Note that Barack Obama is running not on his liberal record, but as a challenger against incumbent Mitt Romney who has done all sorts of terrible things like causing the 2008 meltdown and outsourcing jobs to China. In Obama’s view, given the supposedly tranquil world abroad, we must try nation building at home, and thus concentrate on bold new initiatives like stimulus, infrastructure, green jobs, and federalized health care — none of which have been envisioned before, much less funded. And to the extent Obama has a concrete example, he points to efforts of the private oil sector to find more gas and oil despite, rather than because of, his own efforts. Conclusion? Obama himself apparently has given up on liberal ideas in lieu of Big Bird, binders, bull****ter, movie stars, and hip-hopsters, which prompts the question: does anyone believe in liberal ideology anymore — and if so, why?
Did California’s redistributive elite really believe that they could all but shut down new gas and oil production, strangle the timber industry, idle irrigated farmland, divert water to the delta smelt, have 37 million people use a highway system designed for 15 million, allow millions of illegal aliens to enter the state without audit, extend free medical programs to 8 million of the most recent 11 million added to the population, up taxes to among the highest in the nation, and host one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients — and not have the present chaos?
The California schools — flooded with students whose first language is not English, staffed by unionized teachers not subject to the consequences of subpar teaching, and plagued with politicized curricula that do not emphasize math, science, and reading and writing comprehension — scarcely rate above those in Mississippi and Alabama. Did liberals, who wanted unions, a new curriculum, and open borders, believe it was good for the state to have a future generation — that will build our power plants, fly our airliners, teach our children, and take out our tumors — that is at the near-bottom in national test scores?
Do Bay Area greens really believe that they that will have sufficient water if they blow up the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir? Did Barack Obama think that the Keystone pipeline or new gas and oil leases in the Gulf were superfluous, or that we do not need oil to make gasoline, wheat to make flour, or to cut timber to produce wood?
Did liberals (and their hand-in-glove employer supporters who wished for cheap labor) think that letting in millions from Central Mexico, most without legality, English, or a high school education (and in some sense at the expense of thousands waiting in line for legal admission with capital, advanced degrees, and technological expertise), was not problematic and that soaring costs in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the schools, and the health care industries were irrelevant?
What, then, are the motivations that drive so many to such absurdities? Note here that I am talking of the architects of liberalism, not of those who receive generous entitlements and whose desire for bigger government is thus existential and elemental.
Equality of result
Keen minds from Aristotle to Montesquieu and Tocqueville have lamented that the proverbial people sometimes prefer equality under authoritarianism to inequality accompanied by personal freedom. As long as there was grinding poverty, the liberal agenda of “leveling the playing field” made sense enough — Social Security, disability insurance, the 40-hour work week, and Medicare. But once modern mass production and consumption arose, energized by globalization and the entry of billions of new foreign workers into the equation, and high technology extended the appurtenances of the aristocracy to the poor (today’s ubiquitous smart phone is 100 times more versatile than yesterday’s $3,000 primitive suitcase cell phone), how could you keep promoting government-sponsored equality for the less well-off? Ensure no one has to drive a Kia? Petition on behalf of those who do not yet have an iPad?
Weighing over 250 pounds, not rickets, is a national plague. Riots target sneaker stores, not food bins. Sandra Fluke naturally become the epitome of frustrated liberal-mandated equality. We are to believe that an upscale white law student, who by choice enrolls at a Catholic university, is deprived because her university will not pay for her condoms or abortion pills. Her cell phone no doubt costs more than a year’s supply of prophylactics. The result is psychodrama, not class struggle, as liberals strain to find ways in which America is Les Misérables rather than the Kardashians, plagued by this obsession to step in and make everyone (except themselves) the same.
Romney almost forfeited the election when a video was leaked about his honest, though inexact, admission that 47% of Americans would, by needs, be unsympathetic to any agenda that cut spending and taxes, given their dependence on government “stuff.” Borrowing money to pay for more entitlements for the liberal mind is good politics, killing two birds with the proverbial one stone. The less well-off are indebted to those who gave them subsidized food, health care, shelter, even cell phones and will vote accordingly to ensure the liberal political class remains in power. And as deficits grow, the calls for higher taxes on those who “didn’t build that business” and are “fat cats” and never knew when they should stop profiting only increase. Liberalism is about power and influence, impossible without millions of dependent constituents.
Liberals believe that there are lots of crass and greedy one-percenters who live to profit, and as refined Greeks expect grubby Romans to work while they think and plan. Like cockroaches, you cannot get rid of the one-percenters, given their elemental grasping. They will always get up at a 5 a.m. to chase the next superfluous buck in carbon-polluting oil exploration, Wall Street speculation, smoky trucking, or unsustainable farming. They are sheep with inexhaustible fleece. So liberals do not really believe that anyone will stop working due to Obamacare or a 40% income tax rate. Jerry Brown might say of overtaxed Californians, should his 13% income tax rate pass, “Where else could they go?” For those who cling to their profits, you could tax them at 90% and they would still scheme to find a way to have more than others — so what does it matter if they pay more?
Liberals believe that abstract caring allows them seclusion and cocooning in the real, material world. Private schools, tony upscale suburbs, nice Volvos and Lexus SUVs, jet travel to Tuscany, a fine Napa $100 wine, Harvard or Stanford for junior — all that reeks of privilege and exclusivity, and can prompt remorse. In some sense, Costa del Sol and Martha’s Vineyard, like John Kerry’s yacht or John Edwards’ home, are antithetical to the entire liberal value system. But if one is loudly for “pay-your-fair-share” higher taxes, or for affirmative action, or for more deficit spending, then one feels absolved from guilt over his isolated privilege — and can enjoy it without lamentation. And if one makes enough money not to worry about a few more taxes or fees, then a mind at peace is a pretty good deal. Lots of those who now reside in Portola Valley and the Berkeley hills helped to promote policies whose deleterious results fell on distant others, out of mind, out of sight, far away in Porterville and Stockton. Liberalism is an elite person’s psychological investment in enjoying a guilt-free affluence.
Large percentages of the population now work for government — federal, state, or local. Millions more are divorced from the tragic world of mining or drilling where nature is unforgiving. That distance has allowed Americans in droves to disengage from both the private sector, where one either makes a profit or goes broke, and the grimy processes by which we live one more day. A San Francisco professor, a Monterey lawyer, and a Sacramento bureaucrat do not know how hard it is to raise beef, grow peaches, find and pump oil and gas, and haul logs out of the forest and into Home Depot as smooth lumber, or what it takes to build a small Ace Hardware business. The skills needed to keep a 7-Eleven viable in a rough neighborhood, I confess, dwarf those of the classics professor.
In the elite liberal mind, there is instead a sort of progressive Big Rock Candy Mountain. Gasoline comes right out of the ground through the nozzle into the car. Redwood 2x4s sprout from the ground like trees. Apples fall like hail from the sky; stainless steel refrigerator doors are mined inches from the surface. Tap water comes from some enormous cistern that traps rain water. Finished granite counter tops materialize on the show room floor. Why, then, would we need Neanderthal things like federal gas and oil leases, icky dams and canals, yucky power plants, and gross chain saws — and especially those who would dare make and use them?
Anger, envy, and the primordial emotions
For some, especially those who are well-educated and well-spoken, a sort of irrational furor at “the system” governs their political make-up. Why don’t degrees and vocabulary always translate into big money? Why does sophisticated pontification at Starbucks earn less than mindlessly doing accounting behind a desk? We saw this tension with Michelle Obama who, prior to 2009, did not quite have enough capital to get to Aspen or Costa del Sol, and thereby, despite the huge power-couple salaries, Chicago mansion, and career titles, felt that others had far too much more than the Obamas. “Never been proud,” “downright mean country,” “raise the bar,” etc., followed, as expressions of yuppie angst. The more one gets, the more one believes he should get even more, and the angrier he gets that another — less charismatic, less well-read, less well-spoken — always seems to get more.
So do not discount the envy of the sophisticated elite. The unread coal plant manager, the crass car dealer, or the clueless mind who farms 1000 acres of almonds should not make more than the sociology professor, the kindergarten teacher, the writer, the artist, or the foundation officer. What sort of system would allow the dense and easily fooled to become better compensated (and all for what — for superfluous jet skis and snowmobiles?) than the anguished musician or tortured-soul artist, who gives so much to us and receives so much less in return? What a sick country — when someone who brings chain saws into the Sierra would make more than a UC Berkeley professor who would stop them.
Finally, we come to a small subset that simply does not like America’s wealth and capitalism, supremacy overseas, and ubiquitous global culture — or at least believes that anything not his own must be far better (an oikophobia or hatred of one’s own household). He bores us with lectures on the wonderful EU, the superior La familia romance of Latin America, the “it takes a village” values of Africa, or the Cairo speech mythologies of the Middle East. Because America is so affluent, it allows so many the luxury to dream of how our wealth is so ill-gotten — as long as quiet others in the shadows ensure that life remains pretty good in San Francisco and Madison. Contrarianism is an innate characteristic, but one indulged without risk, only when the larger tribe is safe and secure.
In short, twenty-first century elite liberalism has become a psychological condition, not a serious blueprint on how to solve real problems. The president knows that — and so without ideas has been reduced to name-calling and sermons on Big Bird.