Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Went Wrong: Drilling Down

We just looked at the mess of what has gone wrong in America in recent years.  Now let's drill down a little.

That's all very nice, but let's get back to the question. What went wrong? I will tell you. And the answer dwells in the difference between the understanding of government as force, the necessary force to defend against enemies, and the understanding of society as a voluntary consensus, an unconscious organism of human cooperation.

When a presidential candidate wins a presidential election with his party we can think of him winning a civil war, but with ballots not bullets (actually ballot is the same word as bullet). Now the question is: after the bullets are counted, what happens next? Do the victorious president and his party continue to fight à outrance, as the French say? Or do they stop the war and follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “in victory, magnanimity?”

Yeah. When the president sends the bust of Churchill back to the Brits it does kinda send a message.

The fact is that President Obama and his party decided to go all out and exploit their 2008 victory to the uttermost limit. This was symbolized by the passage of Obamacare, in which the Obamis decided to pass their Affordable Care Act, after losing their filibuster-proof Senate to Scott Brown, by legislative shenanigans. Yeay! That'll teach those racist-sexist-homophobes!

But the Irish-American Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said years ago that you always want to pass a big thing like Obamacare by a 70-30 majority in the US Senate. You need to manufacture, at very least, the appearance of consensus. Why? Because in the end, you must obtain the consent of the governed for your legislation. If you win merely by powering over the opposition you have not obtained the consent of the governed; you have merely provokeed a head of rebellion.

Obtaining the consent of the governed doesn't just mean doing big things right like passing your landmark legislation with a 70-30 bipartisan vote in the US Senate. It means doing little things right, like obeying the law, talking to the leaders of the opposition and buttering up the barons of Congress, and speaking kindly to people that will never vote for you in a hundred years. Why? Because it quiets the fears of your opponents.

If we recognize politics as “civil war by other means” then we understand the truth that politics is a kind of shadow boxing, a ritual combat in which we reenact on the stage of the political theater what could, in another time and another way, be enacted in the real combat in a real civil war. You get the feeling that the president and his people just do not understand that they are playing with fire when they talk of “punching back twice as hard” and when they keep the president's campaign organization fully mobilized between elections. Liberals ought to understand that: during the Cold War they were quick to note the provocation that a big defense budget or offensive nuclear weapons represented to the rest of the world. If you are mobilized for political war between elections then you are communicating that you mean to crush your political opposition without mercy. You are telling the opposition that you just might stage some kind of a surprise attack while they are out to lunch. What sort of a message does that send to your political opposition?

But is that all that went wrong? Did our liberal friends just make a mistake on tactics, playing the stupid jerk when august maturity was wanted? Alas no. Because now we come to the real problem with today's America. It is the folly of the administrative state, the idea that human society could be or should be organized on the principle of the modern army or the national bureaucracy.

But that's for the next installment.

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