There is an amusing scene in the movie A Fish Called Wanda in which the canny Wanda (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) stops her witless, soon-to-be-former boy friend Otto (Kevin Kline) from some stupidity by asking “What would Plato do?” Otto fancies himself an intellectual, and though Wanda is right that she’d “worn dresses with higher IQs,” Otto really is a sort of intellectual. Yes, he’s a hit man: not your usual occupation for an intellectual. But he reads Nietzsche and listens to Wagner and looks at the world through a scrim of infantile abstractions.
For some reason, the image of Otto blundering about came to mind this morning when I was talking to a friend about the US economy.You don’t have to be a card-carrying right-wing, knuckle-dragging, clinger-to-guns-‘n-religion chap like me to realize that there’s something very, very wrong with the leadership in this country. As I said the other day, the sense of panic emanating from the White House is palpable. Even reliable Democratic shills like The New York Times seem to be experiencing, if not second thoughts, exactly, at least buyer’s remorse. There are, to be sure, certain core constituencies that remain stalwart supporters of Obama’s agenda, but I am not sure they are doing much for the administration’s proclaimed allegiance to civility and post-partisan cooperation.
No, there’s been a marked shift in the political weather recently, which probably helps account for the fact that, despite his criticism of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,” Presidential candidate Rick Perry is doing well among seniors. Watching Obama and his team, my friend said, is a bit like watching a bunch of eight-year-olds on the soccer field. The kids are enthusiastic, they exude high spirits, but they don’t know much. They’ve had little or no experience. So when they’re let loose on the field, they all tend to follow the ball. There’s no strategic thinking, no thought of defense, no taking the long view. They just rush about trying to get hold of the ball. The current emergency absorbs all their attention.
It’s instructive, my friend observed, to contrast Obama’s behavior during this fiscal crisis with Ronald Reagan’s during the crisis of the early 1980s. Like Obama, Reagan inherited an economic mess. What did he do? He cut taxes, simplified the tax code and, though 1981 saw a severe recession, urged people to “stay the course.” He lost seats in Congress in 1982: no matter. He knew what to do and he stuck with it, ushering in the most astonishing period of growth and prosperity in human history. (Data point: the stock market stood at about 780 points in 1982 — that’s seven hundred and eighty.) Since taking office, Obama has lurched from one domestic misadventure to the next and, recently, every time he makes a serious pronouncement the stock market seems to tank another few hundred points.
True, it’s in the nature of markets to fluctuate, but everyone knows we are flirting here with another recession, if not something worse. It is fun to watch a bunch of kids fall over themselves chasing a soccer ball. It’s not so much fun watching grown ups do the same thing on the playing fields of the economy. St. Paul had some good advice about this: “When I was a child,” he wrote in I Corinthians 13, “I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.”
It’s not clear to me that “progressives” like Barack Obama will ever put aside childish things. Being childish is what they do: they have no other training. It’s part of their DNA, which is why they believe (e.g.) that taxation is about “fairness” (see Obama on Warren Buffet) rather than (the adult position) raising revenue. But even if Obama and his “spread-the-wealth-around” colleagues disdain to act like adults, it’s become clearer daily that the voters are not so wedded to juvenile illusions.