As this ghastly year wobbles towards its sorry, cliff-surrounded end, most of us will be looking for little shreds of consolation. P.J. O’Rourke, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, offers just what we’ve been looking for: some observations that are both funny and wise. His piece is in the form of a letter to the president. I hope the Leftists and Progressives and Sentimentalists among you will not do yourselves the disservice of ignoring Mr. O’Rourke’s column simply because it contains some criticisms of the president. The piece also gives credit where credit is due. For example, it offers thanks to President Obama for taking out (that is, for letting the Navy SEALS take out) Osama bin Laden. It also, sincerely and enthusiastically, thanks him for not being Jimmy Carter.
As for the criticisms, several items are open to debate and varying interpretation. Among the bullet points in Mr. O’Rourke’s “partial list” are the following:
• Telling the Taliban to play by the rules or you’ll take your ball and go home;
• Leaving Iraq in a lurch (and in a hurry);
• Watching the EU go down the sink drain and into the Greece trap and wanting to take America along on the trip;
• Miscalculating human rights and strategic engagement in the Chinese arithmetic of your China policy;
• Being the personification of bad weather during the Arab Spring with your chilly response when you encountered its best aspects and your frozen inaction when you encountered its worst; . . .
But the really telling criticism cuts to the heart of what is wrong with the Leftist agenda. It also, and not incidentally, touches on an oft-noted but insufficiently explored fact: that Lefts tend to be dour people with no laughter in their hearts.
Why do they tend to be dour people with no laughter in their hearts? Because they regard life as a zero-sum game. That is, in Mr. O’Rourke’s analogy, they believe the good things in life is like a box of pizza. There is only so much to go around, and once that last wafer of pepperoni is scarfed down that’s it, no more dinner.
As Mr. O’Rourke notes, this view of life has international as well as domestic implications. For the message coming out of Washington today is that scarcity and privation is the name of the game. Our allies and our enemies abroad have tuned into that station just as faithfully as have the citizens of this country.
It’s a curious thing. Leftists are supposed to be the caring, sharing part of the political fraternity. In point of historical fact, it is an easy thing to demonstrate that their caring has always been more a rhetorical than an actual strategy and that their sharing has been accomplished overwhelmingly with other people’s goods. That said, however, there is still the fact that Leftists are hailed by their enablers as the non-crabby politicians, the people who come into office promising two things: More and Free.
How odd it is, then, that they should also be the folks who harbor an unshakeable belief that the universe is a stingy, scarcity-driven machine whose iron law is that if A does well, B must do poorly. I cannot improve upon Mr. O’Rourke’s summary of this Weltanschauung:
There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney‘s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got—with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners.
In this zero-sum universe there is only so much happiness. The idea is that if we wipe the smile off the faces of people with prosperous businesses and successful careers, that will make the rest of us grin.
There is only so much money. The people who have money are hogging it. The way for the rest of us to get money is to turn the hogs into bacon.
Mr. President, your entire campaign platform was redistribution. Take from the rich and give to the . . . Well, actually, you didn’t mention the poor. What you talked and talked about was the middle class, something most well-off Americans consider themselves to be members of. So your plan is to take from the more rich and the more or less rich and give to the less rich, more or less. It is as if Robin Hood stole treasure from the Sheriff of Nottingham and bestowed it on the Deputy Sheriff.
This view of the world has many unpleasant policy corollaries. It redefines a certain species of stinginess as the higher generosity and it fans the flames of resentment and envy at the expense of ambition and hard work. And it has this effect not just domestically, but also internationally. And it is in terms of international politics, in terms, that is, of America’s place on the world stage, that Mr. O’Rouke’s argument really gets traction. The question is, he says to the president,
“whether you want to convince the international community that zero-sum is the American premise and redistribution is the logical conclusion.”
I would argue that the world doesn’t need more encouragement to think in zero-sum terms or act in redistributive ways.
Western Europe has done such a good job redistributing its assets that the European Union now has a Spanish economy, a Swedish foreign policy, an Italian army, and Irish gigolos.
Redistributionist political ideologies, in decline since the fall of the Soviet bloc, are on the rise again. Will you help the neo-Marxists of Latin America redistribute stupidity to their continent?
Et very much cetera.
The fundamental mistake that Leftists make concerns the bounty of the world. It is much, much greater, potentially, than they admit. Conservatives (I do not mean Republicans) tend to be cautious spenders not because they believe the zero-sum scenario, but because of just the opposite. They know that growth is the ticket to sustainable largess and that overspending hampers growth. It is sometimes said that Leftists are people who believe in a perpetual Santa Claus domiciled in Washington, D.C., not the North Pole. In fact, as Mr. O’Rourke suggests, conservatives have a much warmer appreciation for Santa Claus. It’s just that they know he is an avid capitalist. It is Leftists like President Obama who are telling the world “to go sit on the Grinch’s lap instead of Santa’s.”
It’s sour, crabbed, Scrooge-like advice. Don’t take it.