Fidelity to Failed Ideas

by Morgan Freeberg | May 12, 2012 7:37 am

It’s terribly unfortunate that, out of an entire four-year cycle of politics, we’ve not seen the national economy recover in any substantial way. That’s a long time for it to be languishing the way it’s been. But it affords us a unique educational opportunity because we’ve been able to watch two presidential administrations — one archetypically liberal, running for re-election, and the other one whatever passes for “conservative” in this day & age, and not — defending their stewardship over economic matters, without being able to bring any record of solid success.

The differences are quite striking. The take-away: Anyone who wants to start understanding the difference between conservatives and liberals, without getting into the nitty-gritty nuts-&-bolts differences in priorities & worldviews, simply has to follow both types around long enough to see their ideas fail and then watch how the idealogues react to the failure of the ideas. President Bush’s sympathizers and apologists brought a lot of different defensive arguments to the table during the meltdown of ’08. There were some lowered-standards, as in, 9/11 changed everything and you had to expect some economic sputtering in the aftermath of a calamity such as that; there were some better-than-it-looks excuses, which carry a bit more weight, since hey, the unemployment rate was quite low and there were other measurements to indicate things weren’t that bad. And there was some finger-pointing at the democrats. Which also carries weight, since the democras took over Congress before things really fell apart. Mixed in with all this, there was some admission that mistakes were made. Stuff was tried that, had the opportunity been presented for a do-over, would not be tried again. And that makes an impression on me because I hear the same thing out of Reagan apologists, answering the charge that the public debt “skyrocketed” during Ronald Reagan’s two terms. Deals were made that were not good deals. Again, with a do-over, things would’ve been done differently.

Loop, EndlessNow I suppose it isn’t a fair comparison because President Obama is running for re-election, and consequently, we have a lot of people running around coming up with defenses for His failed policies who are paid to come up with those defenses, and this is bound to have an effect on what the defenses are going to be. Nevertheless, I surmise that it is because of the President’s political leanings that we have no, absolutely none, zip, zero, zilch, nada, no-can-do, nothing being said anywhere about what has been done over the last four years that could’ve & would’ve been done differently with the opportunity for said do-over. It’s time to defend the record and I’m seeing nothing out of His team, at all, except craven distractions. Mitt Romney bullied someone in high school[1] and his supporters and campaign contributors are[2], well, I’m not sure what…poopy-heads or something.

The take-away: Conservatives are capable of admitting mistakes and liberals aren’t. Oh, I can hear the double-whipped mocha lattes spurting through the liberal nostrils at the very suggestion. But it’s true. Conservatives can defend the leadership, as in the character and the decision-making ability of a person or of a team, without standing by each and every little decision they made about everything. They can say “Yeah, that one there, that was a learning experience.” Liberals can’t do that because they’ve got this rule in place…thou shalt not speak ill of anything connected in any way to The Sun King. And by my Louis XIV reference I do not specifically mean to pick on Barack Obama. They’ve got all these demigods who are to be elevated and kept clean and pure in every way. History does not possess the authority needed to indict them of anything; they can’t make mistakes. Good liberals cannot stoop to that low, low level of admitting “Obama probably shouldn’t have said anything about Skip Gates and the Cambridge Police Department.” Can’t form the words. Can’t get the thoughts crystallized. It’s sinful to even be headed in that direction.

This is significant, when you think about it. If we can’t admit mistakes, we can’t learn. We end up about as wise, with our approach to any given problem, as we were when we emerged from the womb.

In addition to the philosophical implications there are the fiduciary ones. Barack Obama’s ideas are generally not inexpensive. He claims credit for thinking big, and he claims this with some legitimacy, for His ideas are indeed grand, big, weighty ideas. But they are grand and big and weighty only because the taxpayers are forced to fund them. The questions about the long-term consequences of these cash outlays are not entirely motivated by partisanship; the government’s solvency has measurably deteriorated throughout this cycle, and there are serious ramifications for the country if the proponents of the big-spending Obama ideas can’t admit that any of them were mistakes, and their unthinking and unreasoned response to every inspection is to double down. I mean that literally. Double down. Some of the most insistent and loud liberals out there, pressed to defend the Reinvestment Act against its clear and obvious failure, will recite the rote litany that it failed because it wasn’t big enough. And they’ll be perfectly straight-faced about it when they say this, seemingly unaware that they’ve become caricatures of those who shouldn’t have anything to say about anything.

This leads off into something else I’ve noticed about the difference between conservatives and liberals. As was pointed out in Sultan Knish[3] (hat tip to Gerard[4] again), what we see playing out before us in this political divide is something that could be called an “efficiency war”:

It’s a basic power struggle over whether the government will starve the people or the people will starve the government. Like most political power struggles it begins with a crisis and a program for resolving it by transferring power. Depending on which crisis and which program wins the day, there will either be a massive transfer of power from the government to the people or an equally massive transfer from the people to the government.
Despite all the ambitious efforts to reduce everything from skyscraper construction to a human breath to a number and to impose penalties accordingly so as to nudge the offenders away from their carbon crimes, the real criminals fly off someplace warm by the thousands to discuss the need to use less fuel and be more energy efficient. The resort conferences are only a drop in the ocean of government which is swiftly flooding everything in sight.
The regulators cannot regulate their own efficiency, yet they insist on regulating ours. They waste by the truckload and while hectoring us ceaselessly about waste. They erect government buildings where the lights burn all night[5], yet begrudge us an extra kilowatt on the side. They cannot live within their means, yet they insist that we live within theirs. That we not only pay their bills, but that we make do with less for ourselves.

The inefficient cannot create efficiency. The United States and the European Union cannot bring efficiency to their own finances. And part of their waste involves imposing efficiency programs on us. The efficiency programs are themselves waste and worsen the crisis. Garbage in and garbage out defines the process. The government throws money and resources into making the outside world efficient, when the outside world is already more efficient than it is. The sole outcome is to bring down the efficiency of the real world closer to government standards. [bold emphasis mine]

I’ve observed this before, myself, saying (paraphrased) that our national conflict has to do with whether it’s appropriate or called-for, for our most non-productive people to be telling the productive people how to do their producing. Vice President Joe Biden admitted as much, I think, when he said[6] “I never had an interest in being a mayor ’cause that’s a real job. You have to produce. That’s why I was able to be a senator for 36 years.” Maybe he was joking about this, or forgot that he was still speaking on the record. Biden has a history of opening questions like those, and not settling them; he shows no sign of breaking form here. I think we can all agree, intentionally or not, there was some truth uttered here. If so, this partially addresses the dilemma defined above — how do you get anything done when you can’t admit your mistakes, and therefore can’t learn, and you end up dooming yourself to approaching every challenge that comes up with the wisdom you already had the day you were born, and nothing more? Answer: You don’t. Humility, wisdom…efficiency…these are things you need only for “real” jobs.

With these “fake” jobs, you don’t “have to produce” so there’s no need to do any of this learning. Which is important, because when you learn, you almost always have to do this course-correction the conservatives are able to do that the liberals are not able to do; you have to say “given the opportunity to make that decision again amid identical circumstances, I would have chosen this other option.”

For some time now I’ve been fascinated with “real” liberals, meaning, people who struggle in “real” jobs like I do, who are my peers, confronting challenges similar to mine — often even with greater competence than I can show — and then make the mistake of so thoughtlessly voting for liberal politicians. Through the years, I’ve come to the realization that they do not think much of their own everyday struggles. They actually feel some measure of shame about it. It shows up in the tiniest little things. Like, a weekend approaches in a hot summer and they, just like me, look forward to cooling off in a theater with powerful air conditioning where they can watch a movie about someone having an adventure, and pretend to be in a different world for a couple of hours. We have that in common. But it means something entirely different to someone like them, than it does to someone like me. I’m leaving a bunch of drudgery at the entrance to the theater, and they’re leaving genuine shame. Worrying about error handling and texture compression formats and my kid’s doctor bills just causes me a dull headache — offset by the understanding that, ultimately, I’m going to get it all done. They worry about the same things and they seem to be genuinely troubled by their station in life. Like there’s something terribly, terribly wrong with this realization they made, that the entire universe is not their personal property after all.

So their answer is, I think, to live vicariously through someone else who does own the universe. Barack Obama. He never makes a mistake, because if He ever does, the mistake stops being a mistake on the spot and instantly flips, pancake-like, into The Right Thing To Do. Even when He makes a hairpin-turn on some tangential social issue[7] it’s a process of “evolving,” so again, the need to admit that something was done the wrong way, is entirely obviated. That’s when things get rather strange. Barack Obama has always been in favor of same-sex marriage, the chocolate ration has always been 22 grams, and Oceania has always been at war with EastAsia.

I’d actually have better confidence in left-wing leadership if they made more — uh — liberal use of the 1984 memory holes. That would at least enable them to change course when they find they’re headed the wrong way. Alas, though, they’re determined to do this very sparingly; it’s only available as an option to extend the political lives of the Obama/Napoleon/Kennedy/Sun King demigods, the monarchs who are incapable of ever making mistakes. The middle-managers who adjudicate each situation out in the real world, make the policies fit the grand vision that was laid out by their betters, are far lacking in the authority required to trip this fuse. They’re obliged to stick to courses that are demonstrated by history and common sense to be wrong. That’s why Sheriff Joe Arpaio got so frustrated, I think, with our Attorney General: “Clean your own house, Eric Holder, before you come trying to clean mine.[8]” It is, once again, a classic conflict between the efficient and the inefficient; between those who have some actual responsibilities, and those who only pretend to have some.

Isn’t that exactly what Sarah Palin said[9]? “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” That’s the fissure right there, the hairline crack widening into a yawning chasm. That’s the split. People who have, and therefore make decisions like someone who has, “actual responsibilities.” They set standards for themselves, and they lack the means to have the last word on how events are interpreted — or don’t pursue this in any way…so, when they fail the standards they set for themselves, a fail is a fail is a fail, and that’s that. Then they’re forced to say “One thing I could’ve done to turn that around, is make a different decision back here…” And they change their behavior. Not because they consciously think that’s glorious. Quite the opposite. They’re simply forced to. They say…I’m trying to get something done here, aren’t I? Well, that thing I did back there, that doesn’t get it done. I shall have to do it differently. The latest demonstration of how mega-awesome I am and people like me are — it doesn’t even enter into it. It’s just an error being corrected, nothing more and nothing less.

The other way to do it is to simply pretend to meet a standard. Then, when you fail it, you do what Obama’s trying to do right now with the economy: Change the standard, by means of making sure you always, always, always have the last word. Obfuscate. Confuse. Distract and deflect.

That is the approach of mental children who never really grew up, who never learned how to do learning. Out here in the real world, conservatives see that and roll their eyes at it. We say to ourselves, there’s a man who isn’t as big as his job. I hope I’m not like that. Because there’s a very sad aspect to it: The iconic demigod and his supporters, keep repeating over and over how uber-wonderful he is, and they are, because there’s a need to. That’s just a terrible way to go through life, and we recoil from the very impression of it. We wince in genuine proxy embarrassment. Liberals, out here with us, toiling with life’s more mundane but real challenges the same way we are, but feeling dirty about it, look at people like Obama and Holder and Biden and say: Wow, how awesome, I wish I could be like that. They can’t answer the obvious question, “like what?” for there is absolutely nothing describably superlative about these people; they’re mediocre in every measurable way. The liberals are living their lives through someone else, whom they only believe to embody excellence because they reject any doubts that they are indeed excellent. So they outwardly crave this lofty height of personal excellence that, at some quiet, deeper level of their consciousness, they understand really isn’t there. They entrust people with a fifteen trillion dollar economy who they wouldn’t trust to walk their own dog…even if they didn’t like the dog.

That’s America’s political divide, right there.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes[10] and Washington Rebel[11].

  1. Mitt Romney bullied someone in high school:
  2. his supporters and campaign contributors are:
  3. Sultan Knish:
  4. Gerard:
  5. the lights burn all night:
  6. said:
  7. hairpin-turn on some tangential social issue:
  8. Clean your own house, Eric Holder, before you come trying to clean mine.:
  9. Sarah Palin said:
  10. House of Eratosthenes:
  11. Washington Rebel:

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