23 Feb 2010

The Liberal Double Standard

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Victor Davis Hanson admires the liberal double-standards by which Sarah Palin is a bumptious uneducated rube and John Edwards is a poor boy who made good, the war in Iraq was formerly a catastrophe and a failure and is now an major Obama Administration achievement, and locking up illegal combatants at Guantanamo was a crime against humanity, but increasing use of predator droneas in the role of judge-jury-and-executioner is perfectly fine. And he thinks he can explain.

So what explains the treatment of an Edwards versus Palin, or a war as lost versus one as necessary and well conducted, or Guantanamo for confessed terrorists as gulag but execution for suspected terrorists as legitimate, or Obama as principled hyper-partisan suddenly principled bipartisan?

The Usual Suspects

1) Egalitarianism and equality trump all—whether freedom, individualism, or personal liberty. Usually a great deal of education, or capital tends to convince us that in a perfect world, people like us who have money or have wisdom, could make others like us, rather than allow them to continue to suffer in poverty and ignorance.

This drive transcends the desire to contribute to charity, or to befriend the poorer neighbor or relative, but is cosmic in nature, overarching, all powerful, all-wise, and so by needs remote, So note here—and this is critical—the anointed utopian usually lives in a world—a better world— not subject to his own strictures. (Have Sarah Palin support abortion, call for cap and trade, or talk about the need for socialized medicine, and we would see inspirational stories of her fishing in waders to feed her below-the-poverty-line noble brood, not that she makes lots of money speaking).

Tax avoidance, ample square footage, ample energy use, networking, insider influence, prep schools for one’s progeny? All these are no more common or rare among crusading egalitarians than among elfish elitist conservatives. That raises the question—is utopianism naïve, or is it a psychological mechanism that serves not just to alleviate guilt, but perhaps even to contextualize one’s own privilege? E.g., “my riches are really used to help others and only incidentally provide me with an ample lifestyle, that of course, allows me to be an even more effective advocate.” Angels need ample wings.

The anointed ends always justifies contradictory means.

2) Power. The administration of mercy and compassion requires a properly gifted technocracy, often one well paid and quite influential. If hundreds of millions are to receive entitlements, millions must disperse them, and thousands must administer the millions, and hundreds must oversee the thousands—and that usually means a lot of money and power accrue to a very few. You object that those good billets only pay $150-200,000. Well, maybe, in theory, but there are perks, all sorts of tenure, and inside contacts that come with them—and none of the grief of running the furniture store or putting on braces all day. Big government can house all sorts of needy philanthropists.

The progressive impulse is often tied to career advancement.

3) Words matter, deeds don’t. The talking heads, the lawyers, the professors, the actors, the politicians the journalists, like the background of the president and most of his cabinet, mostly all work with words. If they sound smart, presto, they must be. Take a brilliant tongue-tied engineer and he is an ignoramus compared to an idiotic smooth talker. Much of the apparent hypocrisy derives from the best and brightest being smart because they advance that impression so well. John Edwards and Barack Obama are cases in point; they exude ignorance so smoothly. And that, in this often zero-sum game, beats real intelligence and experience that are so often hidden.

Abstract utopianism is best advanced is theory by those who worry less about implementation.

4) The tragic view is, well, tragic and hard to endure and does not excite. The notion that humans don’t surprise us in their selfish appetites is nothing to become excited about. The Enlightenment notion that we are all good and prove ourselves so with education and capital is something to sing, even yell, slander, and slur for. In contrast, accepting the need for military preparedness and deterrence, or removing the incentives for humans to become idle, is not something to write enthusiastically about. What teen-ager wants to hear from his dour father that you can’t print money, and that he must pay back his maxed out credit card?

It is fun and nice to be therapeutic, unpleasant and mean to accept tragedy.

Add all this up, hypocrisy vanishes, and revolutionary pigs walk on two legs in the farmhouse—an Edwards is mellifluous, puts his energy on behalf of those in the “other nation”, and is devoted to promoting a society where we are all about as wealthy as John Edwards, who uses his wealth for proper contemplation and preparation for further good deeds, and thus needs a castle of compassion. Given that, who cares that he is a congenial liar, lives one way, lectures another, helped destroy the practice of obstetrics in his home state, and took a great deal of money for doing very little? The former considerations alone count, the later are mere right wing talking points.

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