Want 'Hope and Change'? Buy a Goat
Although the mainstream media won't report it as such, Obama's approval numbers are shrinking. Which means that elsewhere, certain numbers are growing -- the unreported-by-the-MSM growing numbers of Americans who are kicking themselves for not having bothered to read the small print underneath the word "change."
The small print was kind of blurry, while "change" was spelled in huge, pleasing letters on the signs they held at the rallies. The fierce urgency of now was in the air. Everybody was in such a hurry to bring about change; there was no time to ask "why" or "what kind of change." As objectivity faded into the sunset, their individual brains melted into a euphoric collective mush, swirling around the only remaining absolute -- change. In the absence of other standards, the truth became a mere matter of taste, subject to change without notice. If it didn't change, it wasn't the truth.
So they won the election; now what? Three months later and almost a month into Obama's presidency, as the nation is beginning to rub its sore, swollen eyelids and finally trying to focus on reality, it looks in the mirror and, with a shock, notices a gigantic hammer and sickle tattooed on its forehead, which clearly wasn't there before. The bubbling euphoric pulp has solidified into a depressing pile of unpaid bills and warrants. The computer has turned into a shovel and the big-screen TV into a 1930s-style radio, with the disciplined voice of Dear Leader calling for unity and sacrifice in the face of mounting economic hardships. The only thing left unchanged is the Obama t-shirt with the magic word "change" on the chest.
Being an immigrant from the former USSR -- the land of equally redistributed misery -- I used to cringe when Americans complained to me about the perceived misery and lack of opportunity under capitalism. I laughed at American homegrown agitators who were carping on behalf of "communities" about the lack of "economic justice." They sounded like ignorant, spoiled brats who hated their rich parents for giving them the car of the wrong color. The whiners either didn't realize how good they had it or they were being deliberately misleading. Either way their message was a fraud.
I had witnessed the stagnation and the collapse of a centralized command economy that, in the absence of the markets, was fueled by the carrot and stick of coercion and stale motivational slogans. I had lived through the hyperinflation, when I had to pay a million rubles to a guy who fixed the rusty refrigerator in my kitchen. I had seen the old country plunge into the chaos of mass unemployment and crime, while it was being robbed to the bone by crooked unelected officials who profited from the corrupt scheme to merge socialism and capitalism -- a half-baked brainchild of Clinton's economists who are now advising Obama.
In other words, I had been at the end of this road and I didn't want to take it again.
Like most other immigrants in America, I had discovered a treasure trove of opportunities and was able to provide a comfortable living for my family. I wasn't rich -- but every time I would get into my GM car, turn on my HP computer, or watch a DVD from Netflix, I would give thanks for the perks that only an affluent capitalist society could provide. I didn't want any change -- except, perhaps, towards fewer government regulations.
But Obama managed to convince millions of Americans that they were so destitute and helpless that only a system of government rationing could save them from imminent starvation and homelessness. All of a sudden, previously self-reliant Americans found themselves in the position of neutered house pets, meowing and howling at the prospect of not getting their guaranteed three meals a day.
Opponents of capitalism will tell you that market demand is created, not by necessity, but by sneaky marketing campaigns that generate a false perception of necessity. The same experts have now implemented this perverted theory by running a multimillion-dollar, Madison-Avenue-style marketing campaign, whose goal was to sell to the generally well-off Americans the notion that they were living in misery, poverty, and hopelessness -- thus creating a false perception of a need for change.
And change is materializing fast. Every time the new president opens his mouth, the market plunges. The banking crisis, which Obama used to get in power, was nothing compared to the post-election economic meltdown. On February 10 alone, after Treasury Secretary Geithner proposed a new economic rescue plan, the Dow lost 5% of its value. The unemployment is soaring while consumer confidence is sinking. Obama's aggressive marketing of perceived mass poverty became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the shadow of the New Deal is darkening the horizon and the heavy steps of the approaching depression are sending tremors throughout the world, the appeal of Obama's plan is no longer in the eyes of the beholder.
This is where the goat comes in (in case you're still wondering about the title). Consider this old Jewish joke I heard back in Ukraine:
A man comes to the rabbi and complains about his life:
"I have almost no money, my wife is a shrew, and we live in a small apartment with seven unruly kids. It's messy, it's noisy, it's smelly, and I don't want to live."
The rabbi says, "Buy a goat."
"What? I just told you there's hardly room for nine people, and it's messy as it is!"
"Look, you came for advice, so I'm giving you advice. Buy a goat and come back in a month."
In a month the man comes back and he is even more depressed:
"It's gotten worse! The filthy goat breaks everything, and it stinks and makes more noise than my wife and seven kids! What should I do?"
The rabbi says, "Sell the goat."
A few days later the man returns to the rabbi, beaming with happiness:
"Life is wonderful! We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat -- only the nine of us. The kids are well-behaved, the wife is agreeable -- and we even have some money!"
Obama's "change" is precisely the goat that Americans bought when they lost the appreciation of how good they had it. But the perception of misery is not set in stone; this self-inflicted disaster may as well serve as a remedy -- an unpleasant but necessary shock therapy helping the misguided voters come to their senses and begin to appreciate what they had lost. And once they get rid of the socialist goat, they will hopefully regain confidence in their own system and continue to enjoy liberty and prosperity as they always did -- with the head held high and without the silliness of feeling guilty about it.
The trick is not to let the goat grow on you. Don't settle for socialism. Capitalism may be a self-regulating system, but it won't be able to heal itself if the socialization goes too far. Then it would be a whole different goat story.