Patrick Non-White imagines the late Hunter S. Thompson’s reaction to that notorious bed-wetter David Brooks’ recent screed opposing the legalization of pot and arguing that government ought to “subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship” by sending out Gestapo teams armed with automatic weapons to break down doors and to nudge Americans in the direction of being better persons by throwing them into prison.
The silver 2001 BMW 535i roared through Adams Morgan, occasionally screeching over the sidewalks as my accountant wrenched both hands from the wheel for another toke at the weed-pipe. “Gadzooks, man!” I shouted. “Can you keep it together for another fifteen miles, or at least outside the District limits?” We were halfway through our 35 mile journey from Bethesda to Falls Church, with enough dangerous narcotics to stun a grizzly bear in the trunk: We’d started with nine ounces of weed, six rocks of crack, a sugar jar full of blow, 36 vicodin tablets, a cage filled with live Bolivian arrow toads, and two jars of ketamine. Plus two quarts of Beefeater gin, a case of Schlitz malt liquor, and a four ounce ball of Afghan hash: Surely enough to get this pair of degenerate drug addicts to Fall’s Church. After that what man could say?
It was Edmund Burke, the English statesman and philosopher of the Good Life, who asked, “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?” In the Burkean ethos, freedom unconstrained by wisdom “is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.” I reflected that Burke’s wisdom had never been constrained by a head full of mescaline, or a heart thumping on two tabs of amyl nitrate, so perhaps there were things the grand old man of the eighteenth century British polity did not know.
Read the whole thing and raise a central finger in the general direction of David Brooks.
Who could possibly be better qualified than the New York Times’ resident token conservative to teach a college course on Humility? Presumably Mr. Brooks is working on a follow-up seminar for next Fall on Sycophancy and Grovelling.
What I found odd was the “GLBL 345 01” Course Number. I had to look it up, learning for my trouble that GLBL means that the course is being offered in the (ahem!) Yale Department of Global Affairs.
We didn’t have such a department in my day. Back then, aspiring diplomats studied French and took courses on diplomatic history in the History Department.
The Brooks Humility course seems oddly located. It appears to me to constitute a series of discussions of literary expressions of human finitude and immorality. If I’m understanding its topic correctly, I would think the course ought to belong under the English Department.
Specific disciplinary taxonomy, I suppose, scarcely matters today in a world in which essentially any topic which a clever chap can organize into a number of amusing hour and fifty minute talks can be a college course representing a one-tenth part of $50,000-60,000 worth of higher education.
Even the very, very moderate and establishmentarian David Brooks has his doubts about the future political prospects of democrats philosophically committed to top-down central planning.
[Medicare] is incredibly popular. Recipients don’t have to think about the costs of their treatment, and they get lots of free money. The average 56-year-old couple pays about $140,000 into the Medicare system over a lifetime and receives about $430,000 in benefits back. The program is also completely unaffordable. Medicare has unfinanced liabilities of more than $30 trillion. The Medicare trustees say the program is about a decade from insolvency.
Some Democrats simply want to do nothing as Medicare careens toward bankruptcy. Last Sunday on “Face the Nation,” for example, Nancy Pelosi said, “I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare.”
Fortunately, more responsible Democrats are looking for ways to save the system. This is where the philosophical issues come in. They involve questions like: Who should make the crucial decisions? Where does wisdom reside?
Democrats tend to be skeptical that dispersed consumers can get enough information to make smart decisions. Health care is phenomenally complicated. Providers have much more information than consumers. Insurance companies are rapacious and are not in the business of optimizing care.
Given these limitations, Democrats generally seek to concentrate decision-making and cost-control power in the hands of centralized experts. Under the Obama health care law, a team of 15 officials will be created to discover best practices and come up with cost-cutting measures. There will also be a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in Washington to organize medical innovation. Centralized officials will decide how to set national reimbursement rates.
Republicans at their best are skeptical about top-down decision-making. They are skeptical that centralized experts can accurately predict costs. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee projected that Medicare would cost $12 billion by 1990. It actually cost $110 billion. They are skeptical that centralized experts can predict human behavior accurately enough to socially engineer new programs. Medicare’s chief actuary predicted that 400,000 people would sign up for the new health care law’s high-risk pools. In fact, only 18,000 have.
They are skeptical that political authorities can, in the long run, resist pressure to hand out free goodies. They are also skeptical that planners can control the unintended effects of their decisions.
Republicans point out that Medicare has tried to control costs centrally for decades with terrible results. They argue that a decentralized process of trial and error will work better, as long as the underlying incentives are right. They suggest replacing the fee-for-service with a premium support system. Seniors would select from a menu of insurance plans. Their consumer choices would drive a continual, bottom-up process of innovation. Providers could use local knowledge to meet specific circumstances. ...
[T]here is no dispositive empirical proof about which method is best — the centralized technocratic one or the decentralized market-based one. Politicians wave studies, but they’re really just reflecting their overall worldviews. Democrats have much greater faith in centralized expertise. Republicans (at least the most honest among them) believe that the world is too complicated, knowledge is too imperfect. They have much greater faith in the decentralized discovery process of the market. ...
This basic debate will define the identities of the two parties for decades. In the age of the Internet and open-source technology, the Democrats are mad to define themselves as the party of top-down centralized planning. ... [I]f 15 Washington-based experts really can save a system as vast as Medicare through a process of top-down control, then this will be the only realm of human endeavor where that sort of engineering actually works.
The budget plan introduced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan actually represents a serious effort to fix the entitlements crisis and close the enormous gap between government income and expenditures. I do not believe that I have ever seen, in my lifetime, so courageous a piece of legislation. Wall Street Journal
One can see the dramatic impact of this one hundred degree shift in politics in the fact that it immediately forced the New York Time’s substitute-for-a-conservative David Brooks right off the fence, and transformed him into a full-throated supporter.
Over the past few weeks, a number of groups, including the ex-chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers and 64 prominent budget experts, have issued letters arguing that the debt situation is so dire that doing nothing is not a survivable option. What they lacked was courageous political leadership — a powerful elected official willing to issue a proposal, willing to take a stand, willing to face the political perils.
The country lacked that leadership until today. Today, Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate.
His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion. It will become the 2012 Republican platform, no matter who is the nominee. Any candidate hoping to win that nomination will have to be able to talk about government programs with this degree of specificity, so it will improve the G.O.P. primary race.
The Ryan proposal will help settle the fight over the government shutdown and the 2011 budget because it will remind everybody that the real argument is not about cutting a few billion here or there. It is about the underlying architecture of domestic programs in 2012 and beyond.
The Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context: The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract.
The democrat-controlled Senate will probably decline to endorse moving to a sustainable federal government, but Congressman Ryan has framed the 2012 Electoral Debate. This is a budget that Republicans can campaign on.
Dan Calabrese explains why David Brooks thinks NPR must be federally funded.
I sort of like having David Brooks around. He serves as a living demonstration of a lot of troubling things. By the standards of the New York Times and much of official Washington, Brooks is supposed to be some sort of conservative. And that probably tells you everything you need to know about officialdom.
So when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Brooks the other day to make his case for why we should continue to give federal funding to public broadcasting, what could the elitist Mr. Brooks say? He couldn’t say there aren’t enough other choices, since there are thousands of them. He couldn’t defend NPR and PBS against the elitist charge, although, as an elitist himself, he probably has a hard time seeing the problem with that.
So he said this:
“Here’s the case: You know we have a common culture. If we’re going to assimilate people, if we’re going to be one nation – it helps to have a common culture. There’s some things that do join us. And government has some role in help creating those things, in funding the things that join us. The Smithsonian museums do some of that. I think public broadcasting with shows like ‘The American Experience,’ they give us all something to clue into our history. They join us as a people. They assimilate immigrants and it’s worth a very small amount, and you should see my paychecks – a very small amount that we pay to this.”
Got that? It doesn’t matter that you can get upwards of 1,000 different channels on cable or satellite, or that you can get hundreds of radio stations on XM/Siruis – not to mention your local broadcast stations. Apparently those hundreds and hundreds of offerings don’t effectively “assimilate” you into the “common culture” of America, as defined and approved by snobs like David Brooks.
To really get a sense of where he’s coming from, you need to read more David Brooks, but since you would rather scratch a chalkboard, I’ll sum it up for you. Brooks believes the major division in society today is not rich vs. poor, nor is it liberal vs. conservative, but rather the educated vs. the uneducated. Guess which group David Brooks likes!
So you, the great unwashed, watching wrestling, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Operation Repo or the very worst thing of all, Fox News Channel, David Brooks has a problem with you. See, we have a “common culture,” and it consists of things David Brooks approves of. Stuff you find in the Smithsonian. Stuff you hear at the opera.
It’s fun laughing at David Brooks’ pompous egotism, but his argument is really just more liberal establishment fantasy. NPR does not assimilate anybody. The availability of some Vivaldi on some FM NPR channel makes nobody switch over on the dial from Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh.
Federal NPR funding is simply a bien pensant gesture expressing our would-be ruling class’s cultural piety and affirming their authority to call the shots. The redneck gas station mechanic in Nebraska may be immune to conversion to membership in a culture that applauds exhibitions of Gay Portraiture at the Smithsonian and that likes to listen to Baroque music in the morning, but he can, by Jingo! be made to pay taxes to support the preferences of his betters.
David Brooks, who effectively embodies the New York Times idea of what a conservative ought to be, draws upon that firm foundation of learning elite schools (in his case, University of Chicago) provide members of the establishment commentariat like himself, clears his throat and begins the chin stroking, contrasting the French Enlightenment (radical people Brooks disapproves of) with “the British Enlightenment and Edmund Burke” (read: David Books himself).
When I was in college I took a course in the Enlightenment. In those days, when people spoke of the Enlightenment, they usually meant the French Enlightenment — thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Condorcet. ...
But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. ...
Paine saw the American and French Revolutions as models for his sort of radical change. In each country, he felt, the revolutionaries deduced certain universal truths about the rights of man and then designed a new society to fit them.
Burke, a participant in the British Enlightenment, had a different vision of change. He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.
Burke was horrified at the thought that individuals would use abstract reason to sweep away arrangements that had stood the test of time. He believed in continual reform, but reform is not novelty. You don’t try to change the fundamental substance of an institution. You try to modify from within, keeping the good parts and adjusting the parts that aren’t working.
If you try to re-engineer society on the basis of abstract plans, Burke argued, you’ll end up causing all sorts of fresh difficulties, because the social organism is more complicated than you can possibly know. We could never get things right from scratch.
Then along comes Kathy Kattenburg, who cruelly demonstrates just how superficial is Brooks’ intellectual veneer, how weak his grasp of actual facts, and (as Burke would have said) how muddled his understanding and has fun delivering this well-deserved comeuppance.
David Brooks is unhappy that ordinary Americans are so ungrateful as to reject the gracious willingness of their betters to take charge of the country, correct its failings, and run their lives for them.
The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.
The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.
The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.
A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.
The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation. ...
The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally.
In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.
Personally, I’m not a fan of this movement. But I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade.
Being an educated sort of person myself, I find it remarkable that the positions of the community of fashion “educated” class, amounting to Luddite Catastrophism, Hedonism (tinged by a covert eugenic impulse), Appeasement, and Pacifism, really all represent extremist, self-indulgent, fantastical, and intellectually indefensible ideas, universally rejected by the mainstream traditions of Natural Science and Moral and Political Philosophy.
Education seems to have succeeded in inculcating a sense of group identity, featuring a habitual reliance on conformity as a status marker, but it has obviously not succeeded in the generality of its beneficiaries in producing people able to distinguish between established science and unverifiable models. It has produced a prominent and recognizable portion of the population with an exaggerated sense of self-entitlement and an overweening confidence in its own expertise, which at the same time demonstrates a complete inability not only to learn from history, but even to remember more than a couple of years into the past.
Our soi disant educated class typically has none of the fruits of education, beyond that produced by effective training in sophistry: skill in the manipulation of words, symbols, and ideas. Ordinary Americans commonly have a profound intellectual advantage over today’s educated elites in the possession of character and an independence of mind capable of rejecting the impulses of fashion. Ordinary Americans see through Global Warming because they have common sense. What passes for education in Mr. Brooks’s view of the world is the willing subordination of independent thought in favor the echo chamber consensus found in the establishment media. Bow to the Times’, the New Yorker’s, the New York Review of Books’ authoritative positions and perspectives and you are educated.
David Brooks is enough of a liberal himself that he dutifully identifies Islamicism as a fringe feature of the Muslim world. That fringe tends to do awfully well whenever opinion polls of Muslims get taken.
But even Brooks thinks the epidemic of political correctness following the Fort Hood massacre got out of hand.
(A) malevolent narrative has emerged… on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.
This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.
When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.
So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.
Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own.
A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.
There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.
This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.
Worse, it absolved Hasan — before the real evidence was in — of his responsibility. He didn’t have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.
The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the U.S. as much as by groups in Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.
It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.
When certain centrist Republican commentators were seen abandoning the defense of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama over John McCain, one cynic observed that it is always nice to be so obviously winning that all the trimmers, conformists, and opportunists are busily scrambling to climb on board your political side.
New York Times token conservative columnist David Brook’s defection last Fall was one of the minor landmarks on the road to Republican defeat. But, now, not even a year later we find David Brooks scurrying down the ropes and right off the good ship Obama, with a column remarking on the decline in public support for the Chosen One’s policies and predicting his thorough and well-deserved comeuppance.
Why, welcome back, David. Save a seat for Peggy Noonan, will you?
In March, only 32 percent of Americans thought Obama was an old-style, tax-and-spend liberal. Now 43 percent do.
We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.
Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.
Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.
The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.
Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.
Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) tells a few hard truths to Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
David Brooks watches John Ford Westerns (apparently only one John Ford Western), and advises us that John Ford movies are all about communitarianism. According to Brooks, John Ford Westerns are paeans to the collectivist statist ideals of Barack Obama and the democrat party.
We Republicans need to register (and then surrender) our sixguns, turn over our poker chips to build a new schoolhouse, hire some government administrators, and then come out to the church social to sing hymns.
Republicans generally like Westerns. They generally admire John Wayne-style heroes who are rugged, individualistic and brave. They like leaders — from Goldwater to Reagan to Bush to Palin — who play up their Western heritage. Republicans like the way Westerns seem to celebrate their core themes — freedom, individualism, opportunity and moral clarity.
But the greatest of all Western directors, John Ford, actually used Westerns to tell a different story. Ford’s movies didn’t really celebrate the rugged individual. They celebrated civic order.
For example, in Ford’s 1946 movie, “My Darling Clementine,” Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, the marshal who tamed Tombstone. But the movie isn’t really about the gunfight and the lone bravery of a heroic man. It’s about how decent people build a town. Much of the movie is about how the townsfolk put up a church, hire a teacher, enjoy Shakespeare, get a surgeon and work to improve their manners.
The movie, in other words, is really about religion, education, science, culture, etiquette and rule of law — the pillars of community. In Ford’s movie, as in real life, the story of Western settlement is the story of community-building. Instead of celebrating untrammeled freedom and the lone pioneer, Ford’s movies dwell affectionately on the social customs that Americans cherish — the gatherings at the local barbershop and the church social, the gossip with the cop and the bartender and the hotel clerk.
Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.
————————————————— James Bowman, in a posting titled A Ford Not a Lincoln, rebuts nicely adding another John Ford film to the discussion which illuminates the message Brooks misunderstands much more clearly.
In this movie as in others by Ford, particularly The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), we see both things: both the community and civilization that people, left in peace, will spontaneously create for themselves and the lone man with the gun, free and solitary, whom the community, often without knowing it, depends on to be left in peace. Without the one, there would not be the other. Ford’s point in both movies is that the community will happily discard and exile and finally forget about the hero, once his work is done. Mr Brooks himself unwittingly illustrates it by forgetting about him, or regarding him as incidental material.
In both movies, too, the hero is complict in his own marginalization by the community he saves. He prefers to live apart from it, partly because, in order to do what he does, he belongs more to the savage, honor-bound, heroic world that he helps to supplant. In Liberty Valance, John Wayne’s forgotten hero, Tom Doniphon has far more in common with Lee Marvin’s Liberty (significant name) than he does with Jimmy Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard. Stoddard even marries the woman he, Doniphon, loves, which makes his rescue both of Stoddard and of the world of law and civic order he represents even more of a noble renunciation than it would be in any case. Tellingly, Ford also shows how the town wants to tell itself a false story about Doniphon’s act of murder, in order to bring it under the umbrella of law and civic order which that act has made possible. And those who know the true story — that in the end civilization itself depends on the man with the gun — allow the false one to stand. Ford must have foreseen even in 1964 the time nearly half a century on when people like David Brooks would have forgotten that primal act of heroism that makes everything else possible and so come to believe, like the townsfolk of Shinbone in Ford’s movie, that civilization can bring itself to birth and sustain itself without the need for honor and courage.
Jennifer Rubin observes how quickly Barack Obama has persuaded last autumn’s conservative turncoats to reconsider their wardrobes.
It’s not quite LBJ losing Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War, but the president has lost David Brooks.
Well, well. First Chris Buckley and now Brooks. Usually it takes more than a month for presidents to disappoint those they have bamboozled during the campaign. But, as Brooks points out, Obama threw caution to the winds when he unveiled his monstrous budget.
[The] Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.
So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.
The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward. ...
Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”
Hold on—there’s a typo in that paragraph. “$3.6 trillion budget” can’t be right.The entire national debt is—what—about $11 trillion? He can’t actually be proposing to spend nearly one-third of that in one year, surely. Let me check. Hmm. He did. The Wall Street Journal notes that federal outlays in fiscal 2009 will rise to almost 30 percent of the gross national product. In language that even an innumerate English major such as myself can understand: The US government is now spending annually about one-third of what the entire US economy produces. As George Will would say, “Well.”
Now let me say: Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I want President Obama to succeed. I honestly do. We are all in this leaky boat together—did I say “leaky”? I meant “sieve-like”—and it would be counterproductive, if not downright suicidal, to want it to go down just to prove a conservative critique of Keynesian economics. ...
One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.
If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.
He tells us that all this is going to work because the economy is going to be growing by 3.2 percent a year from now. Do you believe that? Would you take out a loan based on that? And in the three years following, he predicts that our economy will grow by 4 percent a year.
This is nothing if not audacious hope. If he’s right, then looking back, March 2009 will be the dawn of the Age of Stimulation, or whatever elegant phrase Niall Ferguson comes up with. If he turns out to be wrong, then it will look very different, the entrance ramp to the Road to Serfdom, perhaps, and he will reap the whirlwind that follows, along with the rest of us.
Who could possibly have predicted that a red diaper baby community organizer with a life-long record of radical associations would adopt an ultra-left program of taxing and spending? Messrs. Buckley and Brooks obviously weren’t paying attention when they read Dreams from My Father. Obama explains that he learned as an adolescent that he could get away with doing drugs and raising Cain, simply by mollifying the adults in his life by speaking softly and politely.
It was the start of my senior year in high school… and one day she [his mother] marched into my room, wanting to know the details of [his friend’s] arrest. I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry. I wouldn’t do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied as long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved—such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.
It’s true, I did break bread with Obama. It was amazing. He was carried into the house by cherubs, Bruce Springsteen and Oprah Winfrey spread rose pedals on the carpet where he was about to walk and he very considerately asked me what vintage of wine I wanted my water turned into.
It’s also a sign that Obama can talk to and understand Americans at all social levels. For example, that night with us, he had an elegant dinner filled with sophisticated ideas and complex policy conversation with a bunch of right-leaning commentators. Then the next day, he had a meeting with some liberal commentators where, I presume, he was just as fluid while using much simpler sentences, shorter words and serving Froot Loops and Hostess Twinkies. There are pundits at all levels of cognitive distinction, and Obama has to learn to address all of them.