Ed Driscoll

'When Government Jumps the Shark'

Walter Russell Mead writes that it’s the endtimes for a century of snowballing reactionary progressivism:

The progressive vision morphed from Great White Hope and Great White Father into Great White Elephant over the years.  Early progressives picked the low-hanging fruit; they addressed the most important problems that were most susceptible to progressive interventions.  Increasingly they are left with more expensive, less effective approaches to big problems (like Obamacare) or the agenda moves from issues of great moral and political significance like equal rights for African-Americans to less consequential issues like wider social acceptance of the transgendered.  To raise the percentage of young Americans attending college from 2 percent to 20 percent is a significant achievement; to extend it from 40 percent to 60 percent will likely cost much more and accomplish much less in terms of raising social productivity.

We now see the progressive agenda dealing with issues like high speed rail, where the gains are so small and the rationale are so weak from the beginning that the program is a white elephant before it is fully set up.

The fierce commitment of progressive lobbies today to dysfunctional institutions and programs has brought matters to a crisis stage; the progressive legacy is morphing from white elephant to shark.  Fierce attacks on anyone seeking to reform dysfunctional institutions combine with unreasoning devotion to unsustainable entitlements.  “Progressives” today are too often grimly determined to achieve two incompatible ends: an indefinite expansion of entitlements and benefits on the one hand — and the preservation and even the extension of inefficient organizations and methods on the other.   Everyone must have a college education, but the archaic and inefficient organization of universities cannot be touched.  Public services must be vastly expanded, but every effort to rein in pensions and benefits for government employees, or to trim the size of the public labor force through greater efficiency, must be fought to the bitter end.

Unfortunately, the process doesn’t stop here.  When enough progressive programs have become both unsustainable and untouchable, we move to the final stage.  It is bad enough when a government program becomes a shark; it is much, much worse when a social paradigm as a whole jumps past the shark stage.  A cluster of unsustainable but untouchable policies and institutions sooner or later reaches the point when it no longer threatens the country with ruin at some indefinite point in the future: imminent ruin stares us direct in the face.

That is part of what happened in Ireland, Greece and Portugal, and what may yet happen in Italy and Spain.  Disastrous government policies became more politically entrenched even as they became more unsustainable until quite suddenly, they could not be sustained and the whole system came crashing down.

When that happens, what crashes is not just one program.  A whole system, a whole social contract falls apart. And if the crashes in these peripheral European economies shook the EU and the world economy, a full scale meltdown in the United States would likely be a shock as profound as the 1929 meltdown.  It wouldn’t just be an economic disaster for the United States; it would likely be a historical disaster leading to crisis, upheaval and war around the world.


Much of what we’re dealing with is the aftermath of the then-youthful New Left hijacking the Democratic party in the 1960s; the last two and a half years gives us a pretty good sense of what a McGovern administration would have resembled. And as Peter Wehner writes at Commentary, asking if we’re seeing “A Lost Generation in the Making?”, it’s time for thing to come full circle:

Ron Brownstein has a fascinating column in National Journal, in which writes, “It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.” The Great Recession and its aftermath have created a very high (17 percent) youth unemployment rate. But the meltdown “vaporized” both housing values and retirement plans, forcing aging baby boomers to work longer than they intended. “For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one,” according to Brownstein. “Cumulatively, these forces are inverting patterns that have characterized the economy since Social Security and the spread of corporate pensions transformed retirement.”

Brownstein goes on to report that what economists call the “idleness rate” is rising. “The share of Americans younger than 24 neither at work nor in school has steadily increased since 2007,” he writes. “That disconnection creates the risk of what Harvard University labor economist Lawrence Katz calls ‘a lost generation.’”

This is but one manifestation of how our prolonged economic crisis is having far-reaching social effects. We are in the process of changing habits and patterns that will alter our country in fairly profound ways. And what’s most worrisome of all is that there’s no evidence that our economy is turning around. As Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal puts it, in terms of economic policy, the Obama armory is empty. “From within the exclusively demand-side context of the president’s economic policy,” he writes, “there are no more bullets in the carbines. This president is now virtually defenseless against the inexorable forces of the U.S. economy.”


And he may be operating increasingly solo, Jennifer Rubin writes at the Washington Post:“If Obama’s approval is tanking, will Senate Dems save themselves?”

Certainly some of this is the fading Osama bin Laden bump. But the speed with which that blip has disappeared and the singular focus on the economy is bad news for the president. (“According to the survey, more than eight in ten Americans say that the economy is in poor shape, a number that has stubbornly remained at that level since March. Not surprisingly, with that much economic angst, the economy is the number one issue, the only one that more than half of the public says will be extremely important to their vote for president next year.”)

When the president loses steam his congressional co-partisans are likely to begin to fend for themselves. That may mean a budget for the Senate Democrats, finally. In any event so long as Obama’s approval ratings are headed downward, he is going to find it increasingly difficult to garner support from Senate and House Democrats who are beginning to wonder whether 2010 (like 2006 for the Republicans) was a prelude to an even worse election.

In the meantime, speaking of flying solo, as Hugh Hewitt writes, “The ‘declarant presidency’ era must end:”

Offered a palm branch by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the president used it as a switch and smacked it back and forth across the Wisconsin Republican’s face.

Offered a fresh start in the Middle East, the president excoriated Israel and put the long-shelved 1967 borders into play, which is like asking the late George Blanda to return to run the Washington Redskins when the NFL reconvenes. The ’67 lines, like Blanda, had a role once but are worse than useless now as they are both dead.

We have not even mentioned that he is poised to impose “card check,” new rules for defining wetlands, no procedures for declaring species endangered.

The sky is the limit for directed innovation in border control policy. The “virtual fence” has been scrapped and DOJ’s “fast and furious” have shipped deadly weapons to the cartels with the hope of tracing them, only to lose them.

It is far worse than an era of an Imperial Presidency. It is the era of the President Declarant. We have never before had such a moment, and it will require rapid response from House Speaker John Boehner making much use of former Solicitor General Paul Clement’s estimable skills.

Boehner ought to consider establishing a special legal defense fund for the purpose of cabining the president’s unilateralist Hyde within. It is very clear we will need one before the president’s term is over.

What we will need if he somehow wins a second term will be a state of emergency among judges called upon to set aside partisan allegiance and act with an eye on preserving not a momentary advantage, but an overarching system, a glorious, wonderfully effective system of checks and balances.

Once begun, unilateral rule is as addictive as it is destructive of balance of powers. It has to be stopped in November 2012, for another four years of accelerating concentration of power so that power can be deployed unilaterally would leaves the United States fundamentally off the rails on which is has run for 220 years.


Ending the “declarant presidency” would also do much to bring rationality to the markets, allowing businesses to plan ahead, and thus reduce much of their reluctancy to hire. Which would also begin to reduce the feeling of the shark having been jumped.

Otherwise, it really will be, as Charles Krauthammer said last week, Midnight in America.

Or to put it another way:




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