During the 1960s it was fashionable to decry the Republican (Conservative) elites as out of touch, reactionary, and fascistic. In reaction, the 60s radicals rejected all presumptions of authority. In one of those extravagant ironies which the Universe regularly bestows upon us, the Democrat (liberal) elites are now the ones in authority and it is they who appear to be so often out of touch and reactionary, and as if to offer evidence for Jonah Goldberg's thesis, Tom Friedman today does his best to demonstrate the fascistic impulse at the core of his liberalism:
Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. [Emphasis mine-SW] It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.
Our one-party democracy is worse. The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying “no.” Many of them just want President Obama to fail. Such a waste. Mr. Obama is not a socialist; he’s a centrist. But if he’s forced to depend entirely on his own party to pass legislation, he will be whipsawed by its different factions.
It takes a special kind of ignorant arrogance to imagine that the Republican intransigence is the major factor in the public's rejection of both Cap-and-Trade and the Healthcare abomination. Among other things, both pieces of legislation are incredibly complex, incredibly expensive, show no evidence of any awareness of the theory of unintended consequences, and have not even been read, let alone understood, by our politicians, including President Obama (challenged today by Senator DeMint to go line by line through the healthcare legislation; the contest would be as instructive as it is unlikely to ever occur.) This legislation is a "process disaster" even before any of the actual resulting dislocations that would occur.
Beyond that, in the highlighted section of Friedman's article, we can see his unconscious assumption that the liberal elites know more than the hoi polloi; further that if only our messy Democratic process could be obviated, perhaps by the kind of enlightened dictatorship the Chinese Communists have granted their subjects, we would be able to solve all sorts of complex problems, whose complexity is in almost direct proportion to the fantasized simplicity of the Friedman solutions. There are many reasons to move beyond oil as the primary engine of the global economy but the still hypothetical Anthropomorphic Global Warming theory is very low on the list. One of the inadvertently comical aspects of Friedman's article is his lack of awareness that many of the industries China is championing and that Friedman wishes could receive higher subsidies from the government are industries whose competitiveness has been destroyed by the environmentalists and the lawyers, integral components of the liberal elites who he would like to see have more power.
(Government subsidies, as if following the second law of thermodynamics, always destroy more valuer than they create, as Coyote helpfully illustrates in an example of how government largess with our money supports uneconomic choices by destroying wealth for all, while increasing wealth for the usually already wealthy few.)
The problem for the liberal elites is that they do not understand or countenance the limits of our knowledge. We do not have nearly as much information as they pretend when it comes to such complex systems as the climate or health care. (And contra Tom Friedman, there do exist reasonable Republican health plans which seek to change the incentive structure without damaging the entire edifice; of course, if Friedman gets his information from his own newspaper, he would have no way of knowing that.)
A. Jay Adler is a liberal blogger who attempts to be a reasonable liberal, just as I attempt to be a reasonable libertarian/conservative blogger. (Which of us is more often successful almost certainly depends on one's political orientation.) In his post yesterday, he decried the vituperative quality of the Republican attacks on the Obama administration and its policies:
What we see now on the right, then, is not without precedent, but to say the present has mirrors in the past is not to say we know the future too. Every time it will be different. One cannot be sanguine about the levels of ill-informed rage, intolerant intimidations masquerading as exercises in democratic debate, the ugly, hateful names, the xenophobia, the racism cloaked in humor and theatrics by media demagogues, the brandishing of guns, the calls of Nazi, socialist – Martian, whatever. The “death panel” lies. The health care concentration camps hysteria. The “C” Street religious megalomania. The birthers (just like the 9/11 truthers) and all the elected officials who would not denounce them. Senator Tom Coburn on Meet the Press refusing to criticize the wearing of guns at a Presidential speech. The anxieties of ordinary people stoked to a fever pitch by cynical pols. And not yet one significant Republican figure willing – however best it might be done – to stand and lead another way.
Once, famously, William Buckley and Barry Goldwater rejected The John Birch Society as an acceptable part of American conservatism. Now the Republican Party is The John Birch Society. It is a raging Id in the guise of a political philosophy, and it needs to be contended with one exercise in reason, smart politics, and human decency at a time.
Either that or the nation is in peril.
I would not only disagree with A. Jay that the Republican party has been especially irrational lately (the "Birthers" have been much more thoroughly marginalized by the Republicans than the "Truthers" have been by the Democrats, as evidenced by the nomination of one to be the "Green Jobs Czar"); in fact most of the conflict at the moment is within the democratic party and between the Democrats and the public, who have not been convinced of the wisdom of the Democratic plans despite the presence in the White House of one of the most eloquent speech readers of the last 20 years. If anything I would take A. Jay to task for his descent into the same kinds of ad hominem attacks and exaggerations that he assigns the Republicans.
Beyond that, however, I would suggest to A. Jay that not only is such intemperance and irrationality not a cause for alarm, but we probably could use more of it. We all imagine ourselves to be deeply rational creatures understanding our world and our politics in the most rational ways. Yet our rationality is merely a thin crust that resides unstably atop a cauldron of irrationality that comprises our deepest mental strata. In one of my first ever posts I suggested that Democracy (and one might use "markets" instead) is the best system because it allows us to "sum our irrationalities" and thereby arrive at the closest approximation of reality. I do not have a monopoly on reason or rationality and neither does A. Jay (or Tom Friedman, but he makes that obvious biweekly.) Perhaps A. Jay could accept that after all the noise diminishes, some kernels of reality will persist; insisting upon the alternative of received or assumed knowledge, leads to the incipient authoritarianism of the Tom Friedmans of the world. A reminder to A. Jay, et al:
"The first man who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization" - Sigmund Freud