Belmont Club

If Only

The basic message from the Left after the election is that the only ones who should be sorry for the electoral shellacking the Democratic Party suffered are the American people.  AP notes that “one thing that [President] Obama did not do is admit that dissatisfaction with his policies may have been behind voter’s repudiation of his party, instead he continued to defend the massive economic stimulus and healthcare overhaul.” John Judis at the New Republic dolefully concludes that if Republicans cut public spending it “leads me to expect that the slowdown will continue—with disastrous results for the country.” And so begin the predictions that things will get worse, which unfortunately is likely to happen. Judis continues to catalog all the good things that Americans will have to do without now that they’ve kicked Nancy Pelosi to the curb:

The election results will also put an end to the Obama administration’s attempt to reach an international climate accord. It will cripple its ability to adopt domestic limits on carbon emissions. The election could also doom Obama’s one substantial foreign policy achievement—the arms treaty it signed with Russia that still awaits Senate confirmation. In other areas, the Obama administration will be able to act without having to seek congressional approval. But there is little reason to believe that the class of Republicans will be helpful in formulating a tough policy toward an increasingly arrogant China, extricating America from Afghanistan, and using American leverage to seek a peaceful settlement of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, tries to put into words what the President should say. It is less an expression of regret than a self-accolade. “Good afternoon. Well, we got thumped. I’m disappointed, but I continue to believe that our actions were necessary and correct. The stimulus spending helped avert a second Great Depression. The health-care legislation offers the dual promise of extending coverage and controlling costs. Financial regulatory reform will protect the U.S. economy from private-sector recklessness.”  The message is: ‘we almost saved you from yourselves, you ingrates, too bad you didn’t have the wit to see it.’ Continuing the theme, Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast denounces the “GOP’s lunatic notion of America’s exceptionalism”. How could anyone think that Americans entrepreneuralism has made it great since it is governments that do the heavy lifting?

In his Senate victory speech, Republican megastar Marco Rubio announced that “America is the single greatest nation in all of human history. A place without equal in the history of all mankind” because “almost every other place in the world…what you were going to be when you grow up was determined for you.” Almost every other place in the world? From China to India to Brazil, hundreds of millions of people are rising economically in ways their parents could scarcely have imagined, in part because their governments are investing in infrastructure in the way the United States did in the late nineteenth century. … And rather than looking at what those other countries are doing right, the Republicans have taken refuge in an anti-government ideology premised on the lunatic notion that America is the only truly free and successful country in the world. That ideology won last night, and Keynesianism lost. Have a good day!

Maybe the word Beinart should be looking for isn’t Keynesianism, but aristocracy, from the Latin aristocratia, meaning “government by the best”, which Max Weber observed meant a bureaucracy filled through credentialism. The  aristocracy has not been trusted to carry out its historic mission. Instead of leaving things to the people who understand these things, the public has turned to the Great Unwashed. In a properly functioning world what’s good is decided by the people with the right credentials.

Because of the nature of bureaucratic work, and also perhaps because of the importance of training and coordination in the job, the bureaucracy wants educated recruits. Their education will be attested by some certificate (partly just to prove they have been educated, but also perhaps because a bureaucracy likes to work with clear impersonal criteria). Weber speaks of ‘credentialism’, the preoccupation evident in modern societies with formal educational qualifications. All these things – credentials, fixed salary, tenure, stability of staffing, Weber incorporates into his ideal type. They are all required, he believes, for the efficient functioning of an administrative machine.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that when Beinart and Tom Friedman express an envy in China or India, it isn’t the increased role of their private sectors or the lack of regulation that they pine for, but the power of their states to carry out visionary schemes.  It’s almost as if they believed that the reason for America’s current problems is that unlike China, America’s aristocracy hasn’t been given the freedom it needs to pursue it’s enlightened decisions. And the result, of course, it the present difficulties.

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Archimedes was believed to have said in a speech at Syracuse, “give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.”   That is the dream of power. But it says nothing about what power will achieve.  A lever can just as easily move an object over a cliff.


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