Belmont Club

The Fault in Our Stars

Baghdad demanded the surrender of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the central government on charges of sectarian terrorism. But a senior official in the Kurdish region’s Interior Ministry was less diplomatic and said, “we are not policemen working for al-Maliki to hand over al-Hashemi”, suggesting they may refuse to cooperate.

“Iraq’s troubled start to life without U.S. forces calls into question the Obama administration’s assertion  that it has wound down America’s long war responsibly: at least 78 killed in blasts across the country in a single day last week, a protracted political crisis with no end in sight, top political leaders accusing each other of monstrous criminality,” according to an Associated Press article.

Even Spencer Ackerman, an enthusiastic Obama supporter in 2008, is worried about an American defense strategy that guts national defense but in odd ways. Things are heading for trouble and even those who would rather not notice are beginning to.

Here are four of the most glaring contradictions within the strategy … the Military should leave Europe (but won’t) … “Limited Counterinsurgency” … What are limited counterinsurgency operations? … The Army Is Getting Cut (Until We Surge It) … (Panetta didn’t cite a number for how small the Army will get, but we’re hearing around 480,000 soldiers, a drop of nearly 100,000 from current levels.) No sooner did the Pentagon announce that, however, than it said: well, for now. … This Is The Pentagon’s Blueprint, Until It Isn’t.

There’s a simple answer to Ackerman’s reservations. The reason none of President Obama’s policies makes sense is because it is doubletalk. Glenn Reynolds quotes Spencer Ackerman’s mordant comment: ‘another rube self-identifies.’

Which is another way of saying they’ve refused to believe they were swindled until now.

Maybe that is putting the case too strongly. But some people are getting awfully worried that what can’t go on will, in despite of everything. Fred Siegel and Joel Kotkin arue that President Obama is increasingly looking authoritarian in a hundred different ways; stressing the role of his will in overcoming defective situations and suggesting that opposition to that will is historically illegitimate.

“I refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer,” said President Obama this week as he claimed new powers for himself in making recess appointments while Congress wasn’t legally in recess. … Critics lie beyond the pale …

If Obama does win, 2013 could possibly bring something approaching a constitutional crisis. With the House and perhaps the Senate in Republican hands, Obama’s clerisy may be tempted to use the full range of executive power. The logic for running the country from the executive has been laid out already. Republican control of just the House, argues Chicago congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., has made America ungovernable. Obama, he said during the fight over the debt limit, needed to bypass the Constitution because, as in 1861, the South (in this case, the Southern Republicans) was “in a state of rebellion” against lawful authority. Beverley Perdue, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, concurred: she wanted to have elections suspended for a stretch. (Perdue’s office later insisted this was a joke, but most jokes aren’t told deadpan or punctuated with “I really hope someone can agree with me on that.” Also: Nobody laughed.)

There will always be those who’d like to abstract the candy from the candy store. But it is the shopkeeper’s responsibility to keep that from happening. Conservatives cannot simply hope that progressives will behave themselves. Boys will be boys and progressives will be progressives.

The supine acquiescence and collaboration in centralizing government over the last 3 decades has led to the point where a candidacy like Obama’s was not only possible but inevitable. His election is a symptom, not the primary cause of it of what ails the body politic.

The man himself can’t be blamed for taking his ambitions and ideology as far as they will go. It is those who let him pass that  shows how low the rot within what passes for conservatism has fallen. Conservatism has basically been reduced to behaving well.  To politely choose between the milquetoast offerings the press serves up and do nothing to make waves.

Anyone who so much as threatens to cause the slightest amount of controversy is branded a wacko — ironically not just by the Democrats but all too often by conservatives who are obsessed with the cult of respectability. Thus Palin, Bachman, Cain, Gingrich and Paul are faulted not so much for their personal failings — which any politician has — but for being disreputable.  And being disrepute in today’s conservative world often consists in daring to think a single original thought.

By contrast, ‘progressives’ are psychologically conditioned to challenge and even subvert the system. They see that as their job.  Others may criticize them, but their Base at least, will cheer them on. Implicit in the ‘progressive’ brand name is the idea of loyalty to the future, not so some transient present or disposable past. So when City Journal’s Siegel and Kotkin write that Obama is perfectly capable of trying to remake the US into a version of China they mean it. After all, politicians of 1940s dreamed of making America like the Soviet Union.

A victorious Obama administration could embrace a soft version of the Chinese model. The mechanisms of control already exist. The bureaucratic apparatus, the array of policy czars and regulatory enforcers commissioned by the executive branch, has grown dramatically under Obama. Their ability to control and prosecute people for violations relating to issues like labor and the environment—once largely the province of states and localities—can be further enhanced.

But it’s dollars to donuts that any ‘reputable’ conservative asked to comment on Siegel and Klotkin’s article would vehemently deny that such a thing is possible, not because it isn’t — which would be a good reason if it were true — but because it’s impossible for a conservative to admit a progressive can be a progressive.

CS Lewis wrote that the biggest trick the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he didn’t exist.  Similarly the greatest conjury progressivism has ever performed was to make their political opponents believe it was shameful to accept that progressives could ever be anything but slightly racier versions of themselves.

Conservatives think that progressives don’t mean what they say because they would not dare to imagine a radical change themselves. The reluctance of the GOP establishment to embrace ideas like Health Care Compacts and Primary Challenges; their inability to imagine a world with a much smaller government or fewer public sector unions is at heart the result of a failure of imagination in conservative ranks. They can’t think things can be different and therefore they won’t work either to create such a change themselves or keep progressives from pulling it off.

The progressives have a saying: “dare to struggle, dare to win”. They don’t mind destroying, because everyone will pretend not to notice. In order for conservatives to compete, they must to some extent snap out of it; wake up, smell the coffee — if only to free their imaginations. Absent this they are doomed to shrivel away like the erudite conservative pundits who pore over the Federalist papers in the quiet precincts of their studies, listening to the click-click of garden shears and the buzz of bees in the flower beds, vainly believing that reason had the power to enforce itself.

Perhaps the reluctance of voters to embrace Mitt Romney has not been because there’s anything wrong with him, but because there’s not a hint of trouble about him anywhere. He’s a fine upstanding family man who’s done well in business and wouldn’t hurt a fly unless provoked. But if one thinks about it, all the men who made America in the 1770s were nothing like Romney; they were nothing if not troublemakers.

If you had to create a correspondence between the present political figures and the giants of the past you’d find yesterday’s bad guys well represented by their equivalents but their modern opponents represented only in caricature. No men of granite are but of rice pudding and skim milk.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings …
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walls encompassed but one man?

When indeed was Washington so large, yet so small, as now.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99

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