even in general, is still unknown.
The difference, of course, is the barbarians have been able to challenge the “method” and “manner” in which the statist side has used for seeming eons to get us to our present situation. To the swift, nimble and adaptable go the battles (assuming they also have the facts on their side as I believer the skeptics do in this climate scandal). The barbarians are able to mass at will, engage subject matter experts and tap their knowledge and erode the foundations of trust the empire has built up, falsely in many cases, over the years.
It is indeed a fascinating spectacle and one I feel thankful to both witness and participate in. I’ve always been the type that likes to question authority, and being an ad hoc member of this huge dissenting tribe has been most fulfilling and enjoyable. My question to you is, given what Fernandez puts forward here, do you think this may mark the high tide of this particular empire type or simply a pot hole in the road down which Leviathan continues to gather speed?
David Warren, writing in the Ottawa Ciitzen, takes a look at some of the “Gorbachev/Obama” comparisons that some are doing and finds them wanting. But, he does find one thing the two men seem to share in common. Something he calls a characteristic of the post-modern liberal mind:
Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.
Or a complete and utter disconnection from reality as it functions in this world. We tend to write that seeming disconnect off to arrogance or ignorance, or both. But in fact, it is a belief based in the following:
Gorbachev seemed to assume, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then beyond it, that his Communist Party would recover from any temporary setbacks, and that the long-term effects of his glasnost and perestroika could only be to make it bigger and stronger.
There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.
A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.
Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.
Ok, I admit I laughed out loud at the final emphasized statement, especially given who we have here regularly trying to do exactly what Warren points out. The difference is it has never sounded as “plausible” as our commenter might think he’s made it sound.
But I think Warren is on to something here. When you confront those who believe as our current political leadership does, the “economic laws of gravity” have no real relevance to them. You get a blank stare and then an assurance that all will be well, just wait and see. In their ignorance, be it practiced or real, they actually believe that “no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally” and thus continue to provide the rest of what we enjoy today.
So you can run the economy off the cliff with cap-and-trade and we’ll somehow survive and be “bigger and stronger”. Or you can use a health care model that has or is failing all over the world and because their intention is good, it will work differently here. The cosmic laws of economics that have only worked in a certain way since the world was formed will now work differently because their “intention” is good. Human behavior will modify itself once the people understand how wonderful the world they envision will be.
Suddenly the presentation of their version of reality, when based on the premise Warren identifies, makes a sort of cock-eyed sense, even if it has no actual basis in reality. That’s why the uninformed are susceptible to sales pitch. That “vocabulary” that only a “fully college-educated liberal” can bring to bear soothes them into believing that competent hands are at the wheel and all the nonsense they’ve heard about the laws of gravity and economics don’t apply anymore. The Hope and Change express sold that and the unassuming masses ate it up. It sounds wonderful. However they soon discovered (or will discover) the roof still falls in as the pillars are knocked away.
With an incredible rapidity, America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.
Given the dithering over Afghanistan and the naive game-playing with Iran and Russia, the 9 trillion in promised debt on top of the trillions already owed and the continuing and planned takeover of more and more of the economy by government, it is hard to wave off Mr. Warren’s point or insight.
The good news? Well Warren thinks we’re big enough and strong enough to shake the effects of our first post-modern president off, although what’s left won’t be at all like it is today:
And while I think the U.S. has the structural fortitude to survive the Obama presidency, it will be a much-diminished country that emerges from the “new physics” of hope and change.
“The ‘new physics’ of hope and change” – I love that phrase, but I’m not as optimistic as Warren. Unless we can stop the new physics of post-modernism in its tracks, I believe we will be less than a “much-diminished country” when this is all over with. We might be on our way to redefining “third world country” if we’re not careful. If the Democrats were at all competent, I’d bet on it.
No cap-and-trade. No government run health care. No Democrat majorities in 2010. Otherwise, “Katie bar the door”.
As most of you know, I served on active duty as a USAF Security Policeman from 1984-1993. Three of those years were spent in Brunssum, The Netherlands, working on the International Military Police force at Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT, now known as AFNORTH). I noticed an interesting phenomenon while I was there. As any policeman know, sometimes, you have some unpleasant interactions with members of the community you serve. In general, those actions end up with you forcing that person to do something the really do not want to do.
In my experience, this type of unpleasantness usually occurred when dealing with a German, or an American. But there was something interesting about the outcome. When you forced a German to do something, every time they saw you after that, they would approach with a smile, “Hello, my friend! How are you?” It was almost as if they’d discovered during the confrontation where they stood in the pecking order related to you, and henceforth treated you with respect and friendliness.
Americans, on the other hand, didn’t react that way. Once a confrontation had gone against them, then every time they saw you after that, they’d shoot angry glares at you. Maybe they’d remark to a friend, “See that MP over there? He’s a dick.” Once you’d had that confrontation with an American, you were never going to be friends.
Frankly, Americans resent authority. We accept some measure of it as a necessary evil most times, but there are limits. We can be pushed, often quite far, but when we reach a certain tipping point, enmity quickly flares. We can have quite heated arguments as equals, then knock off and have a drink. But once we have a heated argument, then are forced to do something we don’t want to do…well, we don’t like it.
That piece of our national character is being tried this month.
Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen arguments about national health care erupt into incidents of local violence. Yes, we yelled at each other bit back in 2005 or so, when Social Security reform was on the table. But now we’re seeing thugs in SEIU T-shirts showing up and throwing punches at people who are gathered to demonstrate against the current version of health care reform. We’ve seen a local Democratic Party apparatchik shove a demonstrator in the face. Billy Beck has often said it, and now he’s saying it again: “You have always heard it here first: All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war.”
At this rate, I’m afraid that it’s going to become painfully obvious that a large number of people in this country are not going to politely doff their caps to the local SEIU grandees, once they’ve learned their lessons like good Germans. Quite the reverse, in fact.
I’ve also said before–and every time I do, people like Oliver Willis call me crazy for saying it–we’re preparing this country to split apart. There are two political camps in this country: collectivists, and and indvidualists. (Forget party labels. The parties are, at best, loose approximations of those two camps.) It’s a fairly even split between the two camps. And the fundamental philosophies of those two camps have become irreconcilable, for a number of reasons, but primarily as a result of centralization of power in Washington.
Of course, the two philosophies have always been incompatible, but in a more federated America, the incompatibility didn’t matter as much. People in Wisconsin could be as progressive as possible, and no one in New Mexico cared much. And if people in Wisconsin or New Mexico didn’t like the local political climate, they could just move to somewhere whe the climate was more to their liking. But with the arrogation of so much power by Washington, that’s no longer an option. In a federal system, nobody in Texas much cares if some yankees in a state far away set up The People’s Autonomous Oblast of Massachussets. But if Bostonians think that some Alabama ‘seed in Washington is gonna force them to dance while handling snakes and speaking in tongues…well, you can’t square that circle.
Unfortunately, if the solons in Washington declare we must do X, there’s no way to escape the consequences of that decision. And so, every political decision is now fraught with national, rather than local consequences. As a result, the incompatibility between collectivists and individualists is reaching a boiling point. The centralization of power in Washington, and the nationalization of practically every domestic issue, has done nothing but poison our politics, and degraded our political discourse.
This has happened once before in American history. Between the founding of the country and the 1850s, Slavery moved from an issue of local sovereignty to a national moral issue. And as abolitionists gained power in both the house–and especially the Senate–it became clear to the Southern states that the abolition of slavery by Congress was inevitable. Once that happened, given the temper of the times, secession was inevitable as well.
Whether the Civil War was inevitable is a matter of debate. I tend to think that the peculiar character of Lincoln made it so. Given a different president, we might have two very different nations–and probably more, in what is now the United States.
By the same token, I don’t believe we are in for a shooting war between the Red and Blue states. Quite apart from the fact that people in the red states tend to be the people with all the guns, there seems to be a declining interest in both Red and Blue states to live under the same political regime. Blue staters are increasingly uninterested in delaying their march to Utopia by having to make concessions to Bible-thumping, gay-hating hayseeds, and Red staters are not willing to live in a Peasants’ and Workers’ Paradise run by Godless, unborn-baby-killing Commies.
We’re already struggling with the nearly impossible political task of how to reconcile two irreconcilable philosophies under a powerful central government. Having union thugs show up and deliver beatings and intimidation is only going to raise the anger level among Americans who feel they are being forced to do something they don’t want to do, increase their resentment, and push the country closer to dissolution.
And this won’t be a case like 1860, where 70% of the country successfully forced their will on the remaining 30%. We’ve got a nearly even 50-50 split between those two philosophies now. We’re too evenly divided to make force an easy, or even viable option. If things keep going in this direction, then I think we’re on the way to divorce court, where we’ll be citing “irreconcilable differences”.