Noemie Emerie describes how the Progressive elite found the champion of their dreams, marched into power, but then wildly overreached.
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., natureâ€™s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortalsâ€™ couldnâ€™t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class.
Out of sorts and out of office after 1828, when power passed from the Adamses to the children of burghers and immigrants, they had begun to strike back by the 1920s, led by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.â€‰G. Wells, H.â€‰L. Mencken, Herbert Croly, and Sinclair Lewis. Their stock in trade was their belief in themselves, and their contempt for the way the middle class thought, lived, and made and spent money: Commerce was crude, consumption was vulgar, and industry, which employed millions and improved the lives of many more people, too gross and/or grubby for words. â€œFor the American critics of mass culture, it was the good times of the 1920s, not the depression of the 1930s, that proved terrifying,â€ says Fred Siegel, whose book The Revolt Against the Masses describes and eviscerates this group and its aspirations. In their dream world, â€œintellectuals, as well as poet-leaders, experts, and social scientists such as themselves would lead the regime,â€ as Siegel tells us. â€œIt was thus a crucial imperative to constrain the conventional and often corrupt politics of middle-class capitalists so that these far-seeing leaders might obtain the recognition and power that was only their due.â€ …
[T]he elites had to wait for the man of their dreams.
When they found him, he was a rare breed: a genuine African American (his father was Kenyan) who thought and talked like the academics on both sides of his family, a product of the faculty lounge who dabbled in urban/race politics, a man who could speak to both ends of the liberalsâ€™ up-and-down coalition, and a would-be transformer of our public life whose quiet voice and low-key demeanor conveyed â€œmoderationâ€ in all that he spoke and did. Best of all, he was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdomâ€”the academics and journalistsâ€”wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.
From the beginning, they made it clear that the Obama regime would be different from all others that had come before. The damaged economy was the critical issue, but the creation of jobs took a back seat to boutique left-wing causes. The stimulus, costing more than a trillion dollars, came and went leaving nothing behind it, unlike the spending of FDRâ€™s era, which at least for a while gave jobs to real people, and left behind things like bridges and dams and parks. â€œClimate changeâ€ had become an obsession, symbolized by the refusal to act on the Keystone pipeline proposal, which would have created jobs in Middle America, but which Obamaâ€™s Hollywood backers denounced as unclean.
But nothing did so much as the historic, transcendent health care proposal to contradict David Brooksâ€™s contention, in the summer of 2009, that the president â€œsees himself as a Burkeanâ€ and â€œunderstands complexity and the organic nature of change.â€ Social Security had been large, but made no change in the structure of government, and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 (signed by Bill Clinton at the Republicansâ€™ urging) was based on successful experiments at the state level conducted by governors of both parties. The Affordable Care Act looked for advice to academics, not governors, and proposed the state takeover of an industrial complex responsible for one-sixth of the gross national product based not on what had been proved to work through experience, but on what some intellectuals had guessed might work. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, this camel was a 2,801-page non-bestseller filled with labyrinthine riddles that nobody seemed to know how to solve. To insure approximately 18 million out of 300-plus million Americans (they confessed the plan would still leave 20 million uninsured), they proposed to spend trillions on a reengineering of the entire system that would in time cause 80 to 100 million of the currently insured to lose and to seek new insurance.
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